A blog/portal of web sites and things of interest to Monty

Monty's Muse

Monday, June 30, 2008

First Big Stumble with the D410

Well it had to happen eventually and it did. My wife liked the look of the D410 and wanted to use it to plan some upcoming travel. No big deal, I don't mind sharing but I didn't really want her messing up any of my files or settings or have to wade through her bookmarks so I figured I would just set her up a profile to use on this notebook.

So I wander into User Accounts and click on the appropriate link. First thing I have to do is set up the administrator account. No problem, that will be Monty. I figured since I had been working under an administrator account all this time, it would assume the identity of the first user I created. How could I be so foolish, let's blame the late hour.

I log out, and the only option is to log into "Monty". Where did the administrator account go I've been using all this time? So I go into "Monty" and yep, you guessed it, every setting is gone! My files saved to desktop, shotcuts, wireless settings, bookmarks and saved passwords....all gone. Deep breath, ok, there has to be a way to move everything, but what the heck happened to "Administrator"? Well to get myself to bed before it gets too late tonight, after several user creations and deletions I figured out how to go into the System->Advanced tab and copy a user profile. Wasn't too difficult and most everything was recovered. The only casuality along the way was the Intel Wireless Controller. Nothing I tried would all it to save my security settings so I could log into my network. Kept throwing up these strange database errors. Finally I gave up and said "Let Windows manage the wireless adapter". After that I was able to get on the network and everything else seems to be working as it was (even remembered my PgUp remap).

Guess the lesson learned is I should have set up the adminstrator and user accounts first thing before I started "customizing" my XP install. Either that or tell my wife to keep her grubby paws off the D410. On the up side, I tried 3 different Linux distros out briefly this afternoon and two of them appeared to work perfectly. Figure I'll be dual booting something before next weekend gets here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

First Days with the D410

I've had the D410 now for about 4 days. As this machine is a refurb I want to make sure everything works good before I go messing too far from the base installation so I haven't tried out any Linux distributions yet. I did download and burn the latest Mint 5 and also have PCLinuxOS Minime2008 waiting in the wings. Looking forward to messing with those in the upcoming weeks but right now it's just me and XP Pro. So far I'm not disappointed with the performance under XP. Response seems to be pretty snappy and not having any lock up problems or anything like that. Suspend, hibernate and all the power management features are working just fine. I could live with XP (but I probably won't).

Turning the clock back to last Tuesday, when I turned the D410 on for the first time, the machine went though an image configuration utility, I watched some of this, went and worked on dinner (cheeseburgers and corn on the cob) for some of it. Some of what I saw was it configuring the Bluetooth (what am I going to do with this?) and the wireless drivers. Well they must have got it right because when it finally (after about 20 mins) got into XP, everything was working just fine. The Intel wireless immediately found a wireless network and prompted me for settings. After setting the SSID and encryption key it connected right away and has worked flawlessly. After seeing that everything appeared to be working I disconnected from the net and installed a couple things from my flash drive.

Avast! Home Edition http://www.avast.com/

This being a Windows machine, a good antivirus product is a must. I seem to go back and forth between AVG and avast!, I can live with either one but I get the impression that avast! is a little better and it does appear to do a little more so that's the one I went with.

Mozilla Firefox 3.0 http://en-us.www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/

I've been using Firefox for several years and would not consider running a machine without it. It beat IE to the punch with tabbed browsing and from what the experts say it is safer/more secure. I like the way it stores passwords and you can find themes and add-on to achieve a look and features to satisfy about anyone. Recently I realized that I was missing out on a good deal of Friends for Sale bucks on Facebook by not logging on frequently enough. You earn $10,000 every four hours you log in. With an add-on reload application I've set Friends for Sale to reload it's tab every 15 mins on a seldom used computer. The result is $60,000 earned everyday. I'm not confident I could have accomplished this quite as easy using IE.
With my antivirus in place as well as my preferred browser I was ready to attack the web. There isn't a whole lot more that you need to be productive anymore. As long as you can get to the internet, web applications are available to complete most needed tasks. Gmail was set as my homepage, a few other favorite bookmarks were added and I was ready to go.

