Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bought a new laptop to replace the ageing MacBook Air

I finally pulled the trigger on a new laptop.

I didn't go with Apple, Dell or any other mainstream brands. I went with Metabox. Yes, you read it right: Metabox. They are also known as Clevo in other parts of the world. Gigabyte also seem to have these laptops sold with a Sager branding.

The model I went with is called Alpha N850HJ. It's cheap (for the specs) and pretty fast for what I want to use it; that is everything, but gaming. I don't plan to game on this laptops. The memory, storage and Wi-Fi options are user configurable, so I simply took the base model, upgraded the memory to 16GB and added the Intel 8265 Wi-Fi card. They had a promotion on the Hynix 512GB SATA M.2 SSD, so I went with that instead of an NVMe drive. I won't benefit from an NVMe drive; it's only for the bragging rights. I also decided not an operating system as I have a license I can use with the Windows 10 Creators Update, which just came in time for the laptop.

It ended up costing me AUD 1,487 although if you tried building it on Metabox website it would have cost AUD 1,507 + AUD 30 for shipping. I bought it from Kong Computers which saved me $50 including shipping. It took a week to get the laptop built, tested and delivered.

In terms of future expansion options, I can add another 16GB RAM card, a 2.5" SSD and replace the battery if it goes bad. Of course the existing M.2 SSD and the Wi-Fi cards are replaceable as well.

I will talk about my initial impressions about it in another post.

CPU temps of the Mid 2011 MacBook Air

I know my MacBook Air can get pretty warm, but I never measured it quantitatively. I don't know what people use to measure those in OSX; but luckily I have Windows 10 installed via BootCamp (i.e. natively) and I am familiar with the tools in Windows.

I downloaded the trusty duo: CPU-Z and Realtemp. This is the Mid-2011 MacBook Air from the SandyBridge era. The CPU is a Core i5 2557M, which runs at 1.7GHz with a max boost of 2.7GHz.

I didn't want to run any stress tests straight away. But I ran Windows Update and updated the other software installed in there while monitoring the temps. It was astonishing to see the temps hover around 85-90C with a CPU utilisation of around 50% according to task manager, while hitting a max of 95C. I have no doubt it will throttle if the CPU runs at 100%, and probably burn a hole in the bottom of the aluminum unibody chassis if I attempted to run Prime95. So I didn't. This was good enough proof that the temps were terrible in such a thin chassis. I wonder if dust has something to do with it, because it is a 5.5 year old laptop. It cannot be free of dust.

I wonder if it is worth getting it serviced at the Apple store along with the battery. It won't be cheap @ AUD 189. Honestly, I don't want to spend any money on such an old laptop.

Monday, March 20, 2017

New goal for 2017: 100wpm average in TypeRacer before the end of the year

When I was watching YouTube reviews on mechanical keyboards before I bought my mechanical keyboards (note the s after keyboard, because I had to buy two), I came across a site one guy used to test how well he could type on the keyboards he reviewed. It was called typeracer.

What you do on that site is, type - as fast as you can. You are given a paragraph to type and it shows the realtime words per minute. You have to type in the correct case, type the punctuations and type with correct spellings (correct, according to the paragraph) to finish each test. To make it fun, they have made it like a game, hence the name typeracer. While there is a practice mode which doesn't record the performance into your profile, this racing mode which you race against other people (or racers) records your performance into your profile. Of course, if you are cheap, you can close the race midway if you feel you are not going to get a good score and it will not be reflected in your profile. By default, you will be racing against some random people who are logged on like you, but you can also race against your friends by inviting them to a race. I haven't used this feature yet, but I think that is the most fun part of it.

So far I have done over 500 races and I average about 70 words per minute. There are people who can type faster than 150 wpm and you can check some videos on YouTube where they do it in real time. It is amazing how fast some people can type. Buy they have few tricks up their sleeves which I don't use. If they misspell a word, they would quickly press Ctrl + A to select all the text you typed into the text box, and type the word from the scratch. I don't do that. I use backspace to erase letter by letter and correct it. Doing the former method would save a lot of time in typeracer, but you cannot do that in real life when you are writing a document. I want to improve my real-world typing speed by improving accuracy, not by employing these typeracer specific "tricks". So I will probably continue to do it the way I do now.

