Friday, April 3, 2009

Paula Alta, CA

For whatever reason, CIBC doesn't allow customers to update mailing address online if address is outside Canada. I called the telephone banking number, and they were happy to change the address for me. I told customer service representative the address (number, street, Palo Alto, CA), he repeated it back to me. I login to online banking to double check. The address reads "Paula Alta, CA". Oh well. Another call to telephone banking. This time I make sure to spell out the name of the city letter by letter. Back to online banking, and this time it shows "Pal0 Alto, CA". Yes, that's zero instead of "o". Oh well. I think it's close enough for US post to be able to deliver mail to me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Big Girl

Watching kids grow is so fascinating. Noelle is now almost 7 months old, and she looks as if she's ready to start running around. I know it will be a few more months before she'll be ready to make first attempts to walk. However, even now she can pull herself up. If I hold her and let her "walk", she knows exactly where she wants to go, and why she wants to go there.

Few days ago, we had family outing to In-n-Out. Noelle was sitting in my wife's lap. Each time my wife took a french fry, Noelle would open her mouth and reach for the french fry. As if she was thinking "this one must be for me". It was so cute. At home, when we try to feed her any solid food, it would be everywhere except in her mouth. But there's a trick. Put it on plastic spoon, or let it get on hers fingers, and the food would magically end up in her mouth. With a big smile. Look, I'm eating, all by myself.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Swimming Lessons

My son started new round of swimming and soccer lessons last week. It seems soccer is in his blood. Well, at least one of his grandparents back in Europe is going to be happy to hear that.

But he'll need to work a bit harder on his swimming skills. On his 4th day of swimming lessons, he had an argument with the teacher who was (in vain) attempting to get him to put his face under water. He told the teacher "But I'm not supposed to be in this swimming pool!" I started laughing. Was it wrong from me? Yup. But it was so cute seeing a 4 year old defending his decision not to get his face wet.

On Friday, at the end of the swimming lesson, teacher took them to try jumping from a jumping board. It was pleasant surprise to see him jumping into the water more freely than some kids that were so far doing much better in the class. After the first jump, he started doing it all by himself. And enjoying it so much.

I took him to the Raging Waters water slide park this weekend. Guess what, he was soon sliding head first on the kiddies water slide and running in and out of artificial waterfall. No problems with water on his face at all. No problems in getting completely under water.

Today, his regular teacher was not there, and a teacher from different group filled in for him. She had completely different approach. Getting kids to do stuff more by play, less by showing and asking to repeat. It was the first time he voluntarily got himself to dive under. By the end of today's class, the teacher had trouble to get him not to dive. I'm not sure how much it was due to different approach of the new teacher, and how much to Friday's jumping board experience and the fun free play in the water at Raging Waters. I guess it was a combination. I did liked the approach of new teacher much more.

Paper formats

I had to make a photocopy of AT&T cell phone bill. The fancy photocopier was trying hard, but couldn't figure out what format the paper is. It produced bunch of useless copies with either sides or tops/bottoms severely cut off. So I measured it by hand and compared to all standard (ISO 216) and "standard" (letter/legal/etc) paper formats, as found on Wikipedia. Guess what. None of the formats for either standard or "standard" papers matches the AT&T bill. Don't you love when somebody invents his own standards.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Taste of Draft 802.11n

Lately, I found myself using only laptops at home, often accessing a Linux based file server. Both my and my wife's laptops are MacBooks with 802.11n built in. It kind of made sense to me to try to find 802.11n replacement for my good old proven Linksys WRT54G.

How it went. Well, so so. The standard is still not finalized, and there will probably be a lot of improvements in next few years while it gets more mature.

My first attempt was with Linksys WRT600N. It's an awesome device, with two radios. Meaning it can work on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands at the same time. However, there wasn't sufficient amount of love between my MacBooks and Linksys.

The first problem was very poor signal quality on 2.4GHz band. There was about 12 or so wireless network competing around. The WRT600N defaults to automatic selection for frequency and wide channels, and automatic settings made a really poor choice. They choose channel 1, which in my building is next to unusable for whatever reason. They also opted for wide channel, which simply wasn't going to fly in so crowded environment. Setting channel manually to 6 or 11, and turning off wide channel made things usable. However, 802.11n crippled into narrow channel on overcrowded 2.4GHz band gave me about the same transfer speeds as I was having with my good old WRT54G.

The 5GHz band looked much more promising. There were no other networks around me using that band. I got transfer speeds around 8 MB/s. Almost the speed of 100mbit Ethernet, and not exactly 2 times faster than theoretical maximum of 802.11g. Considering much lower transfer speeds I was getting on WRT54G, it was significant improvement.

