Robert’s Ramblings

Robert Alonso’s Thoughts on Technology and More…

January-28-10

iPad? Does Apple Marketing Employ Any Women?

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Software

After waiting more than a year for Apple’s entry into tablet computing, I was not disappointed or surprised by the device. It is simply a larger form factor iPod Touch or iPhone without the phone functionality. Apple took existing technology and made it bigger and in many cases better. The only aspect of the device that is puzzling is the name. I understand the connection between iPad and iPod, but why did Apple executives not realize that the first thing that came to mind to three women that I spoke to is a feminine hygiene product. I’m sure that this is not exactly the association that Apple wanted for this product.

Despite the strange name, the device is desirable. It comes with a 9.7 inch screen, runs all existing iPhone applications and comes with direct iTunes and App Store access. Even more exciting is the iBook application that allows the reading of books in ePub format and that integrates into a new on-line book store. The application looks very polished and easy to use. It even has animated page flipping and a book shelve for the books that you have already purchased. You control it using the multi-touch technology. Slide your finger across the screen and you are on the next page. Take that Kindle and Sony Reader.

The iPad is half an inch think and weighs 1.5 pounds. It runs up to 10 hours on a charge and can be purchased with a case that doubles as a stand. Also available as an option is a stand that includes a keyboard. The hardware and software looks very slick and will probably draw a lot of attention from gadget lovers as well as productivity seeking executives. Apple will also release $9.99 versions of the applications in iWork. You will be able to create documents with the word processor, spreadsheet or presentation application without having to take a laptop on your trip or without using a desktop computer. It also has a slick version of the Safari web browser that is a larger version of the one in the iPhone. Unfortunately, it still does not have support for Flash.

During the introduction, Steve Jobs showed off mapping, video playback and a new slick iLife-inspired photography application. You can now see albums easily and group them according to people, events or even locations. You can show the photos off in slideshow mode and can even use the iPad as a photo frame when it is not being used for some other productive task. Since I am an amateur photographer, I loved this functionality. I also have to admit that I saw great promise in the e-mail, calendar and contact applications. I can see this becoming my primary computing device around the house and on trips.

The iPad will be available in 60 to 90 days. The Wi-Fi only version will come out first with a price of $499 for the 16GB version, $599 for the 32GB version and $699 for the 64GB one. The Wi-Fi and 3G (unlocked) version arrives thirty days later and costs $130 more for any of the memory configurations. The plans are through AT&T and require no contract. They are $14.99 for 250MB or $29.99 for unlimited data. Plans include free AT&T Wi-Fi and are activated directly from the iPad.

That’s it for now. I’ll tell you more once I buy one in 60 days…

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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There are many reports that Microsoft and HP will introduce a tablet PC way ahead of Apple’s rumored iSlate. If the reports are correct, then Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, will use his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) tonight to make the announcement. The current thinking is that the device will be much like the Courier prototype that was leaked to the press a few months ago. You can see a video of it in a previous entry to this blog.

Once the announcement is made tonight, I will report the details here.

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December-25-09

Google’s Secular Problem

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions

Google is a very successful company that is very worrisome to me. It has a corporate culture instilled from the very top of the company that is disdainful of religion and of any conservative view points. One obvious example of this behavior is their logo designs. They change the “Google” graphic logo to represent various holidays and remarkable events throughout the year. They typically do a good job with scientific or historical dates. Whenever the date is related to religion they tend to ignore it. The following image is what they chose to put on their home page on Christmas. I find it it offensive that they refuse to put anything religious or any image that is remotely associated with the spirit of Christmas. Over a billion Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on the 25th of December. One would think that Google could provide something a little less secular than a space ship and peace symbol along with some other stupid little images. (Yes, this gets me very angry.)

image

Bing, chose to place some Christmas imagery on their home page, but chose to minimize the religious aspect of Christmas as well. By comparison, I must commend them on not ignoring a billion plus believers worldwide. They also included several linked areas of he images that include references to interesting facts about the decorations seen in Rockefeller Center. What I found the most heartwarming is that one of them uses the word Christmas. Bravo Microsoft! I think that I will advertise with your search engine and not Google’s.

image

The only way to stop large companies like Google from ignoring the beliefs, hopes and feelings of a large majority of the world is to vote with our pocketbooks. I, for one, do not intend on supporting Google. I will also limit any future positive blog entries about them. (If you look through the older entries here, you will see quite a few positive entries on various Google products or services.) Google ads have been removed from this blog and I will be removing them from my other web sites as time permits. It is only fair that their lack of respect be met with my indifference and total lack of support for their corporate empire building.

