#Winning on Friday the 13th

f13a_300.jpgToday is Friday the 13th. The only Friday the 13th of 2011 as it works out.

This specific date has special significance for me — and it has nothing to do with movies.

Since Friday the 13ths occur so infrequently, and are  somewhat famous, I use the day as a semi-random chance to get my digital ducks in a row.

Stop everything
My Friday the 13th routine starts with a quick review of all open projects and work. I don’t actually do any work on those projects, rather I look over everything, reviewing all the details and milestones, and just make sure that nothing’s being missed.

Backup everything
Next, I check out my data backup software and processes. In the blogosphere, the 13th of each month  has been promoted as Blog Backup Day, but really, protecting your data is something that everyone should do, be it through a highly-protected storage device like the Drobo-FS, or using a backup drive system like ClickFree’s, or some combination of  the two.

Vaccinate everything
Then, I make sure my anti-virus and firewall technology is current — and run a manual scan over all my drives. Yes, time consuming but it also provides me peace of mind that everything’s clean.

Defrag everything
Finally, I run a drive defragmentation utility over all drives that can benefit from it. Some operating systems automagically handle drive fragmentation and some don’t.

Data ducks in a row
And yes, that can be a lot of work, but at the end of it, I’ve got a good picture of my workload, and the state of my data on my computer systems. I’ve turned a day that’s famous for horror stories into a day of good. #Winning 🙂

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I think I’ve bought my last desktop computer

A couple of years ago, I was all into and enjoyed building desktop computers, picking out the right video card, selecting the best motherboard and generally digging deep into the innards of my future computing platform. And designing the perfect ‘office’ computing environment with short cable runs, ample power for my accessories and lots of desktop space. Yes it was complex and involved and detailed, but it was a hobby — building computers.

These days, I’m not so concerned about it. What I need to do on a computer hasn’t changed, but the computing industry has matured, my needs are now becoming much more mainstream, and the significant differences between one component and another aren’t quite so significant any more.

Put another way, what I have been doing and want to do on a computer, is now much more in demand by everyday consumers. And the hardware, is becoming much more homogeneous. They’ve caught up. Welcome to the future.

Honey, I shrunk the CPU
Moore’s Law has also caught up, to the point where the hardware is smaller, lighter, faster, and cheaper to make. On today’s hardware you can have full audio and video editing studios in the software that runs your phone. You can remotely pilot vehicles with your phone or mobile computing device, and you can easily communicate with anyone on the planet using any number of mobile technologies.

Any of the modern notebook computers have all that stuff in a very tiny package.

Home file sharing
It used to be that you had files on one computer, and you shared them with the other. Both computers had to be on to share the files. Now, with ubiquitous WiFi and home network storage appliances (basically network-aware hard drives) in your household, any computer or compatible device can access any document, video, mp3, at any time. No need to have a big Master Server.

Printing
The same goes for network-aware printers. Most manufacturers have WiFi models available that know how to play nice with your home network environment. Again, no need for a computer directly connected to a printer.

Storage
I mentioned home network storage above, but these days storage devices are dirt cheap. So much so that it’s become possible for commercial business to be built up around the concept of offering you free online storage of your documents, photos, music, whatever…for free.

And they won’t only store your files, they’ll give you free access to applications and tools to create and edit your stuff. Again, I no longer have a need for a huge drive attached to a big desktop box — all this stuff is in the cloud.

One caveat
There’s only two real reason that I can think of for needing a dedicated desktop computer these days; high-quality media creation, and gaming.

If you’re into music making, video editing, photography, art, design, anything that needs you to move masses of pixels or gigs of data around, the architecture of a desktop computer box is more suited to that than many of the notebook computers on the market. And you’re likely using the computer in a professional setting as a photographer, composer and the like.

Gaming also is a hardware resource hog, and falls into that category as many of the same computing tasks in media creation are also necessary in game creation and playing. Of course, there are exceptions — I’ve seen some very powerful (and pretty) gaming laptops.

Interesting, but not enough
But gaming isn’t enough for me to build my desktop around it, any more. Console gaming systems have edged in with comparable graphics and gameplay, on much bigger screens than could fit on my desktop.

So it looks like my next new system, likely in a year or two, won’t be a power-sucking behemoth that sits under my desk. Rather, it’ll be something small, light, can connect to desktop monitors, mice & keyboards, and the home net, yet is still portable. And I think the same holds true for most of you too. Yes, welcome to the future 🙂
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DOS on the iPad? There’s an app for that.

5374144373_36b6e593f5_m.jpg[UPDATE – looks like Apple has pulled it from the app store again]

I’ve got a rather strange, yet family friendly habit — I tend to collect computer emulators; software written for hardware, that acts like older hardware in order to run older software.

With me so far?

Over the last few years, Apple has been slowly relaxing the emulation standards in the iTunes App store for emulator apps, witness the Commodore 64 and rumored
Amiga emulators — though sadly, I doubt we’ll ever see one for the Apple ][

In the last 6 months, a DOS emulator has appeared, disappeared, and now reappeared in the store. And it’s a pretty solid app. Continue reading “DOS on the iPad? There’s an app for that.”

Show your parents you care – tech style

It’s highly likely that many of you, like me, are responsible for technical support of your families’ computer systems and internet connection.

googfooter.pngEarlier today I found a great little microsite (by Google) that’ll help you support your parents with their online issues.

http://www.teachparentstech.org/ is the site that helps you build a friendly little email and bundles links to appropriate self-help videos.

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Obviously this won’t address every question they’ve got, but it does:

  • Get them using email (they’ll need to in order to view the message)
  • Get them watching online videos through a browser
  • Teach them how to do something to customize their computing experience
  • Give them a sense of accomplishment and independence as they use new tech.

