Browsing the archives for the Web/Tech category.


Finding the right Router

Web/Tech

I have had the same router for probably 3 years now, which, in terms of routers, is a pretty good amount of time.

I bought a Linksys WRT54G in 2008 and it has been great for us in terms of speed and coverage, as well as reliability. Now, part of the reason why it has been so fantastic is because I have been using DD-WRT as the firmware on it, which is open source and adds a lot of extra features.

In Mid-December, it finally gave up the ghost and wouldn’t even turn on anymore. So off I went in finding a replacement wireless router. I could have gone with something that was pretty much the same, but I figured, if I am going to get something new, I want it to have some extra features and be something I don’t have to replace in another year.

I looked at all of the big brands and lines from companies like Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, Asus, and a ridiculous amount more. And in each brand, they had quite a few to choose from, which made my decision even harder.

I finally decided on the Netgear N600. It was dual band Wireless N, had built in DLNA streaming by plugging in a USB hard drive, could work as a time machine backup for macs, could work as extra storage for TiVo, and could even share printers directly from the device. All in all, it was exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, it wasn’t near as reliable as I had hoped for the $130 price point. The wired network seemed to work pretty well and consistent, but the wireless seemed very likely to drop in midstream. I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but our Google TV streams DLNA over wireless, and it would drop midstream pretty frequently. With that, I decided to send it back to Amazon and eat the restocking fee in order to get something that actually worked.

As a replacement, I bought the Belkin N600. This router was also dual band Wireless N, worked as a print server, did backup, and worked as a UPnP server for videos as well. Again, it sounded great, but it was even more shaky than the first one. Not only was the interface extremely slow with every change I would make,  this piece of junk actually would drop wireless about 5 times in a single hour and a half movie. This drove us absolutely crazy. So I was off again to find a replacement and send this thing back as quickly as possible.

So, what I found was that the best option for me was the Linksys E3000. This guy has the same dual channel wireless, as well as the UPnP server for hosting video and music over USB. Plus, one of the coolest things, and something that I am very happy about, is that I can go right back to my old faithful DD-WRT firmware if I would like since it is supported for this model. This model has been the epitome of stability. It has actually been much easier to use as well. This is really the model I probably should have gone with in the first place, but I saw all of the cool features of models like the Netgear and Belkin routers.

I would highly recommend this model if you are looking for some of the same features I looked for.

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Documenting your sleep

Health, Web/Tech

I have written before about how bad my sleeping habits apparently are and how I do bad things while asleep.

I think sleep is very important, and if you don’t do it right, then you can really be in for a terrible time down the road. Ever since I read Four Hour Body by Tim Ferris, the true body hacker, I have been a bit more aware of my time sleeping. He has an entire section about Perfecting Sleep. In that section he talks about ways to track your sleep and tools he uses and has tried out to help you sleep better and learn from each night’s sleep.

That section had me intrigued because obviously it included gadgets. I looked at a few of the gadgets and I must say that I would love to have them all. Some of these tracking devices will track your sleep, others will wake you up at the perfect time. And some will track you all day too in order to track your activity and diet habits.

I thought I had found the perfect mix of all of these things in the Jawbone Up, but unfortunately the product had a manufacturing fault where many of the units became unusable pretty quickly. And because of this, they stopped manufacturing and you can’t buy any, and probably won’t be able to buy any until the summer.

So, here I am back at square one trying to decide on what I want to get for my sleeping needs. Below is the list that I have used for choosing how I would like to go about this.

 

It seems there really isn’t a perfect option out there unfortunately. The above list is a modified version of the list that Wakemate has on their site, so if it looks a bit skewed towards them, that’s why.

For me, the silent alarm is a major want because we have a baby on the way in the next month or so. So that pulls out almost all of the different sleep tracking options out there. And with the Jawbone not shipping, it really only leaves two options. The Lark looks nice, but considering the sleep assessment costs an extra $60 per year, and the alarm simply wakes you at a specific time, and not at the best time, that kind of takes it out as well. So that leaves the Sleep Cycle App for iOS.

I have been trying out the app for the past week, and while it works well for tracking the sleep and being able to see the sleep graph, I have tried out the silent alarm, and since it doesn’t actually touch you, but instead sits under the fitted sheet on your bed under your pillow, it hasn’t worked for me yet. Now, the actual alarm does work pretty well as far as waking me up, but I don’t notice any real difference in my energy levels or how I wake up since it just so happens that I am moving at the time so it feels the movement on the mattress. One thing that is interesting is that I can see the points where I typically am moving around the bed, or my wife is.

