Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Who wants a trouble free Laptop?

Buying an AppleCare Protection Plan for my Macbook Pro was probably the first good decision on my part, thanks to Karan's advice. Ever since I bought my Macbook Pro, it has been niggling me with some problem or the other. Not that there were any "major issues", but since I had got myself an APP I had decided not to compromise with any minor problem. Every snag I faced, no matter how petit, I took it to the Apple Support Centre and the part was replaced, no questions asked. This is why I loved the Apple Service. At the same time I can vouch for Apple not stocking good spares, at least here in India. There have been at least 2-3 times when the replacement part either did not work at all, or had some defect for which it had to be returned. But there was one problem that would recur very frequently. My Superdrive would not write DVD-R or CD-R. Please get this right. It had no problems in writing re-writable disks, or in fact reading disks. Leopard would report an error saying that "The Device could not calibrate enough laser power to write on the media". Probably RWs are written with lower laser powers. I got the Superdrive replaced at least 4 times. On one of these occasions faulty replacement parts were sent twice, and it worked only after a superdrive was called in for the third time. What surprises me is that Apple claims to give "New Spares" in its replacement, which is surely not the case with Superdrives. New Superdrives come with no region set. But in my case when I had got my Superdrive replaced for the first time, no region code was not set on the replacement part and I had the entire quota of 5 region changes remaining. All other times the region code was already set on the replacement drives. In one of the cases it was actually set twice beforehand, so I had only 3 region changes left. Thanks to DVD Info X that reports these figures. When my superdrive failed for the fourth time, I took the case to a higher level ie to the Customer Relationship Department. The concerned representative checked out my case, and insisted me to go for the replacement one final time. Thanks to my humble (:P) attitude, I accepted. This was probably the second good decision I made, cause I was pretty sure that the replacement drive would fail yet again. And so it did- in the month of May during my final examinations. I decided to return to Delhi, before I give a call to AppleCare - which is probably the third good decision I took. When I returned to Delhi, I called up AppleCare. My case was referred to Customer Relations once again on 1st June, and the representative immediately offered me to replace my unit. I could "sense" it, and thus I wasn't surprised. Also, I was aware that Apple replaces with the current models, which I confirmed with the representative. I was offered a Macbook Pro 15-inch with 2.4Ghz Intel Processor, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD and Nvidia 9400M + Nvidia 9600M GT with 256MB VRAM. I was elated. It was like a b'day gift from Apple.

The bad part was the the entire process of the replacement. The older unit would be picked up from my residence and the replacement process would take up to 10 working days from the day they receive my older unit at their Bangalore warehouse. And once the replacement product is despatched it would still take time to reach me due to customs clearance and other technicalities. Such a process also meant that I needed to backup my entire machine. DELL probably gives a better service in this regard by sending the replacement unit first and then collecting the older unit. I had to get a new external disk to back up my entire laptop. My older unit was picked up on June 3rd, and it was the beginning of two weeks of "miserable & laptop-deprived" life. It reached the Bangalore warehouse on June 5th and my replacement process started. Meanwhile at home, I had a big trouble starting my desktop. It was left unused for about the last two years and I had to disconnect and reconnect loads of cables and devices to get it working. For the entire two weeks I had to leave the Cabinet open due to frequent inexplicable issues.

The Desktop at Home

Unexpectedly, all of a sudden WWDC took place on June 8th. For me WWDC took place unexpectedly for the first time, ever since I had been introduced to Apple products. Probably it was because I was too bored and isolated from the internet without my laptop. It was only on June 9th when I logged onto Facebook that I noticed WWDC Keynote Address had taken place.. and wait a minute... the entire Macbook Pro line was upgraded. Ouch!! I quickly called up AppleCare once again, and asked if I would be receiving the same 2.4GHz model. I was told that the 2.4Ghz model was now out of stock and I'd be receiving the newer 15-inch 2.53Ghz Macbook Pro- Which means a faster Processor, Double the RAM (4GB), same hard disk... but hey NO Nvidia 9600M GT and NO dedicated video ram. I complained about the same. My older unit had an ATI Radeon X1600 with 128MB VRAM. Also this model was priced at $300 lesser than mine. But somehow the Customer Relationship guy kept insisting that Nvidia 9400M is a much faster processor than X1600. That was bad. After talking over this for a long time he simply asked if it would be fine if I get the same model as my older one. With the amount of harassment I had faced with the Apple Spares of that model and the kind of upgrades I was otherwise offered, the older model was certainly out-of-question. So I had to accept the 2.53Ghz one. I am unhappy that the Customer Relationship Officers are not given a right knowledge about the products, since the new laptop has performed poorly as compared to the older one in the XBench OpenGL test. But anyways.. the two miserable weeks ended on June 19th when I received this new Macbook Pro... And probably I would be among the first in India to own this new model. Here is a short review of the product and comparison with the older one (ie Macbook Pro 15-inch 2.16Ghz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD and ATI Radeon x1600 with 128MB VRAM)

