The NBN is 62% faster in our new house!

This time last year we finally got connected to Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).

Doing so dramatically increased our average download speed from 6.9MBps with ADSL2+ (over the old telephone copper wire network) to 46.7MBps with NBN (over a new NBN fibre optic connection to the closest telephone/internet exchange).

A little over a week ago we moved into an independent house in another suburb. This meant we were no longer sharing that fibre optic internet connection with the other residents in an apartment block.

I checked to see if this had increased our connection speed and, sure enough, our download speeds have gone up by 62% to 75.7MBps!

Woohoo! 

Pro tip: If you’re looking to move house and, like me, can’t live without the NBN, check out the nbnm8 Chrome extension. When you use realstate.com.au and Domain to search for properties it’ll automatically do the nbn availability look-up for you :)

We're finally connected to the NBN!

On 23 June 2014 I tweeted this:

But it wasn't till yesterday, 15 December 2015, that we finally got connected to Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN).

Yes, this took 1 year, 5 months and 22 days

What was particularly irritating was that our neighbours got connected several month ago. It took us this long because we're in an apartment building. Which meant that, first, our Body Corporate had to get their act together and network our building — which they finally did at the end of October.

We then had to wait till iiNet, our prefered ISP (who we've been with for over six years), released their Fibre to the Basement plans for selling NBN services to individual apartment building residents. 

Once all these pieces fell into place, though, things moved quickly. And, six days after the NBN became available to us, we were online:

We're now enjoying download speeds seven times faster than our old ADSL2+ connection (an average of 46.7Mbps with NBN versus 6.9MBps with ADSL2+) and upload speeds thirty-one times faster (27.6Mbps now vs 0.9Mbps previously). We're also connecting faster, with an average ping time of just 2.5ms with NBN vs 27ms with ADSL2+. 

It's awesome.

Of course these speeds aren't as fast as the NBN can theoretically reach ("up to 100Mbps") or as fast as my internet connection is at work (average downloads at 64.3Mbps and average uploads at 86.9Mbps) — but it still pretty darned good. And it's more than enough for any video streaming we want want to do.

So, yay! The NBN was a long time coming, but it was sure worth the wait.

Researching flieger style watches

As I said in my previous post, I'm ready to buy my first mechanical watch. 

Now people in this situation usually look to well-known Japanese brands like Seiko and Orient since these companies produce excellent quality mechanical watches that aren't very expensive. 

And if I was looking for a dive style watch I'd definitely get the Seiko SKX007K1 or Orient Ray EM6500CD. Or, if I was looking for a field style watch I'd get the Seiko SNZG11K1. Or, if I was looking for a dress watch, I'd get the Orient Bambino ER2400CN.

But, no, I'm an aviation enthusiast so I want to get a pilot watch. 

Eventually, I'll want to get myself something like the Breitling Navitimer 01 (which costs $9,800) or the Breitling Navitimer 1461 ($13,400) but that won't happen for another couple of decades at least. Which is fine because the type of pilot's watch that I adore is the flieger style watch from WWII. 

Now the Seiko 5 Military SNK809K2 does have some pilot/flieger characteristics but it's not quite what I'm after. And the Orient Flight ER2A001B is closer, but it's still a loose interpretation of the original and I'd rather get something more visually authentic.

Of course, before I go any further, I should explain what a flieger style watch is. 

Flieger style watches

Pilot watches have been around since 1904 and, if you want to learn more about them, check out this excellent five-part history on Monochrome: 

For flieger style watches we're interested in part five of that series. 

Or, if you want a quicker introduction, check out this blog post: 

But, basically, these 'beobachtungs-uhr' (i.e. 'observer watches') were created for the Luftwaffe in the 1940s by five German watchmakers: 

  • A. Lange & Söhne
  • Laco 
  • Stowa 
  • Wempe 
  • IWC

These watches were required to:

  • Be super readable (so they were 55mm in size and had white Arabic numerals on a black dial plus blue-flamed sword hands filled with luminous material)
  • Have an anti-magnetic case
  • Be chronometer certified
  • Have a hack-capable second hand (i.e. the seconds hand would stop when you pulled the crown out so you could precisely synchronize your watch)
  • Have a large diamond or onion-shaped crown (so you could adjust them while wearing gloves)
  • Have a large strap (so they fit around your flight jacket or on your thigh)
  • Have a triangle marker at the 12 o'clock position (so you could use the dial as a basic solar compass)

They came in two types: Type A for pilots and Type B for navigators. 

And they looked like this: 

Flieger watches on the market 

Because no one company can claim to have designed or built the original flieger style watch lots of companies now make them. 

Most of the luxury flieger style watch are Type A, though, and I much prefer Type B. The one Type B I do like from this bunch (the Bell & Ross Vintage WWI) happens to be the cheapest of the lot - but is still not something I can afford just yet.

Fortunately, there are a number of Type B watches from enthusiast-level watch brands. The STOWA Flieger Baumuster B and Archimede Pilot 42 B Automatic are the most original-looking (and I love them both) but I think the Hamilton Pilot Auto is my favourite. 

Yes, Hamilton have tweaked the design a bit and have even added a day/date complication - but I really like their interpretation. In fact, I like it so much that, as far as pilot watches go, I'll settle on this on till I'm ready to buy a Breitling. But, for now, these watches are still out of my price range.

The watches that are in my price range also come from enthusiast-level brands - though from the lower end. I love both the STEINHART Nav B-Uhr B-Type and the Laco Aachen Type B Dial Automatic but, on balance, I think I prefer the Laco. 

Aside from the fact that Laco is one of the companies that made the original B-Uhr watches back in the 1940s, I prefer its full lume and open case back. Also, Laco's movement is made in-house - which is a plus for any watchmaker. 

The one last category of watch brands I should mention are the less well-known consumer brands. So not the Seikos and Orients of the world, but the brands that build cheaper watches that generally work well and are still decent enough looking.

