Monday, December 31, 2012

My Goals of 2013

Here we are at the end of 2012. Obviously, we survived the Mayan apocalypse.  As I take a moment to reflect on the year that has passed, I start to look forward to the goals I want to accomplish in the coming year. Looking back at my 2012 goals, I pretty much lived up to them except building a computer (determined all the parts but never bought them) and attending more meetings of organizations that I have a membership with (definitely gotta work on that one). Again, I don't believe in making resolutions because they end up being lip-service to ourselves. Talk is cheap and change is hard. Goals are more tangible and attainable.

Now without any further ado, my goals for 2013 (in no particular order):

1) Continue to get certifications. I'm always looking to add certifications to my name that will provided some professional value to me. This year I think I'm going to focus on CompTIA's  CTT+, which is beneficial in my role as a part-time instructor, and either CompTIA's Project+ or PMI's CAPM since much of my daily work can be project-oriented.

2) Focus more management/leadership growth and less on being solely technical at work. I love technology and will always love technology, but I think it's time start focusing on the next level at work. Just like technology changes, I need to be able to change with it and just as fast.

3) Write a book. A year or so ago, I had a conversation with a retiring IT director who was familiar with my background and one of her suggestions for me professionally was to write a book. Writing a book provides me with an opportunity to share my expertise, differentiate myself among my peers and provides me  the opportunity to expand my professional brand.

4) Streamline my technology workflow. Over the past year, I have found myself using a "full" computer less and less (outside of work) but using "consumption" devices more and more. I spend more time on my iPad, Nexus 7 and Chromebook than I do on my Windows or OS X computers. I already have started examining what I use in order to evaluate need.

5) Fully embrace the cloud. My goal is to reduce my reliance on maintaining local storage in our house. I already decommissioned my Windows Home Server and moved all of our documents to the cloud (SkyDrive). Now I'm looking for solutions for our photos and home movies. Keep my need for local storage to a bare minimum.

6) Continue to expand and grow my Computer Support Technician Certificate Program. I took a risk doing this and it has paid off. Now I just need to keep the momentum going. 

7) Contribute more articles. Over the past year, I became a contributing author for the BIT Tech Digest. Need to make sure that I contribute articles regularly. I also want to look into becoming a contributing writer for other sites as well if possible.

8) Consider going to graduate school. This is one that I have been juggling in my head for awhile now. As it relates to goal #2 of focusing more on management/leadership growth, it is almost a no brainer, but it takes a commitment. There are a lot of factors I have to consider if I decide to go back to school. This may end up one of my 2014 goals.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Skylanders Giants...The Saga Continues

One great thing about having time off for the holidays (other than spending time with family) is that I have time to really do some gaming. It's not all Halo 4 or Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 for me. As you know I love Skylanders. Skylanders Giants was released a few months ago and now I have some time to really get into it during my time off from work.

For me, playing Skylanders is really fun, especially with my daughter. Much like the Lego games, Skylanders Giants is perfect for a parent to play with their kids. It’s not too challenging and it's easy to jump into without having to learn complicated controls or try to figure out what’s going on. Let's be real, unless you are a kid under the age of 10, there is no real challenge in playing any of the Skylanders games, but the games are fun especially if you play them with your children.

The game can be finished fairly quickly (unless you are playing with your child) by older, seasoned gamers, but there are plenty of things to extend the gameplay a bit. Reaching level 15 for all your Skylanders, collecting all the hidden hats, treasure chests and gems hidden on each level, completing all the heroic challenges, and taking on all the arena battles can keep in going for a bit longer (but not much longer). Again, this is essentially a kid's game so don't expect the same level of depth as you would playing Skyrim or Mass Effect.

Depending on how you look at it, the real gimmick to the Skylanders series is the toys, which of course, are sold separately. This time around, there are about 40 new characters to collect that include, Giants, LightCore, and Series 2 figurines. For my daughter and I, we are just buying the new characters and Giants.

As with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures, you can finish Skylanders Giants with just the characters that came with the Starter Pack or even with the characters that you collected from the first game. You really don't need to by any of the new character unless you want to (and your kids will want you too). Another thing to note is that while you can use the new figurines in the original game, but the Giants will not work. Also, while the new figurines will function in the original game, they will do so without any of the new "powers".

In order to extend the investment on all of the Skylanders that we have purchased, my daughter got the Nintendo 3DS versions of Skylanders Spyro's Adventure and Skylanders Giants for Christmas. Unlike the console version of the games, the 3DS versions have a completely different storyline and because it is a platformer, there's an actual jump button. I'm also considering purchasing the Skylanders Battleground Mobile Starter Pack to extend gameplay to iOS devices. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Buying a Laptop from Walmart: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

From time to time, I am called upon to help people buy new computers especially laptops. I always start by asking three questions: what do you want to use it for, how much can you spend, and how much are you willing to spend.  The answers that I receive usually give me a good idea of not only what type of laptop to recommend but also the best place to buy it. Surprisingly, Walmart is actually a decent place to buy a new laptop for most people. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to visit different Walmart stores in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee during my travels. Being the geek I am, I decided to compare my experiences and observations.

The Good
Laptops on clearance
The most obvious good thing about buying a laptop from Walmart is that you know that the price will be low. Nowadays, you can get a decent laptop from Walmart for under $500. I have seen laptops that were priced as high as $898, but after a few weeks/months many were marked down as much as $200 or more. Most recently, some Walmart stores have started carrying several popular laptop models from Acer, Samsung, and ASUS. It's more than the bulky HP, Dell, and Gateway models that their stores have been known to carry in the past. What's even better is that when newer models are released, older models are marked down. Let's not forget that as the Christmas holidays approach, laptops are one of the many items that can be placed on layaway. Where else can you put a laptop on layaway?



