A New Companion

May 9, 2011

I bought a new phone on Saturday. So far, I’ve not received a single call on it. Which speaks volumes about what a phone is used for nowadays. I’ve checked personal and official email on it multiple times, done myriad Google searches, edited a spreadsheet, downloaded photos, played with the ringtones and other settings… I’ve even made a couple of phone calls on it and received some messages. But I still don’t know how to receive a call.

My previous mobile was a Nokia touchphone. I’ve had a Nokia phone for several years now – ever since my lovely red Sony Ericsson flip phone drowned in an epic flood in October 2005. I’m not the sort of person who changes phone every season. I had an E 61 which I loved even though it was quite frustrating to use and when the latter began to greatly outweigh the former, I passed it on to my father in law (who has infinite patience) and bought a 5800 Xpress Music a little over two years ago. Some of the frustrations remained; others were replaced by a new set; and the love quickly wore off. Still, the gadget was functional – I could do email (Gmail with some difficulty, but office email was seamless), browse the web, edit spreadsheets, and write notes. And the phone and messaging parts also worked ok. Blogging on it was a pain due to the superimposition of various bugs, but since I had a computer at my disposal most of the time, I chose to ignore this inconvenience.

Some things were really nice about a touch phone. So when the gravitometer (sorry, the accelerometer – but gravitometer sounds so much more likely, doesn’t it) went from being occasionally whimsical to being completely unpredictable and it became clear that a new phone was an inevitability in the near future, I decided to stay with touch. An iPhone looked like it might be the best – or at least, it was sure to be perceived as such – but iPhone 3 seems to be out of the market already, even though iPhone 4 is not yet in. So that ruled it out. Besides, I wasn’t really looking to spend that kind of money. I really wanted something in the sub-10-k range. Much to my surprise, it was possible to get touch phones with Microsoft Exchange in that range. After discarding Apple and glancing briefly at Nokia (but who wants a phone that is going to be end-of-lifed in a year?), I looked at Samsung – they had something for every range. But I didn’t like the form factor and the aesthetics of Galaxy Fit – it reminded me too much of Nokia and a cheap, shoddy replica at that (say I, at the risk of offending many Samsung fans).

I looked at Google Nexus, but it was too expensive. So in the end I found myself paying up for Dell XCD35 – a beautiful form factor, albeit in black (why, why, why? I want red! Or blue! Or purple – anything other than stupid, boring formal black!).

It’s less than 48 hours old now (or it was, when I started writing this post this morning) and the phone has not yet hung, crashed, or done anything dramatic. It seems that it does not allow one to synch one’s office Calendar (Outlook) unless you either shell out 900 bucks or do something fancy with the Gmail calendar, but this is not a serious drawback for me. And it has a sweet interface for WordPress (though I’m still typing this post on my computer from force of habit).

I’m still trying to figure out all the tricks, treats, and kinks of my new gadget. If I don’t take your call, it might be because I didn’t realize it was my phone that was ringing. Or maybe, I still haven’t figured out how to receive a call.

PS: To read Amit’s version of the story, click here.

How to Lose ~40 GB in Minutes!

February 25, 2008

Do you want to lose ~40 GB off your hard drive? Here’s how I did it.

You’ll Need:

1 Microsoft Vista Home Premium (a flavor of Windows that is particularly lousy)
1 Ubuntu 7.10 (a flavor of Linux)
1 Hard disk (in my case, 250 GB SATA hard disk – you’d think losing a mere 40 GB wouldn’t hurt, but you’d be wrong!)

