Category Archives: Gadgetry

Steelcase Leap It Is!

After enduring 3.5 years of poor-ergonomic chairs provided in the office and developing a pretty bad back as a result, I decided to take matter into my own hands. Enough is enough. My back is just getting worst each day and I don’t know whether I can last 8 hours on a chair by the time I’m 30 at this rate. Herman Miller Aeron chair has been pretty much my dream chair all this time, until last night I was enlightened by breathtaking design of Steelcase Leap chair. In a glimpse, Steelcase Leap looks like regular office chair, but wait until you see how adjustable it is. You can basically adjust and customize every aspect of the chair and the supports it provide: seat height, seat depth, upper back force, lower back firmness, adjustable arms, back stop, flexible seat edge, and lumbar support height. That’s something that Aeron chair won’t be able to provide in a single product.

You see, there’s something about Aeron chair that a lot of people do not know. Aeron chair comes with 3 different sizes (A, B, C). If you buy the wrong size, there’s a chance you won’t feel the maximum comfort and support that you should get from an Aeron. The size you need depends on your height and your height distribution (you know, some people are tall because they have long legs, but sometimes they’re tall because they’ve long spine). The Aeron also comes in 3 different basic configurations, the Basic Aeron (Aeron with less back support), Aeron Lumbar (lower back support), and Aeron PostureFit (best back support). If you want to upgrade from Basic to Lumbar, you need to generously add an extra $200 to your budget. Now, I already have a dilemma choosing the size, since I’ll be sharing the chair with wifey. She’s 155 cm (5’1″) tall, while I’m close to 180 cm (5’11”); which according to this chart, she’ll fit better on A-sized Aeron, while I’ll need a B-sized Aeron. Tough, either the Aeron will spoil me or her, can’t make both of us equally happy. Buying 2 Aerons will solve the problems, but I don’t plan to fund any start-up anytime soon. If getting the size is not problematic enough, how about the level of back support we need? My back is worse than hers, but she’ getting there. So what should we choose? Basic is definitely out, so it’s either Lumbar or PostureFit, which are equally pricey.

Steelcase Leap ChairSo in short, Aeron does not answer our cry for a super chair that will work best for both of us, but Leap does! Leap has one size fits all philosophy due to its superb adjustability. Leap is a result of 4 years research involving 25 scientists and 200 participants (read: human “guinea pigs”), of which testing concluded in overall of 17.8% increase in work productivity (for people who sat on Leap and received office ergonomics training). Most people who have tried both Aeron and Leap have tendency to pick Leap. The warranty is not bad too if not better than Aeron. Aeron has 12 years non-transferrable warranty if you buy from authorized dealers only. Leap has lifetime warranty for frame and structural components, 10 years for seating mechanism, and 5 years for the cushion.

All online authorized dealers charge around $799 for version 2 of this chair (you can get the version 1 for $699 or less), but I managed to find Office Environments which offers 10% instant discount on checkout; plus the online options to totally build custom Leap chair. My projection is I’ll receive this in about 2 weeks. If you’re interested in Leap, there’ll be price increase from the manufacturer on April 1st (some authorized dealers actually put this notification on their sites). I don’t think it’s a bogus marketing trick, because they’re authorized dealers.

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Gadgets Bonanza

After being clean and sober from gadgets consumerism for more than 1 year, I finally decided it’s time to go “wild” once in awhile and satisfied the craving for cutting edge goodies. Here’s the shortlist of items I managed to obtain during the past 2 months:

  • Nintendo Wii bare package (no bundled games nor accessories), which is exactly what I wanted since I can always get a deal on games and accessories whenever I feel the need to get them later. After almost 3 months of drought in Wii stocks everywhere in US market, we finally got some relief from Nintendo on mid-February. Essential accessories such as Wii Remote are still scarce as hen’s teeth, but I don’t think it will stay that way for much longer. Demands will eventually subside and consistent supply will eventually prevail. I paid USD $225 for the Wii system ($250 MSRP – 10% off deal for paying with the retailer’s card), plus some state tax for a total of around $243. Not bad, still cheaper than what most people pay these days for a Wii. I give this gizmo 5 stars out of 5 for its innovative input devices, the fun games, and the economical console price.
  • Dell 2407WFP Revision A04. In layman words, the 24″ Dell without the banding problem and with 1:1 pixel mapping. Got this with decent deal of 15% off from an already low USD $699 MSRP, plus additional 3% off for paying with Dell account, came down to total of USD $576.33 + state tax. I have to say that I agreed with Joel Spolsky; that buying from Dell was such a drain of energy for all the pre-purchase price history and discount research. Joel mentioned an irrefutable fact about Dell buying experience: “Whenever we buy servers from Dell, even though they eventually offer us a price that beats the competition, we still have to spend a week or two negotiating, gathering competitive bids, etc. By the time we place our order the price we pay is about 20% to 30% less than the price advertised on the web, and we’re still not sure if we could have paid less.” I give this beautiful and productivity booster gizmo 5 stars out of 5 (also for passing all my initial tests for new LCD monitor and the generous 3 years warranty out of the box), but I must give Dell 2 thumbs down for making purchase decision difficult with its complicated discount schemes and maze-like automated customer service call center (I was plain lucky to find the right sequence that eventually led me to speak to real person after my 3rd attempt).
  • iHome iH6 iPod speaker system/radio/alarm/digital desktop clock. In a glance, this model looks exactly the same as its older sibling, iH5. The distinctive features of iH6 over iH5 are the Shuffle dock, the equalizer, the complimentary remote iHR6 (you can purchase remote for iH5 optionally, the model is iHR5), and the 12 stations preset (8 FM + 4 AM). Snatch a decent deal from Costco warehouse for USD $89.99 (Costco’s everyday wholesale price, which is already cheaper than MSRP of iH5, USD $99.99), and with $20 manufacturer’s coupon, came down to total of USD $69.99. Not bad since the best deal I found so far for iH5 was around $50, so the $20 is definitely worth the extras.
  • Garmin Nuvi 350. Not exactly the unit I always wanted since I was targeting its successor, Nuvi 360. Both Nuvis pronounce street names and came with NAVTEQ mapping data, which is extremely important for accuracy in North America region. TomTom maybe cheaper but I’m not paying several hundred bucks just to find that I’m still lost with a GPS device that has inaccurate or out-of-date mapping data (TeleAtlas mapping data used in TomTom has strong base in Europe but not in North America unfortunately). Nuvi 360 has some nice to have features over Nuvi 350 such as Bluetooth for in car hands-free calling and Garmin lock (anti-theft feature). But for around $100 bucks less (after tax and shipping), I decided to give Nuvi 350 a go. The TCO for this very useful device is USD $350 plus tax and shipping for a total of USD $390 at Costo.com.
  • OEM Samsung 18x SATA DVD±RW writer and 12x DVD-RAM writer with LightScribe technology, for a nice USD $37 shipped. I’m not sure why I bought this one, I think it was just a momentary impulse since I knew the price was quite low.
  • Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000. I didn’t intentionally buy this Bluetooth keyboard + mouse bundle. It just happened that I visited Microsoft Company Store at Redmond and they just put this product on display for a decent price of USD $100 (MSRP is USD $150). I tried the display model and was fond of the flat, soft, and compact notebook style keys of the keyboard. It’s a pity that the keyboard is not rechargeable although the companion laser mouse is. The unreleased sibling of this model (Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000) should have been the perfect keyboard + mouse set for me, the keyboard is rechargeable, and features a USB hub and keyboard backlight. It wasn’t meant to be…

Next on the list are the Herman Miller Aeron chair (not really a gadget, but it’s a must have for people with bad back and with the price comparable to 24″ LCD monitor…) and the bits and pieces for my desktop PC. Let’s wait and see the Intel price drop next month. I’ll update this post with some photos and more reviews later.