The Bad
Laptops in locked cases

This is where the shopping experience differs between Walmart and more technology-focused retailers such as Best Buy or Office Depot. Unlike Best Buy, where you can walk in, pick up a laptop, sample the keyboard quality, get an idea of how much it weighs, and perform other hands-on tests to help in making your purchasing decision, the experience at Walmart will vary from store to store. Some stores (a very small number) actually provide an experience that is very similar to Best Buy. However, the majority of Walmart stores I went into provided a far from helpful experience when looking for a laptop to buy. Many of the laptops were physically locked down, unable to be picked up by a customer. In some stores, the laptops are kept behind a dirty, scratched plastic case like a jewelry store. Look but don't touch. I had to find an Walmart associate to unlock the case so that I could get my hands on the laptop. In other stores, many of the laptops had broken screens, would not turn on, or had keyboards with half the keys missing. I even went into one Walmart store that had all the laptops covered in clear contact paper that looked a hot mess (yeah, I said "hot mess"). 


Covered with contact paper
Missing keys

Broken Screen
  
The Ugly
If you do decided to purchase a laptop from Walmart, don't expect much help in making your decision. Unlike Best Buy, there is not a Walmart equivalent to the Geek Squad. You are on your own if you have questions about the CPU, RAM, hard drive, etc. I have yet to go to a Walmart electronics department in which the associate could provide helpful advice to me or any consumer looking to buy a laptop other than typical "I like this brand" response. At times I was given the wrong information or overheard misinformation given to a customer. On more than one occasion, at different stores, I have been told by employees that they don't work in that department when asked a question about a laptop and I would have to wait until someone who could answer my questions comes into work. I can at least give them points for being honest.

Bottom-line is that with some research beforehand, anyone can get a decent laptop at a good price from Walmart. However, if you need guidance, a more technology-focused store like Best Buy would be the better choice. Furthermore, while Walmart usually has cheaper prices, it does not have a large selection like Best Buy. Buying a laptop from Walmart really depends on if you just want a simple, everyday laptop or if you want something with the latest technical bells and whistles. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I Use: iPad Mini

I purchased an iPad 2 back in March when the price dropped after the release of the iPad 3...ooops, I mean NEW iPad. I enjoyed it. A few weeks later, I was given a new iPad to replaced the original iPad I had been using a work. So now I had two iPads.

A few months later, Google releases the Nexus 7 and I found myself using it more than either of the iPads. Not because it was a better device, but because of the smaller, 7-inch form factor. It was comfortable to hold and easy to carry around compared to the iPad. Plus, pretty much all the apps that I use on a daily basis on my iPad were available for Android as well. My iPads started collecting dust.  

iPad Mini
Enter PeachMac. PeachMac is the largest Apple reseller in the South with multiple locations in Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Virginia. I can honestly say that it is a MUCH better experience going into a PeachMac store than an actual Apple Store. PeachMac allows you to trade-in your current iPad (or Mac, iPhone or iPod) for store credit to upgrade to a newer device. After performing an extensive analysis of your device to determine its condition, they give you the value of your trade-in. I was able to trade-in my 32GB iPad 2 for a 16GB iPad mini with Wi-Fi + Cellular (Verizon) and paid only a small difference. Simple enough.

iPad Mini next to Google Nexus 7
Overall, it's an iPad and if you have used an iPad, there is nothing special about using the iPad Mini. The appeal for me is that it is much smaller and easier to handle than the regular iPad models. The specs are similar to those of the iPad 2. The only downside is that the iPad Mini comes with the new Lightning connector and I have the older, 30-pin adapters. Luckily, there is a Lightning to 30-pin Adapter. The one thing that many tech journalists focus on is the fact that it does not have a Retina-display like other current iPad models. While that might be a deal breaker for some, that's not a biggie for me.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Finals Days With The Surface

So after about a month of using the Microsoft Surface, I had to play nice and allow other technicians to use it within our team. I can say that my overall experience with the Surface has been great. Of course there are pros and cons to the device but no real deal-breakers that would prevent me from recommending it to anyone (I still think it is over-priced and would suggest the Type cover over the Touch cover).

However, there was one thing that stuck in the back of my mind each time I use the Surface. I found myself using it more as a laptop alternative and less as a tablet. Whether it was during a meeting or eating pancakes at IHOP, I used it as if I was using a small form-factor laptop. It was rare that I pulled it out to use strictly as a tablet (except to play Angry Birds Star Wars).  I always went to my Google Nexus 7 or iPad when I wanted to use an actual tablet.

To me, the Surface falls in a space that it's not quite a tablet and not quite a laptop, but more of a new species of device.  Deciding on whether or not to purchase the Surface really boils down to what functionality do you need the most. Do you you need a laptop that functions as a tablet or do you need a tablet with laptop functionality? The Surface is a tablet with laptop functionality in my opinion. So the question becomes why someone buy a Surface over buying an similar-priced Ultrabook? That is the question that really has to addressed.

Again, my overall experience with the Surface has been positive. There is a lot to love about it and a lot to be nit-picky about. I can easily recommend the Surface if it fits your needs.  So far, the Asus VivoTab RT is the only Windows RT device that I have gotten my hands-on that really provides a genuine tablet experience similar to what you would expect from iPads and the many Android tablets that are on the market. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

App Recommendations for College Students (or Anyone Else)

Recently, a colleague and close friend on campus asked for my opinion on apps that their department could recommend to their students. Before I started naming all the apps that immediately came to mind, my first suggestion was to consider apps that were available on multiple platforms. In other words, don't just consider apps for iOS devices (e.g. iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch). Believe it or not, some students use Android devices. An app that also has the capability to be synced with a typical computer, Windows or OS X, is also a big plus.

My second suggestion was not to focus solely on finding free apps. We all love free. Free is good, but the goal should be recommending apps that help the students be more productive. Not just throwing out a bunch of free apps. My finally and probably most important suggestion to my friend was to think about what they would be willing to support. Last thing you want to do is to recommend a list of apps for students to download but not be able to help them if they encountered any problems.