The first thing you would notice about it (at least I did) is the considerably smaller packaging. Yes, Apple has been claiming that they're doing it for environmental issues, but hey, its just a different way of saying "We're saving a lot of money on packaging and shipping". Ever since I have owned Apple products, it has always gone on to cut manufacturing and packaging costs. And only some portion of the savings have been passed on the the consumers. Look at the trend... My iPod photo... came in a beautiful box, containing the iPod, headphones, a firewire cable, usb cable, charging adaptor, dock, carrying case, AV cable and software disk. I know that before this they even included the iPod Remote. Since then they started off with discontinuing firewire support (which IMHO is much better than usb), and now they just give the iPod, headphones and usb. Thats just it. They don't even include a software disk. You may say that one CD doesn't cost a lot, but I think it is quite a saving as it reduces package size. Although, I still love the Apple packaging (small size - no probs with me), but the fact that they have stopped giving video adaptor and Apple remote with the Macbook Pros is real stingy. All throughout my college these two things have helped me BIG time during those countless presentations. Thankfully I was not required to return my Apple remote, so I can use that. But I will need to buy the MiniDisplayPort adaptor.

Comparing Package Size

Outer Design
The second thing to notice about this laptop is that it has a much sleeker look as compared to the older one. The display is much thinner and it opens up much beyond the older one. It has a sturdy unibody design, which is also claimed by Apple to be lighter, but is is as heavy as the previous one. This is probably because of the bigger battery. Also, it is not user replaceable. There is no mechanical lock for the screen (which is good as once I had a little problem with the mechanical lock in the older machine), instead it is now magnetic.

The ports have changed quite a lot, and so has the position of the Superdrive. My older model had a front loading design, but in this one the drive slot is on the right side. This is an excellent change. Front loading was at times uncomfortable. There are some changes in the IO ports. No firewire 400. Probably its too old now. SD card slot is also a welcome change (The only time I had used the ExpressCard slot was when I put in a SD card adaptor.), but unfortunately I have a Sony Cybershot, and this slot wont work with MemoryStick. Another not-so-good decision was keep both the USB ports next to each other, in fact a little too close to each other.

Once you open the screen, the unibody design will impress you immediately. Yes, it looks elegant. The entire keyboard, is basically, individual keys sticking out of square cavities in the aluminum. It also means that the size of the Keys is slightly smaller than the one in the older one. Even the keys have actually changed. The Enter key next to the right command key is missing and is replaced by an option key. No Num lock. The Function keys have now become similar to a multimedia keyboard. So you have a Play/Pause, Forward and Rewind button. Volume up, down and mute. Screen brightness up and down. Keyboard backlight brightness up and down (no key to switch it off). And finally two new ones: Exposé and Dashboard. There is one more thing that I like about the keyboard. The arrow keys are much more spacious. And last, but not the least, the Keyboard Backlight looks amazing!!

Track Pad
Yes its is Multi-touch. Yes it is large. Yes it has no visible button. Yes it works. No you actually can not click ANYWHERE!! The entire trackpad is the button and this entire thing depresses when you push it, except for the farthest edge of the track pad. Basically as you move from the closest edge to the farthest edge, clicking requires more and more pressure, and when you are close to the farthest edge it does not click at all. Multi touch gestures are fun to use. You'll have to get used to it to take advantage of the same. One good thing is that you can choose the bottom right or left corner to act as a right click. The bad thing is that System Preferences does not allow you to modify the 3 finger or 4 finger gestures. I am sure its a software limitation which to me is incomprehensible.

