Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Installing DELL laptop drivers from CABs

Recently, I had to rebuild my Dell laptop.  Not fun.  Hoping to save someone else a little time, here is how I got all the drivers sorted:

  1. Find your driver bundle: I used the model code (printed in a shallow recess on the underside) to find a CAB on the Dell website containing all the drivers for that machine.  Big download - almost a gigabyte - but so handy to have them all in one file!  
  2. Extracting the drivers from the CAB:  Windows Explorer can natively poke around inside the CAB, but extracting is a pain - one file at a time, losing the directory structure - really, a non-starter.  Don't do it. Instead, just download and install 7-Zip (free!), which will do the job very nicely.  After that, 
  3. Use the Device Manager to install the drivers: Hit Windows+R to launch the run dialog, then type (or paste) devmgmt.msc into the text fieldLook for "Other Devices" in the tree and right-click them one at time, selecting "Update driver...", then specifying the where you extract the CAB file.  You'll be done in no time (well, half an hour!).
  4. Create a Windows Restore Point so you (probably) don't ever need to do this again!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Saving up for a... sunny day?

You may have heard the advice that you should have cash on hand to cover living expenses for some few months, just in case - "rainy day" money.  This is very sensible, but... what about sunny days?

Picture a perfectly cloudless June morning, as the gentlest of zephyrs whispers the fresh flush of newly-budded leaves and sends a cat's paws skimming across a lazy river.    Living on a damp little patch in the mid-latitudes where one swirling low-pressure system follows another, remaining anchored to my desk on such a day is exquisite torture.

So, my new savings goal: to arrive, without undue delay, at a point where sunny days are my own. Essentially, to achieve financial independence, to acquire, ahem, feck off money, to be... sort of retired, and to achieve this long before conventional carriage-clock age.

You will be asking the first question I asked...

Can this be done?

With caveats, yes it can.  As it turns out, having a good (but not remarkable) income combined with moderately frugal spending habits and the power of compounding investment gains makes it completely possible, and not even a particularly long-term project.

Imagine an individual - Mr. Sensible - with net earnings of €100 per year, who is able to live on just €60.  We will suppose that this frugal person invests the remaining €40 and achieves a return just under the long-term average for stock markets in developed countries - 8% per annum ( 9% including the dividends).

Assuming smooth market returns (they are never smooth, of course, but that is for a later post), how many years do you think it will be before the annual investment gains exceed the €60 which Mr. Sensible needs to live on?

12 years!

This seemed a bit crazy to me when I first ran the numbers, v If Mr. Sensible is able to retire after 12 years from a standing start, then why is the standard working life 40 or 45 years?  Even assuming Mr. Sensible is being cautious, he can simply keep working and saving for another few years, at which point his own efforts are contributing less to his growing wealth than are his investment gains.

So why aren't we all enjoying those sunny days with Mr. Sensible?  Two reasons:
  1. We spend too much (= save too little).  Many people save nothing, or only 2% - 3% of their incomes.
  2. When we save, we invest our money poorly (in a deposit account where inflation shrinks it slowly, or in a managed fund where the manager creams off enough fees and charges to keep returns well below market rate).
It really is that simple, and, over the next few posts, I'm going to explain how my sunny-day preparations in enough detail that you can do the same.


Some homework - I suggest these excellent resources:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Android, Battery life

So, I switched to using an Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S Plus).  Good move; I'm always connected, never lost, never bored... and never more than three feet from a power point.  Wow do these 'droids love a steady supply of electrons.  I've got USB charging points at the ready on my desk, in my car, in different rooms in my house.  Even my boat has sprouted DC sockets to support this charging obsession.

Until a few days ago, when my once-permanent state of battery anxiety was cured, overnight, literally.  I first tried, then within 24 hours paid for, Juice Defender.  Don't think of this as an App; think of it as a magical doubling/tripling of your €500 smart phone's battery capacity.  €2 to do that? Absolutely unbelievable value for money.  Just buy it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review of Speed Launcher (Android version)

So, there is now an Android in my pocket; a Samsung Galaxy S Plus.  It is very shiny, with a lovely big bright screen.  It navigates beautifully, makes a great games platform and a pretty fair web browser.  It is a good way to check e-mail. It is much coveted. It takes lovely (HD!) video... and, sometimes, I even use it to make phone calls.

And here is the strange thing.  Every other phone I have owned was mostly a number pad.  The designer, understanding that the thing was for phone calls, made it as fast and easy as possible to get those calls made.  Your average Android, however essentially a very small tablet computer, with comparable processing and storage and only slightly fewer pixels on the screen. The making of phone calls is an afterthought - just another app that you might fit in between your browsing, mailing and gaming.

So, actually making a call is a bit of a trek through the interface.  First, there is the unlocking - one button push, followed by several swipes across that gorgeous screen; then there is the opening of the contacts app, the searching out of the contact, and finally, the choosing what to do with the contact - would sir like to phone, or e-mail, or text?  Perhaps a video call?

This is where Speed Launcher (available in premium and lite (free) versions) comes in.  This app becomes your lock screen and gives you a rotary dial with slots for up to nine of your favourite contacts. Touch and spin, just like those analog rotary phones of olden times, and off you go.  Other buttons in the center of the dial give speedy access to favourite apps and phone settings.

