Computers

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Google Maps CarYesterday on the way home from work, at an intersection, I had one of those cars with a 360 degree camera mounted to the top right next to me.

In my travels, I’ve actually seen one of the colorful cars that Google uses to “photograph” the street view on Google Maps, so I was instantly familiar with what it was.

(Side note: one time I saw an oncoming full size wiener mobile — the BIG one — on the opposite side of I-95 and nearly lost control of my own vehicle with excitement! It was AWESOME!)

Like the last time I was next to a Google mobile, I tried to look super cool as it was a pretty busy intersection and I was being given the opportunity to have my mug (and super cool car) on display for the entire world to see for like the next three or four years.

Then, as the car drove away, I saw the cheap magnetic graphic on the rear panel.

Bing

Ugh… How disappointing.

For real, it was a plain old Toyota RAV4 with a couple of generic rectangle magnetic signs on it — totally unlike the super cool custom graphics all over the Google Maps cars.

I mean, the Google cars make me think of the ice cream man. You just want to follow it for some reason…

Now, I still like Microsoft, I’ll admit it, but Bing is not my search engine of choice.

I don’t have doubts that it will ever be my search engine of choice, I already KNOW it’ll never be my search engine of choice.

But for the maps, I dunno, I just think that Google “owns” the market when it comes to things like “Street View”.

I remember when Google Maps first came out — it blew away the already in existance MapQuest.

And I’d been looking at satellite photos of my “neighborhood” elsewhere online since the mid 1990’s but when Google added the pannable satellite view — not even talking about the 3D-ish Google Earth — well, game over.

NOTHING was going to top that.

And then they added Street View which I thought was a neat addition. Not as super cool an innovation as the satellite views but still neat.

Really, who hasn’t looked at their own house on Google?

Their old house?

Rush Limbaugh’s house?

Do we really need another version of the same thing?

I don’t think so.

Google won that — let ’em have it.

I’m all for competition and all but somethings are best left alone.

Much like Google should just give up on trying to out-do Facebook with Google+, Bing should spend more time making their search engine more attractive to the masses than trying to compete directly with some of Google’s (super successful) outer spokes.

Really, even if I become the “face” of that intersection on Bing Streetside, I’ll still lean more towards Google Street View.

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Netgear ReadyNASWell that was quick!

Yep, just over a week into the new year and I’ve already spent a fortune — unexpectedly.

I suppose that when the month is over, I’ll classify these most recent purchases as “business expenses” but that doesn’t hide the fact that I spent real money on them…

I hate when people are under the assumption that “business expenses” are freebies. They’re not.

And if you work at a company and freely spend money that isn’t your own, well, you should think about that some time.

Anyway, remember that awful day that I had back in October of 2007?

Don’t worry — it’s okay if you don’t. You can refresh your memory here.

The short of it is that I had a hard drive fail. I went out and bought a short term replacement and, while it hasn’t “failed” yet, it’s running at roughly 98% capacity.

It’s crawling…

Lasting for nearly two and a half years is pretty good but I’ve always feared another drive failure and I’ve also always known that I *need* to plunk down the cash to get a real viable long term and expandable storage system in place.

I finally did that earlier this week — but only after making a bonehead move and attempting to do it the “cheap” way.

I surfed on over to CDW and purchased another Buffalo Technologies DriveStation just like I did back in 2007.

It arrived earlier this week…dead.

I’ve never been a big fan of CDW but with Circuit City and CompUSA no longer in existance, purchasing the unit in person is all but impossible these days and then CDW went out and bought out my favorite online retailer so it seemed as if the only place to turn — and they had the best price too. That’s rarely the case — which is why I’m not a big fan…

Thankfully their returns policy is pretty friendly though they still haven’t processed my return yet — I’m hoping I don’t get hit with a 15% restocking fee for a unit that was dead right out of the box.

Eitherway, in desperate need of drive space, this turn of events put me in the hot seat. I decided that enough was enough — no more nickel and diming my way through this.

I bought a file server.

