Looking for The Perfect Camera Bag for Day-to-Day use

I currently use the Lowepro Slingshot 100 as my day-to-day camera bag.
There are many things I like about it. It's small, easy to access as I
can swing the bag quickly to the front and has some really useful
features like a waterproof cover so that I can cover the bag in case it
rains. But there are a couple of downsides. For one, the bag is
extremely uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. It would also
be nice to be able to carry a tri-pod as well. My Gitzo doesn't come
with a sling.

So, the perfect camera bag for day-to-day use would have the following features:
* interchangeable slings between my right and left shoulder so I could distribute the weight
* means to carry my tripod
* ability to carry a water bottle
* space to carry miscellaneous stuff like manuals and sunglasses
* comfortable to wear for at least 5 or 6 hours a da

New Category – Perfect-isimo

I love trying new products; I think for the most part, we all do. For
me, it's always about trying to do things in a more functional or
natural fashion. Sometimes it's to make life easier for me or to
enhance my enjoyment of my many hobbies. So I decided to create a new
category called "Perfect-isimo." It's for the times when I'm using a
particular product and I'm thinking about "if only it had… then it
would be just perfect." I figured that if I had a particular need, I'm
sure other people are looking for the same thing too and it could be a
good way to note down the product discoveries together.

End of year Shopping Deals for Windows Mobile Software

If you're looking to buy software for your Windows Mobile devices, be sure to take advantage of the end of year shopping deals at both Pocketgear and Handango. You can get 20% off with PocketGear up to January 12, 2009. The promocode for PocketGear is GETBACK20. You can get 25% off Handango with the promocode of 25NOW. This deal lasts up to December 31, 2008. I also noticed a deal of 30% off SPB Products on Handango up to Dec 30, 2008. The promocode for it is SPB30OFF. 

Google, the Microsoft of the World Wide Web

It has been really interesting watching Google manouver its way into being the next Microsoft of the web. I'm not sure if Google will run into monopolistic issues but I am certain that Google will be the dominant platform of the not so distant future. It's not hard to see if you simply look at Google's investments in terms of what it has purchased and built.

Until the emergence of Google Apps, Google seemed destined to be a search engine that generated a tonne of revenue from its advertisement capability. It had odd offerings here and there that seemed fragmented at the very least. As soon as it launched Google Apps, it was rather obvious that Google was building towards the business markets as well. Looking at Google Apps for the very first time, I couldn't help but think about how close the offering was to Microsoft Exchange; it offered organizations the ability to host email, share calendars and even offer instant messaging capability. With the additional capabilities of wiki, blogging and document sharing, you essentially have most of Sharepoint's capabilities. It's hard not to offer small clients to use Google Apps as it is easy to setup with minimal operational and maintenance cost.

Google reached further to the consumer with Android and Chrome. The reasoning behind it really is simple – it's about control. The hardest thing about developing any software is the inability to determine where it is going to run. One of the most challenging thing about developing for Zoocasa is that we have to cater to a large number of browsers. A lot of our code gets "dirty" to account for the way different browsers react to different pieces of the code. So Chrome makes sense. The strategy would be to develop functionality that would work best on Chrome before venturing out to other browsers. The other thing to note is that the browser is the new desktop. The browser is by far the most used application that I have as it is the window to how I manage my life. I still use Firefox as my primary browser, venturing into Chrome every once in a while.

Android is particularly interesting for me. The one thing that Apple did right was that they limited devices and the Apple App Store was simply brilliant. Google seems to be building the best of both worlds. There already is an Android App Store and by choosing HTC as their first manufacturer, you can be certain to find Android on traditionally Windows Mobile devices. Android will give Google the ability to reach a user in the most personal of spaces. Outside of my wife, my mobile device is my next closest confidante. I have it with me wherever I go. For instance, on this trip, I have my phone but have left my trusty Asus R1F at home. Given that Google has a whole battery of web services, Android makes a tonne of sense. Right away, Android would be a killer device if it integrates into all of Google's core apps like mail (including contacts), calendar (including tasks), reader, news, picasa and of course search.

FriendConnect is going to be interesting. The function that I see it to be most useful is to be an LDAP-like service. One of the most frustrating for corporate users is to have to have multiple login ids and passwords for multiple systems. The web is littered with many small applications that make our life simpler. If FriendConnect can simplify this, it would make life simpler for webizens every where.

What most people fear about and rightly so is handing so much personal and private info to an external entity. This will be Google's Achilles heel and something that they will have to maneouver and struggle with over time. But that being said, Google is going to be the platform to contend with in the WWW.