Once we established a process for determining how to compile the list, I made my recommendations:
  1. Evernote is the best note-taking product on the market. Hand's down. No comparison. If you are not using it, what are you waiting for?
  2. Skitch is part of the Evernote family of apps designed to help you remember everything. Basically it allows you to annotate images that you have on your device. Did I mention, that it works with Evernote?
  3. iAnnotate PDF is a tool for reading, marking up, and sharing PDF documents.  This is the best app to use if you do a lot of reading and notations. You can also view and share Microsoft Word and PowerPoint files and even convert them into PDFs.
  4. Pocket allows you view an article, video or anything else you find on the Internet later. It automatically syncs across devices so you can view it at any given time, even without an internet connection. Pocket is also integrated into a large number of applications. This means that you can save directly from applications such as Twitter or Pulse.
  5. SimpleMind is a mind mapping tool used for brainstorming and collecting ideas. There are both free and paid versions available for both iOS and Android. Taking it one step further, SimpleMind also has a paid desktop edition for both Windows and OS X ($34.32) that allows you to view and edit mind maps created on iOS or Android devices.
  6. WordBook English Dictionary is a quick and intuitive English language dictionary and thesaurus.
  7. Quickoffice Pro HD is an office editing suite that allows you to create and edit Microsoft Office document, spreadsheet, and presentation formats. You can also view PDFs (minus the advance features you get with iAnnotate PDF). Yes, you have to pay for it ($19.99) but if you plan to use an iPad or Android tablet for editing Microsoft Office documents, it is worth the money...at least until Microsoft Office becomes available for both platforms.
  8. Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive, Google Drive, SugarSync - Take your pick. Each cloud storage option has their particular pros and cons. It's all about choosing the service that meets your individual needs.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What I Use: Belkin WeMo Switch

WeMo Switch
Every once and awhile you find a new gadget or gizmo that catches your eye forcing you to make an impulse purchase. Sometimes it is a worthwhile purchase. The Belkin WeMo Switch was one such purchase.

The WeMo Switch is a simple little device. It basically allows you to control your home electronics from anywhere. Turn things off or on from your iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad). You can even schedule devices to turn on and off at a certain time. It's essentially affordable home automation. There is also a version of the WeMo Switch that has a motion sensor.

WeMo app
Installation is simple. Plug the device into a wall outlet, plug in a device such as a lamp, download and install the WeMo app to your iOS device, connect your device to the WeMo Network and then launch the app. That's it. Note that it will require a firmware upgrade once it has been set up. I set up WeMo Switches in both my home office and my daughter's room.

Even though I have not played around with this feature, the WeMo can interact with web-based social media and apps through a great service called IFTTT (if this then that). It allows you to create custom tasks with Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Evernote to name a few. I'll have to play around with it.

The one downside is that it is specifically for iOS devices. No Android or Windows Phone apps. Hopefully Belkin with expand the availability of the WeMo app in the near future.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What I Use: Acer C7 Chromebook

After weeks of waiting and checking online for availability, I was able to get my hands on an Acer C7 Chromebook from Best Buy. At $199, it is perfect for anyone looking to test Chrome OS without making a large investment, but remember that it cost $199 so expectations should not be high. No one should walk in expecting this to compete head-to-head with an Macbook Air for example. Heck, it shouldn't even be considered an alternative. 


I wrote a post about Chrome OS a few months ago and my general feeling at the time was that while it was a nice web-based OS, the cost was too high based upon the limitations of being a web-based OS. That changed a few months ago when Samsung released a Chromebook for $249. It was thin, light, and actually looked cool. It was also powered by a ARM-based Samsung Exynos 5 Dual Processor. Did I mention it was $249? It quickly sold out. If you got one, lucky you.

Enter Acer. The Acer C7 Chromebook is essentially a netbook especially if you look at it from a hardware's perspective.  Intel Celeron 847 CPU, 2GB of RAM (which can be expanded to 8GB), 320GB hard drive, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, HD webcam, and 11.6" LED-backlit LCD display. It is about an inch thick and weighs about 3 lbs. If this ran Windows, it would probably suck, but it runs Chrome OS so it is not so bad. You also have Ethernet, a 2-in-1 media card reader, 3 USB 2.0 ports as well as HDMI and VGA connections.  Not bad, but not great especially when compared to USB 3.0, solid state storage and a 3-in-1 media reader that comes with the $249 Samsung model. 

Using the keyboard was better than expected, but I'm not a fan of the touchpad. Feels cheap and clicky.  It costs only $199. It gets only about 4 hours of battery life with the included 4-cell lithium-ion battery.  Wait, it costs only $199. It uses a traditional hard drive instead of an SSD. Again, it costs only $199. It only has 10/100 Ethernet. Oh yeah, it costs only $199. For $199, you also get deep Google Drive integration with 100GB of free storage for two years. In other words, you get what you pay for and what you pay for is not that bad.

As I mentioned earlier, the Acer C7 Chromebook is basically a netbook.  It's a netbook that just happens to run Chrome OS instead of Windows. Chrome OS is limited. It always has been limited. As long as you understand that before you buy it, then you should be ok. Believe it or not, the Acer C7 Chromebook is actually a great performing computer at an unbelievable price. It is perfect for anyone who is part of the Google ecosystem. It is what it is and for $199, I can accept that. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Three Simple Things Computer Users Should Know How To Do

When I turned sixteen, I could not wait to get behind the wheel and hit the road. However, before I could trade in my 10-speed bike for the 1971 Pontiac LeMans (I miss that car) that my dad had bought for me from my aunt,  he insisted that I know how to do several things first. How to change a flat tire, how to check the oil, and how to check and replace a battery. My dad said that those were the basic things that any driver should know how to do. You take care of your car and it takes care of you.

In today's age of technology, computers have become a necessity very much like a car. In some ways, having a computer is like owning and driving a car. While you don't need a license to do so (at times it can seem like there needs to be), there are certain things to know that can help you out when your computer breaks down. You don't have to be the most computer-savvy person to do the things I mention. All it takes is a little time and patience.