No more of this USB connection crap. I settled on a model from the NetGear ReadyNAS line of products.

Basically, it’s a computer case filled with hard drives.

Back in the 1990’s, I built a few of fileservers from old computers at zero cost and I considered doing that sort of thing again this time but that was back before RAID and, honestly, I don’t have time for that sort of project anymore.

I paid for it this time instead. So far, between the two purchases, I’ve surpassed the $1000 mark.

Tons of space and loads of redundancy are worth it though — especially having delayed this expense for years on end.

That’s what I decided. Or, at least, that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

It’s still not here and, sadly, it’s scheduled delivery is next Monday (MLK day, ugh…) so I probably won’t have it until that Tuesday.

Here’s to hoping that I can make it through another week with just over that 1GB to work with…

Now the only big ticket item (that I’ve been eyeing for years) left on my list is a good high-quality file cabinet.

Ever priced one of those out? Yikes — they’re expensive…

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I’ve heard the rumblings for years now that Microsoft would be giving the axe to their entry into the personal finance software realm but now it’s apparently on it’s deathbed.

I’ve been receiving this “nag” screen periodically for the past few days anytime I use the program:

MS Money Nag Screen

I first purchased Microsoft Money back in 1997 — according to my entry in, yes, Microsfot Money, I paid $52.95 for it in March of 1997 at the now shuttered Circuit City.

Thinking back, and looking at the entries around it, I’m truly surprised that I dropped that kind of coin on something that wasn’t a video game (Diablo, anyone?) or something relating to ice hockey.

In reality, it was probably one of my wisest purchases ever…

Yep, I was able to accurately watch my credit card debt swell to over $30k.

Some people claim not to have a clue how deep in debt they are but because of Microsoft Money, I *always* knew where I stood financially. Not that I did anything about it for years but that’s a different conversation

So, anyway, my first version of Money was Money ’97. It was pretty solid — as a 21 year old, I liked it enough to actually sit down each week and enter every single transaction. That’s saying something.

Eventually I upgraded to the 2002 version. It seemed a little buggy but it certainly looked a lot nicer. Perhaps buggy isn’t the right term — I don’t wanna get all those Mac-holes worked up. I found the “wizards” and “auto-budget” features annoying.

I hoped that the issue would correct itself when I upgraded to the 2005 version. It wasn’t perfect but that’s the version I still use today. Shortly after I got married, I hooked my wife up with the 2007 version.

What I’m trying to get at is that we’re a Microsoft Money family and have been for over a decade. And now they’re leaving us out in the cold…

The logical transition would be to migrate towards Quicken. I’m not happy about it but I’m not against it either — my concern is that importing my thousands and thousands of entries from MS Money (a defeated competitor) will be, well, hit-or-miss.

There’s something to be said for 12+ years worth of accurate right-down-to-the-penny data and I don’t want to, well, I don’t want to start fresh…

Why don’t you just keep using your version of Money, Brainy?

That’s a great question. I wish I could!

That “nag” screen above mentions something called Windows Live ID technology.

I don’t use that.

I never have.

Yeah, I do the online banking thing, but I don’t let the bank update my records. I can take care of that manually (offline), thankyouverymuch.

I went through all of the actions that the Microsoft Support page instructed me to and, well, since I was never using the service, it didn’t have any effect — so here I am stuck with a “nag” screen and a slight worry that someday the software will just flat out tell me, “Sorry, you can’t open this anymore…”

It makes me sad.

So, I ask, has anyone made the switch from MS Money to Quicken (or anything else) without too much of a problem importing data?

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21-inch Dell Trinitron MonitorI’ve mentioned a few times that one of the monitors that I’ve been using to type up these posts was one that I bought way back in 1997.

It was a 21″ Dell Triniton which, at the time, was the top of the line. You couldn’t get a monitor bigger than that back then. I paid around $2500 for it.

It was almost a status symbol to have the giant thing overpowering my desk. Of course, at the time, I was living in my parents and I had it set up where I’d had a 13-inch television hooked up to a Nintendo years before.

