Efficiency

Virtual Reality (VR) Coming to Your Life Sonner than You Think!

Virtual Reality, or “VR” for short, is coming on fast. I’ve been engaged in watching it for many years, and in the format of head mounted displays “HMDs,” I first experienced one about 1996, where the world around me was filled with flying dragons and you had to spot and shoot them before they got to you. Cartoonish by today’s standards, but I got the experience of wearing it and considering the usefulness and applications to come.

In March, Facebook bought a successful Kickstarter project, Oculus Rift for $2B. The foundation of VR has been the simulation and gaming industry, with applications in the engineering the medical field.

So why is Facebook interested in a gaming device? From Dice:

“In the longer term, Facebook could attempt to build a virtual reality, one in which users interact with each others’ avatars amidst a digital landscape, rather than via a newsfeed or postings. In theory, that sort of simulacrum presents some prime opportunities for advertising: imagine all the digital billboards and wall-ads that Facebook could sprinkle around a virtual city.”

Think Star Trek Holodeck, minus the tactile input of feel. Now consider the applications that may flow from that, when a very capable HMD is in the sub $300 range.

Here’s the conditions to look forward to: If you think it’s rude now for a group of people in one place to all be nose first in their smartphones, get ready to walk into Starbucks and see 5-6 people at the bigger common table, laptops open and on, and they all are interacting in a virtual world, while sitting next to each other.

There will be exciting uses, like going up the Eiffel Tower with friends, when you all aren’t in the same place, and certainly can’t afford the time or have the money to go there…or NASCAR races, or hiking trails in the Grand Canyon.

As with any technology, there will be appropriate and effective uses, and then someone will turn it into an obsession and amplify the angst we have over being present and not being there when we are physically with others right next to us.

You heard it here. It’s going to be part of our worlds. It’s been driven by the gaming community and then other industries will piggy back on what solutions were put in place. As a side note: The graphics card market, that is an essential piece of the puzzle, also matured as a demand from the gaming community, to get closer to virtual environments being very lifelike in look and experience. Expect the business world the pick up the banner and apply it to meetings, or distance learning, or project construction reports, with this being a path to further develop augmented reality, too.

LapLink – 30 years and still creating great products!

And they have a laptop giveaway promotion to celebrate!

I first used LapLink itself (it was their only product back then) in late in 1992. I had a Mac IIcx, and a soon to be 3 co-worker had spent a year creating a document d integrated graphics for the previous year. They had done the work on a Mac II using MacWrite and when the hard copy was shown to their boss, he said “put it WordPrefect and send it out to everyone!”

It was an amazing document, with the flow charts right with the descriptions (I know, old news now)…but they didn’t know what they were going to do. They sat down with a person in their company, with a Masters in Computer Science and were told they couldn’t convert the file….it was incompatible.

Thay next solicited the advice of an organization who were the local experts for small computer use (who actually turned out their newsletters using a Mac, and were once more told “incompatible.

As they told of their journey to find a way to save three man years of effort, I asked them to bring in the 3.5″ floppy the next morning early.

We arrived as planned. I had brought my Mac iicx in. 13″ monitor and all, and plugged in the floppy. In the left column, I selected “MacWrite” in the right column, I selected “WordPerfect.’ Clicked the start/continue button and we sat there for 20 minutes discussing the upcoming reorganization. The floppy popped out and I handed it to them, saying “here you are, but remember, it’s incompatible (with a smile)!” Just to check, I told them, go try it in my 386 (with Windows 3.1 and WordPrefect.

They did and they gasped when it all came up on the screen as they scrolled through page after page after page of they work, all properly formatted….They looked in astonshiment and said “how did you do that?” I told them I couldn’t have, the experts said it couldn’t be done,

Most recently I moved my entire software setup from one system to my new build using PCMover. Worked like a charm! Considering the hundreds of programs I use/have tested/keep around for a rainy day in my industry, the 8 hour investment (I let it work over night as I slept!) was well worth the cost of the software. Only a few serial numbers had to be reentered.

