Netbook

A couple of weeks ago, my parents were kind enough to give me a new “netbook.” It’s an Asus EEE PC 1000HE, which is a 10 inch laptop. Here it is next to my regular laptop:

Netbook

It runs Windows XP and has a 160GB hard drive and 1GB of memory. The keyboard is smaller than a regular laptop, but it didn’t take long to adapt. I’ve run some benchmarks, and it’s definitely “slower” than my full-size laptop, but in practice, I haven’t noticed any difference for general web browsing, etc. Even though portability wasn’t a major goal, I’m quite happy with my choice due to one particular feature: the 8-9 hour battery life.

There are tons of reviews out there, so there’s not a lot of point in repeating what they all say. One thing I can add is my electricity usage measurements. Using my trusty kill-a-watt, I took the following readings:

  • idle, power save mode: 10 watts
  • idle, super performance mode: 11 watts levitra from india
  • idle, screen off: 9 watts
  • playing DVD video: 14 watts
  • standby: 1 watt

For comparison, my full-size laptop, a Dell Inspiron 6000, uses 22 watts when idle. My netbook uses less than half of that. I imagine that might just contribute to the excellent battery life!

For all more power measurements, see my Electricity Usage Measurements page.

Free heat

With the current weather, energy prices and economic climate, I’ve been looking for some ways to save on heating costs this winter. Everyone has written about saving money by lowering your thermostat, putting on a sweater, etc. but we’ve already done that, so I wanted to take a different approach. We have lots of items in our houses that generate heat, so I wanted to focus on keeping and using that heat, thereby reducing the amount of gas or electricity used by the furnace.

I like to be somewhat scientific with experiments like these, but I don’t have all the required equipment, and it’s hard to reproduce results with variables like the weather, so you’ll have to settle for anecdotal research and a little bit napkin-quality math.

The first thing I did was put that clear plastic sheeting on the windows. Our son’s room has two exterior walls and is the farthest room from the heater, so we have trouble keeping it warm. Right before putting up the barrier, it was 25 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, the furnace thermostat was set on 68, and it was 60 in the room with the door shut. After installation, it was about 63 degrees in the room (after leaving time for the temperature to settle).

The next thing I did was address the heat lost when taking a shower. I haven’t measured my specific shower, but according to my research, a typical shower uses 30 gallons of water at 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). That means every morning 30 gallons of hot water goes down the drain. What I do now is leave the exhaust fan off and the drain plugged. After I’m done with my routine I open the bathroom door and don’t drain the water until it cools to room temperature. If you’ll settle for some highly simplified calculations and assumptions, and if I remember what my high school physics class taught me about specific heat, we should be able to calculate how much energy we’re talking about. Those thirty gallons of water, cooling from 104 down to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (which is a drop of 20 degrees Celsius) release 9507 kilojoules into the room. That’s 2.64 kilowatt hours, or the equivalent of running a 1500 watt space heater for an hour and 45 minutes. At ten cents per kilowatt of electricity, that would equate to $.26 per shower. By the way, if anyone cares to corroborate or discredit my math, please feel free. Like I said, there’s some gross over-simplification, but the point is we’re keeping that heat in the house instead of sending it down the drain. In practice, the thermometer in the bedroom raises about 4 degrees after a shower.

The next approach took just a little bit of work, but I’m happy to have done it. The local Ace Hardware sells a device called a dryer vent diverter for just $7. It lets you vent your dryer into the laundry room instead of outside, and can be switched back and forth quickly. Our dryer is electric and located in our cold basement, so this device has worked great. A couple of things to keep in mind – NEVER use one of these with a gas dryer, and be warned that they are against code in some places. I ran a load of laundry as a test, and just one load through the dryer raised temperature in our 600 square foot basement from 58 degrees to 62 degrees, not to mention keeping the laundry room itself nice and toasty. From my research, electric dryers use around 4 kilowatt-hours per load, and most of that is heat being pumped outside. Additionally, since the dryer draws its air from inside the house and vents outside by default, every unit of air vented outside creates negative pressure in the house and needs to be replaced by sucking frigid outdoor air into the house through any gap in the house. So, if the air is dry and cold in your house, keeping that nice warm humid air inside works out great.

