Archive for March, 2012

HP Laserjet Pro

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis March 25th, 2012

I don’t usually write product reviews, because it’s pretty rare that I’m uber-impressed by any single product.  Since we don’t take advertising money or other sponsorships, I prefer to write about things that will help my friends and customers the most.  This might:  HP is looking much better, FINALLY.  Months ago, I griped about the cheaply made products and junk software.  Last week I had the pleasure of installing the new HP Laserjet Pro P1100 series.  This tiny black printer has a footprint smaller than Shaq’s, installed like a dream, and runs like an old-style HP product.  I mean that in a good way;  It’s fast, it’s quiet, and the software that Windows 7 needs is already built-in.  It will take some time to see how “tough” these printers are, so I’ll keep my eye on them.  But for the price, this little gem can’t be beat – $140 on the streets currently.  5 years ago that was simply unheard of.  Keep in mind this is a monochrome laser printer, but I think the color lasers are driving the price down for these  types of units.  Another interesting thing I noticed recently is their software; HP has changed its course and done much better along those lines.  The new version of the HP Solutions Center is streamlined, and works like a charm.  I see far fewer issues with hanging processes or “bloatware”.  They have basic (corporate) drivers for most products… that cuts out all the garbage.  They also refined the process for changing  connection types – USB to WiFi, for example.  Overall I see good changes coming from this company, and it’s about time.  I think if they’ll focus on quality rather than quantity, they could really turn things around.

Cyber Warfare and Politics

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis March 20th, 2012

Our government has been practically impotent for the last 3.5 years thanks to partisanship and posturing.  Yet another fine example of this is dealing with cyber attacks.  We desperately need our laws to catch up and address the myriad of potentially dangerous situations that exist via internet, and yet they are playing the same ol’ song and dance; no agreement, no laws passed so far.  In fact some of the bills introduced are just downright silly.  McCain is trying to push one through that would basically do nothing but keep businesses out of court while further reducing your privacy on the web.  James Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies took a look at the bill and was apalled.  Lewis called the Senate Republicans’ bill “national security through faith healing.” and added “It’s a flop, it’s a bust, it’s a joke,”.  The problem I see here, besides silly politics, is that the people we chose to represent us in government know VERY LITTLE about the technology.  We should be referring to the experts, educating the public, and letting them decide.  Ignorance is no excuse, I realize… but if they don’t wake up and DO SOMETHING we may face a major attack on the scale of 9-11.  I hear them talk about cyber-terrorism, but in my mind the major threat right now is organized crime.  They are pumping BIG BUCKS into their operations, and getting VERY sophisticated in the attacks and software they build.  It’s easy to imagine a scnario that could make them Billion$ simply by shutting down the NYC power grid for a day, as Presidaent Obama simulated in a recent closed-door demonstration.  I believe top priority should be securing our cyber-borders and holding the big businesses accountable for sloppy IT.  You can read more here (thanks for a great article Huff Post Tech!).

US Internet Speeds

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis March 17th, 2012

Well, I’m not surprised:  the mid-west, Oklahoma included, lags behind the rest of the US in bandwidth, according to a study by Pando Networks (see map).  Growing up I always said that Oklahoma was ALWAYS behind the times by about twenty years.  It’s not as bad now, but still… maybe 5 years?  :-)  In a recent study they sampled data from all over the continental United States, and found big differences between our state and California, for example.  Rhode Island was at the top of the charts, while Idaho hit dead last.  I haven’t seen the push that I expected in the last few years towards fiber optics.  AT&T was actively installing fiber networks for awhile, but I don’t see as much activity lately.   I think part of that is because the push is towards cellular and wireless networks.  But consumer’s thirst for more bandwidth is outpacing the 3g and 4g expansions, so it seems prudent to continue building fiber networks.  I think that eventually the cell companies will have to tie their towers to a really big data pipeline like fiber offers.  Here’s the source article if you’d like to read it.