Battery Exchange Program For Your MBP

How good is that? My MBP and MBP battery have the matching serial-number family, so I’ll receive my new battery in 3-5 working days. Be hasty.

At least one upside of being an early adopter: getting a new battery after 6 months. Thank you, Apple!

2 Weeks with MacBook Pro

Okay, it’s been 2 weeks since I got my hand on the beautifully engineered MacBook Pro. I felt guilty I haven’t documented any photos or the switch experience. But I can tell you that it was surprisingly pleasant and smooth, no big drama, no fuss, no frustation. The first couple of days I left my MacBook Pro at home, because I couldn’t stand the high-pitched noise (yes, I got that problem unfortunately!) and I need to use laptop I’m comfortable to work with, I didn’t feel it that way at that time. I didn’t have time to install Windows XP on the MacBook Pro with the hacky method of OnMac, where I have to create a custom Windows XP installation CD with a tweaked boot image and homebrew EFI file to boot Windows. No disrespect to these brilliant people who made it happened, it’s absolutely great if only Apple didn’t come up with Boot Camp.

Although Boot Camp is credited for doing the heavy-lifting to set up Mac OS X and Windows dual-boot, it’s actually the firmware update the does the magic. But Boot Camp is so good, that I could set up dual-boot without baby-sitting it for longer than 15 minutes. After upgrading the firmware, I just need to resize Mac OS partition (graphically) to make room for Windows partition, burnt XP driver CD, then inserted Windows XP SP2 with answer file (for non-interactive install) and rebooted the machine. Checked half an hour later, all done, inserted the driver CD, it installed essential drivers and only left minor devices that you can live without, such as the IR port and iSight. The driver installer also includes handy goodies such as “Startup Disk” control panel applet to set default partition to boot, AppleCDEject application for making your Eject key works, and program called Brightness that sits on the tray to help with screen brightness.

While Boot Camp almost perfectly set up my Windows XP to work with MacBook’s devices, there’re still some pieces missing:

  • How do you do your Ctrl-Alt-Del on that MacBook keyboard? The delete key on the keyboard is actually a Backspace. To solve this problem, you either attach an external keyboard to the laptop, or remap the Delete key to one of those redundant keys (such as the right Apple/command key or the numeric keypad enter key on the bottom of the keyboard). There’s a utility to do that called remapkey, which you can download as part of Windows 2003 resource kit. The utility will store the key remapping information into [HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout\Scancode map] registry value. Reboot, and there you go, you got your Delete key.
  • The built-in trackpad doesn’t have a right click, and Windows doesn’t understand Ctrl-Click as right click. To solve that problem, you need the Apple Mouse Utility. Extract applemou.exe to [%windir%\system32] folder, then add “%windir%\system32\applemou.exe /s” to [HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run] registry key to start it up silently upon Windows logon.
  • Accessing files on your Mac OS X drive from Windows. Unlike Mac OS X understands NTFS, Windows doesn’t understand HFS+; but MacDrive from Mediafour can help with that.

By the way, I feel compelled to justify why I “poison” my beautiful MacBook with Windows XP. For a start, I wrote applications for Windows for a living. Two, because I work from home sometimes, I need to VPN to the corporate network. Whilst Apani Contivity VPN client works great, my company only provides Contivity VPN Client for Windows.

Now, the Mac OS X experience. First couple of days was a bit challenging. Installed Microsoft Remote Desktop client, and because it’s not Universal Binary yet, it ran like a snail. Typing onto remote box lagged horribly. So found rdesktop as an alternative, but for mortal Windows users like me, that wasn’t straightforward to set up. I had to learn using Fink to download and install libs required to compile rdesktop, installed X11 from Tiger CD, and finally compiled rdesktop source code. It’s all good now, and rdesktop really flies compared to Microsoft Remote Desktop client.