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And that brings up another issue with the app. Since it isn’t actually attached to me, it can’t differentiate between my movement, and my wife. Of course, it probably isn’t that big of an issue because if she is moving that much, then I suppose it probably wakes me up as well. So it’s probably not too far off course. I have seen other reviews of the app, and it seems that most single people’s charts show that it is pretty close to deep sleep for most of the first part of the night, and then get closer to awake as the morning comes. But most married people have a lot more spikes because it gets a lot more movement from two people, and especially when one of them is pregnant.

I am definitely not sold on the app, though, like I said, I do like seeing the graphs of my nights and seeing the statistics, but as far as the actual alarm function, I am sure it doesn’t work as well as the actual dedicated devices for waking you up at the right time.

I am definitely going to keep looking, and will maybe check eBay to try out more than one for a cheaper price. I’ll definitely write another blog post as I try out more of these products.

 

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The best uses for Google TV

Web/Tech

20120209-180900.jpgLast July, when Logitech put the Revue on sale for $99, I jumped on the opportunity and bought one. I wanted a way to watch web video on my TV without hooking up my laptop every time. I waited patiently and got it 2 days later. It was a really neat device, and I was somewhat happy with it for specific functions, but it still didn’t do everything that I wanted. But with the 3.1 update to the device in the late fall, it became so much more useful, and it gets used pretty much everyday at our house. Here is a list of some of the ways that we use Google TV at our house.

  • Youtube – We don’t watch a lot of it, but we do watch it. When our little girl wants to watch Mickey Mouse, and there isn’t any on the Tivo, we can flip it over to the Youtube app and stream our favorites, playlists, and search for everything else on Youtube.
  • DLNA video – I have a Windows Home Server that has Tversity on it, and creates a DLNA stream across the network. So, I can go to the Logitech Media Player app and it sees everything that is on that server for video, music, and pictures. And since I have ripped most of our DVD’s to file, we can watch whatever we want without putting in another disc.
  • Streaming Music- There is a Pandora app that comes pre-installed on the device because that is the big name. And we do use it, though my personal streaming preference is Mog. And since Mog is just a web app, all I have to do is just go to the Mog site and find what I want to listen to. I can do the same thing for Amazon Cloud music too. It will start playing whatever music I would like just as quickly as it would on my laptop through the Chrome Browser. And not only that, it also has a real Google Music app that works fantastically if you have all of your music in the cloud.
  • Airplay through AirTight – This is a recent addition to my arsenal of apps on the Google TV, and one of the only ones I have paid for. It was $.99 and was totally worth it. It runs in the background on your Google TV, and if you have an iOS device like an iPad or iPhone, when you have a video or picture on your device that you would like to see on the TV, you simply have to choose to push that item to the Google TV of your choice. Then it shows up on the screen, but leaves the control on the device itself. It works fantastic!
  • Universal Remote – We typically use a Logitech Harmony remote to control almost everything in our home, but I had an older H688 that died on me on Sunday, so I had to bring out the dead, remotes, and put batteries in them all so that I could control each piece of hardware separately while I waited on the replacement. But one thing that the Logitech Revue does, that the other Google TV’s don’t, is it acts as a universal remote as well. So I change the volume on my stereo, turn on and off the tv, and change channels on the Tivo, all from my Logitech keyboard or my smartphone. It is a really neat extra feature that doesn’t get much praise typically from reviewers of the device.
  • Discussion Notes – We have a small group of people from our church over each week to pray and have bible study, and the Google TV makes it really easy for everyone to have all of the information in front of them without having pieces of paper around them. We have a Google Doc for each week that has prayer requests and any questions/notes for the week. We can have the Youversion site up on the screen for looking at scripture, and since we are going through A.W. Tozer’s Pursuit of God, I can actually put the Amazon Cloud Reader link in and pull the book up on the screen with my notes attached. This works great so that everyone can see the same thing.
  • TV Guide – There is an app called TV & Movies that actually pulls guide data for your local TV channels, so for the Google TV in our bedroom that doesn’t have a built in guide, this is a great way to find out what is on and coming on soon.
  • Picasa Picture Viewer – Since we push all of our photos to our Google accounts, this is a great way to get them on the big screen. it is a really nice photo viewer and my daughter loves seeing herself on the big tv, both for movies and pictures.
  • Netflix – Just like with everything else, Google TV has a really nice Netflix app. it has the updated interface where you can search, browse by genre, or check out recommendations without getting on a computer.
  • Amazon VOD – In addition to Netflix, it is also fantastic for Amazon Video on Demand. Any new movies that we want to watch at home, this is the best way to watch them. It works fantastic on the Google TV because, unlike my Tivo, there is no download time. It is just, turn it on and start watching. And if you are an Amazon Prime member, then that means you have a few thousand films and tv shows that you can watch for free too.

