Friday, April 30, 2010

HP SimpleSave 1TB External Hard Drive

The HP SimpleSave 1TB external hard drive is a great buy for $99. It’s sharp, roomy, quiet and self contained, as its automatic backup software runs right off of the drive. The only thing it installs on your computer is a virtual CD drive that autoruns on boot, starting the auto backup procedure, which I must admit is pretty slick. The HP window launches, and gives you a 30 second countdown before it starts its backup, which is plenty of time to either cancel it if you’re not ready, or change the options.

It comes preconfigured to back up most file types and locations, and allows you to add more. The only fault here is that it won’t take wildcards when you’re adding new extensions, but believe me, there’s not many you’ll need to add. You also have the option to have it back up other external drives, or not. Once you start the backup, the program assesses your files and presents you with a really comprehensive rundown of exactly what it’s going to copy, and from where. If you're happy you can kick it off, if not, you can add or subtract things.

The first time you use it, it does a full backup which took about 2 hours on my Media Center (170GB of video, pictures and music), not too bad. It creates a backup folder and uses the computer’s name for the label, so you can backup multiple systems and still find things easily. When it’s done, it presents you with a report telling you exactly what it copied or skipped due to errors.

After the first use, it will backup only files that have been modified or added, and it will start the procedure itself any time the system has been idle for more than fifteen minutes, making backups a breeze. Some reviewers have stated that they didn’t like the autorun software, and I was a little skeptical myself at first. After all, I’d hate to have a drive that big that was just a one trick pony, but it’s not. You don’t have to use the autorun software to reload files, although it does make things pretty easy. You can drill right down into the backup folders and grab any file you like. I also created a separate folder on it to transfer selected content from all of my portable drives, and I’ve barely made a dent in it’s free space.

All in all, you can’t go wrong with this baby for under a hundred bucks. It also comes in both a 1.5TB and 2TB size for $129 and $159, respectively, so you can start your own disk farm!

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Facebook Open Graph Personalization

As you’ve probably heard by now, New York Senator Chuck Schumer is urging the FTC to set Social Networking guidelines in light of Facebook’s latest “upgrade” that implemented their Open Graph concept.

Facebook intends to allow other websites access to both your, and all your friend’s, personal information, in order to give you a more “personalized” web experience. When boiled down to its essence, that means you will see stories and ads targeted specifically to your demographic and interests, along with social plug ins that will let you see what your Facebook friends have read and commented about on the partner site. You will also have the ability to “like” things on the site and have them show up on your Facebook profile. All very cool if you’re interested in those abilities. Personally, I’m not.

Facebook has responded to Senator Schumer’s concerns by pointing out that if you’re not interested in sharing your info with their partners (read partners as websites that pay Facebook for your information), you can button down your privacy settings and prevent it. While this statement is true in the broadest of senses, the problem is that they’ve already rolled out Open Graph Personalization, and guess what? The default setting was “Hell yeah sign me up!”.

I first heard about this change last week and immediately went into my privacy settings and turned it off, only to find out over the weekend that all I did was close the barn door after the horses had already escaped. Whenever you go to a website and see that stupid little thumbs up icon, you know that you’ve been had, and they’re everywhere. Thanks Mr. Zukerberg, for helping to make the web a bigger piece of crap than it already is.

I use Facebook to find and keep up with old friends, as do most of you. It’s not my platform of choice; it’s just a nice social tool that has its uses and limitations. I don’t need or want it to track my every move in the Ether and sell off that info, as well as the personal info that I’ve put out there with the understanding that it was available only to “My Friends”. The ultimate insult though, is that by using this new feature, which at first you have no say over, they also can take personal info from anyone in your friend list. That means that even if you button down your own account, they can still get your personal info from any of your friends who don’t button down theirs. Nice.

I understand that Facebook is in business to make a buck, and I don’t begrudge them on that point. Hey, no one works for free, but if you’re gonna make a buck off of me, the least you can do is warn me so that I can opt out if I choose. Giving me the choice to opt out after you’ve already signed me up and sold me off is just plain sleazy, and taking my info from someone else is even worse.

So, what can you do to protect your info? Well, there’s a very nice write-up here on wikiHow that explains just how to go about opting out of Open Graph Personalization, and I suggest you do. Also, Senator Schumer has his own Facebook page that you might like to like. It will help you stay informed as the situation develops, and it will let them know how you feel. Pretty cool idea using Facebook’s own little thumbs up to help thwart their efforts. Good one Chuck!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Compaq Presario CQ60-615DX Notebook PC

The CQ60-615DX is a very serviceable laptop at a rock bottom price.