For example, TISELL is a Korean brand that uses off-the-shelf Chinese watch movements from Sea-Gull. And Ticino is a German brand that uses both Chinese Sea-Gull and Japanese Miyota movements (Miyota is owned by Citizen). Watches with Sea-Gull movements used to be hit-and-miss but both TISELL and Ticino do their own quality control with these movements so their watches generally run well. 

Each of these brands makes a Type B flieger style watch. The TISELL Type B Pilot uses a Sea-Gull movement while the Ticino Type B Automatic uses a Miyota movement (their Type B watch from last year used a Sea-Gull movement but this year they're moving a little up-market). 

Both of these are decent enough watches. They have stainless steel cases and sapphire crystals, and they generally run well. But brand like these save money with cheaper movements, lower production costs and fewer subtle refinements. Which means these two watches are less water resistant, they're not quite as well-built or finished, they use a dimmer lume, and their straps aren't particularly good. Also, they don't have much of an after-sales support, maintenance and repair network to turn to if they're not working as well as you'd like. 

What will I buy?

Deciding which watch I'm going to get depends on a number of things: 

  • What's my budget? 
  • And, given that I have a limited budget, what am I willing to compromise on?
  • Finally, do I have a brand preference?

Keeping all that in mind, this is what I'd get at each budget level:

  • $4,000: Bell & Ross Vintage WWI - choosing the Type B over Type A and picking one of my favourite watch brands
  • $1,500: Hamilton Pilot Auto - choosing the more modern interpretation
  • $500: Laco Aachen Type B - choosing the more authentic interpretation and my preferred feature set
  • $200: None 

That $200 decision was the hardest. If I had just $200 I'd either have to get the Orient Flight, which is not my favourite flieger interpretation but I know will be built well and is guaranteed to run really well. Or I'd have to get a TISELL or Ticino that, while more faithful to the original design, may not be built as well or run as well. 

As it happens, I'm not willing to compromise on either flieger design faithfulness or watch features and quality so I'd probably go with neither of those options. Instead, I'd wait till I had $500 to spend so I could get the Laco, instead :)

Also, for completeness' sake, if I actually had $4,000 just lying around, I wouldn't go for that particular Bell & Ross watch, either. I'd already own those Laco and Hamilton Type B flieger watches and I wouldn't want another one. Instead I'd go for a different Bell & Ross watch or something else entirely. 

So there you have it: my thought process (or, well, brain dump) on buying my first mechanical watch given all that I've learnt about the world of watches in the last few months. I'm hoping at least a couple of you enjoyed reading it. Or at least you looked at the pictures and though: "Ah, so that's what he's been on about these last few weeks!" :)

Exploring the World of Watches

I love watches and, since the age of seven, have owned eleven of them. (Which turns out, on average, to be one watch every three years.) 

Nine of these were Casio watches - including one calculator watch, two G-shocks, one ProTrek, and one Edifice. This is the Edifice (EQS-A500B-1AV) that I bought just a couple of months ago, by the way (which I then customized with Hadley Roma leather strap and butterfly deployant clasp): 

The other two watches I've owned were a Pulsar LED (the one I got when I was seven) and a mechanical hand winding watch that I don't remember the brand of (I was twelve at the time).

The cool thing is that I have I reached a point in my life at which I'm ready to move beyond watches as primarily practical time telling tools. I now want to get watches that, while still good for telling time, are also pieces of jewellery and objects of design, engineering, craftsmanship and history. So, aside from another couple of quartz watches I'll probably want to get in the future (a Casio ProTrek and some type of chronometer), this means I'm looking to get myself my first proper mechanical watch. 

I've spent the last few months researching watches and world or horology - both online and in local stores in Melbourne - and, over the next few months, I'll summarize what I've learnt on this blog. 

Let's start with the basics, though: 

  • What types of watches can you get?
  • Who makes them?
  • How much do they cost?

Watch Styles

Historically, wristwatches have been tool watches. In the early 1900s people were perfectly happy with pocket watches (though women sometimes wore watches as jewellery on their wrists) but, when it stopped being convenient to pull a watch out of your pocket - like when you were diving, flying, driving or marching across Europe in your army - wristwatches started to become popular. 

Accordingly, these are now the main styles of wristwatches available (list sourced from this convenient 'Watches Style Guide' thread on Reddit): 

  • Diver's watches: for divers and sailors
  • Field watches: for infantrymen, rangers and other ground troops 
  • Pilot's watches: for pilots and navigators
  • Chronographs or sport watches: for drivers, racers, yachtsmen and other people who play sports
  • Dress watches: for people who want elegant watches to wear with fancy clothes

Or, more visually: 

There are just the big bucket watch styles, of course. There are many variations within these styles and a handful of other styles, as well (e.g. single hand, Bauhaus, fashion). And a lot of these styles and variations overlap, too. 

Watch Brands

There are a great many watch brands out there but, again, thanks to Reddit, here's a good way of categorizing them: 

  • Consumer: some quartz, some mechanical; brands from all over the world (e.g. Switzerland, Japan, Russia, China, USA, Denmark)
  • Enthusiast: usually tool watches designed for a specific purpose (e.g. pilot or military watches)
  • Quasi-luxury: expensive or fancy enthusiast watches; lower-prices luxury watches
  • Entry-level Luxury: starter luxury watches; expensive enthusiast watches 
  • Luxury: expensive watches with a lot of history behind them
  • High-end Luxury: most well-known luxury brands
  • Ultra Luxury: very expensive watches (for serious watch collectors and very rich people only)

Or, more visually: 

Note: I haven't included the independent watchmakers of the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (ACHI) in that list because, let's face it, I'll never be able to afford any of their watches.

It's useful to know that a number of these brands are owned by large multinational holding companies.  

For example, the Swatch Group owns: 

  • Swatch from the consumer group;
  • Hamilton and Tissot from the enthusiast group;
  • Longines and Rado from the quasi-luxury group;
  • Omega from the luxury group; and 
  • Breguet, Blancpain and Glashütte Original from the high-end luxury group.

