Posts Tagged ‘review

Railsplayground 1 1/2 year review

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I wrote a review about Railsplayground about 1 1/2 years ago.  I’m writing this as a follow-up to my last review since I’ve noticed that there are very few long term reviews for webhosts our there. I was very interested in Ruby and Rails when I first signed up with Railsplayground. Since then I have lost interest in Ruby for various reasons. Despite my loss of interest in Ruby, I kept my Railsplayground account.

They have been a great host over the last 1 1/2 year and I’ve had no problem with uptime or resources. My cron jobs always run on time and I’ve never had any complaints about being unable to download files. I now use then to host pictures and files I want to share with others. I’ve also set up s3sync so I can easily transfer files to and from my backups in Amazon AWS from within my Railsplayground shell account.

Besides Ruby, they also have great support for Perl.  I’ve written several perl scripts and run them reguarly via cron, no problems there either.

My only complaint is that despite the fact that hard-drive space is getting cheaper, they have not increased their account quotas.  I am still at their base $5/month plan and am stuck with 3GB of storage – the same amount that I started with more than 18 months ago.  In addition, the storage space they offer for their source control hosting has been dropping.  They started out offering 1GB of SVN hosting when I first started, this later dropped to 200MB, and is now down to 100MB. This is very developer un-friendly trend from a developer friendly host.

In terms of value, I feel that Railsplayground is still a fair deal.  They have great customer support and respond in minutes whenever I have a question.  However, VPS prices are at the point you can get a small VPS, be your own boss and run whatever you feel for about the same price or a couple bucks more.

Written by M Kapoor

December 22, 2009 at 2:34 am

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Fenix Digital LD10 Premium Q5

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While researching the NiteCore SmartPD EX10 R2 I was also looking for a 2nd flashlight that took AA batteries.  The AA battery form factor is bulkier than the CR123 batteries that the NiteCore uses but the advantage is that AA batteries are far cheaper and easier to find.  The low cost and easy availability of AA batteries makes a AA light an excellent companion for traveling.  After some research I found a light I felt was perfect, the Fenix LD10, and decided to purchase it from Outfitter Country on

The Fenix LD10 is a follow-on to the popular Fenix L1D, the LD10 features a redesigned exterior and improved reflector.  I don’t have a L1D so I cannot compare the change in the reflector. However, looking at pictures of the L1D I can see that the exterior has been updated to put a multi-sided surface around the head of the flashlight.  The surface makes the flashlight easier to hold and it prevents the light from rolling around when you put it down on a flat surface.

The LD10 still uses the Cree Q5 LED that the L1D used and doesn’t come with the R2 version used in the NiteCore EX10.  I can see a definite but not significant difference in brightness between my NiteCore EX10 and the LD10.

A really cool feature of the Fenix L series  is that the heads and bodies are swappable with other L series lights and most of the P series lights.  So, I can use the head of my LD10 with the body of a 2xCR123 Fenix P3D or PD30.  This will give me longer runtime and up to 220 lumens out of my LD10 head because the CR123 battery can source more current than a single AA.  So I can pack different bodies and carry what I need based on my plans.

Features of the LD10 include:

Conventional push button switch.
Durable aluminum body.
Access to 6 light levels – min, med, max, turbo, S.O.S, and strobe.

The strobe mode only works at the turbo light level. This video shows off the different modes available on the Fenix LD and L1D series of lights.

Personal Impressions:
I’ve have the LD10 for for a few weeks now, almost as long as I’ve had my NiteCore EX10, and I’m happy with it.  Just like the EX10, the LD10 is solid, well built, and gives me loads of light on a single battery.  However, unlike the EX10, the LD10’s controls are easier to use and are much more reliable.  I always know where the light is going to start and I can easily switch between modes by soft-clicking the tailcap switch.

The fact that AA batteries don’t store as much power as CR123 batteries is readily apparent in this light.  I can get barely 20 minutes of light out at turbo mode before turbo mode is dims down to be just as bright as the high light mode.  The battery type doesn’t seem to matter, I’ve seen the same result using both lithum and eneloop brand rechargable batteries.  I don’t think we’ll see an improvements in the duration of light output until large gains are made in LED efficiency.

The low mode is great for getting around the house and the high/turbo mode is good for night walks and general outdoor night tasks. In addition, The strobe mode is great for biking or walking at night – it really grabs attention which ensures drivers will notice you. For hands free operation, Fenix sells both a bike mount and headband that you can use to attach the light to your bike or body.  Strobe mode is also great for alerting other drivers when you have to pull off the road in your car – the anti-roll design means that you can just turn the light on and put it on your car trunk or roof to alert fellow drivers.

I really like the fact that Fenix offers a variety of acceseories to modify their lights to fit your needs. Besides the interchangable bodies, headband, and bike mount I mentioned earlier; Fenix also has diffuser tips for general lighting, filters for night vision, and a pressure switch for remote activation.  It would be nice if they had a magnetic mount I could use to attach the light to my car or other metallic surfaces for when I need both hands free and don’t have a flat surface for the light.

While a little bulky to use as a everyday carry light, the Fenix LD10 is great for travel and general use around the house and outdoors.  The AA form factor makes it cheap to operate but it also means that the maximum light output is unsustainable for long. I really like the strobe mode and available acesseories – I plan on at least getting the bike mount or headband for night biking during the winter.


