Sunday, April 24, 2016

New mobile computer (2)

A few days ago, I received an email saying that in August, Dropbox would drop its support for computers running XP. My main computer runs XP and I use it for almost everything, especially program development and music. I use Dropbox to backup my development work and to receive timely updates of data from the Occupational Psychologist (OP) and her computers, so this is an essential tool. On the other hand, my work computer won't connect to Dropbox - probably due to network traffic regulations (too many people at work try to store large amounts of mp3 files or access unwanted sites).

So I made the decision to buy a new computer. This was tempered by the fact that I use my work mobile computer for certain personal tasks - mainly storing and manipulating video files - which I am not supposed to do. Thus it seems that buying a new computer - with a large disk, large memory and a modern operating system - is the logical thing to do. An added advantage would be taking the computer with me to the OP so that simple program fixes can be programmed on the spot.

I also decided that my home computer would eventually be dedicated to producing music. This is primarily because I am loathe to upset a system which works well and which I know well. I strongly suspect that some of my programs won't work on Windows 8 and I prefer to keep the setup as I know it. My wife has plans for extending our apartment, turning one room into a music room which will not be connected to the Internet; the current computer can move there.

On Thursday night, I checked a few Israeli internet sites to see what was being offered. I had decided that I would prefer Windows 8.1 as opposed to Windows 10, and that memory and disk size were more important than processor speed. After a certain amount of research, I settled on the Asus P550, which seems to offer all that I need at a reasonable price (2,400 NIS, comparable to the price quoted in the linked review). I noticed that this model was being sold at a local branch of a chain store.

On Friday morning, I went to this shop and enquired about this computer. The salesman checked his stock listing and said that they had one in stock, but he couldn't find the model. Eventually I realised that the said computer was on display under our noses; after removing it from the display stand, we checked the configuration and it was as I required: 1T disk, 6GB memory. The processor is an i3, which is ok. As the computer had been on display, the salesman tried to give me a discount but the sales system wouldn't let him; after several attempts which ended in failure, I suggested that they give me a mouse instead of a discount. Fair enough.

Once home with the computer, I was faced with several tasks:
  1. Getting rid of the 8.1 display ('metro') which is suitable for mobile phones and replacing it with a standard desktop display
  2. Defining the default language to be English and getting the computer to display left to right (it was set up for Hebrew, right to left)
  3. Removing the demo products which were pre-installed
  4. Installing my own programs
  5. Transferring video data from my work mobile computer
  6. Getting Delphi set up to compile my programs - the whole point of this computer is to be a development station
Points 1,3,4 and 5 were achieved without too much effort. After completing the transfer of video data - via a disk-on-key device - by mistake I deleted the entire parent directory from my work computer, files which belong only to me. Fortunately, most of those files were program installations, so not too much damage was done. I found a program which can restore files - Resuma - and after letting this program do its job, I managed to restore a certain amount. I doubt that I lost anything important.

Point 2 was exceedingly difficult: I only managed to resolve this by installing British English along with American English. This seems to have done the job but I'm not overly satisfied with the result. This is what happens when one buys a computer on a Friday morning when the Passover festival (a week away from work) starts in the evening. I will try and improve the situation in the future.

Point 6 - Delphi - started off on the wrong foot until I told the computer to view the Delphi installer as WinXP/SP3 compatible; then I managed to install the program correctly. Transferring my programs and data went ok but there were problems with a few oddball components. I tried recompiling one program - my Cinema database program - during which I discovered a few places where my code could be improved. This went fine, but I discovered that all source code which uses Hebrew has been mangled (rather, the Hebrew has been mangled; the code itself is ok). I have been thinking about ways of addressing this issue: obviously everything will have to be recoded, but it might be better to store the Hebrew interface strings in each program's database instead of directly inserting into the code. This will be slower but slightly more flexible. 

The main thing which is lacking at the moment is an Internet connection. I used my mobile router to a certain extent but was unable to update the Windows Defender database (anti-virus); I will wait until I can connect the computer to the kibbutz wired network (this requires the administrators to define the machine and they may not be working this week). So I can work on my programs and the Sorrento 2016 film but not on anything which requires a connection.

I noticed that Asus offer the option of free storage - 16GB - which seemed very attractive and almost invalidated the point of the entire exercise, which was to stop using Dropbox. But when I managed to connect and set up an account, I discovered that this storage is free for a year; after that, I will have to pay. This morning, I looked for other options and discovered that there is a site - Mega - which offers a staggering 50GB, free of charge! I swiftly set up an account, downloaded their synchronisation client and started uploading data. I'll run this in tandem with Dropbox for a few weeks until everything gets sorted out and then presumably I'll drop Dropbox (sorry for the bad pun). The Mega client works fine on XP; will it work on my work computer?

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