Dirt Cheap !

Another great weekend has come and gone, almost keyboard-less but still  great. Enjoying the last warm rays of sun before autumn glides over this part of the globe, we decided to take a little trip to Aachen for some shopping. While Nyana looked around for shoes (Of all things) I took a little walk past the shopping windows of some of my favorite computer shops. And I was shocked ! Computers these days are dirt cheap ! And I really mean dirt cheap ! A few years ago when the computer prices were a lot higher, I used to hop over to Aachen regularly for parts. They had cheaper shops (Cash and carry shops, just a counter with a lot of boxes behind it) where you could order online and pick up your parts. These shops also had the advantage that the German VAT rates added only 6% to the price , while over here in Belgium we paid 21 percent. So I regularly popped over to “Germania Generosa” to get parts for myself or for friends and family.

It all changed when the whole computer-retail market crashed and Dell started offering computers dirt cheap. The hardware evolution became so rapid that it was no longer interesting to upgrade and the VAT  rates in Germany jumped to 16 percent. Soon many of the small retail computer shops went belly up or started selling the same low cost crap that the stores over here offered. Meanwhile I had switched to macs and did not need a lot of pc hardware anymore.

But with the idea of rolling out a central fileserver at home, using linux, I peeked around the pricelists of some of my favorite shops and found their prices to be very cool indeed. A quick calculation estimated the cost of a new pc ( an ATOM 1.6 processor, 2 gigs of ram, 500 gig harddrive, case) at 207 euros ! Dirt cheap !  Since this little machine is going to be our home linux server / mediacenter  I’m not sure if this little Intel mainboard with onboard atom processor is going to be powerful enough, but I’ll sure as hell try to score a new box under 300 euro’s !

The only down side  to this story is that I’m gonna have to rely on some help from the shopkeepers to select the right hardware : There is no way I can keep up with the hardware developments these days. So if anyone has any good suggestions for a good mainboard / processor / graphics card to do the trick .. let me know !

Links : Datec , HIQ computer.

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Dawn

Dawn, without any doubt my most favorite time of the day, and now, in the twilight of summers demise and winters coming, it is even more so. As I gently slide out the door at 7 in the morning, those few seconds outside capture my senses and leave their frosty footprint to thaw out in my imagination. The world, pregnant with the silence of a sleeping city, stirs gently beneath a steel blue sky resting on the amber fire of the dawning sun. The last clouds slither their way through the eastern sky as stars dwindle out and make room for the light of day. Gentle wisps of frost and fog cover the fields, in wait of Winters first coming. As the crisp morning prickles my nose, the first swirl of fog evaporates from my mouth into nothingness. The car door slams shut and the muffled sounds of the morning routine herald the beginning of another commute to work. 60 minutes of solitude amids the dance of the steel stallions, riding towards the horizon on the blackened asphalt paths. The Satnav comes online, mapping out my position, direction and time and tells me the miles and minutes before I have to enter the working world. My cellphone beeps discreetly as it hands over the hands free control for safe driving. My Ipod gets hooked up and uploads its playlist to the satnav, with lots of new podcasts standing by to be played. The bleu light on the MM50 speakers blinks ready for playback and the car stereo sighs as it will be make obsolete for yet another day.

As I select the podcast or music track I want to listen to the silence of the cabin is filled with familiar voices and revels with entertainment or the opportunity to learn. After the engine revs up to the right temperature the automatic air conditioning kicks in and brings the ambient temperature to 22.5 degrees Celsius. My daily cup of double cappuccino has by now cooled down sufficiently for its first sip.. All in all .. i’m off to work.

As the Satnav pauses the playing podcast for a second or two to inform me that I’m coming up on a speedcamera, the lights of the car turn on automatically and my windshieldwiper, as by magic, takes care of a few stray drops on my windshield. I suppress the urge to say "thank you" to the satnavs ‘C3PO" voice, because that would be a little strange.

But all in all, this IS technology working for "me" right ? From the alarm clock waking me, to the imac booting up automatically, downloading podcasts, syncing an disconnecting the ipod even before I have set foot out of bed. Right up to the moment where park the car at work .. technology is working FOR me .. instead of the other way around. And all of that so I have the time and the luxury of enjoying a beautiful dawn.

