Sunday, August 17, 2014

What I Use: Logitech UE Boom

I love music. I listen to many different types of music from hip-hop to jazz to rock to whatever else catches my ear. Music eases the nerves and relaxes the mind. I try to listen to music whenever I can especially at work. Headphones are nice but can be a bit annoying having to stop music and take them off whenever someone comes into my office. So I decided to look into buying a portable, wireless speaker. After some research, I choose the Logitech UE Boom.


The Logitech UE (Ultimate Ears) Boom is a compact, durable wireless Bluetooth speaker that reminds me of a Mountain Dew Kickstart can.  It has a diameter of 6.5cm (2.6”), height of 18 cm (7.1”) and weighs only 538g (19oz). Perfect size to slip in a backpack or messenger bag. It's available in six different colors and its design makes it stain-resistant and water-resistant (but not waterproof). The UE Boom also has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that gives you up to 15 hours of playing time.

Connecting your device (smartphone, tablet, laptop) to the UE Boom is simple. Either use Bluetooth to pair the speaker to your device (you are able to pair up to 8 Bluetooth enabled source devices) or connect it to NFC-enabled devices with a simple tap. Once your device is paired to the UE Boom, you can connect to it from up to 50 ft away.  In addition, two devices can be actively connected to it at the same time. This means that you and a friend (or office mate) can take turns sharing and playing music. I have mine connected to my Surface Pro 2 and Samsung Galaxy S5.


The thing that really drew me to choosing the UE Boom over other portable, wireless speakers was the UE Boom app. The app, available for both Android and iOS, gives you access to additional features such as equalizer (EQ) presets, the ability to use the UE Boom as an alarm and connect two UE Booms together in stereo. The app also allows you to perform updates to your speaker.

The one negative thing about the UE Boom is the price. At $199, the UE Boom can be considered too expensive to be considered good value especially when you can purchase the Sonos Play:1 for the same price and get a better quality speaker. That price is also too expensive for the Beats Pill and Bose Soundlink Mini in my opinion.  The advantage of the UE Boom is its portability and durability if you are looking for a speaker to use on the go.

Overall, the Logitech UE Boom offers solid performance in a simple design. It looks good and has a decent sound (the bass is surprisingly good, but it's still limited). The UE Boom is one of the better portable Bluetooth speakers available today.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tech Tip: Photos Not Uploading From Samsung Galaxy S5 To OneDrive

I recently upgraded my Samsung Galaxy S4 to the Samsung Galaxy S5. Upon installing OneDrive (the Microsoft cloud-based storage solution formerly known as SkyDrive), I noticed that even though I selected the option to Turn on Camera Backup, none of the pictures I took with the S5 were auto-uploading into OneDrive. Of course, being the geek that I am, I had to figure out why. After some trial and error, I finally was able to get auto-sync to work on my new S5.

  1. Uninstall the OneDrive app from my S5. 
  2. On your computer, log into www.onedrive.com
  3. Locate a folder named Camera Roll (or SkyDrive Camera Roll in my case). Create a new folder (name it something like "Old Phone Photos" or something) and move all the pictures in the current Camera Roll folder into it.
  4. Once you have all the pictures moved into the new folder that you just created, delete the old Camera Roll folder. 
  5. Go back to your S5. Download and reinstall OneDrive from the Google Play store. 
  6. Start the OneDrive app. During the initial log in, you will be prompted to decide if you want to turn on camera backup. Select Turn On and this will create a new Camera Roll folder on OneDrive (the path will be <yourname> OneDrive\Pictures\Camera Roll). Once that has been done, you will notice that all the new pictures on your S5 will begin uploading into OneDrive. 
  7. Once all the new pictures have uploaded into OneDrive, you can move the pictures from the new folder that you created into the new Camera Roll folder if you choose to do so.   


Here is the secret to troubleshooting smartphone and other mobile devices: most of the troubleshooting steps are the same as you would use if you were troubleshooting a typical computer. This allowed me to quickly figure out the solution to this issue.