Overall, I'm impressed.  The spinning dial is a bit of a gimmick... but it is a pretty and effective gimmick.  Go on - give it a whirl...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wander Alarm

Dementia plays many an unkind trick; one of the more dangerous is wandering. When you find a parent or spouse leaving the house half-dressed in the middle of the night, it's clear you are very close to having a tragedy on your hands.

No-one can stay vigilant and sleep; I needed a technical fix. I considered special locks, but I'm not happy with the idea of a door that can't be opened really quickly and easily in the event of a fire. Also, I wanted something subtle; I'm very sensitive to the indignities that dementia inflicts, and didn't want to add any conspicuous this-is-to-stop-you-escaping hardware.

I finally settled on a wireless infrared motion detector which sets off a chime unit. I actually started drawing up a parts list so I could build one myself, but was relieved to find a ready-made version already for sale on Amazon, sold as a handy way to detect arrivals (burglars, customers) rather than departures.

A month on, and I'm now confident the problem is solved. The sensors (wireless) were easy to install, the chime is loud, and the monitor is conveniently portable - whoever is "on duty" for the night can carry it to their bedroom.

I was wrong about the "inconspicuous" bit, though: the man the alarm is intended to save now refers to it as "the Dad-catcher". Kind of a you've-got-to-laugh-or-you'ld-cry moment.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sugru hack saved my camcorder

My first camcorder was just a little bit disappointing; the zoom lense was such that it could easily film far-away stuff (e.g. I could just about make out the whitening of the pole during a Martian winter), but the field of view was way too narrow for close-up stuff (e.g. my fast-moving toddler).

I bought a wide-angle adapter, screwed it onto the filter threads on the front of the camcorder. Years of happy wide-angle filming followed... until my poor video camera drowned while surfing. I quickly bought a very similar model online... and was devastated to find that it couldn't take my old wide-angle adapter - in fact, it had no filter threads at all!

Years of miserable narrow-angle filming followed. Then, along came Sugru! The plasticine-like molding qualities and reasonable setting-time allowed me to mount my old adapter on my new camera (which had an awkwardly sloping non-perpendicular front end) and to get the optical alignment just right (I left the camera on while hacking so I could check for problems with focus or vignetting).

Wide-angle adapter mounted with (blue) sugru

I'm thrilled with the result - the camera is maybe slightly less pretty, but I can squeeze a lot more world into each frame. My wide-angle adapter is now a permanent feature of my camera - and I like it that way.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reviving an old laptop: Puppy Linux

We have a shiny new laptop with a lovely wide screen and a multi-core processor; we love it very much and use it a lot. Meanwhile, our old laptop has been sitting idle - even when it would be handy to have a second laptop handy for some really essential web-browsing, we couldn't bear the eons-long boot-time and the extremely sluggish browsing experience that followed.

That bothered me; I started out on a 386 with a 25MHz processor 2MB of RAM, back when that wasn't a bad machine. Now, a 1.6GHZ machine with 512MB of RAM is too slow for me? Insane! I could have re-installed Windows XP (again), and that would have helped; maybe added a little extra memory. Instead, I opted for something a little more radical: Linux. Now, once upon a time, Linux was scary: an OS that was fast and stable, sure, but only for those who enjoy knitting their own device drivers of a winter's evening.

No more! Today, a wealth of Linux variants awaits, and initially I was thinking in terms of Ubuntu or SUSE. However, my quest for speed pushed me to look for ever-smaller distributions (Linux variants), until I came upon Puppy Linux - which, like its namesake, is small, friendly, and fast-moving - the download is only around 100MB. Burnt to a CD, this cool little OS is ready to go; I just popped in my laptop's CD drive and was able to boot into Puppy Linux straight from the CD without even installing it! I was very impressed to find that Puppy had no problem recognizing all my hardware, requiring absolutely no input from me to get the screen and speakers up and running - even my network and internet access via USB wifi dongle were handled easily - a far cry from my last Windows XP installation experience, which required much downloading of device drivers. Puppy is much friendlier than that!

Puppy turned out to be very, very fast, extremely responsive, even on this old laptop. Being so small, the whole OS easily fits in RAM; no churning hard disks here. Puppy even comes pre-loaded with a decent web browser, word processor, spreadsheet, vector graphics app etc. - so you can do quite a bit without installing any other software (and all these applications are just as nippy as the OS itself).

Having run Pupppy from the CD, I was totally sold; I copied all personal files onto a portable hard drive and nuked the laptop, opting for a clean Linux install (drastic, but easy to do). Now, that same old laptop we could hardly bear to use will boot from cold in 45 seconds flat. After that point, you can click something and have it launch instantly - whereas Windows, in my experience, shows you the desktop as a placatory measure, while it continues frantically to load things in the background.

In summary, reviving our old laptop with Puppy Linux was very easy and quick - much easier than re-installing Windows, and much cheaper than a hardware upgrade (it only cost me the price of a CD-R). My old machine is now an absolute pleasure to use, and I'm looking forward to filling up all the hard-disk vacated by Windows with some Linux-only apps I could never previously have run.