Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

2 TB added to my Home Server

January 27th, 2009 Comments off

398_LRG It wasn’t easy and I’m not sure I’m totally satisfied but I added 2 TB to my Windows Home Server.  I stuck with the Vantec eSATA card I had already purchased (that doesn’t support Port Multiplier) and bought a Fantom 2TB hard drive from NewEgg as the external drive.  It’s just a nice looking enclosure with 2 1TB hard drives inside it.  The Fantom enclosure lets you pick RAID, individual drives, or SPAN which combines the two drives into one contiguous space.  I had to use the latter mode since I didn’t have a PM capable eSATA card.

The not easy part was the fact that the first Fantom external HD I got from Newegg sounded like a jet engine when it was turned off (the cooling fan is incredibly loud).  I RMA’d it with Newegg and got a replacement unit and it was just as loud, which sucks since Newegg now charges 15% to restock no matter what.  Ugh.

Then I purchased a replacement cooling fan (40mm x 40mm x 10mm) from Fry’s, a Silenx model but it had a 3 pin connector instead of a 2 pin connector that was in the stock fan in the enclosure.  Double ugh.

I ordered a replacement from (cheap and fast delivery!) that had the right connector and seemed to be quieter (albeit less CFM and slower fan speed, but that seemed like an ok tradeoff).  I plugged in the replacement fan but no joy, didn’t work.  Triple ugh.

This evening I decided to lop off the original 2 pin connector and soldered it on to the replacement fan and voila! now it’s working..

So after a lot of work I got the enclosure to work (and not sound incredibly loud!) and have the extra 2 TB of storage I was looking for.

Parts list:

Vantec UGT-ST300 (Vantec SATA/eSATA PCI Host Card)

Fantom G-Force MegaDisk eSATA / USB 2 (in 2TB capacity, drives included)

AddA 40mm x 10mm 12v VGA/Chipset 2-pin Ball Bearing Fan

Categories: PC, Review, Technology, Windows Home Server Tags:

Earth: The Biography – National Geographic Channel

July 25th, 2008 Comments off

Earth - The Power of the Planet - Programme 3 We’ve been watching Earth The Biography on the National Geographic Channel (in HD) over the last week.  It’s a fascinating series on how the Earth was formed thru today on how the Earth’s systems sustain us (air, water, land).  The series is narrated by Iain Stewart, evidently a well known scientist.  Stewart is an excellent narrator and his enthusiasm is infectious.  I learned a lot from this series and absolutely loved the visual way that they illustrate all of their points.  The photography and cinematography were just beautiful, especially in HD!  A couple of things that I learned that were surprising:

A staggering 40 million tons of dust is transported from the Sahara across the Atlantic to the Amazon rain forest every year by the wind.  (Atmosphere)

and Methane is being released from permafrost in Siberia.  There is so much being released that you can light it on fire even if the gas is nestled in solid ice!  (You have to see it to appreciate it.)

Definitely worth watching!

Links: Earth: The Biography, Iain Stewart

Categories: Geology, Link, Review, Science Tags:

iPhone 3G: Day 9

July 22nd, 2008 Comments off

iphone My iPhone switcher experiment is in Day 9 and I’m still not quite ready to give up on my old Windows Mobile phone.  I’ve definitely warmed up to the iPhone but still find it lacking in some areas that important to me (and I’m probably in the minority of users here).  Without further ado . . .

