28 November 2015

Pipo W4

I'd like to take this oportunity to pay respects to MacBook Mini; the HP Mini 311 I purchased on a 12-month installment scheme back in 2009 or something, when all the rage was on netbooks. I'd installed Mac OS X Snow Leopard on that little machine that I loved and even created a blog - this very blog - so that I could spout sonnets to the whole world about that love.

I'm grieved to announce that MacBook Mini has passed away. It has been acting up on my dad for quite some time now, shutting down when its fans whirred away, unable to tolerate the heat that would build up over a period of use that shortened as days went by, until one couldn't use it without blasting at least a fan towards its direction. Well, I blame myself partly because I subjected it to hackintoshing. Ok, I don't think I would've bought it in the first place if I couldn't hackintosh it. Me thinks it's the fact that the DSDT may not have been optimal for the hardware in terms of CPU throttling and heat dissipation. Add that to the fact that it's just so very hot in the Philippines and the HP Mini 311 was not getting any younger.

Although I did try to remedy the situation by installing Windows 7 on it, believing that the heat issue will be addressed by giving it to the OS it was designed to run in the first place. True enough, it did happily chug along after that and I was able to give it away to a young university student who needed to have a laptop for school. I was certainly convinced that heat issue was gone. Low and behold, only a few months with its new owner, HP Mini 311 breathed its last.

I'll be forever thankful for the wealth of hackintoshing knowledge I garnered and now have forgotten through that machine. However, the pressing issue remains: What will the university girl (which my mom and dad along with their Bible study group support through college) use for school now?

To find the solution, I racked my brain and thought: What if I were back in university - what gadget would I appreciate? Now, I certainly love working with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and now that is has a Zaggkeys Folio case, I'm really enamored by the portability and the added productivity I get with Microsoft Office 365 (thank you to my current company who gave each of its employee a good license bundle which allows me to install Office in other mobile devices aside from my office laptop). In fact, I wrote this entire post from my Note 8.0 + Zaggkeys Folio.

I just knew that giving "our scholar" anything less than that same convenience I now enjoy is not the answer.

She has to have a tablet for portability. But one that can let her write her school papers and create powerpoint presentations for class projects and stuff and install other full desktop applications. Android and iOS are already out the eligibility list.

That leaves one option: Windows tablet. And I have just the right soluion for that: Pipo W4

It's an 8" tablet with Windows 8.1 and Office fo 1 year. And I got a great bargain from Lazada Singapore at only S$99 (free shipping). It's the perfect size for her to carry around for consuming media and stuff.

How about the productivity part? Obviously the 8" screen won't offer the best experience for a student who will juggling several applications side by side, very unlike the way I use my Note 8.0 now.

Remember the Motorola Bionic Lapdock I bought for my Raspberry Pi experiment, which sadly didn't bloom into the coding heaven I envisioned partly because of my lazyness to learn coding seriously? We'll it's got everything to turn the Pipo W4 into a decent laptop.

Keyboard. 11" screen. Trackpad (serviceable but one is better off using a mouse instead). 2 additional normal-sized USB ports (female). Headphone jack. Micro HDMI (male). Micro USB (male).

Unfortunately, the Micro HDMI and Micro USB ports are oriented the wrong way on its cradle connector section and do not match up wit the Pipo W4's port arrangement. It's a good thing that I already have a micro USB extender cable and a micro HDMI to regular-sized HDMI cable as surplus from my Raspberry Pi experiment.

I only had to get an HDMI to micro HDMI adapter (S$1.69) and voilà! The Pipo W4 is now an 11" laptop.

I'm wrought to part with the Motorola Bionic Lapdock because I consider it my handy partner in Pi experimentation since it provides me the screen and input I need. But then, is it healthy for a 30 year old woman to be still playing with toys??

17 November 2015

Android Love Affair

I will always be a Mac girl at heart. It will always be my default go-to machine, my choice of a daily driver. That is, if I were given a choice. My office machine is a Windows 7 Dell laptop which is company issued so there's really nothing I could do but use it 5 days a week. Not that I have any personal (and might I say, unjustifiable) grudge over non-Mac / Apple gadgets - I am long past that phase as a geekette - so I'm very much open to all platforms.

In fact, I do like tinkering with Android quite a bit. The toys, err hardware, involved are way much cheaper than the equivalent Apple ones. Let's just say I'm much more ready to risk bricking my Xiaomi Mi4i than my Apple iPhone. Although for some reason, even up to the individual cells in my body believe that I could never brick the iPhone. I would liken it to trying to customize one's fridge to turn it into a fridge with frying abilities, only to find out that the customizations one is able to reach are really just skin deep - like stickers - and well, that fridge remans a fridge, unable to fry anything, in the end.