LapLink: They solve real world problems, now for 30 years!

SSDS: A blessing, a curse and a cautionary approach

Just built another systems up, with a Samsung 840 240GB SSD. While I’m used to spending the next few hours wandering by the bench, clicking restarts, get updates, etc (some of you know the drill well), it was strikingly different last night.

I pieced a small form factor Dell Optiplex together (and saw issues with cable routing and screw heads and fan blades – another post worth making) and fired it up with the install disk inserted.

About 1.5 hours alter, I had gone from Win7/SP1 to all updates loaded (more than 103), and application software loaded (Office, Reader, Flash, and security). Usually I get most of the way there and then it’s a few more overnight hours and a few more reboots first thing in the morning.

I’m getting jealous of these systems, as they go from off to Desktop in about 15 seconds…

Oh, an high speed cable connection (about 39M download) didn’t hurt either, but I’ve used it for builds before, too.

As I was being dazzled at the rapid completion of progress bars, I reflected on a comment from a shop owner here I occasionally drop in on regarding his experience as an early adopter.

Kirk mentioned he had gotten and SSD about a year ago. It was great, but one day it was dead…as in really, really dead. Think about it: While disk errors send shivers up our spines, unless we hear that horrible grinding, and/or screeching noise, we techs have a degree of comfort that the data is not really gone, just accessible as a non-boot drive, and all is mostly right in the world.

An SSD? It’s common failure mode is DEAD! no connecting via a USB adapter (which is ever present with me, like a credit card, when I leave the house), as it’s DEAD!

Blessing: FAST!

Curse: Dead usually really means dead.

Cautionary approach: Back up, back up, and back up. And did I mention backup? Expensive? Not near as much as a data recovery specialist…and I haven’t even done my homework to see if that’s a function out there yet (I suspect it is, and I also suspect it’s costly).

How to resolve the risk? RAID 1. Bite the cost bullet and get two, if you’re going to get one…and than have a “conventional” drive the same size you can clone to, or a partition on a larger drive you can image to….Couple that with an offsite cloud service to ensure a redundant, real time data set is stored for a rainy day SSD drive failure.

Those who know this know I don’t need to say anything else on the topic. In many ways, it’s current common sense, even for conventional, mechanical drives, but it’s one now where a safety net for data recovery from the local failed drive isn’t really there anymore.

UPDATE 3/8/13: As I stated about, the end of life of an SSD drive is way closer than we’re used to when it begins to let you know it’s about to fail, as discussed in this article at MakeUseOf: Can Data Be Recovered From A Failed SSD?

Windows 8, Microsoft Surface and a Big Touch Screen Monitor – I’m Living Bill Gate’s Dream!


Click the picture for a bigger version!

Well, maybe it’s Steve Ballmer’s dream now, but that’s in the details.

Microsoft announced the Surface two days ago. Yesterday, on my current build, I put the Windows 8 Consumer Preview operating system on an i5-2300 with 16GBs of RAM, attached to a Dell SX2201T touch screen (multi-point) monitor, which also has a microphone and a webcam built in to interface to the main tower with a USB cord.
So, what have I done? I basically built myself a non-portable, and maybe not as water/shock proof desktop Microsoft Surface.

I have my “tiles” (get used to talking about them instead of “apps,” and an ability to tap and run the different programs. I’ll admit, having had the Windows 8 on a netbook for about 6 months, my fingers can’t get to those discrete sensors in the extreme lower left and right of the screen to activate the Start Screen and the access to the Settings.

But….I don’t mind that much, as I can get the experience of having a desktop like many will be using in the fixed desk settings of business and large corporations, without the expense of a Microsoft Surface, which isn’t on the store shelves until about the time Windows 8 comes out, in the second half of the year….Hey! We’re almost there!

I will be installing the full set of applications I have been running on a Windows 7 Ultimate Q9650 *GB computer for the last two years, and see just how things compare.

