Saturday, July 25, 2009

Two new toys in the house

I'd like to start off by apologizing for not writing anything last week. No excuses, just nothing came to me. But the good news is, I have something to write about today!

This past week we got two new tech toys in the house; a new multifunction printer (printer, scanner, copier, fax) and a GPS for the car. I wanted to test them out before I wrote about them, so here we go.


First let's look at the multifunction printer. We used to have a Brother multifunction printer that we bought at Wal-Mart for $99 or so. It was about 5 years old, I guess, and it was starting to die. Then within a week, both the scanner bulb and the print head went out. So, now it's basically a paperweight. But it did last us 5 years or so. I started doing my research based on where I could get a new multifunction printer, what was available (and on sale) and what functions I needed and wanted in a new printer. After a week or so of research, I settled on a Canon MX860. Not only was the Canon MX860 a good printer, but I could buy it on sale with free shipping. Awesome.

So, what's so great about the Canon MX860? Well, let's take a look. All these comments are subjective and not based on any objective testing. The Canon MX860 met all my basic requirements; color inkjet printer, scanner, copier, fax. But, it exceeded my requirements in a few areas and still had a low price. In the exceeding area, it doesn't just print, the Canon MX860 is the first duplex inkjet printer I've ever owned. In other words, this printer will print on both sides of a page without having to figure out how to stick the paper back in the feeder so it prints correctly on the other side. That is really cool. I have an HP LaserJet 4000N that duplexes, but sometimes, you just need color and on both sides of the page (and not only that, it saves paper!). The other area it exceeded my requirements in was the scanner. The MX860 has a 30 sheet feeder for the scanner, and it duplexes the scanning! In other words, you can scan both sides of the page automatically! I have never seen this in a scanner that was under $200 before; and absolutely never in a multifunction printer that duplexes the print. I may be completely wrong on this, since I've been out of the printer market for a while, but this is an awesome printer. The third element of awesomeness in this printer is the fact that not only can you attach it to your network, you can use WiFi to attach it, if you don't have a physical cable available to get to your printer. WiFi, scanning and printing duplexing, what more could you ask for? Well, how about awesome print quality and fast printing? The Canon MX860 is a great multifunction printer that does it all. Recommended.


Now let's look at the GPS we got for my wife. We got the Garmin Nüvi 265WT. Staples had it on sale this week for $199 after rebates. This particular Garmin has some cool features that make it perfect for my wife. First, it gives turn by turn directions and says the name of the next street to turn on, which is great. It has a reasonably up to date map, although the maps don't include the street that was completed about a year ago in my neighborhood, so it looks like we're off-roading for a while (and I updated the maps when I got the GPS). The kicker for me was that it has Bluetooth capabilities, so it can pair with your phone and be used as a hands-free device. Also, this particular Garmin has traffic reporting (hence the T in the model number), which if you live in a major metropolitan area can be VERY helpful.

The GPS features are the normal kind of things. In the past few days the only problem we've found with it is it doesn't know which street you're on if you're driving under an elevated street or highway. My wife was following the directions from the Garmin and must have missed a turn or the Garmin didn't realize which level she was driving on, and she got lost in DC down by the Potomac River, because the Garmin thought she was on the elevated part of the street. Once she worked all that out, it was fine and it helped her get back to where she needed to be. I don't think that's a limitation specific to the Garmin, I think all GPS would have problems in that area.

The Bluetooth capability is nice. Pairing the Garmin with my wife's Blackberry Curve from Verizon Wireless was easy. Once the two were paired, the Garmin downloaded the entire address book from the Blackberry. Also the Garmin allows you to voice dial your phone (if the phone has that capability). We've been looking for a hands free device for my wife for a while now, since the headsets don't work too well for her (and she hates the wires). This one works well, and the sound quality is very good for a secondary feature.

The traffic function is cool. The traffic is provided by NAVTEQ. NAVTEQ uses RDS to transmit traffic information on a 57KHz subcarrier. Some car stereo systems receive RDS information and can display traffic or other data. Friday when my wife was driving me to work, I played with the traffic capabilities of the Garmin. Friday was a bad day to do this, because Fridays are usually light traffic days. When you turn on the traffic map, routes that have moderate traffic are marked in yellow and routes that have heavy traffic are marked in red. The Garmin has the capability to route you around heavy traffic areas, but I haven't had the opportunity to test that yet. Also, traffic is currently only available in 50 cities in the US, so it's not everywhere (although, if you lived in the middle of Kansas or Iowa, you wouldn't need traffic maps now would you?).

So far, we're really happy with the Garmin Nüvi 265WT. It's a good GPS with multiple voices to chose from and great additional capabilities. Recommended.