I did buy a Galaxy Note 10.1 N8000 about 2 years ago, in late 2013. It's now with my parents who use it hooked to the TV in the living room where they stream Korean dramas with an app. The Note 10.1 was just way too bulky and heavy for me to integrate it in my life. (cue: dramatic background music).

Then, in 2014, I realized there was a hole in my tech existence which could only be filled by a tablet but I knew it couldn't be a 10" screen one. So along came the Galaxy Note 8.0. You guessed it right, the compelling factor was the S-pen. I'm an old-school-note-taking kind of girl so the integrated Wacom digitizer lured me in. That meant I couldn't get an iPad even though the polish of iOS and the hardware were tempting. Plus, being the geek I am, I just had to get something of a different platform since I already had an iPhone.

More than 18 months after purchasing the Note 8.0, which was released late in 2013 itself, I'm now stuck with a gadget that's more than 2 years old. Without any valid hardware upgrade from Samsung, I couldn't find a replacement : 8" tablet with a stylus that worked magnificently. Yes, you could say there's now the Tab A with S-pen but the specs of that are cringe-worthy. If only Samsung would release Lollipop and slap in a recent version of their TouchWiz UI for the Note 8.0, I'd be a happy camper. 

But a geek does what a geek does in times of trouble. With the warranty period over, I therefore proceeded with rooting my device in hopes of customizing it. There are plenty of custom ROMs for the Note 8.0 but sadly, the N5120 or 4G LTE version that is so prevalent here in Singapore is always left out of the supported devices for this wonderful development efforts of the Android community. I only see the WiFi versions being more actively worked on.

Nonetheless, I'm still quite happy to go on with my little Note 8. Thus I souped it up to better equip it as my writing machine on the go. Enter: Zaggkeys Folio.

What's great about still owning an outdated gadget which was once famous is that a few years after your purchase, you are able to get accessories at super low prices as resellers dispose of their old over stock of the item. The Zaggkeys Folio for Note 8.0 originally retailed at USD 99.99 or around SGD 140. I got mine at SGD 61 shipping included. Actually, the keyboard case itself cost me USD 24 on ebay but the shipping was exorbittant as always.


And it's got a backlit keyboard too!! I think Amazon has more offers for even as low as USD 17 - shiping to US only or shipping may add considerably more to the price.

02 August 2015

No Pibow Coupé For Me (For Now)

I talked to the reseller here and got $20 quote for a Pibow Coupé Flotilla case for my new Raspberry Pi 2. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with this case, below is a picture to let you understand why it got me into this dilemma:
from modmypi.com

Super slim and slick right?

Anyhow, good thing we were busy at work since it's the end of quarter and it was all bout getting sales booked so I didn't have time to meet up with the reseller and buy the case. But then I was itching to get my Pi out of the generic clear or frosted case I got from Element14 Singapore which resembled a soap case.
Looks like I got the soap dish from the shower and stuck it on the back of the Motorola Bionic Lapdock

Well, I hated that and I felt it wasn't time for me to fork out yet another $20 in the name of geeking out. Thus, I decided to turn this into a case:

I bought 4 or 5 of these from my last trip to Hongkong - just had to spend the loose HK$ change which I couldn't change back to S$ anyway. That one last empty box I found in a corner of my office desk drawer.

With the help of a sharpie to mark the cut outs, a utility knife and X-acto knife from Daiso, I ended up with this:

Sitting beside a 1" 3M clear tape, we can better appreciate how thin the case ended up:

I'd say not bad for a first foray into case modding!

And for the more substantial updates:
  • I've solved the issue with the RTL8192cu WiFi dongle (the same one that Adafruit sells). I followed the steps from Adafruit and added a line to disable power management and USB auto-halt for the dongle. Very decent download and upload speeds now! In the terminal:
echo "options 8192cu rtw_power_mgnt=0 rtw_enusbss=0" | sudo tee --append /etc/modprobe.d/8192cu.conf

  • I'm now using Ubuntu MATE with modest overclock at 800MHz (the Pi 2 runs its quadcore @700MHz) without sdram and core freq changes. Anything higher than 800MHz and with sdram and core freq changes, the power supply from the Motorola Bionic Lapdock won't be sufficient to power the Pi and the WiFi dongle which I ended up sticking to the Pi's main board - no longer the lapdock's 2 USB ports.
  • Bought licenses for the MPEG-2 and WVC1 codecs from RaspberyPi.org
All in all, it's a nifty little machine that has delighted me and I can't wait to tote it off somewhere as a proud owner of "Monster". It's a great blogging / writing equipment :)

Although now I have doubts on it being a good idea to give my 16 year nephew a Raspberry Pi. I don't think he'll like the idea of turning the HDMI TV in his and his brother's room into a slow computer that cannot even run their favorite video games. They're a generation of kids who got the best and wouldn't get impressed easily.

