Jan 272007

While in Canada I had a friend pick up a new purchase for me. I’d been wanting to buy a laptop for a long time, but never was satisfied with the combinations available out there. My prospects were the Sony TX series, the Fujitsu 1505D, or a Panasonic Toughbook. Ultimately they all seemed to have a weakness in one area or another, and didn’t hit all of my (unreasonable) check marks:

1) less than 3 pounds
2) over 1024×768 resolution
3) over 3 hours of battery
4) up to 2gb of ram
5) decent CPU for occasional bridge & photoshop
6) decent sized keyboard

I was about to plunk down some money for the Sony TX series, and just live with the RAM and CPU limitation, but then I stumbled on a forum link to the Toshiba Portege R300. It seemed to meet all of my requirements. Except for one thing, it wasn’t for sale in the USA. It was, however, for sale in Canada. I thought about it, then had a friend order it online.

It was all a bit nerve wracking, as I had yet to find decent high resolution photos of the laptop, and there were no reviews online. But since all the previous versions of the Portege R series had been reviewed so well, I decided to take the risk. I’m happy I did. Aside from some minor complaints, I love the machine.

– Very portable: 2.65 lbs, 9.4 by 7.7 inches and 1 to 1.4 inches thick
– Great battery life – up to 6 hours, around 4.5 hours on full power, brightness, and wifi
– 1280×800 12.1″ LCD screen, good color & no bad pixels
– Powerful: 1.2Ghz Dual Core cpu, 1GB RAM, expandable to 4GB RAM
– Lots of connections – A/B/G Wireless, LAN, Modem, 3 USB, VGA, SD, CF Card, PCIMCA, headphones & mic
– Cool and quiet. Unlike some other laptops, this doesn’t seem to roast your lap. Fan is quiet when it actually runs.
– All kinds of laptop and hard drive protection (software & hardware), spill resistant (and full sized) keyboard,
decent trackpad instead of nub, finger print reader & Trusted Platform Module, 3 year international warranty.

– No optical drive. Not really a con for me.. I never use them.
– No bluetooth. The motherboard seems to have the chip for it, but the antennae is not built in – or vise versa. Tiny USB plugs are available, so not a huge deal.
– Position of the `/~ key took some getting used to, I was usually expecting the alt key right next to the keyboard.
– Power brick is not as light and streamlined as it could be. It all seems a bit silly to lug around a power brick that is almost 1/3rd the size of the tiny laptop. Brick is rated for 75W, but I’ve yet to see the laptop pull more than 45W.
– CF card reader is slow – around 1mb/second.
– The Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG chip used seems to be picky with a couple APs, or vice versa. It is a mini PCI-E slot, so I could replace with with an atheros, but I’ve got no clue if they have locked down the available wireless cards – IBM has.
– Slight LCD back-light bleed on full brightness


It has been used in the back seat of a van in -20 weather, fold down tables on air & train, and quite a few times in bed. I haven’t been gentle with it, but it seems to be holding up nicely. Ultimately it is meeting my main need perfectly – a compact machine that I can use for writing or photo editing on the road.

Jan 262007

I’ve owned a few routers in my day, but have never really been happy with any of them. Coming from a tech background they always seemed to be dumbed down and complicated in the worst ways. All that has been changing though. Thanks to Linksys being forced to release the code for their routers due to the GPL, people have been able to take that and write some fabulous code.

My favorite so far is the Tomato Firmware. It is lean, fast, and full of fantastic features. The QoS works wonderfully to prioritize specific network traffic. The interface and graphs powered by ajax are clean and informative. The router even has a site survey to see which wireless channels have the most traffic.

If you are comfortable flashing your Linksys router, I highly recommend the Tomato firmware.

Jan 252007

First up, some interesting newsy links:
Blood Oil – This is a really great story on a very bad situation, highly recommended. “Could a bunch of Nigerian militants in speedboats bring about a U.S. recession? Blowing up facilities and taking hostages, they are wreaking havoc on the oil production of America’s fifth-largest supplier. Deep in the Niger-delta swamps, the author meets the nightmarish result of four decades of corruption.”

