Monday, June 30, 2008

From $500 desktops to $500 laptops

Summary: How much does a reasonably powerful laptop cost these days?

The first sub-$500 PCs, which came to the U.S. market just a few years ago, were pretty basic desktop systems with low-end processors, little RAM, small hard drives, and bulky CRT monitors. Look how times have changed.

This week (June 29-July 5, 2008), for about $500 (after the $125 mail-in rebate) you can get this laptop from Office Depot (free delivery is available):
  • Model: Acer Extensa EX5620-6419
  • 15.4" WXGA (1280x800) CrystalBright™ LCD screen
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile processor T5550 (1.83 GHz)
  • 3GB DDR2 memory (RAM)
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • CD/DVD drive (reads/writes CDs and DVDs, supports double layer)
  • Intel 802.11a/b/g wireless LAN
  • 4 USB ports
  • 1 FireWire (IEEE 1394) port
  • 1 S-video port
  • Integrated webcam and microphone
  • 5-in-1 memory card reader (supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, xD)
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 with up to 358MB shared memory
  • High Definition Audio with 2 built-in speakers
  • 6-cell lithium-ion battery; 65W AC adapter
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium
I have been buying cheap (sub-$400) laptops for friends and family for a while, but this is the first time I see a Core 2 Duo-powered notebook computer with 3 GB of RAM priced below $500. Although I don't need a laptop now, I'm really tempted to get this one.

UPDATE: According to some SlickDeals posters, you may be able to get this laptop for around $500 -- or even less -- without a mail-in rebate hassle. The price should be valid until July 19, 2008.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Russian keyboard

Summary: How to add a Russian (Cyrillic) keyboard to Windows XP.

If you need to type in Russian on your computer's keyboard, you have several options:

Option 1: Use a virtual keyboard
This option is handy if you are using someone else's computer or for some reason don't want to modify your computer settings. You can find many virtual keyboards that support Russian (Cyrillic) characters online. The virtual keyboards I like are offered by:Option 2: Enable a standard Russian keyboard
You can enable a built-in Russian keyboard via Control Panel:
  1. Select Settings - Control Panel - Regional and Language Options from the Start menu.
  2. In the Regional and Language Options dialog box, selecy the Languages tab and click the Details button in the Text services and input languages section.
  3. In the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box, select the Settings tab and check the Installed services section.

    If you do not see the desired language or keyboard layout, click the Add button.
  4. In the Add Input Language dialog box, select Russian (or the language of your choice), check the Keyboard layout/IME box, and select the desired keyboard layout.

    Out of the box, Windows offers two Russian (Cyrillic) keyboard layouts: Russian and Russian (Typewriter); pick the one you like:[You can see and print international keyboard layouts supported by Windows at the Windows Keyboard Layouts page.]
  5. To change the default hotkey, which activates languages, clicking the Key Settings button in the Preferences section of the Settings tab, and use the Advanced Key Settings dialog box:

If you cannot touch type and don't have a standard Russian keyboard (with imprinted Russian letters), you can buy the keyboard stickers on eBay for less than $5 including shipping (I recommend transparent stickers).

Option 3: Install Russian phonetic keyboard.
If you cannot touch type on a standard Russian keyboard and do not want to mess with keyboard stickers, you can install a phonetic keyboard, which maps Russian letters to the keyboard keys with similarly sounding or looking English letters or characters. For example, a phonetic keyboard can offer the following English-Russian character mappings: A-А, S-С, D-Д, F-Ф, G-Г, H-Ч, J-Й, and so on.

There are many versions of Russian (Cyrillic) phonetic keyboards, but I like the ones created by Paul Gorodyansky. On his web site, Paul -- among other things -- explains how to install Russian keyboards on various flavors of Windows (the articles are available in both English and Russian). I found these articles very helpful, but the amount of information may be overwhelming.

If you just want to install a phonetic keyboard, download the desired layout from the Download section of the Russian Keyboard and Typing Russian page. If you are not familiar with the Russian phonetic keyboard layouts created by Paul Gorodyansky, read the Install phonetic (transliterated, homophonic) Russian keyboard layout section first; this section shows the layouts of the three versions of the keyboards Paul built.

The first two layouts are very similar; they only differ in the mapping of the W and V keys (they map these keys to the Russian letters В and Ж in reverse). You can download the installation files for these keyboard layouts for Windows XP, 2003, and Vista (files for other versions of Windows are available at Paul's site) from:While most of the character mappings in these layouts are obvious, several characters and symbols require a three-letter key (while in the Russian character mode):

: Ctrl+Alt+E
: Ctrl+Alt+5
Ъ : Ctrl+Alt+7
ъ : Ctrl+Alt+8
Ё : Ctrl+Alt+9
ё : Ctrl+Alt+0

In addition to these two keyboard layouts, Paul offers another variation:I haven't tried the Student layout, but compare it with the other two and see if you like it better.