When I saw the display of my older Macbook Pro, I was impressed. This LED display has really blown me. They did announce in WWDC that there were improvements in the display, but hey I never expected such gorgeous. Unfortunately, there is no matte option. The reflections on the glossy display is certainly annoying. But the fact that these LED displays are very bright and thus it certainly negates some of the reflection. But under usual conditions you'll just love the display. The colors are extremely vivid, distinct and saturated. It turns on instantly, no warmup time (or probably negligible). Since it is an LED display, wont notice any waves when you touch the screen, but you'll definitely leave behind fingerprints on the glass surface. I agree they there is a polishing cloth included, but its not feasible to always have it with you. In the end, I must say that LED display simply rocks and these ones are really "to-die-for" quality.

I clicked a few pictures which can elaborate on the reflection problem of the Glossy screen:

Reflection of Keyboard with Display turned off

Display in Low Brightness

Display in Highest Brightness

Thus the Screen Brightness does negate a lot of reflection. Of course if the background is dark, it would not. Here are a few pictures with the laptop in front of a bright light source.

Reflection with Display turned off.

Display in Highest Brightness

The battery performance is excellent. Definitely it gives 7 hours backup. In fact it can give you much more. Most of the reviews that I have read about these machines, the battery have lasted more than 8 hours with wifi turned on. One thing they have not mentioned, but I find is that it charges much faster than my older one. Also note that I got only a 60W charger. The other 15-inch model (even my older one) come with 85W chargers.

Other Notable things
The iSight camera is actually camouflaged in the top edge of the display - not as prominent as the older machine. Also there is just a single fan in my model. Its a lot quieter as compared to the older one which had two. Even other current 15-inch models have two fans.

No need to crib. 2.53Ghz performs the way it is expected to. The graphics is good as well (although I give much of the credit to the LED-display). I have not played any games yet, thats when I'll be able to judge better. This one has a Hitachi hard-disk, which according to XBench is faster than my previous Fujitsu one. The Superdrive is faster and can write DVDs at 8x(as against 6x). Finally the 4GB RAM is simply a lot of RAM. Even though my graphics shares 256MBs out of it, I am always running with 1.5GBs free.

Look at the free RAM, I have Safari, iTunes,
iPhoto, Excel and few other apps running

While I was recovering my applications from my backup, there was a time when I had selected around 20 applications to copy, and by mistake double clicked on them. I was surprised to see this laptop launch all of them simultaneously with ease. Certainly when you peek in a little deeper, you would realize that it has only 3MB L2 Cache (as against 4MB L2 Cache), but a much faster 1066MHz FSB (as against 667MHz FSB) and uses a DDR3(1066MHz) RAM (as against DDR2 - 667MHz). I noted the boot time to be just a fraction under 30 seconds till the login screen, whereas the logoff+shutdown time was fractionally under 8 seconds.

Pros: LED-Display, Large Multitouch trackpad, battery backup and fast charging
Cons: No matte Display, USB ports too close to each other, No dedicated VRAM.

xBench benchmarks, the one on the right is of the newer machine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Habits, Addictions and Obsessions

College is over, and there is nothing much to do for the next one month. So I'll get back to blogging and its time to rewind the past 4 years. I guess I'll have different blog posts covering different aspect of my college life. This one is going to be about habits/addictions which I owe to the 4 years in college. Not that I repent all of these, but I guess its worth putting it on the blog. Here is the list:

1. Abuses: It all started from the first day at Chandigarh. Punjab has a comprehensive influence over Chandigarh. And of course the Punjabi language is very widely used in Chandigarh. The problem with punjabi language is that it is no longer simply a medium for human communication. It has transformed into a medium to swear at people. After being at the heart of it every sentence I speak now starts and ends with an abuse. Interestingly people no longer restrict them to "behen****" or "madar****" or even "chu****" (these have started featuring in movies as well - remember "Omkara" or "DevD" or "Gulal" or even the lighter ones like "Khosla ka Ghosla"). Innovation is the key and people take pride in abusing in a creative manner. Infact this habit is so deep that even hearing plain Hindi language seems so unnatural. Remembering the school days, when we were scolded for saying "kutta" or "gadha" or the hifi "saala", gives me a mixed feeling of amusement and guilt.