  • Variety of accessories – headband, bike mount, bodies, and diffusers.
  • Uses easily available AA batteries.
  • Amazing light output for a 1xAA battery light.
  • Reverse polarity protection.


  • Expensive!
  • Very short lived turbo mode.

Written by M Kapoor

June 26, 2009 at 2:29 am

Posted in Flashlight, review

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Komodo 5.0 Review

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I’ve been using Komodo ever since version 3.5 came out several years ago. I first found out about it while looking for a Windows Perl distribution and happened upon the Activestate website. So, what is Komodo? Komodo is a IDE geared towards dynamic languages like Python/Perl/Tcl/Ruby that runs on all 3 major OS platforms (Windows, Linux, and OSX). It is put out by Activestate, the same company that puts out the most widely used Windows Perl distribution –Main Window showing debugger and variable viewers Activestate Perl.  I bought Komodo because I liked the built in Perl debugger and syntax highlighting. I purchased the upgrade to version 4.0 because it added VI keybindings. Version 5.0 didn’t have any features I thought were compelling, but I purchased the upgrade anyway because I wanted to support Activestate.

Komodo is a feature rich editor. Besides the required syntax highlighting, it has editing of remote files over FTP and SFTP, version control integration, VI emulation mode, a very nifty graphical debugger, http request and response inspector and editor (HTTP inspector), source control integration, a regex constructor (RX toolkit), and an interactive shell that lets you try out commands on the fly. These are just the features I use on a regular basis! Komodo is also extensible via scripts, supports macros, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and much more.

Komodo is very user friendly.  Besides the VI keybindings, you can also customize the menu by assigning your own key combinations to the commands you use the most.  The interface stays out of your way until you need it, the main typing window takes up most of the screen with the quick link buttons  listed along the top.  You can bring up the debugger or your source control windows at the bottom and there are side tabs to let you quickly access files in your project, variables, and functions.  One area that is lacking is the help – it is sparse in some areas, especially on how to access the API and so sometimes I have to resort to trial and error.

The syntax highlighting is great, it makes the code readable and there are little red squiggles show you where you have errors in your code.  A little drop down pops up when you access member variables, however it is not as comprehensive as Microsoft’s intellisense in that it doesn’t perform the drop-down for every variable.

A great feature I use regularly but is not found in most IDEs is the ability to edit remote files over FTP and SFTP.  This allows me to get syntax highlighting, code folding, code completion and all the other nifty features of the IDE on files that can only be accessed via SSH or telnet.  This is great because a lot of my work is done on UNIX machines that don’t come with fancy editors but allow access via SSH and telnet.

Komodo Regular Expression Editor

Komodo Regular Expression Editor

I mainly use Komodo for Perl and C/C++ development but I have dabbled with Ruby on Rails using Komodo and it also shines in this area.  It has shortcuts to automatically generate scaffolding items and you can watch your site execute using the built in debugger.

I’ve discussed the features I use the most and like the best but Komodo has many more features that will interest others who work with different languages or with different needs.  Check out their features page for a full list of everything Komodo can do.  Activestate also offers a trial version and has a lite version of their IDE in Komodo Edit.

Overall, Komodo is great software and I would highly recommend it to anyone who works with dynamic languages.  I don’t regret buying it since it has paid me back many times in saving me time and reducing the frustration of debugging code.


  • Versatile and feature rich
  • Easy to modify to suit your tastes
  • Advanced debugging support
  • Great code editing features
  • Works on all major platforms – Windows, Mac, Linux


  • Expensive!
  • Only supports dynamic languages

Checking out Slashdot with HTTP Inspector

Written by M Kapoor

June 12, 2009 at 3:09 am

NiteCore SmartPD EX10 R2

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I have been looking for a small flashlight I can carry with me at night and use to light up dark areas.  After doing some research, I decided to purchase a NiteCore SmartPD flashlight from about two weeks ago.

The PD in SmartPD stands for Piston Drive.  Piston drive is a new switching technology that uses a piston to drive a switch on the flashlight head to communicate with the flashlight microcontroller.  The Piston Drive technology is supposed outlast the push button switches used on  conventional flashlights.  However, I don’t see why it would last longer since the Piston Drive also uses a switch that is built into the head to drive the flashlight.

NiteCore makes two flashlights with the PD technology, the D10 which uses 1 AA-battery and the EX10 uses a CR123 battery.  I chose the EX10 over the D10 because it is smaller and has a longer run time.

The exact model I got was the SmartPD EX10 R2.  The EX10 indicates that it takes CR123 batteries and R2 means that it uses a CREE R2 type LED.  The CREE R2 type LED in the EX10 is rated at 145 lumens which makes this one of the brightest small flashlights I could find.  This light has several advanced features including:

  • Instantly jump to max or min brightness.
  • Ramp to 100 light levels between min and max.
  • Light turns on at the last light level.
  • Waterproof.

The light can also be used in momentary or intermittent mode where the light is only lit when you push the piston down.  This video shows off the interface.

