Friday, June 26, 2009

Why the Zune HD is better than the iPod (for some)

The talk that resulted in Tux offering me a slot on here revolved around his being in the market for a new top of the line pocket media/MP3 player. For his birthday last year a few of us got him a new Zune, which he loves, so he was thinking about getting a nicer one. I had to tell him to put it off for a bit, as the next generation of bad ass was coming soon.

For some the iPod is king... but its not for everyone. Below is my description as to many of the reasons why people would choose the Zune HD, which comes out Sept 8th, over the iPod line.

#1 - Look at the damn thing! I can't speak for the world here, but I really can't stand the swoopy, curvy soft lines of the iPod, and most Apple products in general. When I have the option, I go for cool factor, something that has the feel of a machine rather than an artsy paperweight. This mean puppy has the look of a serious device, and as you will read below, its all business when you get past that killer venier. Past the esthetics, there is less space between the edge of the screen and the edge of the device. This actually means that you get the same size screen in a smaller overall package.

#2 - Its not just the size of the screen that counts... but its the motion of the ocean... right? I've always been a fan of the size AND motion of the ocean strategy, and Microsoft agrees with me here. They decided to kick Apple in the shins and replace their old screen with a 480 x 272 OLED, which in English means it'll be uber sharp and bright, more so than the oh 'so last month' iPod Touch.

#3 - Under the hood is perhaps where this puppy shines the most. Its got the brand spankin' new Tegra processor from NVIDIA, meaning this bad boy will rip through your video faster than anything out there now, and... get this... will be able to port out to your TV, with an HDMI cable, with full HD video. Until the interwebernetz connects everything to each other, you can bypass those ancient circular plastic pieces of junk DVDs, keep your movies on your harddrive and just hook your good old Zune HD up to your flatscreen and watch Firefly with abandon... thats what I'll be doing anyway :)

#4 - Other killer features that the Zune has over the iPod line include HD radio reception, wireless sync, and for the gamers among us, the unique ability to view content you buy for the Zune on your Xbox or home computer. This mixed with the Zune Pass subscription service, which lets you download all the music you want onto your Zune for 14.99 a month. As their ads say, compare this to the literally tens of thousands of dollars you would have to pay to fill your iPod with MP3s, and the victor is clear for me. The Zune pass can even be used on up to three computers and three Zunes.

I'm no Microsoft fanboy, as a matter of fact I'm fairly anti-Microsoft on a number of fronts, especially Windows vs Linux, Microsoft Office vs Open Office, Hotmail vs Gmail and Explorer vs FF and Chrome. But here we have a qualitatively better product, with a handful of better features and, in the eyes of this beholder, a better design. I've gotta tip my hat off to them for this awesome piece of hardware. I've been holding off on getting an MP3 player, just keeping a few on my netbook and smartphone for the last few years for when the radio gets boring, but this puppy might pull me down off the fence.

Windows 7 Discount, Available for a Limited Time

Windows 7 is slated to be released to the general public on October 22nd, 2009 (well, sort of… 14 languages, including English, will be available on the 22nd, the other 21 languages will be released on the 31st.), but if you pre-order, you can nab yourself a 50%+ discount.  Not bad, Microsoft, not bad at all.

As Wilson Rothman reports on Gizmodo, this pre-order period will begin tomorrow and only last a limited time.  Also starting tomorrow, if you purchase a new computer, you’ll be entitled to a free upgrade to Windows 7.  Again, not a bad deal, considering Windows 7 is supposed to be leaner than Windows Vista, so it should perform rather nicely on just about any modern hardware.

Ars Technica has a really killer article that lays out all of your options as far as purchase of and upgrade to Windows 7.  I would highly recommend checking it out, especially if you’re considering going directly from XP to 7.

