Tagged: Computers

Beating around the Bush with the Internet


Well, I could not think of a better title to this blog post !

Our home had a 300 MBPS fibre internet connection for the past couple of years, and recently the contract ended. I was paying a price higher than that for 1 GBPS (1,000 MBPS) fibre connectivity for more than a year, as there was no point in upgrading during the contract or breaking the contract. This is always the case as the lock-in period deters people from much necessary upgrades, unless one is prepared to pay much more or incur a penalty.

So, once I was out of the contract, I decided to upgrade the internet speed to 1 GBPS. I was really salivating at the possibilities afforded by increased speed of access, and was hoping that the sales talk was for real – in the sense, that my access speeds will at least triple from where they were before the upgrade. Not an unrealistic expectation, I would say.

But then, reality is always different.

I got the speed upgraded and the provider installed a D-Link cylindrical router in the place of my much-loved ASUS router (which incidentally would be able to handle the increased speed as I found out later). It was a simple installation lasting less than 10 minutes and the guy from the service provider took my signature and left upon completion of his work.

Within couple of hours after the upgrade, complaints started from my household with regard to the speed and quality of the internet access – the speed was apparently lower than the previous lower speed of 300 MBPS! Further, there was “fading in” and “fading out” of the internet – it comes and goes type of complaint. I embarked on some serious testing and found that the complaints were true. I was upset that the provider could do such a shoddy job.

I contacted the service provider and some gracious technical person guided me through the troubleshooting and we jointly found that the old ethernet cable was the problem. I replaced the same with a new cable from the router box and the direct speed from the modem to the laptop increased by a huge amount from less than 100 MBPS to 700 MBPS ! After this experiment, it looked OK but then I found that the mobile broadband speeds and laptop internet access speeds deteriorated significantly after a distance of some 10 metres. For instance, I was getting less than 20 MBPS on mobile broadband just 10 metres from the router. This meant that my surfing from a slightly remote bedroom was impacted, and this was not the case with the previous 300 MBPS fibre speed. It became very clear to me that the service provider has not tested various scenarios within a normal household.

I again contacted them and insisted that their service person should stay on for atleast 30 minutes and prove to us that there was no problem with the internet. Surprisingly, the provider agreed and sent a technical person (who was much better than the previous person who just installed), and he modified some settings on the cylindrical router. I witnessed a massive jump in mobile broadband speeds on my Apple iPhone in the living room wherein the router was installed. It almost approached 292 MBPS on my cell phone, which I thought was fantastic. Further, the remote bedroom speeds more than doubled from the previous levels.

So, I thought all was good and signed off on this second visit from the service provider (within just 4 days of the original installation). I gave a strongly positive rating given the quality of the work done by this second person.

But then the real measurement of performance lies with the big users – my wife and the children. While the children were generally OK with the new speeds, my wife was not as she generally uses the internet from the remote bedroom.

I scratched my head. I thought this will pass and everyone will eventually be “OK”. That was not to be. My wife again complained and asked me why I have not implemented the WiFi range extender which has been under our consideration for quite some time, since we have 3 walls separating the master bedroom from the living room, and I had previously gone around looking for a suitable solution.

So, here I go !!! I went shopping yesterday, and bought a few items. I bought a rather expensive WiFi range extender (TP-Link) since there was a sales person at the Challenger Store who patiently explained that their expensive solution is better for Netflix Video Streaming as compared to their cheaper solution. I asked some questions and got satisfactory answers. I bought the more expensive solution which is basically a powerline internet range extender, came home and proudly installed it. I was worried if it would really work out for us, as I had the immense pressure of satisfying the lady of the house.

I did everything as per the book, “paired” the two devices of the TP-Link solution, and took one of these devices to the bedroom and inserted into the power point. It gave some initial troubles, but then eventually it worked…….we got some very good internet speeds for seeing movies in our bedroom. I am still continuing to test the product, not all done. However, I believe it is a good product. Basically, you connect an ethernet cable from your router to this TP-Link device and then pair it with a similar device. The second device becomes your bedroom range extender as it gives out WiFi signals of good strength via the electrical circuit.

Still testing, but looks good. Hope it is a good investment!

Experiments like these are challenging but good though somewhat expensive!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

02 October 2016

Windows 10 – initial impressions


The quick conclusion: Mac is still better than Windows !!!

I use Mac both at office and at home; I also use Windows laptop at home for certain purposes. I reserved the Windows 10 free upgrade a couple of months ago, and was eagerly awaiting the momentous occasion when I could indeed achieve the free upgrade.