I love doing my personal shopper thing, it’s one of my favorite parts of being the family’s go to guy in the technology department. It gives me the opportunity to test drive a lot of different devices and it’s certainly got it all over spending the weekend at their house cleaning viruses off of their machine. Plus, when I do the initial setup on a device it makes the inevitable future cleanup and recovery go a little easier…

The CQ60-615DX is the perfect machine for someone who only uses their PC for mail, word processing and surfing. It has a 15.6” screen, an almost full sized keyboard (with numeric keypad) and pretty impressive sound for a laptop in this price range ($349). It’s powered by a Celeron processor (2.2 GHz), has 2GB of RAM (upgradeable to 4), a 250GB hard drive, wireless b/g/n, 8X CD/DVD±R/RW drive and runs Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. The only thing it lacks is a media card reader, but standalone readers are a dime a dozen these days, and at this price you can definitely afford one.

Having a decent sized hard drive for storing your pics, a DVD player/burner for sharing/archiving said pics, and a keyboard that’s actually usable make this system a much better alternative then a comparably priced Netbook for those non-power users in your life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

VAIO CW Series Notebook PC

The Sony VAIO VPCCW21FX/W is a sweet little mid-priced laptop chock full of both processing power and bells and whistles.

When shopping for a laptop, it’s very hard find one that’s a good performer and has all of the features that you want without spending a ton of cash. There are lots of lower end systems out there at great prices ($360 to $599), but they don’t have a lot of features or horsepower. There’s also a great selection of top of the line systems ($899 and up), but the midrange systems always force you to make trade offs. This one has a better processor and more memory and disk space, but no video card. That one has a serviceable processor, less memory and disk space, but it’s got a video card, stereo Bluetooth and a webcam. I don’t know about you, but I want it all, and I don’t want to pay a premium for it, so I’m constantly comparing and contrasting them looking for the best value for my buck.

The Sony VPCCW21FX/W has all that and a side of fries. It sports an Intel i3 quad core processor (2.13GHz), 4GB of DDR3 RAM (with room for 8GB), a 500GB hard drive, an NVIDIA GeForce graphics card with 256MB of dedicated video RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OS, a 14” HD quality widescreen, A2DP Bluetooth, Wireless b/g/n, Gigabit Ethernet port, CD/DVD player/burner, Multimedia card reader, ExpressCard /34 media slot, high quality webcam with motion and face tracking technology, HDMI and VGA video outputs, IEEE 1394 firewire input and 3 USB 2.0 inputs.

It’s truly in the portable category, weighing in at a scant 5.3 lbs, and it’s truly in the midrange system category, with a price that weighs in at between $809-$849 (Best Buy had it for $809 last week).

The only 2 drawbacks to this system are the less than stellar audio (decent but tiny speakers) and the choice of colors (Blue or Ice White are the only colors available off the shelves in the retail stores), but both are things that I can live with.

As I said, there are plenty of systems out there that offer more, but as an all around standout performer at a great price point, this VAIO is the pick of the litter.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The New Cello

Check out the pic of Michayla with her new cello!

Seems ABC World News Tonight will be doing a piece on the Baker family, and it may be on as soon as tonight. Here's the latest update from Dan over at the Facebook page:

Acelloformichayla Hi Everyone, quick update, looks like ABC wanted to do an interview with the family for a more in-depth story, and the latest I've heard is that it'll air on World News Tonight at 6:30, so be sure to tune in! Also, we've got some pictures of Michayla and her brand new cello! Good work folks, let's keep the help coming.

So Good, So Good, So Good!

Sounds are very powerful memory aids and can evoke images we’ve long forgotten. For me, there’s no sound sweeter than the crack of a bat on a ball. It conjures up memories from many stages of my life. From the incredible feeling of the wood vibrating in my hands as I had my first solid connect in Little League, to the excitement I feel when one of our hometown boys gets a game changing hit, it’s deeply ingrained in my mind as a precursor to happiness.

I was getting a little worried there when the bats were silent through the first 5 innings, but Petey and Youk eventually provided the soundtrack for tonight’s memories, and the Sox finished things off in fine style.

The season is off and running, the team has their first win under their belts, and there are 161 more games to go. Could life be any better?

Go Sox!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Linksys WRE54G Wireless - G Range Expander

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

I recently installed a Linksys Wireless-G Range Expander, the WRE54G, and I have to say its working better then I expected.

I got a call a while back from the manager at our vacation time share. Seems the wireless, which was spotty at best, had stopped working altogether. Another owner had donated a couple of Linksys Range Expanders, and she was wondering if I might be able to come down for the weekend and see if I could get the WiFi up and running again, and maybe install the Range Expanders while I was there.

I was all over it, mainly because:

A. We love the place, and the people who run it.

B. It would benefit me greatly to have better coverage when I’m there. All my gadgets would work!

C. The fix/install would be a cakewalk and we’d be free to enjoy the rest of the weekend. Bonus!

Well, the fix/install wasn’t as easy as I had hoped, but it wasn’t bad either. We still had plenty of time left over for a little off season R&R.

Upon arriving, I set up in the office and immediately noticed that I was getting two 5 bar WiFi signals. Different SSID’s, but I was receiving both like they were broadcasting from the same room. Probably because they were.