More later on adventures in the almost future!

Going Mobile – Leaving the Desktop Era Behind

The main workhorse for many still seems to be the desktop in my observations. My question for most people is “Why?”

The landscape of the computer world has massively shifted in the last few years, but even a few years before that, there have been perfectly suitable replacements for your hard working, well loved, big screened desktops.

In other words, why invest in a desktop and a laptop anymore? It’s still a majority case I’m seeing. The real need to take your computing out the door exists, as does the need to have something that doesn’t hurt your eyes to look at for hours on end when you have a big project to work on.

In addition to the long standing discussion I had had with many people, helping them get over having a laptop and a desktop is the entire tablet market that has opened up within the last two years. This is a wrinkle in the discussion, but not really.

Tempted to know what you can do to save money and increase your productivity, and still be mobile?

I knew you were: The laptops of today, at the low end of the price point scale are more powerful than most all the desktops I see in service. So, why not ditch the desktop? I know: “the Screen is too small!” comment is coming next….but it doesn’t have to be.

I found, way back in 1993, I could do just fine with a laptop on my desk at work, equipped with a separate monitor, keyboard, mouse, network card and a modem. In fact I had my shop purchase 17 sets like this, to be handed to the project managers and the senior staff that traveled frequently and needed to keep up with work. We didn’t buy the docking stations (a concept that never really caught on) as it took only about 30 seconds to plug the stuff in when we came back into the office.

You can do the exact same thing now: Get a large LED display (light, and easy on the environment and your power bill, as well as your eyes), and a keyboard and mouse like you had with your desktop (make sure they are USB, as the old devices you may consider using might be the “PS/2” style, and no one installs those in notebooks these days).

Now you have the equipment (and you may be reusing your existing LCD/LED monitor), you’ll find a video out port on the laptop, which you may have used for a projector at a presentation, most likely a VGA port, sometimes a DVI or even HDMI.

With your external monitor plugged in…you may not see a picture, even when you turn it on. This is something the people who do lots of presentations know is the video output port on the laptops have three settings:

  • Laptop screen on only
  • Laptop and external screen
  • External screen only

Which setting is active is controlled (in Windows based systems) via the control panel/a right click on the open desktop, or a function key selection on the keyboard. Note: It’s like a three position switch and it rotates with each key press, and it takes about 2-3 seconds to register and synchronize the hardware.

Anyhow, once you’re by there, you have a choice: One screen or two?

If you don’t want desk clutter, set the laptop off to the side, and configure the system for the two screen to “clone” each other. With a few other settings, you can actually close the laptop lid and it’s just like that old desktop, but smaller, less noisy and less power hungry!

If you have room, welcome to the age of two screens! That alone makes you wonder how you lived on one display surface! I like to use my two screens like this: My main work on my 22″ full HD (1920×1080) display, and then I have Outlook up on the 17″ 1280×1024 screen to the right. If a new email pops in, or the calendar needs to get my attention, the movement over there gets my view quickly. This avoids the different working windows being stacked on top of each other, and you miss something.

Here’s a real benefit of having the laptop replace your desktop: When you unplug it from the office configuration to go mobile, where are all your files? right there with you! Your Word documents for contracts, PowerPoint slides, email, pictures, etc, etc,etc….you won’t have to say anymore: “oh, that’s on my desktop at home/the office!’ in the middle of an important meeting.

Here’s an added benefit: Is it better, when the hurricane is headed our way, that you only have to grab the laptop, stuff it in it’s bag and head out the door?” I’d say so…and if you can’t get back into the affected area for a few days (or weeks), at least you’re functional. With a desktop, that’s not going to happen, with the additional impact of maybe losing all those programs you had installed, in addition to losing data files.

Seriously, with minor exception among my clients, friends and family, the least capable new laptop you can buy is every bit as powerful as you need to work.