Serviced my car for the first time

According the service manual, my 2007 XV40 Aurion only requires an annual service if driven under normal conditions. I don't drive the car often - I don't have to. When my parents were here, I hardly drove to work. I walked to work because it took only 20 minutes and because my wife had all the support she needed. There was no real urgency to get back home.

Since owning the car, I had only done about 7,000km, out of which about 1500km was for driving practice (my wife and I).

After the VVT-I hose burst incident, I wanted to get the service done as soon as possible. But I didn't know where to take the car to for the service. Toyota dealerships are known for ripping off people (as that is where they make up for the little margin they make selling cars) and some others are known for misdoings (like magically finding issues that were never present in the first place, leading people to believe that they did something).

After a bit of looking around, I came across a site called fixedpricecarservice.com.au (which they have renamed since to autoguru.com.au) where you can find mechanics to get the service done. They gave me several options with mobile mechanics. Mobile mechanics would come to your place and perform the service then and there which was not only convenient, but also you could monitor their work to make sure they weren't doing anything 'naughty'.

I contacted the highest rated one, but it didn't work out. Then I contacted the 2nd highest rated one called Australian Mobile Mechanics and they arranged the service to be performed next day. I told them that I had bought some parts (engine oil, filter etc) on sale and they deducted the cost for those parts. I lose the warranty on the parts, but the 1 year warranty on labour is applicable. The service charges ended up being $134, for the 105,000km logbook service. I was at 102,500km at that time. It is not cheap, but it is not that expensive either. Car service in Australia is expensive, because labour is expensive.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fixing the Edifier Exclaim E10BT BlueTooth issues

About 9 months ago, I bought a new set of speakers for my PC called Exclaim E10BT from Edifier. They sound superb and they have a very small footprint. Both of those features were equally important to me when I was searching for a set of speakers.

However, it has a feature that I didn't really want or use, but it has started causing me a lot of inconvenience. That is BlueTooth connectivity. You can connect to it from your phone and play back music via BlueTooth. It sounds like a handy feature to have. But it doesn't ask for a key to input when you connect to the speakers. Anyone with a BlueTooth device can connect to it.

This would not be a problem if you were living in a big house. But I am currently living in an apartment and there are other people living near me. Someone has paired their TV or device to my speakers. Every now and then, they would connect to my speakers and I would start hearing nonsense through the speakers.

There is no way I can disable BlueTooth on these speakers. The manual doesn't have any information relevant to my issue.

However, I figured that I might be able to do something about it.

When the speakers are connected to a device via BlueTooth, another device cannot automatically override it. You have to terminate the existing connection by pressing the power button on the speakers, and then try to connect. So, if something from my end can connect to the speakers before that other pesky TV does, at least I have the control. Luckily, my desktop PC which the speakers are connected to, has support for BlueTooth. So, that device on my end can be the desktop PC.

I connected the desktop PC to the speakers via BlueTooth and observed its behaviour.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My wife's driving

Not having the car for a couple of days didn't affect our day to day life much. We had bought all the groceries for the whole week during the last weekend and it's only a 20 minute walk to work. However, we were worried about one particular thing. My wife's drive test was scheduled for Friday morning!!!

I towed the car to Chadstone Toyota on Monday. Thursday was Australia day, which was a public holiday. So, if I didn't get the car by Wednesday, my wife wouldn't be able to practice driving on Thursday and we probably wouldn't be able to go for the test on Friday. (Friday was a holiday at work, although it went out of our annual leave.) My wife has never taken the bus or the train by herself, which is the reason why this was a problem in the first place. I have to take her to the test. The VicRoads test centre we picked was about 40km away from home, as the routes there were less complex. Besides, the instructor was more familiar with the test routes there.Luckily, we got the car back on Wednesday and my wife was able to practice driving on Thursday.

On Friday, we could go for the test as we planned, and by some miracle, she passed it!!! This particular Friday was a good day for the drive test because there were less cars on the road, because many people were taking the Friday off to make it a four-day long weekend. The schools were still in holidays until 1st of February.

I would like to talk a bit about the events that led to this day.

