Technology

When Apple products become affordable…

Back when I originally considered building a hackintosh, I based it on a rough spec of a mac pro. Very rough. It worked out significantly cheaper and didn’t seem like such a pain in the arse to get going. Idea was that I’d build it and have it for when my now 4 year old macbook pro finally bites the dust. Alas, all that’s gone down the toilet today with apples announcement of a couple of new imacs. Could a purchase from apple actually be financially viable? Surely not!

Spec, but a little bit modified, is below.

27″ iMac
2.8Ghz Quad Core Intel i7
8GB ram
1TB hard drive
8x Superdrive
ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
€2,159.01 incl VAT & Shipping

26″ NEC IPS LCD – €965.93
2.8Ghz Quad Core Intel i7 – €262.00
8GB ram – €175.00
1TB Western Digital Green Power – €69.00
Pioneer DVD RW SATA Drive – €25.50
ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB PCI-E – €96.50
Logitech Cordless Desktop LX710 – €59.00
Antec Three Hundred Midi Tower – €53.00
AXP Powersupply ATX 500W – €35.00
Copy of Snow Leopard – €29.00
€1,822.93 incl VAT

Excluding shipping, but as most or all of the above is sourced from Komplett, it can either be picked up at their Dublin pickup location for free or shipped for €15.

There’s €336 in the difference, in favour of the hackintosh. Consider the following;

  • The monitor in the hackintosh configuration is smaller and runs at a lower resolution. Both however are IPS panels.
  • The keyboard and mouse are, at least in my opinion, far nicer with the mac.
  • Cable spaghetti with the hackintosh. Putting this into an already messy apartment will add to the lovely cable clutter.
  • No upgrade woes. Currently with hackintosh, there appear to be issues with upgrading. Issues that could completely screw your install.

Disadvantage of course is given that it’s an sealed unit, you presumably can’t upgrade it without sending it back to Apple at huge cost. So whatever you buy, you better make sure it’s a decent spec. Storage, at least for me, is no issue. I’m currently coasting along nicely on the 160GB hard drive in my macbook pro. Along with that, I have a Drobo that currently has 1.4TB free on it. Also have a couple of other 1TB external drives. Not going to go short of disk space any time soon.

Hmm lets see, anything else I’ve missed?

Left mouse button fix for Acer Aspire One AOD250

Having googled extensively over the last couple of days and found nothing useful (but I did find several people with the same problem) I thought I’d come back and explain exactly how I sorted the problem, now that I’ve actually sorted it.

First things first. I bought an Acer Aspire One (D250-1924) from B&H Photo while holidaying in New York last week. Note with all the below I am referring to the integrated trackpad and mouse buttons. I do not use an external mouse or keyboard. The click in the left mouse button lasted precisely 4 days before the button would no longer click and to register a left mouse press in windows, you had to press unreasonably hard on the left mouse button. The click in the right button remained and it continued to function as expected.

Knowing well that Acer would most likely no honour a warranty claim on a US bought device in Ireland, I went about fixing it myself. Before anyone points it out, yes, this will void your warranty and I only carried out the fix because I knew what I was doing, my warranty wasn’t worth toilet paper anyway and I didn’t want to pay nearly half the price of the netbook again in repairs charges for something I could do myself. The photos aren’t great by any means (can I have a macro mode in the iphone please?) but same goes for all of them, you can click for a bigger version.

First, take out the battery, then remove the three screws underneath it. Remove a further 7 screws from the bottom of the netbook as shown in the photo below (3 top, 4 bottom).
Screw locations underneath netbook

If you open the memory door, you’ll see another screw to the top right side of the compartment. I don’t know for sure if you have to remove this or not, but I did just in case.
Memory Compartment

Flip the netbook over and remove the keyboard by placing a thin flat screwdriver between it and the keyboard surround. They keyboard is secured at 5 points by clips. The approximate location of these clips are; next to the left ctrl key, just below the escape key, between the F7 and F8 keys, to the right of the delete key between delete and backspace and to the right of the page down key, as shown in photo.
keyboard clips

I recommend unclipping them in the order of top of the keyboard to bottom as the end of the keyboard is also secured by metal pins in slots so if you unclip the keyboard from the top and sides first, it’ll lift out with some ease.