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro®

HTC Touch Pro – TouchFlo 3D

While one of the main reasons why I got a Windows Mobile devices is that I can fully customize it, the default set of software that came with the HTC Touch Pro is definitely above and beyond what HTC has previously released with. The three that come to mind are TouchFlo 3D, Opera 9.5 and YouTube.

Let’s face it – while the Windows Mobile platform is extremely pragmatic, it is just plain old boring. It looks, feels and acts like the Windows desktop. To give Microsoft some credit, it was the differentiator between Palm and itself. The strategy was to bring a subset of the desktop to a mobile platform. The end result is what we have here. Along comes iPhone to change the mobile space altogether. So this is where TouchFlo 3D comes in.

TouchFlo 3D is a very slick implementation of a dashboard. At the bottom of the screen, you have a menu bar which you scroll around with by pressing your finger down and sliding across with it. Some people love it and some hate it. I am in the former camp. It has a total of 11 modules; each with it’s own gesture and animation.

You start at the Home module with your time, missed calls and next appointment. It’s a simple view of what’s going on now. With a flick upwards, the clock gets smaller and you see more appointments. Usually around 3.

Next is the Favorite Contacts module. It is basically a speed dial and looks like a Rolodex. Flicking up and down basically flips the Rolodex. Pictures are added automatically if your contact is associated with a photo in the addressbook. Unfortunately, the photo stored by Pocket Outlook is very small and gets grainy when it gets displayed by TouchFlo. Apparently the workaround is to associate it with a local photo instead.

The messages module gives you access to your sms messages. The flick up and down lets you flow through your incoming texts. Tapping on a message brings you to the threaded text message view in native Windows Mobile 6.1. I like the fact that through the menu screen, I can reply and delete messages right from there. To me, this is one of the more complete modules in TouchFlo 3D.

It’s a completely different story for the E-mail module. I like the envelope and that it only gives a summary of the message. There are tabs on the right hand side that you can select the appropriate account and flicking the email up and down scrolls through your messages. What makes no sense for me is that the interactivity expected is to create more e-mail accounts. I would have expected that you would provide the most frequently used functions at this level. Creating new email accounts just isn’t it. When you click on the email, it takes you back to the email but you can’t really delete it. To delete an email, you click on the Inbox and then delete it from there.

I love the fact th
at they have integrated Opera directly into the Today TouchFlo 3D modules.

The music module is another frustrating implementation. It’s pretty but does not work the way I would have expected it to. It lists all of the music on your device by default which makes
sense. I would have expected it to limit my view to only music on my playlist once it’s been selected. It doesn’t seem to do  that.

The picture module is well thought out for me. It lists all of your photos, you flick through them to scan them and clicking on it takes you    to the full screen version on your photo. What’s neat about the photo is that moving your finger around the circle zooms in and out of the photo. Definitely full featured and intuitive in my books.

The weather module is simple and elegant. It is the one module that shows off how gorgeous the screen on the TouchPro really is. The gestures are simple – flick up and down to sroll through cities you’ve selected. The animation is very slick. My favorite is the rainy day one. It starts off with your screen looking like it’s been splashed with rain drops followed by a wiper wiping the screen. It’s just something you have to see in person.

Settings screen is not particularly interesting. Only thing I really use it for is to access the the comm manager and the program launcher launches programs. The program launcher is limited to 18 applications which is plenty. You can further access other programs by hitting the soft key that says All Programs.

For the Windows platform, TouchFlo 3D is phoenomenal. Yes, it can be gimicky but so is the iPhone. TouchFlo 3D is by far the best looking interface to date for Windows. What it suffers from is that it is a layer on top of the native Windows UI so it suffers from some overhead to load it up when it first starts. It also comes down to a crushing reality when you have to launch other Windows apps when
TouchFlo 3D is implemented as a Today Screen plug-in. Once Windows Mobile launches, it then loads TouchFlo 3D making it a very long boot up.

TouchFlo also seems fragile to me. I tried playing with the tweaks that I found on the web and kept running into “manila.exe” failures often. I then decided to re-flash the ROM and it’s been more stable ever since. I have only run into problems with Dashwire with TouchFlo. The failure for the most part is not catastrophic but it is annoying. For some reason after it crashes, it kicks in the home screen whenever you have to type something in a text box.

Many people have said that after a while, I would get rid of TouchFlo. Assuming that it doesn’t crash as often as it has been doing, I like the interface. It is actually intuitive and simple to use.

