Category Archives: Technology

PfSense – Why I Use and Love it?

Like most people, I too started my journey on broadband internet with an ISP supplied modem-router device. It didn’t take me long to discover that these devices were a compromise – something the ISP supplied to meet a low price-point. They would stop working and need to be rebooted every few weeks if I was lucky, or every few days if I was not. In the beginning my allocated bandwidth was significantly lower than what the technology, ADSL at that time, supported. So I didn’t initially notice the capacity or performance weaknesses of these routers, but as bandwidth and subsequently number of devices and connections grew, these weaknesses became obvious. My ISP-supplied router would grind to a halt when subjected to a few hundred connections during a Bittorrent session.

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Mating My Fujifilm Body to My Nikon Lenses

So my trusted old DSLR, a Nikon D80 that I had been using since 2008 finally gave up the ghost sometime last year. I had a decent set of lenses for it. I particularly liked my 18-135mm zoom that was very versatile for travel. But I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to invest in a new Nikon body.

Nikon AF NIKKOR 70-300mm f4-5.6G
Nikon DX AF-S NIKKOR 18-135mm f3.5-5.6G ED
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f1.4G
My modest set of Nikon lenses

One big reason was that I also got a Fujifilm X-Pro1 for a very good price during our 2015 Japan trip. It was one of the few cameras that were made in Japan and buying it in Japan meant you could avoid the various duties and fees you would incur elsewhere. I even got a refund of the Japanese VAT. Sadly though it came with a 35mm prime. An excellent f1. 4 lens, but an effective 52mm focal length made it pretty limited as a travel lens.

So now I was in a dilemma. Should I get a new Fuji zoom lens or a Nikon body? Both are kind of expensive and around the same price. Was there a way around it?

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All About My NAS

For several years I had been casually thinking about building a NAS. Over time we have been gathering more and more data – it’s not just documents now, but high-resolution pictures (and their RAW files) and videos collected over the years. Add to that the movies, music and software files that you need to store somewhere.

And if you’re a video creator, even a casual amateur like me, you are sure to have hundreds of gigabytes, if not several terabytes of footage you need to archive.

Soon, all these add up to such a volume that gets really challenging to manage on a normal computer, even if you have several large hard disks. You have constantly plan and re-plan the distribution of files among the disks, manage the sharing and access control of those files and their backups.

On top of that, we are no longer limited to using a single computer. I use both my desktop and my laptop and it’s a really hassle to sync files between them without messing up versions and potentially losing important work.

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In Search of the Perfect Keyboard

I’m not much of a typist. Touch typing is something I never got into, leave alone perfecting it. I’m more of a hunt and peck typist who has evolved. Instead of using just the index finger on each hand, I use one, two, or more fingers on each hand. But my hands still move all over the keyboard instead of staying homed on the home keys like a touch typist’s would.

As a result, my fingers hit the keys much harder than a touch typist’s would. They actually bottom out each key – hard, instead of just depressing each key just to the point of actuation of the switch, or membrane contacts.

I don’t know what kind of keyboard I started with. But it was probably some kind of membrane. By the time I knew about membrane and mechanical keyboards, I was surely using membranes. Sure! I had heard of how cool mechanical keyboards were and all that.

But when I got my first mechanical keyboard, it wasn’t for the great typing experience. It had more to do with the reliability and ease of cleaning. Prior to that my membrane keyboards were going bad quite often. Partly because they were so hard to clean. I would sometimes spray cleaning solutions on them and quickly wipe them clean, hoping the liquid wouldn’t seep inside. But sometimes it would, and there went another keyboard. Sometimes the dirt would interfere with the smooth movement of the keys and even the actuation of the membrane contacts.

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Google Location History Timeline comes to the Google Maps app

Earlier in August I had written about the Timeline feature or interface for Google Location History. I have been a long term user of Location History and now use the Timeline view frequently to review the places I’ve been to and the routes I have taken.

Last night I was using the Google Maps app on my Android phone and came across the Your Timeline item in the menu. It turns out be the same Timeline view for Location History that we know of from the desktop version.

You can review and edit the visited places that Google tries to auto-detect. But there’s a new feature! It now also tries to detect and show you how you got from one place to another – walking, cycling, driving or various modes of public transit. And like places, you can correct them too. Yes, there’s a motorcycling mode too and I’ve only tried changing to it manually as I don’t see it would differentiate between driving and motorcycling.

The Timeline is now a lot like the iOS version of the Moves app which also lets you select various modes of transportation, including muscle powered modes. Google’s Timeline also lets you choose such modes like swimming, skiing and kayaking, though the list isn’t as exhaustive as Moves’.

Moves however, is no longer a relevant app for me as all of the features I described above are available only on iOS and have not been ported to the Android version for a very long time now.

With Google’s Timeline though, I see it available only on the Android app as of now. I could not find it on the latest iOS app but I hope it’s only a matter of time before it’s available there as well.

