Entries Tagged as 'Technology'

The Media Home

It may come as a shock to you, but computers are here to stay, and there’s at least one in almost every home in the country.

Computers in the home are becoming a “fabric” around which we build and manage our lives, our communications, and our entertainment to enumerate just a few critical areas.

But, almost nothing plays nicely together… and that’s a real problem for the average consumer who’s never figured out how to set the clock on their microwave oven!

A sleepy little company in Redmond, Washington introduced a product they call “Windows Home Server”… it’s really not a revolutionary product, it’s more just a repackaging of technology they already had — it’s just designed to be easy to install and maintain; and it’s targeted at the home market (much like Small Business Server was to the small business without an IT staff).

Why has Microsoft targeted a product like this at the home market?

Easy — he who defines the fabric of the home network is most likely to reap the rewards in controlling the devices the consumer buys for them.

Microsoft has tried for years to get low end versions of Windows into just about everything (Windows CE, Windows Mobile, etc)… and the Microsoft Home Server is another attempt at that.

Now since we have cell phones, music players, video players, navigation systems, and a host of other things built on top of Windows, Microsoft is making the move to make everything work together — well, at least sort of work together (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted the partnership between my phone and my PC to get them to sync).

But the key is here, they will target the consumer, and the consumer will most likely purchase additional hardware and software that is “certified” to work.

Certainly Microsoft isn’t the only company chasing after control of the infrastructure; but they are one of the biggest… and certainly wisdom would suggest that you not put yourself firmly in the cross hairs of a market segment Microsoft is targeting.

Bottom line is, keep your eyes open for a host of products for the home that leverage off of Microsoft core technology that attempt to bring the average consumer into the digital media era.

Originally posted 2008-06-05 01:10:52.

Rip & Burn

 ImgBurn uses a user interface similar to DVD Decrypter (which was used to decrypt and rip DVDs); however, ImgBurn is designed to create and burn images of non-encrypted discs.

It supports a wide variety of disc formats, and has a number of additional features for building images and verifying them.

Definitely a tool well worth twice the price; maybe ten times the price!

Oh yeah, it’s free…

Originally posted 2008-11-29 12:00:15.

Windows 8.1

The Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT updates are out, and the start button is back (though you could re-enable it with a number of hacks) if you want it — Metro is still available (and always there).

While those with touch devices may not see why the start button might be preferred, those who still have to use a mouse or other pointing device definitely will appreciate not needing to emulate finger swipes any longer.

The other big change is that SkyDrive is now installed by default (but no greater storage for free to Windows 8.1 users than anyone who just installs SkyDrive or just sets up a SkyDrive account).

The Windows 8.1 update is easy and free to install for Windows 8 users; however, Windows 7 users (or previous) will need to install Windows 8 first.

You can find a number of lengthy reviews of Windows 8.1 on line, but if you’re a Windows 8 users it’s an update you’ll probably want to install.  If you’re a Windows 7 user there may be no real motivation to upgrade.


Update to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8

Originally posted 2013-11-14 17:00:41.

CompactCMS Review

CompactCMS is an extremely light weight and fast Content Management Solution (CMS).  Actually it might be a bit of a stretch to call it a CMS, it’s more like a content management foundation.

CompactCMS is an open source software project and is totally free (nothing related to it has any costs or restrictions beyond the Creative Commons License).

No question it makes managing a small site very easy, and it has a huge selection of (free) CSS templates that offer a wide variety of layouts and appearances.

Why do I say it’s a foundation?

Simple, it provides the basic of editing pages and content, builds a sitemap — but it really doesn’t offer modules that provide enhanced capabilities.  Now in it’s defense, it does provide the ability to build pages that can call PHP directly, but it doesn’t provide any framework to use managed content within your PHP code (well — you can access the MySQL database directly, but there’s zero abstraction).

Several days ago I made a comment about most users only need a two page (mostly static) web site — and that’s true, and CompactCMS certainly provides that ability to users with very little understanding of web editing (it certainly provided more than that to users who have some understanding of web editing).

The main problem with CompactCMS for users who just don’t know anything at all about web technology is it requires a little understanding of how to setup a database, import a schema, and edit configuration files (by hand).  Yeah, that’s not really much to ask a techie for sure, but there’s lots of people who know where the power button is on their computer, but re-arrange the icons on the desktop and they’re lost…

I personally like CompactCMS — I’m not sure I have any real use for it, but it would be fine to use to setup simple web sites for clients that actually wanted to be able to make modest changes to the site themselves (remember, most low end web site offerings don’t include unlimited changes — and generally don’t include any changes).

http://compactcms.nl/

Originally posted 2010-04-07 02:00:28.

Macbuntu

Macbuntu isn’t a sanctioned distribution of Ubuntu like Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc; rather it’s a set of scripts that turns an Ubuntu desktop into something that resembles a Mac running OS-X… but it’s till very much Ubuntu running gdm (GNOME).

