Few months back Microsoft announced to make more services available free for XBOX Live users. This meant without paying for XBOX Live Gold subscription (around $10 per month) you can use popular apps like YouTube, Internet Explorer and OneDrive in your XBOX consoles.
I have two XBOX 360’s in house, I swapped one my son was using (XBOX 360 Halo edition) which broke down today with another one (XBOX 360 White) which was lying around unused. While doing it, I formatted the XBOX HDD, downloaded his profile and added my profile as well. After I adding my profile I downloaded the apps – YouTube, Internet Explorer and OneDrive. All of them worked brilliantly.
Google’s has done a fine job in authenticating and pairing devices like XBOX & TVs with your YouTube account through a code that appears on screen that you need to type in YouTube site from any device. The app in XBOX 360 allowed me to watch my favorites, uploads & subscriptions in YouTube. Once I pair a mobile device with XBOX YouTube app, I could search, select the video and play it from my iPad or Android phone and it automatically plays on the console (TV). Just like Apple TV Airplay but for YouTube. Cool.
Internet Explorer in XBOX 360 allowed me to browse the Internet easily, of course to be effective you need a USB keyboard plugged in the USB port of XBOX. Otherwise entering URLs through onscreen keyboard and controller is a pain. Unfortunately Internet Explorer in XBOX 360 didn’t display Unicode characters particularly my mother tongue Tamil. I guess in the new XBOX One console this should have been addressed as it is based on Windows 8 OS kernel.
Out of the 3 unexpectedly the one that impressed me was OneDrive. I can easily drop pictures or music into OneDrive account from my phone (Lumia 925) or desktop (PC or Mac) and access them from XBOX using this app, impressive stuff.
After setting this console I went back to the broken one (Halo Edition), the problem with it was the Optical Drive (DVD) wasn’t opening. From standing position I kept it flat in the table and voila, the drive opened. Now I have a working backup!!!
My main PC at work was becoming slow for my usage. It was a Core i7 (Gen 1) with 8GB RAM, 500GB (10000 RPM HDD) with Dual monitors. In the last few months I upgraded the Graphics Card, 27″ inches (dual) monitors and put in a Bluetooth dongle. But there is only so much you can do to an old machine. I went shopping for a new Workstation PC.
The specification I wished for was:
Intel Core i7 (4th Gen) Quad Core
1TB HDD or 250GB SSD
Display for Dual HDMI/Dual DVI output supporting 1080p
All the above for a price of less than Rs.1 Lakh (USD 1650). No laptops as I have a Surface Pro 1 and I was not planning to carry this anywhere.
I spent nearly 2 weeks looking around, spoke to local vendors, browsing endlessly online. I couldn’t find any that fit my requirement. The only Desktop PCs I could find in India were All-In-One Touch PC’s, which I didn’t want for work as I prefer using Dual monitors and I have already spent on two 27″ monitors recently. OEMs like Dell & Lenovo had in their websites highend Desktops listed but when asked for quote, none of them reverted back. For the configuration I wanted I could only see laptops and I disliked the idea of spending for a laptop with a large 17″ display and not using it. Finally my regular vendor suggested I look at Apple Mac.
It looked like regular (non touch) Desktop PC market in India was dead. For Windows choice was only laptops & All in Touch.
With no other choice I looked at Apple Macs, deciding that I can load Windows 8 through Bootcamp and I can try Mac OS Yosemite as well in the sides. I narrowed to Mac Mini, as I both iMac & Mac Book Pro was not what I was looking for. I got a quote of Rs.124,800 (USD 2070) for latest Mac Mini with 2.6Ghz Core i7, 1TB fusion drive, 16GB (vendor added 8GB), HDMI to DVI adapter & Mini Displayport to Dual-Link DVI Adapter. Mac Mini comes with all necessary ports (Ethernet, Bluetooth 4, WiFi, USB 3, Thunderbolt).
Before I placed the order I wanted to check all the features in Mac Mini works in Windows environment as well. Apple FAQ stated that drivers were available for Windows 8 including for Bluetooth, but the fusion drive will work only for Mac OS (disappointing but understandable). My support engineer suggested we try connecting two displays to a Mac Mini we already had in our office just to ensure everything works as advertised. We didn’t have Apple Thunderbolt to HDMI Adapter but we managed to connect two displays to Mac Mini, one using Mini Display Port & the second with HDMI. The two ports (Mini Display & HDMI) were close to each other in Mac Mini (unlike what you expect from Apple design) and it took a bit of effort and sampling 3-4 HDMI cables before we got the two in and the displays worked.
