What my 7th grade child have learned thus far is how to be a consumer

Its sort of like cars. We *worked* on cars. We didn’t just drive them. We open it up, change parts, clean the carburetor. We know how it works. We can tell when something is wrong by the sound of the engine, how the car leans, how it reacted just a second slower than yesterday. We weren’t just drivers. We owe that 4-wheeled mechanical beast and tamed it. 

Likewise, we *worked* on computers.  We didn’t just use them. We open it up, change parts, clean out the rubbish physically and electronically.  We know how it works.  We can tell when something is wrong by the sound of the fan, how the mouse acts, how it reacted just a half a second slower than yesterday.  We weren’t just users. We owe that electronic monstrosity and tamed it.

The grumpy old man in me still think some things are basic and must be learned. I still think our kids need to know how to change a tire. I still think our kids need to know how to work a computer.  I still think our kids need to know how to think for themselves.

I was very excited when she started to have computer classes.  I thought to myself, “Awesome! She’s going to have a head start!  I didn’t touch my first keyboard until I was in high school and we had to pay money for the lesson. She’s start in 1st grade.”  I was in tears.

6 years later, I am still in tears… on what she hadn’t learn.

Yes, child, file has size.  Some are big some are small.  Like fruits, you can’t put a 100 apples in a grocery bag.  They won’t fit. You can’t put 100 GB of files in a 16 GB flash drive.

Yes child, network allows the computers in the house to talk to each others.  Not everything has to be shared in iCloud.

Yes child, you have the CD.  You can rip the music to your iTunes and sync them to your iPad.  You don’t have to buy them *again* in iTunes.  Its called fair use.

Yes child, you have you backup your files, have anti-virus running, read the messages instead of just clicking ok on everything.

Yes child, you have to pay attention to what you are doing. I’m not always going to be here to tell you what to click next.  At some point, your mother and I are not going to be next to you.  You have to learn how to do these things yourself. And that means asking questions. When you are told to click this, ask why.  When you are told to click that, ask what it is doing.

Are you going to just do what others tell you to do?

McDonald’s has a set menu, is that all you get to eat?  Or are you going to learn how to cook and make your own food?

GPS can give you driving instruction but is that the only route you are going to drive? Or are you going to learn your way around?

Oh yeah, car needs gas and maintenance.  You might not be able to make gas but are you going to learn maintenance?

The media and everyone complains about gluten, ozone, plastic, immunization, ObamaCare, and what have you.  Are you going to listen to what everyone else said or are you going to learn the facts, the politics, the sides, and the *real* reasons on your own and form your own opinion?

Don’t just eat whatever you are fed! See behind the Apple, the McDonald’s, the green people, the government. Learn beyond what to click but why and what eating gluten will or will not do to you. 

Don’t be a consumer.



Mini 0803 Followup 1

A few days into using the Mini 0803, one of the commonly reported issue showed up.  Rough roads (and pot holes) would caused the camera to disconnect ever so lightly with the mount.  Several times the camera actually shut down, probably thinking the car was turned off since there is no more electricity coming through.

Last night I’ve added a couple of zip ties to secure the mount so a bit of pressure was applied constantly.

photo 2

(Yes, I have commitment issues, no glue no soldering nothing permanent.)

We’ll see how that works out.



Mini 0803 Dashcam

I’ve been a fan of dashcam for a while.  There is something appealing knowing whatever in front of my car is record, whether it be an accident (hopefully not involving me, my car, or anyone else driving it) or some funny incidents, or even a UFO in the sky. My last cam is a mirror cam.


It has 2 spring clamps that clamped onto the existing rear view mirror (yes, covering it up).  Its own silver surface serves as a larger replacement mirror while the camera assembly (behind it, off to the side of the car’s rear view mirror) faced forward.


My problem with this one is that the camera lens movement is limited and it never aimed dead center forward.  Also, whenever the mirror is adjusted to accommodate different driving positions (3 drivers drove the car, including myself), the aim is thrown off.

Recently Mat from Techmoan tested the new Mini 0803 (http://www.techmoan.com/blog/2014/6/15/mini-0803-probably-the-best-mini-dashcam-with-a-screen.html) so I decided to give it a shot.

At first, I was planning to use a dash bean-bag mount but it created a rather disturbing looking structure that is quite ugly.


I then thought I’d use the sticky header that comes with the camera.  It has a really small profile and looked really good from outside the car. However, it isn’t adjustable.  If I stick it on wrong or if I want it in a different position, there is no way to adjust it.



After messing around in the car for a couple of hours deciding how to mount it, this is the result:


The suction cup part came from a typical mount assembly (there are dozens of brand just on Amazon alone).  After disassembling the rather long and adjustable arm and reattaching a shorter section, I zipped tied the camera to it. The suction cup is just under the rear view mirror arm.  It isn’t a small assembly so we’ll see if I can get used to it.