Please note that while these steps worked on my Samsung Galaxy S5, I cannot confirm that they would on aother phones such as the HTC One or iPhone. Doesn't hurt to try and who knows, you might be lucky.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Spending Time With the Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Being an IT professional, especially in academia, has it's advantages. The biggest advantage is getting access to new gadgets to play around with....I mean test. I was given the chance to test drive the recently released Microsoft Surface Pro 3. I have had a Surface Pro 2 since February and it has been my go-to, everyday computer since that time. So imagine my excitement when I was given the opportunity to get my hands on the Surface Pro 3.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
That Surface Pro 3 that I am "testing" has a 4th generation Intel Core i5 processor with 256GB internal storage and 8GB of system memory. The battery life is estimated at around 9 hours. While the insides are impressive, it's what on the outside that makes the Surface Pro 3 an appealing device. Unlike the 10.6-inch displays with 1920 x 1080 resolution in the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2, the Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch ClearType Full HD Display with a 2160 x 1440 resolution. It is also much thinner and more lightweight as well. The look and feel of the design is very similar to that of the Surface 2.

Surface Pro 2 (left) and Surface Pro 3 (right)
One of the first things that I noticed about the Surface Pro 3 was that using it on a desk was a much better experience. The way the new Type Cover connects to the Surface Pro 3, along with the new multi-position kickstand, gives it that laptop/ultrabook feel when you are using it. The new Type and Touch Covers are slightly bigger than the previous ones but the size and layout of the keys are still the same. The touchpad is larger, more responsive and has a noticeable, mechanical "click" when you use it. While it's an improvement over the earlier Type (and Touch) Covers, it's still not at the same as using a touchpad on a laptop. Furthermore, I still found it a bit awkward to use the Surface Pro 3 in my lap in the same manner as a traditional laptop BUT it's not as awkward as trying to do the same with the previous Surface Pro tablets.

The coolest feature of the Surface Pro 3 is how the new Surface pen interacts with the device. Clicking the top of the pen opens Microsoft OneNote. Even cooler is that if you click the pen while your Surface is in sleep mode, it opens a blank OneNote document so that you can start taking notes without having to log into your device. One thing to keep in mind as it relates to the new pen is that it is battery powered and requires a single AAAA battery.

Surface Pro 3 Pen
And now the question that is on everyone's mind: Is it worth upgrading if you already own an earlier model? It depends. If you have a first generation Surface Pro and it is your primary computer, then it might be a worthwhile upgrade if you can afford it. However, if you have the Surface Pro 2, it becomes a tough decision. In addition, if you are like me and invested in accessories for your Surface Pro 2 (e.g. Power Cover, docking station), the decision becomes even tougher because many of the previous generation Surface accessories, such as the docking station, power supply and Surface Pro pen, will not work with the Surface Pro 3. Surprisingly, the Touch and Type Cover 2 will click in and work with Surface Pro 3. They just will look a bit odd because they are not designed to cover the whole screen when closed. It basically boils down to what your needs are (larger screen and/or lightweight design) and if you can afford to upgrade.

Overall, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is definitely a huge improvement over the previous generations. If you are looking for the a single device that function as both a tablet and a laptop, look no further because this is the first Windows tablet that gives you portability and power without any major sacrifices. Third time's the charm as they say.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Where is Eric?

As you have probably noticed, it has been awhile since I have posted anything new on my site. This is because I have started down the path of obtaining a Masters of Science degree in Cybersecurity from Excelsior College. I'm spending much of my time getting back into my proper study mode for the next year or so. Graduate work requires a lot of research and writing (along with balancing work, family and fitness); thus minimizing my time writing stuff for my blog. That being said, I may not post anything as frequently as I have in the past, but I will post something every now and then that I want to share with everyone. Who knows, I might even find some time to give the site a much needed face lift. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Surface Keyboard Shortcuts




As you know, I purchased a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with the Touch Cover keyboard a few months ago. One of the first things that you notice is that the Touch Cover keyboards, as well as the Type Cover keyboards, don't have every single key you’ll find on other keyboards. If you love keyboard shortcuts like me, you may get a little lost when you first start using either of the Surface keyboards. Fear not, Microsoft has a variety of Surface-specific keyboard shortcut combinations that you can use to make things easier.