Merry Christmas world. Much love to every one on earth.

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December-17-09

SkyGrabber – Satellite Stream Capture Software

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions, Software

It was reported today that the Taliban in Afghanistan are using inexpensive software to view video from United States drone airplanes. The software is called “SkyGrabber.” It can capture picture, video and audio streams that are downloaded from satellite Internet connections. You do not even need an Internet connection to have this work for you. All you need a satellite dish. The software can then let you select what you want to capture. You can do it by by file type, IP address, by the hardware MAC address of the source, or by send or receive port. You can download the software from http://www.skygrabber.com.

You would think that the United States military would be smarter than sending live video streams from multi-million dollar aircraft without encryption. Unfortunately, they are not. You can see the unencrypted, live feeds using this inexpensive software.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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December-9-09

Have You Heard Any Good Tiger Woods Jokes?

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Service

The scandal surrounding Tiger Woods is unfortunate. His name, however, is an easy target for jokes. Some are more tasteless than others. My favorite is that he is changing his name to Cheetah Woods.  Since this is a mostly a technology blog, you are probably wondering why Tiger is relevant here. Strictly speaking, he isn’t, but getting news about him is.

I was recently asked by a friend what would be the best way to get notified of news stories surrounding Tiger Woods. Since I have been taking advantage of Google News Alerts for over a year, I knew that the easiest way to track any item of interest is to set a Google Alert on it. I have alerts on “health care reform,” my customer’s company names, my name, my wife’s name and many other topics and people of interest. Google dutifully sends me a daily e-mail with a recap of all the web, news and blog mentions of each subject. I told my friend about the alerts and you could immediately see that he grasped how useful Google Alerts could be for business.

If you want to set an alert on news about Tiger Woods go here. You can also use the page to set alerts on any other topic that might interest you.

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November-10-09

Upgrading the Memory on an Apple Mac Mini in 26 Steps

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Hardware

The Apple Mac Mini comes in a variety of configurations and price points. If you buy the base model, it typically does not have enough memory to handle the Adobe Creative Suite. You will definitely want to upgrade it. Although it It is relatively easy to upgrade the memory, it looks daunting when you look at the Mac Mini case. The case looks like a solid piece of plastic with no screws or openings. The trick is to pry the upper portion of the case off the body. The upper portion is the section of the Mac Mini that has the Apple logo on it.

I am providing 26 easy steps to upgrading your Mac Mini. I hope this helps you. Please remember to be careful and gentle. The case is delicate and it is better to spend a little extra time to get it right than to damage your case.

Step 1. Buy Memory and get a spatula, small flat head screwdriver screwdriver and kitchen knife. One of the technicians her at Alonso Consulting was able to forgo using a spatula. However, I think it is easier with a small, sturdy spatula. Before you proceed, unplug all cords from the Mac Mini and place everything on a padded surface. You can use cloth for this purpose.

1. Memory & Apple Mac Mini

Step 2. Start opening case by prying it open with spatula or kitchen knife. Be careful and take your time. You do not want to break any of the plastic tabs that grip into the sides of the Mac Mini case.

2. Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 1
Step 3. Use hands to pry the case off once you have popped off the sides.

3 . Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 2

Step 4. You can also use the small screwdriver to hold a side up so that it does not clip back into place as you work around the case.

4. Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 3

Step 5. You will start to see the bottom separating from the top of the unit.

5. Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 4 
Step 6. Continue to move around the case until you pry it apart completely. Apply pressure away from the upper section with your fingers. Be gentle.

6. Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 5

Step 7. Once this is done, you can  lift the bottom section off the top and see the insides of the Mac Mini.

7. Apple Mac Mini Inside 1

Step 8. You can place the bottom of the unit which contains the electronics on a flat padded surface.