1. How to Install/Reinstall the operating system

Over time, Windows loses stability at some point. Eventually, you're going to have to bite the bullet and reinstall Windows from scratch. You don't have to be a mechanic to change a tire just like you don't have be an IT professional to install or reinstall your computer's operating system, whether it's Windows, OS X or some versions of Linux. In cases, it's as easy as inserting a CD/DVD and following the prompts on the screen. All it requires is the knowledge and willingness to try it.

2. How to Backup Your Data

Everyone has heard of the old adage about Murphy's Law, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". That is why backing up your data is important. It only takes a few minutes using the simple backup tools built into the operating system, such as Windows Backup and Time Machine for OS X users. I am a big advocate of the 3-2-1 backup rule: three copies of anything you want to keep, two copies on two different storage media and one copy on an offsite storage site. Taking the time to configure backup on your computer ensures that your important data will be safe no matter what happens to your hardware. You'll be glad you did if there ever comes a time when you need it.

3. How to Detect and Protect Against Malware Threats

It goes without saying that you need to have some type of antivirus and/or malware protection installed on your computer. Install a good antivirus software on your computer AND keep it updated. I generally recommend Microsoft Security Essentials because it integrates well with Windows and updates automatically with Windows Update. Perfect for the non-technical computer user. If you are overly paranoid, consider purchasing and installing Malwarebytes Pro to provide an extra layer of protection. For Mac users, take a look at Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition if the Flashback exploit opened your eyes to the fact that OS X is susceptible to malware too. If your computer get's infected with some other form of malware, the removal process can be easy or it can be extremely complicated depending on the infection. The goal should be to use your computer smarts to avoid getting infected in the first place.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tech Tip: Shortcut to Updating Google Nexus 7 to Android 4.2

If you are a Google Nexus 7 owner like me, you were excited to find out that Android 4.2 is now officially available as an OTA (Over The Air) update direct from Google. Although OTA updates are very convenient, the downside is that they don't immediately show up when you check for Software Updates on your device. The last update, 4.1.2, did not show up on my device until two days later. if you didn't know, geeks can be a bit impatient.

With the help of The Verge, I found a quicker, less risky way to manually update my Nexus 7.


Go into your Apps and select Settings.

Turn off Wi-Fi. 







Still in Settings, go under the Device heading, select Apps and then under the All column, select Google Services Framework.


















Tap Clear data and then tap Force Stop. (Note: You may have to tap Clear cache too if that is an option on your screen).


















When you go back out to the main Settings page, turn on Wi-Fi.

Scroll down to the System heading and select About tablet.




Select System Updates.








You should now been given the option to download the update.
Once it finishes, your device should be updated to Android version 4.2 (build number JOP40C).
















Yes, there are other, more "geeky" ways to manually update your Nexus 7, but I like easy.

The new features in Android 4.2 are detailed here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Using the Microsoft Surface

I've had the opportunity to use one of my co-worker's Microsoft Surface for the past couple of days. I can honestly say that the experience has been pretty positive. Yes, I did get a chance to play around with the Surface at the Microsoft Store when it was released a few weeks ago, but it is not the same as actually using it without someone pressuring you to buy it. I wanted to use the Surface in daily situations as I would use my iPad or Google Nexus 7.

The first thing that I noticed when I got my hands on the Surface was that it was really not as heavy as many tech journalist have said it was compared to the iPad. If you take the Surface and iPad in each hand without their respected covers, you'll find that they both feel the same when it comes to weight.  The Surface feels very solid and well constructed. I don't see it getting damaged easily if dropped. I had no problem lying in bed reading from the Kindle app or playing Angry Birds Star Wars.

The Touch Keyboard cover is amazing. I am typing up this blog post on the Surface using the Touch Keyboard cover. It does take quick moment to get used to but once you do you'll wonder why Apple never came up with anything like this for the iPad. The keyboard is great for everyday use for most people,  While I do like the keyboard cover, I would prefer something like Microsoft's Wedge Touch Mouse and Wedge Mobile Keyboard if I am going to do any heavy typing (wish there was a non-keyboard cover available).

Using Windows RT was like using Windows 8 relatively speaking. While there are differences between the two, the average person will not notice. Noticeable differences come into play when you try to install software or some type of plug-in. For example, if you wanted to watch the latest Iron Man 3 trailer on Apple's website forget about it. QuickTime needs to be installed, which you cannot do in Windows RT. I cannot use my Dell 1720dn Laser Printer at home because I cannot install the drivers (fortunately Windows RT detected my HP OfficeJet 7000 with the built-in drivers).

Overall, I like the Microsoft Surface. Is it perfect? No, but for those who need a decent consumption device or a device to compliment their desktop or laptop, the Surface is a good choice (I still think it cost more than it should for what it does). Unfortunately, as I write this, the only other Windows RT device on the market to compare against the Surface is the Asus VivoTab RT (much thinner and lighter). Dell, Lenovo and Samsung haven't released their Windows RT devices yet.

Windows 8 on Dell Latitude ST

Dell Latitude ST
I am a firm believer of promoting technology reuse. Old technology can still have value. However, just like cars, computers depreciate in value. Old computers that may not have any financial value might have functional value. For that reason, I'm always checking out what is available in the Dell Outlet.

With the release of Windows 8, I was curious as to how well it would work on a Dell Latitude ST tablet since they were available in clearance in the Dell Outlet. Reading comments online about the performance of the Latitude ST running with Windows 7 were not too good. In addition, several of my colleagues had purchased the tablet and did not have anything favorable to say about it either. I definitely wanted to try Windows 8 on it before spending any money on it.

I was able to borrow a Latitude ST from a colleague to play around with for a few days. 120GB SSD, 1.50GHz Intel Atom CPU Z670, and 2GB of RAM. It has a capacitive multi-touch screen with digital pen input that supports 4 Touch Point. Compare that to the 1.66GHz Intel Atom CPU N570 in my Dell Inspiron Duo with no pen support and only 2 Touch Points, one would assume that the Latitude ST table would work great with Windows 8 installed. Well, you know what they say when make assumptions.