Facebook Apps

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis March 16th, 2012

Facebook is officially APP crazy.  Since the wild popularity of Farmville, there are tons of games and gizmos for millions of Facebook users to play with.  First off I have to say I DON’T DO FB APPS.  So for all my friends that invite me daily to challenge 5th graders or join the mafia – Forget It.  Why?  Privacy.  Each one has access to information from your page, and (if they’re smart) they’ll sell that. There have already been “breeches” in the flow of information from the app vendors, and who knows what they’re collecting or who they might be selling it to.  Besides, there are plenty of games elsewhere that are better, faster, and less intrusive.  I noticed that since the change to timeline that they made it more difficult to banish requests from a given app.  Before, you could just go to the request and one of the options was to Ignore This App, or basically ban it from ever bothering you again.  But since this is one of the major selling points for advertisers (especially the “sticky app’s”… the ones people spend a lot of time on) they evidently made it more difficult to make them GO AWAY.  If you want this, go to the Apps panel on the left column, then click any invites.  You should be able to opt out of any future invites.  I always giggle about some customers I had that REFUSED to give up their PC’s because they had to check their farms on Farmville.  They would rather have a virus than let their crops dry up.  Bizarre.

Tablet Stats

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis March 15th, 2012

There are new numbers out regarding the sales of I-pads and other tablets, showing Apple with a major lead over all competitors (see graph).  BUT LET’S GET SOMETHING STRAIGHT HERE folks, Apple DID NOT invent the tablet!  They just did a much better job of marketing, and making it all seem “Fun”.  Tablets have been around since the 1990’s in various forms.  You can read the complete history hereThey became popular business tools when Windows developed a tablet edition with XP.  These early versions were more like a laptop, but you could swivel the screen and close it, then use the PC with a stylus (kinda like a pen that doesn’t have ink).  This allows for a lot more accuracy than plopping fat icons around with your finger, and it’s cleaner.  Alas, these were mostly high-end business tools, so the average Joe never got to use one.  The latest numbers from the IDC are showing that Android will give the tablet market a run for their money over the next few years.  Meanwhile the Kindle Fire is coming on strong.  I think if Google will get their …umm… ACT together the Android tablets may take over this market sooner than projected.  You can read the complete article from CNET here.

Stupid Nvidia RAID

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis March 14th, 2012

Ok, so remember how I told you there’s a cool thing called RAID that will keep you from losing your stuff?  If you use a RAID 1 “mirror” on two hard drives, it keeps a constant copy of EVERYTHING.  It’s great, as long as it works.  This week I had a RAID array fail, and found out just how CRAPPY the Nvidia RAID manager is.  I looked around after a bunch of weird things happened, like my document backup failed.  Turns out the mirror had been broken for ALMOST TWO WEEKS.  I got no notification, no warnings.  But HERE’S the KICKER:  The FAILED drive was the one the Nvidia chip decided to continue using!  So my last two weeks of work were hanging by a thread.  ARRRRGGG!  Luckily, I was able to clone the drive to another, and then go get a replacement drive.  HEY NVIDIA… STAY OUT OF THE RAID BUSINESS.  They evidently should stick with video cards/chips (which they do very nicely, by the way).  Most mainboards these days with built-in RAID capability have the Intel solution.  I can GUARANTEE this would never had happened with their setup. 

VOIP

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis March 13th, 2012

Voice over IP, or VOIP, has become a major player in global communication.  Since about 5 years ago the ability to digitize, compress, and deliver audio across network lines has been refined.  The popularity of services like Skype and cable provider phones means that there is a big chunk of the Internet’s bandwidth being devoted to phone calls at any given instant.  Because of this and other streaming media, a lot of ISP’s (service providers) have started measuring and THROTTLING people’s bandwidth usage.  I laughed last week when I investigated a client’s new phone service.  For $20 per month per line they added a VOIP box to his existing cable company Internet connection.  It was cheaper than buying the lines through Cox, but he was less than happy with the service.  There are complications, you see, that depend on a lot more than the local phone copper lines.  There are a TON of new schemes out there, each promising ultra cheap phone lines.  BUYER BEWARE… do your homework before signing up.  A fine example is one that you’ll see on lots of TV commercials called MagicJack.  There are THOUSANDS of complaints about these folks, so I’m guessing it’s not worth it.  Besides, lots of people now have unlimited voice time on their cell phones (including long distance) so it makes this a moot point.  If you really need a nice way to communicate long distance over an Internet connection, try Skype.  It needs to be installed on both sides on a PC with at least a microphone, but it works great.  We may eventually see the end of personal land lines in the next decade, but businesses will stay for the long haul, I think. 