Personal Impressions:
The flashlight is is well built and feels solid in my hands.  I feel that I could drop it and it would still keep working.  The flashlight is unbelievably small, I can carry it around in the change pocket of my jeans and it will fit entirely in my palm.  The piston drive is stiff and has very little travel so it takes a while to get used to it. The max mode is very bright and will illuminate pretty much any room.  Does it outshine a 3-D LED maglight? No.  But is it bright enough to replace a 3-D maglight in most situations? Yes.  Likewise, the min mode is really dim and will really squeeze out every erg of energy out of a battery.  4sevens claims that the light is good for 90 minutes of illumination at max light mode – however, the 90 minutes counts till it is at 50% brightness.  In reality, the light is good for about 20-30 minutes of bright light on a fresh battery, after which it starts to noticeably dim.  This means that you have to use the bright mode sparingly and instead rely on a dimmer setting for most of your work unless you plan to replace your battery often.  Or, use the bright mode and then end up working with just a dim light until your battery runs out.

Occasionally, the light refuses to go into high/low mode using the shortcuts.  I think this is because the processor gets confused and needs to be reset.  This seems to be the case because it can be fixed by unscrewing till the light turns off to cut off power to the CPU and then screwing it back in.   Another annoyance is that the light is prone to roll around if placed on a flat surface which makes it unsuitable for any kind of work where you can’t hold it in your hand.  In addition, the black anodizing looks like it will easily wear off – I’ve already noticed a couple worn off specks just from carrying the light around in my jean’s change pocket.

Another caveat is that the microprocessor is always on so it draws current from the battery even when the light is turned off.  I’ve read that a new battery will power the microcontroller for ~400 days while the light is in standby.  I couldn’t find a statement on how much light I would get from the light after ~400 days or even ~200 days, I imagine it wouldn’t be much.  This makes the light unsuitable to use as an emergency light. Some say that you should store the battery separately, but do you want to be fumbling around for a battery in the dark when the light goes out or if you are in an emergency situation?  They may also tell me to unscrew the head a couple turns so that the head doesn’t make contact with the battery, but I think that should be unnecessary in a $60+ flashlight.  Just look at Fenix (a NiteCore competitor) which makes great flashlights that don’t drain batteries when turned off.

The NiteCore EX10 is a nice small flashlight that is useful if you plan to use and carry it daily and don’t mind keeping it at low/medium most of the time in order to be able to access max mode when needed.  I wouldn’t recommend it for non-handheld uses since it has a tendency to roll around, or for long term storage in an emergency kit.  I like it because it is solid, tough, and has min/max brightness modes.  I don’t like it because the PD switch isn’t as great as it is made out to be – it is stiff and relies on a mechanical switch despite NiteCore’s hype about PD being superior to mechanical switches – and it will drain your battery if you are not careful.  Overall, I feel that this is an overly hyped light and I would recommend against purchasing it.


  • Small, tough, and waterproof.
  • Extra bright when you need it.


  • Expensive!
  • anodizing is prone  to wear off.
  • Short lived max mode.
  • Poor candidate for long term storage.
  • Unknown long term reliability of piston drive.
  • No reverse polarity protection.

There is an extensive review of the D10 (AA-battery version of the EX10) and EX10 over at CandlePowerForums.  I consulted this review before choosing the EX10 over the D10.

Written by M Kapoor

May 29, 2009 at 4:06 am

Deck Keyboard Review

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I ordered my Toxic Green Deck 82 key keyboard in April of 2005 to go with my Razr Diamondback and the new PC I had built from scratch. I still use the PC and Deck keyboard daily, the Razr Diamondback sadly turned out to be an over-hyped piece of trash. The Deck keyboard is billed as tough and a easy to mod keyboard. The keyboard is also unique in that each key is back lit by a super-bright LED. I use the keyboard for 1-2 hours almost everyday at home. While this is not the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used, I have been impressed by its durability and construction.

I bought my Green Deck keyboard more than 4 years ago on April 10th, 2005 from for $119.99. The Toxic Green Deck keyboard had just been released and it was in high demand. ThinkGeek no longer carries the keyboard but it is still available through Deck Keyboards for almost the same price I paid years ago – $119.

Unlike some manufacturers that try to cut costs by painting letters onto the keys, each key in a Deck keyboard has its letter imprinted using a ‘sublimated negative printing process’, this means that the letter goes all the way through the key and will only become unreadable if the key wears through. Each key uses a ‘Cherry MX1A-11NN linear switch’ which is rated for ~50 million key presses or 20 years of use (according to the website). Each key is backlit by a super-bright LED (green in my case), the spacebar has two LEDs, and the caps lock key has an additional blue LED to indicate when it is active. The LEDs are readily visible during the day and especially in the dark which really makes the keyboard stand out. The brightness of the LEDs can be adjusted to one of 7 levels, 8 if you count off, by depressing the ‘FN’ key along with one of the 0-7 number keys. The brightness controls come in handy for when you want to turn the light down in order to watch a movie or when you are trying to avoid distraction. They keyboard’s edge housing is made of a very tough polycarbonate plastic and can be interchanged with other colored face plates available on the Deck website. The bottom of the keyboard consists of an approximately 1/8th inch thick metal plate that is screwed into the polycarbonate casing.

The Deck website really plays up the modifications (mods) possible on the keyboard. The Deck website sells two main mods for the Deck keyboard. One is different colored polycarbonate casings and the other is key caps with different logos on them. Other mods include opening up the keyboard and changing the LEDs to different colors or performing different kinds of paint jobs. Deck even covers modded keyboards under its warranty – one caveat is that the modifications have to of good quality and performed with competence. In the 4 years I have owned the keyboard, I have not made any changes to it – it is flashy enough the way it is and I don’t feel the urge to spend extra money on new keys or casings.