The Richemont Group owns: 

  • Baume & Mercier and Montblanc from the entry-level luxury group;
  • IWC from the luxury group;
  • Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Officine Panerai from the high-end luxury group; and
  • Piaget and Vacheron Constantin from the ultra luxury group.

And LVMH owns: 

  • TAG Heuer from the quasi-luxury group;
  • Bvlgari from the luxury group; and
  • Hublot and Zenith from the high-end luxury group.

Also, Tudor is Rolex's lower-end brand and Orient is owned by Seiko. 

I'm sure there are other brand partnerships and joint ownerships out there. 

Watch Prices

You can buy a watch for almost price - from a $25 Casio to a $250,000 Hublot - and different people create different price-range buckets for watches. 

For example, A Blog to Watch has three: 

While ever-practical Reddit has buying guides for these six price ranges (and a separate guide for 'Ladies Watches'): 

I, too, am practical so I have three personalized buckets (each with its own Pinterest board, no less): 

The way I see it:  

  • In my 30s and 40s I'll only be able to justify buying watches that cost less than $1,000
  • In my 50s I'd like to be able to justify buying a watch that costs more than $1,000
  • And in my 60s I might just buy myself a watch that costs more than $5,000 

What Next?

So that was just the basics. There's a lot more to summarize but I'll try to do that over the next few months (though it'll probably take years since there's so much to learn).

Instead, let's move on to something more interesting: like actually buying a watch. That's what my next post will be about. 

A Little Calibration Goes a Long Way

My Gigabyte laptop has an excellent LCD display that came almost perfectly calibrated out of the box. It's easy to forget, though, that not all LCD screens are like that. When I got an external monitor at work, for example, it was over-bright, with washed-out colours and poor contrast.

Fortunately, it took only a little bit of calibration to fix the problem. So now I can see lighter greys and richer oranges correctly: 

Yay! 

New Gigabyte P34 Gaming Laptop

A few months ago I finally retired my three year old ThinkPad X201 Tablet PC and bought myself a fantastic new Gigabyte P34G laptop. This is from Gigabyte's high-end P Series gaming laptops and is a very impressive piece of tech. 

Fantastic Specs

The P34G weighs about as much as my old laptop did but has an excellent 14" 1920x1080p screen. That's a big step up from the X201's grainy-but-capacitive-touch 12.1" 1280x800px screen:

And while 1920x1080 is sometimes too high a resolution for this size of screen, the LCD panel itself is gorgeous and has excellent colour reproduction:

Importantly, the P34G is powerful. Mine is configured with an Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760M graphics card. In fact, it's more than twice as powerful as my old laptop:

It's also very thin so it fits really easily in my Crumpler Dry Red No. 5 backpack's slim laptop pocket:

The best part? It costs half of what the X201 did :)

But Some Corners Were Cut

To fit all that technical goodness into a low cost, thin-and-light package you have to make some sacrifices. Thus the P34G doesn't have the best build quality (mine already has a tiny cosmetic crack in the plastic keyboard housing) and a sub-par soundcard. Actually, the soundcard itself might be okay but it's not tweaked and configured to sound as good as it should. For an audiophile like me, this is a problem. However that problem is easily remedied by bypassing the laptop's on-board hardware and using an external USB soundcard. I now use the iBasso D-Zero DAC and headphone amp which is small, cheap, and easily transportable but still sounds really good. 

Still Worth It

On balance, though, this is a fantastic laptop and I am really happy I bought it. 

So, if you're in the market for a thin-and-light family laptop with an excellent screen and discrete graphics card, I would highly recommend the Gigabyte P34G. 

We Have a New Website!

Yay! We have a new website!

Every since Squarespace 6 launched in July 2012 I've been meaning to upgrade our old Squarespace 5 site to this newer CMS version. I wasn't in any rush to do so - Squarespace said they'd keep supporting the old CMS version indefinitely - but I finally reached the point at which the old site started to look boring and I was itching for something new.  

This, by the way, is what the old site used to look like:

Insanity Works Version 3

And, for future reference, this is what the current one looks like:

Insanity Works Version 4

I've really enjoyed building this new site because Squarespace 6 is a really fun CMS platform to design on. I particularly love how it handles images - which you'll notice are now front and centre in this new site version. 

I also love all the fonts you get access to via Typekit and Google Fonts and the fact that, thanks to developments in responsive web design, this site automatically has an excellent mobile version, too :)

So, what do you think? Do you like the new design?

New Squarespace Website!

In case you haven’t already noticed, we’ve upgraded our website.

We’ve moved from a basic, static HTML site that was built in 2008 to one that’s hosted on the fantastic Squarespace platform – which, by the way, I highly recommend.

Why the upgrade?

We upgraded the site because the old one was…well, old. Also, it was too manual and time consuming to maintain. This new site, on the other hand, is leaner, faster, and, overall, a more effective online presence for both me and Nadia.

The web has also changed a lot in four years. For example, your own website no longer needs to host your entire online life. You can do things like outsource your media storage and sharing to services like Flickr, YouTube, and Picasa Web Albums. And, on the social media side, you can outsource a lot of your micro-content and general web content sharing to services like Twitter and Google+.

But you know what the best part is? Using a professionally hosted web content management because that really makes website management both easy and a lot of fun.

What do you think of the new site? Love it? Hate it? Don’t care?

I Buy Another Watch

Exciting news! I've bought myself another watch :)

This news is exciting because I love watches – not as pieces of jewellery, but as gadgets that tell the time. I always need/want to know what time it is and, as a result, have been wearing a wrist watch almost every day since the early 80s.

Why another watch?

Why buy a second watch when I already have a perfectly good watch that I love and wear all the time? 

Current vs New watch

Two reasons:

First, the watch I have right now is too thick to fit comfortably under the cuff of my work shirts. As you can see in the picture below, the watch on the left, which is my current watch, is much thicker (16mm) than the watch on the right (8.6mm), which is my new one.