My wife had to start the journey to obtain the Victorian driving license from taking the road rules test at VicRoads which happened in September. After passing that test in the first attempt, she applied for a learner permit which allowed her to practice driving with a full license holder on the passenger seat. If you are on a permanent resident visa, you can drive up to 6 months in Victoria with your overseas license. The 6 months is calculated from the first point of entry, which happened in October 2015 for us. By the time my wife moved here in April 2016, her 6 months were already up, so she had to get the learner permit anyways. (I had a couple of months before mine expired as I arrived in February, so I could practise driving myself.) After getting the learner permit, she took the Hazard Perception Test and passed it in the first attempt as well. This brought her closer to obtaining the Victorian license. Only thing remained was passing the drive test. (It's much easier to get the full license for people who have a overseas full license, otherwise it is a lengthy process.) Since she had not driven a car in almost 5 years, we decided to take some driving lessons first. The driving school we decided to attend was a Sri Lankan one called Learning Pedals. The instructor assigned to my wife was a female, and at the beginning she came to pick my wife up. After a couple of lessons, we had to decide where we would take the test, and we had to practice on the test routes to familiarise about the tricky spots. We could take the test at Heatherton or Burwood, but the routes were known to be a bit complex. We were hoping to take the test before my parents returned to Sri Lanka on the boxing day. So the instructor recommended that we go to Pakenham for the test because the routes were simple and it was easy to pass in one go. Since Pakenham was about 40km from our place, I had to drive her there for the lessons on Sundays. We had to take our baby girl with us as well, because she would need a feed. We left our son with my parents.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Gave another shot at a mechanical keyboard

After that bad experience with my first mechanical keyboard purchase, I decided to buy another one from a local store. Luckily for me, there are many computer shops within a 5km radius. PC Case Gear, Scorptec, PLE, CentreCom, MSY and CPL to name a few. Furthermore, I wanted to buy a keyboard from a reputed brand name this time round. (I'm not saying Turtle Beach is not a reputed brand, just that it is not widely known.)

I kept a keen eye for deals for a couple of days on ozbargain, but none showed up. So I decided to visit the online store of those computer shops and searched for a decently priced keyboard.

The Logitech G610 and the Corsair STRAFE (non-RGB) were around $130. They were good products but I wanted to get the best bang for the buck. That's when I came across the Corsair K70 Lux (non-RGB) for $135 on CentreCom. This is better than both of those keyboards for just $5 more. Better than the G610 because it has dedicated media keys and better than the STRAFE because it has an aluminum construction compared to plastic. There were cheaper mechanical keyboard from reputed brands such as Ducky but they had some kind of a compromise - some had no backlighting, some had switches other than Cherry MX, some weren't in stock with no ETA and some didn't come with Cherry MX Brown switches. I was all set on the MX Browns, because I actually type more than I play games so I needed tactile feedback, at the same time I didn't want to noise MX Blue switches. Browns were the middle grounds, and middle grounds are better in life.

The only concern I had about the Corsair keyboards was their software suite and the keyboard requiring two USB ports.

But after some research, I came to know that you could do just fine without the software (you mainly lose the macro functionality and fancy lighting patterns) and you don't need to plug in both USB cables if you plug it into a USB 3.0 port. Honestly, I do have many unused USB ports on the back of my PC, so that 2nd point was not really a big issue; just something that I didn't like.

Car-less for three days after an engine oil leak

Last Sunday, we went for a driving lesson for my wife (her drive test is coming up shortly) and on the way we visited Costco to fill up the fuel tank and have pizza for lunch. The petrol (ULP 91) prices have hit 140c per litre everywhere, because of the high demand in the summer, yet as a Costco member, I could buy them at 118c, which was about 15% cheaper. We filled up the tank and came home.

After I reversed the car in the car port at my apartment, I noticed a trail of liquid on the driveway leading to the carport. After a while, I noticed there was a bit of an oil spill under the car. It was a little spill, and I had to rush to a birthday party in the evening, so I went there and came back. I could notice more oil where I parked the car as well. Worried, I smoothly drove home (I drive smoothly anyways) which was only a 5 minutes away. I was watching for the low oil pressure warning whole through the trip back home, but it never came on. I never could feel or heard anything out of the ordinary from the engine either.

