# Tuesday, 22 September 2009

As I mentioned before, for all the flak that it got Windows Vista introduced some pretty nifty features. Which of course will be available in Windows 7 as well. I'd like to just point out 2 things here which are great time savers and I think most people don't know about.

The first is the Start Menu.

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In previous versions of Windows, the Start Menu got pretty crowded after you have been using Windows for years. You had to sort through and dig around multiple layers of program groups and sub menus before you can find what you're looking for. From Windows Vista onwards you don't need to worry about sorting your items properly because YOU don't have to FIND the items, Windows will do it for you.

And doing it is as simple as bringing up the Start Menu, and just typing what you're looking for. For example say you're looking for WORD, so you just type WORD into the textbox, if you're using a keyboard just press the Windows key and IMMEDIATELY type WORD. It doesn't get any easier than this.

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And then you're presented with the search results, not only from the Start Menu, but also from your documents as well, so your Start Menu is not just a gateway to your Program shortcuts, but also your documents as well. With this little feature I've basically stopped organising my Start Menu since Windows Vista, why bother when everything can be found easily?

The 2nd feature is something that veteran Windows users take for granted.

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Whenever presented with a list of items, and we need a random selection of them. The veteran Windows users will hold down CTRL and start clicking on each item to make the selection. This works of course, but the problem is, what about users who are new to Windows? Or for some reason are unable to hold the CTRL key and click on an item at the same time? For that Microsoft introduced a new feature in Windows Vista to allow such users an easy way of doing multiple selections. First go to the Folder Options dialog.

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Then in the View tab, check the Use check boxes to select items option.

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Now when you mouse over an item, a checkbox will appear to allow you to select the file.

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Notice how there's also a checkbox on the upper left corner of the list to select everything. I found out about this feature after I installed Windows Vista onto my Tablet PC, it seems like it's on by default on computers with touchscreens and pen interfaces. But I find it so useful that I've enabled it on all my systems, and I don't understand why Microsoft didn't set the option to be enabled by default since I feel that it empowers the beginner users to easily select multiple items.


Tuesday, 22 September 2009 20:39:25 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 

Writing here refers to this the activity performed with pens like the one below.

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If you're still wondering, that is a stylus tip, instead of a normal pen tip. Writing here refers to the usage of a touchscreen enabled notebook for ink input. Ever since Microsoft introduced the Windows XP Tablet PC extensions I've been using what most people would call a Tablet PC, and I build up quite a little collection as you can see here.

Along with Microsoft OneNote and my Tablet PCs I have scribbled many ideas, and system designs. While typing out a document is fine, nothing gets the juices following better than actually writing down something using a pen. Why not use paper then you say? Because paper gets lost, with my OneNote I have amassed up a notebook that contains my ideas and designs for almost the whole of my working life!

As I mentioned before, I never wanted to be without the ability to scribble my thoughts into my system. So when the time came to replace the trusty Fujitsu P1610 I was faced with a dilemma. Tablet PCs generally were low to medium spec'ed systems and still costs quite a bit, and I was now looking into Silverlight and WPF developement, which meant I needed a high spec'ed system in order to have a better developement enviroment. So for the first time in years, I got a notebook WITHOUT a touchscreen. The Dell Studio XPS 13 (which I'll get around to talking about that some time). The idea was to use the XPS for developement, and then regulate the Fujitsu U1010 as my notepad when I needed some place to scribble ideas to.

I thought I could live with that arrangement.

But I couldn't! So I decided to try and find the touchscreen gadget that Brando was sellling, locally since I didn't like paying for stuff > USD30 for unprotected shipping. I couldn't find it...

Until TODAY! Behold... the DUO pen input system!

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If you've clicked on the link to Brando's site just now you'll notice that this looks similar but not quite the same as the one that's available at Brando's so it's probably another case of rebadging/rebranding by someone. What you see here right now is the sensor unit, the pen is shown at the start of this post.

The pen looks and feels like any other digitizer pen, it has 2 buttons near the tip acting as left and right click buttons.

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And the rear cap unscrews off to reveal the battery chamber.

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Yes, the pen requires power to work properly. 3 LR41 (small ass button cells). This is different from the Wacom tablets that some of you might be familiar with but that's because they work differently. As I just got this thing a few hours ago I have no idea how long the batteries last, the only thing that's mentioned is that the pen goes to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity. Inactivity here probably means no one pressed the button or the pen tip.

So... how does this thing work? First of all you have to stick the sensor onto the middle of your screen, the installation guide PDF on the driver disc mentioned that you can place the sensor on the sides as well but I don't understand why someone would do that since gravity might just pull it down if it's one the side.

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Of course you don't actually stick the sensor onto your screen, that'd make packing your notebook a very interesting experience.

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On the angled bracket part of the sensor (where you see the word DUO) is a strong magnet, this strong magnet is used to stick onto a metal tag which is the actual thing that you stick onto your notebook's screen.

