Saturday, October 17, 2009

Using Parallel Printer with New Motherboards

I recently bought a new PC to replace our old POS. When we were about to connect the Epson TM-U220D POS printer, I realized the new motherboard does not have a parallel port anymore! Since the POS printer uses the old-style Centronics printer interface, it definitely needed a parallel port.

At first, I tried looking for a USB-to-parallel port adapter. Nobody seem to have stock until I found one at Park Square. I experimented with it for a couple of days but I couldn't get my NetProfit POS program to treat it like a real "LPTx" device. I tried sharing it and using net use to map it into "LPT2", to no avail.

Luckily, our Purchasing Department was finally able to find me a vendor at Abacus Computer in V-Mall that carried a PCI Card parallel port. Installed that one on the PC and "LPT1" appeared. Worked like a charm.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Inno3D GeForce 9500 and LG 15-inch Touch Screen LCD

With our POS touch screen damaged and cracked due to the evacuation during the flood, I bought a new PC set + an LG 15-inch touch screen (our previous ADC unit was imported from Taiwan but the manufacturer has gone out of the LCD business already). I also got an entry-level Inno3D GeForce 9500 video card which came with an analog VGA port and a DVI port at the same time. I wanted our POS to support dual LCD's -- the touchscreen one facing the cashier, and a regular one facing the customer showing his orders (basically replacing the display pole).

Since the LG touch screen uses a VGA connector, and the cheapest LCD screen (Hanns-G) I can get at PC Express also uses a VGA connector, I bought a PHP100 VGA-to-DVI adapter. That way, both monitors can be connected to the GeForce at the same time. Installing the Inno3D video drivers produces a small icon on the system tray that allows you to do quite a few things with your monitor -- horizontal span; vertical scan; and even flipping it 90-degrees to the right to make it portrait mode. And since the LG's screen can be pivoted between landscape and portrait mode, the two together allows one to setup a vertical layout desktop layout.

The modes that interested me were the horizontal span and the extended desktop. Under horizontal span, the two monitors are treated as one very wide monitor. So moving the mouse from one screen to the other is just a matter of pushing it over the edge of one monitor into the other. The Windows "Start" button is on the left monitor, while the system tray is on the right monitor. I can open the main order taking program on the left monitor, and the customer digital signage display on the right monitor. The only problem is it confuses the touch screen driver. The driver still thinks its on 1 monitor. So touching the upper right corner of the left monitor causes the mouse to run to the upper right corner of the right monitor. Obviously, this was not acceptable.

With Extended Desktop, the taskbar stays on one monitor while the other one looks like another regular desktop. From Windows' point of view, its really like having 2 x independent video cards connected to 2 x independent LCD monitors. So the touch screen driver works properly on the main monitor only and does not get confused. This is the mode that I want.

The GeForce driver seem to be emulating 2 x video adapters only because in reality, its only one. This makes it very different from notebooks which really seem to have 2 video adapters -- one for its built-in LCD display, and another for its external video out port. Because of the emulated environment, if you use 2 x different LCD resolution (eg. one at 1400x900 and another at 1024x768), it gives unpredictable results.

Modifying the POS to support 2 x monitors seem easy at first. I just followed what I did with my other test program on programming with multiple displays. But up to now, I still can't figure out why the 2nd display (the digital signage) still opens up on the same main screen. Hmm...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Free Globe Tattoo with my HP Mini

The recent HP Mini 110 Netbooks that I bought for the store came with free Globe Tattoo -- that's what Globe calls their wireless 3G/GPRS Internet service. I filled up some application forms; photocopied my ID and receipt; and got my units from the HP Store at Glorietta Digital Exchange.

Installation was pretty simple and trouble-free. You open the packaging; insert the SIM into the USB dongle; plug-in the dongle to the NetBook; and it pretty much installs itself. It seems that the dongle can even accomodate a mini SD card so that it will also act like a USB flash drive. But I wasn't too interested on that so I just installed the basic 3G module.