Once I parked the car, there was a new oil trail close (parallel) to the old one. So it was still leaking. I called my father and asked what I can do and he told me to check the oil level immediately even though I had driven the car few minutes earlier and even though it was not a perfectly flat surface. The carport floor ramps slightly forward. I saw NOTHING on the dipstick. NOTHING! I initially thought all of the engine oil had leaked out. The oil spill under the engine was much bigger now as well.

So, I couldn't move the car. I talked to a mobile mechanic and he told me that there is a known issue with the Toyota Aurions prior to 2008 where the oil cooling hose which has a rubber midsection can get damaged over time and leak oil, and Toyota should replace it free of charge.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The update on the Turtle Beach Impact 700 keyboard purchase

In the previous post I mentioned that I placed the order for my first mechanical keyboard. It arrived a day earlier than the seller predicted. The postman was kind enough to deliver it to me just before I left for work. But I had to rush to work, so I decided to play with it when I returned home from work.

I unboxed the keyboard with my son sitting along side. It was way more fun for him than myself. I am not that amused by unmoving packages; I just want to to get it working asap. But I took some photos just to post here.

The keyboard has two USB ports. I think you can do with just one, because the second one is just for USB passthrough. But I connected both because I have ample USB ports on my PC.

To test the keyboard, I opened up notepad and started typing some words. I noticed that the spaces weren't registering between them. I hit the space bar several times and I wasn't dreaming: the spaces really weren't registering. I disconnected the keyboard and reconnected it to see if it was just a random Windows error. But the space bar still wasn't working. I connected the keyboard to two different ports on the back as well as the front. Same story. Then I tried it on the MacBook Air, and no change. The space bar was not working!!!

Yikes!

The keyboard doesn't have a companion software. That was one reason why I was happy to buy this keyboard in the first place. An additional software layer means more input lag. So this wasn't caused by me forgetting to install a companion software.

I went through the manual to see if I was doing something wrong. Honestly, what more should one do to get a keyboard working with a PC? Anyways, the manual did not mention anything special we had to do, nor any troubleshooting guides, so it wasn't a setup issue.

Conclusion: the keyboard was a DOA!!!

I have not had a DOA in a long time. The last one was a MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G which had one of its fans not working, but it wasn't totally DOA.

I wanted to see if the space bar was the only key that was not working. It was not. Several keys were not registering the key strokes. Namely, the Delete, down cursor, Num Lock, Num7, Num4 and Num1 weren't working. If I had to guess, all these keys were connected through the same electrical wiring to the controller.

I uploaded a video to YouTube showing the fault.

I went online to see if there were similar claims, but it seems I was the only (un)lucky one.

It was time to RMA the keyboard. I first messaged the store through eBay. I was told that they would most probably have to refund due to stock being exhausted. I asked how to proceed with it, but I did not received a reply back. It was late night anyways. I was lucky to have received the initial response in the first place.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Finally...placed an order for a mechanical keyboard

I had not bought anything "fun" for myself in almost a year and I finally had to do something about it. Today I received a $20 off coupon code from eBay and I thought this was my chance. I looked around for deals on Ozbargain because a great number of deals pop-up when there are discounts on offer from major retailers.

There were few for SSD and hard drive deals, but I was not in the market for either. Well, I am in the market for the 4TB hard drive, but I still haven't had time to go over the idea of strengthening my backup policy I discussed here. There were two deals for mechanical keyboards: one from JB Hi-Fi and one from eBay. The JB Hi-Fi offers weren't really cheap because you could find the products they have on sale for cheaper if you knew where to look. But the one on eBay (well, it wasn't directly from eBay but you could buy it from their eBay store as well) looked solid. A backlit mechanical gaming keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches for AUD 100. While it still sounded expensive, it was not as expensive as the AUD 150+ normal price for mechanical keyboards from well-known brands like Corsair and Razer. Hence I decided to take a look at reviews if this was my chance to own a mechanical keyboard for the first time in my life.

The keyboard on offer was a Turtle Beach Impact 700, which was unheard of. (Note: If you visit that link, you would know that there is a huge discount on offer on Turtle Beach's US store as well) If you are into gaming, you would know about the brand "Turtle Beach" mostly from their headset lineup. But I didn't know that they made keyboards until today.

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