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Instant Street View

I’ve been aware of this great site for a while. Today it proved essential, since Google’s own interface still requires Adobe Flash, which I do not intend to install on the computer I am using since September.


Happy voluntary schizofrenia

It has taken me almost ten years of permament residence, of which almost three years spent at university, to come to the diagnostic: “happy voluntary schizofreina”, or in French schizophrénie joyeuse et volontaire”.

MP Michael Chong’s attempt to fix it is a good cure for one symptom, but things are deeper seated and extend beyond Parliament.

Actually it is DID, but schizofrenia sounds better and it is a popular misconception that it is associated with DID.

Short Break

SONY beats Apple (and Samsung is too late)

Sometimes time makes a decision for you.  This happened to me today.  I needed a notebook.  Now.  My ageing Acer netbook (Aspire TimelineX, a 1st generation Intel Core ULV) has served me well for almost three years, but it will not last much longer: a battery charge does not last as long as it used to; the fan makes screeching noises; the intense use has taken its toll on the cheap case: the rubber feet have gone and the plastic is cracked.  While I have a solid track record of keeping notebooks running past their expected life using only a Swiss Army Knife, I can’t afford downtime in the coming months.  Time for a new notebook.

It’s a good time to be in the market for a notebook.  Last month Intel released Haswell, the 4th generation Intel Core that promises big efficiency gains (i.e. longer battery life) and better graphic performance.  Manufacturers have followed suit, refreshing their line-up and presenting their new models, sometimes with big fanfare. There are a few good trends: the race to the bottom of the last five years is over. Quality products are no longer a rare sighting. Solid State Drive (SSD) technology is gaining acceptance. Gone are the days of the low resolution 1366×768 “HD” displays. FullHD 1920×1080 is the standard (I would prefer a more productivity-oriented aspect ratio such as 16:10, or, even better, Google’s Chromebook Pixel 3:2) and higher density displays are becoming common, mimicking Apple’s Retina display. Touch technology has unleashed designer’s creativity with tablets and hybrid form factors, but I decided to stay with a tried and tested ultrabook.

So which ultrabook did I buy?  I started with a visit at the local computer stores.  Best Buy had the best choice, but the only Haswell-based models in stock were the new Apple MacBook Air in 11″ and 13″ sizes; and SONY’s Vaio Pro 13. At this time, the choice between Apple and SONY is easy: SONY wins.  The MacBook Air has come in age and the refresh did not address its weaknesses: low display resolution (1440×900 and 1366×768 for the 13″ and 11″, vs. 1920×1080 for all SONY’s models) and no touch.  Apple is falling behind.  Its only questionable advantage  is the use of higher-end Intel CPUs  (Core i5-4250U and i7-4650U vs. the i5-4200U and i7-4600U generally used by the competition).  The difference: better graphics performance (Intel HD5000 vs. Intel HD4400) at an added price of $50. Unless you are a gamer, the difference is much less important than the difference in display resolution.

Online the choice was a little bit wider.  On its shop, SONY offered an 11″ version of the Pro, but the Canadian site does not sell an 8GB RAM model (lucky Americans; when will these companies with global supply chains stop the ridiculous geographic discrimination?).  Although the 11″ form factor is my favourite, 8GB RAM are a necessity.  The 4GB RAM on my old netbook are used to capacity, even if I switched to a spartan LXDE desktop).  SONY also offered a convertible tablet, the Vaio Duo, with similar specifications and slightly more expensive.  I think that such hybrids are too heavy for a tablet and too akward for a notebook.  Probably one day one designer will crack the secret for the new form factor (maybe at Apple?), but until then I need to be productive and use the keyboard extensively on the road.  I’ll buy an Android tablet for media consumption (although, I have tried and returned a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 half a year ago because it did not really feel “complete” to me).