Windows 7 Pricing (from Ars Technica):

Purchase Type Home Premium Professional Ultimate
Retail Upgrade $119.99 $199.99 $219.99
Full Retail $199.99 $299.99 $319.99
Discount Upgrade $49.99 $99.99 N/A

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Please Welcome Solomon Kleinsmith


Recently, I was back in my home town visiting with friends, and the subject of mobile technology came up.  I myself lack extended expertise in the subject, so I was talking to my friend Sol Kleinsmith, who I knew had a strong and growing interest in that area of technology.  Well, a few strong drinks later, we were examining his new Acer netbook and talking about the future of cell phones.  Needless to say, I was very impressed with his level of knowledge.  By the end of the night, I’d asked him to join this blog as a contributing writer on mobile technology, and he accepted.

During President Obama’s campaign, Solomon was a grassroots organizer for the state of Nebraska, running several political groups in Omaha.  During this time, he learned how to leverage technology to mobilize his groups and organize activities.  Since he worked mostly without an office, he learned very quickly which technologies work, and which aren’t worth the time.

I’m extremely glad to have Sol as a member and writer of Tux in the Midwest.  I think he’ll be able to fill in a huge gap here on the mobile technology front.  Please welcome Solomon Kleinsmith!!!

My netbook aspirations - HP Mini 5101

This being my first post on here (heyo!), I thought it appropriate to make it something about my most recent purchase of gadgety goodness. Like many people, I have a home desktop thats pretty beefy, but most of the things I do are relatively light running, so I don't need something with a lot of horsepower very often. So when my old laptop went kaput, I knew it was time for me to finally enter the heavenly world of netbooktopia!

Had this happened many moons ago, I would have gone for something nicer, but I ended up going for the cheap and popular Acer Aspire One. I really can't complain about it, and as a matter of fact I love the thing. I love being able to pack it in my knapsack and barely tell I added anything to the four or five books I seem to have to have with me at all times. It does all the things my old laptop did (seemingly faster, even with a slower processor and less RAM), has better battery life, and you seriously can't beat the pricetag. I got the puppy for a whopping 304 dollars, including shipping... which was the kicker for me since I'm living the poor sad life of a Masters student.

But my heartstrings were plucked the other day when I came across this work of netbook sexiness. The HP Mini 5101 is where HP, who's pretty blah HP Mini 1100 (now with an extra 1 at the end! wheee!) was one I skipped right over in my recent search for its lack of anything to make it stand out what so ever, decided to go for the lovers of the sharp lines and edges of my breed of gadget heads. I'm not down with the Apple brand of design, with swoopy and smooth and blah blah blah... nay my friend, give me your dark colors and sharp edges. Make my gear look like a machine, not an art deco paperweight.

Engadget got some pretty sweet pics here and here. Underneath the slobber slobber design, the specs are standard top of the line for netbooks these days, with some nice upgrades like a 7200rpm HD, with 80GB or 128GB SSD options, a 2.0MP webcam... and of course a fancy shmancy magnesium and aluminum chasis. Dude... my laptop is made of magnesium and aluminum, how about yours... punk? Wouldn't that be nice to be able to say when the leader of the pack at the local coffee joint peers through his emo flop hairdo at your snorg tee and jeans from Target? Yes Timmy, yes it would.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Vineet Nayar says US Tech Grads are Unemployable

In an interesting twist of I-don't-know-what, CEO of Indian IT services vendor HCL Vineet Nayar stated in a speech in New York City in front of 50 customers and partners that the reason his company doesn't employ more people here in the United States (HCL currently has 21 offices in 15 states, employing over 3,000 people) is that US tech grads are "unemployable".

This probably comes as a swift kick in the shorts to anybody who has ever dealt with "overseas" tech support, however Rob Preston of InformationWeek quickly put Nayar's comments in perspective. Preston explains that Nayar was driving at the fact that "...American grads looking to enter the tech field are preoccupied with getting rich..." and are less inclined to "...spend their time learning the 'boring' details of tech process, methodology, and tools...". This results in the American grads being more expensive to train than their Indian, Chinese, Brazilian, South African, or Irish counterparts.