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The first duty is to the truth.

Most of the time my blog is about fun and tech and gadgets and stuff, and sometimes its about serious things. Like today, Knightwise.Com takes up one of the roles it is also meant to preform : My public Forum. One of the reasons for that is a rumor that is circulated by my former employer about the reason for my departure at my previous company. Because the truth , my honor and my reputation are VERY important to me, Knightwise.com becomes the place where I’ll give you the correct version of the facts. To protect the innocent (and not so innocent) and the general rule ‘never to blog about work’ , names and locations have been left out.

 The story.

About nine months ago, I  started working for a small consultancy firm in the north of our province, to fill a position in IT Support.The job gave me the opportunity to for fill an ambition of supporting small to medium size businesses when in came to IT. Going down to clients (small businesses) and fixing their IT problems was a wonderful task. Listening to clients, trying to understand what it is they did for a living and how "technology could work for them’  was a very challenging and rewarding job. All my different talents, From tech to sales to listening to people where tapped and I found myself driving happily to work every single day. At the company things also proved very interesting: there where places for my ideas in working with open source software and a month after starting to work on the internal IT infrastructure, I had Linux servers up and running and was promoting and pushing out open source software.

Because I had quite a lot on my tray ( Developing an open source server project for our clients, training trainee’s, doing sales, being the local sys-admin) there was not much room left for marketing. So the growth of the client base was slow, but steady. Our clients where happy with the service we provided and had faith that we could help them out when they had a problem or a question.

All that changed two months ago, On a Friday morning (the last day before my holiday) management informed me that they would be shutting down my department. IT-support for their customers would be curtailed and I was to report to a client in Brussels for a four-month consultancy assignment. Never mind the fact that profile that was required did not meet my technical skills, as long as I just did it, I would be bringing in cash. But filling in a position for which is was not qualified and having to preform a two hour commute EVERY DAY (4 hours in total) was not my idea of a good time. The first loyalty of a person is to the truth : The truth was : I was not qualified for this job, nor would I be able to give the customer ‘value for money’ and do my job right.

During my vacation I had time to ponder over my professional future and decided it was time to move on. I looked around and quickly found a new opportunity, thus upon returning I reported that I would be leaving because I had come to work with small business clients, and that the consultancy gig in Brussels was not something I saw as something I wanted to do. If they where terminating the ‘small business support’ branch, I did not want to be a burden and would look for a professional future elsewhere. The reaction I got was that they were far from pleased but had no other choice then to accept my decision. I gave them my word that I would do my very best right up untill the last day, so I took care of the business as they boss went on holiday, trained my successor, made sure all the systems where running smoothly and so on. In all : I did what I should do : Do ones best and make sure that the clients would not suffer from the fact that I would be leaving.

So on my last day I handed over my keys, patted my little servers and told them to behave and gave my successor a good firm handshake (and my Cellphone) should he ever need anything. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to say goodbye to the customers but .. I signed off with honors.

At least .. that is what I thought. Yesterday I found out that my former employer is telling a different story. According to them I was "Kicked out because I fiddled around with my Timesheet*" (* the sheet where we fill in the hours we work every day). I am a very calm person but boy was I mad ! I’m very disappointed upon hearing this statement that is far from the truth AND is smear on my reputation and good name. For me : Thats important. My reputation , the way people and clients perceive me and my "good professional reputation" are one the fruits of the hard work I put in. I do my job well, put my soul into it and do everything as good as I can. I’m honorable and loyal and am not the scamming slacking kind. My work is "what I do" . How i do my work is "who I am" My professional reputation is a combination of both. And I have a spotless record when it comes to that.

Am i mad , pissed of about the slander ? No not realy. I think its small and immature. BUT my fist duty IS to the truth .. and here you have the whole story.

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Cluttah !

Today my day was announced with the bonechilling chime of the alarm clock. The dark and warm surroundings of my dreams where shattered by the shrieks of this little tempest, Heralding a new day and reminding me that I had once again had too little sleep.  Leaving my sleeping beauty behind I got up and embraced the day wrapped in a big warm bathrobe. Summer is fleeting away and while the afternoon may still be filled with the glowing embers of the summer, the dawn is chilly and cold to the touch.