Be careful when lifting out the keyboard as it’s connected to the motherboard by a ribbon cable. Gently lift the locked ends of the connector and the cable will slide out, allowing you to completely remove the keyboard. Ribbon cable and connector to motherboard shown below.
keyboard ribbon cable

There are several screws, similar to those already removed, underneath the keyboard. Remove these also. There are also several smaller ribbon cables and connectors connected to the motherboard, plainly visible once the keyboard is removed. You need to unlock the connectors and remove the cables before removing the top of the netbook. The locations of the screws are shown in red and the connectors in blue.
screws and motherboard connectors

Once all the cables are disconnected from the motherboard, you can start to remove the top of the netbook by gently lifting it from the back (where the Aspire One logo is). There are clips holding the top down, two on each side, one on end either side of trackpad. I needed the flat screwdriver again and put it between the bottom and top parts of the case to pop open the clips. A little force is required to get the clips to pop, but as always, be careful.

The top of the netbook will lift off with some gentle wiggling and pulling. There are several sticky foam pads (such as those around the inside of the trackpad hardware holding the device in place and cushioning it) and these will become unstuck as you pull.

Once the top is off, you’ll be able to see the mouse buttons clearly. The left mouse button is highlighted in the photo below. If you press each with your fingernail and they both make a clicking noise (as mine did) the problem is possibly that the small sticky shim that Acer have installed on the left button has moved.
motherboard with left mouse button

My previous fix, which was to replace the shim and put two tiny squares of sticky tape on top of it to increase it’s height only worked for a few hours until the action of pressing the left mouse button caused the tape/shim stack to move off the center of the mouse button.

My current fix (still in testing but somewhat more solid) was to remove the green sticky pad from the underside of the left mouse button as shown below. I cut two thick pieces of paper (from an envelope) to the exact size of the green pad and put a tiny spot of superglue into the hole I removed the green pad from. I then stuck the two circles of paper into the hole and used a tiny amount of glue to stick the green pad back into hole, on top of the paper. It provided the extra millimeter (possibly not even) for the mouse button to make contact with the switch on the motherboard without having to use the plastic shim.
underside of mouse buttons

Note that the top of the switch on the motherboard for the left mouse button will likely be sticky from the shim. This will cause the green pad to stick to it, leaving you with a very slightly sticky mouse button. Take a small amount of paper and wipe the remaining adhesive off the button so the green pad doesn’t get stuck to it every time you press the left mouse button.

Assuming the glue stays stuck (it was cheap.. very very cheap), I shouldn’t have a problem. I’ll be sure to report back and update this post if I find I need to take any further action to sort the problem once and for all.

I put the whole thing back together, connected the battery and booted up to ensure all devices were working as they should. Hey presto, no more poorly performing left mouse button and no costly repairs for such a stupid problem. As a side note, I can’t understand why Acer use the sticky shim for only the left mouse button. Seems like a design flaw that these things are moving and the mouse button becomes practically unusable.

Note that if you choose to carry out the above fix on your own netbook, you do so at your own risk. If your warranty is still valid, check with Acer if you can have the repair done under the warranty. I take no responsibility for anyone killing their netbooks by copying what I have done above. As I stated above, I only carried out this fix because my netbook has a US warranty and I am living in Ireland. Acer warranty service was not available to me.

Getting all technical; Cabling the house

In a slight distraction from all the photo related stuff (well, this is slightly photo related) I’m looking at cabling the house with cat5e so I can eventually install a fairly large nas drive on a gigabit network that’ll be accessible wherever I want it. At the moment I have an airport extreme router with a 1tb drive in raid 1 plugged into it. I reckon it gets me around 300mbit but it’s still quite sluggish when moving gigs of photos around and I’m guessing it’s going to crap out on me some day when I least expect it. A simple external hard drive is not meant to be left on 24/7 like a more expensive NAS is!