However, the connection between my MacBooks and WRT600N when using 5GHz band simply wouldn't stay up. The devices would connect, work for a bit, than my MacBooks would loose connection to WRT600N for 5-10 minutes. Then they would reconnect, and work for some time, and drop connection again. An excessive amount of playing with manual settings did not improve a thing.

I also bought an WRC600N PCMCIA adapter and plugged it in an old Windows laptop. Needless to say, connection between WRT600N and WRC600N works perfectly. No drops.

Obviously, there was compatibility issue between MacBooks and WRT600N. I hope folks at Apple and Linksys will work things out in the months to follow. It would be interesting to try again once either of the companies makes firmware updates for their respective devices.

WRT600N is relatively expensive device, and it wasn't working for me. Waiting if an firmware update is going to be released (one day in the future) that would improve compatibility with Apple laptops, wasn't really an option. So I exchanged it for an Apple Airport Extreme wireless router.

Airport Extreme has only single radio, so you can choose between 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands, but can't have both at the same time. I decided to use Airport Extreme at 5GHz, and keep old WRT54G around to handle 2.4GHz band for older devices. Airport Extreme also has USB port, to connect both printers and hard drives (it shares them to both Windows and Mac OS X computers). However, don't expect much performance for disk sharing. I got about 1 MB/s accessing USB hard drive connected to it, which is *slow*. The new Time Capsule from Apple will probably correct this.

The network transfer speeds I was getting with Airport Extreme were about the same as with WRT600N, around 7-8 MB/s, peaking at 10 MB/s. Still about 3 times slower than theoretical maximum for 802.11n on 5GHz band. Still much faster then what I was getting with my old WRT54G. However this time, there were no problems with connection between MacBooks and base station dropping. It just worked. Love was in the air.

Interestingly, the WRC600N PCMCIA card in Windows laptop was showing slightly higher connection speeds when connected to Airport Extreme, than when connected to WRT600N. The Airport Extreme was definitely radiating more love into the air.

One nice surprise was that Airport Extreme have support for IPv6. I can't comment on how good it is, but it is there. WRT600N, just like some other Linksys routers I tried in the past talks only IPv4.

Here's the list of some pros and cons I've run into during short time I was playing with those two wireless routers.

Linksys WRT600N pros:
  • True dual-band, handles both 2.4 and 5GHz networks at the same time
  • Very configurable
  • Linksys routers were historically very robust
Linksys WRT600N cons:
  • Compatibility problems with Apple MacBooks
  • No IPv6
  • No printer sharing, Linksys sells separate print server for extra $$$
  • More expensive than Airport Extreme
Apple AirPort Extreme pros:
  • Well, works with Apple laptops, and seems it also works with Linksys clients
  • IPv6, if you want to play with it
  • Both disk and printer sharing (however, disk access relatively slow)
  • Cheaper than WRT600N
Apple AirPort Extreme cons:
  • Not as configurable as average Linksys router
  • No DDNS support
  • Can work at either 2.4 or 5 GHz bands, but not both simultaneously, if you choose 5 GHz band, you'll need second router to support single band 802.11n and older 802.11b and 802.11g devices
For an average Windows user, both devices would probably work about the same. The printer sharing of Airport Extreme is a nice bonus feature which could sway average users to choose it over WRT600N. For Apple MacBook users, there's probably not much choice. WRT600N will work with MacBooks on 2.4 band, but don't expect full 802.11n performance you'll get out of Airport Extreme. Advanced users of either platform will have to choose which features are important to them, and buy accordingly.

USPS Rocks, UPS Doesn't Rock As Much

For whatever reason, Amazon decided to split my last order in two shipments. Shipped same day February 15, good old slow ground, one via USPS, the other via UPS. The USPS one arrived on February 19. The UPS one arrived February 21.

Looking at the package tracking info, they could have arrived the same day. But UPS was holding the package in their warehouse for 2 days. The warehouse is about 1 hour drive from where I live. This seems to be the standard business practice at UPS. From one side, I can see the logic. Deliver ground slow, so people are more likely to buy more expensive two-day. But on the other hand, people not in a hurry might be more likely to use some other courier. Either way, not cool.

Not trying to rant too much. If I wanted two day shipping, I'd get two-day shipping. Or subscribe to Amazon Prime and get it for cheap. It's just that I don't remember last time I was in a hurry so much to need two-day shipping. I'm just kind of feeling stupid to see my packages sitting in some warehouse for 1-3 days each and every time I'm using UPS.

Moral of the story, good old post office is often cheaper and faster :-)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sony Ericsson W810i

All my previous phones were made either by Nokia or Ericsson. I was generally happy with both brands. This is the first Ericsson phone I have since Ericsson and Sony merged their cell phone products.