The dinner table downstairs is littered with gear I need to take with me on my daily journey. To honor the silence of the morning I prepped everything in advanced, making sure not to make too much noise stomping around the house at 6am in order to get my gear together. Ipod : Check, Cellphone : Check, Workphone : Check , GPS unit; Check.. Logitech MM50 speakers for ipod : Check , Remote for the MM50 : Check .. Line cable between GPS and MM50 Check, Headphones : Check , Laptopbag : Check  .. The list goes on and on. For somebody who wants to ‘keep technology simple and let it work for me’ i’m a surprising slave to technology .. Wobbling away with all this gear and spending 3 minutes hooking everything up. True, once the whole routine is finetuned its gonna be a matter of snapping up the ipod and hooking everything up in the car.. but the last 2 nights have been spent at home behind the computer, configuring all this stuff and looking to get it all working smoothly.

Tomtom Update: For Example, yesterday evening most of my time went into downloading speedcamera locations, map updates and new voices onto the GPS unit. Never mind the fact that it took me AGES to get the whole Tomtom Jukebox Function working (Jumping through hoops to copy one single mp3 file into the right directory) I also had to download map updates, and select a nice cool voice to replace the standard TOMTOM announcing voice. ( C3PO is now directing my route AND calling me master !)

Ipod thingamajiggs : One of my major sources of information (and entertainment) is of course my Ipod, Updating this thing (and making sure it is sufficiently charged) is also a daily chore I need to get done. Never mind the fact I need to clean up my podcast subscriptions (or rather ADD SOME) because I have become so higly demanding of content that I have chucked out about HALF of the subscribed podcasts and that NEW subscriptions seldom make it passed the first episode. I want quality content !

The entertainment core
. As I said : The car I have does not have a line-in function. Thus the MM50 is the ideal solution. No cigarette lighter plugg is available so some wire-splicing is required to get both the MM50 and the TOMTOM hooked up to the cars powergrid. Add to that that I need to run a "line in" cable from the TOMTOM to the MM50 etc etc .. the word "simplicity" is replaced by "cable hazzard" and the cars dashboard starts to look like the patch panel of the server room.

Communications
: Cellphones is another Issue : I have both a work phone and a personal Cellphone. The question is : Which one do I hook up to the Tomtoms bluetooth Carkit ? And when doing so ? Does it always work ? More hassle … more problems.

At the end of the day
I’m starting to wonder just how much "technology is working for me" The more and more functions and functionality gets built into technology, the more chances there are of things going haywire. The paradox is that you have simple devices doing just what they are supposed to do (like a phone) but that means that you have to dragg around a lot of gear. Or you have devices that do several things (like smartphones) but most of the things don"t really work properly (ever tried using a mobile version of acrobad reader on a tiny screen ? …) The challenge (i suppose ) is to tinker and fiddle to streamline everything and get an integrated satnav, ipod, cellphone, entertainment system to work in a car that is not designed to support that functionality. With minimum cables, hassle and distractions. I have no doubt we shall get ot working sometime this week.

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Captain Tomtom saves the day.

Hmm 🙂 Wonderfull wonderful weekend. As we are entering my favorite time of the year (late summer/early autum) the smell of the first falling leaves is mixed with the last warmth of the amber sunrays. A perfect time for a little day out. Sunday was a mixture of good conversation, Wonderful tea an pancakes and walks in the valley of Spa.

Taking the new company car out for a spin proved to be a great idea. The Audi A3 rolls smoothly and the lack of its "technical extras" has been partially fixed. After surfing around on some "bargain sites" I managed to find a Tomtom 710 GPS unit for 200 euro’s. Looking at the specs it looked like it was going to be quite a cool device. Maps of Western Europe, TCM (Traffic info) , SD card slot ( For playing media) , Bleutooth to use the device as a wireless handset for my cellphone and an FM transmitter. Add to that the option that I can hook up my Ipod to the GPS it becomes quite a nifty toy for that price.

Step one : The device.