Procedure – In Five Easy Steps:

  1. Load Windows Vista
  2. Enable System Restore (don’t ask me how – there was an option somewhere and apparently I checked the checkbox)
  3. Partition the drive and load Ubuntu into the ~150 GB partition, leaving Windows with ~75 GB (apparently, with a 250 GB hard disk, you actually get only ~225 GB memory; who knows why?)
  4. Now, you’ll find after a few months that your Windows partition has run out of space. This is – as you discover after a great deal of research – because your data is taking up only about 20 GB; sundry program files and data are taking about 10 GB; the recycle bin has about 5GB; and something called System Volume Information is eating up about 35 GB!
  5. Since you habitually use Ubuntu to access Windows files, you can easily navigate to the $Recycle Bin and the System Volume Information folder and check that there’s nothing that looks remotely relevant in there. So, you simply delete the contents of these folders (or delete the folders themselves), thus freeing up 40 GB on your disk, right?

Wrong! If you do this, Windows, being kinda stupid, doesn’t realize that you have actually deleted 40 GB, and will not free up that space. Even if you made a copy of that data before deleting it, and then you copied it back afterwards, trying to fool Windows into thinking it was never deleted at all, it won’t work. Windows will not copy it back onto the freed up memory, but will gobble up another 40 GB for that data (a 40 GB which I did not actually have to spare in that Windows partition). In fact, there is just no way (that Amit has been able to discover after some research on the Net) to get Windows to realize that 40 GB of data has been deleted and that it should therefore politely let go of that memory, thank you very much.

In short, don’t try this at home.

And if you happen to know of a solution to this one, please, please tell me, pretty please, I need my 40 GB baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack…

Vista Sucks… Ubuntu Rocks!

January 10, 2008
Having got myself the latest-greatest Intel processor with coke and fries on the side, I found that Microsoft XP could practically not be loaded and that’s why I got stuck with Vista Home Premium. I don’t know whether Microsoft has it in for me personally, or whether they just enjoy making loyal customers suffer, but Vista was never kind to me. First, due to some peculiarity of the hardware/software combination, it took my geeky husband and one friend more than a week of after-office hours to get it up and running. Once they finally managed to get it to work, it took me only a very short time to find out just how defective it was.From day to day, I was constantly faced with new problems. One day, the front USB hubs stopped working; the next day, it was the back USB hubs. Not, mind you, that the front ones ever resumed work once the back ones went on strike. The microphone never worked, and pen drives plugged into whatever USB hub happened to be working at the time promptly claimed to be corrupted, despite working sweetly on other (older and less sophisticated) computers. My digital camera, which comes along with original software on a CD, worked at random, sometimes asking for a driver, sometimes happy to drive itself. The network connection mostly never worked, except sometimes, when the display claimed that it wasn’t working, when it was. Connecting to another computer didn’t throw up any error – it just took about 45 minutes to copy 6 Kb of data (on an 11 Mbps WLAN!)

I finally got so frustrated that I mentioned to Amit that even Linux would be better than this.

Now, to fully appreciate the depths of my frustration, you have to know that Amit is a hardcore Linux loyalist who has spent about 80% of his waking hours trying to persuade me to switch to Linux. I have stoutly remained a Windows loyalist – in the face of much adversity, I must say – claiming that typing gibberish into a black screen and getting gibberish in reply was not my idea of fun. Give me GUI, I said, and turned resolutely back to Windows.

Now, here I was, in complete and utter despair, pleading for Linux!

Hardly had I uttered the magical words, than Amit was on the Net downloading a fantastic amount of data that took about 48 hours to complete. Once done, I had a brand new Linux-based OS – Ubuntu!

When Amit starts messing with my computer, I usually get out of the way real fast. This time, I didn’t really have to. Before I knew what was going on, my OS was up and running – off a CD. I could access all my Windows files, the network connection worked the way it should, the USB hubs worked, even my camera was detected and connected without a hiccup. I had Open Office for documents, GIMP for photo editing, FireFox for surfing the Net, and some other stuff that I don’t need. What’s more – everything worked! The only things that didn’t work were the microphone, and certain Windows-specific applications like Nokia PC Suite.

I have to admit that running an OS off of a CD while accessing files stored on the computers hard disk was a new concept for me. I have never really been able to mentally separate the data from the OS and imagine accessing one without using the other. Apparently, the computer has no such problem – apart from being a bit slow due to the OS being on a CD, there was no apparent difference at all.