2. Coffee: I have never liked tea which my parents and most of India has been fond of. Every place I go, I have always been refusing tea all my life. I still remember those old days when I used to love traveling on Rajdhani Express. Why? Because they would serve you coffee instead of tea if you request them to. Over the last four years I have been exploiting my freedom as a hosteler. I would always yearn to take coffee and I would grab every opportunity. It doesnt matter what time is it. Even past midnight I would often go to Aroma (which is open 24 hours and has a Cafe Coffee Day outlet) and take Redeye shots (Expresso) without milk or sugar. I can still remember days when I have had coffee 7 times in a day. By the end of 4 years I have a choice of coffee for every mood.

3. Lost: Rungta initiated it when I was in first year. Then I used to love it as a TV show. As time went on Lost started shaping up. Most of my friends in my hostel and I became a fan of it. Little did we know that it had become an addiction. In the last one and a half year at hostel various restrictions were imposed on the use of internet. Many of the download websites and filetypes were blocked. I realized that I was addicted to it when we were more bothered about download websites being blocked (from were we used to download the episodes of Lost) than Gtalk being blocked or 'zip' filetype being blocked. Lost had-to-be watched at any cost. I still remember requesting day scholars do download the episodes and rushing to them to procure them.

4. Music: I loved music even before I went to college. But the love for music has taken a definite shape while I was in college. I have grown a distinct taste based on both the music and the lyrics. There were people in hostel who would always recommend particular tracks. Being in hostel the music library was never stagnant. It kept growing in different genres and languages. By the end of the college, I realize that I have tracks from at least 15 different languages and many genres. In fact I have started appreciating the OSTs of different lesser known movies, something I never did before I was in college.

5. Playing Card (esp Sweep aka Seep): It started in my final semester after the trip to Udaipur and Mt Abu. We played cards when we were in the train. And we never stopped playing since then. I remember that we have played out about 4-5 decks of cards in the last one and a half months. I would perpetually sweep (Read the game rules here). Day or night. At times even miss a few meals for playing cards. We slowly attracted the entire hostel in playing with us. At times we would bet meagre amount over a game to add excitement and thrill. I will really miss this addiction of mine, since being at home I have no one to play with.

6. Clicking Photographs: Note that I did not say photography, I have always been fond of photography. Even before joining college I have about 5 different kinds of cameras at home. But none of them were digital. This is why I bought a digital camera as soon as I managed to save enough money. Digital camera has given me a power to click. And this has turned into a habit. A habit to click all the time, capture all moments, weather good or bad. As pointed before, this habit has nothing to do with my love for photography. During the 4 day trip to Rajasthan I clicked more than 2k snaps. Out of these only about 100 of them were with an intention to click "good photos". The rest was a result of the addiction. When I have a digital camera, I just click click and click. By the end of four years of college we have about 25 GBs of pics. I hope I can get over it.

7. Anytime Internet: Hostel has certainly pampered most of of us in respect to this aspect. I just can't live without an anytime internet connection. Till about a year and a half ago my hostel was blessed with anytime high speed internet. Although the official time for the internet to be working was from 6pm-8am. But unlike the other hostels in Panjab University, we had found out methods to access internet all throughout the day. About an year ago the loopholes were discovered and internet in our hostel was also restricted to the same timings. It is not that I am perpetually hooked to the internet. Nor is it that I need to download lots of stuff. But yet (for reasons that even I am not aware of), I just need to have access to the internet, anytime. So I subscribed to GPRS internet connection on my phone, which would give me unlimited access to the internet. Its so odd that before I joined college, I seldom needed the internet- mainly to access my email.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Back from heaven...

Last week I went for the most adventurous trip of my life and it is certainly one of my most memorable trips. Four of my friends and I went to McLeod Ganj which a little ahead of Dharmashala. The trip was for 3 days - one night at McLeod Ganj and one night at Triund. McLeod Ganj, which is 1750m above sea level is a tiny hill station dominated by Tibetian Population.