Watch thickness comparison

Now, because my current watch is so thick, for the last year and a half, I have actually not been wearing it to work every day. I know! Crazy, right? Fortunately, I carry two smartphones with me all the time so, even though I’ve been without a watch at work, I have always been able to keep track of the time.

Second, well…let me put it this way: Where is the one place you can't use a smartphone to tell the time? In an airplane, of course – specifically during take-off and landing. And what company do I work for now? Oh, yes, an airline.

So what happened to me last month? I flew to Sydney for work and, for two extended periods of time (well, at least they felt like extended periods of time), I was chronologically disadvantaged because I'd had to turn my phones off and had forgotten to wear my bulky-but-still-functional watch to work that day.

What then?

Scarred by that experience, I decided to look for a nice, cheap, simple, and, importantly, thin watch that I could wear to work. Obviously, I was only going to look at Casio watches.

Unfortunately, there are no Casio outlets in Melbourne so I was stuck with the limited selection on display at Angus & Coote and Thomas Jewellers on Bourke Street in the CBD. Neither of them had what I wanted so I went to trusty old Amazon.com to see what I could find.

That was when I discovered that online retailers sell most Casio watches at about a third of the price that local brick-and-mortar retailers sell them at. Wow. I am never buying a watch from a local brick-and-mortar retailer again.

Anyway, here is my original short list from Amazon (my current watch is in the top left hand corner):

Watch choices

Yes, I get a little obsessive when it comes to buying gadgets. Especially those I’ll be using frequently for a number of years. Heck, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog post if I wasn’t that obsessed with this stuff!

Finally, after getting Nadia's preferences, I made my decision and placed my order. As it happens, Amazon ended up being just the front-end for this purchase because my actual order was placed with the appropriately named MrWatch.

A few days later, through the mysterious powers of FedEx, I had my new watch :) 

So, what did I get?

MTP-1309L-8BV_l

The watch I bought is a Casio MTP-1309L-8BV. (Yes, that’s quite a mouthful.)

It’s simple, good looking, and, fits very comfortably under the cuff of all my work shirts.

Of course, this is the first analogue watch I’ve had in years so using it to tell the time is taking a little getting used to. I can’t just take a quick peek at one part of it, for example. I have to look at the entire watch face before I can tell what time it is. Not that this difficult to do, of course. I’m just not used to doing it.

I am liking its leather strap, though. And I am enjoying the sight of the second hand as it spins around the clock face.

So, “yaay!” for my new watch and my ability to comfortably keep track of time while wearing a business shirt during take-off and landing. (Hmmm…my reason for getting this watch sounds a lot less impressive when you put it that way.)

New Version of Metapad!

Metapad iconI discovered only today that, late last year, Alexander Davidson released a new version of my all time favourite text editor, Metapad!

Metapad is one of the most lightweight, simple, and yet powerful text editors out there. I love it for its tiny footprint, portability, multiple font support, block editing functionality, and transparent window capability. It also looks really nice :)

Before I upgraded this afternoon, I’d been using its previous version for at least ten years (via a recommendation from Chris Pirillo).

The latest version has a higher quality icon (which is really cool) and integrates fully with Windows 7 so it’s now my default text editor. Yes, you have to do a little OS-level tweaking and hacking to make that work…but it’s so worth it.

Yaay!

I Can Has HDTV?

Yes, you can has!

After years of wanting a large screen HDTV, on Friday I finally went out and bought one. And boy was it worth it!

Sitting on the sofa in our living room, this is what our old 32” CRT TV looked like:

Old TV - Front

And this is what our new 50” Plasma TV looks like:

New TV - Front

The larger screen makes a big difference, doesn’t it? :)

What Did You Get?

For those who are interested, I ended up getting the Samsung PS50C7000, which is a 50” (127cm) Series 7 (i.e. 2010) Plasma TV:

Samsung PS50C7000

I did quite a lot of research before selecting this model and reviews like this from CNET were very encouraging:

The Samsung PS50C7000 is one of the best plasmas on the market and boasts one of the most complete feature sets available. Not quite deserving of full marks, though. [CNET Australia]

As well as this one from PC World:

The Samsung Series 7 (PS50C7000) plasma is very nearly the best television we've tested. It's got an excellent design and generally great picture quality, only falling short in overall black levels. 3D is handled well but there are still a few aberrations; it is fine for occasional casual viewing. The Series 7 (PS50C7000) does a great job on Internet connectivity as well, making it an excellent all-round performer we'd happily recommend. [PC World]

My main research source was CHOICE, though, and they recommended this as one of the best 127-132cm TVs to buy (Note: Report viewable by members only):

Choice - Samsung Ps50C7000YP

CHOICE also named Samsung the ‘Best Television Brand’ in its 2011 Choice Awards. Panasonic and Sony were the other two TV brands that received the highest overall performance and CHOICE member customer satisfaction scores.

This TV also met all of my basic requirements:

  • 40-50”, Full HD (i.e. 1080p), LCD or Plasma
  • HDMI, Component, Composite, USB, and Audio In/Out connectivity
  • HD tuner built-in
  • RGA port included (i.e. it can be used as a computer monitor)
  • LAN/wireless connector
  • DLNA certified (i.e. works with streaming media players/servers on your network)

Basically, this was last year’s top end Plasma model from Samsung so it had everything I wanted and even a few things that I didn’t want (like 3D capabilities).

Timing is Everything

The best part is that, in the annual consumer electronics cycle, April is when most new TV models hit the market. So, if you’re happy to buy the previous year’s model, March and April are when you get the best discounts(assuming the TV you want is still in stock). As it happens, I got this TV for about half its market launch price :)

LCD vs Plasma

In the choice between LCD and Plasma, I’m an audiophile and videophile so the superior picture quality of Plasmas has always appealed to me.

Also, in our price range of “just over A$1,000”, I had a choice of getting:

  • a cheaper brand LCD,
  • a better brand LCD from 2-3 years ago,
  • a more recent model of a better brand LCD that had a smaller screen (e.g. 32-40”), or
  • a better brand plasma from last year.