  • Start (Windows logo key) - Go to Start screen
  • Start + B - Go to Desktop
  • Start + C - Open charms
  • Start + D - Show Desktop
  • Start + E - Open Windows Explorer on Desktop
  • Start + F - Search files
  • Start + H - Open Sharing
  • Start + I - Open Settings
  • Start + J - Switch focus to/from snapped windows
  • Start + K - Open Devices
  • Start + L - Lock Screen/Switch Users
  • Start + M - Minimize everything on the Desktop
  • Start + O - Lock Screen Orientation
  • Start + P - Open Second Screen utility
  • Start + Q - Search Apps
  • Start + R - Open Run Menu on the Desktop
  • Start + T - Open Task Bar in Desktop
  • Start + U - Open Ease of Access Center on the Desktop
  • Start + V - Cycle Notifications
  • Start + Shift + V - Cycle Notifications (reverse)
  • Start + W - Search Settings
  • Start + X - Open System Utility menu
  • Start + Z - Open App bar
  • Start + , - Peek at Desktop
  • Start + . - Snap Metro App Windows Toggle
  • Start + Shift + . - Snap Metro App Windows Toggle (reverse)
  • Start + Enter -  Narrator Settings
  • Start + Tab -  Cycle Metro Apps
  • Alt + Tab - Application switcher, different look than task manager
  • Ctrl + Escape - Toggle between last open app and current app
  • Fn + Del - Increases screen brightness.
  • Fn + Backspace -  Decreases screen brightness
  • Fn + Left arrow -  Home
  • Fn + Right arrow - End
  • Fn + Up arrow -  Page Up
  • Fn + Down arrow -  Page Down
  • Fn + Spacebar - Print Screen
  • Fn + Alt + Spacebar - Print Screen for the current window only

One thing to note is that you can lock the Fn key by pressing  Fn + Caps so that the F1-F12 keys act as function keys. For example, if you wanted to increase the volume you would have to press Fn + F3. If you just press F3, it will open up a search box. After pressing Fn + Caps, the F1-F12 keys will function with a single key press so you could just press F3 to increase the volume. Press Fn + Caps again to unlock those keys.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What I Use: Microsoft Surface Power Cover

A few months ago, I got the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and could not be happier using it as my go-to, everyday computing device. My level of happiness was raised with the purchase of the Microsoft Surface Power Cover. It's not a necessary accessory, but it can be a worthwhile accessory if you have to use your Surface for long periods of time or have the original Surface Pro.


The feel of the Power Cover is the same as the Type Cover 2. It is exactly the same type of cover with the exact same keyboard. The layout and size of the keys are the same as well. The one thing missing, but not a deal breaker, is that the keys are not backlit. In addition, it is about twice as thick and heavy as the Type Cover 2. It adds weight to the Surface Pro, increasing the total weight to about three pounds. The weight is still lighter than most laptops if not comparable.


The Power Cover recharges your Surface's battery while in use. One thing to note is that when connected to your Surface device, power is provided by the Power Cover battery first, before utilizing the Surface's internal battery. Also, when you charge your Surface with the Power Cover connected, the internal battery charges before the Power Cover starts to charge.

Yes, it's thicker than the other Surface covers, but it's definitely easier to carry around than the power supply or some other additional power source. As someone who has spent up to $200 for replacement batteries for laptops in the past, this is an accessory that makes sense if the Surface is your primary, on-the-go computing device.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What I Use: ASUS Chromebox

ASUS recently released the latest offering to the wonderful world of Chrome OS called the Chromebox. If you have read any of my past articles, then you know I am fan of Google's Chrome OS and the many devices that it runs on. If not, here's your chance to catch up:

My Impressions of a Chromebook
What I Use: Acer C7 Chromebook
What I Use: Samsung Chromebook
A Tale of Two Chromebooks
My Thoughts on the Chromebook Pixel
Why Chromebooks Make Sense…For Some (originally published at the BIT Tech Digest)

While I am not going to go into details about Chrome OS, I do want to take a look at the basics of the Chromebox. The internal specs of are pretty impressive:
  • 4th generation 64 bit Dual Core Intel Celeron 2955U 1.4GHz processor
  • 2GB DDR3 1600 RAM
  • 16GB SSD
  • Intel HD Graphics
  • Dual Band 802.11 a/b/g/n wifi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
The number of available ports is impressive for such a small computer. The front of the Chromebox has two USB 3.0 ports. The the side is a 2-in-1 SD card reader. On the back, you have the option for either Display Port or HDMI displays (both are full-sized ports as well), two more USB 3.0 ports, a headphone/mic jack and an Gigabit Ethernet port. This is very similar to the ports available on most Chromebooks. Also note that the Chromebox does not come with a keyboard and mouse so you have to supply your own. Mine is currently paired with the Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400.