The cherry switches used on the keyboard are quiet, they don’t click like the switches on a Model M or Kinesis Contoured Keyboard. You only hear a click when the key hits the the base of the switch. The activation threshold on the switches is very low, so it is possible to type by lightly depressing the keys. This requires more concentration since you don’t get much tactile or audio feedback, but it allows one to type silently. The total key travel is deeper than on other keyboards I’ve used, this can lead to fatigue especially when you are are engrossed and start to pound at the keyboard.
As expected, the ‘sublimated’ lettering on the keyboard is very durable. Unlike most keyboards I’ve had, none of the letters have faded despite daily use. The keys are made of a hard, smooth plastic and they feel like they will last.

The Deck Keyboard is a very solid keyboard. I use it regularly and its solid nature and silent keys make you want to pound at it in order to get feedback. It has stood up well over the last three years, all of the LEDs still work and it feels the same as the day I bought it.  You have to watch out for the screws on the bottom of the keyboard or they will scratch your desk if you drag the keyboard.

The Deck Keyboard doesn’t have the best ergonomics. It is a straight keyboard which means that typing on it stresses your wrists. The keyboard is also has a 7 degree tilt and is about 3/4 inches high. The Deck website claims that this was an overwhelming choice by their focus group. However, the extra tilt and height puts more strain on my wrists since I have to bend them back further in order to hit the keys.
In addition, the deep key travel quickly leads to fatigue if you start treating it like a regular keyboard and push the keys down until you hear a audible click.

Customer Service:
Early in its life, my keyboard would sometimes double print a character – that is if I typed in ‘a’ it would show up as ‘aa’ on the screen. I decided to contact Deck since the keyboard was still within its 1 year warranty period. They responded promptly and asked me to send the keyboard back. They never found anything wrong with the keyboard, however they said that they cleaned it before sending it back. This cleaning, whatever they did, fixed the problem and my keyboard has been trouble free since. I was impressed by their quick response and communication throughout.

The lighting on the keyboard is great, it is readily visible during the day and really lights up a dark room.  One thing to note is that the lighting is not even at low brightness levels.  For example, on my keyboard the ‘k’ key really stands out at lighting level 1 and doesn’t blend in with the rest of the keys until I get to light level 4 or 5.  Similarly, a few other keys stick out at low light levels but this isn’t as noticeable as on my ‘k’ letter key.  This is understandable since the LEDs used in the keyboard probably vary in their forward bias voltages, this sort of variation is common in semiconductor manufacturing since it is hard to create completely identical units during die fabrication.  I’m mentioning it here because it was a small annoyance when I got my keyboard.  The annoyance has since faded as I’ve come to see it as a uniqueness.

Overall the keyboard is very strongly constructed and feels like a quality product. it is not very heavy but you can feel the sturdiness when you are typing on it. However, it has poor ergonomics and so isn’t suited for all day use.

  • Pros:
    – Solid keyboard that will add pizazz to your work environment
    – Excellent customer support
    – Easy to modify to suit your tastes
    – 20+ year lifespan (claimed)
  • Cons:
    – Expensive!
    – Poor ergonomics
    – Uneven lighting at low brightness levels

Written by M Kapoor

May 29, 2009 at 3:32 am

Kinesis Contoured Keyboard

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The Kinesis Contoured Keyboard is billed as the best available design for both comfort and productivity.  Since I spend most of my time at work on a computer, anything that enhances my comfort and productivity is always welcome.  I decided to try one out just to see if it lived up to its billing and to find out if it would help me with the wrist pain I experience after a long day at work.  I’m sitting here typing this on a contoured keyboard I bought more than 6 months ago and have been using for 8+ hours a day and I can say that it definitely lives up to its billing.


I bought my keyboard, a near mint condition Professional QD, online on Ebay for about $200.  In addition to the fancy split bowl layout, the keyboard comes with high-tech built in electronics: it can be hardware switched between QWERTY and Dvorak layouts, you can re-map any key, create macros, have the keyboard beep on every keypress, and you can even attach a foot switch for your control keys.  The Kinesis website no longer lists the Professional QD, the closest match I can find is the Advantage Pro.  You may think that $200 is a crazy price to pay for a used keyboard, but they cost even more brand new!  Prices on the Kinesis website range from $289 to $359 + shipping.  The Human Solution has the mid-level keyboard for about $269 and you can find good deals on E-bay.  So, it is wise to shop around.  The price is high but you have to consider that these are high quality keyboards that are probably custom built in small batches, they have fancy electronics, and the company also has to make a profit.


The Kinesis Contoured Keyboard is split down the middle into two scooped out halves.  There is a wide gap between the two halves in order to make you correctly position your shoulders.  Your wrists rest on the bottom half of the keyboard and your fingers rest into the scooped out halves.  According to the Kinesis website, this downward rest is “the best available design for both comfort and productivity“.  The keys most used by your pinky (Enter, Backspace, Del e.t.c) have been moved to the bottom center of the keyboard so they can be operated by your thumbs.   This makes sense since the pinky is the weakest finger and the thumb is the strongest.  The arrow, insert, and other keys have been moved around so that you can operate them with your fingers without moving your hands.  The function keys remain in their normal spot at the top of the keyboard.

