31 December, 2010

Top 5 Tech Purchases For 2010—#1

Amazon Kindle.

Ok, this was a birthday present, not a purchase.

Best birthday present ever.

I have the 3G+WiFi model, but I almost never use the WiFi. Unfortunately, they don’t make a 3G only model anymore, just a WiFi only model.

I wasn’t sure I wanted one of these for the longest time. It irked me (and still does) that it’s black and white. The original one irked me with its limited support for other formats, like PDF.

What doesn’t irk me is how well it works, and how easy it is to use and to read. I also got the Lighted Leather Cover. It’s very nice, much nicer than typical book lights. Whether you get the lighted one or not, I do recommend a cover of some kind, just for protection.

Readers like me whose eyes aren’t as good as they used to be will love the crisp clean display and love the fact that you can resize the fonts as big as you like.


  • Size. Fits comfortably in your hands. It’s about the size of a paperback book.
  • Display. Unlike a tablet computer such as an iPad, the digital ink display is easily readable in bright sunlight. In fact, it looks like reading a book in bright sunlight.
  • Cost. Yes, you spend the $150-$200 up front to get the thing, but if you read much at all it pays for itself quickly. Kindle books are much cheaper than regular books.
  • Convenience. There are Kindle readers now for just about every device you can imagine, from phones to personal computers. You can download the book you’re reading to any Kindle reader on any device you own, and it knows where you stopped reading. Then if you go back to the Kindle, it will again know where you stopped reading.
  • Weight. I don’t travel as much as I used to, but I used to get on a lot of planes. And I always carried books to read with me. Often this would be two or three or more books, depending on the length of the trip. And I’d guess about half of them or more were hardback books. That adds a lot of weight to your carry on luggage. The Kindle weighs about the same as one paperback book and yet can hold thousands of books.


  • Black & White. Amazon wants you to be able to read magazines, RSS feeds, and technical books on your Kindle. Quite a few of these have color pictures and charts. Those don’t come over very well. If you’re just using it to read books by the pool for enjoyment, you’ll never notice this.
  • Proprietary format. Actually, I don’t know if this is a con for me or not, but I am sure it would be for some people. Barnes & Noble has pretty much lost me as a customer. I can’t go to B&N and buy a book for my Kindle. Amazon has me locked into their service. If it wasn’t so cheap, that might bother me, but it doesn’t.

    Actually, the format is well known and other publishers could publish to it, but I don’t believe anyone does. Eventually, this is something that’s going to have to get ironed out in the e-reader market. There will be one standard format, and all e-readers will be able to handle it. We’ll get there eventually, but don’t hold your breath. Look at all the different music formats we have out there.

Anyway, this is my favorite gadget of 2010, ahead even of the laptop and the phone. Worth every penny. Frankly, it’d be worth every penny at twice the price.

Top 5 Tech Purchases For 2010—#2

Dell Precision Mobile Workstation M4500.

I haven’t used a desktop computer in 10 years. We have three personal computers at my house and all three are laptops. We have a couple servers too, which aren’t. I recently had to change the DVD drive on my wife’s HP laptop and I was reminded once again why I’ll never buy anything but a Dell again.

Yes, Dell has had some issues in recent years. They started cutting corners on cost, which made their computers less reliable. They also shipped all their phone support off shore at the same time. So, they had bad phone support at a time when they needed it most. Not a good combination to say the least.

They seem to have learned from their mistakes. Support is back on shore and the quality is back up. And they understand that even laptops need parts changes occasionally, and that needs to be as simple as possible. That’s something that has always been a feature of Dell computers.

The Dell Precision M4500 is almost their top of the line laptop. Many laptops bill themselves as desktop replacements. This one really is. It has two quad core Intel i7 processors and a nice big 15.6” screen, and a much better than average video card. My dock has two HDMI outs, and I have been able to run anything I desire. Video card can keep up with all the current games, and my 500 GB hard drive is big enough to store whatever I need. My system rating is a 5.9. The slowest part is the disk drive or I’d be up near 7.

This is a wonderful machine.


