Gary Allison's Leadership Blog

Everyday Tech

Everyday Tech and Mobile Computing and Tech News21 Dec 2011 09:47 am

Yesterday, a decision was reached in the Apple/HTC lawsuit in which Apple claimed infringement on 10 patents.  In the sound bite headlines making news yesterday, one could walk away with the impression that Apple emerged victorious and HTC (plus all other android phone manufacturers by proxy) would be severely impacted in their ability to produce smart phones.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  This article shows that out of the 10 patents in question, only 1 patent was upheld.  This patent was extrapolated to cover the feature of having a phone number in an email be clickable to auto dial that number.  Not a show stopper guys.

Not surprisingly, HTC is already testing new phones to workaround this issue.  And, since they can sell existing phone until April, this victory amounts to a huge number of legal hours on both sides with HTC essentially able to continue cranking out great phones.

The gap between open source android capabilities and the proprietary iPhone capabilities has closed.  This ruling is good for competition and thus good for innovation.  Apple is an amazing and innovative company.  So are Google, MotorolaGoogle, HTC, Samsung, et al.  This all bodes well for mobile internet innovation for years to come.

Cloud Computing and Everyday Tech27 Nov 2011 08:38 am

Recently, a tragedy hit one of the members on my team where he lost his home.  Our team has rallied around him and his family and have done what we can to help – that’s just the kind of people I’m fortunate enough to work with.  In talking to him, one of his regrets is that he didn’t have his photos backed up offsite.  He said he looked into it, but then just didn’t get around to it.  That was inspiration to get me moving…

I investigated a number of commercial solutions first, and the best I found was Carbonite.  One yearly fee to backup all your documents, music and photos (no movies), $59. That is hard to beat for those with a significant amount of photos or music.  (With the ever improving CCD imaging of digital cameras, everytime you buy a new camera, the photo files are larger. Is it a plot between the hard drive makers and the camera manufacturers? LOL) Sounds like a great deal, right?

The Carbonite app installed smoothly and ran well. It seems one key to their business model is to control bandwidth. Or, perhaps the service is very popular. They warn you that the initial backup could take several days.  Well, after more that a week, mine was still less that 50% complete.  About that time my trial period and patience both expired.  If you don’t mind leaving your computer on for a month, this still looks like a very good option.  They also have a switch in their UI where you can use less bandwidth on the upload.  This will make the backup take even longer, but will allow the kids to still watch YouTube while you are taking your backups. Lastly, they have a web UI where your can explore your backed up files from anywhere. It’s a viable solution IMHO.

I started looking at other Cloud Backup solutions for my Mac (not the kind of cloud backup they get in Kentucky where it just seems to rain all the time). Amazon S3 seemed like the natural next choice to investigate, but what is it going to cost? Looking at S3 pricing, currently it runs:

Standard Storage Reduced Redundancy Storage
First 1 TB / month $0.140 per GB $0.093 per GB
Next 49 TB / month $0.125 per GB $0.083 per GB
Next 450 TB / month $0.110 per GB $0.073 per GB
Next 500 TB / month $0.095 per GB $0.063 per GB
Next 4000 TB / month $0.080 per GB $0.053 per GB
Over 5000 TB / month $0.055 per GB $0.037 per GB


So, this is more than Carbonite at my data volume, but more reasonable at the “reduced redundancy” pricing.  Reduced redundancy is perfect for my use case since I backup all my files to an external hard drive already and this really is a disaster recovery scenario.  So for me, this will run around $84 dollars a year.  Still expensive, but S3 prices also go down at least twice a year historically.  We’ll see how it works out. At the very least, it’s cool.

Another option worth considering is Amazon’s new “Cloud Drive“.  The prices are lower than S3, with 5Gb free and other tiers at $10/Gb per year.  The tools are a little clunky right now as it is really aimed at working with music.  If you are mostly worried about backing up music, Cloud Drive makes it completely simple with their music upload and streaming tools.  For other file types its a little more manual.  But, the price it right.

Back to exploring S3.  First, we need to check out tools available for managing S3.  At this point, I was feeling very cheap since the storage costs are a little more than I wanted in the first place.  There are some good tools out there like jungle disk that would likely make this much easier, but I was looking for cheap as opposed to easy.  With jungle disk, you could take the complexity of the rest of this solution down considerably.

