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Lenovo Thinkpad “Fn” key mystery

On my company provided laptop that I use for work, I frequently use the Fn-“mute” and Fn-“Radio” button combinations, to turn on/off audio and the WiFi radio, respectively. They are so quick and convenient that any other way to do the same feels extremely cumbersome.

For some strange reason, I found that those key combinations were doing something else — weird stuff like bring up some Google Chrome options, and things like that. It was frustrating until I discovered how to fix that.

The Lenovo’s have the Fn-lock (FnLk) feature that can enable or disable the special Fn key functions. You just need to use Fn-Esc key combination to toggle the functions on or off. I was greatly relieved once I found that!

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Drupal as a Data Organizer on Your Personal Computer

Do you have have many bits and pieces of data on your computer that you would like to store in an easy-to-use, searchable database? Have you been using text files, URL bookmarks, Post-its, etc., to try and keep things handy? How about Microsoft Access, or other database applications?

I have to admit that I have used a combination of all those over the years. Yet, I end up spending a lot of time looking for things on my PC. I have been looking for some kind of simple database application where you can keep pieces of information related to my “work in progress” in a way that I can find things quickly.

A Content Management System (CMS) that you can easily install and customize might do the trick. I have tried using Drupal, one of the widely-used open-source CMS on a Windows PC as well as a MacBook and have been quite happy with it.

I agree it sounds complicated, and I admit, I thought so too. I had used Drupal to organize project documentation at work, and also to set up a web portal before. Drupal is a Swiss Army Knife among the CMS, and that’s what I liked most about it. It lets you create many types of ‘content’ – basic pages, articles, books, blogs, forums, and many other highly customized types. So if you just need a simple searchable Post-it application, you can just use the basic pages. If you are working on a research paper, the article content type might be your perfect drawing board. And there is book type if you are working on a book — you can build your book with chapters, etc. Blog type is great to create a personal journal on your PC. Forum is really a more specialized form of the blog, and it very handy to organize your content under different headings.

All the above types can have ‘tags’ which give you a very easy way to search. There is also the more advanced ‘taxonomy’ feature that Drupal is famous for.

So, if there is a simple way to install Drupal on your PC or your Mac, you could take advantage of all these great features and build your personal database that is literally at your fingertips.

Drupal is a web-based application, So you would need a web-server running. Apache is the most common option for this. Most CMS including Drupal store the content in a database. For that you could use MySql, or just use the Sqlite database that just stores everything in a file.

How easy or difficult is it to install an Apache server and MySql on a PC or Mac? Thankfully, there are some incredibly easy to use open-source packages that you can use: XAMPP for Windows, and MAMP for Mac are really simple to download and install. In a few minutes, you can have a web-server and if you prefer, a database server running on your PC.

One you get your web-server running, you can install Drupal in a few more minutes, and you have all power of a very versatile CMS on your personal computer!

I have setup Drupal on my Windows based work laptop, as well as my personal MacBook, and it has proved incredibly useful. In fact, the draft of this blog post was created as a forum post on Drupal on my MacBook. I wrote this in one sitting, but there are several other posts that I am working on, and they will all stay as work-in-progress posts on Drupal on my Mac. I am also writing some technical articles that I expect would take a few weeks to complete, and I am developing them on Drupal on my Mac as ‘articles’.

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Kickstarter Project: Crazy Circuits: LEGO™ Compatible Modular Electronics

Crazy Circuits: LEGO™ Compatible Modular Electronics

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Chevy Volt – What I Like About It

I decided to lease a Volt after having driven a Nissan LEAF for about 2 years. I could have leased another LEAF at a discount as a repeat customer, but the Volt had a strong case for me to consider.

The LEAF gave me 70-80 miles on a full charge, depending on the season; winter months lower battery range, and 70+ miles is what I could drive on a full charge on cold days. The Volt promises only about 40 miles on a full charge, but it can run on gas. When the battery runs low, the gasoline generator kicks in, and produces electricity that the car runs on. A full tank of gas is about 9.3 gallons, and the MPG is about 35-40 miles on the Volt. So with a fully charged battery, and  a full tank of gas, you get a range of about 370 miles or so, which is a pretty long distance to drive.