While I have seen older computers perform better after Windows 8 is installed, the same can't be said about the Latitude ST. Windows 8 will install on it but you will need to get the current, Windows 8 specific drivers from Motion Computing because Dell does not have them on their website. It is also recommended to update the BIOS if needed, which you can get from Dell's website (current version is A05).

Windows Experience Index error
The touch responsiveness of the Latitude ST with Windows 8 installed is terrible. It's slow, sluggish and many of the gestures do not work. I had to swipe or touch the screen multiple times to get it to register and respond. Alternatively, the pen worked great with it. Also tried to run the Windows Experience Index and it crashed the tablet each time requiring a reboot. Did I mention how heavy the device is compared to other tablets?

Overall, the Dell Latitude ST is made for those who have need for a stylus. Is it usable? It depends. If you have need for a stylus it could be doable, but I would not recommend it if you are looking for a device to get a decent Windows 8 touch experience. I won't be picking one up no matter how cheap they get.

UPDATE 11/20/2012: Not being one to give up easily, I played around with the touch calibration settings to see if that would resolve the touch interface issues (Control Panel\Tablet PC Settings). There was a small improvement, but not enough to change my mind about it.
 

Friday, October 26, 2012

What I Use: Logitech Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650

Ever since the release of the Apple Magic Trackpad, I have been hooked on using a trackpad instead of a traditional mouse for desktop computing. Unfortunately, there were not many, if not any, similar devices for Windows. Logitech released the Wireless Touchpad about a year ago. It was nothing compared to the Apple Magic Trackpad. It was bulky, plastic and had a very cheap feel to it. It was the only thing available for Windows that worked. Until now.

Wireless Touchpad (on left) next to T650
Logitech just released the Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650 in conjunction with the release of Windows 8. I can say that this is a major improvement over the original Logitech touchpad.

The Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650 features an ultra-smooth upper glass surface that's fingerprint and scratch-resistant. It doesn't look or feel cheap like it's predecessor. It is rechargeable with up to one-month battery life on a single charge. No need to change out batteries. Just plug in the included USB cable and instantly begin charging, even if it is in use. It connects using Logitech's proprietary 2.4GHz wireless technology that allows you to connect multiple wireless peripherals with the Logitech Unifying Receiver. Mine is paired with a Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750.

The T650 is capable of supporting a number of Windows 8 gestures, such as edge gestures for app switching, app bar and charms bar activation, pinch-to-zoom and three-finger swipe to take you back to the Start Screen. This is great if you are running Windows 8 on a device that is does not support touch. Here is the link to the gestures that you can do.

Something to keep in mind is that you may need to install and use the Logitech SetPoint application to adjust the configuration of the T650 for your specific style. The defaults just didn't work for me.

The Logitech Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650 is the perfect accessory to any desktop computer running Windows 8 especially if you want to use the related gestures.

Touching the Surface


I did something today that I've never done before. I waited in line for the release of a shiny, new gadget. Even more shocking, I didn't buy it. I know, shocking. This morning I waited in line at the Microsoft Store in Lenox Square Mall with other people waiting to purchase the Microsoft Surface.

Let me start by saying that I did not buy one, but is was not because I did not like it. The Surface is a fine piece of hardware. I consider it the best looking and best designed Windows-based tablet currently on the market today. The keyboard works surprisingly well. I did not buy one because $499 is too much in my opinion. Keep in mind that I did not buy an iPad for that price either. While it might be more justifiable for Apple to charge $499 for their device, that same price does not fit the Surface (they also had the ASUS VivoTab RT for the even higher price of $599). If it was priced at $399, I probably would have pulled the trigger and picked one up, but at $499 I have to compare it with other similarly priced devices such as the Acer Iconia Tab W510 and Dell XPS 10

Microsoft Surface
Additionally, the Surface comes with Windows RT. Essentially, Windows RT (RT stands for RunTime) is a version of Windows 8 that will only come pre-installed on devices that have ARM based processors. The one big drawback to ARM powered devices is that they can’t run legacy Windows programs. In a nutshell, this basically means that software that you current use on your computers won’t work with Windows RT. The only non-Microsoft applications that you’ll be able to install are apps that come from the Windows Store, which are all approved by Microsoft. Therefore, the Surface will only support applications written specifically for Windows RT (e.g. Windows 8 "Metro" apps).  If I'm going to spend $500+ for a tablet, I would prefer to get one that runs Windows 8.

While I'm tempted to get the Surface, I would rather wait to see what Windows RT devices other companies have to offer as well as see if there will be a price drop with Windows RT devices. Right now, the Acer Iconia Tab W510 is the one I'm favoring right now in the $499 price range, which actually runs Windows 8 instead of Windows RT. Who knows, I may end up with a Surface after all before it's all said and done.

Acer Aspire S7
On a side note, I also got my hands on with the 13-inch Acer Aspire S7 ultrabook. The S7 is one of the best looking laptops I have seen in a LONG time. Ultra-thin, Gorilla Glass and touchscreen. Had to wipe the drool off the aluminum body before anyone saw it. While it is a beautiful laptop, it's a bit on the expensive side. Apple expensive.

Friday, October 19, 2012

New CompTIA A+ Exams

CompTIA, the leading provider of vendor-neutral certifications, just released a updated version of the popular A+ certification. The A+ certification is the starting point for a career in IT. The exam covers maintenance of desktops, laptops, mobile devices, operating systems and printers. In order to receive the CompTIA A+ certification, you must pass two exams: CompTIA Exam 220-801 and 220-802.

