Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lamenting Calculus

Some new music I wrote, as well as some videos of my experience at the Niagara Falls :)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sinsonido AS-101C travel guitar

Learning a musical instrument is tough, and with life as a vfx td, I may need to travel between contracts, which makes things annoying. Small supremely portable instruments like the flute, are not very neighbour-friendly as they cannot be muted; similarly for the saxophone.

Digital pianos are great in this respect as you can play 'em with headphones at 3 in the morning and no one would be the wiser. However, a digital piano is not very move friendly. I got a digital piano whilst I was in Montreal, as I was expecting to stay a few good years, but decided to move after a year's contract. Had to sell it for a fair loss of money, but that's the way things roll.

A few small, and quiet instruments were the target of my search. Violins and Violas are great choices as they are relatively small and very lightweight. In addition, with a metal mute, they are very quiet.

Electric guitars are another possibility, and I decided to go with learning a classical travel guitar - classical guitar seems to be quite interesting, lightweight and strings are easy (and affordable!) to get. One of the more affordable travel guitars - that looks pretty darn cool at the same time - is the Sinsonido AS-100 series. They've got classical and acoustic models, and I went with the classical as that's much more up my alley.

Being in Singapore, I checked the local distributors but they did not carry the Sinsonido. So, don't say I don't support local hor! Googling online, I came across Play Away Guitars in the UK. After a short email convo asking about my needs, I got the Sinsonido from them.

Shipping was remarkably fast; I made my purchase on Monday, and the guitar arrived in Singapore on Thursday. The guitar also came with some nice surprises; a new set of strings as well as a method book!

So that's about it. I've played a few notes on it - I'm not a guitar aficionado, having only "learnt" on my sibling's guitar for hours - and to my newb ears, it sounds great over headphones, but it is still quite audible.

Let's see where this new journey will take me. Here's some pictures of the guitar and the kit it came with.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Lenovo Flex 2 in "standing tablet" mode

So, I've been a week home, and I've not really been productive as I was when working! Like today, I spent most of the day taking apart the laptop, then... I'm not sure what. I am far more productive when working abroad for sure; I'd have a schedule to work on music or what not (well I did touch on the guitar for a quarter hour today....), but I'm like.... blargh, not getting my productivity engine engaged. And I have so. much. to. learn!

Anyways, so just before I left Montreal I was watching some online video tutorials, one of which is the series on Calculus on Open MIT. Thought that instead of watching videos on the teeny tablet, to watch it on the laptop in the standing mode, with it's 14 inches of IPS glory. Some things, didn't work as well.

First, when the Flex2 14 in the standing tablet mode, the physical keyboard (plus touchpad) is of course, tucked away from you. So, it's rather annoying when the virtual keyboard does not automatically pop up for desktop applications, which my web browser is. The only way I've found is to just manually swipe from the right to bring up the "charms" (why are they named that?!), then go to settings, and bring up the keyboard. It works, but that's so many steps!!!

In addition, I like to work with my task bar auto hidden - unless of course when I'm at work (boo hoo hoo I'm so unemployed) and have proper lcd screens, then I don't - and it is really finicky to actually bring up the task bar on the touch screen. One would think an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen would raise the task bar, but noooo. There are some instructions on how to do that online involving finger tips at the edge of the screen but I've never got it to work consistently.

So yeah. Windows 8.

Lenovo Flex-2 14 "teardown"

For some strange, unknown reason, I had to find out what kind of hard drive was inside my Flex 14. Btw, evidently the model I got is the Flex-2 14, a newer model that does not have a detachable battery.

Taking the laptop apart was not too difficult after I located the Flex2 14 Hardware Maintenance Manual (google it!).

The Flex14 has several steps to perform before getting to the innards (unlike say my macbook pro or m6400 (its dead and recycled!) which only required removing the underside panel) - first, the keyboard had to be detached. Not a fun thing I assure you, as it's held in place by clips to the laptop. I had to pry a portion of it using a flathead screwdriver, then used my hands to pop the clips off. Some kind of cable attaches the keyboard to the motherboard, but it's simple to remove.

Once that is done, to remove the rear panel requires the removal of 3 screws hidden by the keyboard (why?!), one of them which has a warranty seal of sorts. 9 other screws are also attached to the bottom panel. Even after removing those screws, the panel was firmly clipped in place, but some finger nail action pried the back panel apart.

There is seemingly space for one more memory dimm, but I'm already at 8gb of ram, and the lenovo website indicates 8gb ram max so... hmm.

In any case, I've had a bit more time to think about the laptop, and I'm not sure if I still want to upgrade to an ssd.

First, the laptop now works pretty reasonably fast even in Balanced mode. I can see the cpu range from 1ghz to 2ghz+ depending on the load, and performance mode just makes it heat up for no point. Evidently, Windows 8 has some kind of cache system that works pretty well, so long as you don't restart the machine. If I do a restart, it takes forever (hyperbole) for the icons to appear on the desktop, and it just feels very slugging. Just shutting down seems to do some sort of hibernate which keeps things very fast.

Right so, back to the upgrade part. I'm not sure if I still want to upgrade to an ssd. It's running fine for what I need now, but, if I see a 128gb samsung hdd that comes with the notebook upgrade kit, I might change my mind. We'll see...