Now on a personal note, I got to meet one of my Twitter friends in person last weekend, @NicLizD. If you use Twitter, I highly recommend following her. She's a great person who is very smart and really enjoys chatting with people. Also, this week I went back to my office for the second time since March, and I went in two times this week, although not for full days. That's a big deal for me. I'm doing physical therapy three times a week, so the other two days I go into the office and work from there for a while. It gives me the chance to understand everything else that's going on around my projects, so I can keep things tied together. Still no major progress on getting Windows Vista installed on Frag Mom's Frag Box, but I have made baby steps toward fixing it. It seems to be the USB drivers that are causing it to fail, so my next step is to flash the BIOS with an update, then try again. But it's working on XP, so that's not a real problem. Hopefully I'll have a full fix on the Frag Box soon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

YourFi, MiFi, and OurFi

Did you ever have one of those mornings? On the plus side, I did get to sleep in until 8:00AM, which was a great blessing. But then things went a little "wonky" to use an Abby word.


A little background is in order here, I think. In the past few months I've become a very active part of a Christian prayer and outreach group that uses Twitter and a blog to reach people. The twitter account is @worldprayr, and the blog is here. Well, the blog site is where the problems lay today. It seems that during our nighttime and during the daytime over in Asia, someone decided to hack all the images at imageshack, a website used by bloggers and others to store images. One of the images used on the worldprayr blog site is stored on imageshack. But one is all it takes. That image now shows up as the Anti-sec manifesto. I don't want to give this group much more press time than it's already getting, if it is a group (it may only be one person. There's very little information out there on Anti-sec). I will get on my soap box about defacing someone else's web page for your purposes.

Let me say this up front. Graffiti is NOT art. Some of it may have artistic tendencies, but it is still defacing another person's property. Hacking someone's website is no different than tagging someone's fence or house or business. It's thuggish graffiti, and childish at best. Oliver Wendell Holmes said "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Defacing a website goes just beyond the nose. If you want to make a point, there are many other ways to make it without defacing other people's websites.

Those of you who disagree with me, fire at will.

OK, off the soap box. (and the site is fixed now).


I got back from Maine on Wednesday. I had the perfect opportunity to test my new little MiFi 2200 from Verizon Wireless that I talked about a few weeks ago. The first test was in Fairfield, Maine, which is about 44.58°N, 69.60°W. It's a small town by most accounts, but a larger town by Maine standards. Since Verizon Wireless bought AllTel last year, most of the coverage in the state has changed over to Verizon (although AllTel is still operating as a subsidiary of Verizon Wireless). I tested my new toy in Fairfield and it worked like a charm. I had full signal strength, full throughput, and a very reliable connection. The next test was the kicker.

Let me tell you a little about my dad's house (we call it "the farm") and the town he lives in. Dad lives in Winn, Maine. It's a speck of a town, way off the beaten path, at about 45.45°N, 68.34°W. We always joke "It's not the end of the world, but you CAN see it from there!" According to the 2000 census numbers, there were 420 people living in Winn in 2000. I don't know where they found them all, because I think there's a LOT less than that. I think in the 1980 census, there were only 250 or so (I was one of them then). Dad's house is built in a valley of sorts. There is no line-of-sight anywhere because of all the hills. Since the digital television transition, there is no signal there because of all the hills around the house. On the good side, it makes the house easier to heat in winter and cool in summer (well, usually cooling isn't needed!). I marvel at the design of the house every time I'm there, since there were no "engineers" involved in the design process. But I digress, as I usually do. Historically speaking, no one in the family has been able to make or receive cell phone calls at the farm because of the hills around it. This trip was different.

Maybe Verizon Wireless added towers in the area. I did notice one up on top of Mount Jefferson. I don't know if VZW uses it or not. But my Blackberry Curve got between one and two bars of signal strength, depending on where I was standing in the house! Cell phone signal at the farm! It was reason to celebrate. So I pulled out my MiFi 2200, set it up as a WiFi hub, put it up as high as I could (on top of one of the window valences my dad made about 30+ years ago), and tried to connect to it with my laptop. BINGO! Not a perfect signal, but there was a connection, and it was as fast as the DSL connection I was using in Fairfield! As far as I know, this was the first time Internet access was made at the farm that exceeded 14,400Kbps.

I'm not being paid by Verizon Wireless for this endorsement, but I highly recommend them and the MiFi 2200. But if they wanted to pay me for my endorsement, I'd take it!


I hope to spend some time this week trying to upgrade Frag Mom's frag box to Vista (yeah, I know some of you would argue the term "upgrade", but so be it). I think I've found the problem but I just haven't had the time to test it yet.


It's good to be home!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Story From My Past

Happy Independence Day. In honor of Independence Day, I thought I'd post a little story from my past. Not really specifically uplifting, not about technology, but a story from my past while I was in the Air Force, teaching ROTC at the University of Maryland.

