Apple Watch Review – Sorry Apple, maybe next time…

After being fairly disappointed by fitness bands and their lack of features, I had recently decided to step up to an Apple Watch.

I’ve had a couple of different Fitbit bands (the Flex and the Force), a Xiaomi Mi Band, a Garmin VivoSmart and most recently a Pebble Time. The Fitbits and Mi Band were primarily fitness and sleep trackers. The VivoSmart added more information on the display as well as including notification alerts (the actual display left much to be desired)… and the Pebble Time was a another step up – adding yet a larger display and downloadable apps into the mix.

First let me say, one of the most important features to me with a smartwatch is the ability to receive vibration notifications when I receive emails, texts, and calls on my iPhone – especially at night when I’m sleeping as I don’t always hear my phone without cranking up the volume. Being in the IT industry that provides 24×7 support, automated alerts is a way of life – it shouldn’t need to impact my wife’s sleep though.

The Pebble Time did a great job for notifications – the vibration was nice and strong, the battery life was also very good for a smart watch (around 7 days). I wasn’t a big fan of the buttons on the sides as they were a little stiff, but also felt a little on the cheap side. While I liked the watch face overall – the bezel is quite large, reducing the usable size of the display.. and the casing is also very thick – it doesn’t fit under most of my dress shirt cuffs. This was probably my biggest issue with the Pebble.

Well, it just so happened that the Apple Watch had a $100 price drop, so I decided to give it a shot – I went with a 42mm Sport in space gray. I’ve always been impressed with Apple’s packaging, attention to detail, and style – Apple sets the bar pretty high. While I do like the beautiful display of the Apple Watch, the case just seems too bulky – especially considering the limited battery life.

Apple Watch Face

Apple Watch Sport 42mm in Space Gray

Watch side

Side view of Apple Watch

 

Watch-iPhone

Thickness Comparison: iPhone 6 Plus with a case is thinner than the Apple Watch

 

While I’m only somewhat disappointed in the battery life, the haptic vibration is a bigger disappointment. Even with the haptic strength set to the max level and the “Prominent Haptic” enabled, it isn’t nearly as noticeable as the Pebble. Definitely not enough to wake me up in the middle of the night. I also find the controls to be a bit on the non-intuitive side, I’m sure as with most things, over time you get used to it. It just doesn’t seem to have the same intuitiveness as other Apple products.

While I do like the added application features and integration with the iPhone, they’re just not enough for me to keep the Apple Watch on my wrist. Maybe the 2nd generation Apple Watch will resolve most of these issues and I’ll give it another go…but as for now, I’m bare-wristed once again.

 

 

How to Convert a Physical Windows XP Machine to a VM (P2V) for Use in VirtualBox

For those asking the question: “Is it possible to convert an existing physical Windows XP workstation using VirtualBox?” Well, the short answer is “No, you can’t convert it DIRECTLY with VirtualBox”. However, it IS possible to convert it to a virtual machine using a free product (VMware Converter) and then use VirtualBox as the host-based virtualization platform. VirtualBox is capable of using vmdk files, the format that VMware converter creates in it’s P2V process.

VirtualBox is an open-source, freely available virtualization product that can run on a variety of different host operating systems: Windows XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, Mac OS X (Intel only), several Linux distros, and Solaris 10 x86 to name a few. Go to http://www.sun.com/virtualbox for more information and downloads. Of course, there are other host-based virtualization products that are available: VMware Server and Fusion, Xen, and Parallels to name a few. However, none of these support as many platforms as VirtualBox – and it’s FREE!

The host computer in this example is an Apple Macbook 2Ghz Core 2 Duo, with 2GB RAM, running Mac OS X 10.5.7 and VirtualBox 3.0.0. The physical machine being P2V’d is an older PC with an AMD 3100+ CPU and 768MB RAM running Windows XP (non-OEM) w/SP3 (please be aware that you still need to adhere to Microsoft’s licensing policies). The physical machine has two PCI cards: an ATI 9600XT graphics adapter and an SMC 10/100 NIC. I also used a portable USB hard drive formatted with a FAT32 filesystem as a destination for the VM conversion.

This is essentially a 2-step process:
1. Convert the physical machine to a VM using VMware Converter
2. Create a new VM in VirtualBox using the VM that was “converted”.

So, let’s get started.

Converting the Physical PC
First, you’ll need to download and install the VMware Converter tool onto the physical machine you want to virtualize (in this case it’s the Windows XP machine). The version used in this example is VMware Converter 3.0.3

Installation of the VMware converter is pretty straightforward, just follow the dialog boxes to complete the install, I used the “Typical” installation option.

Launch VMware Converter:
1. Click the “Continue in Starter Mode” to get to the main converter window
2. Click the “Convert Machine” button located in the bottom half of the window.
– You will now be walked through the converter wizard –
3. Select “Physical Computer” as the Source Type, click next
4. Select “This local machine” as the Source Login, click next
5. The Source Data window allows you to specify which drives to include in the conversion. My machine only has a C: drive. It will list the drive size, as well as the used space. You can modify the drive size in the conversion – you can’t resize the “virtual” drive below the used space. Leave the “Ignore page file and hibernation file” checked (default), click next.