When you look at it that way, the choice of getting the plasma was obvious (assuming your aim was to get the largest screen size appropriate to your TV/living room).

Which Store?

Retravision Colour 1I ended up getting our TV from RetraVision, which has one of the best range of Samsung TVs.

I got there at about 8pm on Friday night and, fifteen minutes later, I was done. The TV got delivered the next morning and I spent much of yesterday (Saturday) setting it up.

Yes, this has been a fun weekend :)

What Next?

Now that we have an HDTV, we need high definition content to watch.

We already get some HD stuff from our free-to-air digital channels but my next step is to upgrade our Foxtel set top box to the iQHD and our subscription package to include HD channels (21 of them).

After that, we’ll think about getting a Blu-Ray player and some Blu-Ray discs. And, once we do that, we’ll think about getting a home theatre audio system. None of this will be any time soon, though. Certainly not till next year.

Fortunately, this is only the start of our life in HD so there’s a long way to go, yet. Let the fun begin! :)

My New Casio Watch

I love Casio watches and, since the early 80s, haven’t bought anything other than a Casio for myself. (I’ve also never bought anything other than a Casio calculator but that’s another blog post.)

When the battery on my latest watch started to die for the second time a couple of weeks ago (I’d owned this one for about 5 years) I figured it was time for me to buy a new one.

28 years of Casio Watches

But, before I get to that, here’s a quick trip down memory lane of the Casio watches that I remember owning over the years (thanks to Watch Shock and their awesome watch archive).

I owned this watch when I was six or seven years old (i.e. in the early 80s):

w-36

And this one some years later:

F-91W-1XY

I then got this fabulous calculator watch in the early 90s (which I loved dearly):

CA-53W

Through the rest of the 90s I owned G-Shock watches; first this one:

DW-6000GJ-1

And then this one:

G-6900-1D

Finally, in the mid 00s, I got myself a ProTrek:

F1230027

My New, Simple Watch

My newest Casio is one of their basic models (the AE-2000W) which really just tells the time (though it does do that across 31 time zones):

ae2000w-1av_xlarge

I bought this simpler type because I don’t use my watch as often as I used to. That’s mainly because the ProTrek was too bulky to wear under business shirts so I couldn’t wear it to work every day. This new one isn’t much thinner but I’ll certainly give it a try.

That said, I do still wear my watch whenever else I’m out of the house and I do keep it next to my pillow every night.

And now I have this shiny new one to help me keep track of my day :)

Being Bored, Processing Your Life

Following on from my post on ‘How to be Alone’, I have two articles two share. One that I remembered from earlier this year and one that I read today.

In ‘Why I Returned my iPad’ Paul Bregman talks about the importance of boredom and unproductive time in his life:

Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that's where creativity arises.

My best ideas come to me when I am unproductive. When I am running but not listening to my iPod. When I am sitting, doing nothing, waiting for someone. When I am lying in bed as my mind wanders before falling to sleep. These "wasted" moments, moments not filled with anything in particular, are vital.

They are the moments in which we, often unconsciously, organize our minds, make sense of our lives, and connect the dots. They're the moments in which we talk to ourselves. And listen.

While in ‘How Do You Process Your Life?’ Tara Sophia Mohr talks about the need for downtime during which she reflects on and process what’s been going on in her life:

I need reflective processing time desperately, I’ve learned. Not because I’ll stop functioning without it. On the contrary, I look more “normal” to others when I don’t have it.

[…]

But to be the woman I want to be – emotionally generous, not cranky or erratic or jaded; to be spacious and open and deep, to have a presence that feels to myself and others to be grounded and alert and graceful; to be someone who brings more sanity into this world instead of contributing to the craziness, then I need downtime. To deal with colleagues and professional partners in a rational and calm way, to manage the challenges of my work effectively, to show up creative and focused everyday, I need to process what comes into the ecosystem of me.

I agree wholeheartedly with both Bregman and Mohr.

3 Mobile Broadband on my Tablet PC

One of the reasons I bought a tablet PC was so I could be truly mobile in my computing. An important part of mobile computing is to have Internet access wherever you go. And the obvious and most reliable way to get that access is to have your own mobile broadband connection.

Last year I got that connection from 3. I bought from them a USB mobile broadband modem and signed up for a prepaid month-to-month data plan.

E160 mobile broadband USB key from 3

[Source: PC World]

This year I went one better. I bought and got Lenovo to preinstall an internal broadband modem (the Qualcomm Gobi 2000) when I bought my tablet PC.

I did that because I didn’t want to carry around a USB modem that I’d have to plug in every time I was out and about and wanted to connect to the Internet.

My plan was to transfer my existing 3 connection over from the old modem to the new one. I considered going to a 3 store and asking them to do that for me but then realized that, being a technology geek, I could probably do all that (i.e. the SIM installation and network configuration) myself. And I was right :)

So, here’s how you do it…

First, Get a Connection

If you don’t already have a mobile broadband connection it’s pretty easy to get one from one of your local mobile carriers.

If you go with 3 in Australia, for example, you:

  • go to one of their stores,
  • sign up for an account (in my case, a prepaid one),
  • tell them you’ll be using your own modem, and
  • pick up the ‘3 Mobile Broadband Prepaid Starter Kit’ (which will include your SIM card).

Do read the BYO Modem page on their website before you go ahead and do that, though.

In my case all I had to do was take the SIM out of my USB modem.

Insert the SIM Card

Inserting the SIM card into your laptop (or tablet PC, as the case may be) is really easy.

In the Lenovo ThinkPad X210 tablet PC – as in other ThinkPad X-Series computers – the slot for the SIM card lies behind the battery bay (click images for larger photos):

Inserting SIM Card 1

Take the card, orient it according to the etching on the metal plate below the slot, and push it all the way in:

Inserting SIM Card 2

Then put the battery back on and you’re done.

Power-On the Modem

Assuming that you actually have a broadband modem installed in your computer and that all your drivers are up-to-date, you now need to turn your modem on.