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So.. how does this thing work? The manual just states that it uses ultrasound and infrared. I have yet to find any source of infrared that's emitting from the pen or the sensor, but if you hold the pen close to your ear when it's on you can hear a tiny whine. So what's happening it probably that the sensor acts as a sonar that is used to pick up the whine of the pen so it can know the position of the pen relative to the sensor and thus the position of the pen on screen once you finish calibrating.

The fact that it uses ultrasound means that IT CAN BE DISTRUPTED by other high frequency sounds, on the manual it states that if you see that the pen is jittering check if there are other sounds like..

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Hair drier
  • Air Conditioner
  • Fan

And try to work in a more quiet enviroment.

Because of it's usage of ultrasound for positioning, there seems to be some problems with certain types of screens. For example the manual states that you can't use the sensor on a CRT system since the tube refresh has a high pitched whine as well. BUT.. what's most interesting is that certain notebooks have been singled out as incompatible with the system. From Toshiba A1XX, A2XX, and L3XX series. From Sony FWXX, CSXX, SXX, SZXX, CXX and 15LN series. I found it interesting that the boss/manager of All IT Low Yat (where I got this from) was telling another customer that the reason it didn't work with all these notebooks were because Sony and Toshiba were making their own Tablet PCs and didn't allow other people to make the add ons to enable touch on these notebooks.

I have a better explanation. I don't know what's the common piece of hardware between the notebooks, but it's likely that they're producing enough sound that it's messing up the sensor system.

Functionally the system works, but because there aren't any physical sensors that's used to determine the position of the pen. The accuracy does run very easily. I also experienced the weird problem that the system would not detect me lifting up the pen and I ended up drawing lines all over the place. But it still allows me to draw on the screen. So I feel like it's worth it's asking price.

Also, since they realize that people need to carry the thing around, they first made the sensor collapsible to a flatter state.

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Then they also gave a lovely little auto zip loc bag to hold all the stuff as well.

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I'm pretty sure when this thing knocks around it'll turn the pen on though...

One nice thing about it is that, it reports itself as a pen to Windows, therefore all the pen features, such as pen flicking, the pen input panel, etc. etc. Are all enabled, so that's nice. I'll talk about the Windows 7 pen features in a later post probably.

If you're planning to pick this up you have to realize that you are more or less touching a pen to your screen, while the pen can pick up light touches, do note that if your notebook doesn't have a hard screen in front of the actual LCD, when you press the pen tip on it you'll have the discoloration effect and if you see that just remember to NOT PRESS TOO HARD!

If you're interested in getting this, I got this from Low Yatt's All IT. But it seems like they only had a few in stock, so in case they're gone you can try giving the distributor a call.

Tan Alliance Trading Sdn. Bhd.
No. 29, Jalan Jintan, Taman Supreme, Cheras.
Tel : 03-91317672 / 91317984 / 91313699
Email : tan_alliance@hotmail.com

I'm guessing they're the distributor since their name is on the brochure.


Tuesday, 22 September 2009 19:45:09 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 

"I thought you said you DIDN'T have a problem!" said my wife. She was refering to the tommy gun lookalike that I was pelting WZ with.

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This is the Nerf Raider CS-35 Nerf gun. It's claim to fame first of all is it's unique drum magazine.

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This little baby holds 35 darts! Actually as I was looking at how the darts are laid out in the drum.

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There shouldn't be a problem loading 5 more inside the drum to have a nice round 40 darts inside the thing. This means it can hold more rounds than the Nerf Vulcan! I find it interesting how the darts will just line up into the chambers when all I'm doing is just pushing them in without regard.

The fact that the drum extrudes from the side means you'll need to balance the gun while you're holding it, which I guess could be a problem if you were playing with it for extended periods. Still... it's MUCH LIGHTER than the Vulcan of course.

The second more important feature of the Raider is that, if you can pump it fast enough you can achieve the firing rate of the Vulcan... WITHOUT the use of batteries. How it works is simple, you just pump the gun like normal by pulling the front handle back.

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And then push it forward to load a dart from the drum and prime the gun. (The drum is removed in this pic in case you're wondering where it went)

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Then you pull the trigger to shoot. To achieve semi-auto fire, you hold down the trigger and then PUMP THE GUN LIKE NO TOMORROW and watch the gun vomit darts at your target as fast as you can pump it. The speed and strength at which I pump the gun with just makes me wonder sometimes.... How much CAN this thing take?  It really feels like I'm torturing the gun to it's breaking point when ever I just let it rip.

As I empty the barrel for the first time I realized 2 things. First of all, the Raider OUT PERFORMS the Vulcan. The Raider can shoot just as far as the standard N-Finder where as the Vulcan has about half the effective range. Means it can shoot darts FAR AND FAST. The 2nd thing I realized was that damn.. I have to pick up 35 darts from the floor now!!! The other problem for me was that the drum magazine can only accept Nerf streamline darts, which means no suction tip darts, which means darts fly everywhere after hitting something. Which has been an interesting experience since I can find darts that roll under the chair or something.