I don’t recommend install Macbuntu on a production machine, or even a real machine until you’ve taken it for a spin around the block.  For the most part it’s eye candy; but that said, it does make a Mac user feel a little more comfortable at an Ubuntu workstation, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the desktop paradigm (remember, the way GNOME, KDE, XFCE, Enlightenment, Windows, OS-X, etc work is largely arbitrary — it’s just a development effort intended to make routine user operations intuitive and simply; but no two people are the same, and not everyone finds a the “solution” to a particular use case optimal).

What I recommend you do is create a virtual machine with your favorite virtualization software; if you don’t have virtualization software, consider VirtualBox — it’s still free (until Larry Ellison decides to pull the plug on it), and it’s very straight forward for even novices to use.

Install Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop (32-bit is fine for the test) in it, and just take all the defaults — it’s easy, and no reason to fine tune a virtual machine that’s really just a proof-of-concept.

After that, install the virtual guest additions and do a complete update…

Once you’re done with all that, just open a command prompt and type each of the following (without elevated privileges).

  • wget https://downloads.sourceforge.net/project/macbuntu/macbuntu-10.10/v2.3/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz -O /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz
  • tar xzvf /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10.tar.gz -C /tmp
  • cd /tmp/Macbuntu-10.10/
  • ./install.sh

Once you’ve followed the on-screen instructions and answered everything to install all the themes, icons, wallpapers, widgets, and tools (you’ll have to modify Firefox and Thunderbird a little more manually — browser windows are opened for you, but you have to install the plug-ins yourself), you reboot and you’re presented with what looks very much like OS-X (you actually get to see some of the eye candy as it’s installed).

Log in… and you see even more Mac-isms… play play play and you begin to get a feel of how Apple created the slick, unified OS-X experience on top of BSD.

Now if you’re a purist you’re going to push your lower lip out and say this isn’t anything like OS-X… well, maybe it doesn’t carry Steve Job’s DNA fingerprint, but for many users I think you’ll hear them exclaim that this is a significant step forward for making Linux more Mac-ish.

There are a couple different efforts to create a Mac like experience under Linux; Macbuntu is centric on making Ubuntu more like OS-X, and as far as I can see it’s probably one of the cleanest and simplest ways to play with an OS-X theme on top of Linux…

If you find you like it, then go ahead and install on a real machine (the eye candy will be much more pleasing with a manly video card and gpu accelerated effects), and you can uninstall it if you like — but with something this invasive I’d strongly encourage you to follow my advice and try before you buy (so to speak — it’s free, but time and effort count for a great deal).

I’ll make a post on installing Macbuntu for tomorrow so that it’s a better reference.

Macbuntu on SourceForge.net

Macbuntu

Originally posted 2010-11-14 02:00:36.

The Anti-Green – Catalogs

Decades ago company after company mailed out or otherwise distributed large, printed, mail order catalogs.

The age of print advertising is gone, and the environmental cost of print advertising is horrific.

However, there appears to be many companies that don’t realize the impact of print advertising, nor do they understand that most (if not all) really don’t want (or need) a large mail order catalog.

Several months ago I ordered an item online from B&H Photo Video, and item which I researched online and located the “best” price using search engines.  I never requested to be subscribed to any postal mailing or email mailing lists — nor was there any obvious option to make sure that I was never subscribed to junk mail from B&H.

My feeling is that companies that do not believe that they actually represent a value to consumers are the companies that are quickest to force a subscription to any type of mailing list.  Companies who believe they offer something consumers want understand that consumers will come back and they don’t need to destroy the environment in order to attempt to promote future purchases.

For me, I’ll never purchase something from B&H Photo Video again.  I simply cannot support a business that engages in ravaging the environment [cutting down forests to produce paper, wasting energy to produce a catalog, wasting energy and polluting the environment to distribute that catalog, and further wasting energy to dispose of / recycle that catalog].

Do your part, take simple steps to make the world a better place — adopt more sustainable practices — join me in boycotting companies that don’t have a place in a sustainable world.

Originally posted 2010-05-07 02:00:32.

Free Software!

Let me start off by saying that there is a lot of free software available for just about every popular operating system that works well, is well written, and straight forward to use.

Let me also point out that a lot of free software is free because is simply couldn’t be sold — yes it’s that bad (of course there is a lot of commercial software that is on the market that shouldn’t be sold; but that’s another rant).

I have a favorite saying:

You rarely get what you pay for.

And with free software that could be taken to mean, it almost always ends up costing you…

I always recommend that you read up on software before you use it; and try to read comments written by someone with similar computer skills and goals as you have.  Then ask yourself the simple questions “do you need the software” and “do you have something that already does the same thing that works”.

If you just want to play with a piece of software, consider using a virtual machine to try it out and then discard the changes; and I always try out a piece of software in a virtual machine even if I’m fairly sure it’s something I want.

