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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Monday, November 30, 2009

MUST HAVE: Windows Home Server

Do you have more than one PC or Laptop in your home? Would you like a better way to make sure your computer data is backed up? If you answered yes then like me you want a Windows Home Server for your home network.

Last month, I finally decided that a Home Server system would be a good choice for me. After some serious research, I went ahead and purchased a HP EX490 1TB Mediasmart Home Server . At the time it was $500 but can now be had for $469 USD. I also added some drive space with an extra Western Digital 1.5 TB Caviar Green SATA Hard Drive for only $90.

hpmediasmart harddrive

HP Mediasmart Home Server

I can’t believe I waited so long before picking up this essential device for any home network. Designed as a single device to stream your music, videos and photos the Mediasmart Home Server has a variety of cool functions. For me the single feature which backs up all my computers was well worth the cost. When I first set up the Windows Home Server I had it back up all my home computers which took the better part of the day. Now, it backs up every system in 5-10 minutes and only stores what has changed. Everything is done without any intervention and alerts me only if an error occurs.

If I sound excited it’s because I am. I’m sure, I’m not the only one with 2+ computers at home and this is a must have addition to any home network. For more information on the power and features of the Windows Home Servers check out Microsoft’s Windows Home Server page.

I recommend highly that you add a Windows Home Server to your holiday wish list. This month keep your eyes out for special savings. Today on Twitter I read that Amazon has a HP LX195 MediaSmart Home Server with a 640 GB hard drive on sale for $199 USD. This smaller unit doesn't have room for more internal storage but includes 4 USB ports to easily add more space. If you’ve ever had a hard drive failure and/or looked at the costs of disk recovery you’ll want to order one today.

Full disclosure: As an affiliate of Amazon I do receive a commission if anyone uses the links above to make a purchase. I feel it’s important to disclose because that’s the kind of guy I am. I do hope it won’t diminish my message because I do believe you all should have a Windows Home Server. You won’t regret it. ;)

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Droid Autofocus Camera Problem Solved

In another of my series of Droid articles I wanted to share a recent discovery and address some rumors of a secret silent Droid update. When I first started to use the Droid 5 MP camera I was a little disappointed in the quality. Thankfully, a bug in the camera was confirmed and Motorola quietly acknowledged a fix was coming in a future update.

This week a number of people noticed a sudden improvement in the Droid autofocus feature. An explanation came in the form of a comment on Engaget from purported Google Engineer Dan Morrill. The autofocus problem was due to timestamp rounding error and was fixed automatically once the date has changed. While I question everything, as a programmer I know anything is possible. I’m told a real service update will be provided before the next date cycle screws up the autofocus again. It will be an official update and not a secret silent one.

danmorrill

I’m a skeptical person so I decided it was important to compare photos I took earlier this month with one take today.

This photo was taken on November 9th. Excuse the kitchen rehab mess

kitchen1

kitchen2Taken today November 18th. The lighting change is unrelated to the autofocus changes but the detail is pretty obvious. Nice!

Now, just to confirm the theory, I was able to set the date back on my Droid and take the following photo under similar light conditions.

kitchen4

Thanks to Tech Crunch for bringing this information to my attention.

Previous Driod Posts: http://www.droidpatrol.com

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Droid Day Four; We Have a Map For That

Day One; First Impressions
Day Two; In Search of Apps
Day Three; Copying my Music


I didn’t get to spend a lot of time playing with my Droid today so I don’t have any technical wisdom to share. Instead I can point you to a worthwhile article by Harry McCracken who discusses the new Verizon commercials and AT&T efforts to stop Verizon for what they say are false claims.  Check out…

Lies, Damn Lies and Coverage Maps

Having better coverage is huge.  I love my iTouch and my two year Verizon contract just expired. It would have been natural for me to go for an iPhone.

My decision to get a Droid instead of an iPhone was based completely on my satisfaction with the Verizon network and stories of dropped signals from my friends using AT&T. Even without the stories the 3G maps don’t lie.

The folks at Verizon know this and are going to take full advantage during this Christmas season with commercials like the following.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Droid Day Three; Copying my Music

Day One; First Impressions
Day Two; In Search of Apps

This is my 3rd day playing my new Motorola Droid and logging about my experience. By now you may have realized I never bothered to read any manual or instructions on using the Droid. As a UI freak I wanted to find out how intuitive the Droid User Interface Experience is.

