posts from the life professional

Remembering Yahoo

I first got to play with NCSA Mosaic on a Series 700 workstation running hp-ux back in 1993.  A couple of years later, we were using mostly Netscape on Windows 95 , on a Pentium based HP Vectra PC.

And it was on these machines that I first got to go gaga over what Yahoo offered – an easier way to get to content I had previously used text-based usenet readers or a compuserve dial-up to access. Yahoo back then was an online directory that revealed wonders, a guide to what was new and cool on the web…..   more than just a yellow pages for the internet.

Over the years, yahoo would swallow up a huge number of web properties, acquire lots of services, get deep into advertising, fail to buy Google, resist a buyout by Microsoft, and now end up in the sorry state of having most of it’s value to investors being in it’s stake in Alibaba.


One of the better pieces I’ve read lately about Yahoo fall from grace:
Techcrunch: Platform change, the Yahoo-slayer


Desktop Down

My faithful i3 based minitower which has done double duty as a linux workstation and a file server for the home has finally given up it’s ghost.

It simply would not power on last night.  No display at all, and after about 20 seconds, the fans ran up to full speed, making a frighteningly loud sound.

After removing all the plugs & components and the CMOS battery, leaving it overnight, and then putting just the minimum back in, I was greeted by 4 beeps everytime I plugged the power cable into the PC.

That settles it.  Most likely cause is a bad power supply.

The good thing about using an old PC (10 years old by now) with very standard hardware, together with a very user friendly distribution (Mint Linux in my case) is that when the hardware fails, I can literally just move the hard disks to my replacement less old minitower (5 years old) which had been a test machine, and everything boots up working fine.  Drive mounting, shares, lan connection – it all worked beautifully.  All the drivers needed for the replacement PC were already in the Linux Mint installation.

So I am back online with my workstation/server again, and can take my time to troubleshoot and fix the old machine.

Standard hardware modules.  Unexciting for the techie who needs to be at the leading edge, but quite frankly, there is nothing better for swap and play.



Mary Meeker’s May 29th Presentation

Mary Meeker makes a good point about the shift of content flow; from being downloaded into smartphones from PCs and the cloud, to now originating on the phone and being sent up to the cloud.

Just explored the new photo capabilities in the Android Google+ app, and the new photo enhancements in  This is awesome stuff, and I now realize why Yahoo recently announced that they would provide 1TB of storage space free for Flickr users.  Flickr has nothing to compare with the new consumer type back-end-server type capabilities google now boasts of.

Photo taking from smartphones (as opposed to dedicated cameras) by “ordinary” human users is just going to keep ramping up massively.  Next will come videos, audio recordings.  Then the trick will be how to make all these extremely searchable.

Working in Win8–making it behave like Win7 Part 2

Continuing on the theme of making Win8 behave more like Win7 (so that you can get the benefits of Win8 without having to make significant changes to the way you’re used to interacting with your applications), this post features two apps that give you let you find and launch your apps without having to visit the Win8 start page (the one with the rectangle and square tiles) or type <Window Key>+Q to get to Windows 8’s app search page.

What if you wanted a “partial” windows 8 user experience?

You spend most of your time in the desktop mode because that’s where your chosen  apps for work or play reside, but you would still like to slowly ease into using Win8 full screen apps, so that you’ll be familiar and comfortable with them when a really good app comes along. 

In that case, the quick launch bar will serve for the 5% of apps you use 95% of the time, and populating the quick launch bar is the topic of this earlier post.

How about the less used but occasionally accessed apps that you still want easy access to from within win8’s desktop mode? 

One solution might be to use HP Quick Launch.  This is a free utility that you can download from’s support & drivers section

HP’s own description goes thus: 

HP Quick Start provides new Windows 8 users, who are used to the traditional Start Menu, with convenient accessibility to launch apps, files, and programs from the classic desktop.

Once installed, Quickstart places an icon on your taskbar on the left most end, siting itself roughly where the Win7 start button was.  Click on this, and a menu comes up giving you the familiar “all programs” view from Win7, but note that all you get are the apps that run in desktop mode.  Win8 apps will not appear in the list.