The W810i has many nice features, and if you look at the specs, this is an rather impressive phone. However, after using it for couple of months, I was deeply disappointed with some of those features in practice. I'll try to summarize some of the good and bad sides, in no particular order.

The phone is relatively small. Not as thin as some other phones out there. My old old Ericsson phones (without Sony in the name) were actually thinner. But they had external antenna too, and no built-in digital camera.

The built-in digital camera is actually usable with its 2 mega pixels. It can even focus. As opposed to standard (for mobile phones) low resolution, fixed-focus cameras built in many of the older phones, this is a huge jump in quality. W810i even has light/flash thingie, which makes it even more usable. However, light/flash has to be turned on manually for each shot. It will not fire by itself automatically in low-light conditions. My guess is that this was deliberate design decision to extend battery life. There's 4x digital zoom, which is my only real objection in this area. If the phone had the real optical zoom, even with smaller range (2x or 3x) it would be way more usable than "fake" digital zoom.

"W" in the name comes from the "Walkman", I guess. In this case, "Walkman" refers to MP3 player. I haven't used it much, but it seems to be usable. Not really a replacement for your iPod, but it will do the job. The phone itself has no 3.5mm headphones connector. However adapter for 3.5mm connector as well as set of headphones are included with the phone. The headphones adapter also acts as a hands-free (it has microphone) and has a button for answering the calls and a clip. Included with the phone is a USB cable. For transferring your MP3 collection to it, I guess. Worth mentioning is that the phone has a speaker, so you don’t need to have headphones to listen to your MP3s. The quality of sound through bult-in speaker is not much though. But that's to be expected. All in all, very nice.

Phone comes with 256 MB memory stick. Which is more than generous, compared with my 6 mega pixel Canon digital camera that came with ridiculously small 16 MB SD card. 256 MB memory stick is more than enough for 2 mega pixel camera. It's kind of on a small side of things for storing your MP3 collection onto it. Couple of albums, and you'll start running out of space. If you want to use this phone as MP3 player, you'll probably want to upgrade to higher capacity memory stick sooner than later.

So far so good. Now some big disappointments. Bluetooth. One of the things I use on daily basis. Something all my phones simply must have, and it simply must work flawlessly. Well, it doesn't with this phone. I've a GPS that is Bluetooth enabled and acts as hands free, and can also access address book and SMS messages on the Bluetooth enabled phones. Most of the time Bluetooth with this phone works OK, except when it doesn't. The connection between the GPS and phone drops at random times. The phone ignores the fact that my GPS disconnected from it way too often, and still displays a small "using hands free" icon, even when my GPS was turned off (not there) for a long time. I have to power cycle phone in order for it to realize my GPS disconnected from it long time ago. I'm also using Bluetooth to connect to the phone from my laptop, in order to have Internet access when on the go and far away from Wi-Fi hot spots. Mostly works fine. However, if I have another Bluetooth device connect (for example hands free), the connection between laptop and cell phone will simply freeze. This phone is supposed to support connection to multiple Bluetooth devices simultaneously. In practice, it just doesn't work reliably.

The unreliable Bluetooth is obviously my biggest grief.

Another thing I don't like is the address book. It doesn't allow storing of multiple numbers of the same type under single name. If you know somebody with for example two cell phone numbers, you are out of luck. You can't mark them both as cell phone numbers. There's option of marking a number as home, work, mobile, fax or other. And you can have exactly one of each. There's no pager type, BTW. My old address book (which is also synced to couple of other devices) contained several entries that I had to modify in order to get them accepted by W810i. You can not store email and street addresses into the address book of this phone. These are very serious limitations that should make you seriously consider the usability of this device, if you need address book synchronization.

The two orange buttons are nice. However, way too often I end up pressing the "Cingular" button, and the phone happily connects me to the Internet right away. Luckily I have generous data plan (well, not really, I still have to pay to have it), so this doesn't really cost me anything extra. But if you don't have (or don't plan to have) good data plan, it should worry you. Be careful which buttons you press. The two orange buttons are very easy to press by mistake. The one on the right that connects you to the Internet much easier than the one on the left that starts MP3 player.

The last negative thing is relatively lower sound quality of phone calls than what I'm used to. I have a feeling my old Nokia (and older Ericssons, without Sony) were much better. Or it just could be that my hearing is slowly going south. Who knows.

Conclusion. This is very nice phone. However, if you plan to use some of the phone's advanced features such as Bluetooth, you may end up disappointed. Also, if you require advanced address book, you'll be disappointed with this phone too. W810i simply doesn't cut it in those two departments. On the other hand, if you don't care about those two particular features, you'll be very happy with this phone.