August 2010

Awhile back I posted my take of the Sony Ericsson X10 mini and I indicated I would follow-up the review with its sibling the X10 mini pro.

I had high expectations for the X10 mini pro when I took it out of the box. My initial impressions on the physical aesthetics of the phone were justified. The X10 mini pro looks bulkier than its sibling but this is justified by the inclusion of a physical keyboard – with ‘real’ keys that you can touch and press.
Setting up the phone after a full reset (so I could clear any existing data settings by the previous user) was simple. This time I did not bother to look for a manual for the phone, instead I groped my way through the selection of menus, found what I needed, and kept on going.
Typing experience. Although this is a qwerty keyboard, some of the keys (numbers and special characters) have been moved around so it takes some getting use to it. When I first started typing I was concerned that my large thumb would make typing difficult. For the most part I was impressed that typing was easy EXCEPT when I was going for the E, R, T, Y keys as I always kept bumping into the edge of the display screen. The physical keys themselves need to be depressed with an effort to make the connection. I am not sure if this would change as you use the phone over time. But in my four days of using the phone, I found the effort to be unchanging.
In case you don’t feel the urge to slide out the keyboard, the T9 virtual keyboard is there for you. Personally I didn’t like my experience with the T9 keyboard, it kept interfering with my abbreviated SMS typing. I found it so annoying that I forced myself to slide out the keyboard each time I needed to send a text message. This can be a distraction if you are walking about town and you need to respond quickly to an incoming message.
More annoying, and I was unable to disable this function, is the appearance of the language bar on lower left hand corner of the tiny 2.55 inch screen. With so tiny a real estate, why did the engineers at Sony Ericsson keep this virtual button there. Did they think that a person typing a text would want to change language mid-entry? In fact this language bar quickly became a nuisance for me as it actually hampered my typing 50% of the time.
At 90×52 x17mm and weighing a mere 120g, the Sony Ericsson X10 mini pro is cute, distinctive and easy on the pocket. The 2.55 inch screen means the engineerings weren’t expecting owners of this phone to surf the web. Writing cryptic messages on Facebook or Twitting is not a problem but this is not the device for reading a full article from your favorite blogger or making a blog entry of your own, for that you really need a bigger screen.
I also didn’t notice it as much but watching a video from this phone quickly becomes impractical not because the screen is small but the reflective glass makes it hard to watch in a bright light setting (yes, even bright indoor lights).
As with its smaller sibling, the X10 mini, the pro has shortcut icons on the four corners of the screen. Changing these is easy. You can only have one widget per screen but that only makes sense since you have such a tiny screen. You can flick or swipe left or right to skim through these widgets.
If you Twit a lot or always want to know that’s happening in your Facebook account, Timescape streams these short messages with the avatar of the author lightly superimposed as a background for the message. Same goes for your sms messages.
Sony Ericsson phones are on par with the best multimedia gadgets out there. The X10 mini and X10 mini pro follow this tradition very well. The music player is excellent and despite the diminutive phone, you can still crank up the volume to hear it without headphones. (more…)

For many years I’ve always been puzzled by the amount of interest Vietnam has been attracting, particularly among the businesses, of Asian descent or otherwise. Vietnam is classed as a developing nation in the early throngs of development.

I’ve never been to Vietnam so I know little of the mystique the nation of 85 million people, nor was I prepared for the surprises in store when I finally took a Cathay Pacific flight to the land once made infamous as the “Killing Fields” in the movie of the same name.

The first surprise that greeted me was at the airport. As I disembarked off my flight I discovered a rather clean and modern, not state of the art but modern nonetheless, airport. I had apprehensions about how difficult it would be to get a ride to the airport since I opted to take a taxi from the airport. I did Google Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and found lots of references to unscrupulous taxi drivers. The assurances of friends who’ve been to HCMC themselves did not dissuade my concerns.

Having paid US$9 from one of the stalls in the airport, my party of four – wife and two kids – found ourselves seated comfortably in a clean and airconditioned taxi. It took about 30 minutes before we got to our hotel – the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon (HCMC was formerly referred to as Saigon). The bell hop quickly helped us out of our cab, took our luggages, as we made our way to the front desk to check it.