Yep, it was a status symbol that I could hardly flaunt. Yep, it was a DUMB purchase.

Anyway, I remember when it arrived — the damn thing weighed around 80 pounds, way heavier than a comparable sized television.

It was one of those awkward sizes too where it was tough just to get out of the box. Too deep to get your arms all the way around or navigate through a doorway, you know?

And then when I hooked it up and turned it on, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. What the hell were those two slightly darker horizontal lines running across my desktop?

I spent over 10% of my salary for this thing — it should be perfect!

An A/V minded friend pointed out that those lines were how you could tell that it was a Trinitron.

Gotta love it — somehow the folks at Sony convinced the buying public that a terrible flaw was really a feature. Pure genius on their part.

Any how, last night, after 12 years of loyal service, I disconnected it and took it off of my desk and replaced it with a $189 Samsung.

I’ve been using a two-monitor set-up for years now — one 17″ LCD and the big 21″ CRT — and, lately, I’ve found that I’d much prefer to have two identical monitors rather than a mismatched pair.

It’s funny, barely cold and still carrying a mighty static charge, that old monitor already looks like a junky old relic as it sits on the floor.

And to think, just yesterday, it was my beloved workhorse.

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hrome LogoYep, I’ll admit it.

I’m using Google’s Chrome to browse the internet these days…

When it comes to browsers, I tend to hang on to the old standards for far too long.

I was *still* using Netscape Navigator for years after Internet Explorer 4.0 came out.

IE 4, which came out in 1997, was when Microsoft really pulled the rug out from under Netscape. I held off as long as I could but, by 1999, it was apparent that IE was the superior product and I stuck with the Microsoft variant for nearly a decade.

It was only last year that I gradually found myself using FireFox more than I was using Internet Explorer.

I’m not really sure why… Maybe it’s the nifty spell check feature? And, sure, some people claim that one is faster than the other but that’s bunk…

I’d say that so far in 2009, I’ve done 90% of my web surfing using FireFox but, of late, I’ve found that it’s is just one big memory hog — bringing my computer to its knees.

With regularity.

At first I thought it might be because I was running low on disk space. That’s been an problem in the past but that’s definitely not the issue — I’ve got over 200 gigs free.

I cleared my cache thinking that might help — as it used to in the old days — but I didn’t see a noticable difference.

Still, every hour or so, my hard drive would be pegged for 20 solid minutes. It was like I was running a defrag in the background or something.

After a quick check of the task manager, it became apparent that the process slowly killing my computer (to the point that I needed to reboot every couple of hours) was “firefox.exe”. Say what?

Task Manager -- FireFox is a memory hog.

That single window sitting idly in the background is clearly sucking up far more than it’s fair share of my available memory and making everything else I do on the computer a frustrating nightmare.

Really, an idle browser window should NOT suck up more memory than Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, InDesign, and Microsoft Money (all of which were running at the *same* time and programs that I’d consider memory hogs in their own right).

So, good bye FireFox. Hello Chrome!

…and to think I even toyed with the idea of going out and buying a new PC (under $1000, of course) to eliminate the problem!?

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Seeing a lot of this lately?

Operation Aborted Error

Well, I’ve been getting it for the last 18 hours on seemingly every other site I visit.

When you click ‘OK’, you’re taken to the ever popular “Internet Explorer cannot display the web page”.

Hmmmm… Server must be down or something. Maybe it’s my connection? I’ll give it a few minutes.

Waiting… Waiting… Waiting… Same problem.

Eh, let’s try it in FireFox and see what happens…

Will you look at that? It works just fine!

I’ve been a fan of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer for, well, since they wiped Netscape Navigator from the face of the internet. But of late, it seems as though Firefox is the more reliable browser…

This is the third time in a little over a month I’ve found something to display just fine in Firefox, but horribly wrong or not at all in Internet Explorer. This latest problem, I can’t even get pages to load in IE?!

I’m considering making the switch to Firefox myself (even though deep down I hate it with a passion).