I’ll be looking for some more ideas, but so far I think I’ve captured the big ones.

Dear homebuilder

Dear Homebuilder-

When installing an exterior door, don’t worry about using shims between the door frame and the rough opening for proper support. Three drywall screws on the hinge side only should be more than enough to attach the door into the opening. If not, the load-bearing ability of the exterior trim will suffice. When installing the header over the door, rather than sandwiching boards of the proper thickness to make a uniform piece the same depth as the opening, just fill the remaining void with a tube of clear caulk. That will make a great nailing surface for the exterior trim.

Additionally, rather than using expensive flashing and water-resistant building paper to form a proper drainage plane behind the siding, a whole tube of caulk between the brickmould and the vinyl J-channel should be good enough. After all, don’t all proper vinyl siding installations make use of lots of caulk?

Finally, when finishing the installation, why bother with insulation between the door and the opening – that’s what trim is for, right? When painting the trim, one coat of interior white paint should do the job. There’s no need to spend time with extra coats of primer. If, when removing the masking tape, some tape remains on the door, just leave it. I’m sure after ten years it will dissolve and fall off on its own anyway.

I hope these tips can be of value to you and help you cut costs to maintain your profits.

Sincerely,
Disgruntled Homeowner

P.S. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is how much more effort I put into doing things the right way building my kids’ backyard playhouse compared to the work of these “professionals.”

Windows Mobile phone setup part 5 – GooSync

Previously, I posted about using ScheduleWorld for synchronizing my calendar to my Windows Mobile phone. Due to some problems I experienced, I withdrew my recommendation, but I’ve got something that’s working pretty well for me now.

I’m using the free version of GooSync, and in my testing it’s been very reliable. The free version is limited in three ways that matter to me. First, it only synchronizes seven days into the past and thirty days into the future. Secondly, it doesn’t automatically synchronize – you have to manually run the process. Third, the free version is only supposed to synchronize two-way (from server to phone and phone to server).

For me, these limitations haven’t proven too painful. My calendar doesn’t change often, so when I plug it in at home I just hit the sync button. No big deal. Also, I really don’t find myself checking my distant calendar when away from the computer. It’s usually more a question of “what’s going on this weekend?” Finally, I’m mitigating the risks of the two-way sync wrecking my Google Calendar with a bunch of testing and backups.

Before starting the calendar syncing process, I added a scheduled task on my PC to back up my Google Calendar to a file each day. In case you’re interested, I’m using wget to grab the .ics file for my calendar each day and saving it to a unique file name with the date. If you want to know more just ask and I’ll post about it.

Additionally, I ran several tests with test appointments to make sure that the sliding synchronization window worked as it should. What I tested is listed below.

  • Create a new appointment on phone in the current date range
  • Create a new appointment on phone before the current date range
  • Create a new appointment on phone after the current date range
  • Create a new appointment on Google Calendar in the current date range
  • Create a new appointment on Google Calendar before the current date range
  • Create a new appointment on Google Calendar after the current date range
  • Rename an appointment on phone when the appointment originated on phone
  • Rename an appointment on phone when the appointment originated in Google Calendar
  • Rename an appointment in Google Calendar when the appointment originated on phone
  • Rename an appointment in Google Calendar when the appointment originated in Google Calendar
  • Delete an appointment on phone when the appointment originated on phone
  • Delete an appointment on phone when the appointment originated in Google Calendar
  • Delete an appointment in Google Calendar when the appointment originated on phone
  • Delete an appointment in Google Calendar when the appointment originated in Google Calendar
  • Create an all-day event on phone
  • Create an all-day event in Google Calendar
  • Create a repeating appointment on phone – yearly
  • Create a repeating appointment on phone – 15th of the month
  • Create a repeating appointment on phone – 2nd friday of the month
  • Create an all-day appointment on phone
  • Create a multiday event on phone
  • Create a repeating appointment in Google Calendar – yearly
  • Create a repeating appointment in Google Calendar – 15th of the month
  • Create a repeating appointment in Google Calendar – 2nd friday of the month
  • Create an all-day appointment in Google Calendar
  • Create a multiday event in Google Calendar
  • See if events created on phone are deleted as window moves
  • See if appointments created on phone are added as window moves
  • See if appointments created in Google Calendar are deleted as window moves
  • See if appointments created in Google Calendar are added as window moves