In the screen grab above, the icons in the “Favourites” pane to the right were put there by me.  One easily gets desktop apps to show up in the Favourites pane by finding them on the left pane (using the search box at the base of the pane is a good way), and then simply dragging the selected app icon to the right. 


In the image above, I’ve dragged the Photoshop icon across to the right, and released it there so that Photoshop shows up as a favourite.

With this scheme, I have my top accessed desktop apps in the taskbar, my less but still occasionally accessed apps in the Quicklaunch favourites pane (just a click away), and the Start Button or <Windows Key>+Q to locate Win8 full screen apps. 

What if you wanted NOTHING to do with the Windows 8 user experience? 

Then Classic Shell is just the utility for you.  I was surprised at how completely this program, with no changing of the default settings, made my Win8 system behave like Win7.

  • With Classic Shell and using only the program defaults, my PC boots DIRECTLY into the desktop screen, bypassing the Win8 Start Page completely.
  • When I press the <Windows Key>, something like the start button menu from the Win7/vista days pops up from the bottom left of my screen, instead of bouncing me into the Win8 Start Page.
  • I can even shutdown the PC using the familiar <Start Button> click followed by selecting the “shutdown” command. 

Classic Shell is available from, completely FOC, and worth a look if you’re serious about avoiding the Win8 UI.

Here are some screenshots (the classic shell icon is right where the start button would be if this was a Win 7 system):





Notice in this last screen grab above – Classic Shell will list and launch Win 8 full screen apps for you.

I occasionally use Skydrive and Evernote which are full Win8 apps, and getting to them via this menu might be easier than surveying a start page full of animated tiles split out across several tile groups. 

Classic Shell has many settings that you can select from to make it behave just so for you.  Just look at all those option tabs!


Working in Win8–making it behave like Win7 Part 1

In my previous post, I wrote about taking advantage of the latest hardware in all-in-one touch based desktops, and running these with Win7.  This is what I have done for my “home” PC. 

In this and subsequent posts, I’ll be writing about using Win8 on my “work” laptop, nicely configured to let me work as closely as possible to how I used to work with Win7.  This way, I get the benefits of Win8 (cool new hardware, fast to start, clean flat look to the UI) without having to change too much of how I interact with my files and applications.  And when Win8 apps reach the level I’m satisfied with, I can easily make the move from the old style “desktop” apps to full screen Win8 apps.

I call this my “Best of Both Worlds Approach”

Pin commonly accessed apps to the desktop taskbar

Begin by making a list of the 10 “desktop” (ie NON-Windows 8) applications you will most often use. 

Then remove Microsoft Office apps (apart from outlook) from that list, because you can easily create new documents by right clicking on an empty space on the windows desktop and selecting “new”.

Your list will probably include apps in the following categories:



Browser Chrome (Google)
eMail Outlook (Microsoft) or Thunderbird (Mozilla)
PDF file reader Acrobat Reader (Adobe)
Music iTunes (Apple)
Video/DVD VLC (VideoLan)
Image Viewer Windows Photo Viewer (Microsoft)
Photo Editor Photoshop Elements (Adobe)
Screen Capture Snipping Tool (Microsoft)
Chat Live Messenger (Microsoft)
Calculator Calculator (Microsoft)


I like having links to my commonly used apps on the taskbar in my Win8 desktop.

The easiest way to get them there is to press “Windows Key”+Q, which brings you to the application search screen, then type in enough letters of the name of the app you want until it appears in the listing on the left of the screen.

Pin 2 Taskbar 1

Right click the selected app, and a list of actions appears on the bottom edge of your screen.  Click on the icon for “Pin to Taskbar”.

Pin 2 Taskbar 2

Repeat these steps for the other applications on your list, and you’ll have a nicely populated taskbar in your windows desktop.

Tell Win7 what app to launch when you double-click an icon

I dislike reading an email in Outlook in the desktop view, then clicking on an image attachment or PDF attachment, and finding myself bounced out to the full screen view. I want these files closed before I return to my email, and the gesture for this on a touch machine, or using a mouse, is not a good use of my time. (See the keyboard shortcut at the end of this post for a better solution).  I would much rather have such files (whether as attachments or in list in an explorer window) open in a window alongside my outlook inbox and message windows. 


