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Acronis TrueImage 11

I honestly can’t remember how many years ago I gave up on Symantec Ghost… but I do remember Acronis TrueImage 5 (at least that’s the version I remember) was a much better, much easier to use, and much less expensive product.

I recently played with TrueImage 11, and it’s certainly got more features, but it appears a lot of the focus for Acronis now is in there higher end products.

A few noteworthy things about TrueImage 11.

  • Windows Vista Support
  • Modern Hardware Support
  • “Try & Decide” Support

Vista support is only important if you have or plan to move to Vista.  Supporting more current (modern) hardware is particularly important if your machine doesn’t work with older versions of TrueImage.  But maybe the most significant addition is “Try & Decide”.

“Try & Decide” is what Acronis calls shawdow copy / snapshot and commit or rollback.  Basically, you checkpoint your system at a particular time, and then you can decide later to either commit all the changes or roll them back to that point in time.  So you could install a piece of software, play with it, and then if you decide to keep it, commit the changes or you could roll your system back to the way it was before you installed the software (you would lose any other changes as well — so you have to be careful).

The rollback requires a reboot; and to use “Try & Decide” you have to have an Acronis “Secure Zone” partition (but it will automagically create that for you).

Acronis also throws in some additional utilities that they used to charge for. 

Overall, I’d say it’s a great product, a great price — and better than any of the competing products I’ve ever tried.

Acronis TrueImage 11 Home

Originally posted 2008-05-11 16:32:06.

How To Use Credit Cards To Your Advantage

If you’re a savvy shopper you know that you can save a great deal of money watching for sales and taking advantage of lost leaders.

It’s your money, so you might as well save as much of it as you can; not like some ones just handing it out to you without hard work.

One of the easiest ways to make your money go further is to take advantage of special offers from credit card companies that pay you money back to use their cards.  Most of the programs are complicated, and maximizing your benefits takes a little bit of discipline, but you can end up with quite a bit of money back every year.

The cards I recommend (in order) are:

  • Citibank Rewards Dividend Platinum Card (Master Card)
  • Chase Freedom (VISA)
  • Citibank Cash Returns (Master Card)

I recommend you get all three of them, and here’s why.

There are limits on the Citi Rewards and Chase Freedom cards, but if you use them right you can get 3% cash back, and with the Chase card as much as 5%!  But if you use your card a great deal you’ll cap it out before the end of the year.

The Citi Cash Returns Card doesn’t have a cap, but only pays 1% (1.2% for the first year).

I believe all Citi cards also provide you with virtual account numbers, which give you control of who can change what to your card when.  Chase unfortunately does not offer virtual cards numbers.  If you must have a VISA with virtual account numbers, Bank of America has several cards with decent rewards programs (more like the Citi Premier Pass Card utilizing the “Thank-You Network”).

There are of course many other cards that you might be able to save money with.

For instance I have a Chase Amazon (VISA) Card, mainly because they gave me $30 off my first purchase (since then they’ve given me $20 for $100 in charges, and $30 for $100 in charges to encourage me to use the card; but since I don’t purchase from Amazon much, it really isn’t that great a card for me).

The other way to make a credit card work for you is use it any time a merchant accepts it; they’ve built it into their pricing, so you might as well get 1-3% cash back for using your card; of course you do need to make sure you pay your bill in full before the due date every month, or those “savings” will quickly disappear with the interest charges!

On other word of advice, don’t acquire a huge number of credit cards; it will adversely effect your credit rating even if you don’t use them or carry a balance.  The immediate hit of lots of credit inquiries will make it harder to get credit, and having a large number of open accounts trims down your score as well.  And honestly, you don’t really need lots of cards, companies like Citi and Chase will provide you with INSANE credit limits.

Originally posted 2008-05-16 21:28:07.

The Dawn…

And now the dawn of a new day and with it a new year…

Once our collective head ache clears I’m sure the future will seam sunny and bright; even though today is overcast and bleak.

Originally posted 2010-01-01 01:00:22.

SyncMate v3

Eltima has released version 3 of SyncMate; this version includes an app for direct Android synchronization.

I’ll be doing a full review of it in the near future; but for those of you that are extremely happy you might want to consider upgrading.

If you purchased the expert edition you’ll have to pay to upgrade; if you use the free edition you won’t have to pay.  Also not you’ll have to re-establish your synchronization settings, the upgrade doesn’t migrate them.


Originally posted 2011-01-19 02:00:29.

Building A Virtualization Host

So what kind of hardware makes a good virtualization host?