In this day and age of tablets, you will still need the desktop like function/desktop replacement. Tablets are cool, can let you get mail, and get to websites, but they don’t have many brains, let alone smarts, and while they can hook to a projector, it’s more cables/apps, etc…For basic functions, my tablet is a netbook, but I still need to haul out the serious laptop for work, but that’s me, with graphics, spreadsheets and larger projects.

Another consideration is that older systems are getting harder to maintain afford ably, and once they start going due to age related problems, it’s a fingers plugging the holes in the dike, hoping you won’t get flooded, but knowing you will.

If you’d like some assistance in making a purchase of the items to effectively allow you to be mobile and comfortably office based, with this flexibility, too, I can help.

I can also help to make sure you bring your data with you to the existing laptop, or to the new one, so you keep doing business with minimal interuption.

‘Tis the season: The lightning and storm season that is, again!

One of the first posts in the blog section was about….you guessed it: Lightning and how it affects your computer equipment. AWESOME Lightning Show! is here to re-read (or read for the first time).

Electronics hate bad power…their reaction to it can be from a flashing screen, to a dead, dead, dead primary computer, with all your data locked inside….

Consider how that just may affect your operations. Seriously, if you’re offline for say, one day, at best, maybe several days to a week or more, while your tech searches for parts to get you running again. Not a pleasant thought, is it? Like mom said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Here’s some “inside baseball” on what can go wrong, and how it affects the time to return you to normal operations:

  • The power supply is dead. Symptoms are: Nada, nothing, no sound, no lights. Easy enough, right? If this is all it is, you’re lucky, mostly. Why mostly? If you have a generic power supply, it’s a matter of getting one locally, and about 20 minutes to pull the bad one, and replace it. Here’s the not so mostly: If you have a small form factor computer, or a really old HP tower, or some other model that has a very specific power supply, it will be a hunt online, and then the time to ship. The cost is also…generally outrageous. (protecting yourself sound better already?)
  • The motherboard is dead. Symptoms range from the same as the power supply ones (and therefore can give you the “oh, this won’t be so bad” feeling too soon….), to you get some fans in the power supply/case operating, but you never hear the drives spin up. If this is the case, it’s costly, moreso if you bought that Dell, Dude!, or Compaq, or HP, because many times, their motherboards are just special enough that you can’t find one when you need one right away. (side note: sometimes a generic built PC, for a little more upfront cost, or sometimes actually less if you need some higher end items inside you box). If the motherboard is a standard “form factor” then the next challenge is the “socket” type. That is the place where the actual central processing unit (CPU) is mounted on the motherboard. If the board is more than say 4-5 years old, it’s more difficult to get one of them off the shelf. If it’s a few years old, the prices are pretty good, and they are generally available. If it’s a very new system, then the boards are still the high end of the pricing spectrum. The dying of the motherboard injects an entirely new dynamic into the equation, too: You have to match it, to allow you to power up the system and get right back to work. While you can get one with the right socket to fit your CPU, the rest of the chips aren’t what Windows saw itself installed with, and it with require you to also re-install windows, your programs and your data. This, along with the availability of parts, will keep you from your work longer, and, just by it’s nature, cost you more. Ouch (psst! Get your battery back ups!!!!)
  • Dead network interface (the wired kind). The computer comes right on, but you cannot get to the internet is your symptom. The fix is to install a network interface card in a free slot. This is about a 20 minute fix, too. If this happens, the only concern is having an extra interface slot open inside the box. It’s generally easy to get one of these anywhere and get back to work. Name brand ones, link LinkSys and 3Com are best, since even Windows XP detects and installs the drivers in most all cases. It’s always best to note the make and model and version of the card, before it’s installed….and get to another computer and get the drivers. If not, and if Windows doesn’t load drivers, you usually have to take the card out and read those items (in fine print) and do it again)
  • The hard drive electronics and/or motor get whacked. On starting up, you get the manufacturer’s screen, and then some message about no bootable disk found. If you see this, you can cry, loud and long. This is bad, sort of….Really if this happens because your data and programs and operating system are toast. The upside is you have a free paper weight suitable for holding down a stack of paperback novels on the back porch is a mild wind storm. The “sort of” side is somewhat mitigated if you have your data backed up…somewhere besides on another partition of that hard drive. Recovery: Drives aren’t that expensive, but what does make it costly is starting from “bare metal” and putting on your operating system, configuring all the hardware again, downloading all the updates (I’ve seen Windows XP take most of an evening), then reinstalling all your programs (you have the disks, right?) and finally placing your data back in the file structure you had it in. What this means if you may have lost everything, and it will cost quite a bit to rebuild it all.