So, I need to run network cabling for approximately 20 points around the house. I figure I’ll go a bit mad with the number of points I’m installing to cater for future gizmo’s I’ll no doubt end up buying. Then I can relocate all the routers and various network gear to a cabinet I’ll install into the attic, cleaning up a few shelves in my already crowded with camera gear office. So, my requests are simple… Does anyone know…

1. Anyone that knows a bit about installing cabling into existing buildings. I’m prepared to have some ducting showing (primarily because I don’t want to tear all the plaster off the walls). I’ve got all the cable myself so I’m after advice more than anything. Although it someone want’s to quote me I’m more than happy to listen.

2. Where can I get networking gear & various bits & bobs cheaply. I know I can get cabinet, patch panels and wall outlets from a local supplier. I can get ducting from a local large electrical supplier for somewhat cheaper than B&Q are charging.

3. How I go about completing a neat job?!?

The idea is to do it before anymore of the house gets painted in case I have to start knocking holes in walls. It’s also probably a good idea to do it before the attic gets floored sometime next year. I was hopeful at first that I’d be able to run the cabling next to the existing TV cable, but due to what must have been an electrician severely lacking in depth perception, I find I’m unable to proceed with that plan. I know it’s a very very bad idea to run cabling outside the house and not a good idea to run cat5 next to power cables… but what about next to plumbing? So many questions, so don’t want to pay a fortune to get them!

So, unless anyone has any advice for me, I’ll just crack on with a drill and a hammer over the Christmas break. I had thought about putting in cat6, but it’s too damn expensive. I figure cat5e will serve gigabit ethernet perfectly well for my needs anyway. Next post, once all this is done, will possibly be a way to cool the cabinet in the sauna of an attic we have. Or maybe not. Guess I won’t be putting anything hugely heat sensitive into it anyway.

I’m all talk…

…and can’t decide how to communicate! I’ve been looking into getting a ‘landline of sorts’ at home since we moved in but I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. This is where you, my learned readers, come in very handy. I’m seeking the benefit of your experience. A bit of background; I didn’t get a physical phone line installed at home, primarily because I’d rather melt my eyeballs with a lighter than give eircom €25 a month to rent a crappy out of date copper cable. So I got symmetric 1mbit wireless broadband from nova networks to fulfill my internetty needs. As I see it currently, I’ve got two options.

1. Get skype. I’m already on skype, so all I’d have to do is create a ‘home’ account, buy something like this for €180 ish (incl delivery) and use skype pro @ about €50 a year (incl geographic 021 number). Upsides are free landline calls in Ireland and cheap as chips for worldwide calls. Downsides include the inability to ‘text chat’ from the phone and the apparently inability to send text messages from it. I’d live without both as I have a mobile. Also, skype is a closed network so I’d be unable to call regular VoIP phones. Err, don’t currently know anyone that has a VoIP phone.

2. Get Blueface. They were my original first and only option. Skype only entered into it a few weeks ago when it broke that they are now offering Irish geographic phone numbers. I’d have to get a phone; something like an s450IP (Siemens Gigaset) and probably get the second package for €99 a year. Instantly, that’s about twice the price of the skype option. It is a more open and adaptable system but is that so important?

Both have a minimum charge of around 2cent per call (connection charge) so I fail to see how an unlimited national landline package (skype) compares with a 300 minute national landline package (blueface) compares. I know I could do additional mad stuff with blueface like connecting it up to the sky box and possibly a monitored alarm and maybe even home automation, but that’s just fanciness for the sake of it. I could setup my own asterisk server, if I so chose. I could get a fax to email phone number with blueface, if I so chose.

Landlines these days are coming with broadband and calls packages that come in around €40/50 for something around a 2mbit (asymmetric) line and in some cases, unlimited calling in Ireland and the UK. I suppose at the end of it all, is blueface worth twice the price of skype? Does Blueface have twice or more of the functionality of skype? I’m not talking about all of the posh stuff either. Just talk, voicemail and maybe some text. How well does €5 per month (roughly) compare with €10? Skype is by far a more user friendly system as far as I can see. Anyone with even a fundamental knowledge of computers can download and install it. It might take a bit more insight to go out and buy a headset to use with it, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for even a novice user. Blueface, while not much more complicated, can get confusing for the layman with all the talk of ATA’s and SIP settings. In skype, if you can remember your username and password, you can use it anywhere.