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro®

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Busy, busy, busy

That's sung to the tune of Money, money, money… It's even more
unfortunate when it doesn't translate to more money for me. LOL. I've
had a bit of a slow down in terms of writing blogs as it's been
incredibly busy coupled with the unmitigated disaster that has been my
personal IT infrastructure. I had an outage of a couple of days because
of it. Thankfully it is up and running now.

On a work front, work has turned out to be really busy. We have had
quite a few last minute changes in the last few iterations and we're
paying the price of it in our schedule. Hopefully with the Christmas
break, it'll give me a chance to reset the cycle and catch up.
Internally, I'd like to change how we approach our development to help
increase the quality of our releases. Frankly, the next few iterations
are going to be rocky.

After being at Zoocasa for almost 3 months, I have to say that my
feelings are mixed about it. On one hand, I work with an awesome team
of developers. For the most part, they are talented, well rounded and
quirky of course. Some of them are already excellent leaders and I hope
they continue to grow in that manner. Some of them are cowboys that I
have to constantly steer but frankly, they do awesome work. I just have
to make sure that we are aligned. Sometimes I align them and sometimes
they align me. The downside of this job is that the days are extremely
long and it takes me away from my family a lot more than I would like.

I look forward to the Christmas break as I'll be spending it with my
"kids" whom I also haven't had much time to spend with in quite a while.

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro®

Finally got my Touch Pro

After weeks of searching, I finally got my hands on a North American version of the Touch Pro, also known as the HTC Fuze which is sold by AT&T. The search was extremely tough and after 3 failed attempts I finally have one in my hands. After much pursuit, I finally was able to swing a deal with mitsubishiman of Howard Forums. The deal itself was relatively straight forward and was completed in one night.

There’s actually much to write about the Touch Pro even though the device is very similiar to my Tytn II which I still really enjoy using. Because of that, I am going to split this blog entry into multiple posts as not to bore people to tears with the length of the post. Even with the same form factor, I am still adjusting to the Touch Pro and I’m not quite as proficient with it as I would like.

With every iteration of HTC devices, the product gets smaller and feels better built. It is definitely no where as heavy as the Tytn II. It is both thinner and narrower than the Tytn II although it is also slightly thinner. Because of that, the Touch Pro actually looks like a small brick. I don’t love the dimensions of it and personally as a whole, I think it looks very awkward. Since this is modeled after the Touch Diamond, it has the uneven cuts at the back. Personally, it does nothing for me but I’ve had at least one postive comment on that aspect. The casing is very shiny and plastic making it smudge frequently. I actually miss the rubberize feel of the Tytn II. That being said, it feels like a solidly built device.

The major reason for the upgrade to the Touch Pro is the screen from specification. The one thing that bothered me about the Tytn II was that it didn’t have the fully flush screen and that impeded my ability to use it as a one-handed device. Tapping at keys at the edge was very inprecise. The other thing that I looked forward to was to have a VGA screen on my mobile device again. I have to say that I was elated with the implementation of the screen. Not only is it completely flush and VGA, the display is crisp and clear. The only way to describe the screen is gorgeous.

One of the design decisions on the Touch series is to make the devices as touch friendly as possible. By doing so, they have also reduced the number of buttons on the device. In fact, there is only one programmable button. They have also removed the soft buttons as well. It takes a bit of getting used to and the flushed screen makes it easier for it to work. I have to admit that I do miss the soft buttons, the “ok” button and the jog wheel.

The layout is different and the keys are smaller. Fortunately, it is not so small that it is hard to type. But it is different enough that i still feel clumsy on it. For instance, I keep hitting the ok button on the lower left corner expecting the shift button. I don’t like the fact that the spacebar key is almost miniscule and that you can no longer hit the function key and spacebar combination to cycle through to get to the appropriate symbol. Instead, you press function and space and then select the appropriate symbol on the screen. That’s a bit awkward. Fortunately though, the majority of the symbols that are required for my daily use are available on the keyboard.

All in all, I love the physical aspects of the device. It is a beautiful phone to behold. Even with the pictures, it is hard to describe how beautiful the device is. More on the other aspects of the device in the next set of blogs.

[Had to recover this blog post from old emails to myself]

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro

System Outage for the weekend

I had hoped to start playing with Ruby on Rails this weekend as I had an idea I want to build. It was mostly to support how I use the Windows Mobile device. As I was busy upgrading the environment, I lost connectivity to my DHCP server and eventually my whole environment as I was stuck not being able to recompile VMWare server as I needed to download the header files for the new kernel. I was in a bit of a catch-22 situation: need internet up and running to fix the vmware server and need vmware server up and running to get to the internet. So it was time to develop work arounds to fix the problem.

