Online Vietnam Visa

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is only a 1.5 hour flight from Singapore, a flight that I had somehow never taken during my many years of living in Singapore. So I decided that I wanted to pop over for a weekend and get some authentic/delicious food. The problem was that I needed a visa. It is difficult to find any concrete/official cost information online (the embassies website is incredibly slow and the consulate fees download seems broken), but as far as I can tell it will cost around $105 SGD (or around $80 USD) to get a one-month single-entry visa at the embassy in Singapore. Not only is this very expensive for a weekend trip, but the embassy is in a very inconvenient location and you will have to drop off your passport and collect it 6 days later (so add another $30+ for a few taxi trips).

Everybody will tell you that if you are flying in, then apply for a visa approval letter online so you can then get a visa-on-arrival for a much more reasonable (but still somewhat expensive) $45 USD. There are a lot of websites offering this service, but there are no official nor endorsed ones, so I was a bit hesitant to use such a website (especially considering how dated a lot of them look). Fortunately a friend who visits Vietnam a lot was able to recommend My Vietnam Visa . Their website design looks very late 90s and their $19.99 USD processing fee is a bit more that other sites, but they emailed me the approval letter within two business days as promised, so I am happy enough to recommend them as a hassle free experience

You will also save some time at the airport if you arrive with two completed entry/exit visa application forms (available from the visa site) and two passport photos to go along with the $45 USD fee.

For some reason I thought it would be easier to take USD for spending into the country and then exchange it for Dong. But that seems unnecessary as Ho Chi Minh City seems to have a lot of ATMs (including Citibank) at the airport and in town. I don’t recall seeing any money changes in town, but there are a few at the airport and they seem to give you a good rate and accept a lot of different currencies (so I could have just taken in SGD).

Cased Raspberry Pi

Jumped on the Raspberry Pi bandwagon and got an officially cased Pi plus Raspbian pre-installed on a 4 GB SD card. I was under the impression that the Pi was very picky with chargers and SD cards (specially fast and larger ones), but it seems to work fine with an old Motorola wireless headset charger and a Kingmax 16 GB class 10 micro SD that I had lying about collecting dust.

Currently just using Raspbmc as the media distro which runs better than expected. Before the Pi I was trialling using an old Motorola Droid RAZR with XBMC, but playback is a bit slow without hardware decoding. Also the Android version doesn't seem to render XBMC in 1080p over HDMI for some reason. It would be nice to get the RAZR working one day as it is smaller, the CPU (and probably GPU) is a lot faster and has WiFi and Bluetooth. With such features you can run a few modern MAME games and use a Bluetooth controller. The ultimate goal of the Pi/RAZR would be to replace the current old bulky P4 that I am currently using in my MAME setup and hook the GPIO to the coin counter.

Mac Auto-mount NFS and Backup iTunes

A while back I bought a D-Link ShareCenter DNS-320 network attached storage because it was on sale ($109 SGD). The performance is pretty poor (writes around 20 MB/s), but it has some useful features:

  • Supports Time Machine backups (requires a firmware update for OS X 10.7+).
  • Share a USB printer over the network—I have a WiFi enabled Canon MP495, but am always getting connection issues, this USB sharing will hopefully fix this.
  • Runs Linux so you can do some interesting things.
  • Can operate as an iTunes server.
  • Can access it from anywhere over the internet.

My main uses for it currently are:

  • Time Machine backups.
  • Destination for a friend's CrashPlan backups.
  • Backup/share photos.
  • Backup music and use this backup as an iTunes server's source media.

To do the above automatically I have an AppleScript which runs at login and mounts the network drive and then executes a shell script which runs an rsync backup. All of the required software is already on your Mac and you don't need to install anything extra.

Mount Script MountNFS-Volume1.app

try
	mount volume "afp://192.168.1.101/Volume_1"
	delay 10
	tell application "/Volumes/Volume_1/rsynced/sync.app" to activate
end try

Script Notes:

  1. Use Automator with the Run AppleScript action and save it as an MountNFS-Volume1.app somewhere on your Mac e.g. Documents.
  2. Make sure your NAS has a fixed IP e.g. 192.168.1.101
  3. If the NAS is offline you will eventually get an alert box saying that the volume could not be found. This is a system message and you cannot tell mount to hide it i.e. you will manually have to dismiss the error.
  4. After mounting I have a delay and then run another script (sync.app) to perform my rsync backups.
  5. You need to add a login item to run MountNFS-Volume1.app.