If you live and breath in the Google ecosystem (Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google+, Google Maps, etc.) the Chromebox is worthwhile consideration for a secondary computer. Like other Chrome OS devices, it synchronizes instantly with your existing Google/Chrome services after you have logged in with your Google account because all your work auto-saves to the cloud. This means that you can go from Chromebox to Chromebook to tablet to smartphone without missing a beat.

When you think about it, the ASUS Chromebox is a great alternative to buying yet another cheap Windows desktop especially if you are looking to replace an aging Windows XP computer. The notable benefit is that you don't have to worry about Windows-based malware or vulnerabilities. However, as with other Chromebooks, you won't be able to run traditional, installed programs like Microsoft Office, iTunes, or Photoshop. In addition, Chrome OS cannot run browser plug-ins like Java or Microsoft Silverlight, which means that a small number of web-based applications and video playback sites won’t work. If you have no need for those type of applications, then moving to the Chromebox should not be a problem.

With a reliable Internet connection, the ASUS Chromebox can fill most basic needs of a novice or casual computer user. For $199, you get a computer that is small, quiet, has low power consumption and runs a lightweight and low-maintenance operating system. As long as you understand the limitations of Chrome OS, this is a great, little computer for a variety of user types.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Middle Georgia Comic Convention 2014

Those who really know me know that I am a HUGE comic book fan and collector. One can say that I love comics just as much as a I love technology (some might say that I love comics more). My love of comic books fueled my interest in attending the first annual Middle Ga Comic Convention held in Macon. Got a chance to meet some of the creators that I've enjoyed over the years as well as have them sign a few of the comics in my collection.

Mark Bagley
Jamal Igle
Keisha Tillis (The Walking Dead TV show)
Colleen Doran
NEN
1st issue variant cover signed

Friday, February 28, 2014

Finally...Surface Docking Station

After much anticipation and waiting, I was finally able to get my hands on the hard-to-find, always-out-of-stock, back ordered, docking station for my Microsoft Surface Pro 2.  How did I get a hold of such a mythical item? Just walked into a Best Buy store and by chance caught a glimpse of the box in the cabinet with the other Surface accessories. What was even better was that it was marked down because it was an opened box item. Even the Best Buy employee was surprised that they had one. It amazes me that this is such a hard item to obtain.


The docking station has a display port, an Ethernet port (100 Mbps), an audio input/output jack, a USB 3.0 port and three USB 2.0 ports. Pair it with a decent monitor (mine is connected to a Dell ST2220T monitor right now) and it's pretty much all you need to use your Surface as a desktop workstation.


Before getting the actual Surface docking station, I was testing and using the JUD500 Ultra Station by j5 Create as a docking station solution for my Surface. It actually worked well and I do recommend it not just for the Surface but as a docking station solution for a laptop as well.

JUD500 Ultra Station

Friday, February 21, 2014

What I Use: Sonos Play:1

Sonos has been around for awhile and I have always been impressed by their wireless speaker systems. Unfortunately, the cost of those speakers kept me from trying them out for myself. That is until Sonos introduced the Play:1.


The $200 Sonos Play:1 is a compact wireless speaker. It offers high quality sound by streaming from your personal music library on your computer or from an iOS or Android device. The Play:1 also allows you to stream from various commercial streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, Beats Music, and Amazon Cloud Player. Like all Sonos wireless speakers, the Play:1 supports a large range of music formats including popular ones such as mp3, aac, wma, and FLAC.

The Play:1 is designed to work as a standalone wireless speaker. You basically have two setup options. You can connect it directly into your home router via an Ethernet cable (included) or use the Sonos Bridge (which was free at the time I purchased the Play:1 in December), which also connects to your router but allows you to put the Play:1 anywhere in your house as long as it is within range of your wireless network. The Sonos Bridge also allows you to add additional Sonos wireless speakers throughout your house to create an expandable, multi-room music system. You can even add a second Play:1 speaker and sync them for an even better stereo experience.