To turn it on, use Lenovo’s Fn+F5 keystroke to bring up the ‘ThinkPad Wireless Radio’ window and press the ‘Power On’ button for the Wireless WAN Radio:

ThinkPad Wireless Radio window

That should change the colour of the ‘Wireless WAN Radio’ text to green and should also light up (again, in green) the WWAN status indicator light just below the screen:

Lenovo ThinkPad X201 indicator lights

[Source: Laptop Mag]

If this doesn’t happen you probably don’t have a modem installed (check in Device Manager in Windows) or your modem isn’t configured properly (run Windows Update to get its latest drivers).

Configure the Connection

Next, you need to set up the connection to 3’s mobile network.

Since I use Lenovo’s Access Connections utility to manage my connections that was pretty straightforward to do. All I had to do was create a new Location Profile by clicking on the ‘Location Profiles’ tab:

Creating a location profile 1

And then pressing the ‘Create’ button:

Creating a location profile 2

Since I already have a Location Profile for my connection – called ‘3 Mobile Broadband WWAN’ – I’ll show you what its configuration is by clicking the ‘Edit’ button instead.

Under the ‘General Settings’ tab I’ve:

  • named my profile,
  • said that I want to connect using ‘Mobile Broadband’, and
  • selected the Gobi 2000 modem (the only option in the list):

General settings in new location profile

Under the ‘Mobile Broadband Settings’ tab I’ve said that this is an HSDPA/GPRS network that requires ‘Custom Settings’:

Mobile broadband settings in new location profile

These ‘Custom Settings’ (which you get to by clicking the ‘Edit Settings’ button) are:

  • the ‘Known WAN service providers’ option is ‘Other’,
  • the ‘Custom service provider’ name is ‘3MobileBroadband Prepaid’ (this will be ‘3Mobile Broadband Postpaid’ if that’s the connection you signed up for),
  • the APN is called ‘3services’:

Custom settings in new location profile

There’s no need to change any advanced or additional settings. Click all the ‘OK’ buttons and you’re done.

Connect to the Network

Go back to the ‘Connect to the Internet’ tab and you should now have ‘3 Mobile Broadband WWAN’ listed in your Location drop-down list. Select that and click the ‘Connect’ button next to it.

In this screenshot I’ve already clicked ‘Connect’ so that button has changed to ‘Stop’:

Connecting to network

It should take about 10-20 seconds to connect…and off you go!

Connected to network

If the connection doesn’t take place then something hasn’t been configured properly or your account with the mobile carrier hasn’t yet been activated. I can’t help you with the former (because I’ve already told you all I know) and the latter you should already have worked out with the salesperson at the mobile carrier’s store.

If further tweaking fails and you can’t find the answer on the Internet then you should take your laptop to the mobile carrier’s store and ask for help (or, alternatively, call them up and get help over the phone).

But if all this has worked then you should now be connected to the Internet via your mobile broadband connection. Yaay!

Time to Upgrade Our Website

Nadia and I have maintained our website at insanityWORKS.org since 2004. It was overhauled once (in 2007) and is past due for another major upgrade.

Moving to a Content Management System

This time, though, the plan is to move it on to a Content Management System (CMS). Much as I love getting down and dirty with HTML code (via Dreamweaver, of course) a CMS-based site will be much faster and significantly easier to maintain. At the very least we won’t be stuck managing it from only those computers that have Dreamweaver installed on them.

The question then becomes: Which CMS do I choose? I’ve been using both proprietary and open source systems since 2001 so I know a lot about a lot of them. That means I can use pretty much any one that’s out there quite effectively; though I do plan to use an open source one for this site.

Fortunately, my choice is limited by the ones that my web hosting provider, E-Starr, provides automatic support for (specifically, installation and upgrade support). I’ve used a bunch of these CMSs in the past, too, so I’m already quite comfortable with most of them.

My Needs Have Changed

What’s also good is that my personal website needs aren’t what they used to be three years ago. For example:

  • A lot of information about me is now available on my Google Profile
  • I now host my photos on Picasaweb (albums) and Flickr (photo stream)
  • I do most of my writing on my blogs (this one and my professional one)
  • I no longer need to maintain a PDF version of my CV for people to download because most of that information is available on my LinkedIn profile
  • A lot of the other content that I host on the site can be moved elsewhere (like Slideshare or Google Docs, for example)

What’s left, then, is mostly text content and a couple of archived websites. Any old CMS can handle the former and latter will remain the way they are so, all told, my CMS requirements are actually quite simple.

So, What Now?

What I think I’ll do now test a bunch of the CMSs available to see which one I like the most. I do have lots of options, including:

  • Drupal
  • Geeklog
  • Joomla 1.5
  • PHP-Nuke
  • phpWCMS
  • phpWebSite
  • Siteframe
  • TYPO3
  • Xoops

Not to mention WordPress, which can be tweaked to make a pretty good CMS itself.

So, if all goes well, I will report back in a few weeks, by which time I hope to have the newest version of insanityWORKS.org up and running.

Wish me luck!

I Bought Myself a Cowon S9 MP3 Player

So, after much research and analysis I bought myself a Cowon S9 mp3 player which arrived in the mail yesterday:

Cowon S9

[Source: Trusted Reviews]

Why a new MP3 Player?


I’ve been wanting to buy myself a new MP3 player for a while now. The iriver E100 that I have is decent enough, but it does have a few problems.

For example, its UI is rather clunky and I didn’t want to deal with slow menus, slow scrolling, and the inability to quickly forward through an audio track or podcast any more.

I was also feeling limited by its 2GB storage space and lack of good quality video playback (though the latter was more of a secondary concern).

Research Mode


So, last week I went into research mode and started to build a shortlist of players that met my needs.

My needs, by the way, were:

  • Excellent quality sound

  • Podcast support

  • Audible support

  • Small and light (so, most likely, a Flash memory based player and not a hard disk based one)

  • Plenty of storage space (at least 8GB)

  • A good UI

  • Ideally, good quality video


My early first choice was the Microsoft Zune HD but that’s still not available in Australia so it dropped out of the running pretty early on.