To help stabilize the gun as you are laying down suppression fire, Nerf was nice enough to give an extendable rear shoulder stock.

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So you can use it to hold your aim steady while you're pelting a target. It should be interesting to note that I have to use the stock at NO EXTENSION in order to be able to grip the gun properly, so if my arm length is their idea of SMALLEST.. what's LARGEST?

So... would I recommend this to people who are looking to buy a Nerf gun that spits out darts fast? Let's have the list of questions

  • Do you want a gun that shoots almost as fast as the Vulcan using just your arms?
  • Do you want a gun that shoots as fast as a Vulcan yet can shoot FURTHER than a Vulcan?
  • Do you want a rapid fire gun that's lighter than the Vulcan?
  • Do you want a gun that holds more darts than a Vulcan?
  • Do you want a gun that's CHEAPER than the Vulcan?

Yes.. the Raider is CHEAPER than the Vulcan, not by much, by enough to make someone go.. "The Raider seems to be everything the Vulcan is, but better, more convenient and cheaper!" Definitely worth it if you're looking to rapid fire someone into submission with Nerf darts.

Oh.. one extra point to take into consideration if you're buying this for a child, it's possible that their arms might not be long enough to continuously pump it to autofire. At the very least, WZ can't do it... but then he's only 2.5 years old.

Oh.. and here's a short video clip.


Tuesday, 22 September 2009 18:04:26 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Someone once told me that for budget airlines, the later in the day the flight was the higher the possibility of it being delayed. I didn't think too much about it but here I am sitting in SkyPark Subang, where my 9:00PM flight was delayed to 10:50PM... and now.. 12:30AM...

I guess it's fine by me, I still have one more presentation to rehearse and time. Maxis 3G is performing in the airport, and most importantly, I'm in a StarBucks and I found a table with a power socket. So I have the Internet.. and I have POWER!!!

I just won't have much sleep. :P


Wednesday, 16 September 2009 22:22:51 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, 12 September 2009

You might have heard about it already, but Paint... the little painting program that's in Windows? Well, the Windows 7 version of Paint received a fresh coat of paint! (yes... I couldn't resist doing that)

paint

Gone is the low res single pixel pencil tool, now you have TEXTURED BRUSHES, you have brushes that simulate oil and water color brushes, ie they taper off with a fading effect. You have a crayon that errr.. has a crayon like texture, and pens that give it the slanting stroke feeling. There are now predefined shapes that kids can play with like the star and lighting bolt shape shown.

And if you have a Windows 7 compatible pressure sensitive Tablet (I'm gonna say the Wacom digitizer tablets count) The brushes are PRESSURE SENSITIVE, draw hard.. broad stroke... draw lightly.. thin stroke.

And another cool feature that I can only dream about. If you have a MULTI TOUCH enabled touch screen, You can draw with multiple pens AT THE SAME TIME. This is a great way to test how many touch points your screen supports (each multi touch device might contain a different number of recognition points) Just open paint, select a brush, finger paint with all 10 fingers and see how many come out.

The one thing that stops Paint from greatness is that it doesn't support image layers... but then again that's probably the thing that stops people from filing lawsuits too. Want a more complicated paint program? Get Paint.Net.

Good old Calculator also got the new visual treatment.

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What's interesting about the calculator now is the inclusion of some nifty commonly used tasks, such as unit conversions.

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This would come in handy for me since whenever my father asks me to get something that involves length he always states inches, and I always ask him what's that in centimeters.

The little program that I never really had a reason to use, Wordpad has been transformed into a much more attractive and usable lightweight document editor.

wordpad

The useful part is that it can open MS Word DOCX (As well as the Open Document Format) files though certain things might not show up properly since Wordpad doesn't fully implement the features MS Word has, well at a glance.. I don't see anyway to insert or manage tables! I guess it's useful for someone who bought a barebones Windows 7 system, where the OEM didn't bundle in MS Works, or the MS Office Trial, or any other word processor.

So... new Wordpad... nice... but I'll probably never actually use it though.

And then there's NOTEPAD!!!

notepad

Which still looks EXACTLY THE SAME as it did since Windows 95, but then again, Notepad always served a single purpose. Show you the text contents of whatever file it was asked to open. No formatting, No pictures, NOTHING. I guess one area of improvement would be it's performance when opening extremely large files (ie.. > 1MB Server Log files) But then again, if you ever needed to open such a big file, you could just use Wordpad!

Ever since Windows 2000, I always looked at these little bundle programs and wondered "Damn.... they look old!" And now after MS has gone through the trouble of actually improving them, would I actually use them? NO.... BUT... they're definitely more useful for people who just need to get a little something done when they have no other alternative. And for that purpose, the new improvements will surely be welcomed by the users.


Saturday, 12 September 2009 01:33:38 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  |