Over the last few days I had added a few more applications to help me get along.

Yahoo Messenger 9 beta http://messenger.yahoo.com/win/

Hands down Yahoo has the best combination of software and number of users. Most people I keep in touch with use Messenger (I'm GLMontyWV). Those that still use AIM I can reach just fine through Gmail's home page as well as other Gmail users.

KeyTweak http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/

OK, here it is, my first real complaint about the D410. The keyboard, it's small, very small for my XL size hands. Still I've adjusted and am not doing too bad with it. There was one problem though that I didn't think I could adjust to, the right Shift. The right Shift key is small, very small, half the size of the left Shift key. I would overshoot the key with my right pinky about half the time when typing. This may not be quite as big a problem would it not be for the fact that the Page Up key is right next to the Shift key. So there I would be, typing away and next thing I know instead of getting a capital letter I would be typing in the paragraph above where I wanted to be. This would not do at all. It took a little bit of searching for a solution that didn't involve going in and making manual registry changes and then I found KeyTweak. To put it simply, KeyTweak allows you to reprogram single keystrokes. Most people probably use this to add a function to an unused key, like putting a mute button on a standard keyboard. After a quick download, install, and a couple minutes playing with it (who wants to read instructions?) I figured out how to replace the PgUp key with another “shift” key. Now if the pinky over shoots the left Shift key then no harm is done as there is another “shift” key right next to it. I've missed having the PgUp key a couple times in the past week. I was accidentally hitting that PgUp key more then a couple times in every paragraphs I typed. The switch has been more than worth it for me.

Hotspot Shield http://anchorfree.com/hotspot-shield/

One of the reasons I wanted a small notebook like the D410 was so I could take it with me easily. This means unsecure wifi hotspots. What good does it do to connect to the net if you can't do anything or log in anywhere because you are afraid some guy at the next table is stealing your information. I know with Gmail you can log in with https but that only protects a small part of what I want to do online. The solution is of course VPN. When I'm on my work laptop the first thing I do set up a VPN connection to the work network and then I can access the shared drives, mainframe, e-mail and other applications securely. I was looking over solutions for setting up a VPN server at home so I could securely connect back to a secure location for all my web traffic and then I stumbled upon Hotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield offers a free service where you can establish a secure VPN connection to their servers, protecting all your wifi data from your pc to their end, protecting it from any snoopers nearby. Hotspot Shield remains free for up to 3GB of use per rolling 30 day period. I expect this will be sufficient. If not they offer subscription options if you need more bandwidth. How can they afford to do this? Advertising! Across the top of your web session appears banner ads, not too tall, probably 50 pixels high. I wouldn't want to see this all the time but it's a worthwhile compromise to have a secure web session when I'm away from home.

OpenOffice http://www.openoffice.org

I just can't understand why this quite popular software isn't more popular than it is. For the total price of FREE (it's totally Open Source) you have a feature packed, highly compatible alternative to Microsoft Office. I use it, my kids use it, my wife who is a very long term Office user is now using it (at home). Compatibility is not 100% with Office but it is awful close. It doesn't have all the feature Office has but it has most that most users use. Before spending the cash for MS Office for your next PC, give OpenOffice a try. My guess is close to half the users who give OpenOffice a try would select it for free over the expensive Office suite from MS. I've typed this whole blog on OpenOffice.