Finally, for my own interest… How many of you are either on skype, have VoIP services or have both? I welcome your thoughts on the above.

Learn from Guy Gowan, Photoshop Guru

While at Photofest last weekend, I had the utter jaw dropping glee of witnessing the photoshop skills of one Guy Gowan. Now I may be no photoshop genius (or even a beginner for that matter) but this guy blew what little bit I know out of the water. Judging from the gasps and nervous giggles from the audience, a lot of people felt the same way as I did. Well we (some of the crowd from boards) got to thinking how cool it’d be to get Guy over to do some actual lessons, instead of the informal “here’s how I do this and this is why it’s cool” setup that photofest was. Say 1 full day in a venue in Dublin. How much would you pay to pick the brains of a master of the processing work flow?

The venue, date and price for this day are currently undecided (indeed the price cant be figured out until numbers of people are tallied). It costs €1500 plus expenses to get Guy over for one day, so ideally we’d be looking for a group of 25 to 30 or over to keep costs down. Short of paying several thousand euro for dedicated one-on-one photoshop lessons, this could be the best learning opportunity to come up in a while.

If you’re interested, leave a comment here and I’ll compile all the names along with the people currently interested on the boards thread. Hell even leave a comment if you think you might possibly be interested. With enough people, this could just get cheap enough to do twice!

Don’t copy that floppy!

Ah the 90′s, when the floppy disk was the saviour of the software piracy world and people were alot easier to scare. Thank God for open source, if only so we don’t have more of this kind of stuff coming out of the woodwork. Now, down with this sort of thing, back to the photos!

Hotel Broadband

Perhaps all too an ironic subject to rant on given that I am writing from a hotel room but I feel it is worth a rant nonetheless. I sometimes travel around the country for work and normally take my laptop with me so I can catch up with emails, blogging, reading various photography websites while I’m away (and of course to break the monotony). However it would appear, to my eternal dismay of course, that access to acceptable internet services while staying in hotels is like getting exclusive access to a golden fleece.

In all the hotels I’ve been in (even only in the last year or so) I could count the number on half the fingers on one hand that have dedicated internet access for residents. Dedicated internet access sounds like such a hugely technical term but it need not be. One standard broadband connection, be it wired or wireless is sufficient to provide a small to medium hotel. With that in mind, is it excusable for any hotel, no matter of it’s size, and located in a broadband enabled area to ignore the notion of granting access for guests? Am I waffling yet?

It seems all too easy a solution for the chain hotels to bring in the likes of BT or Eircom to provide a hugely expensive pay-as-you-go solution. If I wanted to quickly check my emails or write a few, should I have to pay an extra €20 or so on top of the €90+ I have already paid the hotel for the room?

This morning over breakfast in a Navan hotel, I overheard two American’s comparing internet speeds they had gotten the previous evening. One quite rightly scoffed at the idea of actually dialing up and being subjected to surfing at 26k/sec. It’s insulting that with all the hype surrounding broadband at the moment and the huge amount of marketing the Irish telcos have put into informing the public about the broadband rollout, it still somehow manages to pass over the heads of hotel owners.

If you had a small hotel of say 20 rooms, putting a single wireless access point in the middle of the hallway serving these rooms would, with perhaps a little signal loss, serve all the residents. Two access points would in all likelyhood give each user quite a strong, reliable signal. Hold on though, there’s no need to go that far. Many hotels will already have several CAT5 cables already running to each room over which internet could easily be provisioned. I’m currently in the Marriot Johnstown House Hotel in Enfield and to my delight, there are no fewer than 3 phones and 2 computer connections in my room. There may even be a third computer port in the bathroom, but that’s just inviting woe onto my already dying laptop. Add to this an Eircom wifi network which I can also pick up (at a stretch) from my room, although this is a pre-pay service which requires a user to purchase a voucher. Finally, a hotel with decent internet access for residents!

Is there a serious opening in the hospitality industry for an individuals or companies that setup wifi networks? From my experience so far in Irish hotels, it seems to be a wide open niche…. Unfortunately.