And as I said above, we liked the first one so much that we ended up buying a second one for our bedroom, which works amazingly well for watching stuff from the bedroom.

Now, even though it is a fantastic device, there are a few things I either plan to add or wish it did.

  • Placeshifting – I know that Slingbox just announced a web app that is compatible with Google TV for watching a Slingbox from your Google TV. That is fantastic, and something I am looking into, but I hate that it only works with the newer, $175 and up models, of the devices.
  • Timeshifting – I do wish that it had some sort of tuner and recording functionality. We have a Tivo, and I would love to be able to get rid of it, even though it is the best DVR out there.  But having that built in and having to watch TV through the HDMI port is a little different.
  • Network TV – Since it doesn’t do timeshifting, it would be fantastic if it could do some kind of streaming from the big 4 networks or Hulu. Initially it was allowed, but after a couple of weeks, they disallowed it and cut off Google TV devices completely. There is a hack for one of the networks, but the rest don’t work at all. This would be the killer item if it even had Hulu+.
  • Video Chat – I would love it if it had video chat. I know that the Revue has a webcam you can hook up, but it only works when chatting with proprietary software or other Revue’s. It would be best if it worked with facetime, Skype, or even Google Video Chat.

Overall, it’s a fantastic box, and quite cheap, especially for what it does. It’s not perfect, but it’s much closer than the other boxes I’ve tried. If you have $100 and want a streaming box that does a lot, then I would say dive in.

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My thoughts on Google+

Web/Tech

For almost 2 weeks now, I have been using Google+ as my primary social network, only checking in from time to time with facebook since, right now, that’s where the users are.

What is it?

Google+ is Google’s answer to Facebook/Twitter. Now, typically I would compare it to one or the other, but the truth is, it’s a competitor to both because it has features of both networks. You have the public aspects and the ability to follow without being a friend, and then you have the privacy and intimacy of keeping certain updates between you and your real friends. So, it actually is very much a competitor to both services.

How is it different?

Well, if the two major networks had a love-child, for the most part, it would be Google+. Not completely, mind you, but for the overall concept, it is definitely a mixture of the two. You have the publicity and the ability to follow famous people that Twitter has, but you can use something called “Circles” to create friend groups to keep things private, and even share specific posts with only a subset of your friends. So if there is a certain group of friends that are interested in tech, like me, then you could create a circle of friends called tech folk and share technical articles with them, because other people will just glaze over when they see the words Linux or PHP in something. It also separates your news stream into these circles. So if you want to look at only your family’s updates, then you can click on your family’s circle and it will show that group only.

It’s also got a skype or webex competitor feature called Hangouts. Hangouts are a group video chat. You can either create a public hangout, where you turn on your webcam and tell anyone who wants to come and video chat, to come and video chat. Sometimes there is a specific topic, sometimes it’s just to shoot the bull. Then you can create a private hangout where only specific people are invited and can see when it starts. It switches to the person talking automatically, and even allows for everyone to watch a Youtube video at the same time. A very cool use that we’ve seen in these last couple of weeks is that celebrities are having public hangouts where 9 people can come in and talk face to face with them to ask questions or have a conversation. Even Newt Gingrich had a Hangout with some people in order to talk about issues. Completely impromptu and with some great conversation.

It also integrates some of Google’s other services directly into the interface.

Latitude – If you check in to a latitude location, it goes directly onto your wall with whatever visibility you want, public, or other circles.

Chat – Chat shows up on your home page with the ability to chat with your gchat contacts that used to only show up on your Gmail. It gives you an opportunity to chat with those people you are used to chatting with and if you start a chat in that window or another window like gmail, then it keeps it open while you navigate through Plus.

Picasaweb – This is what Plus uses as its photos hub. So if you have already shared photos or a photo album with someone and they are your friend on plus, then they will be able to go to your profile and hit the photos tab and see things no one else can, or you can make albums public. Picasaweb is my favorite online photo tool, and the integration here is extremely tight.

Profiles – Google accounts have had profiles for a long time, but they haven’t really been used for anything. But now your plus profile is a much nicer version of the old product, and it is actually useful.

Buzz – If you have a buzz account and anything shared to it, then it shows up in your profile under a buzz section.

+1 – If you have +1′d any sites, then a tab shows up on your profile that shows a few sites that you like and approve of.