The keyboard as well as the keys are made of a hard plastic.  The white keyboard picks up stains easily and requires periodic cleaning if you dislike the grunge look.  The home keys are colored light blue.


If you are a proficient touch typist like me, it will take about two weeks to get used to this keyboard.  The hardest part is getting used to hitting space, enter, backspace, and delete with your thumbs.  Another tough hurdle is learning to use the arrow keys with both of your index and middle fingers.  It is slow going for those first two weeks but your brain figures it out and you catch up rapidly after that.

My typing on a regular keyboard is largely unaffected.  I make some mistakes when I first switch over, but my brain warms up and I start typing normally after a few minutes.  I mostly get the space-bar and enter keys mixed up.


The keys on the keyboard are made of a hard plastic.  They have a very nice clicky feedback, they are not quiet though – my cubemates have commented that they can hear them when things are quiet.  The force required to activate the key is not large like on the IBM Model M keyboard, they need a gentle but firm tap.  Neither are they hyper-sensitive like those on a Deck keyboard.  You have to push them down till they click before the computer registers a key-press.  The keys and switches feel high quality, however the QWERTY letters on the keys feel like they are glued on and the Dvorak characters are painted onto the keys.  I doubt the lettering will last.  I like the negative printing process on the Deck keyboards that embeds the character into the key and makes it impervious to wear.  I think for $300 Kinesis could have put more durable lettering on their keys.

The function keys are rubber with the same painted-on feeling letters and they have a noticeable wobble in their sockets.  They have a lighter, more rubbery clicky tactile feedback.  The function keys are about 1/2 the size of a function key on a regular keyboard, this is probably done in order to include the rarely used keys like Scroll Lock and Pause/Break along the top of the keyboard.

One oddity on my keyboard was that the backspace key was titled ‘Space’.  I only discovered its function by trial and error.  There are keys named space on both sides of the keyboard and my guess it they named both the space and backspace keys ‘Space’ to allow switching them to either one of your thumbs.


As advertised on the Kinesis website, this keyboard has excellent ergonomics.  I used to experience wrist pain when using my regular flat keyboard for long periods of time, the pain has mostly gone away since I switched and only returns if I spend extremely long periods, say 12+ hours, at my computer.  In addition, the bowl like shape makes my shorter fingers travel less than the longer ones which has also reduced fatigue.

There are some drawbacks though.   Any kind of one-handed typing is difficult.  The keyboard is harder to use for programming since the bracket keys are at the bottom which makes them hard to access.  The split arrow keys require two hands to operate which makes using the arrow keys and the mouse at the same time impossible.

Final thoughts:

I’ve used many keyboards including the Microsoft ergonomic split keyboards, the Happy Hacker, the Deck, the Keyovations Goldtouch, as well as the IBM Model M.  Of all the keyboards, the Kinesis contoured keyboard is the most comfortable and usable for long periods of time.  I think it is worth the price after you consider the damage you can do to your hands with the wrong keyboard.  I make my livelihood with my hands and I would gladly pay full price if I had to purchase it all over again.

  • Pros:
    • Very comfortable for daily typing.
    • Highly customizable with the built in macro support.  Settings are preserved even when the keyboard is unplugged.
    • Switches between Dvorak and QUERTY layouts.
    • Ergonomic layout allocates most-often used keys to the thumb, your strongest fingers, and separates your arms to about shoulder width.
    • Long USB cord.
    • Expandable with factory upgrades and foot switches.
  • Cons:
    • Expensive!
    • Programming guide should be printed on the bottom of the keyboard.
    • I don’t expect the keyboard lettering to last.


Written by M Kapoor

January 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Posted in keyboard, review

Tagged with , ,

Using Amazon S3

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This is the first of several articles I’m going to write about Amazon S3.  I’ve done a lot of research and cheap, secure, reliable, and publicly hostable disk space is hard to come by.  Sure, there are some companies such as dreamhost and mediatemple that offer enormous amounts of disk space at a low price but often they put restrictions on the file size, locations, and types of files you can save.  Other companies even give it away for free, but I wonder how they plan to survive by giving their product away for free.  Ads may pay for some of their costs initially, but I doubt they will pay enough as they scale up their operation.  I have a feeling that many of them will simply disappear along with the data entrusted to them.  I invite you to come back to this post in a year and see how many of these hosts are still around.

My search for a cheap, reliable, and secure place to backup my data ended when I found out about Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service).  S3 is touted as a data storage service and that is all that it is.  There is no limitation on the types or quantities of files one can store.  They charge you on a pay as you go plan and there are no upload and download limits. You simply pay for what you use.  Amazon’s own website is a testament to their experience in building massively scalable services.  These are their rates at this time:

$0.15 per GB-Month of storage used

Data Transfer
$0.100 per GB – all data transfer in
$0.170 per GB – first 10 TB / month data transfer out

$0.01 per 1,000 PUT, POST, or LIST requests
$0.01 per 10,000 GET and all other requests*

Considering how much other hosts charge, their rates are very reasonable.  Their storage and transfer rates have been coming down and I think this trend will continue.

Amazon has built a very simple API with a high level of abstraction for its S3 service.  Data is stored in ‘buckets’ and each bucket can contain an unlimited number of objects up to 5GB in size.  Objects can be made public or private which makes it ideal for hosting large files as well as using it for backing up your data.  In addition, you can choose to store your data in either Europe or the United States which gives your data an additional level of geo-redundancy and allows you to deliver files to users around the globe with minimal latency.