3 Ireland upcoming lauch

TV3 news report that 3 Ireland will be launching at some stage this week, bringing to four the number of operators currently active in Ireland. After a quick scan of the popular thread on boards.ie, it would seem that packages and phones are to be announced tomorrow with some claiming 2pm as a time.

Earlier speculation had put the launch on the 3rd of August but it would appear, even if the network isn’t launching fully tomorrow, that there will finally be some announcement on pricing and phones. 3 themselves were playing their cards close to their chest and wouldn’t give any/didn’t have any dates to give me when I interrogated one of their call centre staff a few weeks ago.

In other mobile related disasterous news, Eircom has successfully bought the Meteor network. Surely this spells the end for low prices, including the hugely advertised 5cent talk or text offer. Free meteor to meteor texts; how long will it take for those to fall by the wayside? Eircom have promised ‘lower prices and greater competition’ in the mobile market. We have to take that with a pinch of salt. They are, after all, advertising their landline telephony services as something along the lines of ‘great value’. Just when I was thinking of porting to Meteor too… I guess 2pm tomorrow may tell which direction thousands of mobile users will be going.

Hello 3, bye bye Meteor.

[edit]

Now that the writing is on the wall (or at least on the website) we can see the pro’s and con’s of going with 3. Some of those which pertain to my own personal usage would be

Pro: €25 for 200 minutes or 100 mins and 100 texts; far cheaper than Vodafone.
Con: Expensive phones; I’d just have to get the Nokia.
Pro: Some inclusive video content, what free content do Vodafone give?
Con: Voicemail access is not free.
Con: No webtext. Furthermore, no solid plans to implement webtext.
Con: Full number portability not possible until middle/end August.
Con: Reletively poor 3G coverage(?), phone would spend most of its time on O2 2.5G.
Pro: I’d finally get rid of my quiet as a mouse Nokia 6600
Pro: Quick delivery of phone once ordered, website quotes next business day.

I think I’ll wait a while… For me, the greatest loss would be the 300 webtexts per month. I probably use at most 80-100 of them (and that’d be a busy month) so it’s time for some humming and hawing. I could get over the lack of free voicemail, it’s not like I spend hours on the phone listening to the automated voicemail robot telling me I have no messages. I’d agree with Tom though, 3 Ireland really need a blog or forum to get the all valuable feedback coming in.

[/edit]

Dell X1

Oh holiest of holies.. Ohh eternal monument to mans creative powers… “Holy Macaroni!”

Fiddling around with a Dell Latitude X1. Smaller than the X300, something I would not have thought possible. Trade-off’s come with smaller size however. Although the screen is now a pleasing 12.1″ widescreen and the resolution is far higher than in the X300, the keyboard requires the speedy fingers of a Barbie doll on halucinogens in order to type in any functional way. Forget about using the trackpad too, I gave up after about 30 seconds and plugged in the included USB mouse.

It’s nice to see a compact flash slot in the side, handy for downloading all those thousands of pictures from your DSLR when on the road before finding the nearest wireless hotspot to upload them to the web. Either that or burn them onto CD or DVD with the included DVD-R drive. Nice to see a gig of ram and a 60gb hard drive in a laptop this small too.

Had I the bones of €1500 hanging out of my back pocket and not a tap to do with it I’d consider making an impulse buy. Reminds me alot of the uber small Sony VAIO with a Dell dashboard. It’s nice… a little too nice! I wonder how far I’d get with it stuffed down the front of my pants before being rumbled…

Impulse buyer

Finally took some action, after much in the way of humming and hawing over it, and bought a new computer. Went to the Dell outlet store to get one of those cheapo refurbs they seem to have so many of. Whilst browsing the updated stock list or 110 pc’s I spotted the following

P4 3.2Ghz (1MB L2 cache 800FSB)
XP Home
1GB PC-4200 RAM
160GB SATA hard drive
128MB PCI-E X300 Video card

That’s the bones of it. Got it for €848.21, or about €400 off the retail price. I finally have a new computer. I can play games again! I can burn DVD’s. I can edit photos and video without the mind-bendingly frustrating holdups. Hurrah for impulse buying!