To IE’s credit, apparently the “operation” messing up so many websites this week has something to do with SiteMeter, a popular site tracking applet that many people install on their sites — so it could actually be their fault.

Either way, shame on them for not testing their update on IE — still by far the most popular browser.

But, perhaps, they’re trying to get more people to move to Firefox.

Not sure how the founders of Cuil (pronounced like “cool”) hope to stick it to their former employer, Google, when all their site has been displaying is:

Cuil Debut

I wish them luck, but there have been quite a few Google challengers over the past few years…  None have been successful.

Yahoo is still hanging on (How? I have no idea…), but unless Cuil offers something really really new and exciting, well, they’ll go the way of Magellan — my original search engine of choice — in a matter of months…

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Garmin Nuvi 260 Vacation StatisticsWhile I can’t really compare it to other GPS devices since I’ve never had a different one, I do have a few things to say about the Garmin Nuvi 260.

On our recent vacation, we traversed over 2600 miles with the unit “plugged in” and it got us everywhere we wanted to go.

We didn’t even need to look at our old Rand McNally atlas that we brought along, you know, just in case…

That isn’t to say that the Garmin Nuvi 260 is flawless…

The first problem I found with it was in downtown Chicago. While we were on the city streets, it worked just fine. But on the interstates that are 12 lanes wide with jersey barriers dividing it up every 4 lanes or so and city streets running parallel on each side of the highway, well, the Garmin was obviously unsure of which road we were actually on.

Understandable I suppose, it only appears to be accurate to within a few hundred feet and when there are 3 or more road ways all on top of one another within that accuracy zone, well, of course it was going to have some difficulty.

The good news is that even though we missed the turn it asked us to take (which would have been impossible due to the previously mentioned jersey barrier), the Garmin 260 was still able to guide us to our destination after “recalculating” a few times.

The next small issue I had with the unit came in Toronto — a city I’m semi-familiar with driving in. Like most modern cities, the whole downtown area is set-up in a grid style. My destination was north of the city on Yonge Street (a N-S route). At the time, I was on Dundas Street (an E-W route) about 5 blocks east of Yonge Street.

The simple way to get there would have been to to drive west on Dundas until I hit Yonge, turn right (towards the north) and then hit my destination.

But the Garmin instructed us to turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left — basically directing us towards the destination diagonally.

Garmin Route Selection

I immediately understood what it was doing, connecting our current position and our destination in a straight line and choosing the closest route.

Have you ever tried turning left in the city? On a main road? Where trolleys still run on rails? With tons of pedestrian traffic? And in a country where you need to give pedestrians the right of way?

It’s something that’s best to avoid.

I didn’t obey the Garmin in this case, mostly because I knew where I was going, but had this been in another city, one I’m unfamiliar with, it would have been quite the stressful drive when it didn’t really need to be.

The last little glitch with the Garmin occurred as we were heading home. We crossed the border in Buffalo, New York where the QEW becomes I-90 or the New York State Thruway. I-90 then eventually turns into the Mass Pike which leads right to Boston — which points us towards Connecticut.

We made a quick side trip to Eden, New York — maybe 10 minutes southwest of Buffalo and I-90 — to visit a kazoo factory. The Garmin 260 worked perfectly. Unfortunately the factory was closed. Boo…

Afterwards, we punched in our home address as our next destination and the Garmin took us through mile after mile of desolate farmland on slow two lane roads.

It was slow going and we were a little low on gas — not an ideal situation. I’d say it added nearly an additional 2 hours to our drive when, technically, the Garmin should have just told us to go back the way we’d come and join up with I-90 for some travel at 70+ mph.

On the bright side, taking the scenic route put us up close and personal to one of the wind farms that have started dotting the upstate New York landscape over the past decade. They’re a pretty neat sight.

Upstate New York Wind Farm

In the end, I’d give the Garmin Nuvi 260 a big thumbs up. Its limitations, while annoying, are totally within reason. Best of all, it never failed to get us where we were headed.

Can You Dig It?

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