Exam 220-801 covers the fundamentals of computer technology such as installation and configuration of computer hardware and basic networking concepts. The exam is based on the following domain objectives:

  • PC Hardware - 40%
  • Networking - 27%
  • Laptops - 11%
  • Printers - 11%
  • Operational Procedures - 11%

Exam 220-802 covers the skills required to install and configure common features for operating systems, including mobile operating systems. The exam is based on the following domain objectives:

  • Operating Systems - 33%
  • Security - 22%
  • Mobile Devices - 9%
  • Troubleshooting - 36%

Each exam consists of 90 multiple choice and performance-based questions. Test-takers have 90 minutes to complete each exam (you don't have to take both on the same day, which I don't recommend). On of scale of 900, you will need to score 675 in order to pass exam 220-801 and a score of 700 is required for exam 220-802. You MUST pass both exams in order to be A+ certified.

If you’re currently studying for the 220-701 and 220-702 exams, no need to worry because you’ll have plenty of time to complete it. You can take those exams until August 31, 2013. 

The biggest change with the new A+ exams is the inclusion of performance-based questions. Traditionally, CompTIA exams have been basically multiple-choice questions that asked test-takers to select one or more correct answers to a specific question. Basically all you had to do was click on the correct answer(s) and then move on to the next question. However, for performance-based questions, the exam prompts the test-taker to perform a specific task or solve a specific problem. A simulated environment is then launched for the person to complete the required steps.

While I have not fully reviewed all the changes in the new A+ exams, I have to say that I am impressed by the subject material that has been added to the exams. Some of the new material include mobile devices (both Android and iOS), wireless troubleshooting, IT security and desktop virtualization. It's more than just CPUs, RAM and BIOS settings now. 

As both an IT professional and instructor, I feel that there is an argument to be made that all IT professionals should have the A+ credential on their resumes. I tell my students to use the A+ certification as the foundation to build your IT career on. Doesn't matter if you plan to go into desktop support, web development, networking, etc.  In my opinion, the A+ certification is the best benchmark for potential IT professionals to determine if they have a fundamental understanding of a computer as well as other basic subject matter related to the IT field. 


Sunday, October 7, 2012

What I Use: Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard

After buying the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse, I decided to get the Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard as well. The decision was easy since I got a new bag recently and my old portable keyboard would not fit in it. The Wedge Mobile Keyboard fit perfectly.

The Microsoft Wedge Mobile keyboard is made for mobility. It smaller than most mobile keyboards, but has a very solid feel to it. The look and feel of the keys is reminiscent of netbook keyboards, but much more comfortable to use. I was actually impressed by how solid the keyboard felt. It's not plastic. It connects to your device via Bluetooth and requires two AAA batteries (which are included). Because it is Bluetooth, it can be paired with any tablet, even iPads and Android-powered mobile devices.

Even though the Wedge Mobile Keyboard will work with any Bluetooth tablet, Microsoft designed it specifically for use with tablets running Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, such as the Surface. The keyboard has several hot keys specific to Windows 8/RT. It also has built-in media keys, making it easy to control music and videos.
The cover is made of a flexible, grippy rubber that allows it to double as a tablet stand. Cool! The cover's design is so simple that it will work with any tablet in portrait or landscape mode. An added plus is when you put it over the keys, it turns the keyboard off to conserve battery life. Cool!

The Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard is the idea travel companion for anyone needing a keyboard to use with their mobile device. It's very well made and beautifully designed. While it's more expensive than most portable keyboards, the price is well worth it if you are in the market for something ultra-compact and simple to throw in your bag with your tablet.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ful Strummer Messenger Bag

Ful Strummer Messenger
Strolling through the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after dropping my parents off for their flight, I discovered a store called Techshowcase.  Being the geek that I am, naturally I went inside to look around. While checking out what they had, I discovered the Ful Strummer Messenger Bag and fell in love. Finally, a decent bag made specifically for tablets that could accommodate additional items without becoming to bulky. It's slim and made out of good material. It's simple especially if you want to just carry the necessities for the moment.

Durable outer material
2 pouches and 2 pen holders 
Inner padded pocket for tablets 
Magnets keep it closed 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What I Use: Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse

Let me start by saying that the new Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse is not revolutionary. It's a mouse. Point and click. Simple design with basic functions. I usually don't get too impressed with mice, but this mouse sparked my curiosity. It is extremely compact but useable. The Wedge Touch Mouse connects to you computer using Bluetooth so there is no need for an USB transceiver (unless your laptop does not have built-in Bluetooth). It has a touch-sensitive surface which allows you to scroll up and down and uses Microsoft's BlueTrack technology that allows it to work on virtually any surface such as wood, carpet, metal and even glass. Did I mention that it is ultra-compact? An added plus is that it works on Android tablets as well.

One cool thing is about the mouse's design is the battery compartment. There is a switch on the bottom that activates a quick-sliding mechanism that opens one side of the wedge to insert a single AA battery (which is included). You can't latch it again unless the battery is inserted in the right direction.


Explorer Touch Mouse next to Wedge Touch
One thing to keep in mind about the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse is it's compact size. While the size is great in terms of portability, it's ergonomic design is not the best available. It isn't comfortable to use if you have large hands. The smaller size may force users to cup their hand more tightly around the mouse. The Wedge Touch Mouse is definitely not meant to be a replacement for a regular desktop mouse.

The Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse is a great choice for those looking for a simple, easy to use mouse for travel. The only other mouse that I would recommend for people who travel a lot is the Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse (unfortunately it requires a USB transceiver). The Wedge Touch will be the mouse that you want to have in your bag as a compliment to an Ultrabook or tablet running Windows 8.





Saturday, September 29, 2012

Frito-Lay Skylanders Characters Arrive


Whisper Elf and Trigger Snappy
Are months of waiting (not really honest), the Frito-Lay Skylanders promotion characters that my daughter and I picked out arrived: Whisper Elf and Trigger Snappy. Basically, when you purchased specially marked bags of Frito-Lay chips, you would mail off a coupon (and $2.00 S&H) for one of four available Skylanders Sidekicks. Since I...I mean we love Skylanders in our house, we took advantage of this offer.