Well, I would say the things you should consider are:

  • Processor, the more cores the better
  • Memory, the more the better
  • Storage, the more spindles the better

There are a couple more things you want to consider; for your CPU you really want a multi-core process that supports hardware virtualization.  I generally consider the Q6600, Q9300, and Q9400 to be good choices.  At $160, $170, $180 each you should probably consider the highest end processor your motherboard can support (some older Intel based motherboards may not accept the Q9300/Q9400 processors, so go with the Q6600, it’s about the same performance as the Q9300, just draws more power and produces more heat).  Of course, pricing varies — so figure out where the “sweet spot” is in the price curve for your favorite vendors.

With memory on a Intel processor you always want to populate all the banks; the interleaving will greatly increase the performance of your memory.  And with quality (Corsair DHX) memory costing only about $100 for 8GB (4x2GB) there’s really no excuse to scrimp.

Before I cover storage I’m going to throw in motherboards; yeah you need one of those two (as well as a case and power supply).  For motherboards I generally will pick something like the Intel DG33TL or DG45ID (the newer motherboard actually will cost less).  The built in video reduces the required component count, and you don’t really care about the video on your virtual host — it’s a server.  Also, that frees the x16 PCIe slot for a x8 RAID adapter if you choose to go that route (though there are now many motherboards that have multiple x16 PCIe slots that only cost a little more — but generally require a video card).  One other thing you might want in a motherboard is multiple ethernet controllers (and those should be Gig-E).  It’s not really required, for the most part your virtual infrastructure will be limited by your storage subsystem or your internet connection (depending on your application), but it is “nice to have”.

Now to storage.

The first thing is your system drive on a virtual host really isn’t that important.  Any reasonable SATA-II drive running in AHCI mode will be fine.  And you don’t really need to mirror it, since you can take a snapshot of it and restore it to another drive if it fails.  The decision of whether or not to mirror your OS drive will depend on other factors.  Also, since you definitely do not want your operating system swapping (no paging file) the performance of the drive isn’t a huge concern.  And if you want the ultimate, choose an SSD — that will let you boot very quickly, and there shouldn’t be any delay in writing a log file (32GB  is plenty, 16GB might be a little tight, but you could do it).

Your data drive, the one that will hold your virtual machine images, is very important.  For a small server you can start with just a mirrored (RAID1) or mirrored and stripped (RAID0+1) drive set of what ever size you need.  But understand that the number of spindles in your data set will greatly effect the performance of your virtual machines if they are disk bound (ie they read or write lots of data from the disk).  In fact, if any of the virtual machines are heavy disk users, they will impact all the virtual machines if you don’t have lots of spindles.

The rule of thumb I often use for virtual hosts that will have reasonable disk activity is the minimum number of spindles is the number of virtual machines plus one.  For economizing or for lightly loaded disk activity you can divid the number of virtual machines by two and add one… but you really always want at least a mirrored pair (single drives can get sluggish — they’re OK for a development workstation, but not a virtual server where you might depend on the machines running day in and day out).

To get more spindles you can use the pseudo RAID controllers build into the motherboard (the Intel Matrix controller isn’t bad, but it’s not a real hardware RAID controller); those controllers do fine for stripping and mirroring (and there’s no reason to buy anything more than that if that’s all you need).  If you get serious about virtualization and want to go with RAID5 (or RAID6) then you’ll want to invest in a real hardware RAID controller (and be careful when you buy, lots of entry level controllers actually aren’t any better than the Intel Matrix controller, except that they allow you to migrate to higher end RAID controllers seamlessly).

The absolute best name in RAID controllers is LSI, you can often save money buy purchasing an older series of controller, or a controller that uses the LSI chip set (but made by a systems vendor).  The most important thing is that the physical interface is SATA-II for the drives and PCIe for the system, and that the controller have enough channels for the number of spindles you’re likely to need (four, eight, twelve, sixteen, and twenty-four are the number you’ll see — LSI used to have a six channel, but they don’t offer that in the newer series).

You can buy a controller larger than you need, but you’re going to spend a great deal more money on the controller; and you’ll need a case and power supply that can handle that number of drives.

You will also want to consider hot-swap bays for more than four drives for sure; and those will add greatly to the cost of your machine (for 3.5″ drives you can get 1-in-1, 3-in-2, 4-in-3, and 5-in-3; for 2.5″ drives you can get 4-in-1… where this referes to the number of drives you can fit in a 5.25″ drive way).

What I do on my machines with sixteen channel RAID controllers is I have three 3.5″ 5-in-3 and one 2.5″ 4-in-1; the fifteen 3.5″ drives are attached to the first fifteen channels of the RAID controller (the sixteenth channel is unused), and four motherboard channels are attached to the 2.5″ drive bays.  My case actually has two power supplies, and all the 3.5″ drives are run off a 750W single rail power supply, and the 2.5″ and rest of the system are run off a 400W supply.  By using the combination of 2.5″ and 3.5″ everything fits nicely in the case, and the power supplies are more than adequate.  You’ll note that I use 2.5″ for system drives (I plan on going to SSDs eventually) — so obviously I’m not worried about the performance.  I have similar configuration for my eight channel RAID machines (except they don’t need dual power supplies). 