Working with the Lenovo Helix

After more than a year with the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, I’ve gotten quite accustom to the Windows tablet world. Recently I have a chance to test out the Lenovo Helix.  In fact, I’m writing this post with the Helix.

Let’s put it in context first.  We (at work) have an emerging technology program (IT funds and manages) where new technologies can be brought into the office environment for testing and pilot project with minimal vetting.  The intent is to leverage the opportunity for everyone (users and IT alike) to learn how to deal with said new technologies.  Users naturally care about usability, performance, and simple things like whether the darn things work as advertised.  IT cares about maintenance, level 1, 2, 3 support requirements, compatibility, security issues, vendor experiences, cost, etc.

This Lenovo was brought in as a pilot for Windows tablets.  Along with it, we also have on hand similar devices from ASUS, Dell, Microsoft, and a few other vendors.  The objective was to determine the top 2 or 3 machines that we will support and make them part of the standard offering for those who wants Windows tablet devices. I’m one of the testers and I have this Lenovo for 3 weeks.

Here is a highlight of my experience.

photo 1

Here’s the test rig:

  • Lenovo Helix Ultrabook
  • Core i5-3337U, 1.8 GHz, 4 GB RAM
  • Win 8.1x
  • at the office, it is pair with a Dell 21″ monitor

Getting the system up and online was uneventful.  The usual steps applied: Copying over the Outlook OST/PST, connecting Outlook to Exchange, setting up multi-screen, fully patching Windows and Office, exporting/importing browser favorites, configuring security zones in the browser, installing the other basics like Acrobat, Java, Flash, Firefox, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.  It only took a few hours.

Since I switch over from a Surface (with the “real” keyboard), the Chiclet keyboard was not a big issue.  But I recall when I first switch from a full size keyboard to the Surface, it was painful.  This is no different.  Given that, the key travel was good, the letter/number keys are of decent size even for my fat fingers.  There is a distinct difference between key up and key down so learning the type on it was quite intuitive.  On the other hand, the ESC, F1-F10, Home, End, and Delete keys were significantly smaller.  Mis-keying was a daily occurrence even after 3 weeks of use.

One thing of note though. Those switch from a super think keyboard (like the ones for MS Surface) will find this keyboard base a bit … thick.  My wrists were telling me I was aggravating my carpal tunnel again. It is still thinner than a normal notebook but your wrist will still feel it.

The machine comes with a Lenovo software to configure default toggle locking for 2 keys: the CapsLock (which isn’t that unusual) and the End/Insert (which is foreign to me).  In fact, the first hour with the machine on Excel, I was trying to figure out why my normal navigation was not working correctly.  Turns out the default is to have the “Insert” On/”End” Off.  When I was hitting the End key, I was actually toggling Insert.  Configuring that made operating the keyboard significantly more intuitive.

photo 2

As with any other similar multi-function keys, the secondary function is called by a function (Fn) key.  While it isn’t anything new, the placement of the key is awkward.  It sits at the lower left corner of the keyboard, exactly where you’d expect the left Ctrl key to be.  After 3 weeks of using the machine, I till haven’t adjusted to it.

The Helix has a relatively small screen (11.6″) but it has a high resolution (native 1920 x 1080).  The result is really tiny fonts on default view.  I would have been okay with it in my younger days but even progressive lens are not helping here.  Changing the Windows text size helps in some situations but not all.  For example, as I’m writing this, the font is basically 6 points on screen.  My eyes hurt… One of the real effect (I caught myself doing it) is that I stopped reading the dialog box text and just clicking OK.  Not a good thing.  Just something to considered.

Like most machines in this class, the Helix comes with a mini-DisplayPort.  A dongle is necessary for most connectors (HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, even good ol VGA).  Unfortunately, the engineering on the port is somewhat lacking.  Any jarring of the dongle will cause the display to reset.  I had to bury the dongle on my desk so I don’t accidentally bump it.

Speaking of display, there was a display anomaly that I couldn’t resolve.  Once in a while (once or twice a day or so), scrolling (using either an onscreen scroll bar or mouse scroll wheel) will cause the content of the scrolling box to shrink to unreadable size (like 1-2 point fonts) or cause the content to be partially covered.  Mousing over the text usually re-render them correctly.  No idea whether it is the Lenovo’s graphics card, the windows setting, or some other combinations.  Nothing adverse ever happens.  As it is, it isn’t a show stopper but some what annoying.

