Tuesday, June 17, 2008

There's one born every minute

A friend and I recently sat through a presentation by an asthmatic stereo dealer at Adelphi who was trying to convince us that the power cables he was selling for thousands of dollars each made a difference to the sound.

He had a near death experience as he climbed in behind the equipment to switch out the cables and plug things back in. The wheezing made it sort of difficult to concentrate, but I actually thought I did a hear a difference - the normal cables sounded better.

Which brings me to this gem.

Denon is selling their AK-DL1 Premium Denon Link cable "designed for the audio enthusiast". As both the name and the picture testify, this is a 1.5 meter Ethernet cable. For US$499.

We are talking about moving a digital signal over wire. Digital.

Apparently the words "audio enthusiast" translate to "idiot" in normal English.

Denon's 1.5 meter (59 in.) ultra premium Denon Link cable was designed for the audio enthusiast. Made from high purity copper wire and high performance connection parts, the AK-DL1 will bring out all the nuances in digital audio reproduction from any of our Denon DVD players with the Denon Link feature. Attention to detail when building this cable was used by employing high quality insulation, tin-bearing alloy shielding and woven jacketing to reduce vibration and to add durability. Additionally, signal directional markings are provided for optimum signal transfer. Rounded plug levers help prevent breakage.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Brother HL-2170W Laser Printer - PC Show 2008

After a really unpleasant and expensive experience with an HP LaserJet 2300, I swore off HP and expensive laser printers. Even though it cost as much as its model number when purchased new, HP showed no interest in fixing a vertical streaking problem. The only advice was to buy a new toner cartridge, at S$210 dollars.

Which didn't fix the problem.

Instead of throwing more good money after bad, I threw out the laser printer and survived on my Brother MFC-4800 laser fax/printer. This device is quite capable, with PC to fax transmission as well as scanning and printing. It is not great for graphics, and tends to get cranky when asked to print more than 10 pages at a time. It also does not accommodate the printing of envelopes directly. You have to remove the normal paper, print the envelope, and then put back the paper.

I have been waiting for the MFC-4800 to die, giving me an excuse to upgrade, but the thing has been flawless for more than 5 years now. Which is extraordinary since it seems to be made completely of plastic. I have had to put my prejudices in favour of a heavy metal chassis on hold in light of the longevity of this unit.

My work tends to involve the preparation and review of lengthy documents, so having an ability to quickly produce hard copy is required. With the PC Show 2008 on this week and actually being in Singapore at the same time, I took the chance to scout for a new laser printer.

Interestingly, it was a Samsung and a Brother that showed up on the radar. The price of the machines and consumables were significantly lower than competitors, and customer reviews for the Brother were pretty positive. After looking specs over, I decided on the Brother HL-2170W, the top of a range of 3 printers.

The HL-2140 is the first model in the series which all feature a fast printing speed of 22 pages per minute. It has a USB interface, and is meant for direct attachment to a PC. The next model is the HL2150 which has a built-in Ethernet interface and 16Mb of memory.

The one I went for is the HL2170W, which doubles the memory to 32Mb, and adds a Wi-Fi interface. I was intrigued with the idea of being able to run a printer wirelessly - it means that you can move a printer around as required without worrying about Ethernet or USB cables. It also has a manual feed slot at the front, though without a tray, so envelopes or other odd sizes can be printed.

Being deeply respectful of the crowds at a Singapore PC Show, I went to Suntec on the opening day around 3:00pm, after the lunch crowd had left. It was busy, but not dangerously so, and I was able to locate the Brother booth and do the deal. The printer was on sale for S$100 less than normal, so it was S$298. They also threw in a trolley and USB cable.

Brother is unusual in splitting the toner from the cartridge. Instead of throwing away a print cartridge every time you run out of toner, Brother sells the toner separately, so the cost is lower. Consumables were 20% off at the Show, so I also picked up a high capacity toner refill at the same time. Everything was strapped to the trolley and I fought my way back down to the parking garage and home.

The "out of box" experience was great, just requiring the insertion of the cartridge, and plugging in the power cable. There is a CD with installation wizards, as well as a printed manual.

I was curious about how the Wi-Fi would be configured as a printer doesn't have any obvious way of entering data. Indeed, the manual suggests plugging the printer in temporarily using the Ethernet or USB ports. I connected it to my LAN, and let the installation software run.

The software immediately found the printer and asked how I wanted to install it. I chose wireless, and it then stepped me through entering my SSID and WEP key.

And that was it, the printer was now a shared network device visible to the whole LAN. Simple and sweet.

It turns out there is a tremendous amount of intelligence in the printer. You can use a browser to directly connect to it's built in web server which gives you access to a huge amount of configuration and diagnostic information. There is also a screen to setup email, but I haven't yet figured out if that is for the printer to send diagnostics, or to receive print jobs or both.

I have to say I am very impressed. Compared to the pain I went through with a supposedly corporate class HP printer, the Brother has been a joy to setup and work with. Having the speed and cleanliness of a laser at about the same price as a good ink jet is just amazing.

Oh yes, the print speed and quality appear to be as advertised - excellent.

Skype introduces "all-you-can-babble" price plans

I have been a happy user of Skype since it came out. I have also used it heavily at work, first from China, now where ever I happen to end up in the world. Having a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection is all it takes to maintain voice and video contact.

With children overseas at university, it has also come in handy as a painless way of staying in touch. Far less intrusive than a blind call on a wireline phone, the presence feature lets you check status before calling.


Even at reduced rates, my spend on long distance was still significant because many of the people being called did not have a computer or Skype. Using the SkypeOut service, I bought credits which then permitted the calling of any phone number in the world.

I am happy to say that Skype has now introduced a flat rate calling plan that gives you unlimited (OK, 10,000 minutes per month) calling to wire and mobile phones. The combination of the Linksys CT400 Cordless Skype phone, unlimited calling, and "free" internet through my Starhub HubStation is an unbeatable combo.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Email interviews - magical conversion to gibberish

I occasionally get requests from journalists to provide answers to questions they send by email. The resulting exchange is then often printed as if you had been interviewed in person.

It can be annoying when perfectly good written sentences are often transformed into grammatically incorrect sentences that make you sound like a complete idiot. Or even worse, factual inaccuracies are introduced and it looks like you don't know what you are talking about.

Case in point. I ended up in the Digital Life PC Show supplement talking about how I use an Asus Eee PC. The picture seems to be lifted from another magazine (probably CIO).

The strangest edit came in the section where I had said that because the Eee PC used an SSD memory drive as a hard disk, it was more rugged. This became
the phrase "the Eee PC is in a solid state".

I sure hope so. It would be bloody difficult to use in a liquid or gaseous state.

The resulting article that ran is here as a .PDF