Is it any good?

It’s very good, and this is just the beginning.

Especially for those of you who live in Google products, it is great. My typical browser usage keeps a few tabs open all the time, and then the rest change all the time. Reader, Gmail, Facebook. But Facebook has been supplanted by GPlus, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I still go to Facebook to look around a little, but then I come back to Google Plus and check things out cause I know I have missed some very good conversations.

What tips do you have for everyone else?

Create circles, but not too many. Limit yourself to less than 10 circles, because in the end, you probably won’t be sharing with more than a couple of groups of people, or to the public.

Mute this post can be used similar to Mark as Read. So if there is a conversation that you have looked over and just aren’t interested in any longer, then hit the arrow on the post and Mute it.  That’s how I manage my feed, especially since, as of right now, if there is a new comment on a post, then the post jumps back to the top of your feed. This makes it difficult to keep up with what is actually new.

Get an Android Device. The Google+ app is fantastic, and even includes a nearby section so you can see conversations that are happening around you using latitude’s coordinates. Plus it has a really nice group messaging app called Huddle, which works very well if multiple people need in on a text messaging type conversation on mobile phones. It also automatically uploads, to a private album, all of the photos you take, automatically if you want, so you can put them on your plus page easier when you get back to your PC.

Dig through the settings. If you don’t, then you won’t be able to find out what settings you can tweak to make it better. And keep checking the settings to make sure nothing has changed that would make your experience better.

How can it improve?

It is new and has a ways to go. The Google team has been fantastic at crowdsourcing the next features and changes for the service from the beta testers, even going so far as to have hangouts so people can explain their ideas and problems in person.

Speaking of hangouts, if you could share your desktop, it truly would be a webex killer. Free 10 person meetings with screen sharing would be absolutely amazing, especially for Google Apps customers.

Google Apps customers do not currently have access. You have to actually have a gmail account to get in right now, but we have been told that is going to change, and Google Apps customers may find this a very useful tool in the long run.

Shared Circles could be a great addition. What if I could have public circles for things like tech posts, so the people who wanted to follow my tech news could just see that and wouldn’t have to see posts about underwater basketweaving or whatever else. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Business pages are another item that they haven’t gotten into yet. They will need something similar to facebook pages so that brands can build their pages and have multiple admins handling the account. And with Google Analytics on board, it would be extremely useful for large and small businesses alike.

There is a section called Sparks which is supposed to be news you are interested in that you can share, but it would be more useful if it was my Google Reader articles, especially since I have already, obviously, defined my interests through it.

Events page. I would love to see a full featured events page so that people could have a wave-like page that included calendar invites and docs integration. It would be great for having multiple people plan an event.

I wish there was a way to be able to see everything that I have commented on or interacted with. Kind of my personal activity feed. As of right now, you can only see items you’ve posted, not everything you’ve commented on or done.

There isn’t currently a super easy way to import your Facebook friends or info into Google Plus, but if they could figure out a way to use the facebook export to import specific info like photos, updates, friends, and everything else. That would be fantastic, especially if Facebook keeps blocking plugins that connect to Google Plus.

Conclusion

I really could talk about this all day, but no one would read it. :)

It is a fantastic site with a lot of potential. There is going to be a point down the line where people will start coming en masse to the site, but it could be awhile. It has a lot of features and integration, but it will keep some people from joining simply since they have to create another email address, and if they don’t have a gmail address already, then they may not want to go through the steps.

The features for me, are great, and extremely useful, and much more of what I want. If it would get rid of the use for Facebook AND Twitter for me, that would be absolutely fantastic. It’s on its way, and it is still in beta!

In a few months, it could be a completely different ballgame and Google Plus could hit critical mass with people leaving Facebook in droves once they see just how great it is.

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My Ideal Home Device

Web/Tech

Over the past few months, while sitting on the couch watching TV, I jump back and forth between devices depending on what I am wanting to do during that time, or sometimes what is closest to me.

If you asked me what was the perfect device for home use, I would have to get a qualifier depending on what you want to do.

  • If you want to play games or read a book, then I would suggest either a smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android) device.

     

     

     

  • If you want to surf the net, it’s much easier on a laptop or netbook of some sort. (The full browser makes this much easier)

     

     

     

  • If you don’t want to have to deal with viruses or installations of any sort and amazing battery life, I have a Chrome Netbook that works really well.

     

     

     

So, “It depends” is actually a valid response because my dad has completely different uses for his computer than I do.

So, with tomorrow’s Google I/O conference beginning at noon, I would like to put my idea of the perfect couch computer out there.