I’ve written previously that I like my PDF reader lightweight and fast.  My choice is Sumatra PDF.  For creation, editing, marking up of PDF files, I use Adobe Acrobat X.

I probably read 20 PDFs for every 1 PDF that I mark up.  So it makes sense for me to set up Sumatra PDF as the default app to open when I double click on a PDF in an email message or an explorer folder.

Right click on a PDF file, and select “Open with”, then “Choose default program….”



I click on “SumatraPDF” (you click on the application of your choice – perhaps Acrobat Reader if that’s what you want to use).  Make sure the check box is ticked.

I mentioned earlier that for editing of PDF files, I use Acrobat X.  In an editing case, when I right click on the PDF file, I select “Open with” and then click on the line for that application. 


PDF files come with just one type of extension:  “PDF”

With images, there are lots more formats/extensions to choose from.  JPG, GIF, PNG, TIF are the common image type extensions.  You need to set up the default application to open images as many times as you have image file extensions. 

I like the default Windows Photo Viewer that shipped with Win7.  The good news is that it’s still present in Win8.  It’s just not the default app for opening common image formats since Microsoft wants to have customers use full screen Win8 apps as much as possible.

We change that by using the same procedure for PDF, the only difference being that we select the “Windows Photo Viewer” line item instead.



In the images above, I set the default app to open PNG files to be “Windows Photo Viewer”.  I need to repeat the process for JPG, GIF and other image file types I also want to have open in my choice of default image viewer.


You’ve probably got the hang of setting the default app to open files with a particular extension by now.  So for videos, just know that the common formats are WMV, AVI, MP4, MOV, M4V…..

I use VLC as it handles them all, and it does the job very well. 

Convenient Keyboard Shortcuts

A laptop I’ve been playing with has a synaptics touchpad with a Win8 driver that supports gestures that bring up the charms menu, lower/upper screen edge menus and slide from left edge to right to switch between full screen apps. 

It’s awkward, to say the least.  I have not mastered the combination of trajectory, speed, pressure and pauses to get it to work reliably.  A proper standalone touchpad accessory might do the job better, and I’m seriously considering buying one in the coming months.  But with things as they are, I depend on a few common keyboard shortcuts to help me stay away from the Start Page as much as possible, and when I HAVE to be there, not miss the fact that my laptop does not have a touchscreen.

Here’s my list for this week:

Alt+F4 = close current application (My Favourite since starting to use Win8!)

Windows+X = Get a list of System Tools

Windows+C = Charms Bar

Windows+P = External Display options (extend, duplicate, one screen only)

That’s it for this episode.  In the next posts, I’ll write about two Start “button” retrofit utilities I’m trying out now.

I’m staying with Win7 for now–tweaks for a touch based all-in-one desktop

Windows 8 launched to great fanfare and a huge advertising campaign over the last few days.  I’ve been actively using the OS since the developer preview was released to the public in Sep 11, and appreciate the improved performance and integration with web based email, calendar, photo and storage accounts.  But I’m still spending the bulk of my PC work time in the desktop environment.  The Win8 full screen apps just don’t cut it for me – whether for something simple like viewing an image attachment in email, or reading through a multi-page PDF.  I’ve been scouring the App Store catalogue over the past few days, where new updates to Microsoft’s apps have been appearing with a frenzy.  I’m still not seeing the apps that would make me shell out for the upgrade for my home PC, where 80% of the work I do is content consumption and 20% is content creation.


I am, however, eyeing the crop of new touch-based AIO desktops that are coming on sale now that Win8 is launched.  In my mind, I want to have the 23” or larger LED screen, touch based convenience, neat form factor (just 1 cable for power) AND WINDOWS 7 on it.  Branded PCs will probably provide Win7 drivers on the manufacturer websites for download – though you may want to check before you buy. 

Yes, I will be under-utilizing the 10 point touch capability Win8 provides.  But I will have a license for Win8 for the time when the apps I need rise to the capability and usability standards I am accustomed to on Win7. 