We were greeted by Ms. Naomi Ino, a Japanese Guest Relations Officer, working on assignment at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon (Renaissance). We were quickly whisked off to our hotel suite (yes, a Suite on the 12th floor) where we were checked-in, and given our keys. Ms. Ino, reminds me of many other guest relations staff at five-star hotels – they tend to be very courteous, highly knowledgeable of the hotel and the surroundings, and more than happy to share her experience living in HCHM (Ms. Ino is on a one-year assignment to this Marriott property.

The living room on Suite 1208 overlooks part of the city landscape as well as the Saigon River itself. By day, you can see throngs of motorbikes zigging and zagging between pedestrians and other vehicles. It is a chaotic scene and a nightmare for any tourist  daring to risk a walk. But Ms Ino’s advice of keeping one’s cool as you traverse the streets paid off (more on that later).

The Renaissance is a 18-storey hotel complex. Whereas most hotels would have the swimming pool at the basement (as in the Marriott Sky) or somewhere in the lower floors of the hotel (as in the JW Marriott in Hong Kong)., in the case of the Renaissance, the gym, spa and pool is located at the top floor of the hotel. Guests using the pool get an unobstructed 360 degree panoramic view of HCHM minus the noise and air pollution from the street below.

Eating to your heart’s content

Our first taste of Renaissance cuisine was dinner at the Riverside Cafe. It was late when we decided to sample the Hotel’s contemporary menu. Each of us ordered something different from the Ala Carte menu. If presentation is half the experience then I can say that each dish offered nothing different from what I’d expect from any Marriott property. The venue reflected Saigon’s French colonial history with columns and pillars. I was glad we opted for Ala Carte as opposed to buffet.

Someone once told me that the most important meal of the day is breakfast. And yet I can’t  see myself gorging on sumptuous breakfast buffets no matter how hungry I feel like it. The  continental breakfast offering at the Executive Lounge is simple enough. You have a choice of coffee or tea. Slight changes to the selection occurs every morning with sausages, bacon, dimsum and eggs to complement the selection of pastries and bread. Fruits, cereals and freshly made fruit juices are within easy reach.

For fine dining experience, Kabin Chinese restaurant treats you to a wide selection of Chinese dishes. We were apprehensive when we first ordered Roast Duck. Having lived in Hong Kong for so long, I’ve come to benchmark every Roast Duck dinner against that of the Peking Garden chain in Hong Kong. The first hint that this is different was in the way the Duck served. At the Peking Garden, thin slices of duck meat are cut together with the crispy skin and laid out in a serving dish. It is up to you to put together the duck in hand-made, thin slices of Chinese pancakes. At Kabin, the duck skin and meat is neatly rolled into the same rice pancakes for served to you ready to eat. The taste is also different. In my humble opinion, each offers a unique interpretation of how a Roast Duck is served. Just how impressed was my family with the food? Our last dinner in HCMC was at Kabin and we made sure we had the duck again.

There were two other places for us to enjoy a meal – at the Atrium Lounge and at the Pool Bar. We took neither on this trip. The Atrium Lounge is a quiet place offering drinks and light meals for anyone wishing quiet conversation with nothing but a grand piano to distract you. The Pool Bar is a bar by the pool (what can I say?). (more…)

On August 16, Dell announced its intention to acquire 3PAR Data, better recognized as one of the early pioneers of virtualized storage. A week HP made a counter offer that ups the bidding war for one of the few remaining storage pureplay startups in the once crowded enterprise storage marketplace.

Why is Dell interested in 3PAR? Dell’s storage business has largely depended on its OEM agreement with EMC (in force until 2013). But its storage buys of the last decade (ConvergeNet Technologies, EquaLogic, Exanet, Ocarina Networks) coupled with its Perot Systems acquisition suggests that Dell has higher ambitions than being a successful reseller of storage boxes that plug and play to its servers. The EquaLogic buy gave it iSCSI SANs (despite Dell having rights to sell EMC Celerra NX4).