Ideally, I would want all of the above in one device so that I could play games and work with apps, but also have a full browser with a file system, extended battery life, and no problems with viruses.

I know this is a lot to ask, but Google’s operating systems together actually are so close to fitting my criteria that it hurts.

Think about it, Android is not very good with battery life, and the browser is rough, but you have apps and a great e-reader, it has a file system, and has a lot of functionality.

Chrome OS doesn’t really have much of a file system since it is supposed to be just a browser, but it has amazing battery life, a full keyboard for typing, an amazing browser, and no problems at all with viruses.

So if you could put all of the features together here, it would really be an ideal world and wouldn’t take near as much work considering they are owned by the same company.

There are two ways that I could see this working.

  1. Create an Android version of the Chrome browser that would do all of the things we know and love Android for, but would give you a full browser with extensions and access to the file system.
  2. Create a dual-boot device that shares the file system of Chrome and Android. So upon startup, you would choose either Android or Chrome OS depending on what functions you want and you would have access to the same file system so that if you were working with a picture on Android, you would be able to upload it at next boot on the Chrome browser to Facebook.

As far as hardware goes, I really like the Xoom. I played with one for a short amount of time at Staples last week and really liked it. It was a really nice device with a really good feel. I don’t think you can get rid of the touchscreen because for gaming and many new applications, touch is the easiest way to navigate and get the job done, but for those who need a little more user input control through a keyboard, I believe it would be beneficial to have a real keyboard. I personally would like to see a flip and swivel keyboard. What this means is that if you were wanting to use Android as it is today, then I would just have the touchscreen to work with, but if I wanted to write this post on the device, I would just unlatch the keyboard from the back of the device and swivel it around to be more like a typical keyboard on a laptop. This would allow me to have the best of both worlds, especially if the weight, size, and battery life were similar to the CR-48 I currently have at home for Chrome OS.

So, overall, I think Google has a couple of great products, but in order to create a device that does it all, the Chrome and Android teams need to work together to integrate the platforms. I know that Eric Schmidt said that Chrome is for regular computers and Android is for touchscreens, and I agree with that to a point. But if they want the home user market to sit in front of the TV with a device, it’s going to be hard to outperform the iPad. If I can get my extensions and bookmarks on my Android device’s browser and include a real keyboard, then you just might see me move to one device instead of piecemeal depending on the function of the day.

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The Hidden Costs of Corporate Email

Web/Tech

Microsoft’s Tom Rizzo this Wednesday wrote a blog post about the hidden costs of Google Apps. Now, does he do this out of the goodness of his heart? No. Does he do this just for fun since “Google is failing in the enterprise” and Microsoft feels absolutely warm and fuzzy about their place in the enterprise? Of course not.

He does this because he has a goal and wants those around him to agree with his goal of moving people back away from Google Apps. Much of his information is incorrect, though to the common reader who has not done the research themselves, seems plausible. Below is my story about how we moved to Google Apps from Microsoft Exchange with much success.

We are a 200 person company where about half of our users have email accounts and we’ve actually moved our company over to Google Apps with great success. It took some training since Gmail is obviously different, but it’s been a great experience. The $360 Help Desk Support Services in the graphic is a supplemental service that you don’t have to get. If you buy your Google Apps licenses from a partner like Ltech or CloudSherpas, where the price is still $50/user/year, then you actually get support for free, though only to the account administrators. So the administrators troubleshoot and if it goes above their head, then they come to the partner support.

And if you factor in the amount that it costs for support and maintenance of the hardware and software of an Exchange server, which is the primary reason we moved, not for office and such, then you definitely come out ahead.

Because the piece they aren’t talking about is that you automatically get offsite storage for all 25GB of your mail, multi-site redundancy, Enterprise messaging and video/voice chat through Google Talk, and you can buy the message security piece, which is the add-on postini piece from the infographic, but you get postini filtering for free. Do you realize how much this would all cost, and how piecemeal it would be if you tried to create a Microsoft Exchange based solution of the same thing. Last year we did the pricing for 100 people and here is what we came out with.

On-Site solution with off-site redundancy

Exchange hardware – $2,000 per year with 5 year depreciation

Exchange License – $2,000 per year with SA

Spam Filtering software – $1,200 per year

Archiving product – $1,900 per year

OCS Hardware/Software with SA – $2,900 per year

off-site redundancy for all of these products – not even going to go there

Total of $10,000 if you don’t have off-site redundancy in place

OR

Totally off-site solution

Hosted Exchange with a lot of additional storage since most only come with 1-5GB of space – With 1GB space – $6,000 per year

Hosted OCS – $2,400

Offsite spam filtering – $2,100

Offsite archiving – $5,400

Total of $15,900

Now, for Google Apps, here is our pricing.

