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.






Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Windows 8 RTM

Of course today was like Christmas for me because Windows 8 was made available to TechNet subscribers Downloaded a copy and immediately installed it on my Dell Inspiron Duo that was running the Windows 8 Release Preview. Install started at 2:53PM and finished at 3:07PM (minus the configuration & customization stuff). Still needed the fix for the accelerometer, but other than that it was ready to go after it finished. 

I am installing the Enterprise version on my HP Pavilion g4-1015dx so that I can get familiar with enterprise-level features such as Windows To Go and BitLocker Drive Encryption. Also looking to get it installed on a Dell Inspiron Zino HD. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What I Use: Google Nexus 7

I bought a 8GB Google Nexus 7 last week and I can say that I am surprisingly impressed by it. I love using it more than I thought I would. I've actually been using it more than I use my iPad these days. Do I see it completely replacing my iPad (which I view as an alternative to a laptop for my needs)? No, but it does meet the practical, content consumption needs I have for a tablet. 

Dell Streak 7 next to Nexus 7
Keep in mind, that this is not my first adventure into the wonderful world of 7-inch Android tablets. I had a Dell Streak 7 that originally ran Gingerbread and I upgraded it to Honeycomb. The Dell Streak 7 was nice but it wasn't great (obviously since Dell discontinued it). I also had a chance to play around with a Kindle Fire. Did not like the experience at all. The Kindle Fire pretty much locks your user experience into the world of Amazon, which is not bad if you choose to live in that world. The Nexus 7 makes playing in the world of Google easy but also gives you a lot of freedom to customize the device as you please. 

iPad 2 next to Nexus 7
All the apps that I use regularly where available in the Android Market...ooops, I mean Google Play store. The only app that was not available was SkyDrive. Also, the OneNote app, which worked on other versions of Android, crashes as soon as it opens on my Nexus 7. Hopefully, this will be fixed soon (are you listening Microsoft?). 

I really didn't have the opportunity to get much hands-on experience with Ice Cream Sandwich, but compared to Gingerbread and Honeycomb, Jelly Bean is amazing. The battery life is also amazing. I have only charged this up once since I've had it. It is easy to carry around and slip into my pocket. Still looking for a good case for it. The only downside (but not a deal-breaker) of the Nexus 7 is the lack of a micro-SD slot to expand the device's storage capabilities. If you keep most of your content in the cloud, this is not an issue.

If you are looking to get a tablet and can't afford an iPad, don't waste your money on cheap, no-name tablets. You'll have a bad first experience that may affect your opinion about Android and tablets down the road. At $199 for the 8GB model and $249 for the 16GB model, the Google Nexus 7 is the best, entry-level tablet experience you can have right now. 


Monday, August 6, 2012

College Prerequisites: The tech you really need for college

It's that time again. Time to head back to school. There will be many articles, online and in print, that will provide suggestions on what a parent needs to provide their little darlings before dropping them off on campus. The only problem is that many of those articles focus on specific products. Nothing really to explain why you need that particular piece of technology. As an IT professional in higher education and after years of providing support for students, here are a few things that I think students really need to have when they arrive on campus.

Laptop  

This is a given, but before you go out and buy the first, shiny new laptop that you see on display, check with the school to see if there are any specific requirements that are recommended. I'm not just referring to hardware specs. Is the campus environment primarily Windows or OS X? Does the campus provide computer support for students? If so, what models do they have most experience providing support? Depending on your academic major, are there certain software applications that are required for your courses/major? Addressing those questions initially allows you to make a better decision in what type of laptop to purchase and can save you a lot of stress later.

When purchasing a laptop, take the time to inquiry about an extended warranty. Some people scoff at the idea of purchasing extended warranties but when you are sending a kid off to college with a laptop, you might want to strongly consider purchasing one. Depending on where you buy the laptop, ask the salesperson to explain, in clear language that you can understand, what the warranty covers. If it is dropped and the screen cracks, what can be done? If the student spills soda, water or some other type of liquid beverage on it, can it be fixed or replaced? Remember, these are college students we're talking about so anything can happen to their laptop. Also, just as important, get a lock/security cable for your laptop so that no one can steal it.

In choosing the right laptop, find one that meets YOUR needs. My recommendation is that whatever computer you get,  it should be lightweight and portable. It shouldn't matter if it's Intel or AMD, Dell or Apple, Windows or OS X, or whether you purchased it online or from a brick & mortar retailer such as Walmart or Best Buy. It's all about you and what you are comfortable using. Whatever you choose is what you will have to live with for the next four years or so.