I was like: "A credit-card size computer! Wow!" 
They would be more like: "So what? I got a PS 4 and iPad and a smartphone that can run Youtube without issues." 

30 July 2015

Raspberry Pi Lap(dock)top

Mechanical links work to splice USB cables without soldering and I have a Raspberry Pi Laptop

The initial process took about 2 hours and it includes:

  • shaving the extra plastic material in the cables and adapters
  • actual splicing (without soldering)
  • micro SD card installation of Raspbian
  • 1st boot up
Additional tinkering on the config file to get the Atrix's speakers, resolution, RTl8192cu WiFi dongle, and the correct system locale and keyboard layout work ate up another 1.5 hours or so. I was watching a drama via live streaming on my other laptop so I guess my concentration wasn't that great.

At any rate, here's my new baby - I named him "monster" (M):
Monster says "hi!"

 Raspbian installing. I had downloaded the entire 750MB+ .zip before hand to the download is not included in the count. The installation on the micro SD card rounded up at 15 minutes or so - while I changed my beds linens to fresh ones.

 My handy "cabling work". I didn't have any electrical tape so masking tape should do for now.

Here's the mess at the back. The HDMI extender (30 cm) hasn't arrived yet from Hongkong so I'm connecting the Pi's regular sized HDMI to the Atrix's mini HDMI with an adapter that also functions as propping tool

  • Raspberry Pi 2 on Raspbian is not fast enough for me. Either I had unrealistic expectations from the reviews I read before hand or the micro SD card I purchased wasn't really a class 10, but a lower rated one.
  • Adafruit RTl8192cu was super slow - 50kbps in the terminal when I install via apt-get. But it's an 802.11n rated WiFi dongle. According to the forums, it's most likely a power management issue - this particular WiFi dongle is very sensitive that it won't go on max performance with sketchy power source.
  • Hence, slow browsing and no impossible Youtube even with the Chromium + PeppaFlash workaround
  • So it goes back to the first issue of slowness. I did manage to install Libre Office from the Pi Store. The download and install took a lot of time but once installed, launching the word processor app took only 9 seconds and the typing experience was alright - I can probably use this for writing.

I must say though, I'm loving this project. Looking forward to a better case for my Pi. I'm torn between just getting a Pibow Coupé Flotilla since I've already found a local reseller or if should just hack some plastic thing I can get my hands on make the slimmest profile Pi unit I can envision.

I'm also undecided on whether I'll end up sticking the Pi on the back of the lapdock by velcro or if I should let it sit on that phone tray at the back, like it does at the monent, while I wait for the short HDMI cable I ordered.

28 July 2015

Today Is the Day!

July 28, 2015 : which day could be more exciting than this one?

A Raspberry Pi 2 of my own is on its way :

And the Motorola Atrix Lapdock is also joining in the fun:

Only a few more components missing to complete my Raspberry Pi "Laptop":
  • 16 GB Strontium Class 10 micro SD card I got from a deal - I have to collect this little guy from the physical store in the city center one of these days
  • HDMI extender (30 CM) - which should arrive from Hongkong - I'm not counting on it to get into my hands before I leave this island for a vacation
Oh, and the fun actually started yesterday when I got this in my mailbox:

Lovely, just lovely!!

21 July 2015

A New Adventure

Geeks will always be geeks. Nerds will always be nerds. I say "Cheers to that! and they're absolutely happy to stay that way.

What makes them excited?

New stuff to tinker with.

Technical Specifications:
  • Broadcom BCM2836 Arm7 Quad Core Processor powered Single Board Computer clocked at 900MHz
  • 1GB RAM
  • 40pin  GPIO
  • 4 x USB 2 ports
  • 4 pole Stereo output (doubles as Composite video port)
  • Full size HDMI
  • CSI camera port for the Raspberry Pi camera
  • DSI display port for the Raspberry Pi touch screen display
  • Micro SD port (push-push)
  • Micro USB power source

Yummy like its namesake fruit, indeed!

This one goes to my nephews in hopes of encouraging them to get into programming and maybe even robotics. I wouldn't mind a automated coffee maker that I can ask to brew my faves from a connected terminal - my phone would be best :)

I'm excited to see what they'll come up with. Let their creativity flow and sky be the limit to what they can achieve. Learning is key.

As for me, another Raspberry Pi project is in my radar right now. Just waiting for some parts and pieces and it will get me busy as a bide time before I can go home the Philippines and be with the family again.

Hopefully, I'll tote with me a Pi Laptop.

Nothing really fancy - just some USB cable splicing activity that will hopefully get this ol' gal warmed up and back into shape for nerdiness galore.

I'd really like to learn soldering. Not sure if I can get a cheap soldering set here in Singapore though.