8. Apple Mac Mini Inside 2

Step 9.  Locate the wireless antenna. It is in one of the corners. Remove it gently without separating the cable from the rest of the unit.

9. Apple Mac Mini Wireless Card

Step 10.  Remove screws that are found on each corner. Be careful about placing these somewhere in the order that they were removed. They are not all the same length.

10. Apple Mac Mini - Remove Screws

Step 11.  Now lift the electronics off the bottom plastic very gently.

11. Apple Mac Mini Lift Motherboard 3

Step 12. You can lift from the side using your thumbs.

12. Apple Mac Mini Lift Motherboard 4

Step 13. As you lift, you will see the memory sockets. There are two SODIMM sockets.

13. Apple Mac Mini Lift Motherboard 5

Step 14. Here is a better look at the memory.

14. Apple Mac Mini Memory Area 1

Step 15. Remove the installed memory and replace it with your two SODIMMS.

15. Apple Mac Mini Memory Area 2

Step 16. You should buy memory that will max out your Mac Mini so that you will not have to do this again. I installed two 2 GB memory modules for a total of 4 GB on my Mac Mini. Please note in the picture that the modules were inserted sideways under the electronics with a lot of gentle care.

16. Apple Mac Mini Insert Memory 1

Step 17. Here is a closer look at the memory modules in their slots.

17. Apple Mac Mini Insert Memory 2 
Step 18. In this step, the technician is putting firm pressure on the two memory chips so that they snap in place. You will hear a slight click.

18. Apple Mac Mini Insert Memory 3

Step 19. Set the electronics back into place in the plastic case.

19. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up 1

Step 20. Replace the screws that you removed earlier.

20. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up 2 
Step 21. Replace the wireless card that you removed. Make sure that it clips into place and is not sticking out. If it is, then you will have problems putting on the cover or getting wireless networking to work.

21. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up 3 Wireless 
Step 22. Here is a picture of the Mac Mini electronics ready to be put back together with the upper portion of the plastic Apple cover.

22. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up 4

Step 23. Start by placing the electronics into the case as pictured. Make sure you line up the back potion with the cable ports correctly. You will not be able to close the case any other way, so this should be intuitive.

23. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up Case 1

Step 24. Apply gentle, but firm pressure all around the case. Please note that a padded surface was used to avoid scratches on the case.

24. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up Case 2

Step 25. For the final steps, squeeze the upper portion of the case down around the back with the connectors. For some reason, this section required more pressure.

25. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up Case 3
Step 26. You are done. Relax, plug in your Mac and watch a nice movie on it from iTunes.

26. Apple Mac Mini Upgraded

The same steps can be used to replace the hard drive. It is located behind the memory in the electronic core. I hope this has been helpful.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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October-22-09

Happy Birthday Windows 7

Posted by Robert Alonso under Service, Software

Microsoft’s Windows 7 was released today and the consensus is that it is a great new operating system for PCs. It is fast, elegant, stable and even visually appealing. Windows 7 has plenty of features, but features are not its claim to fame. Microsoft is stressing the fact that it is a streamlined piece of software that works well. After its Vista debacle and the bad publicity that it garnered for the company, I am very heartened by this new release and can recommend it unequivocally.

Unlike its predecessor, Windows 7 works well with almost all hardware and even has functionality built in that will enable you to see a picture or drawing of new hardware that you connect to it. Next time you buy a printer or digital camera and plug it in via a USB port, you may be surprised when you see a picture of the device on your screen confirming that it is recognized and working.

I am very fond of the BitLocker technology that is included with the Windows 7 Ultimate Edition. With it, you can encrypt and password protect your computer’s hard drive. This protects your data in case your machine is stolen or lost. It is particularly useful for laptop and netbook owners since these are often stolen from hotel rooms. The BitLocker To Go technology makes it possible to also encrypt removable hard drives and USB thumb drives.

The Libraries feature allows you to group related folders together under a category like documents, music or video. This simplifies the task of backing up groups of documents or creating music playlist from music that is stored in multiple locations. You can use the new Windows Backup utility to create those backups and even schedule complete backups of your PC. I love this new backup tool because it will also create a system repair disk for you that you can use to restore your machine after a catastrophe.