That's all the software I've installed so far, not sure I really need anything else. Maybe an image viewer and basic manipulation program, anyone have a good suggestion? Going to look at some spyware/malware protection but not really sure what is needed and what is overkill in that area as I've been using Linux so much I haven't had to be concerned with those things. There is a concern though that when I do try Linux on this machine that I may not have an application for secure VPN and my key remapping. Worry about that when I get to it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Monty's Ultraportable Dell D410

Well after only one missed delivery attempt, the big brown truck successfully delivered my D410 to me yesterday about 6PM. Much to my wife's displeasure, I neglected the lawn that was in great need of attention (it did get mowed before dark though) and immediately took a steak knife to the packing tape on the box. My first surprise upon opening the box was an as new black nylon Dell carrying case that was just the right size for the D410. I was expecting to have to go find a case for it as it wasn't listed as an included item. On the plus side I now have a case for it, on the minus side it feel like it weighs almost as much as the D410. At least I can be a little more leisurely about finding the perfect case for it now. Under the case was the nicely protected D410, power supply, external CD drive (yep, the D410 comes with no optical drives onboard) and a small pile of CDs that I'll never use except for possibly the system restore disk. As this is a used machine I was prepared for a few little dents and dings, hopefully nothing too bad but when you buy used you expect a few blemishes and this did have a little of that. The little rubber track point in the keyboard showed a little wear and that was it, otherwise this machine looks like BRAND NEW! Woohoo!!! OK, to be honest, I just held the machine up to some sunlight and I can see a tiny bit of wear on about a 3rd of the keys but you have to really look to find it. I could not find a single mark on the case, no smears or scratches on the screen, the pointer pad looks like it has never been touched. I am absolutely thrilled with the physical condition of this machine!

If you want to review the general specifications there is a great review of the D410 with pictures here (click picture to go to review)

So far this couldn't have been a better choice. Not sure if my experience is typical but if you want to check out the used computers available from DFS Direct Sales you can follow this link http://www.dfsdirectsales.com/

Experience setting up the machine for use to follow.

Thanks! Monty

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monty's Search for a New Laptop

For last several months I've been closely watching the growing popularity of Ultra-Mobile PCs. Leading the way in this recent race is the little Asus Eee PCs starting with the 700 series with their minature 7" displays and most recently the 900 series with their 8.9" displays. Athough I've had my eye on these, admiring the appeal of their "Ultra" small size and Linux operating systems, I've been hesitant to jump in and buy one. One issue is the extreme small screen size with the 7" machines only having a screen resolution of 800x400. The 900 series improves on this with the 8.9" display and an acceptable 1024x600 resolution display. The second issue with both machines is the extremely compact keyboard. I've got large hands and could not display imagine trying to browse, yet alone blog with a machine with such a small keyboard. Price was suppose to be a major positive for these machines and with the 700 series they were price at an attractive $300 to $400 depending on storage size and whether the webcam is included. Price on the 900 series is no where near as attractive at around $550 so I went looking for other options.

I started looking for smaller, more traditional laptops. Most had 15" displays and those with the smaller displays were quite expensive, considerable more than the Asus 900 series. I had about given up my search for a sub-compact laptop, at least with the current offerings and then I stumbled onto the off lease part of Dell's website while trying to find the 14.1" Vostro 1400 that is apparently discontinued. I quickly moved to the laptop/notebook section and went for the "Display Size" option. There were the listed the normal sizes, 17", 15.4", 14.1", 14.0" and then what really caught my eye, 12.1". Two models were listed, the D400 and the D410. A little quick research showed the D410 to be the prefered of the two and it was available for what I felt was a very reasonable $365. It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for, not to small but still portable, not too expensive but decent specifications. What the heck, I clicked the "Add To Cart" button. Noooo!!!!! "The unit you selected is no longer available." Disappointed but refusing to be denied (and also knowing an individual can only hold an item in their cart for 15 minutes without purchasing it) I decided to wait, attempting to add it to my cart again every few minutes. Finally after about the 5th or 6th attempt, success! An extra $17 for ground shipping and my new sub-compact laptop was on it's way.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Welcome to Monty's Blog

I own and maintain several web sites but all of them have a pretty specific purpose. I didn't have any place that I could just put whatever was on my mind, until now. Here I will cover a little bit of everything that is of interest to me. Hold on, it's hard to tell where I'll end up.