Having never personally experienced education from an Indian perspective, I can't vouch for how true or untrue statements made concerning American versus Indian education are. I have only my personal experience to build from. I can say that my own education did, at times, trade low-level hands-on experience for a higher-level, creative problem-solving approach. Whether this was a good or bad thing is debatable, however I do feel that it does offer some benefits over a brute-force approach.

In my dealings with overseas technical support (HCL included, as they are contracted by my current employer), I've found that the individuals I've worked with, while very knowledgable concerning the product they are employed to support, lack basic problem-solving skills and tend toward trial-and-error when it comes to fixing issues. While this can work in a lot of situations, it's not nearly the cleanest or most efficient way to get the job done. On more than one occasion, it has actually made problems worse, because the technician made changes that he couldn't remember how to undo, changes that made matters worse.

I'm not going to be rough on the Indian folks I've worked with over the years, because, while some of them have been occasionally frustrating, a lot of them are some of the most intelligent, creative IT people I've had the pleasure of working with. And believe me, the same holds true for the American IT staff, both positive and negative. The reality is that the American and Indian IT educational systems aren't perfect, and can learn a lot from each other. It's just a bitter pill to swallow when the criticism is pointed back at you.

Microsoft Enters the Free Anti-Malware Arena

Hot off the presses...err, the Intarwebs... published a little gem giving the details on Microsoft's new free anti-virus / anti-malware software, dubbed "Microsoft Security Essentials".

The new software, which is targeted mostly at those who don't already have a security suite installed on their computers, will be available for free from Microsoft. The software, like its direct competitors, will stay up-to-date via auto update features, and will protect against current and new virus threats, as well as rootkits.

Microsoft Security Essentials is slated to replace the Live OneCare suite. Microsoft Security Essentials will not include features such as a firewall, performance tuning, or backup and restore. Security Essentials is intended only as a free, simple, bare-bones security solution.

Click here to read what Elinor Mills from CNET has to say about the matter...

Twitter and Iran just published an article last week that does a very good job of explaining the phenomenon happening on Twitter surrounding the Iranian election. Until today, I'd not had a chance to really learn much about what's going on, and I found it very enlightening.

In the past, I've been pretty hard on Twitter. While I'm still of the opinion that day-to-day Tweeting is, well, mostly silly, I've got to say that what is going on in Iran is one of the best uses for this new technology I could never have personally imagined. I think what's going on is amazing. Technology can be used for social change, and to circumvent a corrupt government's attempts to deny freedom of speech.

So I raise my glass to the folks at Twitter. May your network be strong, and your servers never go down.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dell Vostro 1220 Images Leak - Clean but Boring

There's nothing thrilling about Dell's latest budget offering, the Vostro 1220. Engadget has the scoop on images of a crimson version coming to a Walmart near you. With a Core 2 Duo T6750 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, an ExpressCard slot and even a fingerprint reader, it's actually pretty solidly spec'd. For those who value function over form, this little number might be right up your ally.

Click to check out Engadget's images of the new Dell Vostro 1220.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Windows Vista Service Pack 2

For all those proud Windows Vista users out there, Microsoft recently released Service Pack 2, the latest upgrade to their much-frowned-upon, but much-improved, desktop operating system. Incidentally, they also released Windows Server 2008 SP2 the same day.

So what does the May 25th Service Pack 2 release get you? Well, according to, a whole list of interesting goodies, including:

  • Windows Seach 4.0
  • Support for Bluetooth 2.1
  • Data recording on Blu-ray
  • Simpler WiFi configuration
  • Better resuming for active WiFi connections
  • Support for VIA's 64-bit CPUs
  • Better audio and video performance for HD streaming
  • 10% more efficient power management in some configurations
  • And the list goes on...

Also included is the usual list of hotfixes and security updates. According to Yahoo! Tech, the body count for fixes and updates is almost 700, however a good number of them "represent very rare bugs that only a small percentage of users will ever encounter".