Passport applicants find they’re not CanadianMany applying for a Canadian passport have been informed their chance to remain a citizen expired years ago because of an obscure provision in the Citizenship Act, a little-known law that applied between 1947 and 1977.

Now for some photography links:
How Do You Photograph the Amish? Let Us Count the Ways – CJR Daily has a long look at the ethics and methods of photographing people that don’t want to be photographed.

Microsoft Photo Info – Microsoft has released a decent little tool for editing photo metadata.

Photos galleries I’ve recently enjoyed:
Collection of historic Japanese photos
Collection of historic photos from the Library of Congress
Maunsell Army Sea Forts
Chernobyl photos & book
Urban exploration photos in NYC
Urban exploration & photos in the 1906 hydro tunnels behind Niagara Falls

Jan 212007

Anna and I flew into San Jose on boxing day (Dec 26th) and home from Portland on New Years day. In between those dates we had a nice little drive up the coast on the 1 and 101 highways.

When we landed in San Jose the wind was wailing. The rental car valet was huddled in his little hut, which was being blasted by the rain. We had rented a compact, but there was a full size car within dash distance of the hut. “Just take that one”, he said through the porthole of his hood pulled tight. Not wanting to make the poor guy stumble out into the parking maze, we agreed. We were now the proud renters of a brand new Chevy Malibu. Not quite as much of a tank as other mid sized cars, but it still only managed 25mpg. At least the ride was pretty smooth. Detroit, when are you going to get your shit together? Where the hell is my volt?

We spent that night and the next morning visiting with the Caps in Milpitas. The wind managed to knock out power a few times, but everything came back on in time for breakfast. After that it was up to SoMa to meet Dave for lunch. We managed to blow a few hours gabbing away, the sign of a good visit.

The delay meant we were leaving town just at sun down, so we managed to see the final golden rays light up the city from across the Golden Gate. Thankfully we made it over the bridge before a car on fire shut down all lanes for an hour or two. Our plan was to drive to Fort Bragg that night. Fortunately we tuned into a local nerd radio show where callers were saying the coast still had no power. We managed to get a place in Willets for the night instead.

That morning I used my health care card to scrape the frost from the car windows. Brought back memories. Our drive to the coast was brilliant. The sun slowly rose, first making the frost covered landscape glow and twinkle, then lush. We headed down to Jug Handle State Reserve and hiked the beach trail, then followed it inland to the pygmy forest. We stumbled on a guy harvesting mushrooms in the park. He tried to act nonchalant, then left for less trafficked areas. The path is not extremely well marked, so there were a few moments of faith. We ran into a biologist doing a water beetle study in the pygmy forest and had an interesting chat. After that it was up the coast to Fort Bragg’s glass beach. We wandered around then continued our drive up the coast through Mendocino and the redwoods of Humboldt county.

After an overnight stay in Arcata, we headed to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood Park. I had wanted to check out Fern Canyon and some other spots, but there were trees down on the roads from the high winds. The grove walk was great though. Until we left at about 10 am, we were the only ones in that entire section of the park.

We continued up through the coast, stopping to see Battery Point in Crescent City. From there we continued along the coast into Oregon. It started to change from a rocky coast to sand and rock islands with the occasional dune. We ended the day at sunset in Shores Acres State Park (Coos Bay). Watching the sun go down and whale watching was a nice end to the day. We highly recommend the Blue Heron Bistro in Coos Bay for dinner. The owner/operator was a bit frantic & grumpy, but the food was amazing.

The next morning we wandered around the trees and dunes north of the bay. I abandoned poor Anna and set out in search of the New Carissa shipwreck. I eventually found it, but it took a hell of a lot of dune climbing. When I finally got within site of the wreck, I found my path was blocked by marsh and mini-lakes anyway. The rest of the day we continued up the coast stopping at lighthouses, amazing views, and sleepy towns.

We headed inland to Portland at Lincoln, passing through the wine country in the dark to our destination. We arrived in Troutdale and had a great time celebrating New Years at Edgefield and visiting the waterfalls.

It was a great trip. The west coast feels like you could explore for years and still not see it all.