External USB hard drive

You want to get an external USB hard drive to use for backing up your computer (make sure that you get an external drive that supports USB 3.0). Both Windows (Backup and Restore) and Apple (Time Machine) provide excellent, built-in applications for backing up the data on your computer. Take the time to learn how to configure a backup process for your laptop. Taking a few minutes to setup the backup program on your computer will save you a lot of pain and hair-pulling if something happens to your laptop that results in losing your files.

Headphones 

There are going to be times when you want to zone out to your favorite music, watch a movie online or drown out whatever noises your roommate is making.  Typical earbuds just won't cut it. Choose a pair of headphones that feel comfortable to you and provide the sound quality you are looking expecting.

Cloud-based storage 

Why would you want cloud-based storage? Because USB flash drives are easy to lose. At one time, we had a small box full of USB flash drives that students have either dropped or left plugged into lab computers during two semesters.  The advantage of cloud-based storage services are that they can be accessed from any computer or device. Best of all, many are FREE and we like stuff that is free.  SkyDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, SugarSync, Box are just a few of the many online cloud storage options that are available. Take a look at the different services and decide which one best meets your needs.

Tablet or eReader

Ok, this is not really a necessity but there are advantages to having some type of eReader (e.g. Kindle or Nook) or tablet (e.g. iPad, Kindle Fire or Google Nexus 7) handy. One advantage of having a tablet is that it is much lighter and easy to carry around campus than a laptop. Tablets can quickly be pulled out to check email, update your social media status or take notes in class. On the flip side, a tablet might not be something you want as an alternative or replacement for purchasing a laptop. I can't imagine trying to write a 20+ page research paper on an iPad.

A dedicated eReader can provide an cost effective alternative to buying physical textbooks, but keep in mind, most eReaders have limited functionality when compared to tablets. As an alternative, you can download software apps from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble that allow you to view and purchase books on some tablet devices.

Office Productivity Software

This is a bit tricky because you will get different opinions if you ask different people.  If you want to play it safe, you can buy a copy of Microsoft Office for your laptop. Microsoft Office is the safe standard. On the other hand, you can use free alternatives such as OpenOffice or LibraOffice. Cloud-based solutions such as Google Docs or Microsoft Office Web Apps are also decent alternatives. Basically, there are going to be times when you will need to send some type of document to a professor or a friend. You need to make sure whatever office productivity software that you choose can save your documents in compatible formats (e.g. .doc, .xls, .ppt).  Something else to keep in mind is that certain majors at some schools have a specific requirement for what office software to use (this is especially true when it comes to those majors that heavily use Excel). Whatever office suite you choose, make sure they can export your documents to any file type that you need.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Wii U Experience Atlanta

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to Nintendo's Wii U Experience event in Atlanta. This was Nintendo's way of showing off their new console and games before being released later this year. I gotta say that after learning the many different ways games can be played and getting my hands on the hardware, I was impressed.

While I'm generally an Xbox gamer, I did have a Wii at one time, but once the novelty of it wore off, it started gathering dust. Even my daughter would not touch it anymore, preferring to play the Kinect games on the Xbox. Nintendo is looking to win back those lost players with the Wii U. While I could not get the specs, the graphics on it were amazing especially connected to an HDTV. I would say that it is on par with the current Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles.

The Wii U brings multiple styles of gameplay to the console so that it can appeal to the different types of gamers.  From New Super Mario Bros U to Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge (yes, it is just as hard as the 360 version) there is something for everyone.  The game that caught my eye most was Project P-100 (working title). It looked like a combination of Viewtiful Joe and Pikmin.

Originally, I was a bit skeptical about the Wii U Gamepad when it was first announced, but after using it with games like Rayman Legends, New Super Mario Bros U and Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition I found it not as bad of an experience as I thought it would be. It enhances gameplay more than it hinders it. The gamepad also introduces a new style of cooperative gameplay that might be appealing to some gamers. It was comfortable holding the gamepad. Not as heavy and bulky as you would think.

I also had the opportunity to use the Wii U Pro Controller while playing ZombiU. Even though it looks like an Xbox controller, I found it to be much lighter and it took me while to adjust to the controls. Still a much better experience than the original Wii controller.

Another plus is that all those Wiimote controllers that you bought for the original Wii will work on the Wii U as well. I used the Wiimote to play New Super Mario Bros U and a multiplayer Luigi Mansion game. The controls and responsiveness were the same as if you were playing on the original Wii.

Of course they were tight-lipped about the release date or price (I tried, but I guess they were immune to my charm), but I have a feeling that there will be a lot of used Wii consoles at GameStop that were replaced by the Wii U during the holidays.