First step is to go to Amazon and create an Amazon Web Services account.  You probably already have an account and you can use the same login.  Then login to Amazon Web Services and create an S3 bucket.

For syncing files to S3, I found an attractive free option in s3sync, a Ruby gem that gives us a command line way to sync between my Mac and S3.  Here’s a great blog entry on the Ruby gem installation and config, so I won’t repeat that part.  Then, to backup your files, use a command similar to this:

s3sync -r -v /Users/YOURUSERNAME/Pictures/iPhoto\ Library/Originals/2011 yourbucket:iPhotoBackup/Originals

The above will copy the photos out of iPhoto on your Mac that were taken this year (2011) into your bucket in the folder Originals. You’ll need to create the folder structure iPhotoBackup/Originals before executing this command.  You could also leave off the “/2011″ and the /”Originals” like this to back up your entire iPhoto library, but this is going to take a very long time to upload to S3:

s3sync -r -v /Users/YOURUSERNAME/Pictures/iPhoto\ Library/Originals yourbucket:iPhotoBackup

With the -v option you see each file listed as it is uploaded.  Like Carbonite, this will also take quite a while, and during the upload, a lot of your internet bandwidth will be consumed such that Netflix on demand, web browsing, etc will be slow for everyone in the house. Not surprising, just thought I’d throw that out there.  This is a good reason to do it directory by directory perhaps overnight until you have it all complete.

The net step is very important to save you $$$s.  You need to go to your Amazon Webservices Console, explore your S3 bucket, right click on the folder you just uploaded, and select Properties (or select Properties button at top right).  From there, you need to select “Reduced Redundancy” and Save.  This will then iterate through all the items in the bucket and mark them for reduced redundancy.  There is no way to select this as the default for all files uploaded to a bucket.  Hmmmmm, I wonder why?  Greedy a bit Amazon?

If you are a Windows user, you may want to check out Cloudberry Explorer.  They have a nice S3 interface that supposedly can mark each file for reduced redundancy after uploading for you.  Looks like an interesting option.

There is quite a bit more to know about S3 than contained in this blog.  For example, you can make selected files or folders public and hand out URLs, etc.  Also, Amazon doesn’t charge you for transfer bandwidth on the upload, but does on the download.  There are many other considerations to think through in choosing a cloud backup solution that is right for you, but hopefully you find this informative and useful.


Everyday Tech and Mobile Computing and Tech News29 Apr 2011 09:51 pm

Super easy to gain root access to your A500.  Here’s the step-by-step guide to rooting your A500 with Honeycomb.

Everyday Tech and Tech News27 Apr 2011 07:09 pm
Acer Iconia A500 connected to camera via USB

Acer Iconia A500 connected to camera via USB

The Acer A500 went on sale Monday and having been researching Honeycomb Android based options for a new tablet, I elected to pick one up $450 at Best Buy which is a heck of a deal on a capable tablet.

No amount of research and reading reviews can tell you what it is really like to use one of these devices and whether it will work for you so I thought I’d share my experiences for those contemplating a similar decision and compare this device / OS with the iPad2.  Lets see where both platforms shine.

Advantage Android:
Open – the platform really is an open book. This has pros and cons as we will get into here. But from hardware to software, the Acer A500 is night and day different from the iPad.  The Iconia has a full USB port, a mini USB port, SD card slot, and hdmi out. Want a file browser? Simply install one from the Android Market and gain access to all your files.  Apple refuses to let iPad users see their files, much less copy things to or from their device.

On vacation and want to copy your camera photos to your iPad2?  Good luck.  (Note: a friend has pointed out you that Apple is happy to sell you a $29 adapter to connect your camera) With the A500, just hook up your camera over USB, or even easier, take the SD card out of your camera and put it in the A500’s SD slot. One look at the photo here shows something we may never see an iPad do – connect directly to a USB device.  I now routinely move files between my Mac and the Andriod tablet via a USB Drive.