As a results of this simple API, Amazon S3 is very versatile and has a diverse eco-system built up around it.  A simple search for amazon s3 tools turns up several tools that abstract away the S3 API and simplify the user experience.  Of these, s3sync and JetS3t are my favorite.  I use jetS3t to back-up important files on my computer to S3 and s3cmd from the s3sync package to upload files I want to share.

In future columns, I’ll write more about these tools and how I use them to simplify my life.

Written by M Kapoor

October 19, 2008 at 5:00 am

Posted in Amazon S3, hosting, review

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RailsPlayground Review

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A while back I wrote an article of how I came to choose RailsPlayground for my next host.  I have been their customer for the past 3 months and I thought I’d write a review for those that are interested.  After looking at several hosts, I chose RailsPlayground because of their rails support, ssh access, excellent support, and no limitation on how I use my disk space.

Signup was painless, I entered my information and credit card info on April 4 at about 9 AM and I received my log-in information at 4PM on the same day.  These are the major details of my hosting plan, The Developer Plan:

  • Storage: 5GB
  • Bandwidth: 30GB/month
  • Shell Accounts: 1
  • Cost: $5/month

In addition, I also receive the following:

  • Access to PERL, PHP, Ruby, Python, TCL, and Ruby on Rails in your shell
  • Unlimited domains, sub-domains, e-mail accounts e.t.c
  • Postgres and MySQL databases
  • Nightly backups
  • 1GB storage/10GB transfer SVN and Trac hosting

With all this, no wonder it is called the Developer Plan! It has everything a developer needs to get started with Rails for web development and work with their favorite language.  The SVN and Trac hosting makes version control and issue tracking for yourself or your team easy.  According to the description page, their “latest server features Dual Opteron processors with 2 GB of RAM and Raptor 10k RAID 5 protected hard drives.” They don’t list how this maps to their other servers.


So far, their hosting has been solid.  I’ve never experienced a slow connection and my server, baldr, has been up longer than I have been a subscriber.  My machine is lightly loaded, I’ve seen a load average of 1 only once and it was due to a run-away process.  You can always check its uptime on my uptime page or visit my main site.

Control Panel:

RailsPlayground uses CPanel as its control panel.  The panel has all the features you need to manage your account without ever logging into the shell account.  You can add/delete e-mails addresses, databases, backups, domains, sub-domains, and everything else that involves web hosting.  The panel includes Fantastico, a one-click installer for many free popular programs such as blogs, wikis, and CRM software.


I’ve had to contact RailsPlayground twice and both times I’ve received excellent support.  The first time was to report a run-away process, they answered my e-mail 10 minutes after I sent it and they killed the process right away.  The second time, I e-mailed them to set up the SVN account that is included with my hosting package, I sent the email at 9:42PM and they had it ready less than 9 minutes later – I received the confirmation e-mail at 9:51PM!  I am very happy with their support.


I haven’t used the documentation at RailsPlayground much.  In addition to contacting support, you can also have a wiki for articles and a forum for questions.  I once had trouble setting up an e-mail address for automatic notifications, they have a very nice tutorial for it in their wiki that I was easily able to follow that fixed my problems.

Shell Access:

One of my deciding factors for choosing RailsPlayground was their shell access.  The developer account gives you 1 shell account and this one account is sufficient for me.  The shell is accessible via SSH and they put you in a Jail-shell to limit potential damage, that has never gotten in my way.  I haven’t seen a time limit, I’ve been logged into my shell days at a time.  Likewise, I’ve seen no process limitations, I have several cron jobs that run from once daily to every half-hour and I’ve never seen them delayed or stopped.  From the shell you have access to everything you would in a standard UNIX environment – vim, emacs, cron, lynx e.t.c.  One thing I noticed is that they don’t have screen installed so you have to log into multiple sessions if you plan on doing any serious editing.

Final Thoughts:

I’m very pleased with the features, hosting, and support at RailsPlayground.  Rather than overselling and trying to hook customers on quantity, they deliver quality and strive to please.  They have features that fit all users, shell access makes it easy for experts and CPanel makes it easy for newbies.  The multiple language support make it easy for users to develop applications in a familiar environment.  If you don’t believe it, feel free to visit my site or my uptime page to see how they are doing :).

Written by M Kapoor

July 5, 2008 at 7:01 am

Posted in hosting, review

Tagged with , ,

Keyovation Goldtouch Keyboard Review

with one comment

I’ve been spending a lot of time away from my cubicle at a different site for my job. My company is big on preventing RSI and other injuries due to non-ergonomic setups. As part of this, I was offered a Keyovation Goldtouch keyboard to use while off-site. I’ve been using the keyboard for a week and I’m going to be be off-site for the next four so I’ll be using it for a while. In fact, I’m using it right now to type this review.