The only other ultrabook meeting my requirements (FullHD or higher resolution, max. 13″, 8GB RAM, 128GB SDD, 4th generation Intel Core) and immediately available was Acer’s S7, with very similar specifications to the SONY and $150 more expensive (before SONY’s $100 discount coupon — enter the code SONYCJP at checkout, it worked for me today and I heard it is valid throughout August 31, 2013, but it may not work by the time you try it).  Web reports say that Acer has improved its build quality over the past two years, but I will believe it when I actually touch and see it.  The 3rd generation S7 model on display at Best Buy did not convince me.  Other manufacturers have announced their plans or even shown their Haswell-based lineups, but they have not trickled down the distribution channel yet.

I really wanted a higher density display.  At home I dock my 1366×768 Acer to a 1920×1200 display and I use both.  On the road I feel restricted by 1366×768 and I estimate that I will get along OK with 1920×1080.  Just OK.  Web reports talk of an Acer S7 model with a QHD+ 2560×1400 display.  That’s MacBook Pro Retina territory.  No trace of it in Canada.  The one I would have really wanted to try is Samsung’s 3200×1800 in the much publicized Ativ Book 9 Plus, traditional clamshell, or the more adventurous convertible sibling Ativ Q.  While the many reports are promising, there was no pricing or estimated availability.  At first I thought I could wait a week or two.  Then I looked at my schedule for the next five months and I realized that I will need time to make the notebook productive: decrapify and shrink the Windows partition; install a Linux variation; iron out the inevitable hardware compatibility issues.  Decision made.  I ordered a  SONY Vaio Pro 13.  I have not owned a SONY Vaio since an SR7K, back in 1999, that died an undeserving death inside a transatlantic container in 2003 after an adventurous life that has taken it to high mountain peaks in winter and diving boat expeditions in summer.  The SONY Vaio Pro 13 will be my first notebook with a decent display resolution since 2005 (HP nc6120 with a 1400×1050 SXGA+).  Can’t wait to try it!

DNT Stands for “DO NOT TRACK”

Do Not Track is a simple way for web users to express that they do not want to be tracked.  It is available in most modern browser.  It has been around for four years, and yet the majority of website publishers do not seem to honour it.  RequestPolicy and NoScript keep warning me about web pages that attempt to instruct my web browser to pull in third party content, often from notorious data miners whose sole purpose is to track users.  Few website publisher are mindful of the explicit user request.  One such example is the FreeBSD website: if the Do Not Track preference is set in the browser, it does not send instructions to include Google Analytics.  How difficult is it for other websites to honour the user’s request?  Very easy, as it turns out.  For example, using standard Apache Server Side Includes:

<!--#if expr='!${HTTP_DNT}' -->
<!--#endif -->

The above code will show the third party requested elements only if the user consent to it.  Ignore the user’s express wish not to be tracked and you may be exposing yourself to legal liability.  Web publishers have been warned.

Welcome Committee: From Russia with Love

During last New Year’s Eve celebration our friend Erica organized games to fill the time between dinner and midnight.  One of the games involved an exchange of redundant objects.  We had to bring something that we do not need.  Others did the same.  At the end of the evening we all got rid of our old object and went home with an old object from someone else.  Somebody brought an energy efficient spaghetti cooker and we inherited it.  The mode of operation is simple:  put spaghetti in the tall tube; add boiling water; cover with the “heat retaining” lid; wait for the spaghetti to cook; drain; serve.  After three attempts, I understood why the other person wanted to get rid of that object: it does not work.  But we found a better use to it.  Our son has been asking for an aquarium like the one his grandfather has.  We decided to start him on a low maintenance Siamese fighting fish, commercially known as Betta fish in North America.  The acrylic transparent tube makes it for a perfect fish tank.  His new friend was greeted by a welcome committee.  From Russia with Love, Miss Moneypenny?



Tux Lawyer

Last week I interviewed for a summer student position at a local law firm.  I was surprised when the interviewers gave me their business cards on … Tux!  Despite the friendly presence of the Linux mascot, I did not get a law summer job.  The search continues…