Setting up the Play:1 was pretty straightforward and simple. Download and install the Sonos app on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Click on "Add Component." The prompts will tell you to press a button on the Sonos Bridge or two buttons on the Play:1, and the app will do the rest. That's it. No complicated or confusing configuring required. 

A few things to remember about the Play:1. First of all, it is not a Bluetooth speaker. You have to use Sonos' proprietary wireless standard in order for it to work properly. Another thing to remember is that you have to use the Sonos app (available for iOS and Android devices but NOT Windows Phone or devices running Windows RT) on your device to play music instead of your music player or service. For example, if you want to listen to Spotify, you would open the Sonos app and select Spotify instead of opening the Spotify app.

One thing that iTunes customers need to make note of when purchasing the Play:1 or any Sonos device is that prior to January 2009, iTunes music was copy-protected using a form of Digital Rights Management (DRM). The DRM protection prevents any iTunes-purchased music from being played through any non-Apple devices, including Sonos. If that is the case, you can burn the DRM-protected music to CD and then re-import them into iTunes.

In my opinion, the Sonos Play:1 is the best value you can find if you are looking for a home speaker (versus anything from it's closest competitor, Bose). Considering it's size, the sound quality is amazing. While it costs about as much as a decent Bluetooth speaker, it does not suffer from the range limitations and reliability issues associated with Bluetooth. Furthermore, it allows you to get the great features of the Sonos ecosystem at a lower cost and gives you the ability to expand to a larger Sonos music network for your home down the road.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What I Use: Sol Republic Tracks Air

As someone who regularly works out and participates in 5k running events, I was in search of reasonably priced, wireless headphones. People in the market for headphones generally gravitate towards the celebrity-endorsed, athlete-approved Beats by Dr. Dre, but the price of their Beats Studio Wireless headphones were way more than what I was willing to shell out. After continued searching, I eventually discovered the Sol Republic Tracks Air and could not be happier with my decision.

At first glance, the Tracks Air design is pretty much identical to other wired Tracks headphones. Same durable build as well as the same colorful interchangeable headbands. However, upon closer inspection, you will notice that the right earcup has additional buttons to control volume and playback. In addition, an interchangeable audio cable with mic and music controls is included in the case you ever need one. If you want to use the Tracks Air with a smartphone, there are microphones built into the earcups so you can make and receive phone calls. The Tracks Air headphones are also USB rechargeable (no need to switch out batteries) and is advertised to deliver up to 15 hours of playtime on a full charge. It will even tell you how many hours of play time you have when you turn on the headphones.


I found that the Bluetooth and NFC compatibility of the Tracks Air made pairing the headphones for use with my Samsung Galaxy S4 and 7th generation iPod Nano a snap. Since this was my first pair of wireless headphones, I felt the sound quality (listening to hip hop, R&B, jazz and podcasts) was just as good as the wired Tracks V8 that I had been using. The headphones are surprisingly comfortable and lightweight (especially being someone who wears glasses), perfect for wearing to the gym or for morning runs on the weekend. More importantly, not having to deal with wires and cables is priceless (without having to go broke)!

Overall, the Sol Republic Tracks Air are a quality option for the casual listener in the market for a pair of wireless headphones. At $200, the Sol Republic Tracks Air are a solid value and definitely worth a look for those who don't want to pay a premium for wireless headphones.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Got A Surface Pro 2


I finally broke down and bought a 128GB Microsoft Surface Pro 2 recently. Admittedly, I was not considering getting a Surface. I was actually looking at laptops. Ultrabooks to be specific. Something lightweight, durable, and easy to carry around. I even had my choices narrowed down to the Acer Aspire S7-392, Dell XPS 12 and Sony VAIO Pro 13. However, the more I thought about it, I began to realize that I did not want (or need) another laptop. What I REALLY wanted was a powerful yet lightweight device that was capable of taking full advantage of what Windows 8.1 has to offer. Enter the Surface Pro 2.