The keyboard is split in 1/2 down the middle and has a large ball-bearing type connector at the top holding it together. It has a large handle on the upper left that lets you unlock it. The handle is a little stiff at first but opens readily after you get it started. After unlocking, you can re-arrange each half in the horizontal and vertical directions. The Keyovation website describes the the keyboard as being able to split up to 30° in the horizontal and vertical directions. The keyboard is has a USB connector, but it comes with a USB to PS2 connector that lets it connect it to a PS2 port. The keyboard works flawlessly in Windows XP, I just plugged it in and it was recognized as a regular keyboard. The keyboard is a full size keyboard, all the text and function keys are full size. The control keys (Num Lock, Scroll Lock, Page Up e.t.c) are arranged on either side of the two halves. I’m guessing they are distributed to keep the typing distributed between the two hands. It doesn’t have a full num pad which makes it smaller than a full size keyboard, the smaller footprint is to let you keep your mouse close to you which will keep you from over-extending your arm and shoulder. I’ve been carrying the keyboard to and from work and it feels much heavier than a regular keyboard. I couldn’t find a weight on the website, but by my estimate it weighs about 2-3lbs, that is quite a load to carry in addition to my laptop and the equipment needed for off-site work. However, the heaviness lends a sense of sturdiness to the keyboard and I feel no bounceback when typing. There are LEDs to indicate when the ‘Scroll Lock’, ‘Num Lock’, and ‘Caps Lock’ keys have been activated.


Keyovation uses dome springs which makes the keys soft but gives them a crisp feedback which I like. The typing is not like the cheap keyboards that computer companies like Dell bundle with their computers where you barely feel the feedback. You can feel the keys bouncing back with the Goldtouch keyboard. The amount of force required to actuate each key is minimal which makes it comfortable for long sessions. I use a Happy Hacker keyboard at work and I’ve noticed occasional pain in my fingers at the end of the day. I don’t feel that when using this keyboard. Typing on the keyboard is quiet and feels secure. The extra weight comes in handy here.


I’ve looked at other reviews for this keyboard and it seems like people either like it or hate it. There is very little middle ground. I like the horizontal split, it is a more natural way to type on the keyboard. However, it would be nice if I could separate the two halves so that I can keep my hands shoulder width apart. The vertical split doesn’t help me much, I still have to bend my wrists to type on it and it feels like there is more stress on my shoulders. It would be nice if I could fold it in half, that way I can type in a more natural ‘handshake’ position. A major problem I’ve noticed is that there is no place to rest my wrists like on a Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard. The keyboard is more than half an inch high at the spacebar which means that I bend my wrists uncomfortably if I rest them on a table. Keyovation does sell a pair of wrist pads for $20 which would help. However, spending $20 on top of ~$140 for the keyboard makes me feel like I’m getting ripped off.


The ergo keyboard space is rapidly expanding as people spend more time in front of computers. In addition to the Microsoft line of ergo keyboards, Kinesis also has the Maxim and Freestyle keyboards. The Maxim, which comes with a wrist rest, is a split-keyboard similar to the one by Microsoft, the Freestyle allows you to split the keyboard completely in half. The Freestyle doesn’t incline like the Goldtouch or come with a wrist rest but Kinesis sells accessories to make it happen.

Final Thoughts:

The Goldtouch keyboard is a nice keyboard but it doesn’t fulfill all my needs. The vertical split doesn’t help much and the lack of a wrist rest results in additional ergonomic issues. I like how the keys feel and the sense of sturdiness, however it is a pain to carry around because of the extra weight. The keyboard costs about ~$140 on the Keyovation website, at that price I would rather try the Kinesis Freestyle keyboard because I can split completely in half. In addition, The Microsoft keyboards present a cheaper alternative.


    • Solid Keys with good tactile feedback
    • Heaviness lends a sense of security
    • No drivers to install, worked flawlessly when plugged in
    • Horizontal/Vertical split for increased typing comfort


    • Expensive, ~$140 is no laughing matter
    • Heavy, a pain to carry around
    • Requires a wrist-rest, no gradual rise to the space bar
    • Vertical split doesn’t seem to help much
    • No ability to separate halves like the Kinesis Freestyle
    • Short USB connector


Goldtouch Regular Layout

Goldtouch Horizontal Split

Goldtouch Horizontal/Vertical Split

Side View

Thanks for reading!

Written by M Kapoor

June 22, 2008 at 1:40 am

How I picked RailsPlayground

with 11 comments

After using Dreamhost for two years, I decided to find a new host this year. I had a good deal on the Dreamhost hosting since I signed up for two year term using one of the coupons floating around on the web. However, they got pricey after the two year deal expired. They charge $11/month for their month to month option which for me is not worth it since I mostly used the web space to share files and host the occasional page. In addtion, I was worried they may kick me off if I exceeded their unpublished real limits (see No overselling below). So, I started shopping around. This was the criteria I was looking for:

No overselling: I was wary of hosts that were obviously overselling. Especially those offering you 500GB of disk space and 5TB of bandwidth for $11/month. Or, 1500GB of disk space and 15TB of bandwidth for $10.50/month. Such hosts are known for kicking users off for using too much disk space or bandwidth even though the users are within the limits of their plan. My main concern with overselling is that I will lose my files if I exceeded some arbitrary limit. Overselling is also an indication that the host is overloading their servers. A overloaded server will perform poorly even when your site is lightly accessed, this will turn away your users even before you have a chance to be popular.

SSH access: SSH stands for Secure SHell. It is a method to securely access files on a remote machine. SSH makes it easy to manage and configure files for your website. Since you can directly access your files, you can add, delete, and modify files without going through the control panel. For example, I was able to download, unzip, configure, and install this blog directly through SSH. Doing the same though a control panel like cpanel takes a lot of tedious steps. Some hosts disable SSH access since this can be a security risk. However, SSH is not a security risk if the host machine is properly configured. So, a host offering SSH access is an indication that the hosting company is competent and able to properly set up servers.