For its part, HP has as much interest to keep Dell from acquiring 3PAR. Adding 3PAR to its portfolio puts Dell in the thick of the data center. A serious mid to high-end storage virtualization offering means more opportunities to sell high-end services, and possibly making a serious dent on HP’s ProLiant server and EVA/low-end XP storage business. A 3PAR solution overlaps with some of the XP and EVA so there might be a consolidation. I would not be surprised if HDS will come out the loser since it gives HP one more reason to stop the OEM relationship with the Japanese manufacturer (Rumors of HP trying to buy the system storage business of Hitachi have been playing around for well close to a decade now. So far the Japanese vendor has resisted the offer).

HP with 3PAR also puts the Palo Alto stalwart into serious contention in the cloud storage business, something EMC has been building over the last few years.The latest entrant to the cloud bandwagon is HDS.

The storage industry remains vibrant if not shrinking. The last few brands worth buying, remaining untethered to any system vendor, Brocade and Qlogic. Acquiring Brocade would give HP the ump it needs to up the ante in the storage networking space, seriously putting a rock in front of the Cisco jauggernaut. HP would also do well to buy Qlogic making further inroads into the total server-storage-networking storyline.

If Dell loses 3PAR to HP, the only other target on sight would be Compellent. Not exactly near the possibilities that 3PAR offers to the company. The next battleground is in the software space with backup and recovery solutions a consistent enterprise requirement and for which the choices are aplenty despite Symantec’s dominance. The Veritas acquisition has made Symantec vulnerable to enterprise-grade, low-cost solutions from the likes of Acronis, Commvault and BakBone.

For the moment, the storage market is not the most boring place in the tech industry.

For the uninitiated, flying appears like an escape from a dull life trapped by the confines of gravity. In reality, unless you are traveling on business class, seats on economy are usually tight, food is rarely appealing and you only have a choice of two per meal, and the toilets can feel like public toilets in a crowded shopping mall after a meal is served. And if luck isn’t with you, chances are you will be in for a bumpy ride. On board entertainment can also be a drag particularly if you are riding one of the older airplanes.

There really isn’t much to laugh or be happy about when you fly on most American or European airlines. Occasionally the service you get on some of the better equipped Asian airlines are tolerable but for the most part, flying – especially long-haul – is a pain.

So when a friend sent me an email with with some notable comments made by flight crews during actual flights, I thought I’d share this with you.

Airline Cabin Announcements: All too rarely, airline attendants make an effort to make the in flight ‘safety lecture’ and announcements a bit more entertaining. Here are some real examples that have been heard or reported:
PAL beats them all!

On a Continental Flight with a very ‘senior’ flight attendant crew, the pilot said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants.’

‘In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling.. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with more than one small child, pick your favorite.’

‘As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses.’

Overheard on an American Airlines flight into Amarillo , Texas , on a particularly windy and bumpy day: During the final approach, the Captain was really having to fight it. After an extremely hard landing, the Flight Attendant said, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Amarillo Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened while the Captain taxis what’s left of our airplane to the gate!’

Another flight attendant’s comment on a less than perfect landing: ‘We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal.’

After a particularly rough landing during thunderstorms in Memphis , a flight attendant on a Northwest flight announced, ‘Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted.’

We’re now preparing to land at San Francisco International Airport . Kindly straighten up your seats, turn off all electronic gadgets, pull up your window shades and buckle up for safety. We hope you enjoyed flying with us as much as we did.
Sa wikang atin po, tayo po ay papalapag na sa paliparang pangkalawakang internasyonal ng San Francisco . Paalala po lamang sa ating mga kababayan — ang mga unan, kumot, headset at iba pang kagamitan sa eroplano ay di po kasama sa pasalubong. Huwag po lamang baklasin ang LCD-TV na nakadikit sa silya.

And while we are on the subject of cabin crew announcements, airlines continue to experiment for ways to make the same old boring pre-flight announcements more entertaining so that people actually listen to them. So far I’ve not experienced one that is worth listening into except maybe this one…