Unlike Moves, Google Timeline does not track various details of physical activity like calorie and step counts across various activities and locations. That’s understandable as it’s Google Location History with the primary emphasis being on location. But as Google is already tracking activity related data also with the Google Fit app, maybe we’ll see an integration of that into Location History Timeline as well.

Google updates Location History with cool new Timeline feature

When I opened up Google Location History yesterday to review my route after a quick motorcycle ride, I was pleasantly surprised by a slick new interface called Timeline.

Gone is the somewhat drab  yet very functional old interface with just the map and a simple calendar based control to view your location history on various dates or date ranges.

The new Timeline interface shows the map on the entire page much like the new Google Maps interface with various places from your entire location history marked on it. On the top left is a simple control with the Timeline heading to filter your view based on year, month and date.

At the bottom part of the page are some interesting bits. There’s a section for your trips that intelligently detects and organizes  your trips, much like how Google Plus does it.

When you open each trip, you can see the individual days from the trip represented as a timeline on the left and a map on the right. The timeline shows the various places you have been at various times. For most of these places you can either confirm you were there by clicking on a “I was here” button, or change an incorrect guess to the correct one using the drop-down menu.

I have been using location history since the days of Google Latitude and consider it a very useful service though many are paranoid about it’s implications on their privacy. I don’t know how popular the service is on the whole as it seemed to be kind of a hidden Google Maps feature after Latitude went away. I have been hoping for a long time that Google continue this service, and with the new Timeline update it looks like they are committed to keeping it going. But with Google, one can never really be sure.

Low-cost Hypervisor build – the premilinaries

Due to some recent happenings, I am suddenly in the need for a dedicated virtual machine rig. But I am also on a strict budget, so have to keep the costs as low as possible, and yet not skimp so much that the end result becomes unusable.

I had done some research on the subject of hypervisors, or virtual machine hosts, in the past and VMware ESXi seemed to be the best choice. So with that in mind, I set about digging in to the details of the current version of ESXI (6.0) and my hardware options.

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PC Build: July 2015

If you have read my computer history article, you’ll know that I’m presently using a late 2009 27″ iMac as my daily driver. While it is still serving me fine despite a few glitches, I believe in being ready with a replacement at short notice should the need arise. Now it’s a awful waste to have a computer on standby that is not being put to good use because we all know that the hottest hardware at the moment won’t be so hot a couple of years down. So with that philosophy, I always keep a hypothetical PC configuration ready that I can build and get ready at relatively short notice, should the need arise. We all know that the research is the most time consuming part of the process. So I pre-plan these builds with various considerations like my typical usage scenarios, hardware performance vs. cost, features and compatibility. I also usually check for availability as being in India often makes certain items either unavailable or unattainable at a reasonable cost.

Typical usage

  • General everyday use but often with several applications running and always having more than 20 browser tabs open and frequently accessed.
  • Running a few virtual machine instances simultaneously. While most of them are low resource intensive, some of them do need more resources (mainly RAM) and I need all of them to be responsive and available.
  • Occasional video and photo editing.
  • Even more occasional gaming. While I’m not the type of gamer who always seeks out the latest titles, I really don’t like turning down my detail/quality settings any less than maximum. And the game I’m fancying at a given moment may just happen to be one of the recent releases needing the most cutting-edge graphics hardware.

With the above in mind, here is my planned build for now. I’ve separated each component category into its own heading below and will also provide my reasoning behind the particular component selection.

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Apple Music: First Impressions

Apple launched their online music streaming service to much fanfare on June 30, 2015. It’s their entry into the already bustling music streaming business arena, but being Apple, they caught everybody’s attention. This is not an in-depth review of the service; I will just share my initial impressions of using the service.

The service was first announced during the WWDC 2015 opening keynote on June 8, 2015. It was going to be launched in over 100 countries worldwide on June 30 and much of the focus was on the curated radio station Beats 1 that was going to be part of the service. Apple had signed on some high profile DJ’s and the station was claimed to be unlike any other online radio station. There wouldn’t be any automated playlists; the station would be manually run by the DJ’s round the clock from Los Angeles, New York and London. The Apple Music service would be available via the updated iTunes app on Mac and Windows PC’s, iOS, and also Android at a later stage. The service would be available free for the first 3 months and then cost $9.99 per month for an individual and $14.99 per month for a family plan.

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My Computer History

Hello, and welcome to my technology blog. Here I will mostly cover topics of personal interest to me – PC’s (and Macs of course), phones, related software as well as server/appliance hardware or software that may catch my eye. Before I get started with that however, I would like to give you a brief history of computers I’ve owned over the years. This will give you a better  idea of where I’m coming from, when I talk of things today.

It all started back in 1991 when I was first introduced to computers at my school in the form of a BBC Micro. We didn’t actually do much at the stage. We just played around with the Logo programming language in an effort to understand the basics of computers and programming. Then came the IBM PC compatibles and BASIC. But at that stage my involvement with computers wasn’t that deep.

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