  • Dual Quad i7’s
  • nVidia Quadro FX 1800M video card
  • Dual HDMI outs
  • 500 GB HD


  • 8 GB RAM. That’s the max that can go in this beast. The 6500M can handle 16 GB and actually has an even better video card as well as a 17” screen upgrade. However, the 6500 costs about $1000 more than the 4500 once you load it up, and the 4500 ain’t cheap. In fact…
  • Cost. While you get a good bang for your buck with Dell, to get this many bangs, you’re still spending quite a few bucks.
  • No WiFi support for 802.11n. Limited to 802.11g.
  • No USB 3 support.
  • SSD’s are still too small and too expensive. I had a Crucial 250 GB SSD in the machine for a while, but it was unreliable for my usage style.

    Top 5 Tech Purchases For 2010—#3

    HTC EVO 4G.

    I admit it. I’m a huge fan of HTC smartphones. The EVO is my 3rd, and first Android phone. I won’t say I’ll never switch from HTC, but it would have to be a very impressive phone for me to even consider it.

    The EVO is THE world class smartphone. Nothing is as good. Very few are even good enough to be considered competitors, and all fall short in some way or another. The iPhone4? Slow, small, 3G only, and currently only available on AT&T, the worst of the cell phone providers. The Droid X? Awkward shape, and 3G only, but if you’re stuck with Verizon, this is the best you can do until the HTC Thunderbolt becomes available. Samsung Epic? Closest you can get to an EVO, and has the advantage of a slide out keyboard (although that does make it bulkier), but it’s a Samsung, and thus doesn’t have the HTC Sense UI.

    Windows Phone 7 has recently been released, and does have some interesting devices. I’m a longtime Windows Mobile user, but WP7 seems a little too late for me. We’ll see. Right now the app market is too small, and WP7 hasn’t really been put to the test. And for me, they don’t have any Sprint offerings, so I’m not interested just yet. I’m a Sprint Premier customer, so I can upgrade my phone every year. Check in this time next year, I may have more to say about WP7 phones.


    • 4G
    • Size – bigger than an iPhone, but small enough to fit in a pocket
    • HTC Sense UI
    • Android


    • HTC Sense UI. I love HTC Sense, but many prefer a “clean” Android experience, and it’s likely that having that makes upgrades easier.
    • Video calls don’t work quite as well as I’d like. That’s the only thing that I’d like to see significant improvement. Still, it’s far superior to the iPhone in that it works in 3G, 4G and WiFi. iPhone video calls are WiFi only. There’s no doubt that this is the next major feature revolution in cell phones. Give it another year or two and all the smartphones will have it and the software will be significantly better and easier to use.
    • Battery life. This is the bugaboo of all smartphones. Still, I do ok with my EVO. I have to charge it every night, but that was the case with my previous two smartphones as well. It lasts me through the day with normal use, so I’m happy.

    Top 5 Tech Purchases For 2010—#4

    Acronis True Image Home.

    Yes, I know #5 was also a backup solution. What can I say? Backup is important.

    Unlike Crashplan, Acronis True Image does full system backups. Once set up the system runs in complete “set it and forget it” mode. You can tell it how long to keep backups around, how often to run them, etc. It does a mix of full, incremental, and differential backups to minimize space requirements and maximize reliability. Like Crashplan and Carbonite, Acronis does have an Online Backup offering. It’s pricey, though, at $50/yr. for a mere 250 GB of storage. Need more than that and you’ll probably want to do some combination of Acronis and Crashplan. And now you see why they’re both on the list.

    True Image has a continuous method too, that seems to be incredibly quick and doesn’t chew up your disk space.

    I did have some problems with it not pruning old backups automatically for me, but I recently got an updated version (updates come down automatically), and the problem seems to have been resolved. The real problem for me is that I have so much data that needs to be backed up, and my external backup drive is only 2 TB. That doesn’t allow for many backup versions to be stored. I think I’d be ok with a 4 or 5 TB drive, but those just aren’t available. If you’re not a disk hog like me, you should be fine.

