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 ( 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 ( 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

UPDATE (1/4/2013): Several people have reported that the 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.