Well .. its a GPS and a darn good one. Ok , I need to update my maps tonight, but so far it works pretty fine. It tells me where I need to go, but also does makes little ding-dong  sound when i’m driving faster then the allowed speed limit. When I approach a speed camera the thing flashes and blinks so should get another speeding ticket is from now on.. completely my fault.

Step two : The extras.

Tomtom has come a long way since the days I ran it on a PDA device using some wired gps receiver. This unit also doubles as a hands-free carkit for my Cellphone. Not a big deal BUT it also pulls the entire address book from my phone and gives me the option to call VIA the tomtom unit (search the address book, dail a number, look at my text messages etc). Coming to think of it , using the GPS unit during a meeting would make it a perfect confereing call interface ! Awesome.

Step 3 : Music please.

The entertainment side of the unit is lacking just a little. I haven’t managed to play any of my mp3’s I put on the SD card, but after some Googling it turns out that  this is my fault . I should put them in a folder named MP3. If I can get that working I might start thinking about downloading my podcasts (or audiobooks) to the SD card and using the GPS unit as my entertainment center. Since the quality of the sound is not THAT high , I can choose to use a Line out connector, a bluetooth audio interface with external speakers, headseat or radio, or an FM transmitter. Unfortunately the FM transmitter is very disappointing. Its hard to find a free channel on the radio over here, so I get constant interference from radio stations. When I do have a ‘clear signal’ from the GPS , the audio volume the GPS pushes out it just too low. So i need to find a little alternative.

In all I’m very pleased with my Tomtom unit and am looking forward to geeking it out and finding out some extra posibilities and creative ways to use the device. I’ll keep you guyz posted !

 

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Gps-less in Seatle ?

One of the nice things about being a consultant is that you get to drive a company car. Ok , its something we NEED to do our jobs, driving to clients and so forth. But it does make for some interesting experiences, driving a different car every couple of months (or years). I have been driving a BMW 1 series for the last nine months and I was pretty pleased with it. I’m not somebody who judges a car by how ‘cool’ it is, but rather by ‘how functional’ it is. I spend over two hours a day in the car , and these last three years those two hours have been filled with listening to podcasts. Not always easy as podcasts are on my Ipod and I HATE having to drive with earbuds in my ears. You can’t hear the sound of the engine, the wires get cobbled up .. stuff like that. I used an adapted Logitech MM50 a few years ago when the car I had did not have a LINE IN function in the radio. I hooked up the MM50 tot the cigaret lighter (it used 12v) and played podcasts that way. In the "beamer" i had a line in function and a gps built into the car, so that was pretty easy. Plug in the ipod, and i was good to go.

However the (temporary) car I’m driving right now does not have either : No line-in jack and no GPS. So the whole "entertainment / navigation " issue is (once again) rearing its ugly head. I would like to have both the ability to listen to podcasts and know where i’m going without having to install 4 seperate devices. The first solution I could go for is using my smartphone (HTC 710) togheter with a bleutooth GPS module for GPS navigation. But the interface is just not that good , the screen is too small , there is no touchscreen , the speed of the device isn’t fantastic .. I mean : it comes down to the fact that it "CAN" do all the GPS things (it can even act as a podcast player if I wanted it to) but its just not practical.

My question is : How do I solve this one with minimal hassle. Do I go for an all-in-one solution in playing podcasts and doing GPS (using some kind of smartphone or even a computer) or do I go for something different (exteral speakers / gps etc) It’s not always easy. It has to be simple ,portable , movable and easy to operate.  Time to go to the drawing board. 

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Painting and Mythbuntu.

Its been a few days since the last post and god knows the podcast is overdue, but times have been once again, pretty busy. One of the major things keeping me away from the keyboard are the recent "painting activities" at casa del Knightwise. We have successfully completed the renovation of the upstairs attic ( Lounge room / computer room) but in the wake of that action comes a lot of ‘re-wiring’. Try pulling apart your hobby/geekroom and reinstall everything in one single evening. Doesn’t realy go that smoothly .. does it. So I’ve been pretty busy re-wiring and reinstalling my entire setup into a nice little niche in the corner of the room. I’m still surprised at how compact the whole setup is, yet how powerfull it is. Over the last few years i’ve seen my computer setups shrink and shrink. From "Wargames like" rows of crt screens, keyboards and towers, to a compact but feisty 24 inch mac mini and a multivalent keyboard/mouse/screen setup that I can use to hook up anything. With that little setup, some virtual machines and some SSH connections .. I can do pretty much EVERYTHING. I’ll post up some pictures this week. 