Originally someone had plugged a Linksys WRT160 wireless router into one of the LAN ports on the office’s Verizon router. This had worked OK, but mostly just provided coverage in the lobby area. When I tried to log in to the Linksys router wirelessly using its default IP, I found myself connected to the Verizon box instead. I double checked the notes that the original installer had left and I was using the right address, so I tried again. Same result.

That’s when the light went on, and I got down on my hands and knees. To crawl under the desk, that is, so I could take a gander at the provider’s router that was hiding under there. Just as I thought, it had a little WiFi light on it, and it was merrily blinking away. AHA!

Seems Verizon had come in over the winter and upgraded their router. Once their new WiFi router was up and running, they very nicely plugged the Linksys WiFi router back into it. Problem is, both devices had the same address, and they were within a few feet of each other. There was a major IP conflict going on, and the dueling radio signals were wreaking havoc on each other. Easy fix. I just shut off the Linksys, re-cabled the office PC’s with longer cords, and moved the Verizon box up on the shelf where the Linksys had been. A quick reboot of everything after the Verizon router was back up, and we were cookin’ again. Nice.

Now it was time to tackle the Range Expanders. I had read quite a few reviews that indicated that they could be a bear to set up, but initially I had no problems. First I did a quick signal check to find the initial coverage boundaries. The building is a large 3 story C shaped structure and previously only the first floor rooms adjacent to the lobby had coverage. I found that the signal was much stronger now and I could connect from all of the second floor rooms in the main hallway. I would lose signal when I turned the corner onto either of the wings, but hey, it was a start.

I went back down to the office and plugged the first Extender into a switch port on the router. Don’t use the included setup CD that comes with it, just plug it directly into your router and log into it through your browser using the default IP address. It’s much easier and cleaner this way. If you feel that you just have to use the CD, then use it as a drink coaster. You’ll be much better served.

Setup was a breeze. I configured it with the Verizon box’s SSID and security settings, shut it down, unplugged the Ethernet cable from the switch port, and then powered it back up. It immediately found the WiFi signal and connected, indicated by the idiot lights turning from flashing red to steady blue. I popped its address into my browser and connected to it wirelessly, good to go.

I shut it down again, removed the power cord and replaced it with the included wall mount plug (think nightlight), moved it up to the second floor and plugged it into a wall outlet that was just inside my coverage zone. Once again, red to blue and I’m good to go. After another signal check I decided the next one needed to go up on the third floor.

I logged into the first one again, changed its default address so it wouldn’t conflict with the new one during setup, and it came right back up. Next I brought the second extender into the office and repeated the setup process. Perfect. Switched the back plate, brought the unit up to the third floor and plugged it in. This is where the fun began. After two power cycles, I finally got the desired blue lights, but upon returning to the office I found that the wired desktops had lost all connectivity. WTF…

A reboot of the router cured things, but now one of the extenders wasn’t showing up on the network. Once again it took two reboots of the extender to get it back in the blue, but wouldn’t you know it, the router was only passing wireless traffic again. Hmmm.

I tried all kinds of stuff, to no avail. It seems that a second extender connecting back to the router through an existing extender slaps the Verizon box with the goofy stick (technical term…). Both work fine when they’re in close proximity to the device, they both show up as registered on the router, and I can log into either wirelessly. When they’re both remote they still show up on the router device list, but one always shows a disconnected icon, and the Verizon box eventually takes leave of its senses.

I finally gave up on getting the second one up. I could have tried turning WiFi off on the Verizon router and hooking the Linksys router back up to it, things might have worked better Linksys device to Linksys device, but it was getting late and I was leaving the next day. You never want to mess with the provider’s gear if you’re not going to be around to pick up the pieces should things malfunction later.

Coverage was much better with the new setup and the single extender (third floor now!), and we’re actually better served with just the one. A little known fact about extenders is that you only average about half of the speed of the original connection when you connect through one. If it connects back to the router at 54Mbps, it will pass along 22Mbps connections. Daisy chain another to it and you're now passing along 11Mbps, and that's before you factor in competing with other traffic, signal interference, etc. While some connectivity is better than none, some isn’t, and you’d be approaching the “isn’t” range with a second unit.

The right thing to do in a case like this is to pull Cat5 cable to your locations from the main router, and then hardwire WAPs to the network. WAPs are Wireless Access Points. You can purchase dedicated WAPs, or you can just dumb down any old wireless router and use it as a WAP. Take a WiFi router, turn its routing capabilities off in the setup, and it becomes a switch slaved to the main router.

We left it that the cable pulls would be targets of opportunity. Next time they need to open up a wall or ceiling, pull some cable. We can install the Linksys WRT160 that I took out of the equation on this last trip once the first cable is in place. A simple and cheap plan of action, my favorite kind!

So, bottom line, the WRE54G is a great product if you’re trying to boost the signal in your home, but it’s not the right solution for a large installation in a hotel or office.

Oh yeah, and you get great service when you visit places in the off season.

That is all.