Here’s what your outgoing email could look like:

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It’s not just simple issues either, here’s a video showing how to set up an email autoresponder in Gmail — though similar email apps work in much the same way.

And it’s a great little marketing and branding opportunity to get Google into their computing experience.

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Dilemma: Offloading old tech

phonedump_250.jpgOk, so here’s the deal. You want a new computer, or iPad, or BluRay player or whatever. But your old one is still working perfectly fine. Yet, the features of your next technological acquisition are so good, so cool, that really, that new tech item will make your life much better.

Great, so you go out and get it, but what do you do with the old item?

And there’s the rub.

You’ve got the old tech, that still works and you’re comfortable with. And you’ve got your new tech that you’re learning and works and is Jobs-gift-to-humanity.

For me, there’s huge reluctance to get rid of the old stuff. Sure, it’s already been replaced by better stuff — but it still works! It can still do things. So here’s what I do:

1) Resell — this one is pretty obvious, but takes a bit of work. Listing on (competitor) or Kijjiji requires setting up an account and managing the process. If you’ve done everything right, you’ve got a buyer for your tech-stuff and you’re both happy.

Other alternatives that often work are pawn shops. If not, proceed to step 2.

2) Regift — it’s entirely possible you’ve got a very young neice or nephew that could use a ‘first’ computer. Once properly refurbished, your ‘gift’ could meet that need. Of course, you’ll be the first in line for hardware support, but isn’t that what being supportive in a family is all about?

3) Repurpose — Older computers still work well running older operating systems. Given your hardware won’t be your daily desktop box, nothing’s preventing you from giving it new life as a dedicated server, a home security system, or a media centre box.

4) Recycle — this one is actually my favourite. In Edmonton, we have local EcoStations that are set up to take our tech. As well, FutureShop has an amazing Electronics Take-Back program in Alberta and Ontario. What better way to keep your older tech out of the landfill and ensure it (or its component material) is being put back to work.

Obviously, this won’t work for every situation. For example, I’ve got a few old cell phones and  PDAs gathering dust in my closet. I’ve not figured out nor taken time to determine the best ‘end’ for them, yet. Your mileage may vary…in fact, I hope it does! And I hope you share your best ‘tech recycle story below…because frankly, I could use a bit of help 🙂



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.


Remote control your computer from your iPad

Some say that the iPad is a magical device. I won’t go that far, but it is kinda cool, though it does have its shortcomings — especially when you compare it to a desktop or laptop computer. There are just many things done much better on a computer than on an iPad, which is why it’s neat that there’s computer remote control software for the iPad.

One of the easiest I’ve found to use is LogMeIn Ignition. Part of the LogMeIn family, Ignition lives on your iPad (or iPhone, or iPod Touch, or Android) and allows you to control any computer you’ve registered with the LogMeIn service.

Here’s how the process works:
1. Get a free LogMeIn account
2. Install LogMeIn Free client software on every PC/Mac you want to control
3. Register those computers with your LogMeIn account information

If you stop here, you now have the ability to control any of your registered computers from any other registered computer (that’s running the client software), or through the LogMeIn web interface (which is very slick!).

4. Install the LogMeIn:Ignition client on your iPhone/iPod Touch or iPad

And you’re done. You can now control any of your computers via your iPad.

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Continue reading “Remote control your computer from your iPad”

Tablets will be the story this holiday season

The iPad has been out for a bit now, and it’s the tablet that all the others will be compared against as they jockey for position going into the holiday season.

But overall, I think this is the year that tablets finally start to make some headway into the marketplace; a marketplace already crowded with Desktops, Laptops, Netbooks and Data Phones.

So, why consider a tablet? Here’s a few things to think about.

Middleground
Tablets won’t replace your main computer, nor will they replace your laptop. They’re not powerful enough to do a lot of the work those computers do. But, they will fill in the middleground between your smartphone and your computer, simply because they are smaller, yet not too small, and offer a great interactive experience.

Tablets are  great to bring to meetings, light-weight and yet functional enough that looking up calendar conflicts or taking simple notes is a very simple process — and the tablet is much less obvious than a laptop when sitting around the boardroom table.

Oh, and you smartphone jockey’s out there, yes, you can do all that stuff on your handheld Android/BlackBerry/iPhone, but the screen size is kinda limiting when you want/need to share the view.

Cloudbusting
Using some cloud computing applications such as DropBox, any notes you create on your tablet are instantly stored in the cloud account and accessible to your other computers.

And, if you’re in that meeting and need to reference something stored on your desktop, you can use desktop control software such as LogMeIn Ignition (on the iPad / iPhone / Touch) or a VNC client written for your tablet. A couple of quick touchpad strokes and you’re working on your desktop computer as if you were sitting in front of it.

Ok, those are the big reasons that a tablet wins for me. And here’s a few more that are really just icing on the cake:

  • Inherently portable – smaller form factor makes it easier to take everywhere. My iPad is with me daily, whereas my laptop or netbook only came out when I thought I might need it
  • Casual usage – since it’s with me I use it more to jot down notes, surf, etc during otherwise dead time
  • Tactile, friendly, engaging – a tablet seems less imposing than a full-up laptop. People like to share work on a tablet, it’s easy to hand around a meeting and solicit feedback.
  • Portable media – tablets are great for watching movies or videos on the bus or wherever because they’re smaller and sleeker — no huge keyboard to haul around in addition to the screen.

So, in my humble opinion, yes, the tablet will make some serious inroads this holiday season, especially if the price can stay low, the hardware delivers, and the software is developed to live in this new middleground.

So that’s why a tablet appeals to me, how ‘bout you? Are you in or out when it comes to considering a tablet in the near future?



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.