What HAS been keeping me busy is the installation of a new media pc. Since we like the room upstairs THAT MUCH we decided to move our 32 inch LCD Tv upstairs and use it as our main living room. But with that comes a little problem. So far I had been using a G4 Imac for video playback on our (classic crt) tv. With a resolution of 800 X 600 it was a perfect solution. But hooking up the same Mac Mini via a rgb connector to our LCD tv has it pushing out a resolution of 1920 by 1080 ! ANd thats too much for the little Mac Mini to handle when playing full screen Mpegs.

Thus i’m working on another solution. The only thing the machine has to do is play dvd’s, have itunes to play music and run VLC media player. So a stripped down version of XP will do the trick. But i’m not realy looking forward to having an XP machine in the house (at least when its not virtual). So the options are : A Ubuntu installation (i’m running it on a P4 with 512 megs of ram , a 40 gig internal drive and a GForce card) The standard Ubuntu machine would work just fine ( play dvd’s , run VLC etc) but there are still other options.

So  far I have heard a lot about MythTV and Mythbuntu (Mythtv + ubuntu) offering a solid powerfull and scalable media center solution. So i’ve been playing around with that. MythTv offers both a frontend and a backend server (or an all in one) and the possibilities gently exceed the ones of a slimmed down XP with just powerDVD and VLC. So I might look into that one. Especially since I dugg up four old TV tuner cards I had lying around. (So I could use it as a DVR for four simultaneous recordings). But i’ll keep you posted.

 Links : Mythbuntu.

 

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Google Chrome.

I’m sure you must have been hiding under a full sized meteorite yesterday if somehow the release of Google Chrome went passed you. Who knows you might even be surfing this very page with your brand new shiny browser… Its been all over the web and even on the news (On the "radio thing") they were talking about the one million downloads Chrome had received. But … what does it mean.

Google Chrome is a sign of the times that the days of "offline computing" are numbered. The very philosophy behind the browser is to offer a rock solid browser you can use when working with web-based applications ( For example : Google Docs , Gmail etc) This way of thinking points out that applications like "google docs" or any other online application are beyond the state of ‘a gadget" but are seen as real competitors for off-line programs, thus demanding a stable browser to run them in. The web 2.0 with its web application is, together with a rock solid browser environment, a serious competition for any localy installed application.

As a netbook user, "cloud computing" is a thing I do every day. Gmail, Google Apps for domains, Flickr, My online calendar, Facebook, Meebo and what have you. There is not a lot I cannot do in a browser, so having a stable platform to do it all would certainly be appreciated. Firefox does a great job, but does like to nibble away at my memory once a while. But the fact that I have a lot of extentions to choose from make Firefox one of my favorite browsers.

Would I Use Google Chrome ? 

I have downloaded it, played with it and have given it a good look over. So far its fast, its simple and there is not a lot I really hate about it. But thats about it. Its still very new and very fresh. For one : We don"t know the security risks yet (it has only been "out there" for a day) and it does not offer me the fancy extensions that Firefox does. So I don’t see it as a browser, I see Chrome as a "platform" to my Google environment (like Adobe Air is a platform for some applications) Why only the Google side of my life ? Well because they KNOW everything about me there anyway. But to go out and surf the web on a Google browser.. hmm.. I don’t know if I want to do that (I never let Google tie my searches to my account data) I"m not sure what the privacy policy is in Chrome, but I’ll pass for now.

So in the end.

Google Chrome to me, is another competitor for IE, offering a stable alternative to access web based content. It is a lightweight competitor for Firefox for those who don’t use a lot of extentions. In all ? its something new. Beware it DOES come from the "big bad google" and we are giving away another snippet of our privacy .. But we all knew privacy died years ago.

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