– Now it’s time to choose a destination for the virtual machine –
6. Choose “Other Virtual Machine” as the destination type, click next.
7. Give your virtual machine a name (mine was named xpvm in this example), and a location to store the VM that is going to be created. This is where I directed the location to the external USB hard drive. Select “Workstation 6.x, VMware Fustion 1.x, Player 2.x, ACE 2.x” as the type of virtual machine to create, click next.
8. Select a disk allocation option (I used “Allow virtual disk files to expand”), click next.
9. Select how many the NICs and the type of network you have and if you want them to connect at power on. I used the default which was one NIC, NAT and “Connect at power on” was checked, click next.
10. Customization window – all boxes were left unchecked, click next to begin the conversion process.

At this point, go grab a beverage of choice and a snack, it could take a while depending on the speed of your system and size of your drive(s) to be converted.

After the conversion finished, you need to move this newly created VM over to your host machine. I used an external hard drive as my destination, so I just removed it from the Windows XP box and attached it to the Mac. I then copied the VM to a location on the Mac’s internal hard drive. At this point the external hard drive is no longer needed. This probably all could have been done over an SMB share as well.

Now Let’s Bring the VM into VirtualBox (this assumes that you have already installed VirtualBox on your host machine)
1. Launch Virtual Box, then click the “New” button to create a new virtual machine, click next.
2. Give your virtual machine a name, select the operating system and version, for this example “xpvm” was the VM name, OS is “Microsoft Windows”, and Version is “Windows XP”, click next.
3. Select the amount of RAM you would like to allocate to the VM. In most cases, the amount does not have to equal the amount of RAM that was on the physical machine. This may depend on the amount of RAM available in your host machine. For this scenario, 192MB was used, click next.
4. You will now be asked to set up your hard disk – this is the key step; you are now going to choose “Use an existing hard disk” then click the folder with the green arrow on it. This brings up the “Virtual Media Manager” window.
5. In the “Virtual Media Manager” window, click the “Add” button, this should launch another window – use this to locate the newly created VM, you are looking for a file that ends with a .vmdk extension. Once you locate this, select it and you will return to the “Virtual Hard Disk” window (your vmdk file should be listed in the box, click next.
6. Click the “Finish” button, at this point the VM is created and available inside of VirtualBox; however, you may need to make the following modification for it to boot.
7. In the main VirtualBox window, highlight the VM and click the “Settings” button. Click the System button and check the “Enable IO APIC” option. Click OK to save the settings.
8. In the main VirtualBox window again, click the “Start” button to fire up the VM.

Be aware that you may receive a couple of warning messages regarding devices that may not be on the host machine (floppy drive, serial port, etc), this should not prevent the VM from starting up.

One final note using VirtualBox, install the “Guest Additions” tool within the virtual machine. This is a package that will significantly enhance keyboard, video, and mouse performance inside of the VM.

As with many howto’s, your mileage may vary depending on the host and guest OS you want to virtualize. Good luck and happy virtualizing!

VMware Cookbook (O’Reilly Media)

I’ve spent the last week or so doing a technical review on a book to be released later this year from O’Reilly Media. The book, titled “VMware Cookbook“, is authored by Ryan Troy and Matthew Helmke. Both are heavily involved in the Ubuntu Linux community and have written several articles that have been published in various Linux magazines.

This book is all about VMware’s enterprise products: ESX, ESXi, a bit of Virtual Center (vCenter), as well as content on the newly released vSphere. So those looking for information on VMware’s Workstation, Fusion, or free Server product need not apply.

That being said, this book is a must have for anyone responsible for implementing and/or maintaining an ESX environment. It is chock full of tips, tricks, and how-to’s gleaned from real world experience, most of which provide detailed step-by-step instructions. There are cookbook style “recipes” included for just about major topic within ESX: installation, networking, resource management, security, storage, and a huge section of miscellaneous tips.

What I really enjoy about this book is the mix of recipes using the command line as well as the vCenter client. We’re not talking just a “man page” for a command – these are practical example uses of ESX commands – all in an easy to follow format.

I don’t know about you, but I find it cumbersome to weed through four or five 300-page manuals trying to find information on how to perform a specific task (and worse, having bits and pieces of information scattered throughout all of them). This book pulls some of those pieces together to address real-world scenarios that we as systems administrators and engineers are faced with on a regular and sometimes not-so-regular basis.

Upgraded G1 to Android v1.5

Well, I decided to take the plunge and perform a manual upgrade of my T-Mobile G1 phone to the recently released Android version 1.5 (cupcake). I was excited about some of the new features and didn’t want to wait until T-Mobile eventually pushes it out.

The manual install was pretty straight forward, using these simple steps

The hardest part was actually getting the update zip file to the microSD card on the G1! I was unable to get my Windows XP machine to properly see the SD card as a mounted drive via USB connection. So….I opted to go a different route. I ended up installing an FTP client application from the Android Market called “AndFTP”. The FTP app had no problems directing downloads to the SD card, so I connected the G1 to my WiFi network and pulled the nearly 50MB down file from the Windows box running an FTP server.