Everything propagates from phone to server and vice versa in a predictable way, so I’m happy with the results. In short, any change within the 7 day past to 30 day future window gets synchronized. The only items that get “deleted” are old appointments that you create in Google Calendar or on the phone – they are no longer synced to the opposite calendar when they are 8 days or more in the past. Likewise, if you create an appointment on the phone more that thirty days into the future, it will get synced to Google Calendar when the window slides forward to that date. Also, if a repeating appointment is synced to the phone, ALL instances of the appointment are synced on the phone. All-in-all, it seems like a good implementation, given the understandable limitations they’ve put on the free version.

Since I kind of use my main calendar (Google Calendar) as a historical record, it’s important to me that nothing ever gets removed from it. If I create an appointment on my phone, it won’t stay on Google Calendar after the sliding window of synchronization passes it. There are two choices for me to work around this: never create an appointment on the phone, or upgrade to the paid version of GooSync. Since I don’t create that many appointments, especially from the phone, I’m going with the first option for now. If I’m away from the computer and need to schedule an appointment, I just send myself an email. For now that’s working out OK. If GooSync would lower their rates, though, I’d revisit that decision.

Windows Mobile phone setup part 4 – contacts

In part 1, I described how I got email syncing to my new smartphone. In part 2, I addressed tasks, and in part 3, I struggled through syncing with my Google Calendar. Finally, in this installment, I finish up with synchronizing my contacts.

I keep my contacts in Gmail, and they don’t change very often. As a result, I’m really not that concerned with synchronizing exactly, but I just want to be able to take the contacts from Gmail and copy them to my phone.

At first, I thought I’d be able to find a way to export the contacts from Gmail and import them directly to the contacts application on the phone. That ALMOST worked. Gmail can easily export your contacts, but the phone doesn’t have a way to import them I could find. Google can export in VCard format and two different CSV formats. If you take the VCard format and copy it to the phone, you can launch that file through file explorer. Unfortunately, the mobile contacts application doesn’t like a VCard file with multiple contacts, so you have to split that file up and add each contact separately. I don’t have that kind of time or patience.

The next thing I tried was using SyncML like I did for the calendar. ScheduleWorld is supposed to be able to synchronize with Gmail contacts, but I couldn’t get it working. Also, I really only want to export from Gmail and import into my phone, not synchronize. GooSync supposedly can sync contacts in the same way, but its a pay service so I didn’t try that.

Finally, what I ended up going with for now is something that isn’t supposed to work. I installed Outlook 2000 on my PC and set it up to sync with my phone only for contacts. ActiveSync 4.5 isn’t supposed to work with Outlook 2000, but it seems to be doing fine. To get the data onto the phone, I exported an Outlook CSV from the Gmail contacts page and imported into Outlook. Once the phone syncs, all the contacts are on the phone.

I haven’t closed the book on this technique, since I’d rather not use Outlook, but I was pulling my hair out trying to find another solution. I can’t believe there isn’t another way, so I might have missed something.

In closing, I’m still shocked how hard to was to get all this syncing working. I can’t believe I’m the first person who has wanted to do this. I have high hopes that in the future the techniques and technologies will come to fruition, and I can avoid using four different techniques and applications.

Of course, a lot of these problems could have been solved by just using Outlook. If they would have included a copy with my phone, I might have just used that technique and saved a bunch of time. However, I’ve learned quite a bit in the process of researching, and I’m excited to see what comes of all of this.

Windows Mobile phone setup part 3 – calendar

In part 1, I described how I got email syncing to my new smartphone. In part 2, I pretty easily got tasks syncing properly. In this installment I’ll tell you what it took to get my Google Calendar synchronizing to my smartphone.