Most of the Sony and Samsung players dropped out, too. They had good quality sound but were lacking in one aspect or the other. The ones that fit the bill were out of my price range. I considered briefly the thought of getting an iPod – either the Nano or the Touch – but the iPods have always far to limited for my liking.

FYI: If you’re interested in this kind of thing, check out Pocketable’s ‘Apple iPod touch 2G vs. Cowon S9 vs. Samsung P3’ comparison.

Shortlist, then a Selection


So I ended up with a shortlist of three players:

All three met my needs but the S9, though it cost more than the other two, gave me more than what I wanted while remaining within my price range.

Specifically, the S9 had excellent quality audio while the other two had merely ‘very good’ quality audio.

It also had excellent quality video on a fabulous widescreen display, which was a big bonus. The Fuze’s video quality, meanwhile, was terrible while the X-Fi’s was good, though not widescreen.

And, while the S9 didn’t have the additional features the X-Fi had, I really didn’t want or need all those additional features.

So that was that. I ordered the S9 from Eljo Media last Sunday and it arrived in the mail yesterday. I also bought for it a leather carrying case and a mains charger.

I have since spent the day exploring it, updating its firmware, and copying my media onto it.

My early thoughts: it’s awesome :)

Good Quality Headphones to Match


To round off my move into ‘excellent’ quality audio, by the way, I also wanted to buy a pair of quality earphones.

I ended up getting the HiFiMan RE0 In-ear Earphones Headphones (i.e. canalphones) from Headphonics:

2008Nov17220821re0-4_334_241

[Source: HiFiMan]

FYI: If you’re interested in quality headphones, by the way, check out Headphonic’s Top Picks in headphones.

These haven’t arrived yet because I ordered them a day after I ordered the S9 but I trust they’ll be awesome, too.

UPDATE: The headphones arrived this morning and they are, indeed, awesome. First off, they're made of lightweight metal and not plastic, which is brilliant. They also have five different eartips of different lengths (i.e. both single and double flange) and diameters. Finally, they come with a detachable clip (to clip the cord to your shirt) and five pairs of fabric mesh filters (i.e. covers) for the micro-speaker bit of the earbud. For much more on these these earphones, check out this awesome review by ClieOS.

Post Script: Being an Audiophile


So, now that I have excellent quality music equipment (and most of my music is encoded in high bit-rate MP3 format), I can go back to being an active audiophile.

I’ve actually been an audiophile – though not of the insufferable variety – since I co-produced an album for the band I used to be in back in 2004. During that period I trained my ear to listen to music much more deeply and I haven’t looked back since. So much so that badly produced, over-produced, or over-mastered music now really irritates me.

So, while I’ve had this love of quality music for a while, I haven’t always had the equipment to enjoy my music to the fullest. Well, with the Cowon S9 and the HiFiMan RE0, my situation has changed: I’m back :)

FYI: If you’re interested, here are some articles for your inner audiophile (with a focus on MP3 compression, modern music mastering techniques, and the loudness was):

Data Backup Plan: Phase I Complete

I'm done with the first phase of my comprehensive data backup plan.

In this phase I backed-up all of my data (about 180GB of it) and all of Nadia's data (about 60GB) to our network attached storage drive. That got completed last night.

For those of you who missed it a few blog posts ago, I bought the awesome 1TB My Book World Edition hard drive from Western Digital to do our our local backing-up. The best part of this solution is that it comes with Memeo's WD Anywhere Backup software which automates backing-up over the network. Not only is this software really easy to use, you get five licenses for it so it's a great solution for networked, multiple computer households (it works on both PCs and Macs).

The next phase will be to organize online backups for both me and Nadia using Carbonite. I'll probably start that over the coming weekend. I won't backup all my media online, of course, so hopefully it won't take more than 2-3 months to get done. (It'll take this long because my Internet upload speeds isn't all that great and, besides, I don't want to use more than, say, half my monthly bandwidth cap on this initial backup.)

The final phase -- which will kick off once I get a tablet PC -- will be to use Live Mesh to sync my tablet PC to my desktop PC. That way I won't need to install any backup software on my tablet PC since all its data will always be replicated on the desktop and, thanks to Phase I and II, all that desktop data will be automatically backed-up both locally and online.

I feel safer already, but there's still more to do. On to Phase II...

Recent Life Recap

My blogging has been sporadic of late (I’ve been very busy at work) so here’s a quick catch-up on all the exciting things that have been happening in my life recently. This works quickest as a Q&A.

Q: How’s life?

A: It’s going well:

  • We’ve moved apartments so we’re closer to the city. Nadia can now walk to university and my daily commute to work is shorter by 20 minutes each way.
  • We now have high speed, large bandwidth broadband Internet (ADSL2+) at home thanks to awesome iiNet. This also means we have a land line telephone, which is nice.
  • We have a bigger TV (inherited from my sister) and Foxtel have added new channels to their line-up. I’m particularly enjoying SciFi+2 (which is the SciFi Channel time-shifted by two hours) because I can now watch shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: The Next Generation at more convenient times. I’m also watching a lot of Inside the Actor’s Studio, which I’m really enjoying.
  • Work is going really well. Melbourne Water is an awesome place to work and I love my job (I’m the Websites Manager there). Importantly, I’m having lots of fun.
  • Over the last six months I’ve had much dental work done from the excellent dentists at East Melbourne Dental. And, though this had hit my wallet quite hard, it has made me a much more pain-free (and, therefore, a much happier!) person.

Q: What have you been up to?

A: Plenty!

Last month Nadia and I visited the Gold Coast for the first time.

Beach at Surfers Paradise

We stayed at the excellent Watermark Hotel & Spa in Surfers Paradise and, though were only there for three days, we had lots of fun. Our trip to Sea World was particularly enjoyable.