It is important to note, that some older versions of software do not work with Windows 7. Two that I know won’t work are Norton Ghost and the various versions of Microsoft Fingerprint Reader software. Symantec is working on an upgrade for Norton Ghost that will be compatible and Microsoft is offering rebates to owners of the Microsoft Fingerprint devices and software.

Perhaps the only real issue I have with the new release is that it comes in too many versions. Microsoft is selling a Starter, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise version. It is also selling versions that are for 32 bit and 64 bit computers. It is confusing as to which version is good for office, home and notebook use. It is also unclear whether a machine can handle the 64 bit version. It is so confusing that Microsoft has put up a web page that compares the versions.

Alonso Consulting can help you decide if upgrading is the right move for you. If you decide to upgrade your existing machines, we can guide you through the planning process, back up your existing data and then upgrade you to the correct version. Users of Windows XP do not have a direct upgrade path with Windows 7, so all data and applications have to be backed up and reinstalled.

If you prefer to buy new machines, we can provide you with a great deal* on Dell computers preloaded with Windows 7 Professional. Once we install the new machine and port your data over, we’ll erase your old PC’s hard drive, remove it and give you a $100 credit for it that you can use towards additional support from us. We will also provide you with a pass-along gift certificate worth $250. It is our way of saying thank you.

Call us at (973) 575-1414 to start upgrading to this excellent new version of Windows.

Thanks,

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

 

* Here’s the deal:

clip_image001You get a Dell PC with Windows 7 Professional worth $765. You also receive up to two hours of service to install your old applications and data. We will remove your old PC and give you a $100 credit for future support plus a pass-along gift certificate worth $250 so you can share our services with a business associate. The total value is $1,365. If you decide to upgrade and pay on our web site by October 27th, you will receive the PC, our service, a $100 credit, and the gift certificate which is a total value of $1,365 for only $899 per PC. Here are the specs on the PC:

 

Processor

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo E7500 (2.93GHz, 3M, L2Cache, 1066FSB)

Operating system

Genuine Windows ® 7 Professional 32 bit

Monitor

18.5 inch E1910H Flat Panel Monitor

Memory

3GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHZ – 1x2GB 1x1GB

Optical drive

Single Drive: 16X DVD-ROM Drive

Hard drive

250GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™

Video card

Integrated Video, Intel® GMA X4500HD

Security software

Norton Internet Security™ 2009 30 Day Trial

Sound

Integrated 5.1 Channel Audio

Keyboard & mouse

USB Keyboard and USB Optical Mouse

Adobe software

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Resource DVD

Resource CD and DVD

Setup guide

System Quick Reference Guide

Network interface

Integrated PCIE 10/100/1000

Warranty & service

1 Year Manufacturer’s Basic Limited Warranty and 1 Year NBD On-Site Service

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October-20-09

BitLocker To Go on Windows 7

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions, Software

The clock is ticking towards the release of a faster and generally more robust operating system for PCs. As many of you know, Windows 7 will be released in two days. What does this release mean to you? The most immediate impact is that it will become increasingly difficult to find any machines with Windows XP. Vista was so unpopular that Microsoft allowed Dell and other PC makers to offer downgrades to XP. Most of my customers chose that path and paid an extra $100 for the privilege.

Once Windows 7 is released, Microsoft will try to never talk about Windows Vista again and will instead tout the great new improvements in Windows 7. This is not without precedent. The same thing happened with Windows Millennium Edition (Me). Most people have forgotten about Windows Me but it was the worst operating system that Microsoft has ever sold—far worse than Vista. It followed the successful Windows 95 and 98 and preceded Windows XP which was arguably the most hardy PC operating system produced by Microsoft so far. Maybe magic will strike twice and Windows 7 will be a huge success and, more importantly, be a solid replacement for Vista.