So if your typical daily commute is less than 40 miles, then you can drive on the battery through the week. On days when you need to drive more, you have the gas back up. And if you really want to go on a long day-trip, you can drive it like a regular gas car, and keep filling it up as you go. That’s a big advantage if you really want an electric car for most of your driving, but want to have the capability to go long distances without being limited by the battery range.

Besides that, the Volt is a lot sportier than the LEAF. It rides low, and feels a lot like a sports car. The handling is nimble, and it is fun to drive.

I have had the Volt for about 8 months now, and have really enjoyed it.

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Nissan LEAF Driving Modes – ECO, B/D

The Nissan LEAF  offers some driving to optimize for power, economy and degree of regenerative braking.  These selected by the driver using a combination of the economy mode, and the drive mode which is either ‘regular’ or braking’. What do they do, and how do they work with each other?

Having driven the 2014 Nissan LEAF for almost a year, here are some of my observations. How are these controls organized?

The economy or “ECO” mode is selected with a push-switch located on the steering wheel. Using this, you can put the car  in the ECO- , 0r the non-ECO-mode. As the name suggests, driving in the ECO mode optimizes for longer range at relatively lower power.

And then there is the drive mode where you can be in “B” or “D” (non-B or regular) mode.  What does this do? The regular mode is similar to the “D” mode in any car with an automatic transmission. The “B” mode enables higher regenerative braking efficiency, which can be useful to charge the battery while braking in stop-and-go traffic, or while driving downhill.

So, using these two independent controls, you could be driving the LEAF in one of four possible drive mode combination:

  1. Non-ECO Mode and D Mode combination
  2. Non-ECO Mode and B Mode combination
  3. ECO Mode and D Mode combination
  4. ECO Mode and B Mode combination

Let us try to analyze what each of these mode combinations offer, and see when these combinations would be a good choice.

 Non-ECO Mode and D Mode Combination

This is the combination in which you expect to get the highest torque from the motor. That is because both the ECO option and the higher braking option are deselected. So the motor would be able to perform at its highest power, and without any “extra” braking enabled. This is the combination that would typically be the most “fun-to-drive”. So if you are trying to quickly merge on to a freeway, pass a car, you would find it easier with this combination.

Non-ECO Mode and B Mode Combination

In the case, the motor would still perform with the highest torque, but since the enhanced braking mode is selected, it also means that whenever you take your foot off the accelerator, the car would tend to slow down due to the braking. If you are driving in stop-and-go traffic where you also need quick acceleration, this might be a good combination.

ECO Mode and D Mode Combination

This combination activates the ECO mode, while leaving the drive in D mode, which means that the motor operates in economy mode, and braking is at normal level. For fast driving in ECO mode, this would be a good combination. I use this mode when I am driving on freeways and fast city roads, when I don’t need any extra accelaration.

ECO Mode and B Mode Combination

This mode makes most sense in city road driving where you expect to drive at low speeds and also stop frequently at traffic lights and stop-signs. Since you will be using the brakes a lot in such driving conditions, using the LEAF’s enhanced braking mode helps in recovering some of the kinetic energy to recharge the battery due to regenerative braking. It will also reduce the amount of braking that you need to do, thereby minimizing kinetic energy wasted in regular braking, as well as wear-and-tear on the brake liners.

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iPad App: WordPress by Automattic

I found this app while browsing the App Store on my iPad. The description and some of the reviews said that this makes it easy to create and publish posts to either a blog hosted by WordPress, or other sites.

I was looking for an app or browser that with which I could quickly create posts on this blog, and so I decided to give it a try. Downloading and installing only took a minute or so. Then I added my login information to my hosted WordPress blog.

This is the first post that I am posting from the app, and so far I have found it very easy to use. Writing a quick blog note from an iPad should be easy from now.

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Moving Xampp and Included Apps Between Windows Machines

I have been using Drupal as a personal database on a Windows laptop for sometime now and it has proved quite handy. This was my work laptop, and I recently replaced it with a new one as part of a lease refresh.