Friday, June 06, 2014

Lenovo Flex 14 "quick" review

So, a month ago I finished up my work contract and didn't bother to ask for an extension. Working for over half a year for mostly 6 days in a row, with several 7 days over 50+ 60+ hrs wears you out. Badly. Since then I've spent the time off exploring Toronto, New York and London.

Now, finally back in the Land Of Shopping Centers (Singapore), where I'm dying of the humidity. I'm mostly recovered, physically, from the work schedule, and have some time off now till my next gig to get myself updated with the latest happenings in Houdini 13, as well as to explore the Houdini Engine.

Houdini Engine at the moment, only runs on Windows, so I decided to break down and get a windows laptop to run stuff. I was suggested running virtualization - but it seems the open gl is software only - plus it might be good to explore windows 8. (cue laughter)

Anyways, one of the infamous "PC Shows" was up the weekend after I arrived. Went down there today to check out all the possible models, and decided on the Lenovo Flex 14.

Several models were tempting my tastebuds:
- AfterShock - A local singapore brand probably has the only "proper" laptop (my words) at the show. Matte IPS screen, Quad Core mobile processor, several drive bays, proper geforce card, not one of those entry level mobile gpus - perfect for the TD messing about at home that wants a super lightweight rig (the 13.3in model weighed in at 2kg!).
- Asus - One of their ultrabooks was highly tempting, with a very good price. IPS screen that was matte!
- Lenovo Flex 14, that I bought. 

I was going to keep my budget under 2k, and I was actually quite shocked at the prices of laptops these days. A i5 laptop that will be perfect for day to day use runs less than SGD700. I was like.... what?! There are mobiles and tablets costing more than that!

The Flex that I bought, has an i7 processor, 840m gpu (4gbs of vram!), 8gb of main ram as well as a 1tb drive (going to swap that out for an ssd soon...). SGD1149.

Why the flex? Because what I want to do - explore houdini engine - is just that, exploration. Not full on work. Which was why I had to give the AfterShock PC models a skip, those are great machines, and if I really needed a working windows machine, they are my top choice, easy.

The Asus Ultrabooks were really nice, the model I wanted priced just around 1.3k.

I had a long think about it (the asus was 1.45kg, vs the flex at 1.9kg, which helps when flying!) and decided to go for the cheaper Flex, since I was not so sure how in depth into Engine I was going. Long story short, I actually picked an even cheaper Lenovo Flex 14, at 999 (this was an i5), and I also opted for a 20 upgrade to 8gb of ram. Fine and dandy, it was a damned good price!

But, when I was collecting my machine, I was told by the manager that I should not have been sold the upgrade, and the ram upgrade was not something that could be done on the spot (I was like, uh oh). He then offered me to step up to the i7 model, which does have 8gb of ram, and the i7. It seemed like a good deal, so I went for that.

The machine I got had some teething issues, booting up, the keyboard didn't work. I was like.... >.>

Thankfully, removing the keyboard driver miraculously allowed the keyboard to function. Oh, I forgot to mention, this laptop has a touchscreen (!!!!!) so if necessary, I could just use the touchscreen on the laptop, not the physical keyboard.

Apart from that, the screen's corners have some white light bleed areas. Maybe they'll go away after awhile, maybe they won't. Since I'm not going to be working on photographs on that screen I'm like... whatever. Which is sad, as its supposedly an IPS screen!

The machine was also rather sluggish out of the box, which was quite vexing, but after putting the power options to performance, yeah, it was running at a good clip. The disk though, is a 1TB platter, which, I'd guess is a 5k rpm (or slower.) Houdini and Unity took *forever* to install, unlike on the mac where they install in seconds. I will break down and buy a SSD...

The speaks on the Flex 14 are quite loud and bassy, which might make for rather enjoyable movies... after i buy a usb dvd drive. These ultrabook wannabes don't have dvd drives built in. I think it does sound rather boomy, compared to my mbp's more mid-ranged focused sound.

Oh, I also have a major gripe with the keyboard! The Return key has a bunch of home/end/pg up/pg dn buttons to the right of it, so it takes a fair bit of effort to not hit those keys when typing! Blargh. If not, the keys are actually pretty darned good. Mine are not backlit sadly, but hey, I'm cheap. I'll bet I will pull my hair out when I'm coding in monodevelop....

What else... Windows 8 of course. My first experience with Windows 8 on my dad's laptop a year ago was a disaster... I had to google how to shut down that infernal machine >.>

Trying it this week on a surface tablet was actually really good, but on a laptop, there is a disconnect of the user experience between desktop applications, and the tiled home screen.

All in all, I think the tiled screen was forcefully shoehorned in. I really don't need it.... but what can I do apart from buying Microsoft and imposing my will on the UX/UI teams? Nah, not my thing. Plus, if I had that kind of money, I'd rather be funding materials engineering and wildlife/ecological conservation. Space Elevators and Space Wolves! But I digress.

So yeah, not a fan of Windows, if you can tell :P

Honestly, I'd love to get a newer generation macbook pro, but
a) The 13in mbps no longer have discrete graphics
b) Only the 15ins have nvidia graphics, and for what I do, I cannot justify the cost.
c) I probably can't justify the cost of a new 13in anyways.

We'll see what this new baby brings :)