Unfortunately, ever since the the big typhoon, Globe wired and wireless service in Marikina has just been plain awful. Getting wireless signal is very spotty. Its been several weeks and they still haven't restored our landline service at the store. Using Tattoo at the store was just a major pain. The speed was unbelievably slow. Just clicking on a GMail email times out.

In frustration, I ended up just installing the Nokia PC Suite on the NetBook and plugged my Nokia 6210 Classic to the USB port. My phone uses Smart's 3G service.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getting a Bite at Bite Club

A couple of months ago, I tried out Wham Burger along Katipunan. Since then, I've been back there one more time. Today, I decided to try out their grilled, gourmet burger competitor just a few buildings away on the same road -- Bite Club. From the outside, Bite Club looks like Brother's Burger (probably because of the logo/color scheme). But once inside, all traces of similarity goes out the door (or window).

The place looks beaten down. The tables and chairs look like they've seen much better days. The place felt like a beer drinking place. I was really surprised by the order counter. There's no POS -- just an ordertaker with a calculator sitting on top of a cash box. After I paid him for my order, I did not even get a receipt (not that I expected one given that he only had a regular calculator!).

Despite all the shortcomings, I have to admit that the burger was fantastic! The size of the burger (in terms of diameter) was huge, and so was the bun. I ordered the caramelized onions topping and it was delicious. I felt that the Wham patties were thicker even though they were smaller in diameter. I will most likely give this place another try.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

UCPB Online Banking

I opened a basic ATM/Savings account with United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) to try out their online banking facility. The online registration is very simple and user-friendly. You fillup the details online and it gets activated immediately. There is no need to physically go to an ATM to activate your account unlike with BPI and Chinabank. And there is certainly no need to physically print out a form to submit to your branch unlike BDO. There is no fancy SMS-based authentication unlike Standard Chartered.

The most basic ATM account just requires a minimum balance of PHP2,000. You can perform Funds Transfer to non-enrolled third party accounts. As a form of 2-factor authentication, it creates a one-time-use session password everytime you want to perform a funds transfer. This password can either be sent via SMS to your registered mobile number, or to your registered email address.

While the 2-factor authentication does provide an extra level of protection against improper use of the account, I wonder if they will cause as much hassle to legit users as both methods do not really offer any form of guaranteed delivery time. My previous experience with Standard Chartered's SMS-based authentication was not really positive. The delay of receiving the txt message was very significant that my session has already expired by the time it arrived.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

My First Netbook(s)

I bought 2 x HP Mini 110 for P21,950 each today to replace the 2 x old telemarketing PC desktops at the store. I got one unit from PCX Shaw and another at PCX Katipunan because each branch only keeps inventory of one unit.

When first booted up, the HP Mini goes into a sell-install mode of its pre-loaded Windows XP Home Edition. It comes with Microsoft Works (is there anyone who actually use that suite?) with 160GB HDD and 1GB RAM. The speed is actually pretty good. I was expecting a much slower machine with the Intel Atom.

The Mini has 3 x USB ports, 1 x ethernet port, and of course, built-in wifi. There's a VGA output port and, surprisingly, a built-in card reader that can read SD/MMC cards. Unfortunately, it doesn't support CF, which is what I use for my Canon cameras.

What does still take getting used to is the 1024x576 screen resolution. The almost 2:1 aspect ratio looks really strange at first -- wide and short. Opening GMail on screen requires a lot of vertical scrolling. But overall, I'm pretty happy with the battery life. The Atom really does perform much better when it comes to energy consumption.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gasoline Leak at the Store

Its been a tiring week cleaning up the store after the typhoon. The store looks much better now, although there's still lots of work to be done. I received a phone call from our landlord, Federal Brent after lunch. They've never called our house before so this does not sound good.

According to the building admin, the roving guards detected gasoline leaking from our motorbikes parked inside the store. The smell of gasoline has permeated outside our unit and luckily caught the attention of the guards. We immediately rushed to the store and called Harry to meet us there. We're not sure the gasoline melted through the plastic/PVC bottle that Noe stored them in, or whether there was really a hole or crack on the bottle that caused the leak.

We had to take out the bikes and clean the floor again because it was so slippery. The smell of spoiled food has been replaced by the smell of gasoline!