While diagnosing the problem, I discovered quite a few issues with my hardware in my environment.

  • Network card not being picked up by the main VMWare server. I'm not sure if this is a hardware issue or not. I swapped network cards but the issue still exist.
  • D-Link router does not want to assign IP addresses through DHCP.
  • Lacie NAS which I use like a SAN might run the risk of corruption.

Over the weekend, I was either reminded or learned a few things along the way.

  • Running my virtual machines on a LACIE in striped mode seemed like a good idea at the time. Now I'm not so sure.
  • Microsoft Small Business Server is a great idea but it's really not for me. I don't like the idea of having DHCP, DNS, Mail Server, Domain Controller and SQL Server all on one machine. I'm going to start splitting up the services to different VMs.
  • Pre-allocating a virtual machine size at install is a good idea in principal but the reality of my situation is that I don't really generate that much data on my virtual machines. For those that I do, I have a pre-allocated hard drive and full time NAS to do that.
  • Can't have all my eggs in one basket. Having all of my external services hosted here is risky. When I was down this weekend, there was no way of redirecting either blog or mail traffic. A good friend has offered to help me host a small virtual machine that will act as another external DNS server, secondary mail server and web server.
  • My server rack at home was a mess and it being messy just adds to the issues. Took the time to clean up the environment this weekend.
  • While running my own hardware environment has taught me a lot about network setup, it is also extremely time consuming.

I'll update this post with a drawing of my physical hardware layout when I get to the office. Now back to our regularly scheduled program…


Twitter use in real life for me

Most of my friends have always been puzzled by my fascination with Twitter. The question most frequently asked is what can I do with Twitter. I think there are very many practical uses with it. Two of the more famous stories are that the news of the earthquake in china and the Mumbai attacks were first heard on Twitter across the world. Another use of it is that it is a way of getting a pulse on a distinct segment of the population. I remember when Rogers first launched the iPhone plans and people on Twitter were screaming bloody murder. I've often wondered if Rogers could have managed it better if it leaked the info on Twitter to gauge a reaction of it.

Given that Zoocasa is a web start-up, we are quite fortunate to have someone as web savvy as Jason Lewin to focus on Marketing for us. Very early on, Jason set up a Twitter account for the company and has quickly become active on it. I tend to observe from the outside by having a RSS feed for the keyword of Zoocasa. I've always found it to be interesting to watch the conversations on Twitter. I came across a frustrated tweet that Friday morning and eventually had a chance to chat with @TelfMaynard at the end of the day. The conversation was comfortable as Telf understood what Zoocasa was – a search engine for real estate – and that certain things were not in our control. He also had constructive feedback for the product and ways he thought that we could fix his concerns. Fortunately, we had some of the items already in our current roadmap and in the midst of being developed in the current development cycle. For the parts that I couldn't fix in the near term., he understood that technology doesn't get developed overnight. All in all, he was a patient user who understood that Zoocasa is a start up that was still working out the kinks but was frustrated because the feedback loop was broken.

For me, what made Twitter relevant was that it helped by giving Telf a venue to alert others of a potential concern. It helped me as a member of the Zoocasa team be aware of the potential concerns and address it where and when we can. All in all, it was a win-win situation in my mind. Over time, I am hoping that Twitter will give us another avenue to interact with the users and be another means to build more relevant features for our user community.

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Asus is Awesome

those of you who have been following my Tweets, you might remember my
complaints about a green line appearing on the screen of my Asus R1F.
This generally happens, especially with LCD screens. Anyway, I was
debating whether or not to take the opportunity to pick up an R1E but
there isn't enough of an incentive to pick one since the hardware specs
are about the same. So I opted to try to fix it.

So I called
Asus in the afternoon, from my phone number they were able to confirm
my asset and contact info. They emailed me my RMA number without even
having to ask me for my email. CRM at its best. How amazing is that.
One of the major benefits of buying an Asus notebook is that the repair
centre is a 10 minute drive from me. When I dropped off my notebook,
the technician did a quick assessment and said that it would take a
couple hours to fix. That came as a surprise. My previous experience is
that it typically takes around 3 days. I was pleasantly surprised when
I got a call in about an hour to say my notebook was fixed.

have 3 Asus notebooks now and have had to do warranty repairs on all of
them to date. Most of them were human fault rather than manufacturing
fault (i.e. Niece falling on screen, dropping of device, etc). Even
though they are more expensive to purchase, the warranty and level of
service have made it all worthwhile. I will continue to be a loyal Asus
purchaser after this.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.