It can also nuke the CPU itself, which looks just like a dead motherboard in symptoms. Note above there are two sets of casualties that look alike to you and the technicians. How to tell the difference? It takes time in the field to know, and have the right methods to diagnose the problems.

Enough about the techs and their work in your crisis: What about you? Is this enough for you to make sure you’ve protected your equipment from massive power surges brought to Florida by the summer storm activity? I hope so. If not, have replacement cost funds (hardware and software) set aside for the worst case. If you can’t have that buffer financially, then reread AWESOME Lightning Show! once more for how to help you help to protect your business again and get you to the nearest store with battery backups!

Questions? I can certainly survey your systems to assess your readiness for storm season. Call me for an appoitnment.

Become an Anti-SPAM Warrior!

This morning, I opened my personal email account to find a SPAM email. Very obviously one, sitting right there. So, rather than just delete it, I took a moment to look at it and it revealed some clues as to how it got to me, and by way of that analysis, I can tell you how to begin your own anti-SPAM campaign!

Not only was the email addressed to me, but to a number of local business people I know, but do not correspond with via that email address, if I do at all. Most are people I have met networking and have their cards, so I know who they are. Point 1: I could see all their email addresses.

It didn’t take much scanning to figure out point 2: I can guess with about 99% certainty who has been sending out emails with this list of addresses. I get them from him, too, and in this email account.

Point 3: Because of his method of blasting his email contact list “in the clear” using the “to:” and “cc:” fields, he now makes all his contacts vulnerable to be collected and used, increasing the quantity of SPAM traffic on the net, not to mention annoying (at the least) and infecting (at the worst) all those computers of your friends and family and business contacts.

Putting all those puzzle pieces together, he’s how you can save your friends, family and business contacts from more of such a fate:

1) If you feel inclined to send something out, put their addresses in the “Bcc:” field. Then any recipient will only see their names, and no one else, and therefore, if this email finds it’s way into someone’s email account where they farm email addresses to send out SPAM to, you’ve put up a simple firewall on that activity.

2) When you get that forwarded 20 bizillion times joke, or offer for Bill Gates to donate $1 to your favorite charity, do this: Right after you click on the “Forward” function of your email, hilight and delete all the other lists of emails that are visible in the body of the message. Besides saving someone from being SPAMed as a result of you inadvertently helping SPAMers collect their address, think how much better a reading experience those who receive it will have when they don’t have to scroll down 37 screens to read the relevant material?

Summary: Put email address for blast work in the “Bcc:” field and remove any visible lists of email addresses in items sent to you, if you forward them along!

Laptop Batteries – Keep them in/plugged in!

A few weeks ago, listening to The Tech Guy Leo Laporte, I found out I have been operating, and advising people, on old information.

The modern day laptop batteries are just fine being plugged in pretty much all the time. I had been telling people to let them run down when you could, then when the system told you you were about out of power, to plug them in to help them get the most out of their life spans. Leo says that’s a procedure based on a study done years ago, and turns out it was flawed.

So, if you’ve been regularly running your battery down, so it lasts longer…don’t worry about it. Leaving it plugged in just fine.

Understanding Your Digital Landscape Seminar 11/16/2010

From the flyer, regarding the Seminar I’ll be conducting to help business owners, who are not technically enabled, to better understand what makes their business function:

Understanding the Digital Landscape

What is it?
How do you find it?
How do you use it effectively?