As I described earlier, I don’t have the proper version of Outlook for syncing through ActiveSync, but if I did, there wouldn’t have been a big problem here. I will admit that at this step, I started searching online for a good deal on a copy of Outlook 2007. Google has provided a piece of software called Google Calendar Sync which effortlessly synchronizes Google Calendar to Outlook 2003 or 2007. I tried it out with a trial of Outlook 2007, and it worked great. Syncing Outlook 2007 to the mobile device is a no brainer, so with the proper outlay of cash, the calendar sync problem could have been solved.

I found another way, though. I did some reading about SyncML and found it can do some neat things. I can’t say that everything is fully standards-compliant and well-defined, but I found a working solution. There are several SyncML server providers out there that let you sync your phone to their web application. Also, on many you can sync your copy of Outlook, Thunderbird, etc. to the server as well with the proper connecting applications. That’s half of the problem solved, but it doesn’t solve the problem of syncing to Google Calendar.

Thankfully, I found a free service that did. I set up an account on ScheduleWorld. The website itself looks a little unpolished, but the service works pretty well. ScheduleWorld provides you a calendar on their website and can synchronize with your Google Calendar and also works as a SyncML server. Using a plugin from Funambol, which runs on your Windows Mobile phone, you can sync the data from the SyncML server to the phone. It all sounds pretty complicated, but it really wasn’t that bad to set up, since ScheduleWorld tells you everything you need to know. I’d be happier if there was a way to point straight to Google for syncing, but maybe that will come in time.

UPDATE: Be careful with ScheduleWorld. For some reason, the web app preference to sync to/from Google Calendar keeps defaulting back to “2-way”. I wanted to sync just one-way (from Google to ScheduleWorld) to keep my calendar safe, but the preference reset itself and now most of my all-day events have been duplicated in Google. Likewise, the Funambol plugin is doing the same thing – resetting itself to synchronize bidirectionally with ScheduleWorld. If you fool with these tools, back up your Google Calendar first (by downloading the iCal file).

I’m going back to the drawing board for calendar syncing… I’m trying out the free version of GooSync and having some luck. It’s limited in the date range it synchronizes, but so far it’s working OK. I’d initially ruled out GooSync because of that limitation, but I’m revisiting it due to lack of other options. The results of my full testing are available in part 5.

In part 4 I take on syncing my contacts.

Windows Mobile phone setup part 2 – tasks

In part 1, I described what I was hoping to accomplish with my new smart phone. In this installment I’ll describe what I had to do to get my tasks synchronized to my phone.

The well-established way to synchronize contacts on a Windows Mobile device seems to be to use Activesync to synchronize tasks with Microsoft Outlook, but as I said earlier, I don’t own the proper version of Outlook and don’t intend to buy it. Besides, that’s not where I already keep my tasks…

I’m a huge fan of Remember the Milk, which is a great online task management application. It displays well on my iGoogle page, which is important to me. Thankfully, the fine folks at RTM gave me exactly what I was looking for in MilkSync.

MilkSync is an application that runs on your smartphone and synchronizes between the Windows Mobile tasks application and the Remember the Milk website. It works over-the-air or when in the cradle. Like I said, it’s perfect for what I was trying to accomplish, since it doesn’t require anything installed to the PC. Also, they were kind enough provide the ability to tell the application to sync whenever the mobile device is connected to the PC, so I don’t have to do any goofy tricks like scheduling regular syncs. Finally, they let you synchronize 2-ways or just one way or the other. Right now I’m only syncing devices from the web application to the phone, in case something goes wrong.

The only downside I’ve found – you have to be a premium member of the RememberTheMilk service in order to use that application, and that means a yearly fee. No big deal though. RememberTheMilk is awesome, and they deserve to be compensated for the value they provide to me.

Visit part 3 for my attempts at syncing my Google Calendar to my new phone.

Windows Mobile phone setup part 1 – email

Since my contract was up, I replaced my cellphone with an SMT5800 smartphone, which runs Windows Mobile 6.0. I’ve spent the last few days getting it all configured and syncing with my calendar, tasks, email and contacts. Frankly, I’m surprised how difficult this has been.