One final note, if you’re concerned about power consumption, you might want to consider building out a virtual host using only 2.5″ drives and stick with just using the motherboard controllers (real hardware RAID controllers consume a great deal of power).  With 500GB 2.5″ drives you could have 1TB mirrored and stripped, and that may be adequate for your needs.  Once you add a hardware RAID controller I’m not sure that you really need worry about the power consumption of the drives as much, but you’d need to do the math.

Originally posted 2009-02-11 01:00:16.

The Eve…

It is the eve of a new year.

It would be interesting to know who future historians will characterize the first decade of this millennium; and what they will have to say about the causes of our plights.

Today; however, we don’t have the advantage of hind sight on today — nor can we really have good perspective on the recent events that have gotten us to where we are.

Each generation looks to it’s time as a decay of what was, and longs for the “good ol’ days”… and for us it’s hard to imagine that these will be the “good ol’ days” of another generation — and much as we lament about today with dwell on fond remembrances of our past so will our children’s children.

Well, that is if the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an on coming train.

Originally posted 2009-12-31 01:00:25.

Micro Center 2GB SD Cards

I’ve found that the 2GB SD Cards that Micro Center gives away (with coupon) are worth what you pay for them…

They are SLOW, and my camera complains about them (it doesn’t complain about the PQI, Kingston, or Patriot card I have which are all FAST).

Just a word of caution, consider what you’re going to use the cards for before you buy the really cheap ones (of course if you get them free, by all means).  The good cards are only slightly more expensive than the crappy ones (yeah, we’re probably talking about 15% but that’s $1.00 for a 2GB card).

Originally posted 2008-07-18 12:29:04.

No Flash

I’ll start by saying that my view of Flash is that it’s total garbage – completely unnecessary – and a huge security hole.  Before I dive too deep, here’s what Adobe says about flash on their product page:

Adobe® Flash® Player is a cross-platform browser-based application runtime that delivers uncompromised viewing of expressive applications, content, and videos across screens and browsers. Flash Player 10.1 is optimized for high performance on mobile screens and designed to take advantage of native device capabilities, enabling richer and more immersive user experiences.

What the hell is “richer more immersize user  experiences” supposed to mean?  Is that the way to say that the vast majority of sites that use flash on their first page are done by idiots who don’t know how to build a standards based web page and think that annoying glitz is all that people care about?  I dunno — but the whole spiel reeks of a load of crap to me.

No one has ever (successfully) explained to me why they feel they need to use Flash.  Does it actually do anything that can’t be done in a standards based way that doesn’t require that you update a crappy plug-in almost as often as you change your underwear?  Any one got an explanation as to why Adobe feels that they need to us a download manager and update manager that further pollute your machine?  Wait, maybe it’s because Adobe engineers are nearly as clueless as their target audience.  I dunno — seem like more crap from Adobe.

Flash is just crap — and it’s from a crappy company that lives in the past and tries to sell over-prices products to clueless individuals who don’t understand what they’re doing.  I dunno — maybe Adobe should just be used as a synonym for “crap”.  It would fit; some Adobe huts look a little like a huge pile of dung; and Adobe and it’s software share more than a slight resemblance to a huge pile of crap!

I have (on several occasions) republished a Flash video by embedding it in a post – but I certainly would rather provide a link to a h.264 or MPEG4 video in a standard container that didn’t require individuals to install any proprietary trash on their computer to view or hear it.

Join me in moving forward to make the web a “NO FLASH” place… just say no to flash.


NOTE: One of my good friends tells me that I shouldn’t just rant on how horrible Flash is without presenting a solid argument.  I don’t, in fact, have to substantiate my opinion — my feeling is that Flash is such a huge pile of crap that it wreaks such that anyone who’d understand the argument already realizes it’s crap — and those who are clueless are hopeless… but, I’ll present a link to Wikipedia which describes what Flash is, and I’ll emphasize that anything legitimate that can be done in Flash can be done using open standards (that require no browser plug-ins) in HTML4 with JavaScript (ECMAScript) with some work, and allegedly they can be done much more simply in HTML5.  And for those with only a basic understanding of JavaScript you can find free and open source JavaScript foundations and widgets to help you build a web site that works on virtually any browser (or degrades nicely) and doesn’t require a huge stinking pile of crap from Adobe.

Flash (aka ActionScript) on Wikipedia

Originally posted 2010-10-21 02:00:39.

