Product Review: RainMachine Touch HD-12 Sprinkler Controller

Home sprinkler systems haven’t really advanced much in recent decades. Unfortunately, the controllers are still as cumbersome and tedious to program as a VCR (for those who remember). A few months ago, a single attempt at running the sprinklers resulted in a complicated process based in trial and error. Sorting out which setting would begin which zone and for how long was maddening. I’ve tried to program it many times over the years, only to have it either not save or revert to factory defaults. It’s confused everyone who has tried to use it, and as a result, the sprinklers are rarely ran and the lawn often looks like the Klopek’s lawn in The Burbs.

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My last experience with Office Depot – the “Comcast” of Office Supply Stores

Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.

-Lois McMaster Bujold

It’s too bad a certain office supply company isn’t aware of this. As you may have surmised, I have a running tally of companies on my, well, let’s face it – ‘shit list’, and Office Depot is the most recent award winner! Congrats guys, a membership card and welcome basket is in the mail!

It began about a week ago when I spotted a deal on Lifehacker, or was it Gizmodo? I’m not sure. Anyway, the deal was for a 3M dual arm/articulating monitor stand at Office Depot for $59.99 instead of the usual $332.99. What a fantastic deal! I had been considering re-doing my desk by purchasing a solid wood table top, some legs from IKEA, and mounting my monitors on an articulating stand for ergonomics and convenience. This huge price difference, $273 before tax, would enable me to do that and have minimal out of pocket expenses.

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Product Review: Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard for PC

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Behold, in all it’s glory, the Matias Tactile Pro keyboard for PC. If it looks familiar, it’s because it was inspired by the (now discontinued, but not forgotten) Apple Pro Keyboard:

Of course, the Matias Tactile Pro PC is for, PC, and doesn’t feature the Apple keymaps. That doesn’t mean the Tactile Pro isn’t channeling the ancients. In the short time I’ve owned the Tactile Pro, apple-pro-keyboardit has provided one of the best, if not THE best typing experience I’ve had the pleasure of enduring in many years.

As it happens, I’m an analyst by trade and spend a lot of my time at a keyboard for work, as well as pleasure. Before purchasing the Tactile Pro I was using a Microsoft Sculpt Desktop and was generally pleased with the keyboard, quite pleased with the mouse. There were a few issues, though. For example, the keyboard couldn’t keep up with my typing speed, and often missed letters; “ghosting” they call it. Additionally, the split caused my right wrist to be sore some days, especially after long hours in spreadsheets. This was due to the hyper-extending of 2 fingers on the right hand, since I have small fingers.

A long day coming arrived, and I had to shop for another keyboard.

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Troubleshooting those pesky Blue Screens of Death!

We’ve all experienced it, the dreaded blue screen of death. With the dawn of Windows 7, these have become less prevalent, however they can (and do) still happen. Is it really the fault of Microsoft?Windows-Blue-Screen-Crash I say nay nay!

Generally speaking, Windows 7, 8/.1, and the upcoming Windows 10, will only display a stop error (aka a BSOD, blue screen of death) when a hardware issue has occurred. Unlike previous versions of Windows, where a single application crash or freeze could take out your entire system, this is now a thing of the past.

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Is providing customer service a blessing or burden to your company?

For many companies, customer service is their lifeblood, not their product. After all, customers give them money in exchange for an expectation of excellent service. It’s a dying art, customer service, in which no one is an expert, merely a student. Unfortunately, some companies take the easy way out – offer a good-to-excellent product, build an extensive knowledge base, and in the event someone contacts them, offer a canned reply in the hopes of “shooing” them away.

The scenario I just described happened to me this week. Sadly, it was from a company I least expected – BackBlaze.

BackBlaze is an online backup service. They compete with your Carbonites, CrashPlans, and Mozy’s of the world. Their bread and butter is their $5.00 monthly plan with unlimited storage, a deal compared to Mozy’s $9.99/mo for 120 GB, Carbonite’s clumsy and somewhat unreliable software, and CrashPlans cumbersome interface.

Don’t be fooled though. Where BackBlaze has pioneered in great software, they’ve created huge setbacks in their customer service arena.

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Is your smartphone embedding location info with your pics?