Christopher Null (what a great name for a computer blogger) says, at the end of his entry, "I'm running the update and have encountered no problems to date...". Well, if it's good enough for Chris, it's good enough for you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Kind of Tech User are You?

You are an Digital Collaborator

If you are a Digital Collaborator, you use information technology to work with and share your creations with others. You are enthusiastic about how ICTs help you connect with others and confident in your ability to manage digital devices and information. For you, the digital commons can be a camp, a lab, or a theater group – places to gather with others to develop something new.

Yup, that’s me… a “Digital Collaborator”. I’d better be, since I work in IT. Find out what kind of tech user you are by visiting and taking their quiz.

Windows 7 on Your Old Computer

Hot off the presses: Michael Scalisi wrote a nifty little article for's Business Center dishing the dirty on Windows 7's older hardware support. According to the article, which can be found here, the minimum system requirements for Windows 7 RC are "a 1GHz Processor, 1 GB RAM, and 16GB of free hard disk space." So in true geek fashion, Mr. Scalisi grabbed the nearest almost-there (Intel P3 933MHz processor, 768 MB of RAM, and 80GB hard drive) old PC he could, and went about installing Win7 RC on it.

Surprisingly, aside from a few hardware glitches, it seems that he was successful in Frankenstein-ing together a rather reasonably running box. Sure, there were some driver issues concerning older hardware, but those were quickly remedied by swapping those particular pieces (DVD drive, video card, and network card) for something a little more modern. You're also not going to be rocking Aero at all on a box like this, but if you're just looking at taking a peek at the OS in general, that shouldn't be a problem.

Michael Scalisi ran the machine through some real-world paces, launching a handful of tabs in Chrome, as well as IE 8, while playing some music on Media Player. He says it's a little sluggish, like you'd expect, but not so much so that it's unusable. He calls it "perfectly usable as long as your expectations are appropriately low."

So what does this exercise in geekery prove? Well, for starters it means that Microsoft has rolled back their inappropriately high minimum system requirements to a more reasonable level. The machine that Mr. Scalisi used for his article was built in 2001. It also means that business that have been waiting for all this Vista stuff to blow over and Microsoft to come out with a reasonable replacement for Windows XP might not have to upgrade their hardware after all. Did Microsoft think of this when they started hacking away at Windows 7? Ummm... we think so.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's Your PC History?

The current generation entering the workforce today can't remember a time when they didn't have access to a personal computer. Whether it was at school playing "Oregon Trail" or at home playing "Maniac Mansion", computers were, in the late 80's and early 90's, starting to become as ubiquitous as televisions and telephones. I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today, so I thought I'd ask everyone out there: What's your PC history?

Here's mine:

It all started with a combination of the Apple II+ and Apple IIe. My father was, and still is, quite the computer hobbyist, programming in assembly language, C, C++, Visual Basic, and HTML/CSS. He's been his university departments webmaster for years, and continues to tinker and learn. His first machine was an Apple IIe, which he learned everything he possibly could about, and passed that knowledge on to me in the form of my first computer, the Apple II+, and manuals and technical articles. I got my start on that machine, programming in BASIC and assembly language. Those were the crazy, pioneering days of personal computer technology, when programmers were akin to magicians, and I was five years old.

I rocked that machine well into high school, both programming on it and writing school papers. By the time I was finished with it, we'd attached a 20 MEGABYTE hard drive to it as well as a mouse, and I'd started trying to write a graphical user interface (ala Macintosh or Apple IIgs... remember GSOS?) for it. About mid-high school, my parents invested in their first Macintosh (circa 1996), the Performa 450. This what around the time Apple had released a myriad of confusing configurations. No one knew what any of the names or numbers meant. That computer lasted my parents until sometime when I was in college, when they upgraded to a second-generation iMac.