It didn’t stop there. I thought I need a good UI for rdesktop. Obviously, tsclient is the one, but unfortunately it requires some Gnome libraries that are not available for Mac OS X. So I looked at Automator and saw an opportunity to learn Cocoa by developing Automator Action GUI with XCode and InterfaceBuilder. I’ll revisit my Cocoa learning experience in near future if I have the time.

One thing from Windows that I missed on Mac OS was the ability to hibernate (safe-sleep) on-demand. I didn’t even know that Mac OS is capable of doing that until I put my MacBook to sleep for several hours, and when I woke it up, it unusually displayed a progress bar with monochrome background of the last screen state before it was put to sleep. Ok, so Mac OS is capable of hibernating when required, just need to know how to make it do so on-demand. Follow this instruction, and then the next minute, my MacBook couldn’t boot when I restarted it. Great, the display showed a nice blinking globe. Found this helpful troubleshooting tips, and my MacBook was back in business after I pressed the combo keys (command-option-P-R), and it now hibernates on-demand (actually it now hibernates everytime I put it to sleep). Sad, so I can only have regular sleep or safe-sleep, but not both. Why I need hibernation so desperately? Because I would like to prolong my battery life expectancy, I removed the battery at 50% charge (conforming to Apple instructions); so if I don’t hibernate and the so-easily-detached MagSafe decides to come-off, I’m screwed. And by the way, I hate that MagSafe. I’ve never tripped on power cable before and I didn’t live with someone clumsy enought to trip on power cable; so apart from annoying me several times because it easily disconnected power upon contact with my laps, MagSafe is pretty pointless to me. Ah well, can’t make everybody happy.

One more thing…, the high-pitched noise in my MacBook is gone when I boot Windows and back when I boot Mac OS X. While I can get rid of the noise on Mac OS X by running Photo Booth, I don’t see that as an elegant long-term solution. My MacBook has revision C motherboard (serial starts with W8610), and according this, I should be able to swap my MacBook mobo with the latest revision. I’ll see how it develops before turning in my MacBook. I believe playing waiting game in this case will pay incentive.

Dell 2405FPW 24″ Widescreen LCD Bargain!

Be hasty, Dell 2405FPW 24″ Widescreen LCD monitor is on special from Dell Australia website, offered for a stunning AUD$1,337 only (offer ends 6-Feb-06). It’s a massive saving of AUD$462. I’ve been monitoring special offers from Dell Australia for this monitor for the past 12 months, and this has been the lowest price I’ve seen so far. Not sure if it’s related with the recent release of Dell 3007WFP 30″ Widescreen LCD monitor.

Dell 2405FPW Picture

My housemate bought it last September on a special price for AUD$1,350; so at AUD$1,337, it’s definitely a bargain not to be missed if you’re dreaming of indulging your eyes with this beautiful piece of engineering and increasing productivity. It’s true, this is not a hogwash! The reason why I’ve been wanting this monitor so badly is because small and 4:3 aspect ratio monitor is driving me crazy when coding, I just don’t have enough space! At home, I have a set up of dual 17″ LCD monitors side by side, each @ 1280×1024 resolution, which gives me a total of 2560×1024 pixels; but the fact that they are not 1 screen and there’s an annoying gap in the middle really bothers me. But of course, I have a restraining order from my wife to stay away from this beauty while we’re still in Australia due to the foreseen expensive cargo price (yes, we’re moving out of Aussie very soon, but don’t know exactly when…).

But if you’re going to stay in Aussie, buy this thing. You won’t regret it. I don’t get paid by Dell to advertise their monitors, but I must admit that 24″ 16:10 aspect ratio monitor at that price is really really tempting; you just won’t get it from any other manufacturers, not Apple (Cinema Display), and not even Samsung (the maker of the LCD panel for Dell 2405FPW).