If you are a reader of this blog, then you know that I have been testing Windows 7 for some time. I have also been reporting about features that I find useful or interesting. I have found one that makes Windows 7 worthwhile to me. That is the “BitLocker To Go” feature. This is an extension of the BitLocker functionality that Microsoft released with Windows Vista Ultimate. BitLocker is still only available on the Ultimate version, but now comes with this additional feature that enables the complete encryption of external hard drives or USB thumb drives. I find this extremely useful because I am always worried about losing a USB drive with important documents or pictures that I would not want a stranger to have. With BitLocker To Go, I can live in peace knowing that my data is secured.

You enable it by inserting the removable device into the computer and then starting the BitLocker application. Once it is started, you tell it to encrypt the USB drive and give it a password. It takes care of the rest. The next time that you insert that USB drive into the computer it prompts you for the password before you can access the data on it. If you provide the password and check off an option on the screen, the PC will recognize that drive and make the files available each time that you plug it into that specific machine without you having to retype the password.

If you are wondering if that USB drive will then work on an XP machine, you are in luck. It does. When you insert the USB drive into the XP machine, it prompts you for the password and loads an application that lets you copy the data off the device and use it. However, one of these encrypted drives will not work on Apple Macintosh computers.

If you are like me and are worried about your laptop being stolen or lost, you can use BitLocker to encrypt the entire drive of your machine. The process is straightforward and works automatically. It takes a long time to process initially, but once completed, you have peace of mind. That hard drive’s data will be inaccessible without your password. This is the case even if the drive is removed and put into another machine.

To me, these two related data security features are enough of a justification for upgrading to Windows 7.

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October-19-09

MySpace Moves to SSD Drives – Saves 99% of Power

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions

I am normally wary of any claims of power savings, recycling or turning green made by large corporations. I know that most of the claims are just lip service to the environmentally conscious amongst us. However, I read some news today that makes sense. It seems that the MySpace web site has dumped all its hard drives and switched to solid state devices that are like the thumb drives that most of us carry around. Doing so has reduced the power consumption at the their data center by an astounding 99%. Now that is what I call socially responsible action. It  makes sense from both an environmental perspective and from a power cost savings.

I have a data center in my office and power consumption is now my third largest expense after payroll and rent. It has become such a large expense that I have been looking at ways to trim it. My efforts have been concentrated on replacing older servers that were less efficient with newer ones and also consolidating wherever possible. With this news, I now have another avenue to explore.

MySpace’s move is smart. It is economics coupled with ecological responsibility. Bravo!

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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October-12-09

Windows 7 Libraries – An Awesome Addition to Windows

Posted by Robert Alonso under Software

Everyone is so concerned about Windows 7’s stability and performance that little has been said about the user interface improvements. I have been using the final code now for a couple of weeks and have begun to notice some of these easily overlooked and misunderstood improvements. For now, I will only discuss one that I really life.

Windows 7 introduces a new user interface concept called, “Libraries.” When you first install Windows 7, there are four default libraries. These are:

  • Documents
  • Music
  • Pictures, and
  • Videos

Anyone who has been using Windows for a while will recognize these types of files as being part of My Documents and other like named folders. What makes this a different type of structure is that a library can contain multiple folders on your machine that contain whatever file type you designate. For example, the Music library on my machine contains three folders that have music. One is the folder “My Music” on the “C:\” drive, the other is the public folder for music on my machine and the third is a network location where I store some music. Windows 7 determined these locations from my usage of them in Vista prior to the upgrade. It could not have been from scanning my machine because it missed a large amount of music on my “D:\” drive.

Far more interesting than what Windows put into my library for music is that I can tailor it to my needs. I can add and delete folders that contain music. When you use File/Open or other file based tools including Windows Explorer you are presented with the libraries as if they were folders. You can thus manipulate and use related file types from one location regardless of their real location. The allowed folder locations are:

  • C:\ Drive
  • External Hard Drive
  • Additional Internal Drive
  • USB Flash Drive (as long as certain conditions are met)
  • Network (as long as the location is indexed or has been made available offline)
  • Homegroup

Please note that removable media like CDs and DVD are not supported. Libraries can contain up to 50 folders from the allowed locations (above). You can set the default save location for new items that you save to the library and you can also change the type of file that the library is optimized for. This makes for a very easy-to-use way to categorize your files, access them and save them.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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