Once I had the file downloaded, it took about 5 minutes or so to do the upgrade, which went without a hitch.

The first thing I decided to check out was the camera. It was touted as being much faster taking pictures – and from my handful of tests, it was quite a bit faster. Unfortunately, the quality of the pictures still seem about the same – pretty poor. I was hoping for some options for manual adjustments, but no such luck. On the plus side, they did manage to include a “soft” shutter button on the touch screen, this can used to snap a picture instead of pressing down the button on the side of the phone – for me, this button was generally hard to press and hold down without causing camera shake resulting in blurry pictures. There are a couple of samples below.

The G1 also has the ability to capture video now. My initial video capture proved to be a bit choppy, but hey, it’s better than nothing.

Now on to my favorite two features: the soft keyboard and automatic screen orientation. The automatic screen orientation feature is not turned on by default. You have to go into Settings->Sound and Display-> Orientation and turn it on. I didn’t think it worked at first, however I quickly figured out that it doesn’t work on the home screen (or the dialer and contacts apps either). It seems to work just fine with all of the other apps I’ve tried.

So, what good is automatically switching to a landscape mode without sliding out the keyboard? That’s where the soft keyboard comes into play. Basically, if you tap your finger or press the trackball in a text box, a soft keyboard appears on the bottom of the screen. This makes it much easier for one-handed texting episodes.

Other than that, I haven’t had the chance to spend a whole lot of time checking out new features. I did notice that the GPS seems to update my location quicker than before and scrolling through all of my apps seems to be much more responsive and smooth.

So far so good, I’m impressed with the new features of the Android 1.5 update and hope Google keeps them coming.

Android 1.5 update for the T-Mobile G1

I’ve had my T-Mobile G1 “Google” phone since it’s initial release back in October 2008.  Since then, I have received a couple of updates but nothing of real importance from my point of view.  Overall I’ve been fairly happy with the phone so far, however, there are a few things that have been on my wish list (besides T-mobile 3g coverage in my area, which still isn’t available).

After living with this phone for over 6 months now, one of my biggest complaints is the camera – granted, I don’t buy a phone for the built-in camera.  However, if a company is willing to include one, it should at least be able to perform somewhat reasonable.  The G1’s picture taking ability is average at best.  It boasts a 3.2mp camera with autofocus, but no manual adjustment settings.  The slightest bit of movement with the camera or within the scene will pretty much render the picture a useless blur.  After having an iPhone, I would say from a realistic use perspective, the iPhone takes much better pictures.

Well, I’m hoping that’s all about to change.  Google has released a new version of Android – 1.5.  There is a pretty big list of new features and improvements.  A couple of the new features that I’ve been anticipating:

  • An on-screen “soft” keyboard.  There are many times when I don’t want to slide out the keyboard for a quick sms, so this will be a huge benefit.
  • Video recording.  It will be very interesting to see how well this works, considering it’s using the  built-in camera that has proved to be lacking thus far.
  • Batch actions on Gmail messages.  There have been many times where I’ve wanted to delete or label multiple messages, but have to go through the process one message at a time.

As for performance improvements, the following were listed having been improved:

  • Faster Camera start-up and image capture
  • Much faster acquisition of GPS location
  • Smoother page scrolling in Browser
  • Speedier GMail conversation list scrolling

Now I’m just debating whether to manually update my phone this weekend or wait for T-mobile to push it down sometime in the next couple weeks.  It would be nice if T-mobile allowed you to pull down the update rather than pushing it down to customers…maybe when version 2.0 rolls around.

Switch to fivebean web hosting

I recently switched my web hosting provider from godaddy to a company called fivebean – an inexpensive, full featured web hosting provider.   I was getting rather tired of godaddy’s very busy, clunky interface – and the performance was atrocious.

I signed up with fivebean’s “mini” plan which gives me 5GB of storage and 50GB of bandwidth with up to 5 domains. They’re running a sweet promotion right now – 50% off of their hosting packages. The mini package is only $17.50 a year right now – that comes out to less than $1.50 a month! That’s just insane!

The process of switching over from godaddy to fivebean was a piece of cake. The sign-up was quick and painless and I was up and running in no time. The hardest part was pulling down my content from godaddy.

Once I uploaded my content to fivebean’s server, it was just a matter of getting a couple of MySQL databases established for my apps and then switching over my DNS servers.

One of the coolest things these guys offer is VPS (virtual private server) hosting packages. I really don’t have a need for this right now, but maybe in the near future. You basically get an entire virtual machine to yourself to run one of a variety of Linux distros. This gives you the ultimate in flexibility. Right now they offer 3 VPS packages, pricing is essentially based on the amount of RAM, storage, and bandwidth.

I can’t begin to express how happy I am to have switched to this new hosting provider. The management interface is clean and quick, my pages are popping up lightning fast, and best of all….the price is nearly 70% LESS than my previous hosting provider.

For those of you looking for a new web hosting company, you should seriously consider giving fivebean a shot – and take advantage of the killer promo packages.  And did I mention this promo isn’t just an introductory price for a few months or a year or two?  It’s for life!