Instead of spending days and weeks installing stuff, Amit spent not even a few hours and my computer was a good as new. Better than new, in fact, considering what a pain it was when it was new and loaded with Windows.

I’ve been a staunch Ubuntu convert for a couple of weeks and I have to say that the OS has not troubled me at all. It has a decent Windows-like GUI and is far, far more usable than ruddy Vista. I’ve taken it off the CD and got it running off an external hard drive now, so the speed is pretty good too. It seems that I’m not using SATA on my hard drive any more, but if this set-up works, I really don’t care. I still have Windows on the hard drive and I have the option to boot from Windows any time I want to, but I really really don’t want to.

Ok now, if you’re thinking this reads like an advertorial for Ubuntu or that I’ve been paid to write this (hey, there’s a whole industry that revolves around that concept) – I haven’t. It’s just an honest, genuine user experience – and a good one, for a change.

The Case of the Smoking Hard Disk

April 16, 2006
The trouble with digital photography is that you get digital photographs. Digital photographs require digital storage. And, for any avid amateur photographer who can’t tell good from bad from positively ugly, and who therefore indiscriminately refuses to delete any photograph, even those resulting from an accidental click of the shutter, it requires an abundance of storage space.Now, as you all know, we are a fairly tech savvy couple, with a combined wealth of three laptops and a desktop, which total to about 150 GB (plus three CD writers). Not all of this is meant for photographs, of course – some of it must be reserved for office work. Still, if you discount about 20-30 GB for office work, we should have enough digital memory to store photographs for some time to come. Or so it would seem.

However, the fact remains that we are perpetually out of disk space and perpetually fighting over what little remains. (This is in part due to the almost total inaccessibility of the desktop. It is a Linux box, whose monitor has been stolen by the laptop, and which must therefore be accessed remotely by means of VNC or somesuch magic, even to the extent of booting it blindly.)

So, to solve the photo storage problem, we went and bought an external hard disk. A second external hard disk, to be precise, because I had bought one when I went on my extended vacation in the Himalayas. With these two we had an additional 120 GB to play around with, if only we could get them to work. We’d already had some trouble getting a consistent result from the first one: it frequently made a noise like a time bomb ticking and then refused to explode or do anything else (thus putting us in a state of permanent suspense). But with the new disk, we were full of hope. This one would surely work and solve all our problems. All we needed was an external case with a power cord.

We spent the next four weekends visiting all the computer shops in Koramangala, MG Road, Brigade Road and even going as far afield as Commercial Street – and believe me, that’s a lot of computer shops. It’s not that we didn’t find any cases; we found plenty. They just didn’t work! The first one we tried allowed us to read and format the hard disk, but not copy any data. After that, it was downhill all the way. By the end of our tour of computer shops, the cases, when connected to a power outlet, would immediately start smoking and promising leaping flames in the immediate future.

But the thing is, the hard disk wasn’t faulty. This we knew because we had tried it on a friend’s computer and it worked beautifully, both externally and internally.

By now, I thought we might be acquiring a degree of infamy among the Bangalore computer stores. I could see wires buzzing as the new flew around network: BEWARE THE YOUNG COUPLE WITH THE SMOKING HARD DISK!!! I even fancied I could glimpse some computer stores hurriedly downing shutters, the shop assistants scuttling nervously out and ducking into side alleys as they saw us approaching with hard disk in hand and grim determination written on our faces.

So we decided to try the hard disk out on our friend’s computer once again. If it worked, we might even persuade him to buy it off us. So off we went on Saturday and cajoled him into testing it. And guess what… his computer wouldn’t even boot up once it was plugged in!

Post Script: It wasn’t until much, much later that we conclusively found the problem. It lay not in the hard disk, but rather, in the casing. It was the case of the hard disk that was smoking – get it?

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