Let me first list the places to see and places to eat in McLeod Ganj. Among the places to see is a Monastery and a Temple which also has a Tibetian Museum (we missed it as it was closed on Monday). The Dalai Lama also has his residence over here. Also there is a Bhagsunag Temple which is a Shiv Temple. Another place that is a must see is Dip Tse - Chok Ling Gompa which is not very common with the tourist but certainly the main prayer hall is worth visiting. I was lucky to be able to witness the monks praying. As for the places to eat, this place is a paradise for a foodie. You get excellent Italian and Tibetian at very reasonable prices. I recommend Jimmy's Italian Kitchen and Oogo's Café Italiano for Italian food. Norling Restaurant for momos. Moonspeak Expresso also offered good breakfast. I had also had stuff at Malabar Restaurant(not recommended) and Lhamo’s Croissant.

The first day we reached in the evening. We could only visit the Bhagsunag Temple- it was closed by the time we reached it. But we did not bother to go back there. We had planned to trek(for the first time) to Triund the next morning, so we bought some chocolates, Red Bulls and Brownies for our trek. Triund is a small location about 2842m above sea level. The trek was about 9kms in distance. The next day morning we started off for Triund at around 9:30am and each of us had either a backpack or a heavy rucksack carrying out stuff. The terrain was pretty harsh and the climb was quite tough. I did well in spite of my heavy weight and heavy rucksack but the steep climb in the last 300 odd meters drained me of all my stamina and energy. We managed to reach Triund by about 3:30pm. It took us a lot of time to cover the distance but the view was worth it. We could see snow capped peaks all round us. There were patches of snow at Triund and it was freezing cold. Triund has a HP Forest Dept guest house. We took a room there. The only problem was that there is no electricity, water supply or even mobile signals. There are one/two small Tea stalls. They sell food stuff like some bottled water, tea, coffee, bread, eggs, maggie dal-rice and some other bare essentials. We slept under numerous layers of blankets at the wooden rooms provided to us at the guest house. At about 4am we were woken up by some snowfall - it was an excellent experience. Attending to the nature's call was probably most memorable. Find yourself a rock and sit behind it in the open. Watch the snowcapped mountains, and enjoy the snowfall (if you are as lucky as me). We descended the next morning and covered the remaining places at McLeod Ganj.

The trek was an ultimate experience and I hope to have some similar trips in the future as well. I leave u with a few selected snaps from the trek:

Friday, February 20, 2009

New milestones...

In the later half the year 2004, I had gone to Chennai for the National Round of a Programming Contest. Rungta and I had left our lodge on the first night for dinner and we went to a mall. Both Rungta and I were thrilled to see a Bose Store there and we checked out their headphones. Rungta tried out a few tracks off his 3rd Generation iPod and then I tried out the Animal Song - Savage Garden on the headphones. The sound on those headphones had left me enchanted. Those headphones had immediately become my fascination. Since then I had visited Bose Stores a couple of times. Their demos impressed me every single time. Its only recently that I thought of realizing my long time wish of owning a Bose product. About a week back I bought myself a Bose On-Ear Headphone. Just as expected, the sound of these headphones blew my mind.

Also very recently I have achieved another milestone in the department of eating. A couple of days ago I participated in an IPR workshop. I had pre-decided to fill out my tummy at the free buffet lunch (something we as hostelers have always missed). Unfortunately the food was too ordinary and so I did not feel like having enough of it. At the end of the lunch there was ice cream for desert. I decided to prey on that. After about 3 servings every time I went for more the attendant would get annoyed. I went for the 8th serving and stood shamelessly in front of the ice cream counter. This time the attendant absolutely revolted. He joined his hands and expressed his inability to serve any more to me!! Everyone just gazed at both of us. Oh boy, that was an experience to remember. I forgave the ice cream and moved back to the workshop sessions. I guess this experience beat my previous best, when I (along with two others) had emptied the entire container of Chicken at Nirula's Chandigarh buffet and made them cook more. Even after such experiences I remain as shameless and hungry as ever!!