Modern smartphones have a GPS chip capable of inserting coordinates of your location when you take pictures. Some people find this handy, it can help automate the construction of libraries based on places, instead of library names or dates. Personally, I don’t like it. After all, if I share a file with someone at my work or the random internet, personal information may be embedded into the image.

It’s called EXIF Data, you can read the technical schematics here; but for now, just know it stands for “exchangeable image file format” and affords a way for tags like audio and location information to be attached to an image in one single file. Metadata from your camera such as:

  • Data/time
  • Camera settings (ISO, Zoom, etc)
  • Thumbnail for preview on the camera’s LCD screen
  • Copyright information
  • Geolocation

Not only do regular smartphones do this, but your average camera is likely capable of embedding this information into your pictures. If you’re security/privacy conscious, it’s handy to know how to disable this.

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Qapla’, Windows Phone

Around the end of 2010, I won a HTC Surround in a Twitter contest sponsored by Qualcomm. It was something to do with the new Snapdragon chipset and I happened to get lucky. Oddly enough, shortly thereafter I won a XBOX from a similar contest held by Dice.com, but that’s not related to this post. I won one of the very first Windows Phone 7 devices,and thus began my love affair with the platform.

Having been thru Android (HTC EVO on Sprint) and a few revisions of the iPhone (Original, 3G, and the 4) I was ready for change. Also, I liked the concept of the UI, it reminded me of the Zune, possibly my favorite media player… (I still have a working Zune HD!) I had high hopes for Microsoft’s new platform, hopes that would later become despair.

As you know, Nokia is perhaps (was perhaps) the most well known manufacturer of Windows Phone devices, and I’ve had three of them: The Lumia 900, 920, and now – the 1020. I’m sure you’re familiar with the 1020, it’s the one in the commercial above where¬†the people are at the very back of the concert and are zoomed in like it’s the front row.

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Two Factor Authentication + Forgotten/Lost Authenticator Tokens

Everyone’s heard of the “domain name”, in fact, you use one every day. Whether it’s www.google.com, https://gmail.google.com, or even your local news, that’s a domain name. They come in many shapes and sizes, from .com to .xyz. What many aren’t familiar with are the companies who sell domain names. (Side note: Many aren’t aware of how domain names work either, but that’s an article for another day).

A bit of background first:

  • Until 1999, only one company operated the three domain registries: .com, .net, and .org. This meant they not only sold the domains, but they also were the only company who was able to register domains. To put this simply: Imagine having the choice of 3 cars: Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus, but you can only buy them & insure them with 1 dealership.
  • The monopoly ended after a failed anti-trust suit and pressure from the United States Department of Commerce. This created the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, also known as ICANN.
  • ICANN governs the issuance of IP addresses on the internet & the policies/policing of domain registrars (such as eNOM, GoDaddy, and many others). Note: That’s a nutshell version of what ICANN does; describing their full scope of power would be like deciphering who really runs IKEA. If you’re curious, there is a well written article about ICANN here.

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Another one bites the dust…

Continuing the saga that is the tragic romance between Apple products and myself, we have suffered yet another premature product loss. If you recall, I recently had a bout with Apple when my AirPort Extreme went wonky and I was forced to deal with the insufferable staffers at my local Apple Store. (In case you don’t recall, click here and read all about it).

As you know, in the aforementioned interaction Apple replaced my AirPort Extreme with a new one, not their “store service unit”. Nice of them to do! One problem….. that “new” AirPort Extreme just went tits up.

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On Apple’s Customer Service – Missing The Mark

Generally, I won’t write about Apple. After all, I worked as an AppleCare agent for some time and was a Mac user for 6 or 7 years, I don’t have much more to say other than I admire the company Apple_graphite_airport_base_station_frontfor their competitive edge, industry stamina, and culture. We all know I’m a little biased to Microsoft, but if you think I’m “above” using a Mac or Apple product, you’d be wrong.

My favorite home/pro-sumer router has always been the Apple Airport. I’ve actually had one since they came out in 1999, back when they were shaped like a UFO (and graphite/silver, to boot!). The product was, and remains, stable. I rarely have to reboot my Airport.

Sure, things are a bit different with the product. You don’t get a web interface, and it can be a bit tedious to configure advanced features, like port forwarding. But it’s reliable, and doesn’t crash like other brands I’ve had in the past, and doesn’t cost as much as a Cisco or Juniper router (which requires another set of skills to manage).

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