Category Archives: Useful Stuff

Revitalize your desktop

Now that I’ve got the new machine up and running, I’m trying to figure out what I should do with the old one. Windows was running like a dog on the old box, which is why I wanted to upgrade in the first place. Just for kicks, I decided to install Ubuntu, a free operating system based on Linux. I’m really impressed.

Ubuntu was easy to install, had no problems recognizing any of my hardware, and feels like it runs 3x faster than Windows 7 on that same machine. Even browsing web pages seems faster than on my new Windows 7 machine. Plus it comes with a bunch of software pre-installed for viewing/editing/saving documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos, videos, and songs. All for free!

The interface is kind of like a cross between Mac OS and Windows, so it might not be something that some will want to use if they’re used to the paradigms of a particular OS. But if you’ve got old hardware and want to wring more performance out of it at no cost and no risk, I’d definitely recommend giving Ubuntu a shot.

If you use the Windows installer, you can install Ubuntu alongside Windows and choose which one to load when you turn on your computer. This way you can try out everything that you’re used to doing and compare (i.e., how does Ubuntu handle re-tweeting stupid things, watching videos, reading email, and occasionally doing work?). With the dual boot, you can then load Windows whenever you need to play on Full Tilt Poker or play a PC game.

As a side benefit, there’s almost zero chance that you’ll get infected by a virus or spyware. The people who make viruses and spyware target operating systems and browsers based on market share, and Linux has only about a fifth of the market that Mac OS does, and Mac OS is completely dwarfed by Windows (20:1). Using Ubuntu does not, however, protect you from accepting a check from a Nigerian ex-President / foreign exchange student who wants to rent your room / overeager Craigslist buyer who wants your car and getting ripped off in the process. That you’ll have to figure out on your own.

Installing Windows 7 from a bootable USB drive

There are a lot of Google search results with guides on how to create bootable USB drives from which you can install Windows. Unfortunately, a lot of them are outdated or missing key pieces of information. Fortunately, I found two pages that were pretty helpful:

Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool – Who needs a guide when you can have software do it for you? Microsoft’s online software store has a tool that makes it easy to make a bootable USB drive or DVD from the ISO.

at Kevin’s Blog – Kevin has put together a fairly complete guide to how to make a bootable USB drive. It’s useful even when you use the Microsoft tool because you might end up having to manually run bootsect (e.g., you’re making a x64 installer on a machine running the x86 version, so you can’t actually run bootsect from the x64 ISO).

As I type this, my computer is busily rebooting away during the installation process. I think it’s almost done.

Pack a power strip

Whether you’re at the airport or on jury duty, busting out the power strip can make you look like a genius. The non-geniuses are the ones walking around hunched over, laptop and power cord in hand, desperately looking for an open outlet that just doesn’t exist. Power strips are also handy for dealing with the ridiculously short length of Apple’s iPhone USB cable.

IM on the go with meebo for iPhone

I’ve already talked about using meebo’s web app, but now meebo has an iPhone client:

one app to rule them all

The Meebo native iPhone app. It’s fast, it’s pretty, and it just flat-out works. Available now for iPhone and iPod touch.

via Meebo for iPhone | meebo.

Like the web app, the iPhone client has an elegant interface and keeps you logged in and alerted to all your latest IMs. Now that they’ve got both the web and the iPhone covered, I can’t imagine using anything else for IM.

Rent vs. Buy

Somewhere along the way people lost their common sense when it came to real estate. Houses that used to sell for $250k started looking attractive at $1m because everything else was selling for $1.1m. But while the prices of comparable houses in a submarket gives you some indication of the market value of a house, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should buy that house. The cheapest overpriced house is still an overpriced house.

One thing I like to look at is a simple comparison of rents and mortgage payments. Calculate the mortgage payment for a property you are looking at, then compare it to the rent of a comparable place. This can sometimes be difficult when trying to evaluate a large single family detached house, since there may not be too many comparable rentals in the area, but for a smaller house or a condo, you shouldn’t have a problem.

In my neighborhood, I’ve seen plenty of condos that are being offered as rentals for $2000-3000 a month. Assuming an interest rate of 5.25%, this payment would translate to a mortgage of $362,000-$543,000. Assuming a 20% down payment, this results in a house price of $453,000-$679,0000. Comparable condos actually sell for $550,000-750,000.

Looking a little wider, 2 bedroom single family detached houses are renting for $3000-4000 a month, translating to a house price of $750,000-$900,000. The asking price of these houses are still $1m and up.

This simple calculation doesn’t even take into account the additional recurring costs of homeownership: property taxes, insurance, and maintenance. Nor does it take into account the time or transaction costs involved when you happen to find a great new job and have to extend your commute or sell your house. Nor does it put a price on the risk of falling housing prices.

But never mind all that. Just keep it simple and look at the rent vs. mortgage payment as a starting point. Purchasing a house is a big emotional as well as financial investment, and emotions run pretty high when you’re talking about owning a piece of property with your name on it, providing a shelter for your family, and possibly regretting the biggest financial mistake of your life. By starting simple, you might be able to run a sanity check: Is the pride of homeownership worth a $100,000 premium on that small 2-bedroom condo? If you saved the $1000 difference every month in an ING Direct account at 1%, what could you do with the $61,500 you would save over 5 years?