Day before yesterday we achieved another feat in hooliganism. This time we were fueled by Baskin Robbins owner. One of my hostel mates - Arvind had his birthday yesterday. After a gala dinner we went to the Baskin Robbins outlet at Sec 17 Chd at around 11:30 in the night. We cut a cake outside the ice cream parlor and then went into the parlor (at about midnight) to have an ice cream each. The owner of this ice cream parlor is a very warm gentleman and has earlier given us little tokens like keychains etc. This time after we had our ice creams, he greeted the birthday boy and handed out whistles to about 15 of us. And oh-my-god. It was a moment to remember. All of us gushed outside the small parlor and blew the whistles with our full might. We continued to blow the whistles all the way back to the campus. When we entered the campus, we took a longer route back to our hostel touching the Girls Hostel and almost touching our Director's residence. It was one hell of a ride back to the hostel. We were lucky enough not to be caught up in another face-off with the police.

Finally there is some good news for our college labs. My college has for the first time bought two 2.66 Ghz 20 inch iMacs. Yeah its very close to the time when I am going to pass our, but never late than never.

I am going for another trip tomorrow. Will sure make some content for a new blog post.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Not given up yet

Yeah, I know I am not posting much... but look at the good side: I have not given up yet.

I will breeze through the last 4-5 months. Some of the memorable things I did was that I watched the India vs Australia cricket test match at PCA stadium, Mohali in Oct 2008. I know its not a big deal, but its the first time I had witnessed any International Sports game. I must say, it looks a lot different that it looks on TV. I must say that I had expected much bigger ground size. The spirit at the stadium is great, and I got to witness about 8-9 records, one of them being Sachin being the highest Run scorer in Test Cricket and then go onto reach 12000 Test Runs. And as usual I cannot stay away from Punjab Police. I got into a tiff with them again at the stadium when I jumped the stands onto the next higher stand. But again, I got away. India wont the match, and it was really satisfying.

Later in the year I got myself a new phone Nokia 5310 Xpressmusic. It is a nice sleek phone, which is what I was looking for. I like everything about the phone except that its loud speaker volume is a bit low, and so the Alarm has always failed to wake me up. But the good thing is that it allows standard 3.5 mm jack headphones, and so I can connect my normal headphones/ speakers with it.

I spent the last two weeks of 2008 in Kolkata. It was wonderful to be back there after more than 3 years. My mission there was to roam about and eat good food. I made sure I stuck to it, and it ended up being one of the best Kolkata trips I had this far. I went to Kolkata on a SpiceJet flight and returned on Indigo. I must say that if you ever have the choice between the two low cost airlines, choose Spicejet. They have lots if stuff in the seat pocket including a magazine. They give bottled water for free and the food costs a lot lesser than Indigo (in case you're hungry on board).

This year I am in my last semester. I wish to enjoy most of it. Less work, more fun. Thats what I want. I started off with a Trip to Punjab in the last week of Jan. Three of my friends and I planned this trip. Just as a warning I would mention that- DO NOT ASK ANY PUNJABI ABOUT WHERE AND WHAT TO VISIT IN PUNJAB. Specially if that guy lives in Punjab. Everyone I asked just has one thing as the answer. GOLDEN TEMPLE. Where to go? GOLDEN TEMPLE. What to see? GOLDEN TEMPLE. Any other place? Yes, GOLDEN TEMPLE. I agree, Golden Temple is very good, but trust me, there is a lot more in Punjab than just Golden Temple. So dont trust them, its just that they dont know about any other place. We eventually touched upon Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Beas, Amritsar and Wagah Border. The best part of the trip was the retreat ceremony at Wagah Border. We went there on 26th Jan, Republic Day. The retreat ceremony was preceeded by a cultural show by students of different school. The Stands in India was overflowing and there were very few people in Pakistan. And the atmosphere was electrifying and spirit of the people was really high. It was like a competition between India and Pakistan, which of course we won, simply due to the spirit of the enormous crowd. It was a memorable trip indeed.

Finally very recently I went to witness a Hockey Match between India and Holland taking place in Chandigarh. It was one of the League Matches of Punjab Gold Cup. It is very disturbing to see the sorry state of Hockey. There were only 3-4 sponsors for the entire tournament. No sponsor logo on the Team Shirts. The entry was free, yet the stands were not full. It was really really bad. The match ended in a 2-2 draw, but it was enjoyable.

I guess I have written quite a lot. I will end with a funny snap that I took on the Delhi Chandigarh highway sometime back.