Browser – Google has built a great browsing experience into Honeycomb. Flash capable, tabbed, and beautifully done, you really feel it’s a desktop based experience – only better.  It was able to handle all the flash websites I visited, and you can even run Adobe Air applications.  If you think iPad browsing is good, you have to see what Google has done in Honeycomb.

Solid – both the Acer tablet and the Honeycomb OS have been rock solid. Honeycomb 3.0.1 came loaded on the A500 and in 3 days I haven’t really seen one glitch. The whole platform seems very solid. Honeycomb itself is a terrific platform, multitasking, gorgeous interface, and fairly intuitive. I was able to navigate the UI very quickly and understand how to access menus, etc.  In head to head comparison, the A500 also has better wifi range than the iPad2.

Power / Flexibility – If you are a power user or technophile then, it is hard to beat an android device.  You can build or install any app under the sun, and even change the kernel itself.  So far, I haven’t been able to find anything I can’t do with this Honeycomb tablet.  It’s impressive what is possible with an Open platform.  The OS is slick and the multicore device is fast.  And, you don’t need a PC  or a Mac, and no silly iTunes download or activation is required to use the device.  The device can standalone.  But…  with power comes less simplicity.

For example, playing movies on the gorgeous A500 screen – there’s just not a push button way to get movies on the device.  To take a movie with you, you would need to rip a DVD to a m4v or similar movie file format and copy it to your tablet.  Pretty straightforward, but out of reach of many people.  I haven’t found yet a good way to “rent” movies ala iTunes.  Netflix doesn’t yet have a app for the tablet (even though Google TV is also android and it works great there).

Advantage iPad:
iTunes music/movies – The Apple monopoly certainly makes it convienent to play movies on the iPad! You can rent movies and take them on the plane or other places where wifi may not be available.  At $5 a pop its not exactly Redbox.

Exchange email – like iPhone, the iPad has great built in connectivity to Exchange.  Incredibly, the Acer  Iconia Honeycomb OS based tablet doesn’t have a default Exchange connector as a choice for it’s built in Email application.  I found a thirdparty android app called Touchdown that works great, but this omission is silly.  One would have to believe that this is temporary.

Cisco vpn – Seriously Google? Both iPad and iPhone support Cisco VPN.  The Honeycomb tablet supports 4 other types of VPN, but since most of corporate America uses Cisco, you’re pretty much out of luck. There seems to be a way to hack the Android kernel to add this, but seriously Google, this is lame.

Apps – As Steve Jobs will be the first to tell you, there are more Apps for iPhone/iPad.  Still I found an App for everything I was looking for, and equivalent to everything I use on my iPhone: Evernote, Sugarsync, MochaVNC to name a few.  The price of Openness seems to be to have to put up with trashware.  Google doesn’t screen their apps, so you need to be careful.  Still, if something is trashware, it shows up in the comments with even a casual scan.  (if you like the term trashware in this context – feel free to use it.  it seems to fit).

Ease/Simplicity – There’s no two ways around it – the iPad and iPhone are jsut about the easiest to use devices every created.  Toddlers can learn to use them quickly. Hats off to Apple for this.  Of course, if Apple doesn’t want you to do something, like connect your camera and move files to the iPad, then you’re out of luck.  If you are not computer savvy, the iPad is the way to go, no doubt.  This could change as vendors build out more completely packaged Honeycomb based solutions for their tablets.  The Honeycomb OS is certainly capable of it.  I just haven’t seen any thing yet that can rival the simplicity of the iPad.

Toss Up:
Books – I just have to hand it to Amazon – with their cross application support of Kindle and the message of buy your books once and read them on all your devices, you just can’t beat it.

Coexisting with an iPad:
Honeycomb and iOS tablets can coexist, you just need a little creativity. Take facetime for example, it’s an Apple only thing. But free video calling between the devices is easy through other apps such as Fring. It has worked really well in my initial testing.

Agile Software and Effective Software Projects and Everyday Tech and Teams and Tech News17 Oct 2009 06:04 am

Oh, how I love this post by Joel on The Duct Tape Programmer!  This is such a salient point that applies to so much more than the context here.  “You see, everybody else is too afraid of looking stupid because they just can’t keep enough facts in their head at once to make multiple inheritance, or templates, or COM, or multithreading, or any of that stuff work.”