  • Battery Life – I think I’ve gotten to a middle ground that works for me.  I’m leaving 3G on all the time though AT&T’s 3G network leaves much to be desired in the SF Bay Area.  I only turn WiFi on when I need it and I’ve turned location based services (GPS) off entirely.  Bluetooth is on all the time (otherwise I’ll forget to turn it on when I get in my car).  The big one is that I’ve set Exchange ActiveSync to check every 30 minutes instead of direct push.  I was quite used to have push email on all the time on my HTC Touch Dual so it’s an adjustment but I guess I don’t really need push email when I’ve got a laptop handy.  It’s going to be interesting to see what happens on my first multi-day trip with the battery life.
  • Mail application – Still a lot wrong with this application.  I can’t search for email.  I can’t sort email by person or size or anything besides data (and in most recent order at that).  The mail application doesn’t let you download attachments and keep them on the phone (not even talking about the file system).  Every time I want to open an attachment, say a powerpoint file, it has to download it all over again.  Moving between email accounts involves waaaaaaaaaay too many swipes and touches.  Come on Apple, simplify this a little bit.  I know of a great design firm that will tell you what your users think ;-), go talk to them.
  • ewallet App Store – I like the intent of a lot of the applications (both paid and free) that are available in the app store.  However, most of them feel like beta code and need some polish.  I know the ecosystem here is just getting started but early indications are really good.  The Windows Mobile apps I use are rock solid, but don’t have anywhere near the user experience possible on the iPhone so I’m holding out hope.  I like the apps that let you interact with your social networks.  Would love to see a dedicated app.  And of course, eWallet is going to be my favorite once they actually let me sync my current data!
  • Responsiveness – I’m on the fence about the responsiveness of the UI.  Sometimes it works really really well, and other times it feels like I’m touching the same button multiple times to have the phone recognize what I’m trying to do.  Since it works really well sometimes, I’m going to chalk this up to the firmware in the phone.  Contacts is a great example:  I have about 300 contacts synced (via Exchange) and it’s a good 7 to 8 seconds (!) before I can use the app after launch.
  • Bluetooth – totally unimpressive.  Bad implementation, lots of echo in my car bluetooth kit (had no trouble before with multiple phones).  No profiles beyond handsfree.  Fail.
  • Mobile Safari – I like it.  Well done, much easier to use than any other mobile browser I’ve used before.  Big screen makes a huge difference.  3G speeds not bad for casual surfing.
  • Call Quality – seems fine.  Speakerphone is not very loud.  But otherwise, people hear me clearly, I can’t turn up the earpiece volume as much as I’d like.  Not sure what that’s about.
Categories: iPhone, Review Tags:

iPhone 3G vs. Windows Mobile (HTC Touch Dual)

July 14th, 2008 2 comments

photo I bought an iPhone 3G yesterday and it’s been an interesting experience.  My last several phones have been Windows Mobile (of the touchscreen variety) and I’ve gotten quite used to that Phone OS warts and all.  I’ve only been using the iPhone for a day and am still learning how to use it but will start sharing some of what I like and don’t like about the phone.  These are not in any sort of priority order.

One thing I’ve noticed for sure is that AT&T’s 3G coverage is not great.  I get 2 bars of 3G reception in my office at work, if I turn the 3G radio off I get 5 bars of normal/EDGE reception.

Also, the bluetooth handsfree with my car doesn’t seem to implemented well.  I have a terrible echo that makes it hard to have a conversation and can’t control the gain on the microphone.

Like Don’t Like
Innovative use of the accelerometer – I’ll get used to the phone turning itself off when near my ear real fast, love that No copy and paste
Screen quality is nice, easy to read in all types of light You can’t toggle email messages as read/unread in the mail client.
Exchange integration is ok and a start.  Not enterprise ready though. I could be wrong but I can’t sort email by sender or size, or anything besides date received
App Store integration is really nice, fluid and easy to use. I want the home screen to actually have some data (like my next appointment, the actual weather) instead of just a launcher for applications
Integration of different apps on the phone is nice, like saving a picture from the web and then making it your wallpaper Battery life is so so (as expected)
Eye candy.  What a pleasing user interface to look at, easy to use with a finger and easy on the eyes. Keyboard is hard to use when typing URLs or email addresses because the fancy auto correct can’t help in those situations
  Can’t search the the whole device – consolidated search on email, contacts, notes
  Can’t send outgoing meeting invites
  Quality of applications on App Store are still early beta type software (as expected, this can only get better)
  Can’t click on the conference call dial-in # in a calendar invite to initiate a call.  Have to memorize the number and the meeting id!

Yes, the don’t like list is longer right now mostly because I’m comparing the phone to my Windows Mobile experience.  We’ll see how this goes with greater usage.  My favorite Windows Mobile application (Iliumsoft’s eWallet) is still not out for the iPhone and they won’t allow syncing of my existing data till August!  How will I survive?! 🙂

Categories: iPhone, Mobile, Review, Technology Tags:

When We Left Earth – Discovery

July 2nd, 2008 2 comments

Astronaut-EVA I’ve been watching the space travel history program on Discovery HD called When We Left Earth.  It was absolutely fascinating to learn about the history of the entire US space program from Mercury to International Space Station.  I was an avid fan of NASA when I was growing up (who wasn’t?) so it was really interesting to revisit my memories and emotions of the Challenger explosion (1986, I was in 8th grade in Texas) as well as the Colombia disintegration (2003, married, Chicago).  I still remember our math (or science?) teacher walking into our class in 1986 telling us that Challenger had exploded and we all couldn’t believe it.  If I remember correctly they let us go home early and the whole walk home my friends and I kept thinking they must’ve survived, they must’ve ejected not knowing that there were no escape/safety systems at the time.  We stayed glued to our televisions the entire night waiting for some news to give us hope.  I found the Colombia incident to be just as shocking but this time found out from Internet news sites after I woke up and had breakfast.  The same types of feeling ensued 🙁

I definitely enjoyed the detailed interviews they did with players during each of the major moments.  Armstrong’s views on the moon landing.  Loved hearing from the real Gene Kranz and have more respect for Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and how much it felt connected to the real events.

If you get a chance, it’s worth watching!

Links: When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions

Categories: Link, Review, Science, Space Travel Tags:

Backing up to the cloud – experience with Amazon’s S3

March 19th, 2008 Comments off

I’m a newfound massive fan of Windows Home Server.  It’s made my backup life much easier across multiple PCs (work and home).  There is a user community developing plugins for WHS and one that I’ve been trying out recently is called Jungledisk.  It lets me choose to backup some of my files from the Windows Home Server machine (for instance, my pictures) to Amazon’s S3 storage service.  The plugin is seamless, you install it and plugin in your Amazon login info for S3 (public and private key’s) and then specify what you want to backup to the cloud.

I’ve been backing up my Pictures for several days now 🙂 and have another day and half to go, but like the fact that all of our photos will be backed up on Amazon’s servers, hopefully across multiple data centers on their side.

The best part?  After days and days of uploading (I’m sure Comcast thinks I’m a bittorrent movie sharer now), my Amazon bill is three dollars.  I love it 🙂



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Goodbye Kaiser, Hello Touch Dual

February 3rd, 2008 Comments off

htctouchdual_141x440 In my never ending search for the perfect cell phone and PDA I think I spent the least amount of time with my HTC Kaiser (aka Tytn II aka AT&T Tilt).  I recently sold it and got a new phone, the HTC Touch Dual.

So far I really like the Dual, it gives me the right balance between a full PDA with touch-screen and a phone that is small enough to carry in a breast pocket in a pinch.

Things I like about the Touch Dual:

  • Touch screen seems much improved, much easier to use TouchFLO as well as general thumb-driven applications.
  • Very small.  For a windows mobile phone.  Reminds me of my old (very old) i-mate JAM.
  • Comes with a 20-key keyboard (like a Blackberry Pearl) that once you use it for a couple days is really quite nice.  I’m not having any trouble typing out words without looking as the predictions are spot on.
  • Great battery life, so far frankly seems like better battery life than the much larger Kaiser.

Things I miss from the Kaiser:

  • Slightly larger screen
  • Integrated GPS.  I didn’t use it often, but when I needed it, it was handy.
  • I don’t miss the WiFi as I never used it.
  • Full size keyboard – as nice as the 20-keyboard is, I could thumb type much faster on the full size Kaiser keyboard.
  • And that’s about it!

All in all, I think I’ll stick with the Touch Dual for a while.  Improvements I’d like to see in the next generation include GPS and a side slide keyboard instead of the orientation now.

Categories: Mobile, Review, Technology Tags:

Firefox Add-ons / Extensions

January 12th, 2008 Comments off

firefox I’ve tried out so many different Firefox Extensions over time it kind of surprises me recently that I only have 5 or 6 actually loaded at any given time.  I guess over time I’ve trimmed my browser experience down to the core few that I need.

Here are my favorite extensions (in alphabetical order):

  • ChromaTabs:  Assigns a unique color to a tab based on a hash derived from the web sites domain name.  Kind of useful because you get the same color for each site even between browsing sessions.
  • Bookmarks:  The Yahoo / Delicious add-on.  Just recently started using this one and I like it so far.  Easier to tag things for remembering later as well as easy to search for things based on tags.
  • FireFTP:  Can’t live without it, my favorite FTP client now.  I back things up to the cloud every couple weeks and this makes it easy to do so.  I also use a backup program called SecondCopy for heavy duty tasks.
  • Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer:  Big fan of bookmark sync, wish these guys would create a cross-platform Internet Explorer version!
  • Image Zoom:  Gives you a lot of control over images in your browser, easy to zoom in or out or define custom sizes.  Custom sizes are really handy for some of the webcams we have at work that embed a live video stream in a java app in a browser.
  • Tab Mix Plus:  If you like Tabs, you’ll like Tab Mix Plus.  Trust me.
  • Toolbar Buttons:  Lets you add a bunch of custom buttons to your toolbar in firefox so you can choose what requires "one-click" access, including web sites / bookmarks, or features / functions inside Firefox (like FireFTP!)
Categories: Review, Software, Technology Tags:

Restore on Windows Home Server

December 13th, 2007 Comments off

I seem to have a failed hard drive every 6 months or so.  This week was the first time that I had to rebuild a PC since I started doing daily backups with Windows Home Server.  One of the drives in my RAID 0 array on my main PC failed and I was unable to boot.  I keep a spare hard drive at home, so I took out the failed drive and plugged in the new one.  I put in the Windows Home Server Restore CD and booted up.  No issues with the CD finding all of the relevant drivers, though I did have to unplug the USB cable to my Dell monitor so that all of the media card reader slots wouldn’t show up as drive letters.

I had setup a new RAID 0 array in the BIOS but then had to go thru the Disk Manager in the Restore CD to be able to format the drive.  All was going well till I got an error along the lines of “unable to connect to home server due to a network error”.  I tried everything I could think of to get the Restore CD PC to recognize my server to no avail.

I finally solved the problem by unplugging my Router from the internet / WAN connection, and also unplugging all devices besides the Restore PC and the Home Server.  After that the Restore PC was able to find the Home Server, I selected the most recent backup and 3 hours later I was up and running again without any further configuration!  Besides the hiccup with networking (my guess is NetBIOS naming problems) I can’t complain at all.  WHS came thru and has already paid for itself in saved time!

Categories: PC, Review, Software Tags:

Windows Home Server impressions

November 5th, 2007 Comments off

whs I maintain a server at home that I’ve been using for several years to handle routine backups and media sharing / serving for not only our Shuttle SD37P2 but also my work laptop.  I had been using Windows Server 2003 and was using Second Copy to handle the file backup.  I had to go in and manually define which folders to backup and and on what schedule.  It worked well enough though I did find that I’d missed backing up certain files after a few crashes.  I did like Second Copy’s ability to backup to a remote FTP server as well.

After Windows Home Server was announced I was intrigued by the seamless nature of the daily backups, disk duplication as well as single file instance (or whatever Microsoft calls it).  WHS promised to backup my entire PC and maintain daily incremental backups.  With the single file instance, I could be assured that files my wife and I share, or files that were similar from my desktop to laptop would only be stored once on the server.

My cousin hooked me up with a copy of Windows Home Server and I decided to repurpose my existing server (SK41G) which is now 5 years old.  I added 512 MB of RAM taking it to 1 GB (not needed, just felt it was cheap) and added another 500 GB ATA drive to supplement that 500 GB drive I already had, taking me to a total of 1 TB of storage.  I didn’t have to configure the drives, WHS automatically handles multiple drives in a RAID-like environment

The installation was seamless and I have to say I haven’t been this satisfied with a Microsoft product . . . well, ever!  I get daily backups, have used it a few times to save myself from some errors and I have easy access to my machines thru the domain.  (I had this before thru remote desktop but it’s even easier now).

I’m missing the ability to stream media right now, but WHS promises to be quite extensible with their “Add-In” technology.  Right now I’m using two Add-Ins, one called Wake On LAN and another to connect to my Tivo HD.  The former lets me wakeup my desktop PC even if it’s in standby, and the second lets me move video files back and forth to the Tivo, also provides access to our music.

So far the amount of storage being used is really quite amazing (I have 20+ days of daily backups right now for two different PC’s that are running Vista Ultimate).  Out of the 1 TB of storage:

  • 20 GB for System files (Windows Home Server operating system files)
  • 187 GB for PC Backups
  • 149 GB for shared folders (our music, pictures and videos)
  • 83 GB for folder duplication (ensures that the shared folder files are duplicated across both of my drives in RAID-fashion to ensure redundancy)
  • 493 GB of free space (wow!)

Click on the picture above to see it for yourself.

I’ve been keeping track of development of WHS HW and SW through the WeGotServed blog, I recommend it highly.

Link:  We Got Served, SecondCopy, Windows Home Server

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