I had hoped to spend today converting my schedule and contacts from my iTouch to the Droid. I decided I could miss some appointments as long as I had some good music to listen too.

droidmusic

The first step naturally was to connect the Droid to my PC using the included USB cable. I opened up Windows Explorer expecting to see a new drive appear or some other indication that a new device had been detected. As a long time Windows users I stared at the screen quite a while until I realized something was wrong.

Well, I confess, I did search online for help on this one. It was not intuitive. Turns out there was another secret hidden in the Notifications panel. When the USB cable is plugged in you can pull down the Notification menu and there it is; ”USB Connected Select to copy files from your computer”

droidusb

When you click on USB connected menu item you’ll see the following screen asking to “Mount” your Droid. I don’t know about you guys but this sounds like ancient computer terminology and doesn’t fit the into modern design. Would R2D2 ever Mount anything? I think not.

Droidusb1Once you click on “Mount” your Droid SD card will show up as a drive on your computer.

The next step again isn’t so obvious. You’ll see a folder for your Google GPS and your camera(DCIM) but there’s no Music folder. You’ll also find a folder named “data” which is used as a data cache similar to your Windows Temporary Internet Folder.

While you’re connected to the computer go ahead and create a folder named “Music” as a top level folder. Then you can just copy your music from the computer to your SD card used in the Droid. Support formats at this time include MP3, M4A, AMR,WMA (8), MIDI, WAV, OGG Vorbis.

You’ll also want to create folder named “Movies”.

When you’re done you’ll still want to (1) eject the drive to make sure all data has been safely written. After that you’ll still want to touch downward on your notifications panel to tell the Droid to (2) Turn off the USB storage.

droidusboffAnd when you touch this menu item you’ll still have one last step to (3) Turn Off, before you want to disconnect the cable. Is there a chance for data lose if you don’t follow all three steps? Probably not but that’s what Apple used to say when they first released the iPod.

droidusboff1

If you have a microSD connector or slot on your computer I’m sure you can also just remove your microSD card from your Droid and plug it in. You’ll still want to create a Movies and Music folder on the microSD chip.

As far as a music player the interface is very intuitive and straight forward. Having a speaker on the back panel provides much cleaner sound quality then my iTouch (rev2) and a much higher volume level.

For some reason I’m still a problem syncing up my album covers but there were only do many hours in the day. I suspect the reason almost all my songs display Jim Morrison's face is just a user error.

Thank you to every one who has contributed comments. I’m still committed to two more days of Droid Blogging and appreciate your participation.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Droid Day Two; In Search of Apps

Instead of writing a full length review of the Droid I’ve chosen to create day by day logs of my Droid experience. I expect by focusing on the stupid things I do it will be helpful to others.  I’ve already had some useful comments posted on my Day One; First Impressions that corrected my beginner ignorance.

I still haven’t totally figured out the Droid interface but I’m getting there.  Today I wanted to see what applications I could find.  I mentioned yesterday that my first downloads were Facebook and a Twitter app called TwitWalk. Thank you to Brian and John for pointing me to a different application called Tridroid. It’s free with a Pro version for $3.99. The text isn’t as large as TwitWalk but the Droid screen is so crisp I’m able to deal with it. Eventually I found there was an option in Twidroid to make the font larger so I’m very happy. Now they need an update for Facebook like we recently had on the iPhone.

Adding applications to my Droid home screen wasn’t obvious. I could “LongTouch” an application to add it to my center home page screen but once it was full that user experience failed. As I write this I just watched a segment on TV about the Droid and noticed I could press one of my alternate home screens to add applications and widgets. Thanks you NBC.  I realize they can’t make everything just like the iPhone but this was confusing. My next challenge is to figure out how to remove apps or widgets from my home screens.  I can’t figure it out and now my home page is full. 

After searching online for help I discovered if you press an icon long enough the tab at the bottom turns into a trash can. Just needed to drag my app there. So the LongTough or LongClick is kinda like the right-click on Windows. It’s not obvious to everyone but is very powerful.

Multi-Tasking
One of the big deals about the Android OS is you can multi-task. I would be more impressed if I knew how to switch between applications without always having to go to the home page and re-open it. My friend Brian did point out that what looked like multiple open applications along the top I reported yesterday were actually notifications. I finally realized that anytime I get new Tweets and new messages on Facebook I get a little notification at top so my notification panel is pretty much always full and making noises. Once I figured out how to pull down the Notification panel menu I also found a way to switch back to open applications.

Advanced Task Killer
Oddly enough, most applications don’t have a simple Exit or Close so one of the first applications I was told to get was Advanced Task Killer. I was surprised when I ran this and realized all my apps were still open. I killed them and voila’ all my notifications were gone.