Tablet Test - Graphics Anomaly

Here’s a summary of the good, the bad, and the meh:


  • This is a full fledge notebook.
  • All Windows 8.x touch features work well.
  • Good performance.
  • Everything works out of the box.
  • Decent keyboard keys.


  • Not particularly light weight.
  • Graphics anomaly. (No idea whose fault it is, but there it is.)
  • Keyboard layout.
  • High resolution on a small screen.
  • Finicky mini-DisplayPort.


  • Would you really detach the screen?  This is still no iPad.


Honestly, the more machines I use, the more they feel the same.  While the novel features will get the ooohs and ahhhhs for a little while, in the end it is just another computer.  At $1,500 to $2,500 (depending on configuration) a piece, this isn’t the best value out there.  But it is a solid buy.  Would I buy it for myself? No.  Would I use it if it is a standard at work? Sure, I don’t see anything I need to fight about.

Back in the office with Microsoft Surface Pro

Today marks 4 weeks since I last turned on the Dell notebook.  The last piece to the puzzle was the HDMI dongle needed to dual screen this machine.  And wouldn’t you know it, this Surface Pro screen actually has higher native resolution than a 23″ Dell LCD.  I’m still adjusting to the fact that a full screened application in the small screen doesn’t fit the 23″ when I drag it over.  I’ve since taken the dongle around and tried it in a few of our conference rooms, and everything worked perfectly.  Can’t say the same for my iPad dongle… but that’s another story.

I’ve been talking to many individuals wanting to know my experience. Here’s my final take:

Microsoft Surface Pro is logical evolution between full size notebooks and touch-based tablets.  A bad way of saying it is that it isn’t as productive as a notebook and it isn’t as light and responsive as a tablet.  But then the flip size of the same coin is true.  It is much more productive than a tablet and it is lighter and more mobile than a notebook.  In the end, it occupies a unique cross-over position along the computer device spectrum where productivity, portability, mouse/keyboard UI, and touch UI meet.  Those that love it will love it because it is a jack-of-all-trades.  Those that don’t love it will hate it because it is a master-of-none.  That in an off itself summed up my experience.  To choose Surface Pro as a primary computing device is to deliberately choose to acknowledge that those advantages out weight the disadvantages at a personally level.

Knowing what I know now, would I have done it again?  For work, yes.  For myself, no.


Traveling with Microsoft Surface Pro – Day 6

For the past few nights, I sat in front of the desk in the hotel and did some work. Tonight, my wife took the spot so I planted myself on the couch.

  • Due to the soft hinge and soft keyboard (literal), this machine is almost unusable without having it being sat on a solid hard flat surface. I put the firmest pillow on my lap and was barely able use either the track pad or the keyboard. I could have detach the keyboard and operate the screen with the pen but the fact remains that this isn’t a light machine. Hi pretty much have to dedicate one hand to hold it up.  The productivity just isn’t there.

Travelling with Microsoft Surface Pro – Day 3

Day 3 we went to visit Legoland during the day and we spent the evening with family at my brother’s house.

  • I had the machine with me as we went to visit Legoland.  No, I didn’t need it there but I also didn’t want to leave it in the car.  We were there from around noon to 6:30pm.  Even though this is significantly lighter than a full size notebook, the weight is still considerable for long duration.  Carrying it for 6+ hours made me realize it really wasn’t as light as it looks.


  • From Legoland, we purchased a USB drive that allow us to purchase photos at $7 a pop instead of whatever ridiculous price (!) it would have been.  When we settled down back in the hotel, the same issue with the Metro Photo app (the not-scrolling-photos-from-a-non-library-folder issue) made it extremely annoying to look through the pictures.  I finally gave up and just copy the photos over to My Pictures.  Honestly, forcing user to do thing one way is what Apple does, a PC should know better.


  • After grabbing the pictures, I attempted to upload them to Facebook.  Unfortunately, the Metro Facebook app is several generation behind the ones available for iOS and Android.  Once again, I had no choice but to switch to the Desktop and run Facebook from IE.


  • We met up at my brother’s house in San Diego along with my parents.  Of course we ended up discussing cooking techniques and my father could not wait to share his recipes with us.  I snatched them up from his USB drive and promptly realize that the Dropbox app from the app store is read only.  To actually send files to Dropbox and use it like it was meant to, I actually have to download the driver from Dropbox and install it from the Desktop.


At this point, I’ve come to a new revelation.  Metro isn’t really part of Windows 8.  Metro is actually an iOS wannabe running on top but separately from Windows 8.  In other words, Metro is a sandbox on top of Windows 8.  Nothing in it is really tied to Windows.  All the apps run without the capability of Windows.  Unless the app developers explicitly add the functionalities, the apps inherit nothing from Windows.  As such, most app are worse than their browser-based counterpart.


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