I already keep much of this information online, so now I want to sync them to my phone. I’m an avid user (and big fan) of the following free online services:

  • Gmail for email and contacts
  • Google Calendar for events and appointments
  • Remember the Milk for tasks

For a little background, I run Windows on my PC at home, but I don’t use Microsoft Outlook. Windows Mobile devices sync very well with Outlook, as long as you have version 2003 or 2007, but that software wasn’t included with my phone (I thought it used to be included with PDAs…) I do have Outlook 2000, but it isn’t supported by ActiveSync 4.5, which is required for my Windows Mobile 6.0 phone. The Outlook upgrade would not be cheap, so I’ve ruled that out. Also, I should point out that I don’t intended to get a data plan or use over-the-air (OTA) service in any way. I’m purely hoping to sync this data when connected to my PC, but as it turns out, most of my solutions will work well OTA.

For installment one, I’m trying to get my email on my phone.

Email wasn’t all that bad to set up, once I figured out which of the available options I wanted to use. My choices were:

  1. Sync with Outlook via Activesync when docked
  2. Sync with a POP server over the network when docked
  3. Sync with an IMAP server over the network when docked

Option 1, Activesync, should have been ruled out right away, since Activesync 4.5 doesn’t support Outlook 2000, and that’s all I have. What was surprising, though, is that it never complained about that. I set up email synchronization through Activesync, and it ALMOST worked. I had some problems with text missing when replying to messages, so I moved on.

Option 2, POP access, wasn’t going to work for me. I use Thunderbird to archive my email, downloading from the Gmail POP server. The problem is, once the Windows Mobile email client downloads the messages, they don’t get downloaded into any other POP client (Thunderbird, in my case). POP doesn’t deal well with multiple clients grabbing messages.

Thankfully, IMAP access is working out for me. I set up the Windows Mobile mail client on my phone to access my Gmail account through IMAP. IMAP is basically designed for this case, happy to synchronize instead just download. It’s not perfect, since the Windows Mobile mail client doesn’t automatically sync with the server when docked in the cradle. I’m able to work around that software limitation, however, by scheduling regular sends and receives in the mail client. Note: I’ve DISABLED the OTA internet access for my phone, so it will not sync over the air, but if you don’t disable it, I’m pretty sure it’ll connect and run up your bill. When the scheduled run comes up and I’m docked, the email will send and receive. I wish I could find an automatic way to trigger that sync when the device is connected.

What’s interesting to note is that I don’t really have to have any special software on the PC when I sync. As long as I have Activesync to set up that internet connection for the phone, I’m in good shape. I don’t need any mail software on the PC.

Ok, the email problem is solved, at least well enough, so one down, three to go.

See part 2 for information about syncing tasks.

Windows Mobile configuration – part 1 – email

Since my contract was up, I replaced my cellphone with a SMT5800 smartphone, which runs Windows Mobile 6.0. I’ve spent the last few days getting it all configured and syncing with my calendar, tasks, email and contacts. Frankly, I’m surprised how difficult this has been. Here are few of the frustrations I’ve encountered along the way.

I already keep much of this information online, so now I want to sync them to my phone. I’m an avid user (and big fan) of the following free online services:

  • Gmail for email and contacts
  • Google Calendar for events and appointments
  • Remember the Milk for tasks

For a little background, I run Windows on my PC at home, but I don’t use Microsoft Outlook. Windows Mobile devices sync very well with Outlook, as long as you have version 2003 or 2007, but that software wasn’t included with my phone (I thought it used to be included with PDAs…) I do have Outlook 2000, but it isn’t supported by ActiveSync 4.5, which is required for my Windows Mobile 6.0 phone. The Outlook upgrade would not be cheap, so I’ve ruled that out. Also, I should point out that I don’t intended to get a data plan or use over-the-air (OTA) service in any way. I’m purely hoping to sync this data when connected to my PC, but as it turns out, most of my solutions will work well OTA.

For installment one, I’m trying to get my email on my phone.