BONUS: If you want to Russify your version of Windows, see these articles (note: text is in Russian):

Friday, June 13, 2008

Google I/O 2008 presents

Summary: Recommended videos and presentations from the Google I/O 2008 developer conference in San Francisco.

Videos from the Google I/O 2008 sessions (and events) are finally available. If you are interested in subjects such as Google (in general), Ajax, Google APIs, Gears, OpenID, OAuth, and other developer-centric topics, here are some videos, which I would recommend (this list includes sessions which I attended, as well as sessions which I'm planning to watch, so I don't guarantee all of them to be interesting; I'll mark the ones that I haven't seen, yet, as such):

  • Client, Connectivity, and the Cloud
    by Vic Gundotra, VP of Engineering (1 hr 30 min)
    Vic is responsible for developer evangelism and open source programs at Google. He also oversees applications development. Previously, Vic spent 15 years at Microsoft, where he worked on a variety of products and operating systems, including Windows 3.0, NT, Windows XP, and Vista. This keynote offers a brief overview of technologies discussed at the conference and features several speakers including Allen Hurff (MySpace), Steve Horowitz, Kevin Gibbs, Mark Lucovsky, Bruce Johnson, David Glazer, and Nat Brown (iLike).
  • Imagination, Immediacy, and Innovation... and a little glimpse under the hood at Google
    by Marissa Mayer, VP of Search and User Experience (1 hr)
    Marissa leads Google's product management efforts on search products – web search, images, news, books, products, maps, Google Earth, the Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, Google Health, Google Labs, and more. This talk is a glimpse from inside the trenches of how Google builds products (including practical insights on how to build the best products), how to prioritize your efforts especially under resource constraints, and how to think about strategy.
AJAX & JavaScript
  • Spice up Your Web Apps with AJAX APIs
    by Mark Lucovsky (Google) (57 min)
    Mark is an engineering director at Google and Google API lead. He previously worked for Microsoft, where he was part of the team that designed and built the Windows NT operating system. In this presentation, Mark shows how to use Google AJAX APIs to perform such tasks as downloading Atom and RSS feeds, search and display videos, images, news, maps, local business data, and do other things.
  • Can We Get There From Here?
    by Alex Russell (SitePen) (1 hr 2 min)
    Alex is Project Lead for the Dojo Toolkit and Director of R&D at SitePen. He discusses the goods and bads of various Web technologies: HTML, HTTP, JavaScript, CSS, GWT (Google Web Toolkit), Flex, Silverlight, HTML 5, Gears, Ajax libraries, and more.
  • State of Ajax: The Universe is Expanding
    by Dion Almaer (Google) and Ben Galbraith ( (56 min)
    Dion and Ben are the founders of In this presentation, they discuss the latest Ajax developments, including multithreaded JavaScript technology-powered UIs, robust offline storage, choosing the right Ajax/JavaScript technology framework, Ajax outside of the browser, and more.
  • HTML5, Brought to You by Gears*
    by Aaron Boodman (Google) (36 min)
    In addition to his daytime job at Google, where Aaron works with JavaScript, DHTML, and Ajax, he is also the author of, a weblog about web development; numerous open-source JavaScript libraries; and Greasemonkey, a popular user script manager for Firefox. In this talk, Aaron explains the purpose and mission of Gears.
  • Even Faster Web Sites
    by Steve Souders (Google) (59 min)
    Steve is the author of High Performance Web Sites. At Google, he works on web performance and open source initiatives. In this talk, Steve discusses the best practices he's discovered, including the impact of iframes and where to place (and where not to place) inline script blocks.
  • Improving Browsers in New Ways: Gears++
    by Chris Prince (Google) (49 min)
    Chris, who is a tech lead of the Google Gears development team, explains what the Gears technology is good for.
SocialIf you can recommend other sessions, please add a comment.

Additional references:
Videos from all Google I/O 2008 sessions
Description of all Google I/O 2008 sessions
Google I/O 2008

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Technobrief #2

Summary: Recent discoveries of great software, articles, podcasts, and videos.

Here are some things I found interesting this week:

  • RadarSync utility will keep your Windows device drivers and programs up-to-date
  • GNUCash free accounting software for individuals and small businesses
  • Search Commands plug-in for Microsoft Office 2007, which makes it easier to find commands, options, wizards, and galleries
  • SysInternals must-have tools for system administrators are now available at a single location (you can execute them directly from the web)
  • WOT (Web of Trust) Firefox add-on that warns users about risky websites
  • MR Tech Local Install Firefox add-on for managing Firefox extensions and themes
  • Extension List Dumper Firefox add-on for generating lists of installed extensions and themes