Skylander Sidekick during gameplay
While you can place them on the Portal of Power as you play the game, Skylanders Sidekicks only provide a cosmetic value and will simply follow your characters around in the game like a puppy. Also, you can have only one Sidekick on the portal at a time. I'm also not sure if they will be usable in the upcoming Skylanders Giants game.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why I Did Not Buy a New MacBook

I recently had the opportunity to get a new laptop as a birthday present and to the surprise of many, I purchased an Acer instead of a MacBook. Could I afford to buy a MacBook? Sure. At the same time, I could also probably afford to buy a Mercedes (not really, but just go with me on this to make my point), but is the luxury of owning one really worth it? That expensive Mercedes C-Class (which starts at about $35,000) does the same thing that my Ford Focus (starting at about $16,000) does but at a much, much more affordable price. The difference? The Mercedes looks cool and classy. It's a status symbol. The same can be said with a Mac. Yes, it looks cool and hip sitting in Starbucks checking email on a MacBook Pro with Retina Display sipping a Cinnamon Dolce Frappuccino, but is it really worth a premium just to read email and surf the Internet?  Like my dad once told me, is it really worth $700+ a month just to drive from point A to point B?

Wait! Before I am engulfed in flames, let me start by saying that by no means am I anti-Apple or hate Macs or don't like their products anymore. I still love my iPad 2. I have a bunch of iPods at home that I use in my car and exercising. At work, I have an iPhone 4 (soon to be upgraded to an iPhone 5), iPad 3, MacBook Pro and an iMac. OS X is a good, stable operating system. I consider myself to be pretty proficient with Macs and even have a few Apple technical certifications under my belt. So I am one of the last people to hate Apple products. Everything said here comes from me taking a new, more mature technical outlook on things.

No matter where I go, I hear people recommend to others looking for a new computer to buy a Mac. Over the last few years, it seems as if Apple computers have become the "safe" recommendation for anyone looking to buy a new computer (or cell phone or tablet for that matter). Having an issue with a Windows laptop? Get a Mac and you magically won't have that problem or any other problems anymore. Remember the "Switch" ad campaign or the "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC" commercials? Marketing at it's best. Nothing wrong with promoting a good product. However, is it the fault of Windows or a particular computer manufacturer that a person experiences computer issues or is it a lack of knowing how to properly use and maintain a computer? Do you blame Ford Motor Company or the driver of a car that runs a stop sign and causes an accident?

Don't get me wrong, Apple has released some highly innovative, well-designed products, but ask yourself: is it necessary for a person to own a Mac in order to have a good computing experience? Will a student using a Mac get better grades in school than he or she would if they were using Windows or even Ubuntu? My belief is that education and knowledge about technology is what makes a person's digital experience better. Not a particular platform.

As I indicted, I don't hate Apple or their products. I still use them everyday. On the contrary, I admire Apple for the technology that they have produced over recent years. More than anything I think it has spurred other companies to step up their game to compete. Now, if someone offers to buy me a new MacBook, I would graciously accept it. Who wouldn't?  I'm just at a point that I don't want to limit my digital experiences by not giving other technology a chance.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Helping those who love technology

You know what is amazing? The number of people who work in IT who don't get excited about technology. Not saying that a person has to get "geeked out" about technology to work in technology, but at least show at little enthusiasm. How can you promote the benefits of technology and expect the people to get excited about it when you don't have a genuine excitement about it yourself as an IT professional?

Imagine a teacher not excited about teaching. The teacher comes in everyday and goes through the motions. How do you think this affects the kids? They are not motivated to learn. Believe it or not, students can sense when a teacher does not care about them. Alternatively, if you have a teacher who enjoys teaching, gets excited about the subject(s) he or she teaches, and sincerely wants his/her students to succeed, it is reflected in that teacher's students. They are motivated to learn and explore.

The same goes for technology. People want to get excited about technology. They just want to be able to use it properly. Unfortunately, there aren't many people around who can show them how to use it. People are generally left to rely on their tech guy (or gal) at work for answers. Many times they are either given wrong, sometimes bias, information or given information that is "too technical" which results in the person being more confused than they were before they asked the question.

Over the years as an IT professional, I have recognized that most people are genuinely interested in technology, but are intimidated by it. The technology landscape is always changing and there are so many choices. This is what makes technology so frustrating for many people. My passion for technology has allowed me to help those who want to take full advantage of everything that technology has to offer in a classroom setting. Whether it is helping someone enter the IT field, showing someone how to remove malware from their computer or proving consultation on which type of tablet to purchase, I try to talk to people in simple terms that they can understand. The end result is people who realize that technology is not as intimidating as they thought and are more motivated to use technology to better their lives.

We are living in an incredible time of technology. People love technology because it treats everyone as an equal. The benefits of technology are not restricted a person's race, gender, or age. It can bring people together. If used properly, it saves a lot of time and open up many opportunities that might not have been possible without it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Acer Aspire V3-551-8887

A few months ago I decided to actually buy a new laptop instead of a refurbished laptop as I have done in the past. The last time I purchased a brand new, never-been-used laptop for myself was in 2006 (a first generation white MacBook). So began the search. I had my eye on several models before deciding on the Acer Aspire V3-551-8887 from Best Buy (which ended up being a birthday present from my wife).

While I had used and liked the Acer Veriton nettop, it felt kind of strange buying an Acer since I have been a Dell guy personally and professionally for so many years (with the exception of an HP here and there). It felt a bit like I was cheating on Dell (sorry) but the cost and basic specs of the V3-551-8887 were too good to look past:


Before upgrade
  • AMD 1.9GHz Quad-Core A8-4500 with Turbo CORE Technology up to 2.80GHz
  • AMD Radeon HD 7640G with 512MB graphics system memory
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB Hard Drive
  • 15.6" HD LED LCD (1366 x 768 resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio)

Of course being the geek that I am,  I replaced the hard drive with a 128GB Samsung 830 Series SSD as well as the installed 4GB of RAM with 8GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) RAM. Both items purchased from Newegg (gotta love those specials).
After upgrade
The Windows 8 Pro install was quick and painless. The only issue was with the Qualcomm Atheros AR5BWB222 Wireless Network Adapter. Even though Windows 8 detected it, there seemed to be issues with that particular version of the driver (10.0.0.34). Unfortunately, that was the only version available on Acer's website for my particular model. No worries because Google is my friend. I was able to find the latest version of the driver (10.0.0.75). Worked like a charm afterwards.
Even before the upgrades, I was very satisfied with the performance of the V3-551-8887. Decent battery life (6-cell lithium-ion battery). The layout and feel of keyboard is nice. Better than average sound. The touchpad works great too!