The process of effecting the upgrade was fine (though not as easy as it is in the case of Apple Mac). It took a long while (a few hours), but that was also acceptable. I was thrilled when Windows 10 finally started running on my Lenovo X230 laptop (2.5 years old as on date). I browsed around, read some articles on how best to use the Windows 10 settings, used the new Edge browser (quite impressed), and came to the view that Windows 10 indeed is a good release compared to Windows 8.1.

But that impression did not last long.

Even though millions of testers have tested Windows 10 for probably a couple of years, Windows 10 still contains hundreds of bugs (I do not know exactly how many, but going by the system updates happening frequently over the past couple of weeks, looks like much work still remains to be done).

And the bugs came into play today (on a nice Sunday afternoon). The Windows 10 repeatedly crashed, the browsers crashed, and the system became unresponsive four times today. I did not have access to the Mac, so I had no choice except to keep using the Lenovo. It was so bad that I wanted to run away from Lenovo and Windows 10. There was discussion around the house, and the general consensus was Microsoft would never “get it”, though the new CEO has done some great stuff over the past year or so.

The benchmark for Microsoft still remains as Apple Mac user experience, there is still nothing to beat it. Yes, Mac is expensive, not completely trouble-free, has its own set of quirks, etc., However, the overall user experience is very pleasant, the system update process is easy and painless, the software works seamlessly, there is no virus to speak of, the system is stable, and the performance is outstanding.

Can I say the same thing about Windows 10 after today’s experience ?

Surely not. I had to “hard boot” my system four times, and that is simply too much. And in the first two reboots, I noticed that the system update process was controlling the Lenovo. Where is the easy to use, simplistic experience that a family is looking for ? Why is Windows 10 still a complex piece of code which does not understand what the users want ?

I am not going to recommend Windows 10 upgrade, in fact I am thinking of rolling back to the rather stable Windows 8.1. Please ensure that you have studied the pros and cons of upgrading thoroughly before the upgrade. I am still watching my system carefully, and NOW it is on my close scrutiny and watch.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th August 2015

Upgrade to Windows 8.1 ?


The upgrade of Windows 8 to 8.1 was released by Microsoft last week.

I have a Lenovo laptop Model X230 which I purchased less than a year ago, running Windows 8. While I am happy with the X230 hardware, I was not that happy with Windows 8. It was confusing, difficult to use, and not context-sensitive like the MAC OS – and, not user friendly at all. I liked the Windows XP Professional the best so far (Windows 7 was a waste of time).

While making the decision to upgrade to 8.1, I was in two minds. Is it going to be worse than what it was in 8 ? Is it going to corrupt all the data ? Is it going to affect the running apps ? Is it going to force my hand back towards Apple ? etc., etc.,

I decided I was not going to back up my hard disk. A risky bet, but a bet it was !

I started Saturday evening to figure out a way to upgrade – I thought it would be better to use the Internet Explorer as it is after all, a Microsoft upgrade which would be intimately tied to the IE browser. I went to update.microsoft.com as anyone would do, and saw the free update button. I clicked it and nothing happened. I checked the browser options, and everything appeared to be fine [I have to disclose that I use the Mozilla Firefox almost exclusively, and the Google Chrome occasionally]. I tried couple of times to update but nothing happened via the IE update button.

I thought “Oh, this is going to be hard, man”.

Then I thought, why not try the Firefox browser – just try it and see.

And you know what – it worked the very first time I clicked the update button at the Microsoft site I mentioned above !

Amazing isn’t it ? There may be something wrong in my IE configuration, but I am not going to behave like a technical expert trying to figure out what is the problem with IE and waste my time on a Saturday evening, right ?

So, the update button worked on the Firefox browser, and the download started off via the Microsoft Store.

The good thing in this update process was that I was able to use the system without surrendering the system to the control of the update process. But, that was the only good thing !!

It took more than an hour to complete the update with two reboots, which interrupted the above usage of the system while updation was going on. The funny thing is that the system kept on stating that it is checking the devices, setting up the system, et al……..and took a long time in each one of these steps.

All this can be forgiven if I could get back my system in exactly the same fashion it was before the update, with new functionality and interface.

But it was not to be. The update is not designed that way. Not like MAC OS.

Microsoft forced me to do a number of things when the system was finally ready to be set up with personalized data. My original Windows Sign-on password and fingerprint identification did not work. I was forced to create an Outlook.com sign-on which I did not wish to – but then, there was no choice for gmail or yahoo email ID – only Outlook.com, Live.com and Hotmail.com – all Microsoft products. Any surprise here ?

