Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Dell Named Tatiana

After much family encouragement and a fair bit of penny-pinching, I recently ordered up a new personal laptop system from Dell.

This was to be a replacement for the well-loved Gateway MT6451 notebook I’ve been using.  I had already had the DC plug repaired once and it was failing again.  I wasn’t ready to reinvest in another repair, so it had been sitting static on my desk to avoid having to re-jiggle to cord/plug to keep power flowing.  Not very practical for a laptop.

As noted in a recent GSD post, I did a lot of research and consideration for this system choice.  I wanted something “small” so it would be a bit more portable than the 17” + notebooks now commonly available. I wanted power, so that meant an  Intel i7 core system, and I still needed something that was at a decent price point.

In the end, fueled by some good discounts, I settled on a Del Studio 15 (1558) notebook.  It’s got the i7 core, a 500GB drive (SATA…no SSD for me yet…),and a wireless 802.11a/g/n card that now finally allows me to take full advantage of the D-Link DIR-655 Xtreme N Gigabit Router wireless router I picked up some time ago.image

I did spring for the full 1080p high-def display option (gorgeous!) though a Blu-Ray drive wasn’t an available option at the time.  However, standard DVD playback is really, really good.  It also has dedicated 1 GB video video card. And I got the Ruby Red lid.  A wise purchase as it really conceals fingerprints, and as my brother says, “…red makes it go faster.”

Alas, the Gateway just couldn’t successfully run many higher-end graphic applications under Win7; including Celestia, Photoshop C4 x64, Google Earth, and a few others.  It was getting to be an annoyance.  No more.  Google Earth renders beautifully fluid.

It takes about a minute to go from a power-off state to desktop.  I’ve yet to really challenge the i7 core.  I’ve done some x64 bit Photoshop work already as well as video editing and it barely causes a bump on the utilization graphs. (I run Process Explorer at boot as a scheduled task, sending to the system tray with the “-t” switch.)

I’ve not had time to finish setting up my virtual machines yet, so I’m very hopeful the i7 core will really add virtualization performance.

Sure, an i5 core would have probably been sufficient, but this is the very first time I’ve actually allowed myself to get a system I really wanted (from a feature standpoint)…and then a splurge of a bit more in power.

I’ve christened it “Tatiana” due to the red lid and power in honor of the Last Exile character Tatiana Wisla and the complex relationship between Tatiana and Claus in the Last Exile anime series.  She masterfully pilots a red “vanship” fighter and is Claus’ match.  Seemed fitting.  Hence when it was on order and I was anxiously awaiting delivery, Alvis would tease me with a wicked tone, “Dad’s been busy getting to know his new mail-order-bride. Tatiana.”


The biggest concern after reading reviews that really gave me pause to consider were findings that the cooling fan was obscenely loud in early Dell 1557 Studio 15 models with the i7 core: Review Dell Studio 1557 Notebook - Notebookcheck Reviews and this Dell Studio 15 (1558) Review - Laptop Magazine. And they got really hot on the bottom/top.  I am pleased to say that isn’t the case with my experience with the 1558 model.  While the power brick is thinner than I would expected (my work Latitude E6400 brick is almost twice as thick to only support a dual-core) it is the only thing that seems quite warm.  The 9-cell battery pack lifts the notebook up creating a large air zone underneath.  I find using a hard-board placemat to rest it on while on my lap is perfect.  The fan rarely spins up unless the core is really working, and the keypad/wristpad does get warm, it is not hot to me.

Software is loaded up. Things are tweaked.

Thanks to Tiny Apps blog for the Tiny HDD activity monitors post.  This notebook has no HDD activity LED indicators at all (what up with that Dell?) so I settled on the HDDMon utility. Sweet!

I’ve also tweaked it for some network usage requirements.  I miss the old XP style network activity indicator icon in the system tray so I added in a free Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7 - IT Samples.  More here Get the Classic Style Network Activity Indicator Back in Windows 7 - How-To Geek.  I’m going to return to network tweaking for Win 7 systems shortly.

All in all it seems to be a rock-solid, wicked-powerful notebook that I hope to get a lot of use out of.

Hopefully this will expand my computing abilities and enhance the GSD posting activity and adventures to come.

So, the Valca home welcomes it’s newest member, Tatiana!


--Claus V.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Been too long…

Yep still here.

As Alvis has commented more than once recently in a wicked tone, “Dad’s been busy getting to know his new mail-order-bride.”

While not nearly as salacious as it sounds coming from her, I’ll save that info for a follow up post. However she is partially correct.

Last Monday, I had planned a relaxing Labor Day holiday chilling out at home catching up on blogging and clearing some pieces of work.  Mom had called however and decided she needed some out-and-about activity with son #1 since son #2 was living large in Colorado on a respite before leaving fair Texas for an long term work-assignment in a foreign country; Baton Rouge, LA.