  

Slingbox
My first disappointment came looking for an application to view my home Slingbox. This is one of the applications I used on my iTouch all the time. There are some conflicting opinions online if an Android version of Slingbox will be available. My sources say it doesn’t look good.


WeatherBug
I was reluctant about downloading WeatherBug. Years ago they were one of the folks connected to the adware scum bags at Gator. I never thought I’d use WeatherBug again but I can’t deny this is a first class app. It’s still ad supported but I’m guessing this time I can remove it if I want.


Google Sky Map

Just one very cool app. Just go outside and it will let you know all about the constellations in your night sky based on your GPS location.  I’m anxious to see if it will download and include special events like when the space station is visible.


Barcode Scanner

This is another one of a kind, just for fun application. If you really want the people of Walmart to stop and take photos of you just go around the store reading barcodes with your Droid. It really works.


Application Power Usage

One of my favorite features is hidden away under Settings –> About phone –> Battery Use.  This screen provides more information than any other device including any PC I have ever used. Not only does it tell you how much power the phone and display are using, it tells you how much power is being used by individual applications that use hardware features.

 

droidbattery

 

Stay tuned for Day Three. I think I’m going to work on getting my calendar and contacts updated.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Verizon Droid Day One; First Impressions

I’ve tried them all and I’m still not sure how we classify the new Motorola Droid. We’ve called them plenty of names; SmartPhone, Personal Digital Assitant, Pocket-PC, AppPhone but there isn’t a generic term yet for a iPhone Wannabe Device(IWD).

Of all the hand-held digital devices, I’m pretty excited about the Droid. I’ve been an iTouch user for over a year but it’s not a phone. I’ve used a Verizon MiFi for internet access so I can use the apps which are actually more valuable to me than a phone. I refused to switch to an iPhone because AT&T 3G service in our area stinks. The Droid may finally provide almost everything I needed in a single hand-held device.

If you’re looking for a full review of the Droid this isn’t one of them. There are hundreds of them online that review specs and typical review topics. This is as the title says Day One and I’ll tell you what I like along with all stupid things I still haven’t figured out. Watch for Day Two through Four and more as I explore more this week and learn how to unleash the full potential of the Droid.


Physical Keyboard Day One
Not all Droids have the physical keyboard which is a little confusing. I have the Motorola Droid but Verizon is also selling the HTC Droid Eris which only has a virtual keyboard and uses an older version of the Android operating system.

I thought one of the things I’d really love is having a physical slide out keyboard. So far (it’s only day one) I still like using the virtual keyboard. When I did use the physical keyboard weird screens would pop up because I may have been hitting shortcut keys. Keep in mind I’ve been using an iTouch and I don’t have any experience using a Blackberry type device. As far as virtual keyboard goes I like it even better than my iTouch. The Droid has a much better predictive dictionary so I don’t have to touch as many characters.

Applications Day One
Apple make have a million applications but just so many you really need. It took me a little while before I realized I needed to open the “Market” icon if I wanted the App Store. For me, the first apps I downloaded were Facebook and a Twitter client called “Twitwalk”. Facebook is barely usable and doesn’t come close to the one of the iPhone. Twitwalk is pretty plain but usable. I picked TwitWalk because it has the most stars but there are many others. I’ll write about other applications as I learn more.

The weirdest thing I’ve experienced is on the top of the screen. It appears that I’m running multiple copies of applications. I remember someone on Twitter saying they had to download a program to close apps but I suspect this is user error. There is a Manage Applications selection under Settings but it doesn’t seem to list what I’m seeing on the top bar.



Camera Day One
I’ve read good and bad things about the camera. It’s very easy to use and below was my first successful posting of a photo from my Droid to Facebook. My first attempt was to use the “Take a Photo” button on the Facebook application. This resulted in what looked like a thumbnail in my Mobile Uploads library. What I finally did was go into the Droid “Gallery”, find the photo and then share it with Facebook to get a reasonable size.

droid1

Stay Tuned for more photo and video tests later this week.

Phone Day One
Making my first call was simple and as easy like it should be. The call quality was exceptional. When I received my first phone call it almost didn’t happen. I tried to touch the green phone on the screen but didn’t know I actually had to slide it to the right to answer.

One cool thing that worked on Day One without any effort was importing friends into my Contact list from Facebook. This was a surprise and was kind of cool when I saw my wife’s Facebook profile photo appear on my phone when she called.