Computers save us time in everything from information storage and retrieval, calculation, graphic design, and report preparation. E-commerce allows our websites to keep our businesses running 24/7.

A failure at any point, from our office records to our online presence, can quickly snowball into a technological disaster, especially for a small business that doesn’t have an IT (information technology) staff in-house.

Seminar leader Curt Middlebrook, The Computer Whisperer, provides insights into the equipment, computer programs, and office and internet support services out there, and the people who provide them. You’ll learn how to maximize your online efficiency, and how to track the success of your online marketing.
This is a Lunch & Learn program, part of the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce Success in Business Series. Your registration includes detailed information for evaluating every aspect of your company’s digital landscape, as well as a light lunch.

When : Tuesday, November 16; 11:30 am to 1:30 pm
Where : Park Station, 5851 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, Room 202

Cost : $19.95 Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber Members
$24.95 Non-members

Call Chamber Manager Larry Steinlauf at 544-4777 to register.
You must be registered to attend.

Soldier’s Angels VALOur-IT Fund Drive 2010

Technology moves ahead in unpredictable ways, sometimes.

History lesson below, for the interested. For those who are ready and need to donate and move on: Click here.

If you’re looking to help an old Sailor out, then “push” the button for Navy. Know this: It all goes into the same pot, but, the need to poke at our fellow military members doesn’t go away easily, so…resist the urge to help any service team other than Navy…..

Now to some background:

Barely 5 years ago, a “MilBlogger,” and Army Captain Chuck Ziegenfuss, ended up on the wrong end of an IED when on patrol in Iraq and subsequently in Walter Reed Medical Center. Having been a fairly active poster, when a Soldier’s Angels representative asked if he needed anything, he asked for a laptop so he could blog from the hospital, since he’d be there a while. They bought one off of eBay.

He had injuries to both arms, leaving him with one in a cast, and the other in a halo. Typing, as you may surmise, was pretty tough. He posted indicating he sure could use some help…maybe so he could talk to his computer.

Some people helped him out getting Dragon Naturally Speaking. As a result, Chuck’s Blog came back to life.

As a result of that, the idea that this mashup of existing tech would be able to help others. The conception of the idea came from one of Chuck’s reader’s, Beth (FuzzyBear Lioness in the comments section), who thought if it worked for Chuck, who else might it help?

So, the first use of the Project’s Name happened 8/18/2005.

Now we are but 5 years and a few months later, over $600K collected, about 50 bloggers on the teams, and begging for air time on the big websites (and getting some!), with close to 6000 laptops delivered. They are new. They are good ones, and they are provided at the Major military medical facilities, and, they can be requested, if someone has slipped by the system unnoticed.

I believe it was last year, they added the purchasing and providing of Nintendo Wiis, which has helped with physcial therapy for the injured warriors. GPS units are now also provided to those who are getting out and about, to compensate for the short term memory loss issues as a result of TBI and severe PTSD injuries.

The “gateway” to the many pages of information and the project blog is here.

One particularly descriptive post titled “Laptops Save Lives?!” has the words of the real “end users” of the charity of the donors of this work. It may be from 2007, but the truth is right there. This is a great project, which really “gives back” to those who entered the services and gave much of themselves.

Besides just the close to the problem connection, from a problem solving standpoint, I see this as a job training program for the majority of these wounded troops, as they will be medically retired/discharged. If they have used a computer to get and stay in contact with their families, friends and “Battle Buddies,” they sure will be able to draft up a business letter, surf the net to do research and learn to crunch numbers with Excel for the employer who wants a person who looks forward into life and works to achieve their potential.

I could go on for many pages, having personally met Chuck and Beth, and Patti, the Founder of Soldier’s Angels via these campaigns over the 5 years. The stories are real, the ideas amazing, and the unselfish acts to take an idea from one person to many is a lesson in building relationships.

Once more: Donate here to Team Navy!

learn more