Notes, Android to PC

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis March 10th, 2012

Ever since the rise of PDA’s (Personal Data Assistants) it’s been handy to take notes.  “Notes” are a way to scribble ideas, grab pictures, web pages, etc. and group them.  This can be VERY helpful for projects, meetings, or anything else that might have lots of different types of files/info associated with it.  I’ve always wanted to use Microsoft OneNote, since it ties directly to the Office suite, but I just never saw the appeal or “EZ” factor.  I gave it one more shot yesterday when I got an email that offered the new Android version for free.   Wrong.  It only allowed 500 notes before you have to buy it.  ROFL.  Surely they know that we Android users want it free, or not at all.  Besides, they are WAYYY late to the game with this software.  Turns out there are LOTS of apps like this already available, and one of the most popular is EverNote.  So I tried it.  Installed on Android, check.  Installed on PC, check.  Set up account, check.  Capture ANYTHING… YES!  Pictures, sounds, links, locations, YOU NAME IT.  Any of it can be tied to a note, and then grouped in notebooks.  SWWWEEEEET!  But here’s the REAL kicker:  I then installed Meshin Recall (same company that makes EverNote) and BLAP I had a really eeeasy way to tie notes to my calendar!  This is paramount to me, because almost any note I would want is tied to an appointment or some kind of event in my calendar.  For example, I often have jobs that take longer/shorter time than expected.  I needed a quick way to note my hours directly on an appointment.  This does it, with ease.  For those of you who want a PDA app to tie with your PC, this is a great solution.  Any notes that you take on the PC show up on your phone, and vice-versa.  It has a lot more add-ons and features that I haven’t even tried yet.  These are available for iphone, Android, and Blackberry.

Spying

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis March 9th, 2012

Last week I had a customer pull me aside and whisper “I think I’m being spied on… what can I do?!”  It turns out she had been recently divorced and her estranged husband was somehow getting INSIDE information on her.  I gave her this advice;  1) Check for lenses.  You know the 3.2 mm circle in the back of your phone?  That’s a lens.  Get a good look at it, then take a look around.  Check plants, AC vents, smoke detectors… ANYPLACE that could hide such a lens, but not obstruct the view.  Watch for tinier electronics that might be a microphone while you’re looking.  2) Look for root-kits on your smartphone and PC.  I’ve written several articles about these.  Contact an IT pro if you need help with this.  If you think your cell phone has been compromised, consider trading it for the new model.    3) Scan for RF devices.  For as little as $300 you can  buy RF scanners on the web that detect radio signals, across the entire spectrum.  This is how the information would typically be transmitted to something offsite, like a receiver outside.  The government uses expensive ($3000+) versions of the same gizmos.  They’re just much more sensitive and give more information.  4) be aware that microphones and cameras can work from OUSIDE IN, from great distances.  Parabolic mikes, like you see on the sidelines of pro football games, can easily record whispers at 200 yards.  You can find these online for less than $200.  4)  Beware of phones.  Period.  A friend with the NSA once told me “If you hear your phone click, hang up because it’s a tap”.  I know that all clicks aren’t a spy job, but it was good information to know.  Note the Government is restricted on how/when they can do this, but much less so since 9-11.  However individuals can do whatever they want, whether it’s within the law or not.  5)  don’t forget the age-old obvious culprit:  someone you know.   You might just have a friend, neighbor, or loved one with a big mouth.   I’m not trying to stir paranoia here, but sometimes it helps to know what to look for to protect your privacy.  Note that if you’d like to hire someone for all this, private detectives work both sides of the fence.   Most cities, including Tulsa, have Spy Shops where you can go and browse available devices. 

Outlook Rules

Helpful Hints | Posted by Dennis March 8th, 2012

Keeping your email organized and sorted can be a real challenge.  One thing that can REALLY help is setting up Rules.  In Outlook these are automatic commands to do something with an email.  For example, I have all my Microsoft newsletters go straight to a folder named Microsoft.  That way I can go read them when I want, but don’t have to waste time on them when I’m busy.  Outlook can do thousands of varieties of this, but by far the most common is to Move to Folder from Recipient.  Office 2010 makes this a snap…just right click the email and choose Rules–> Always Move…  Keep in mind you need to have your designated folder set up BEFORE you do this.  Older versions of Outlook have a New Rule Wizard that steps you through the process.  In this case you must click the Hyperlink that says Folder and Recipient to set where/who.   Another slick trick is to have it automatically delete emails with certain key words.  So if your email providor is marking messages with a SPAM tag, you can have it sent straight to the trash.   If you add auto-archiving to your folders (see previous post), your email will stay managable with much less effort.