Email wasn’t all that bad to set up, once I figured out which of the available options I wanted to use. My choices were:

  1. Sync with Outlook via Activesync when docked
  2. Sync with a POP server over the network when docked
  3. Sync with an IMAP server over the network when docked

Option 1, Activesync, should have been ruled out right away, since Activesync 4.5 doesn’t support Outlook 2000, and that’s all I have. What was surprising, though, is that it never complained about that. I set up email synchronization through Activesync, and it ALMOST worked. I had some problems with text missing when replying to messages, so I moved on.

Option 2, POP access, wasn’t going to work for me. I use Thunderbird to archive my email, downloading from the Gmail POP server. The problem is, once the Windows Mobile email client downloads the messages, they don’t get downloaded into any other POP client (Thunderbird, in my case). POP doesn’t deal well with multiple clients grabbing messages.

Thankfully, IMAP access is working out for me. I set up the Windows Mobile mail client on my phone to access my Gmail account through IMAP. IMAP is basically designed for this case, happy to synchronize instead just download. It’s not perfect, since the Windows Mobile mail client doesn’t automatically sync with the server when docked in the cradle. I’m able to work around that software limitation, however, by scheduling regular sends and receives in the mail client. Note: I’ve DISABLED the OTA internet access for my phone, so it will not sync over the air, but if you don’t disable it, I’m pretty sure it’ll connect and run up your bill. When the scheduled run comes up and I’m docked, the email will send and receive. I wish I could find an automatic way to trigger that sync when the device is connected.

What’s interesting to note is that I don’t really have to have any special software on the PC when I sync. As long as I have Activesync to set up that internet connection for the phone, I’m in good shape. I don’t need any mail software on the PC.

Ok, the email problem is solved, at least well enough, so one done, three to go.

Backups revisited – Mozy

In a previous post, I discussed the virtues of having an automated backup process. I gave the advice of having an external drive or file server as well as some offsite backups. I’ve since changed my mind.

I had some troubles configuring my file server to properly go to sleep and wake up when needed, so the file server ended up staying on all the time. Armed with my trusty kill-a-watt, I determined that it was costing me almost $5 a month in power to keep that PC up and running. Also, it started acting flakey, not a good attribute for a dedicated backup server! Finally, like many people, every time I get some extra storage space, I tend to fill it with stuff rather than leave it for backups.

I did some more testing and planning, and eventually decided to go with Mozy for online offsite backups. For $5 a month, you can back up as much data as you want, secure, encrypted and offsite. Mozy runs in your system tray and unobstrusively encrypts and uploads your files to their servers when your computer is idle. Before, I wasn’t backing up all of my file – I deemed my 100GB of home video projects too large to keep redundant copies of, but since Mozy offers unlimited storage, there’s no reason not to back that up.

Since your $5 buys you the ability to back up one PC, I’ve installed it on my desktop PC downstairs and set up processes to copy important files from our laptops onto that PC for backup. With Mozy you can back up any folders you want. I’ve tried recovering files too, and everything worked fine. Afterall, an untested backup is an untrusted backup.

Oh yeah, I should probably mention there’s a free option as well, if you don’t have much data to store. If you click on the Mozy link above, you’ll get an increase in your storage space through the referral program.

For the record, I did try Carbonite as well, but I didn’t like the lack of options nor did I like the fact that they don’t back up some file types. Also, it just plain didn’t upload for me, but maybe I had a firewall issue or something.

One thing you need to be aware of: offsite backups over a cable modem are SLOW! My initial backups (125GB) literally took MONTHS to complete. It’s not Mozy’s fault though. If you do the math, I was maxing out my upload bandwidth nearly the entire time. After the initial upload, Mozy only uploads the changes, so keeping current isn’t bad. About the only way to get around this speed limitation is by using Sneakernet.

All-in-all, I’m happy with my new scheme. $5 a month is a small price to pay for constant offsite backups, and now that I don’t do the local backups anymore, I have more disk space to play with! With two kids to play with, there are much better things to spend my time on than managing my backup server or performing manual backups. While that initial backup period required me to be a bit patient, Mozy has taken one item off my list of things to worry about.