I just ordered my copy of  Coders At Work.

On a total Tangent, I just completed the transfer of my domain name off of Network Solutions to Dreamhost.  Dreamhost is awesome and dirt cheap.  They have one -click installs of just about everything you’d ever want to run on your website and their registrations are almost free they are so inexpensive.  I’ve been hosting with them for over a year and have had zero issues (other than imap email, but that’s another story).  I 100% recommend Dreamhost.

Everyday Tech and Tech News15 Nov 2008 05:19 pm

The 30 day experience of a life without windows is off to a fast a furious start.  Some early conclusions are clear.  If you are a technophile, read on, otherwise stop and head to Apple and buy a Mac.  (Does anyone like the new MacBook Pro keyboard?  What were they thinking?)  Still Apple is the only way to go right now if you are not seriously technically adept.

Installing Ubuntu was very easy.  First though, you have to convince Windows Vista to free up some disk space so you can shrink the Windows disk to make room for your Ubuntu disk partition.  This should be easy in Vista with the first version of Windows that includes built in tools to allow you to shrink a partition.  But, like the IRS, there is always a catch with Vista.  It just doesn’t work.  You have to jump through many hoops because Vista writes certain system files at the end of the disk and then tells you you can’t shrink the volume.  Here’s a great write up on the many, many hoops you need to jump through to eventually convince Vista to turn loose of some disk space.  Aarrrggh.

Once you convince Vista to resize the partitions, you will still have a huge chunk of free space left on the Windows disk, but you can then at least create the Ubuntu partition.  The Ubuntu install instructions are very straightforward on what to do.  (again, if you aren’t pretty tech savvy, buy a Mac, you’ll be happier any way).  At the end, you will be able to boot Windows or Ubuntu Linux.

Next challenge is VPN – an indespensible necessity in the corporate world.  I could never get the Cisco VPN client to work, though it seems it works for most people in my googling.  I kept getting “Remote Peer Not Responding” blah blah blah.  Thank goodness for this post that shows how set up VPNC.  It worked perfectly the first time and everytime since.

Since your network probably has files shared from Windows servers, you’ll need to get to them too.  Here’s how to do that.

But the big one is Outlook.  The corporate world still largely revolves around the Exchange server.  Connecting from Linux is somewhat of a challenge.  If you are a light email user, and don’t have a complicated calendar, try the Evolution client that is built into Ubuntu.  It is a mail/calendar/contacts client that connects to the Outlook Web Access service on Exchange.  For very light duties, it seems to work ok.  It didn’t work for me at all.  It hung, stalled, and just generally ground to a halt no matter what I tried.  The only real option out there is Outlook for dealing with Exchange.

A pretty good solution here is Crossover – a program for Linux that emulates Windows.  These have been around for years and are getting to the point they actually work – mostly.  Under Crossover, you can install a variety of Windows programs, including believe it or not Office 2007.  It actually works.  Mostly.  More on that later.

Everyday Tech and Tech News09 Nov 2008 09:55 pm

All over North Austin, the new Microsoft “Life without walls” billboards have popped up.  You may have read before in my blog what an awful experience I have had with Vista, clearly one of the worst experience I’ve ever had with a piece of software.  I even went so far as to by a MacBook Pro last year and absolutely love it!

Still there is this issue with the Vista laptop on my desk at work. Its on my desk because that is the only place it consistenly works.  Mobility is not something you want to experience with Vista. Unreliable wireless and endless frustration with VPN make it just not worth the pain.

So I was inspired by Microsoft’s billboards this weekend.  Life without walls to me means Life without Windows.  I’m going to see if it is possible, in a business world ruled by the Microsoft Exchange Server.  This insidious strategy is definitely to be admired.  The truth is that most businesses run on Exchange for their email and calendaring solution.

So, this is my inspiration from the Microsoft sloganeering – I am going to see what it will take to have a life without windows.  within 30days, I hope to be completely switched over from Vista to Ubuntu linux.  Ubuntu LinuxCan it be done?  Its not a slam dunk – surely there will be challenges.   More to come on these pages…