Google Apps completely hosted

Google Apps bought from LTech – $5,000 per year

Power Panel – $400 per year

Single Sign On – $900 per year

Postini Message Discovery Extended (10 year retention) – $3,300

Total – $9,600

So, as you can see, Google Apps is still cheaper than both of the other approaches, even without redundancy of the first Exchange scenario.

People just haven’t actually done the research on this in order to see the cost savings most of the times, and salesmen like this have a very clear goal and manipulate the numbers to meet that goal. So do your own research if you are actually interested in this and don’t rely on sales techniques.

At any rate, Exchange is not as cheap as this article suggests in order to get all of the features of Google Apps. And the vast majority of businesses aren’t even to the size of our corporation, and spending $100 per year on each user for email in a 10 person company makes a lot more sense than setting up all of the infrastructure needs of a fortune 500 company where you need a full time support professional just to troubleshoot all of the server/desktop issues for mail and collaboration alone. Plus you get Google Docs, sites, and lots of other features for free with no maintenance downtime and a 99.9% SLA.

Personally, I am going to push this to any organization that I work with or consult with, and our company has been extremely satisfied with all of the features and plan on staying with Apps from here forward.

Plus, it definitely helps that I just got my Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist certification, so I do kind of know what I am talking about.

If you’re interested in moving to Google Apps, check out their site, or let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to tell you all about it, or maybe help you make the migration.

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My HP e-Print Printer (and all its wonders)

Web/Tech

I have been big on these e-print printers ever since HP announced them last year. The thought of being able to send an email to an email address and it automatically print was a very neat concept. Plus the fact that it was wireless at my house made it even better. That way I wouldn’t have to have a desktop computer running all of the time in my house that was set to share the printer. Because that means that if the computer wasn’t on, then I couldn’t print from my laptop, and it is much more difficult to get setup and administer.

This past Christmas I got one of the e-Print printers as a present and it took all of 20 minutes to setup and get configured the way I want. I got the HP Photosmart D110A Wireless e-All-in-One Printer and have loved it. At the time, I think it was about $50 around the holidays, where it’s now more like $70.  But still it’s a great deal on a nice printer. So, other than the wireless printing and the email printing, which I used just this week to print an email from work on my home printer, what else does it do?

Well, it copies and scans as well. Plus it has a memory card slot so you can print directly from the card. And it has apps. I know that apps is kind of a buzz word, but it really does have apps. It has applications that you can install on the printer to make you print more. So, for example, I can flip through the apps and print a coloring page for Lyla from Disney without ever going to a computer. You just go to the apps on the touch screen and click on what you want to print and it prints.  Sarah can also do the same thing with coupons from coupons.com. She is able to go to the printer and choose the coupons she wants to print and print them directly from the touchpad. It’s a smart ploy to get you to print more. I like it personally because it actually does make sense as you are going to have to be at the printer anyway to get the papers, so why not just do it all from there?

Also, it is AirPrint capable, which means that you can print from your iPad or iPod touch or iPhone just by hitting print and it will find the printer on your network.

Not only that, but yesterday, Google announced that all HP e-Print printers are also Google Cloud Print Capable. What that means is that from your Android device, or on any computer that you have Chrome installed with the ePrint option checked, you can print to your other printers. You simply go to the Cloud Print Start page and add the printer’s email address, and it adds it to the account that you are logged in as. So it added to my google account right then and I was able to see it as an option on both my Chrome browser and my Android phone. Very cool stuff.

It won’t be long before we won’t have to have print servers anywhere. And especially at that low of a price. Now, there are higher priced models that contain things like tablets like the HP Photosmart eStation All-in-One, but really, for most people, the model that I have does everything that most people need.

So, in my personal opinion, I think that your next printer definitely needs to be an HP e-Print printer to make sure that you are compatible with the wireless technology in the future.

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Ideal Small Business Network

Web/Tech

So I was thinking the other day about my Ideal Home Network post the and I thought it might be nice to do a post on what I believe is the ideal small business network.

Most small businesses over-invest in IT hardware and software, as well as create too much complexity for less than 10 people on a network. And with a business this small, it really doesn’t make sense to have a full time IT person twiddling their thumbs the majority of the time.

I’ve said before how much of a fan I am of Microsoft Home Server. It makes my life here at home much easier as I don’t have to think as much about what is going on with my network. So if only that could be translated to the business world. And I believe that it can if you have the right setup where you can actually set it and forget it.