The Surface Pro 2 is more viable as a laptop replacement and can be considered a natural evolution of the PC experience. While trying not to sound like a Microsoft fanboy, the Surface Pro 2 (as well as the Surface 2) is actually a pretty decent step forward for technology. The Surface Pro 2 delivers power and portability capable of smoothly handling the creation of content as well as consuming content. The perfect device for anyone wanting to transition from a traditional PC to portable device.

The Surface Pro 2 has a 4th generation Intel Core i5 Haswell-based processor which offers improved performance and battery life over the original Surface Pro. I paired it with the backlit Surface Type 2 Cover and a Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition. Oh yeah, the dual-angle kickstand is also a nice touch.

Yes, there are cheaper and lighter tablets as well as more powerful ultrabooks, but the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is an interesting tablet and laptop in one device. It is also a more-than-adequate PC replacement for most people. Now if only Microsoft could keep the docking station in stock...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What I Use On The Go

As I sit at home because of inclement weather (who doesn't love snow days), I decided to write an article that details the technology and services I use on a day-to-day basis. Not too long ago, I used to be the guy who carried around an abundant amount of gear everyday just to be prepared for anything. Toolkits, cables, adapters: you name it and I pretty much had it in my bag. This past year, I have learned to trim down the load of stuff that I carry around each day to just the stuff that I actually needed. Without further ado, here are the essential things found in my bag.

 


Computer 

Tablet 

Smartphone (Verizon)

Watch 

Mobile Broadband 

External Storage 

Backup Power

Bag

Note Taking

Other Services & Products I Use
  • Web Browser: Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 11
  • Productivity: Office 365 Home Premium
  • Note Taking: Evernote Premium
  • Cloud Storage: SkyDrive
  • Password Management: Last Pass Premium
  • Music: Spotify Premium and Amazon Cloud Player
  • Messaging: Skype
  • Twitter: Tweetium and Tweetro+(Windows), Tweedle & Tweetcaster Pro (Android)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Logging out of LogMeIn

Following in the recent footsteps of SugarSyncLogMeIn announced that they were no longer offering the free version of their product and will only provide a premium, paid service. I have been a user and fan of LogMeIn for YEARS, but with the move to only a paid-only service, I have started looking at other alternatives for my remote desktop connectivity needs.

Don't get me wrong, LogMeIn is a great product. It's easy to use and has been pretty reliable over the years. However, my use of remote desktop connectivity is not frequent enough to warrant the price that LogMeIn is charging ($99/year for access on 2 computers). If I had a regular, on-going need for remote desktop connectivity AND the price was reasonable, I wouldn't have any problems paying for the LogMeIn's service. Alternatively, GoToMyPC has a very tempting 6-month trial then $69/year for 3 computers promo offer that I'm considering. That is the danger that companies face when moving from a free model to a paid one. Consumers start to evaluate ALL their options especially when it comes to paying for a service.

This abrupt ending of the free version (customers have a seven day grace period to make a purchasing decision) while not provide ample time to evaluate and migrate to another solution was a bad move. In addition, this recent announcement also feels like deja vu. Many LogMeIn Free customers may remember the out-of-the-blue announcement last year that limited the number of computers a user can access with LogMeIn Free to 10 computers. I also remember them stating that "...LogMeIn Free is and will remain free.."

While LogMeIn is a great product, the fact is there are other options, both free and paid, out there that offer the same remote desktop connection features to users. Even though I am not a big fan, Team Viewer is a decent alternative that offer many of the same features plus some that are not in the free version of LogMeIn (I also have wonder if Team Viewer is rethinking their "free" model as well). Additionally, Chrome Remote Desktop is another option that is available. While it's not packed with a ton of features, it runs in your browser and is easy to setup and use. Users will have play around with the different options to find a service that fits their needs.

Bottom line, LogMeIn is a business and it needs to make a profit. They are hoping to converting loyal users to paid subscribers. This is nothing new. LogMeIn isn't the first and definitely won't be the last to kill off their free services. Remember when Google did the same thing a few years ago with the free version of Google Apps? People were disappointed, but eventually moved on. The abrupt end of any free service or product should serve as a reminder that not all technology services can stay free forever.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's Time To Let Windows XP Go

There is not a nice way to say this, but if you are still using Windows XP it's time to move on. Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP on April 8th. What this means is that after that date going forward, Microsoft will not release anymore security patches or provide any new support information as it relates to Windows XP. While Microsoft has not done any type of awareness campaign to remind users (which is strange), they have given plenty of notice (believe it or not, Microsoft was sending out notifications of the April 2014 end date as far back as 2008).