Documentation: There are many ways to set up a server and the documentation offered by a host is a kind of instruction manual on how to use their systems. I have a script that queries a database and send me an e-mail every day. In order to set up the e-mail, I need to be able to use the host’s systems to automate the job and use their e-mail servers to send out the e-mail. Of course it is possible to figure out how to do it by trial and error, but having a guide saves a lot of time and frustration. A host can have a wiki, a forum where you can ask questions, or have very responsive techs. No matter the method, ensure that you can get help when you run into a dead end.

Language and Framework Support: You want to pick a host that supports the languages that you want. For example, I am interested in learning Ruby on Rails (RoR) and so I looked for a host that primarily supported Ruby and RoR. Others may be interested in languages like PHP, Perl, Python or frameworks like Django or Catalyst. Check that the host has the latest stable version installed and supports it. Use google to find users that are successful with that language on that host, you will also find people that are dissatisfied with that host. This is an indication that this may not be the place for you.

After picking out your requirements, it is time to go shopping. I knew of a few big companies and a few small ones. I also used Google to check out their reputation and find reports from their users. Of course, you have to be careful with user reviews since competitors can also put out false information. But, generally if there are more bad reports than good then it is time to drop that host from consideration.

Dreamhost: I used Dreamhost for two years and I was happy with their service. Of course I never did anything to tax their servers so I was below their radar. The fact that they oversell and that the machine I was on always had a load of 4-5 indicated that they had too many customers on each server is primarily the reason why I dropped them from consideration. A load of less than 1 is generally considered acceptable.

GoDaddy: GoDaddy is the domain registrar I use for my domains and their service has been good, although they try to sell you their services at every opportunity. They are a new contender in the hosting space, having only added their hosting business in the past year [Edit 6/20/2008: I guess they have been hosting for almost 10 years, although I just noticed it last year. Corrected by Alicia of GoDaddy] . They appear to do some overselling, but not as much as Dreamhost. I dropped them from consideration because they did not allow more than one domain or have RoR support on their cheapest plan. In addition, the version of rails they offered was 1.1.2 whereas the must current version at the time of writing was 2.0.2. Otherwise, they were very attractive. Their cheapest plan only cost $4.29/month and came with 10GB of disk space.

Slicehost: Slicehost offers the most bang for your buck. They sell ‘slices’ or virtual server instances. These instances act like individual machines and you can set up them up any way you wish. WIth Slicehost I could set up all the applications I wanted and modify them to my hearts content. In addition, I would be able to run other applications and have a real UNIX machine to play around with. However, the main problem was that I would be responsible for setting everything up and keeping it up to date. In addition, there would be no one to turn to if I couldn’t configure an application the way I wanted it or if I mis-configured an application into a big security hole. As long as it is legal, you can host whatever you please and you can easily scale your server up or down as demand changes. They even pro-rate charges to the day so you never pay for more than you use. I signed up for a slice to play around with (review coming soon) but I decided not to do any hosting on that slice.

MediaTemple: MediaTemple is a hosting provider who provides a twist on the traditional hosting model – they host you on a grid where additonal CPU power is given to your application as it is needed. They sound ideal until I read their terms of service and found that at least 75% of the content stored on the server had to be linked to via HTML or PHP. This mean’t that I couldn’t use the hosting to share files or backup my files unless I provided the public with links to my personal data. I know I could create password protected HTML files with links to my files to get around MediaTemple’s 75% linked data requirement. However, I’m sure they would see around that ruse and kick me off. I feel that if I’m paying money for disk space then I should be able to do with it as I please.

RailsPlayground: RailsPlayground was the host that I finally settled with. They were cheap, only $5 month for Developer hosting with 3GB of disk space and 30GB of bandwidth. According to Google they have excellent Rails support. By browsing their wiki and found answers to all my questions including how to set up this blog, how to send out e-mails, and how to configure my DNS settings to point my domain name to their servers. They also had SSH support right out of the box and they obviously are not overselling and best of all their terms of service don’t have any restriction on storing personal files. So, I decided to go ahead and sign up. I signed up via their web form and I recieved an email with a hostname, instructions on how to SSH into my account, and the nameservers to use within a couple hours.
They use jailshell to keep me from causing damage and the load average has so far been below 1. I have CPanel for server configuration, the CPanel has the snappiest response I’ve ever seen in a control panel, faster than the custom control panel offered by Dreamhost. I ran my standard download test which consists of using wget to pull the latest 360GB HD version of diggnation from Revision3:

Rails Playground: 00:13:04 (2.31 MB/s)
Slicehost: 04:12:00 (5.45 MB/s)
Home (Verizon FIOS): 12:46:06 (605.91 KB/s)
Dreamhost: 700-800K/second (from memory)

So, based on this RailsPlayground’s download was much faster than Dreamhost. I imagine that RailsPlayground does some thottling to ensure that all users on the server get equal bandwidth which is why their speed is slower than Slicehost. Slicehost is the fastest, but I expect it since they are a premier service. I’ve been with RailsPlayground for a month now and I’ve been extremely pleased with the service. I’ll post further updates as I spend more time using their services.

Written by M Kapoor

June 13, 2008 at 6:24 pm

Posted in review

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