So far I have been happy with this purchase. For what I will be using this laptop for, I have to say that the Acer Aspire V3-551-8887 is a great low-cost laptop for day-to-day task. It is an amazing value and for the money, I did not see anything better out there in the $400-$500 price range.

UPDATE (12/11/2012): It appears that the link I provided for the Qualcomm Atheros AR5BWB222 Wireless Network Adapter driver I used no longer works. Fortunately, I have noticed that Acer has updated the drivers for the V3-551 on their support site specifically for Windows 8. I'm making the safe assumption that this new driver resolved many of the issues that I experienced with the old, Windows 7 specific driver. The version number on Acer's site is 10.0.0.217.

UPDATE (1/4/2013): Several people have reported that the 10.0.0.217 driver for the Qualcomm Atheros AR5BWB222 Wireless Network Adapter on Acer's website does not work properly causing the wifi connection to drop. You may want to avoid that driver version.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Windows 8 Upgrade Offer: Easy as 1, 2, 3


For my birthday, my wife got me a new laptop (well, actually she told me to pick what I wanted in a certain price range). I ended up choosing the Acer Aspire V3-551-8887 from Best Buy. With Windows 8 right around the corner, I took advantage of the Windows Upgrade Offer.
 
Basically, if you purchase a Windows 7 computer between June 2, 2012 and January 31, 2013, you are eligible to purchase an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for the low price of $14.99 (that's U.S. dollars folks). All you have to do after you purchase your new computer, is to go to the Windows Upgrade Offer website to register. Once you have finished providing some details, you're done. All you have to do is wait until the official Windows 8 release on October 26th.

Even if you don't think that you will want to go to Windows 8 when it is released, it still is a good idea to take advantage of this offer. Tell me the last time you were able to LEGALLY get a copy of Windows for this low price? Didn't think you could. You will have until February 28, 2013 to register for the offer.
 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back-To-School Weekend 2012

This past weekend was our annual Back-To-School/Freshman Arrival Weekend (BTS/FAW) on campus. Basically, it's the weekend prior to the beginning of Fall Semester when our IT department provides assistance to incoming freshmen and returning students getting connected to our campus wireless network as well as any other computing needs they may encounter when they arrive.

I have been volunteering for BTS/FAW since 2006 and I can honestly say that it's a fun experience (even though working 12 days in a row is not too fun). You get a chance to meet students (and their parents) as well as get a chance to see what technology they are bringing to campus each year. Students bring interesting gadgets to campus. The new buzzword this year was MMD (Multiple Mobile Devices). On average, I assisted students who had at least 3 devices (laptop, smartphone and tablet). We even had students with at least 5-6 devices!
 
Overall, a lot of Macs, a lot of iPhones, a lot of Android phones, a lot of iPads and a lot of happy students.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Skylanders collect is now complete

Wham-Shell
If you know me, you know I play a lot of Xbox 360 games. You also know that I have a love for Skylanders (my daughter loves it too, really). I can now happily announce that my quest to collect all the Skylanders is now complete (I'm talking about the regular 32 characters). I finally acquired the one Skylander that I had the hardest time locating: Wham-Shell. No, I did not pay the outrageous prices that people have them listed for online. My persistence paid off and I found one in a local Walmart. Lucky me :-)

Now that my search for the original Skylanders is complete, I get some time to rest before Skylanders Giants is released October 21st. About 40 new collectible figures. Curse you Activision!!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Windows To Go

So I finally got Windows 8 Enterprise working on my laptop and was excited to get a chance to test out Windows To Go. Unfortunately, my 32GB PNY USB 3.0 flash drive is not compatible with Windows To Go. Seem like you really have to use a USB drive that has been certified for Windows To Go such as the Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate specialized for Windows To Go or Super Talent Express RC8 for Windows To Go.  Hopefully there will be additional drives available when Windows 8 is released.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Activating Windows 8 Enterprise (RTM)

After downloading and installing Windows 8 Enterprise on my HP Pavilion g4-1015dx, I soon discovered that I could not activate it. Unlike when I installed Windows 8 Pro on my Dell Inspiron Duo, I was never prompted to enter a product key during the process. Try as I might, I could not get it activated. I continued to received the following error message:
Windows can't activate right now.
Error Code: 0x8007232B
DNS Name does not exist. 
I also noticed that unlike Windows 7 (and Windows Vista) there was not an option to change the product key in the System applet of the Control Panel. There was no clear way to enter my TechNet key. After some research online (Google is an IT pro's best friend), I found the solution. It seems that Windows 8 Enterprise defaults to searching for a KMS (Key Management Server) to activate, as one would expect to find in a large, enterprise networking environment.  Basically, a KMS activates Windows on a local network without the need for individual computers to connect to Microsoft as they would for consumer/retail versions. Enterprise customers are the only ones who would have a copy of this version of Windows, so this is considered normal. 

Since I do not have a KMS running at home (hmmmm), I found the quick solution from the TechNet forums:

Open a Command Prompt and run it elevated as Administrator.







Type slmgr.vbs /ipk <YOUR PRODUCT KEY> and press Enter. Remember to replace <YOUR PRODUCT KEY> with your actual, legally obtained product key from TechNet or MSDN.





If you entered the product key correctly, you should see this box on your screen.




That's it! Your copy of Windows 8 Enterprise should now be activated.