So what happens if you try to hang on to that old Windows XP computer? Well for starters you will run the risk of your computer possibly becoming infecting with some type of malware or other zero-day vulnerability because there are no up-to-date security patches available (a zero-day attack exploits a previously unknown software vulnerability leaving developers no time to address and patch). You also have to consider that you will pretty much be stuck with software and hardware that is only compatible with Windows XP. For example, if your printer dies and you have to buy a new one, chances are it will not be compatible with Windows XP. Same goes with any newer software that you might have to buy.

Yes, I know that there those who can't (or won't) move off of Windows XP for a variety of reasons such as compatibility issues or cost (or even stubbornness in some cases), but the reality is that Windows XP is a nearly 12-year-old operating system. Since Windows XP was released in 2001, there have been four newer versions of Windows: Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1. In addition, the hardware that was available at the time that Windows XP was released has been greatly improved not to mention cheaper. It's time to upgrade.

On the bright side, for those people who want to stick with Windows XP as long as they can, Microsoft will continue to provide updates (anti-malware engine and signatures) to its security products (Microsoft Security Essentials) for those users through July 14, 2015. The reality is that Microsoft is in a difficult situation. They have to stick with their end of support date to get consumers off of Windows XP and onto their latest, more secure products. However, there are still so many Windows XP users out there that leaving them completely vulnerable could cause more harm than good in the long run (you know hackers are just salivating right now waiting to strike).

All things said, Windows XP has had a good run, but like all good things it must come to an end. If you haven't already upgraded to a newer version of Windows, start looking at your alternatives now so you will be ready instead of waiting until April 8th.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Building a Computer for A+ Study Part VII: The Case and Power Supply

Part seven in a series on the basics of building a computer to prepare for the A+ certification exams.

Computer Case

A computer case is the enclosure that contains most of the components of a computer. Computer cases are also referred to as the chassis, system unit, or tower. Computer cases can come in many different sizes, shapes and colors as well as be made from different materials such as aluminum, steel, or plastic. The size and shape of a computer case is usually determined by the form factor of the motherboard.

When buying a computer case, it is important to remember that the motherboard generally determines the overall size of the case as well as which parts you can put into it. The form factor of a motherboard dictates the specifications of the computer case you choose: physical dimensions, type of power supply, and location of mounting holes. It is important to remember that the motherboard also has to properly fit into the computer case that you choose.

Power Supply

A typical power supply unit
Your computer needs power. A lot of computer cases come with a power supply unit but if the one you choose does not, you will have to purchase one separately. Most basic computers are fine with a 250 to 300 watt power supply unit. However, if you plan on adding more demanding graphic cards, multiple hard disks drives or other internal components, you may want to get a more powerful power supply unit. Just make sure that you choose one that not only physically fits in your computer case but one that is also appropriate for the form factor of the motherboard.

A power supply unit, also simply referred to as a PSU, is offered in modular and non-modular models. Modular PSUs include detachable cables, which allow you to use only the ones you need. This means less annoying cable tangles and a much cleaner look inside the computer case. While modular PSUs tend to be more expensive, the payoff is less clutter and better air circulation throughout the case. The more common non-modular PSU has all the cables connected to the power supply.

Power supply units have several different types of connectors that plug into your internal components for power:
  • P1 Power Connector (20- or 24- pin connector for motherboard)
  • CPU Power Connector (8-pin for high-end CPUs)
  • Molex Connector (older hard disk drives & optical disk drives as well as some high-end graphic cards)
  • Mini Connector (floppy disk drives)
  • SATA Connector (newer hard disk drives & optical disk drives)
  • PCI Express Power Connector (8-pin connector for high-end graphic cards)

PSU connectors
When choosing a PSU, don't be cheap. A good PSU will deliver stable and clean power. Look for affordability without sacrificing quality and the potential for future upgrades. Furthermore, when you’re choosing a PSU, look beyond the total output (e.g. 500 watts) and make sure it has a combined +12 Volt continuous current rating of 24 Amps or greater. If you are having trouble deciding what type of PSU you need, there are online power supply calculators that will give you a general idea on what to consider while selecting a power supply for the computer you are building (or upgrading).