Seeing the above somehow I became uncomfortable. Waited for another week, luckily my vendor came back with a good news that HP has released very recently a new Desktop series that might fit my bill. Looking into it, it did match and I ordered it. The new Desktop PC came two weeks back and I am happy with the choice.
2TB HDD with 16GB mSATA disk caching SSD (similar to Fusion Drive in Mac)
NVidia GeForce GT 640 having DisplayPort (2560×1600), DVI (2560×1600) & HDMI (1920 x 1080)
Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi (802.11b/g/n)
Gigabit Ethernet Port
6 x USB 3.0 (2 each in Top,Front & Back); 4 x USB 2.0 Ports (2 each in Front & Back); Headphone ports in Front & Back; Multimedia card reader (SD and others)
Windows 8.1 (no Windows Pro unfortunately)
BlueRay optical disk (this was bonus but I don’t think I will watch movies at Work)
Added to above, the PC came with wireless keyboard and wireless optical mouse. For bonus the front audio output support Beats Audio for fine Audio reproduction.
For Windows OS configuration (not having Windows 8.1 Pro edition), I was worried that I had to format and reinstall Windows which will mean I will loose all HP default drivers and I have to spend getting everything working. It turned out it was easier than I feared. I got a Windows Pro key through our Microsoft Partnership program (you can buy Windows 8.1 Pro in retail) and inputting the key meant the PC upgraded to Pro effortlessly with all drivers and apps intact.
After solving the Windows edition issue, I proceed to uninstall all the crapware installed by default by HP. The main culprit in the list was WildTangent games, which has to be uninstalled from Windows Add/Remove Programs (you need to select manually some 39 check boxes to get rid of all games) and for each user from the Metro UI Start screen. The Cyberlink Media suite turned out to be better than I expected and I need them for Blueray playing and Optical disk writing, so I didn’t uninstall them.
At work, we have Microsoft Office 365 subscription for all team members. In the new PC, Windows 8.1 had put in a shortcut to Microsoft Office, I just entered the credentials to my Office365 subscription and voilla the copy of MS Office got activated, effortless.
Overall I am very happy with the new PC. Its fast, has all the ports I want, Audio is great and Windows 8.1 runs fantastic. Thanks HP for still producing great Desktop PCs.
Last April (2013) my wife purchased a Nokia Lumia 820 for Rs.24,500 as an upgrade from her earlier Windows Phone (Samsung Focus). She loves the phone, its simplicity and the good camera. Unfortunately she dropped it to the floor earlier this week, the glass display broke and phone becoming unusable. When I checked with Nokia care they quoted Rs.8000 to change the display. Considering the phone is 18 months old, I decided to get her a new phone instead of spending on repairing the old one.
Wife was particular she wanted only a Windows Phone, so my choices was limited to Nokia Lumia 925, 1520, 1320 (6 inch), 530 and 630. She didn’t like the 6 inches 1320 & 1520s, I didn’t like the 925 (considering it came last year) and 530 will be slow for her. The choice got limited to 630, I liked the specifications and the price of Rs.10,000 for it. The Nokia retailer offered to buy back the broken Lumia 820 for Rs.1500 which I was more than happy to trade in.
Comparing with Lumia 820 she had earlier, Lumia 630 was an upgrade (Quad core vs Dual Core, 1830mAh vs 1650mAh) in many areas except the memory (512MB instead of 1GB in 820, 5MP camera vs 8MP in 820). The Phone was lighter too at 134g compared to 820’s weight of 160g. Wife liked the phone and I came happy for not spending Rs.40K for a Lumia 1520.
Coming home I was able to setup the new phone in less than a hour. I inserted the SIM, connected to Wi-Fi, restored the backup from cloud (of the 820), entered the passwords for Outlook.com, Facebook, Whatsapp, MetroTube (YouTube app) and finally inserted the microSD card from the 820 which brought back all her photos, videos and music instantly.
Update: After few days of usage, wife says battery life is good, speaker quality and volume is great, touch is fluid. Overall, happy with the purchase!
Today I got the above email in my Hotmail email ID with title reading “Unusual sign-in activity”. I haven’t been to South Africa but I thought some hacker might have been trying from there and I need to change my password immediately. I was about to click on the link, when this struck me. The big blue button on bottom which read “Re-Active Account” is grammatically wrong (spelling mistake for Re-Activate?), but rest of the email looked exactly like the email that comes from Microsoft. On mouse-over to the click-here text which showed a tiny.cc URL as seen above, it became obvious this email is not from Microsoft and is a phishing attack.