First, a little background.

In 2004, I was sent to train ROTC cadets, most college sophomores (soon to be juniors), at ROTC Field Training, a 28 day training experience where the cadets learn leadership, followership, and team building skills in a controlled, stressful environment. That's the nice way of saying it.

Field Training Officers or FTOs were assigned to each flight (the smallest unit in the Air Force, like a squad in the Army). Three flights to a squadron. Being the ranking officer in my squadron, I was the squadron FTO, with 2 captains under me. Each of us started with 24 to 28 cadets to train. Each flight also had a Cadet Training Assistant or CTA who was a junior (soon to be senior) who showed aptitude and leadership at field training last year, to help the FTOs with the flight. I also had a squadron CTA that rotated through the squadron and up to the wing (the next higher level, similar to a battalion if squadron = company). So that's 2 captains and 4 soon to be lieutenants (which the Field Training commander, an AF colonel told us to treat as we would lieutenants).

We were all given information on the cadets we would have in our flights, but you can only learn so much from paperwork. GPA, basic aptitude, etc. But that doesn't tell you 2 major things we were looking for; leadership and stress management. They (those in charge of the entire camp) also ensured we would not have cadets from where we taught college. Each cadet would be assigned a room in the dorm, 2 to a room, 2 rooms to a bathroom.

Enough background. Here we go.

It was my week to pick who the cadet squadron commander would be. I had a cadet who was falling into the background as much as possible, but had great paperwork. He just wasn't stepping up. Time for a little push. After discussion with my captains and the CTAs, we agreed, Cadet Johnson (not his name. In fact, I can't remember his name) was the choice for cadet squadron commander.

When it was announced, he looked shocked. This was to be a big week. We were supposed to go through preparation for "deployment" to "the field" for 3 days. That included a 5 mile road march (wow, 5 whole miles!) in formation through a supposed hostile environment. Squadron commanders were to control all three flights in their squadrons, through their respective flight commanders.

It was going well until they came "under fire". Cadet Johnson lost total control of his flights, as well as his composure. I pointed at him and yelled (he was about 100' away) "You're dead. Fall in with your flight." Not angry, just loud. What I call "the dad voice". Cadet Johnson complied, angry and flustered. Now a new squadron commander had to be selected, but I let the flight commanders decide what to do, since there was an order of succession laid out. They did it correctly. A few other squadron commanders "died" that day.

That evening, we let Cadet Johnson know he was back in as squadron commander for the remainder of his scheduled time. He didn't look happy.

The next day went as well as can be expected in the first 2 weeks of field training. Lots of frustration and mistakes under pressure, which is what we wanted. Cadet Johnson was very frustrated, and didn't respond well to the stresses of 3 "real officers" yelling at him, as well as 4 CTAs.

That evening was when it got interesting. During inspection prep time, when cadets were supposed to be getting everything ready for the next day, Cadet Johnson and his roommate had their door closed (which was not allowed). My CTA noticed the issue, and stood in the hall, listening at the door. He could hear Cadet Johnson ranting about his time as cadet squadron commander.

"If Major Stratton and Cadet Moier (my CTA) think they can tear me down like this, just wait until we go to the firing range with the 9mm! I'll show them. They won't come back" is something close to what Cadet Johnson said. It didn't take long for my CTA to open the door and try to find out what was going on. Neither of us was used to death threats.

That was a long night. Between that point (about 9pm or so) and 11pm, Cadet Johnson saw every real officer in his chain of command starting with me, all the way up to the Colonel in charge of the camp. It was decided that he would not remain at field training (I decided that about 2 hours before!) and that he would immediately be removed from the area around his flight. He was moved to the staff building (didn't make me feel much better) and was constantly watched, not allowed to leave his new room. Also during that time he was interviewed by the real base security forces, since there was an actual crime here. The determined he was not a threat to anyone (again, didn't make me feel much better).

Cadet Johnson was removed from field training with prejudice, in other words, he was removed from ROTC completely and would never be allowed to serve in the military. He was sent home about 4 days after the incident, due to flight scheduling. After that point, my flight began to gel together as a team. Although they never won an award during field training, they were constantly just below the waterline, but the winning flight was different every time. My flight was the number 1 flight of field training in all areas.

I've lost contact with my cadets from field training. I hope most of them are still serving. The ones that completed field training were outstanding Americans, and I knew they would be excellent officers. I really miss them. Even though I was "the bad guy" always yelling and correcting them, they knew that I genuinely cared about each of them as individuals, and wanted them to succeed. We also had lots of fun during that time. My job was to make it as hard as possible for them, but not to be hard on them. After Cadet Johnson left, they understood why I was there. There was no stopping them after that.

If you are currently in, or have served in any branch of the military, thanks you for your service.