GPS Day One
As far as a phone goes the GPS is brilliant but still needs a little work to compete with stand alone devices. I took one short trip around town using the GPS along side my Garmin Nuvi but it probably isn’t a fair comparison. It didn’t help that the Droid kept calling my street “Sunni-side” Road and not Sunnyside. I’m going to need a little more time to fully evaluate this feature.
droid1

Tomorrow I’ll be spending some time in a hospital waiting room so I should have plenty of time to explore more. Stay Tuned for My Droid Day Two.



Day Two; In Search of Apps

Day Three; Copying my Music

Day Four; We have a Map for That


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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

How Apple Failed the Macintosh

Yea, I know may get slammed with hate mail for this one but I am open to alternate opinions. The market has been ripe for Apple to pick up a sizable portion of the computer share but it has failed. According to market researchers IDC and Gartner, Macintosh sales are up but their share is still way below 10%. That compares to PC sales by Acer and Toshiba. Why doesn’t the Mac have a larger market share?

Apple Inc has a polished image, high customer satisfaction and its brand identity couldn't be much better. People who chose Macs have been very happy with their purchase. The only portable music play anyone wants is an iPod. The iPhone has set the bar so high for cell phones that companies are struggling to keep up. The stock value of AAPL is double what it was a year ago and is still climbing.

So, why are people still forking over their hard earned money for Windows 7 machines and not Macs? It doesn't make sense. Did Apple drop the ball while Steve Jobs was on sick leave? In their efforts to target the cool people did they missed an opportunity to attract the main stream market disappointed with Windows Vista?

In the early days, Apple ruled the education market. When families were deciding on a home computer purchase it was easy. If the kids are learning on an Apple, then we should have an Apple at home. Now, the education market doesn't hold the same impact. The business community now has computers on every desk and the same logic holds true. If I'm using a Windows PC at work, I'm probably going to want a Windows laptop or PC at home.

Lately, the advertisements for Mac have been spending a lot of time telling you what's wrong with Windows. This appeals to current Mac fans but doesn’t give us a reason to switch. They need to spend more time telling people what is right with the Mac.


Current Mac vs Windows 7 Ad

When Apple does talk about how much fun you'll have on a Mac they forget something important. Sure we all want to create musical slideshows and videos but many of still have to do word processing and spreadsheets. Maybe you can't make my database more fun but I'd listen if Apple told me how I could be more productive on their Mac. Doesn’t Apple want to see a Mac in the office environment? Check out this ad from 1990 when they did it right.


This ad from 1990 is timeless

While most of my cool friends are using a Mac nothing has compelled me to switch. I’m not suggesting the Mac is a bad machine and I’m not trying to compare Snow Leopard to Windows 7. I just think Apple failed the Macintosh and lost a chance to establish a 15-20% of the market share. I am a fan of Apple Computer Inc. and I use my iTouch daily. In the late 80's they published their "Human Interface Guidelines" which opened my mind to better understanding the computer user experience. If you'd like to open my mind to other ideas just click on the Comments link and share your thoughts. Are Mac users happy to be a elite group or would they benefit from more attention from software and hardware developers?

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Win a Copy of Windows 7 Ultimate


I'm pleased this month I have a special prize I can hopefully give away to one of my readers. While attending the Windows 7 NYC Launch Party I received a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate with Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer’s signature. I already have Windows 7 so I wanted to share this version with someone special. Since this month WinPatrol will be 12 years old I thought it was be a great time to celebrate WinPatrol's Anniversary by giving away some valuable prizes.

Brian Peek and Steve Balmer7My friend Brian Peek, co-author of Coding4fun and Steve at the Win7 Launch

Scotty's 12th Birthday Celebration

Tell your friends about WinPatrol and win!

The first version of WinPatrol was released on November 19th, 1997 so this month Scotty will be celebrating his 12th birthday. To show his appreciation to all the PLUS members who have spread the word Scotty wants to share some of his favorite toys. If you have helped a friend or family member by having them adopt Scotty you can register to win. If not, you have until November 19th tell your friends to get on board and become a WinPatrol supporter.

The grand prize:  Windows 7 Ultimate Signature Edition 


GRAND PRIZE


FIVE 2ND PRIZES
1 GB USB Wristbands with WinPatrolToGo

Your chance to win is 1 in 10. For every 10 entries in the contest, a 1 GB WinPatrolToGo USB Wristband will be added to the prizes! A minimum of five wristbands will be awarded. The partner of whoever wins the Grand Prize will also receive a 1 GB WinPatrolToGo wristband.


Click here to Enter

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