What I picked

For the case, I choose the In-Win Z589T Black Steel MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case. This case comes with a 350 watts power supply unit. The front I/O panel provides access to two USB 2.0 and two audio ports. The case has bays for two external 5.25" drives, an internal 3.5" drive and two external 3.5" bays. More importantly, this particular case has a screwless design for drive bays and expansion slots for convenient, quick installation of components without any type of screwdriver.

Even though the computer case that I chose came with a 350 watts PSU, I decided to swap it out with a Thermaltake TR2430W PSU. The PSU that comes with the case is decent but very basic. I usually prefer purchasing a more robust one than the stock models that come with some cases. The Thermaltake TR2430W not only is 430 watts but also includes industrial-grade power protections such as Over-Voltage Protection, Over Power Protection and Short-Circuit Protection.

How I Maintain My Sanity As An IT Manager

I must say that the past ten months as an IT Support Supervisor have been not only interesting but also a learning experience. Being in a management/leadership role requires a whole different set of skills than those required to for a strictly technical role. I love the challenge. However, there is also another level of stress that can go along with being in such a role. Fortunately, I have a few things that I do that helps better manage my stress levels, which allows me to better analyze situations and avoid making rushed decisions.

1. It's okay to say "no" sometimes
Did you know that "no" is one of the simplest words in the English language? Two letters and one syllable. However, it's the one word that many people in IT management have the most difficulty saying because it's viewed as not good customer service. I've seen many IT managers/leaders take on numerous projects and tasks to please their customers (and look good to the higher ups) without thinking things through as it relates to the workload and availability of their team. Blindly saying "yes" to everything without any forethought is not good. Whenever I am approached to become involved in a project or task, I try to put some space between the request and my answer to that person. This gives me time to learn how much work is involved and what resources are required before committing to something that might be much more than expected.

2. Have a good laugh
Don't take everything so seriously. If you take yourself too seriously, it can be hard to think outside the box and find new solutions to problems. I try to keep things in perspective and understand that many things in life are beyond my control especially the behavior of other people. Attempt to laugh at situations rather than complain about them. Sometimes looking for the humor in a bad situation can help improve your mood and the mood of those around you. Not to mention that laughter also has both physical health benefits (lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes your muscles) and mental health benefits (eases anxiety and fear, relieves stress, improves mood).

3. Take a break
Some people take smoke breaks, I take sanity breaks. You spend eight hours or more a day working. Take a moment for yourself whenever you can. Try to do it at least twice a day (morning and afternoon). Step away from the computer. Leave your office. Most important, leave your cell phone in your office. Go outside and breathe in some fresh air. Take a few minutes to stretch. I know colleagues who go sit in their cars just to get away for a few moments. I usually use that time to go for a short walk across campus and even recently started taking fifteen minute treadmill breaks.

4. Eat lunch away from the desk/office
All to often, we get caught up working on a project or task and don't want to lose that momentum so we grab something to eat (usually junk food) and continue working. At times, we simply just get our lunch and eat it in our office or at our desk as if we are forced to do so.  Even having lunch in the break room is not good because 1) people can easily find you and 2) people tend to carry on conversations about work while you are trying to eat. That's not good. There is nothing wrong with getting out of your office and getting away from your colleagues to enjoy your lunch privately. I am fortunate enough to be able to go off-site for lunch. When I get away for lunch, I find that I can really enjoy what I am eating without any unnecessary distractions. I also use my lunchtime to catch up on reading books on my Kindle.

5. Leave work at work
When I am at work, I am dedicated and committed to my job BUT when I leave for the day, I leave work in the office. I am a firm believer of keeping work and home separate. Over the years, I have seen supervisors/managers/leaders/directors work late in the office and then go home to work some more (why are you sending me emails at 11:30pm?). That is a classic symptom of a workaholic (which I admit I was many years ago).  For some strange reason, doing work at home AFTER work is viewed as being a good worker who strives for excellence. I view it as not having good time management skills during your workday. When you go home, do something other than work. Use your time at home to focus on you and the things that are important to you (family, friends, hobbies, etc.).