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October 29, 2000

Jason (roommate) is back from his project in the UK. Fiid (the other roommate, also on a project in the UK) was back visiting last weekend. He should be back in SF in a couple of weeks.

I recently upgraded my Viant laptop - a Dell Latitude CPi A 366 - from Windows NT Workstation 4.0 to Windows 2000. Win2K is much better. It's still Windows, and so it still has a lot of things wrong with it that are endemic to Windows (too many to list), but a few things are improved:

Support for power management: this was previously provided by a weird add-on by Softex which Dell offered from their support web site. Hibernate is nice; this was available as a hack by Dell but you have to partition your hard drive in a weird way (to leave room for memory to be saved to disk) and I didn't know this before I repartitioned it (it came with the C partition formatted using the FAT filesystem; naturally I wanted it to use NTFS).

Support for removable devices: once again this was provided by a weird Softex add-on, which was pretty flakey. This is important because I have a port replicator (makes it easier to plug/unplug all my desktop peripherals) and the port replicator includes a network card.

Win9x-style device support: it finds devices and (if it has the driver, which it probably does) configures it automatically. This is nice because I'd been stuck with a lame 3Com network card which has the dongle. Can you guess how many dongles I've broken? They really don't deal with lateral stress that well, so under the weight of a network cable hanging off the side of a desk and 3' onto the floor, they break. Duh. I had to put a paperweight on the cable to keep from breaking the fragile little dongles. I wanted to switch to a more sensible Xircom RealPort card (no dongle!) but the Softex PCMCIA drivers wanted a special Softex-aware network card driver... sigh. So I'd have to reboot to remove the card. Lame. Even so, it didn't work; I tried to configure it, sought support from our IT, Xircom's web site, etc., and there was always an interrupt conflict of some sort. Hello, Windows 3.1. Inside the computer is software that can probe all of the interrupts and tell me which ones are free, and yet it's up to me to read that in one place and tell the driver about it in another place. I have an idea: computer, you figure out how your hardware works and just get it right. Like a Mac does. Or Win9x does (most of the time, except when it doesn't). After installing Win2K I just shoved the Xircom card in and it figured it out. Finally.

A cool network taskbar thingy which tells you how your network card is doing - connectedness, 10 or 100MBit, etc.

Awareness of internal vs. external monitors, and display size: On my laptop there is a key to toggle between three settings: internal display only, external display only, or both. Win2K remembers what resolution and bit depth you selected for the internal vs external displays, and switches for you. So when I switch from my external 21" monitor to the LCD, it goes from 1280x1024 mode to 1024x768 mode automatically.

USB Support. Finally. My laptop won't let you hook up an external keyboard and mouse (to replace the pitiful laptop keyboard and trackpad so you can actually use the thing) at the same time even with a splitter, if they use the KB/mouse port. You have to use one through the KB/mouse port and the other has to be a USB device plugged in through the USB port. Of course NT 4 doesn't support USB so I had to get a port replicator. Now there is USB support so I was able to get a proper mouse (more on that below).

Now, it's worth mentioning that these "innovations" have been present in Win9x and MacOS, and some in Linux, for quite a few years now. Microsoft has finally decided to give basic OS features like these to power users. Win2K still sucks, but it sucks less than NT 4.

I recently bought a Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical USB mouse. This is actually an innovation coming out of Microsoft, although I suspect they bought whatever company really come up with the technology. Regardless, it's a cool device that works properly, on my G4 at home and my Win2K laptop at work. Yay.

I recently also got a 64MB smart media memory card for my Rio 500 MP3 player. It didn't work at first, and I briefly panicked, but I guessed that there might need to be a firmware upgrade or something to support the relatively new 64MB card size. I guessed correctly and it works now. It's interesting to have a portable music player with 128MB of RAM. That's just a lot of memory.

I've been working in Mountain View for four weeks, on site with a client. It's finally over and I'm back in SF. I get to see my wife and cats, eat well, resume Sunday Night Sushi, and just live in a cool place. Some thoughts about MV:

  • Restaurants down there are nowhere near as good as in SF. It's just not fun going out to eat down there.

  • Of course you have to have a car. If you're lucky you can commute with a bike and public transportation, but it's commuter transportation, not general public transportation. Fortunately I have a car.

  • Commuting by car from SF to MV takes 1.5 hours during rush hour, no matter which route you take. Oy. Ditto for the return trip. It's something like 35 miles total distance.