Even after the tweaks I share below, some things are still going to be awkward/difficult applying touch to a win7 application control designed to be activated by a mouse. The tabs on Google Chrome for example. It’s easy to miss, and I have to stab several times at the small “x” mark to close the tab. But the trade-off is worthwhile if touch works for 80% of the work I intend for the PC – in my case, content consumption (reading PDFs, web browsing, photos and music), and I’ll happily live with awkwardness for the remaining 20%.

It’s probably not too late to find a retail copy of Win7 home premium or pro if you head out to your local computer mall.  If you decide to do what I’m doing – shopping for a nice new AIO desktop preloaded with Win8 and setting up Win7 on top of that, read on:

For this exercise, I’m using a 23” all-in-one touch based desktop PC.
The optimizations below are what work best for me.  
You may want to make adjustments based on your screen size and viewing preferences (the the thickness of your fingers!)

Controls and Buttons and Menus:
Make window controls (close, maximise, minimise) and browser tabs and bookmark shortcuts larger so that they are easier to hit with precision.  Menu text will also be larger, making these easier to touch on.

     Start > Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Display > Medium – 125%

This will require logging off and logging on again, so make sure you have all your work saved before you log off.

PDF Viewer:
I wanted something that would easily show me 2 pages at a time, render quickly, and support pinch to shrink/zoom, and eventually settled for SumatraPDF.  It’s a small download and the price is right (free).  I still keep Acrobat on my system for creation and editing of PDFs, but viewing is my primary activity, so Sumatra is my default app for opening PDF files. 

Sumatra does not set itself up as the default app so to change this, you need to right click a PDF, select “Open with”, then “Choose Default Program”.

Click on the SumatraPDF icon, ensure the checkbox labelled “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file” is selected, and touch on OK. 

Changing the default icon size when you open an explorer window
By default, Win7 displays small icons, which are difficult to “double click” using your finger.  It’s much easier when the target is large.

To set “large icons” as default, open an explorer window, click on the button to change icon size to what works best for you.  Hit the “alt” key.  This brings up the text menus, and select

     Tools > Folder Options > View Tab > Apply to Folders

After this configuration change, everytime you open an explorer window, the icons will be of this size. 

Is doubleclicking difficult?  Change to singleclick behaviour
Open an Explorer window.  Hit the “alt” key.  This brings up the text menus, and select

     Tools > Folder Options > General Tab > select the radio button labelled “Single-click to open an item (point to select) 

Comic Readers
I’ve decided to use Sumatra as my comic reader because of how well it uses multitouch. (pinch and spread your fingers to zoom out or in)

In the Settings > Options window, I’ve set the default view as “Book View”

  • To resize, pinch and spread.
  • To switch to full screen mode, just tap 2 fingers to the screen. 
  • A single tap on the screen advances the page.
  • To go to the next or previous page, swipe across the screen using 2 fingers.

On a touch based PC, I want to do as little typing as possible, so having bookmarks set up that one can just tap on to load regularly visited webpages makes a lot of sense.

My browser of choice is Chrome, and I’m making good use of the bookmarks bar for shortcuts (I have the 10% of websites I view 90% of the time placed there for easy access). When I open a new tab, Chrome shows me large thumbnails of my recently visited pages, and these are very comfortable to touch on for launching pages.

Music Player
I’m in the process of extracting FLAC audio tracks from my CD Collection.  For the time being, I’m using VLC as my music player as iTunes and WMP do not support FLAC.  I am on the look out for a FLAC music player with controls and listings of music tracks that are large enough to tap on accurately.  Foobar2000, WinAmp and MediaMonkey in their uncustomised state seem more suited for mouse use than stubby fingers. 

Video Player
VLC is doing fine for me for now.  I watch far less video than I read websites and PDFs and listen to FLACs, so I’m not on the lookout for something better.   

Test Driving Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.1

I’ve just posted a new page on installing and using UNR (Ubuntu Netbook Remix) 9.1 on a HP Mini Vivienne Tam edition.

As the name suggests, UNR is designed to run on netbooks, accounting for the typically smaller screen sizes and less powerful CPUs than full featured notebooks.  You can read more about UNR at Canonical’s page here.