In any case, I went through all these steps, but my fingerprint ID still has not worked. I have to separately configure that now. Some other program now has a compatibility issue. All such mis-steps puts users off. I am sure more advanced users will end up dealing with more complext challenges during the update process.

The interface looks slightly better after the update, but I am yet to use the system comprehensively. Everything except one app seem to be working find, but I need to check further.

Microsoft needs to do more user testing, and learn from Apple.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
20th October 2013

Finally bought it !


After quite a bit of research, I finally bought a Lenovo Thinkpad X230. I had earlier written a post about shopping for a laptop, which has never been an easy decision – see “Shopping for a Laptop”

I had to make some compromises, due to couple of reasons: (1) I wanted to buy the laptop online preferably from the original manufacturer directly, which restricted my choices ; and, (2) the configuration that I had earlier decided was not available in the budget I had planned.

Nevertheless, I got a laptop delivered to me which met my major requirements for speed and portability. The configuration that I ordered has the following configuration for X230:

i5 Third-Generation Intel Processor capable of turbo-boost up to 3.30 GHz (instead of i7)
8 MB DDR3 RAM operating at 1600 MHz
500 GB HD spinning at 7200 RPM (instead of 750 GB)
Intel HD 4000 Graphics with 1 GB Memory (instead of nVIDIA Graphics Card with 1 GB Memory)
1600 x 900 14″ HD+ Display (1368 x 720 12.5″ Premium HD Display)
2 x USB 3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0 Ports (instead of 2 x USB 3.0 and 2 x USB 2.0 Ports)
VGA Port (instead of VGA and HDMI Ports)
Fingerprint reader
4-in-1 Card Reader
Back-lit Keyboard
Expanded 9-cell Li-Ion Battery (expected time on battery around 8 to 9 hours)
Windows 8
2-Year Global Warranty

The above configuration worked out at a price slightly less than USD 1,000.

So far, I am OK with the laptop, having used it only for a week or so. The key advantage in the X230 laptop is its weight – less than 4 lbs or less than 2 KGs. I will need to measure the exact weight, but it feels really light.

I will write about Windows 8 and my views on its ease of use (or otherwise) in an upcoming post.

You might ask me why I selected Lenovo over my previous favourite, ASUS, or even HP.

The answer lies in the fact that ASUS was not easily configurable online, even their U.S. website was not user friendly. Their many models available via the AMAZON site were not modifiable to meet my requirements – one has to just order the configurations available as offered at AMAZON.

I thought HP has made some quantum leap in the way they designed their laptops and sell it – yes, I found that they sell online now. However, I again they have to go a long way before they can compete with the likes of DELL.

Lenovo offered an online ordering system not unlike that of DELL and moreover, offered a configuration and model choice more suited to my needs. I did not wish to buy DELL this time around.

So, there we go……..a new laptop finally !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
15th December 2012
Mumbai

Shopping for a Laptop


Since when shopping for a laptop became a simple affair ?

It never did.

Just think about it. A typical replacement time for a laptop is not more than 3 years, as you tend to notice a significant degradation in performance or develop a sense of jealousy over the other folks carrying more advanced laptops – “ultrabooks” for instance !

Or, your laptop may be weighing around 5.5 lbs and you see guys with laptops weighing less than 4 lbs – sleeker, thinner, easier on the shoulder, and what not…….and I can add, with better screens !

When such a time arrived for me, I started looking up as usual on the web for suitable options and checked with a couple of friends on their choices. I distilled the final choices to Lenovo, HP and Asus (yes, Asus makes probably the best laptops in the industry today).

So, why not decide on the configuration first ?

I did some technical study and decided that the configuration which would be most suitable as at this time – end of 2012 – is as follows:

i7 Third-Generation Intel Processor capable of turbo-boost up to 3.60 GHz
8 MB DDR3 RAM operating at 1600 MHz
750 GB HD spinning at 7200 RPM
nVIDIA Graphics Card with 1 GB Memory
1600 x 900 14″ HD+ Display
2 x USB 3.0 and 2 x USB 2.0 Ports
VGA and HDMI Ports
Back-lit Keyboard
Windows 8

Having decided upon the above configuration, I went about shortlisting the model numbers of the laptops, and to my chagrin, discovered it is not that easy to get the above kind of laptops even in the U.S. market today. I searched Amazon, Lenovo, Asus, HP and BestBuy sites extensively. Once you apply even some of the above conditions, you will notice that the number of choices available to you drastically drops down to single digit options.