I was curious to see where this attack wants to take me. I fired up a Ubuntu linux image that I keep in VirtualBox. Being a virtual image the entire OS instance I can throw away after I try this, that way my host OS will be safe. As seen below, the attack page was to a non-Microsoft page which convincingly exact as the official Outlook.com sign in page.
Its easy to copy the official login page’s HTML and recreate a new page, but I am surprised on the bluntness of the attackers nowadays. I feel bad that computer scientists haven’t been doing enough to protect the common user from these dangers.
The other day my 11 year old son asked me to teach him on how to write apps. I was thinking on what programming language I can start him with.
I didn’t want to start him with Mobile Apps as I feel that will curtail his possibilities . This meant Android Java, Objective C & Apple Swift won’t cut it. Being an ardent Microsoft language engineer I never liked Java, but that discussion is for an other day.
My friends know well about my “affair” with Visual Basic. Going with VB6 (there is a charm to this acronym’s sound) will mean he will be learning more on GUI/Drag ‘N’ Drop rather than programming and language fundamentals. Also the GUI guidelines of VB6 are rooted in Windows 95 days which are out dated in today’s iOS7/Metro/Material design world.
Next option was Visual Studio 2013 Express with VB.NET or C#.NET languages. Either of this would mean learning about objects and OOPS concepts at first class itself. I felt he will find it difficult to digest the vast surface of .NET Framework, without understanding which even Console.WriteLine(“Hello World!”); will appear to be magic for him. If he remembers software as magic (sorry Steve Jobs) he will not be curious enough to work his way through the entire process of how a program executes.
Speaking to one of my mentors (an expert teacher & coach on programming) I added Python to the list. For last few weeks I have been learning Python too as my side project but I am not at a stage where I will be able to teach my son. So reluctantly I gave up Python as the choice. I wish to teach my son Python after he is done with Basic.
Having selected Basic I went looking around for MS-DOS and GW Basic, there are articles on how to get and install this combination even in Windows 8. If you want QBasic which included a compiler and a textual based IDE for Microsoft Basic, it got shipped with every version of a Microsoft Operating System from DOS 5.0 till Windows 95 (you can get it from an old Windows 95 CD). I was not comfortable with either of this (running GW Basic or QBasic) in Windows 8 as it won’t give my son a chance to write true “Windows” programs or access modern necessities in later stages, as well as the archaic 8.3 file names he will not understand. I wanted a BASIC language in a modern avatar.
Looking around I found following three options. I just went with Free Basic, you can choose any of them (all 3 are good options).
1) Free Basic is a free open source compiler that’s fully compatible with Microsoft QBasic language. In fact almost all programs written for Quick Basic will compile with Free Basic. I found an IDE to go with it called FBIDE. Combination of FBIDE and Free Basic was awesome, it provided the simplicity of BASIC language along with ability to compile and run natively in modern Operating Systems including Windows, Linux in both 32 and 64 bit as well as in DOS (I suppose that means MS DOS, DR DOS and FreeDOS).
2) QB64 is a self-hosting BASIC compiler for Microsoft Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, designed to be compatible with Microsoft QBasic and QuickBASIC. QB64 implements most QBasic statements, and can run many QBasic programs, including Microsoft’s QBasic Gorillas and Nibbles games. QB64 also contains an IDE resembling the QBASIC IDE.
3) Small Basic from Microsoft, this is a commendable effort by Microsoft especially aimed for students. The site even includes complete curriculum to teach Small Basic. This is based on .NET Framework so has the same OOPS issues, but I guess they way its been presented here can be managed.
I came across Real Basic (now Xojo) which is a BASIC inspired environment allowing you to write commercial grade apps for Mac OS. Since its a business grade and paid environment I didn’t give it a try.
Before settling on “Basic” I seriously considered Pascal, Turbo Pascal was my favourite language in College, when we programmed using it on our lab’s Novell Netware lab. I consider losing Turbo Pascal (and its Delphi avatar) is a big loss to software programming field in the last two decades and I still feel sad for it. In mid 90s I worked with a friend to develop a complete student course material in Pascal for a local college. I still have the materials and accompanying projector transparency sheets, I remember the long hours I spent typing them in AmiPro word processor. AmiPro was one of the best in its heyday and light years ahead of MS Word on those days, I am surprised AmiPro even has a Facebook fan page.
Coming back to Pascal, I found a Free Open Source compiler called “Free Pascal” along with IDE ( Lazarus IDE) to go along with it. I will be trying it out in the next few weeks, it might turn out to be a good introduction to OOPS as FreePascal supports objects.
Look below the first program in Free Basic that I thought my son