Archive for August, 2009


Book Review: Skunkworks

Sometime earlier this year in February, the guys at work recommended a book – Skunk Works by Ben Rich and Leo Janos. I then read a couple of reviews about this book and decided to purchase it. Admittedly, locating this book in your LBS (local book shop) is no easy feat. I travelled to Kinokuniya where the system revealed a copy of the book was available, but alas, it was not to be found in the shelves. Borders had no stock. Ironically, the place I found the book was from SANS Bookshop at parkway, where they even helped me to wrap the book up. Local businesses for the win!

Skunk Works is a semi biographical account of Ben Rich’s experiences in the elite engineering department in Lockheed Martin known as “Skunk Works”. The book richly details the life of a ragtag crew of highly talented engineers, including Kelly Johnson, Ben Rich himself and the rest of the crew in their quest to pursue engineering perfection.

Details about the development of the F117 stealth plane, U2 spy plane and SR71 Blackbird make for a very entertaining read. The unexpected hurdles that these engineers have to overcome and their corresponding solutions help us to realise that high tech development has to sometimes be fought with low tech solutions. Problems that exist now in any workplace such as politics, red tape and cost are also discussed in the book.

In essence, Skunk Works makes for good light reading for any engineer, or engineer in training. Chock full with erroneous details (the best kind), the book remains amazingly relevant to today’s engineering climate despite the fact that it was written more than 10 years ago!


Adventures with the Z16

This year, I finally made the plunge to purchase a new laptop to replace the current laptop I’m using (a BenQ joybook 7000). Although the Joybook has been a good laptop to use till now (purchased 28 Feb 2005), it simply lacks the grunt and speed for using my typical day to day applications. In addition, RAM and HDD space cannot be upgraded beyond their current limits and the battery has unfortunately kicked the bucket.

So thus began the hunt for a new laptop and I finally decided on getting the Sony VAIO Z16. Why Sony? Firstly, due to the model being an EOL model when I purchased it, the price was an utter steal. Secondly, it was very much lighter than my previous laptops and has an awesome screeen resolution (1600×900 on a 13.3in screen). Not to mention that it has a docking port (now I just have to get the docking station for it.)

Getting a laptop is very much like dating a girl, the initial courting phase is very much an arbitary one. How many times you view the laptop at the shop, you are unable to identify it idiosyncracies. Face value is all you can get before you buy the laptop. (That said, you can’t go on a forum and ask “Does anyone know how this girl performs”, its not really a perfect analogy I know).

First impressions of the laptop were good, build quality was reasonable (not perfect, the battery was loose).  Screen was stunning, and Microsoft Vista was as usual – an utter pain in the neck. Fast forward to April 2009, when Windows released the beta version of 7 and I tried to upgrade my laptop.

One of the main defining features of W7 was the ability to run a native WinXP virtual PC from within the OS, however, a requirement was that Intel’s VT-x be enabled. Ironically, Sony decided to lock out this feature for security reasons (link). Problem #1 – VT-x was disabled in the BIOS by Sony, with no means of enabling it. (other workarounds exist now thanks to the great work of the community.) Problem #2 – I attempted to run W7 x64 on the OS, but that lead to little success as Sony has failed to release the x64 drivers for the “Hybrid Graphics” chipset.

I have now modified my BIOS in my Z16, but unfortunately, CPU-Z refuses to tell me that VT-X has been enabled (why oh why). A new link stating that the battery has to be removed and the laptop powercycled proves to be promising, this will be tried and I will update this blog soon after. (Update! Securable reports that VT-x is enabled! No idea why CPU-Z refuses to show me this fact tho)

I have a feeling that this love-hate relationship with my VGN-Z16 will be one to remember in times to come.

What: Sony VAIO VGN Z16


– Got it for cheap

– HDMI, Hybrid Graphics

– 1600×900 Screen (13.3)

– 1.57 KGs


No Backlight

Many features disabled by Sony

Gets warm

Battery loose

Accessories are expensive


Zero to PI in irrelevant seconds.

Lurking around local forums often turns up some interesting trends, of one to note is the blatant need for one upmanship in terms of computer specifications. Often, the following figure is a common sight on the signature of members of these forums.

This is a relatively mild example, other cases tout computers that cost a lot more. Which brings me to the main point of this post. Computers these days have reached a point where performance differences between a computer that costs about 2500 and one that costs 4500 are negligible. Beyond the world of synthetic benchmarks, in what situations would the full potential of these computers be exploited? I can imagine a few select scenarios, namely specialist compilation and gaming in high definition. Would it be worth paying this much dough for a computer that would remain barely relevant in the next 2 years to come?

I believe that many PC users these days buy and construct PCs not according to their needs and requirements, but rather the rights to wave their big stick around “Hey I’ve got the most powerful computer around here! Respect me!” . Because, honestly, to use an i7 for word processing and facebook? Money can be better spent elsewhere.