So, the major pieces that a small business needs are email, file sharing, collaboration, remote access, printer, and a website. The best way that I can see to do this is to use two major tools for all of the needs, and then some bits and pieces.

The first tool would be Google Apps. Google Apps Premier Edition is $50 per year per user and includes email, calendar, document sharing and editing, voice, video, and text chat, group forums and mailing lists, enterprise spam filtering, and easy intranet and internet sites. It is essentially everything that major corporations have at their disposal without the maintenance, without the on-site IT staff, and at a fraction of the cost. It even gives you the software you need through Google Docs to replace Excel, Word, and Powerpoint. I have even set up Google Apps to host corporate, public-facing websites so your corporate identity is all set as well. For 10 people, it would only cost $500/year for email and collaboration that the big boys enjoy.

The second major piece is Windows Home Server. Specifically the HP Mediasmart EX495 which has a 1.5TB drive in it and is expandable with 3 more internal bays and 4 USB ports. So you could buy 3 more large drives internally where you could replicate the files so you have redundancy, as well as allow it to backup all of the PC’s on the network for quick recovery. You could also couple it with Carbonite backup for cloud storage so that all of your files are backed up remotely for easy recovery for only a little over $50 per year. So you would get offsite backup, as well as onsite backup for very cheap.

As I have said before, Windows Home Server also gives you access to your files and computer remotely so that you can access them anytime and anywhere. And it also allows you to search across all of the file shares so that you can find what you need easily.

Printing in a small business is always a bit of an issue, as well as scanning or copying. But with HP’s ePrint technology, you can not only print wirelessly while you are in the office, you can print wirelessly from your phone anywhere you have internet access just by sending an email to a specific email address. And the cost isn’t any more than a typical printer. We got the base all in one model for about $50 bucks and it copies, scans, and prints, and works great. All the way up to the high end multifunction that is more like $300. So you could put one at each person’s desk or just give everyone access to a couple of printers and even if one had problems, you wouldn’t have to go through the driver issues, but instead could just print to a different printer.

Couple all of this with the laptops and desktops needed for the users, a nice Meraki access point that can be managed from anywhere and is super easy to setup, a small network of wired switches and you have essentially an entire corporate network on a smaller scale without the major maintenance of the enterprise network.

So, for 10 users, you would have to buy the computers for less than $500 each for a total of $5,000, plus the $700 for the Server and extra storage and a router and wired switch for less than $300, 2 printers for $50 each, and a Meraki access point for $300 and you have all of your equipment for less than $7,000

Then your yearly cost of $50 per user for 10 users comes out to $500 per year and the online backup adds another $50 and you have recurring costs of $550 per year. This takes care of pretty much all of your major IT needs for a company smaller than 10 users with 10 computers without a lot of the hassles of a typical network.

So, a summary.

Initial Investment
10 computers x $500 = $5,000
Server = $700
Extra storage, router, and wired switch = $300
2 HP ePrint printers x $50 = $100
Meraki access point = $300

Total Initial Investment = $6,400

Yearly Costs
10 Google Apps user accounts x $50/year = $500
Carbonite online backup for Home Server = $50

Total Yearly Cost = $550

All in all, not a bad setup for a business just starting out so that they can hit the ground running with all of the tools they need to be up against the big boys.

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How to get more out of uTorrent

Web/Tech

So, you use uTorrent for your torrenting needs of things like linux iso’s and various other items. But it is kind of a pain to remote in to your home PC and add the torrents if you aren’t sitting at the PC yourself. So here are a few tools that can make torrenting that much easier.

So, first, of course, you need to install uTorrent on your computer so that you can get the downloads flowing freely. If you aren’t quite sure how to do that, the uTorrent site actually has a nice little tutorial up on what to change and do to setup uTorrent with your internet connection. Then just setup the webUI in the options

Next up is the mobileui. This interface is just a web interface that allows you to add/remove/change torrents from anywhere you have access to the web. For me personally, I just have it as a bookmark in Chrome so that i can check it whenever I want without having to type it in. And that is probably the easiest way too.

Next is the actual webui Firefox extension. This extension runs in the lower corner of your screen and tells you how many torrents you are running, as well as the upload and download speeds of them all put together. And if you click on it, it will open the webui in a sidebar in the browser. It is a nice little extension to have running for anyone who likes to keep an eye on what’s happening at home.

Or the uTorrent for Chrome extension that gives you direct access to your torrents like it was running on your remote machine.