Backup Script sync.app

Use rsync to backup your pictures and iTunes libraries sync.app

rsync -rt --force --delete --exclude "~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Automatically Add to iTunes" --size-only ~/Music/iTunes "/Volumes/Volume_1/rsynced/Music/" > ~/Documents/rsynclog-itunes.txt 2>&1

rsync -rt --force --size-only ~/Pictures "/Volumes/Volume_1/rsynced/" > ~/Documents/rsynclog-pictures.txt 2>&1

Script Notes:

  1. Use Automator with the Run Shell Script action and save it to /Volumes/Volume_1/rsynced/sync.app.
  2. Keep an eye on the log files ~/Documents/rsynclog-itunes.txt and ~/Documents/rsynclog-pictures.txt for any errors.
  3. Some guides recommend using rsync -aE --delete or rsync -av --force --delete --size-only. Both of these would sometimes give me errors when backing up my iTunes library rsync: chgrp failed: Operation not permitted (1) or rsync: delete_file: unlink failed: Invalid argument (22), not sure what is going on, possibly something to do with the network file system not supporting something. Probably a good idea to try using one of the -a arguments so that all of the file attributes are preserved and keep an eye on the error logs.
  4. For historical reasons I have a mount and sync script, you could easily just use one script.

Next Steps

It would be nice if I could get CrashPlan running directly on my NAS and eliminate the need for my computer to be on. The DNS-320 runs Linux, therefore it can run an ARM version of Java and apparently a headless version of CrashPlan. Will be looking into this shortly.

Asus UL20FT Windows 8

Windows 8 runs quite well on the Asus UL20FT. Upgrading from Windows 7 worked well enough apart from my Asus factory setup had two partitions and the main partition was almost out of space. Being unable to extend the pimary partition, I decided to do a clean install of Windows 8 onto a single partition.

Windows 8 comes with all the drivers you need (including the Bluetooth and Intel HD graphics software) and all the important stuff seems to work. Unfortunetly, some of the keyboard shortcuts don't work e.g. volume +/- and Power4Gear. It is also unfortunate that the Asus UL20FT support page lists around 40 downloads and none of them have a description about what they actually do and what you need to install on a clean system. You don't actually need most of these downloads and a lot of theme are out of date. Below is a minimal list of things that I installed and what they appear to do:

  • Chipset\Intel INF Update Driver this appear to expose-information about the system (install drivers). I needed to install this to get the CPU turbo mode to appear in Power4Gear.
  • Audio\Realtek SRS Audio Driver installs the control panel for SRS premium sounds. Not really needed but might come in handy.
  • Card Reader\Multi-Card Reader Driver didn't try reading an SD card before installing this. But it definitely works after installing it.
  • TouchPad\Synaptics TOUCHPAD driver do not install this as everytime you login and go to your desktop you will get multiple prompts about running as an administration. Instead I installed the drivers directly from Synaptics. This version comes with Scrybe Gesture which doesn't seem to work, so you can uninstall Scybe from the control panel.
  • Utilities\Power4Gear Hybrid Utility not really needed, but I enjoy using the keyboard shortcut to quickly switch between power schemes.
  • Utilities\ATKACPI driver and hotkey-related utilities is meant to make the keyboard shortcuts work, but I needed to install the below as well.
  • Others\Keyboard Device Filter Utility in combination with the above, this seems to enable all of the keyboard shortcuts.

Doesn't seem to be needed but I installed them anyway:

  • Wireless\Intel(R) 1000 WiFi Wireless LAN Driver & Intel(R) 6250 WiFi Wireless LAN Driver I was ocassionaly getting some limited connectivity warnings with my WiFi. Not sure if it is due to my ISP router or Windows 8, so I have just installed these to see if they fix it. The wireless adaptor appears as a Qualcomm Atheros AR9285 Wireless Network Adapter, so I am not sure why what this driver is meant to do.
  • Others\Intel(R)_Management_Engine_Interface The Intel® ME software components that need to be installed depend on the system's specific hardware and firmware features. The installer detects the system's capabilities and installs the relevant drivers and applications. This seems to install some drivers for remote management and I think I will end up un-installing this.

Cold Brewin'

My coffee dude put me on to cold brewing coffee a while back. I was using my existing French press for a while but have since upgraded to a Hairo mizudashi coffee pot. This contraption is fairly decent and is easier to clean than a French press. I add around 50g of coffee to 600ml of cold water and leave it in the fridge for 12+ hours. When ready to consume, I add one part cold brew coffee to two parts water. One brew will normally last me at least two days and results in a net loss of preparation and cleaning time and a net gain in taste and satisfaction—at the office it also means I don't need to get annoyed at the guy that didn't fill up the water tank or empty the grounds. So it is very much a win-win situation.

Right now I am experimenting with a new line of fresh mint coffee cold brews. A very exciting time to be a alive.

Read more: Cold Brewin'

Easily Migrate Joomla 1.5 to 2.5

You cannot just upgrade Joomla 1.5 to 2.5, instead you must migrate it. This is a very complicated and time consuming task, so thankfully there are a few tools to automate this for you. A free tool jUpgrade exists, but I did not have any luck with it. Instead I paid a few euros for the fantastic SP Upgrade. It was a reasonably straight forward and quick process, so the hours of pain saved was well worth the cost. Recommended.

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