I’m impressed with UNR’s speed and interface design.  Were I to have Vista or even Win7 (which is far better performing than Vista), I would quickly disable unneeded services and visual effects in order to have a lean and snappy OS.  Ubuntu has done the tuning work for me with UNR – and with large tabs and icons, makes for an easy navigation and launching experience.  The Hp Mini’s screen is lovely – web pages appear sharp, bright and clear.  Despite the comparatively small vertical resolution (600 pixels), reading PDFs or email did not bring about the rapid onset of eyestrain.  Such reading was actually quite comfortable.

The new page post is part of a series – I’ve been documenting setup instructions for previous versions of Ubuntu (I never got round to documenting my experiences with SUSE or Mint or Jolicloud because I never fell in love enough with these OSes to use them for more than a month) on HP Laptops, and this latest post has the fewest “extra” setup steps to take once the install program has rebooted the machine into Ubuntu for the first time.

I still do have preferences that call for some slight tweaks and application installs, but these are simple in comparison with the very early days of simply getting wireless adaptor drivers loaded, or to get Google Toolbar bookmarks appearing properly in Firefox.

Ubuntu, with it’s Karmic Koala release has come a long way, and UNR is highly usable and highly recommended if you have an Atom based netbook and want decent performance and security from it.

If reading this far has you wanting to read the page post, click here.

Dashboard – new and old

It’s easy to have more user accounts for various web services and sites than one can readily recall and easily manage.  For the most part, I’ve been relying on to keep a record of my accounts, user names and passwords.  It’s a simple enough system, and has proven extremely useful in recalling the login & password info for  frequent flyer programs, banking sites, FTP sites, Forum memberships,  for my router, PC BIOS setup screens, online brokers, social networking sites, blog sites ……

Google has now made it so much easier to manage and get a high-level view of the multiple services of theirs that I’ve subscribed to.  The service is called Google Dashboard, and though not complete (Google Maps, for example, is not integrated yet) provides oodles of information about my many properties in the googleverse.

There was another product that had the name Dashboard that came out ages ago.

Back in the days of Win3.1 (around 1993), HP started preinstalling on their Vectra Desktop PCs a program called HP Dashboard.  This was a task bar based application launcher.  It was very neat, and very useful – it beat making one’s way through Microsoft’s Program Manager windows to hunt down the application file one wanted to launch.  These were the days where one opened the program before opening the data file from within.  HP’s New Wave was already out then, offering conveniences that were unique then, but that we take for granted today in the world of post Win9x and OSX, but in comparison, Dashboard had a much lower resource footprint and didn’t mask off Windows the way NewWave did.   Those were also the days where one had to be a bit of a wizard at loading device drivers into spare slots of RAM between 640K and 1M, so that there’d be enough free RAM in the precious space up to 640K for apps to run in.  Here’s a link to more information and links about HP Dashboard.  Dashboard was later sold to Starfish Software, which was started by Philippe Khan of Borland fame.  Nokia now owns the rights to Starfish’s technology.

The Electric Fan – refreshing new design

James Dyson and his bladeless fan:

Electric Fans have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Some of the homes I stayed in had really ancient looking models hanging off the ceiling – solid stainless steel, rounded housings and short blades.  In the 70s, we got to try the then new & locally-made ceiling fans that had longer shafts and longer, slimmer blades – which provide more breeze, but also tended to wobble a lot.

I have a vivid memory of being 10, sitting in a Malayan Railway train carriage (travelling between Kuala Lumpur and Taiping), and watching the ceiling mounted fans rolling about in a circle.  A simple gear and strip of metal fixed at one end translated the spinning motion of the blades around the shaft into a movement of the whole fan so that it served to cool a larger part of the carriage – on a time share basis.  All one had to do was wait.  The fans rattled a lot – and were audible even over the steady clakety clakety sound track coming from beneath.

The biggest fans I got to see close up were those mounted on commercial aircraft engines.  Massive affairs, but still running on the same principles as the humble ceiling and standing fans I grew up with.  Engine/Motor spins shaft.  Shaft spins blades.  Blades push air.  Heat and humidity are defeated and airplanes hurtle through the atmosphere.

I’m a fan.

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