And finally, the last thing is tying them to the app infrastructure.

On the Android, you can install something like Transdroid to manage everything that goes on in your uTorrent installation, or the official uTorrent app to do the same thing. But then there are items like EZTVDroid that helps you to search for TV shows, and can add them directly as well.

On the iPhone, you have to use the Project Falcon Alpha in order to get to your torrents since not just any app can get through the app store approval process with Apple.

So, with all of these little helpful applications running on your computer, won’t it kill your home PC beyond usability? Believe it or not, even with all of this running, you will barely even notice the difference since uTorrent is written so lightly that it barely touches your memory, and in terms of CPU usage, unless there is a problem, you won’t even notice.

I used to use Azureus because of the java applets you could run on top of it to make things easier, but it was such a memory hog that I could not handle it anymore. I moved to uTorrent and haven’t looked back since. I couldn’t imagine downloading in any other manner. If you haven’t downloaded uTorrent before now, maybe you should look into it.

With these pieces in place, you should pretty much be able to do anything you could do on the host machine from anywhere. It works great, and hopefully it helps.

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Amazon Cloud Player

Music, Web/Tech

This morning, the Amazon Cloud Player launched, and I must say, I am impressed.

As with most things Amazon, they went all out. It launches with 5GB of storage out of the box just for having an amazon account, an Android app, as well as a nice web player that works quite well. All of your playlists and music automatically sync so that you can have the same experience, no matter what device you are using.

And if 5GB isn’t enough, it won’t be for me, you can buy more storage 20GB for $20 per year, or buy an MP3 album and automatically be upgraded to that 20GB plan. There are even albums for less than $1 on Amazon that meet the criteria.  And if you download that album or any MP3 from Amazon to your cloud drive first, then it won’t count against your space. So you can buy as much from Amazon as you would like and it isn’t part of the 5GB or 20GB size restriction. It can sit there indefinitely. Also, if you go to your amazon MP3 settings on each computer you will be accessing it from, you can set your download setting. “When you save your Amazon MP3 purchases to Cloud Drive, you can download new purchases from Cloud Drive to this computer automatically.” So I can have it automatically download files to my desktop, but download on demand on my laptop. Pretty sweet.

And you don’t have to just store mp3′s on there, but also any other file you would like, but obviously you get the most flexibility out of MP3 files. And when I say MP3 files, I don’t necessarily mean MP3′s exclusively can be used, you can actually upload Apple’s m4a files as well so that you can listen to them using your amazon cloud player as well. Wav files and ogg are out of luck, but most people have mp3 and m4a as it is, so you should be good with most of your collection.

And of course, Amazon makes it easy to click on an artist and shop for more music from that artist in the Amazon MP3 store.

There is even a really nice Adobe Air MP3 uploader from Amazon that automatically scans your Windows Media Player and iTunes libraries for files and playlists and lets you choose what you do and do not want to upload.

I am listening to it right now on my Android and it is working extremely well over a Wifi connection and I’ll have to try it out over a 3G connection to see if it can keep a good connection. But if Pandora can do it, there is really no reason that Amazon can’t.  It does give you the option of downloading the files from your Cloud Drive to your Android device in case you will be out of range and need something to listen to, but that kind of defeats the purpose.

I do have a few things that I wish I could do that I can’t.  I have a few files that I have ripped that didn’t have track info and it uploaded and of course the album and artist are “unknown”. I wish there was a way, other than re-uploading the file, that I could edit that information, but as of right now I don’t find a way to do that.

I also do wish that it had an iOS app, but I am sure that is coming. It probably just takes awhile to get it through the app store approval process. I tried to use the web player on the iPad, and though it loaded, I couldn’t actually get my files to play. But I was able to download them to the device, which I guess would work if there was one file you wanted to listen to.

I also wonder how long it will be before there is a Roku app or it is built into my Tivo. Because that is one piece that will make things much more interesting as Amazon Video on Demand is already in the living room, and putting Amazon MP3 in the living room would seriously upgrade the home theater capabilities of most people’s homes by having their MP3 collection easily accessible without having to go through all of the steps of finding it on your network.

The real test is going to be when Apple or Google announce an inevitable competitor to Amazon so we can see how each of these monster companies handles the same task.

But with Amazon being the first player of the big boys to do this, it definitely gives them the edge. If people get comfortable with their product and invest early, then that gives them an upper hand on these other competitors that would be more likely to own this space and allows them a good shot at owning the cloud MP3 space.

Anyway, try it out at Amazon Cloud MP3 or watch the nice little intro video to learn more.

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