As for me, when I entered college, I entered the world of the PC. I'd avoided it as long as I could, hearing horror stories of blue-screens-of-death and lost data. Fortunately for me, I purchased my first PC just before Microsoft released Windows ME, so I avoided a lot of the issues that my friends who bought computers saw later. My machine was a highly customized Gateway PC, with an 800Mhz Pentium II processor and 128 megabytes of memory, a 20 gigabyte hard drive, and a 15-inch CRT monitor. Looking back on it, it seems like such an underpowered machine, but it was state-of-the-art at the time.

That machine carried me through college in pretty decent fashion. After graduation, I decided I'd also graduated to a laptop, which took the form of a Dell Inspiron 1100. With a 2.4GHz Celeron, 256 megabytes of memory, and a 40 gigabyte hard drive, it was a definite upgrade. I actually still use this box, rocking Fedora 9 Linux. It's been upgraded to 1 gigabyte of memory and a 80 gigabyte hard drive, but all the other parts are still original. My wife has the same laptop, and it still works great for her.

A few years ago I tried my hand at system building, and ended up with a custom-built desktop designed around an Asus M2N-E SLI motherboard with an AMD Athlon 64 5400+ processor. It's loaded with 2 gigabytes of memory and over 1 terabyte of total hard drive space. It's a great machine, runs anything I throw at it, and stores and backs up all of my photos and music.

My last purchase came in the form of a new laptop. It's an HP Pavilion DV7-1270us. It's got an Intel Core 2 Duo 8600 in it, rocking at 2.4Ghz, 4 gigabytes of memory, and a 320 gigabyte hard drive. It's a really nice machine, my main recording machine, and plays all the games and runs all the software I want it to.

So, as you can see, I've owned and used quite a cross-section of machines in my time. What does your PC history look like? I'd like to see what you've owned/used over the years.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt - Magic on Amazon

According to the many, many reviewers on Amazon, this shirt does everything from attract the opposite sex to cure cancer. It's HILL AIR EE US.

Seriously, check it out. HERE

Thursday, June 4, 2009

NEWS: ReadWriteWeb Points Out the Reality of Web 2.0 for the White House

Last post of the day, honest!

Some of us out here in the etherwebs have been waiting, watching, and wondering what the heck happened to all the talk of Web 2.0 in the Whitehouse. The folks at ReadWriteWeb, specifically Frederic Lardinois, have put together yet another great article on just that topic.

Their article does a great job of pointing out the difference between posting blogs as a campaign and posting them as an administration. First of all, there's the scale. Next you have security. And then you have scale. Oh, did I mention scale? Anyway, you should read the article. It's good.

GADGET: Is the Palm Pre an iPhone Killer? is a-buzz with articles and blog entries about the new Palm Pre, but is it the iPhone killer that lots of people think it's going to be? It looks sharp, has a killer interface with webOS, and has all the tricks that the iPhone packs. I'm not sure I'm sold, though.

I read through's full review of the Pre, and was pretty impressed. They've got all the bells and whistles you can think of: web access, integration with Facebook and other social websites, email... the list goes on. However, one thing stood out to me as a huge con, and something that bothers me about a lot of modern "smart phones": it doesn't sound like it's a very good PHONE.

I'm wondering if perhaps designers have strayed a bit too far from the original concept of a cellular phone: to be a phone. These things are packed so full of extras that it seems sometimes the phone functionality is secondary to the rest. But that's just one man's opinion.

Click here to check out the article, or just go to to read a myriad of other articles about the Palm Pre.

NEWS: So Much for Privacy posted an article last night entitled, "Warrantless surveillance lawsuit thrown out". According to the article, federal district judge Vaughn Walker "rejected lawsuits that aimed to hold telecommunications companies accountable for their role in a controversial warrantless surveillance program". Judge Walker is citing a FISA amendment that retroactively grants immunity to the companies.

It's this sort of legal maneuvering that makes me worry for our right to privacy. Congress should not be allowed to pass laws that make companies retroactively immune to anything. It pretty much guarantees that, as long as the companies are in line with that those in power want, they'll be safe from any sort of prosecution.