Polar bear at Sea World Underwater life at Sea World

 

I’ll upload a photo gallery from that trip to my PicasaWeb account some time soon. We hope to go back for a longer trip in the future.

Right after the Gold Coast trip we attended the Australian Skeptics National Convention in Brisbane (hosted by the Queensland Skeptics) which was both exciting and hugely inspiring. More on this in a later blog post.

We also saw the fabulous Tim Minchin (official site) perform at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda. In a few days’ time (3 Jan), I’ll be going to see Moby (official site) perform at the Palace Theatre on Bourke Street! :)

Q: What else is happening in your life?

A: Well, starting with the geeky side of life, I’ve made a few excellent purchases.

For backup and media storage, I bought Western Digital’s My Book World Edition external hard drive:

WD MyBook World Edition Home NAS

This gives us 1TB of storage and lets us do daily backups over the network. It’s a fantastic network attached storage solution for the home.

I bought a 7” digital photo frame (via the brilliant Catch of the Day website) which we’ve placed in our living room.

I downloaded and installed Amazon’s Kindle for PC software, though I’ve only bought one book for it so far (‘Groundswell’ by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li). I’ll probably buy more once I get myself an actual Kindle device (which I hope to do some time in the near future).

Finally, I went ahead and bought two pieces of software I’ve been meaning to get for a long time: WinAmp Professional (my favourite media player) and Webcam Saver (my favourite screen saver).

On the music side of life, I joined the Melbourne Water Choir (which was lots of fun) and I bought myself a drum kit. That drum kit is the really basic Roland HD-1 V-Drums Lite:

Roland HD-1 V-Drums Lite

I bought an electronic kit because an acoustic one, no matter how muffled, would be too loud for the apartment. I bought this particular one because it’s the quietest, most acoustic-like in its price range. It’s also one of the cheapest electronic kits available :)

I have discovered since that not playing the drums for about a year makes you a little rusty!

Q: What else?

A: That’s about it, I think (though I will probably remember more later). Well, other than the fact that we’ve been watching lots of movies, listening to lots of music, hanging out with lots of friends (including one who was here from overseas), and generally doing stuff we enjoy.

All in all, life is really busy (mostly because of work) but it’s going well and we’re having fun.

Conroy Wants Australia to be a Nanny State

In case you don't keep up with the news, there are two major Internet-related issues being considered in Australia right now. The first is the National Broadband Network (which I'm not going to talk about here) and the second is mandatory national Internet filter that Senator Stephen Conroy wants to introduce.

So what are people saying about the filter?

It's Not Going to Work

Nina Funnell, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald (and quoting Kathryn Small), makes a very good point'. She says the proposed filter will not be censoring the Internet, it'll be censoring the people who don't know much about the Internet (i.e. the people who won't know how circumvent the filter):
Small says anyone with a vested interest who knows enough about software design will be able to circumvent the system. "The real problem is Conroy will create a two-tiered system [with] a massive disparity between the 'haves' and 'have nots' of computer literacy."

The irony is that it is children and young people who will be most likely to get around the blocks.

Children are more computer-savvy and literate than any other generation, precisely because they have grown up with computers. This was demonstrated in 2007 when a 16-year-old, Tom Wood, took just 30 minutes to crack the Government's super-filter that cost a whopping $84 million to develop.

What a shame the Government hasn't learnt from that embarrassing bungle.

Funnell's whole article is really good, by the way, and I suggest you read it.

It's Politics, Not Child Protection

Another good article to read is Stilgherrian's 'Evidence-based policy? Not on this filter!' on the ABC's The Drum Unleashed website:
Politicians use the term "evidence-based" quite differently from police detectives or scientists.

Senator Stephen Conroy provided a glorious example earlier in the week when announcing that Australia will indeed get mandatory ISP-level internet filtering some time in...well, maybe in 2011.

For politicians, "evidence" isn't something to be gathered with forensic precision and preserved through a documented chain of custody. Nor it is something to be compiled transparently, justified through meticulous research and refined in the purifying fire of peer review.

No. For politicians, "evidence" is something to be plucked from wherever it can be found and sprinkled to justify a previously-chosen policy like so much magic fairy dust.

The Rudd government's internet censorship proposal is not about protecting the children. It's about politics.

If the plan were really about protecting the children, and if it were really evidence-based, the government would have first have figured out what risks children actually face - online and everywhere else. They'd then figure out the best methods of countering those risks. Then they'd figure out the most cost-effective ways of implementing those solutions.

If we did that, we'd probably find that the risks are the very same ones that child protection experts keep banging on about. Bullying by their peers. Abuse from within their own homes and families. Poverty and its associated health risks. Obesity.

But this is politics, not child protection.

Google & Kirby Weigh In

Finally, two more opinions worth reading are:

What Next?


Well, Conroy has released a discussion paper on the topic so, hopefully, people will submit in response to that excellent, well reasoned reasons for not using the filter (of which there are many). Ideally, our policymakers will then look at those arguments, realize the filter is useless (indeed, it's a case of minimal effect for maximal cost), and will stop wasting our time and money on it. More likely, though, they will forge ahead for a while longer. That's politics for you.

And if, despite all reasonable counterarguments, the filter does get implemented then two things will happen. The first is the broader "epic fail" of not, for example, making any difference to the sharing of child pornography. The second is the creation of whole new industry devoted to providing filter-circumvention services to people living in Australia. Certainly the latter is a service I'd pay for and I'm sure many others will as well.

So, basically, we'll be back to where we are now...though with a few key differences:

  • ISP costs will be higher (to pay for the filter)

  • Internet connection costs for most of us will be a little higher (to pay for getting around the filter)

  • Some third party service providers will be a little richer (for providing filter circumvention services)

  • The Internet will be slower (since we'll be going through a filter and, most likely, a proxy)

  • The country will be about $40 billion poorer (to pay for the filter)


All so a bunch of politicians and self-appointed keepers-of-our-morals feel better about themselves and all the "good work" that they're doing to "PROTECT THE CHILDREN!!!".

Further Reading