So mid-morning I drove over to Mom’s, loaded up the car and pointed it to the shadow of downtown Houston.

She had caught a local news piece on the local Houston connection to the movie Mao’s Last Dancer and was determined to see it before it left the single screen that was showing it.  It’s got flashbacks to communist China and the humblest of villages, ballet, opera, love, ballet dancers, Houstonians, Houston sights and scenes, ballet dancers, a famous local lawyer and an international showdown.  And the F.B.I. makes an appearance at least once.  What’s not to love! Right?

Anyway I’d seen neither the trailer nor the news piece so was suspicious but a good sport.

We drove over the the 1930’s-era River Oaks Theatre, found one of the few parking spots that didn’t have a “30-min shopping only” sign painted boldly on the hot black pavement and stood in line for the tickets.  (Only later would I spy the nice super-new parking garage hidden across the street from the theatre. Oh well…next time…)

While I have known and heard of the River Oaks Theatre, I’d never been inside.  It reminded me instantly of a similar home-town one long since crumbled that I used to go to as a kid.  This one has been lovingly cared for by a devoted staff and brings back an instant ambiance of the golden-screen days.  The seating was very comfortable and I felt we were falling back in time. Well, had it not been for the fancy Hagan-Daas ice-cream bar mom was munching on.  The theatre specializes in international, art, and foreign films that would almost never see the light of projectors in the local mega-movie-plex.

It was a very full house.  And the movie was really good.  Sure, some of the Houstonian stuff seemed a bit over the top, but I guess that’s how most of the world thinks we talk. (We don’t.) And there were some local scenes in the background shots that were not period to the ‘80s.  But small quibbles aside, it was a very impactful movie.  Like most in the audience, I was leaking man-eye-sweat at the end of the film.  Definitely recommended and worth seeing.

Afterwards, Mom wanted to go across the street to the B&N to replace a Julia Childs book she has lost.  I got a bit sentimental (maybe it was from the movie) but it was strange.  Right inside the entry was a kiosk where a clerk was demonstrating the benefits of an e-book reader to folks, selling units, and books.  Time is turning my friends.

I worked in the local library growing up in my teen years and used to love the proximity and time spent among the shelves.  It was a perfect job. Now I seem to dash into the bookstore for a technical book, and dash right out.  Not with mom.

We lingered.

She looked at the tables, opened up random books, chatted away, and just was present there.

That forced me to be so as well.

And I noticed lots of books again; history books, cartography books, novels.  Their covers carefully planned to invite and entice.  Best sellers and bargain buys.  One shelf was filled with strange and unique books, selected by the local employees, with little cards on the shelf edge. The cards had the staff-member’s name and a single sentence why they loved it so much and recommended it.  The comments were more wonderful and mysterious than any ad-campaign or glitzy display. It was humble and seemed genuine.

And as I stood there surrounded by all the books two things struck me; that these books represented so many new authors trying to get started and old ones firmly established, all telling their own, special story, and that I probably was like many now, in too much of a rush to linger and let the books and stories seduce me as they used to so passionately, instead being addicted to the mad-hose-pipe flow of RSS feeds, Internet media, and that damned moving picture screen in our living-room.  What will such book stores look like 10 years from now? The same? or will they have been replaced by the Kindles and Nooks and the warmth of the pages on a cold winter’s night be replaced by the cool plastic.

I mean I get it. Really.  While I don’t (yet) have an e-book reader in our house, I see and understand the convenience and flexibility of having so many stories and such available on download demand, but real books are still touchstones, for now.  And it has been too long since I slowed down enough to just hang out with them and let them try to lure me away from the straight and narrow, to Timbuktu’s and fields and fen.

Anyway, by now mom was hungry so I suggested a local Mexican eatery in the East End or maybe a local BBQ place.

No.  Mom would have nothing of that.

We re-crossed the street (sorry Houston, you still have a long way to go to being a pedestrian-friendly town) and mom led the way over to the nearby La Madeleine café.

While familiar, I’d never eaten there yet.  Mom had and soon she had picked her quiche and tiramisu while I had scored a French-dip sammy and a cup of French roast coffee.  We sat at a small table, chatted, and took our time eating.  Both the time and the food was delicious.  And the people watching was quite entertaining.

Eventually we ended the early afternoon and we braved the now impending downpours of what was left of Tropical Storm Hermine as she started her two-day deluge of our bayou-based city.  We made it home, but there was some major ponding on the freeway lanes.  Only good timing and fortune allowed us to have our walkabout without a single drop falling until we were headed home.

Been a long time since I spent that kind of long, lingering day.  And I guess Mom knew I needed it even more that I realized.

Moms are so wonderful…

--Claus V.