And, none of the available options would be less than USD 1,200 in price !

In India, such laptops are not available – I spoke to Lenovo and Asus Indian operations and they confirmed that they don’t have such laptops in India – they have to order from the U.S. ! And, their cost ? On an average, the difference between the U.S. configured laptop and the pricing in India for a similar laptop was in excess of USD 400 ! Even though, the customs duty is only 5%. Further, one has to wait for a long time to get the laptop.

So, I decided to wait for some more time, or buy when I travel. It is ridiculous, but it is a fact that one cannot get the above configuration easily in India, and not that easily in the U.S. as well. May be I got to do more research, but the fact remains that most laptops in Amazon have just 4 GB RAM even for Windows 8 configurations, and most of these have HDs with 5400 RPM which are noisy and slow.

I will report back when I have purchased my laptop with the attendant experience of buying the same. Hope that would be soon !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
24th November 2012
Mumbai

FORD Vs MICROSOFT


Courtesy: Anu, my IIM-B Classmate

Not a new one, but makes sense to all everytime we read something like this on computers !

For all of us who feel only the deepest love and affection for the way computers have enhanced our lives, read on.

At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, ‘If Ford had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.’

In response to Bill’s comments, Ford issued a Press Release stating:

If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics (and I just love this part):

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash………Twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive – but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single ‘This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation’ warning light.

I love the next one!!!

7. The airbag system would ask ‘Are you sure?’ before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10. You’d have to press the ‘Start’ button to turn the engine off.

PS – I’d like to add that when all else fails, you could call ‘customer service’ in some foreign country and be instructed in some foreign language how to fix your car yourself!!!!

Courtesy: Anu, my IIM-B Classmate

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
18th November 2012
Mumbai

Selecting a Web Host


I went through almost a week of analysis and talk (with vendors) before I decided on the web host provider for my company.

Like everything else in life, selection and decision-making always remain complex activities, despite the proliferation of information on the internet. More information, more confusion !

I played around with Google Apps for sometime, impressed by the versatility of the applications and the easy way of moving around the Google system – a hallmark of Google. I signed up for the Google Apps trial and quickly decided it might be the way to go. So, I looked up at the option of doing everything via Google.

While there was no issue in the process of web domain registration and plan subscription, I was surprised to find that Google fell short on two administrative areas (very important for a new site/company):

1. The service price was in Euros or USD, not in Indian Rupees
2. There was no local contact number for help desk, which is an absolute must – I was not going to waste time posting my problems on a forum, and waiting for resolution from other users or from Google

I then went on to examine three other providers: BigRock, GoDaddy and Yahoo.

All of them met #1 and #2 concerns above – they offer all their services in Indian Rupees and they have local helpdesk numbers wherein you can talk to a technical human being ! I tested all the three of them.

During the process of elimination, GoDaddy went out of the shortlist though they were highly recommended by couple of my industry colleagues. One reason was that their plan offering that I wanted gave only one (can you believe this) email account (address), and the other reason is that GoDaddy went down worldwide due to some hacking problem putting millions of websites out of business. That was unfortunate, but it did influence me – not as much as the first reason though.

So, the race narrowed to a tight one between BigRock and Yahoo. Both met all my technical and price expectations. Yahoo’s hot line was more responsive in terms of making a positive comparison with BigRock (I had expected negative marketing) and highlighting Yahoo’s email pedigree advantage over anyone else. There was not much to choose from, but I selected BigRock for two reasons which are not overpowering ones in the decision-making process:

a). The technical persons that I talked to at BigRock were very helpful in terms of going beyond their brief and trying to help out a new webmaster (!) ;

and,

b). The website builder that they offered had a slight edge over Yahoo’s though I was disappointed on the availability of business templates and stock photos at BigRock after I had purchased from BigRock !

After I went through the buying process, two people at BigRock said that I could walk out easily since there was a 30-days free evaluation with full refund for any web host deal. But that was not the kind of response I was expecting from a marketing company.

In the meanwhile, Yahoo has been diligently following up with me, trying to change my mind – all for some less than USD 100 business per year !

Well, having set up the email accounts and the website, now I am focused on the business rather than the site. Overall it is proving to be a good decision and hope the service level from BigRock will be better (and hope they won’t acquire customers and say bye bye within couple of days – not a good business sense I guess).

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
23rd September 2012
Mumbai