I maintain a list of products (free and for pay) on my web site that I consider worth using…

It’s rare that I have any problems with any of my computers — and that’s mainly because I don’t “junk” them up with lots of software I never will use and don’t need… and keep in mind — COMPUTER PROBLEMS are one of the costs of installing software.

Originally posted 2008-12-17 12:00:43.

Anti-Malware Programs

First, malware is a reality and no operating system is immune to it.

Malware is most common on operating systems that are prevalent (no reason to target 1% of the installed base now is there); so an obscure operating system is far less likely to be the target of malware.

Malware is most common on popular operating systems that generally do not require elevation of privileges to install (OS-X, *nix, Vista, and Server 2008 all require that a user elevate their privileges before installing software, even if they have rights to administer the machine).

The reality is that even a seasoned computer professional can be “tricked” into installing malware; and the only safe computer is a computer that’s disconnected from the rest the world and doesn’t have any way to get new software onto it (that would probably be a fairly useless computer).

Beyond exercising common sense, just not installing software you don’t need or are unsure of (remember, you can install and test software in a virtual machine using UNDO disks before you commit it to a real machine), and using a hardware “firewall” (residential gateway devices should be fine as long as you change the default password, disable WAN administration, and use WPA or WPA2 on your wireless network) between you and your high-speed internet connection; using anti-malware software is your best line of defense.

There are a lot of choices out there, but one of the best you’ll find is Avast! — there’s a free edition for non-commercial use, and of course several commercial version for workstations and servers.

My experience is that on all but the slowest computers Avast! performs well, and catches more malware than most any of the big-name commercial solutions.

For slower computers that you need mal-ware protection for, consider AVG (they also have a free version for non-commercial use); I don’t find it quite as good as Avast! at stopping as wide a range of threats, but it’s much lower on resource demands (and that helps to keep your legacy machine usable).

Originally posted 2009-01-02 12:00:01.

Grasping at nothing with billions

Intel paid 7.7 billion dollars (US) for McAfee Associates.

WTF is up with Paul Otellini?

Does he really think that having pathetically outdated security technology is going to help keep Intel in control of computing in the ever changing landscape of mobile computing?

Clearly Intel must be in the dark about how modern software is built from the ground up to resist the security issues that plagues the old cobbled together systems of the past (ie Windoze).  Obviously, though, Intel understands that their dominance in the computing arena is likely to fade — but spending this kind of money is just insane.

One thing is clear — Intel is massively over charging for it’s processors if they can afford to dump nearly $8B US into the trash can.

Originally posted 2010-08-27 02:00:20.

AT&T Provides Exceptionally BAD Customer Service

Yesterday morning (and well into the afternoon) I spent over two and one-half hours on the phone with AT&T trying to resolve an issue with a “$50 Cash Back”.

First I call the customer service phone number on my bill; and was quickly told I’d have to resolve it online since it related to an online order.

Then I brought up a chat window with online customer service, who was quick to tell me I needed to call the rewards center (which I did was I was chatting with them — and left the chat open exchanging information slowly).

With the rewards center I talked with a useless individual who transferred me to a supervisor who was actually some what helpful; but she told me I had to go through customer service and have the rewards center conferenced in (they apparently can’t access customer records, nor can they make outbound calls).

So I called back customer service, spoke to an individual who wanted to help — but wouldn’t transfer me to a supervisor; determined I need to talk to the rewards center (duh — that’s what I told him — I needed to be conferenced in to the rewards center with a supervisor)… he transferred me to the rewards center (main number) and hung up… so I talked with a rewards center person, and was again transferred to the same supervisor (who told me again there was nothing she could do — and I pointed out that I had done EXACTLY as she ask, and again AT&T had incompetency was the issue).

She transferred me back to customer service — which turned out to be more of a hassle since it was a different office, and I had to enter all my account information.  The person I spoke with was EXTREMELY rude, and the supervisor she transferred me to was an absolute BITCH (trying to play the power game).

I then called back to customer service, was transferred to a supervisor, who did conference into the rewards center and then got an absolute BITCH there.

After that (and noting all their names and operator IDs — at least the operator IDs of the ones that would actually provide them to me) I decide to just call and go through the complaints process…

I explained the whole thing to the woman, she read over the notes; ask me a few questions, and then just said “How ’bout I just credit your account $50 and put this issue to rest”.

It took her less than five minutes to understand the previous two and a half hour nightmare with AT&T individuals who were for the most part in a hurry to say NO, tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about, or tell me I needed to talk to someone else…

And all of this is a result of AT&T designing a system of rebates / credits / incentives that is difficult for an individual to navigate through and redeem… after all, they don’t really want you to get the money, they just want to defraud you.

HORRIBLE company (yeah — I already knew that)… and certainly AT&T doesn’t do anything to retain customers…

I’m already making plans to change my Internet provider as soon as I get the credits for the other promotions.

As far as I’m concerned, if I have to deal with crappy customer service, I’ll just play the providers against each other and maximize my savings.

All I can say is…

Just say NO!

Originally posted 2009-08-04 01:00:18.