GPS + Real Time Data

One of the toys I got when I stopped by the Microsoft Company Store was Streets and Trips 2008 with GPS and Connected Services.

Connected Services is what Microsoft calls the FM side band service that provides real time data.  Real time data like, traffic, construction, weather, gas prices, etc.  Other GPS vendors might call it something different, but essentially they are all the same.

I was really excited to be able to put it to the test — and driving around the Bay Area it worked great.

But, when I hit the open road I found a number of short comings.

  • There aren’t that many areas that have the service.
  • In areas that have the service construction data doesn’t seem to be updated.
  • Traffic data also seems to be slow (especially in non-rush hour times; like a major accident in Houston in the middle of the day on the weekend).
  • Plus it takes FOREVER for the receiver to obtain data (twenty minutes is what they say; and that’s any time you enter a new service area since it has nothing cached).

I still think the real time data is a great idea; but it’s not quite as useful to travelers as one might hope, and using it has certainly reduced my desire to go buy a new GPS receiver that includes the service.

Also, why don’t vendors allow you to use your phone to get data via the cellular network?  Many people like me (and iPhone users) have unlimited data plans… oh yeah — they couldn’t charge an arm and a leg for that service.

Originally posted 2008-10-13 16:00:51.

Foxit PDF Editor

I’ve used PaperPort since it was a Xerox product; and I’ve depended on a fairly old version of it for manipulating PDF files for a very long time.  I’d looked at Foxit’s PDF Editor when it first came out, mainly because I’ve used their free PDF Reader.

Like most people I started with Adobe’s free reader, and I used their Acrobat suite for awhile (until I got tired of paying for upgrades).  Then I tried out PrimoPDF (a reader and a printer for free, the professional version worked OK, and it’s probably time to take a look at it again)… but I moved on to Foxit’s reader for both my Windows desktop and my Windows Mobile phone. I’ve used BullZip for printing to PDF for a long time.

But I digress…

So I decided to take a look at Foxit PDF Editor 2.2 — and my “need” is fairly simple:

  • Stack PDF documents together
  • Remove pages from a PDF document stack
  • Reorder pages in a PDF document stack
  • Fill in forms (including just adding text objects to a PDF)
  • Save the new PDF

Certainly nothing major; and mostly I can do it with OpenOffice or on my Mac without worrying about spending money on a piece of software I’ll only use occasionally.

FoxIt PDF Editor seemed to work fairly great — it was a little clunky adding text to a PDF (I was filling in a rebate form), and it wouldn’t let me to a multiple line text object (one line at a time — which is a little tedious for putting a note on the page).  I really thought I was going to like the program until I scanned in a receipt (and I scanned it as a whole page PDF rather than letting the scan software crop it) and tried to crop the region of the receipt.  FoxIt PDF Editor certainly will crop an image in a PDF; but it’s modal (I hate modality in software that’s targeted for productivity, that always means that the software vendor is dictating a flow to my work — and that might not be the way I want to do it).  I guess I could have lived with the fact that it put me into an edit mode to do the crop, but the region I needed to crop was larger than my screen, and FoxIt PDF Editor wouldn’t allow me to zoom out in edit mode nor would it allow me to auto-pan while I was using the crop tool to select… so while it would crop, it wouldn’t crop what I needed to.

Then I did the exact same thing in my ancient copy of PaperPort.  No problem, it worked like a champ and the resulting PDF file was 31KB from PaperPort verses the 536KB from FoxIt PDF Editor!

I was over it — FoxIt PDF Editor wasn’t worth $9.99 to me, much less $99.99…

If you sell software that has a “professional” price tag, you really need to provide professional quality software, not some POS that doesn’t work as well as shareware a hacker wrote in his basement and gives away for free!

Here’s a run down of alternatives for manipulating PDF files on Windows.  PaperPort is my current favorite; but you really need the Professional version to do everything you’d likely want with a PDF — and I certainly don’t feel it’s work the price.

I’ll take a look at Nitro and see what it has to offer; but for the time being I’ll just stick with my old PaperPort I run in a virtual machine along with OpenOffice to do what I need.

PaperPort 12 $99.99
PaperPort Professional 12 $199.99
Nitro PDF Professional 6 $99.99
FoxIt PDF Editor 2.2 $99.99
FoxIt Phantom PDF Suite 2.0 $129.99
FoxIt Reader 4.0 FREE
FoxIt Reader for Windows Mobile FREE
OpenOffice FREE

NOTE: With “FREE” products pay close attention when performing an install, many will default to installing third party software (browser toolbars, etc) or resetting your browser’s home page.  Just make sure you select the options you prefer, and none of the require the addition of any third party software to function.

Originally posted 2010-07-21 02:00:04.