I wanted to preserve all my Xampp setup, along with Drupal and the associated database, and move it to my new PC. Here is what I did. I first backed up all my data from my old PC along with my Xampp and Drupal folders. When I restored the backed up data on to my new PC, Xampp and it contents were copied back to C:\Xampp. Then I renamed this folder to another name like C:\Xampp_from_old_pc. After that, I downloaded and installed Xampp on my new PC as usual. This got installed on C:\Xampp when I chose all default options. After the installation was complete, I renamed C:\Xampp_backup (just to save it), and renamed C:\Xampp_from_old_pc to C:\Xampp.

Then I started Apache and MySQL within Xampp as usual, and all my Drupal data from my old PC worked as before!

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Lenovo ThinkPad W540: Display Resolution and External Monitor Port

I changed from a ThinkPad W500 to a W540 this week as part of the lease refresh. With my W500, I was using a DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter cable to connect to an HDTV/monitor at home. But the W540 has a Thunderbolt port, which can also act as a Mini DisplayPort output. So I tried a Thunderbolt-to-HDMI adapter cable and it works just fine.

The native resolution on the W540’s built-in display is an amazing 2800×1620. It is super-sharp and brilliant. But the default fonts on Windows, etc would look small, and you might need to select larger fonts. Most external monitors have lower resolution, so when you use the built-in monitor and external display at the same time, you will see the difference in resolution and size of windows, but after using this laptop for about a week, I can say that it doesn’t bother me at all.

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Review: Logitech Type+ Protective Case with Integrated Keyboard for iPad Air 2

I just connected my new iPad Air 2 to the Logitech Protective Case with Integrated Keyboard. This my first post from my iPad using this keyboard.

It was fairly easy to slip in the iPad and attach it securely to the case. After that, I noticed that the blue Bluetooth light on the keyboard blinked a few times. On my iPad I did not see the keyboard being recognized as a Bluetooth device. Pressing the key with a lock sign just under the Bluetooth indicator light on the top-right of the keyboard made the blue light blink a few times, but my iPad wasn’t really noticing any device.

I tried disabling and enabling Bluetooth on my iPad and that didn’t make any difference either. I tried doing a soft reset on my iPad as suggested in one of the forum topics, and that didn’t help either. I had followed the pictorial instructions from Logitech, and couldn’t quite tell what was going wrong.

One of the posts in a forum said that it might be a hardware problem with the iPad and it should be exchanged. Some others had additional instructions on connecting the keyboard by observing the green and blue lights on the keyboard.

When nothing seemed to work, I looked for other things on the keybord, and saw a small button next to the USB port. I tried pressing it, and I saw the blue Bluetooth light blink, and now my iPad was recognizing the keyboard as a Bluetooth device!! I just selected it, and that was it!

I was able to type this post quite easily, even though this is the first time I am using this smallish keyboard, and creating a post on iPad. This keyboard effectively converts the iPad into a small laptop. I am a lot more productive when using a regular laptop, or a tablet with a keyboard. I would highly recommend this keyboard-case for iPad Air 2.

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Review: Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1TB Portable External Hard Drive with Mobile Device Backup USB 3.0

I needed a quick way to back up data on my work laptop before moving to a new one. Since I have quite a bit of data on my laptop, I was looking for something fast, reliable and easy to use. I have a 500GB Buffalo RAID disk that I bought a few years ago, but that’s almost full with all the pictures and videos that I have accumulated over time. That is also a “desktop” sort of external harddisk, and not very portable. So I went to the store looking for something that is fairly portable, has at least 1TB disk space, and in the sub-hundred-dollar price point.

It was a pleasant surprise to find the Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1TB Portable External Hard Drive with Mobile Device Backup USB 3.0 priced at around $69. It is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, and comes with a USB 3.0 port and cable.

I decided to give it a try, and bought one on my way back to work from lunch. When I reached my desk, I just plugged it in to my laptop, and let it install the Seagate Dashboard. After that I selected the folders that I wanted to back up. In about 90 minutes or so, I was able to back up about 70G of my data from my laptop to this nifty little hard disk! I can now start preparing my laptop for use!

To sum it up, I think this is a very convenient, easy-to-use, reasonably priced external hard disk based backup solution. It also allows you to backup your “cloud data” from your social networking sites, etc. It is so small that I can easily carry it around in my pocket or my computer bag.

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