    Acronis also offers a family pack which contains three licenses for Acronis True Image. The current pricing for this is $60 which is a great deal. Deal expires today, though.


    • Set it and forget it
    • System backup
    • Continuous option
    • Automatic updates
    • Automatic pruning of backup sets


    • Offsite storage is pricey and limited in size.

    Top 5 Tech Purchases for 2010–#5


    If you watch FNC or other cable programming, you’ve likely seen ads for Carbonite. I think they advertise on Rush, too.

    Well, no offense to El Rushbo, but Crashplan is better and cheaper than Carbonite. They offer a similar service, an online backup mechanism.

    One advantage Crashplan offers over Carbonite is that you don’t have to use Crashplan’s servers. You can back up to any machine that has Crashplan installed. So, if you have several computers at home, you can have them all back up to each other. This gives you some reliability, but you’re still in trouble if your house burns down. But Crashplan allows keycodes to be exchanged between its users, and you can backup to anywhere if you have the appropriate keycodes. Thus, if your friend or relative has Crashplan, you can exchange backups there, as well, thus giving you the offsite security necessary for a true backup system.

    The cost of all this? $0. Crashplan is completely free as long as you don’t use their servers. But even if you do, it’s cheaper than Carbonite. Carbonite costs $55/yr. per computer. Crashplan’s per computer price is $50/yr., and $120/yr. gets you every computer in your house. Multi-year discounts are available cutting the price even more. This cost is for unlimited data. That’s important when comparing Crashplan and Carbonite with other online storage. Many companies charge you based upon data size. Also, the non-free version of the app has a few more features, such as continuous backups, which can be nice.

    In a nutshell:


    • Price. It’s hard to beat free, and even their $$ offerings are cheaper than the competition.
    • Offsite storage
    • Version archives. Crashplan allows you to keep as many versions of a file as you want. You also can recover deleted files, and set a time frame for how long deleted files are kept in the archive.
    • Paid version can be set to run continuously or to exclude certain times of the day
    • CPU/Bandwidth throttles


    • Crashplan is a file backup, not a system backup. You can’t use it to backup your applications and system settings.
    • Crashplan works by doing an initial seed of everything in your backup folders, and then looking for differences. If your initial seed is large (mine was several hundred GB), this may take a while. And by a while, I mean weeks. It ain’t incredibly speedy on restores, either. Plan on spending at least a day or two restoring your data, longer if the data is offsite or very large.

    The Streak Is Over

    Rats. I was hoping they would make it to 100.

    The UConn women lost last night to Stanford, 71-59. This after 90 consecutive wins. Stanford was the last team to beat UConn before the streak as well. Coincidentally, this is exactly what happened with the UCLA men’s 88 game streak in the 70s. Notre Dame was the last team to beat them, and the team that ended the streak as well.

    They have seemed a little less dominant this season, so this is probably not surprising, just disappointing for them and their fans. I don’t rate the women’s teams with my computer, so I can’t add data which supports my opinion. Maybe I’ll add that in sometime.

    Anyway, hats off to UConn and to Stanford. And good luck to both teams as the season moves forward.

    27 December, 2010

    GOP Unveils New House Rules

    Read here or here.

    There’s some good stuff here and some fluff. Former members can’t use the House gym? I suppose that’s to keep lobbying out of the House, but it seems like window dressing to me.

    Reading of the Constitution? Photo op. Blegh.

    I like the separate vote on raising the debt ceiling, but there’s no doubt that’s going to be contentious.

    But the stuff about committee roll calls, committee votes, and making the text of the bills public all sounds great.

    I like the idea of CUT/GO, but then I like PAY/GO too.

    Let me repeat. All of that sounds great.

    We heard similar things before the start of the 111th Congress. The Democrats repeatedly ignored their own rules. If PAY/GO had been enforced, almost nothing the 111th House did would have ever been passed. We’ll see how the GOP House does. I remain skeptical.

    I give it a tentative thumbs up, but will state again something I’ve been saying for months and expect to say often over the next two years.

    Actions speak louder than words, GOP. If you think of this as a second chance, you’re wrong. It’s your last chance.