Spider Computer Mouse Glows in the Dark

Spider Computer Mouse Glows in the Dark
A real spider embedded in acrylic makes this mouse special. [Image shared by Amazon]
The Spider Computer Mouse, which glows in the dark, will add function and value to your computing tasks (while potentially creeping out your friends — like Chris Pirillo — who freak out at the mere mention of the “s” word).

And just in time for Halloween, too…

The Spider Computer Mouse is a Mouse with Character

Many of us have been using some type of computer mouse for several decades — or at least as long as we’ve been playing with computers. We usually consider a mouse to be just a mouse — nothing more and nothing less. As a controller, the mouse has become a staple for most of us who use either a desktop or laptop style computer. But the Spider Computer Mouse is a unique device that adds character and style to your computer rig. It is also the perfect gift for the insect and spider enthusiasts in your life. Think 10 to 14-year-old boys or men who want something different to impress their friends.

In addition, the Spider Computer Mouse is no optical illusion. This is a 100% real spider that is embedded in the clear acrylic shell.

Why the Spider Computer Mouse Will Make a Great Gift for That Geek in Your Life

The Spider Computer Mouse is a tribute to the Smithsonian’s O. Orkin Insect Zoo, located in the National Museum of Natural History. For anyone who has visited any of the Smithsonian museums, you know how precise the museums are in their presentation of the history — including natural history — of our country. With this in mind, the Spider Computer Mouse keeps this tradition alive by presenting the user with a real spider encased in acrylic. In addition, the mouse also has the capability of glowing in the dark, which only adds to its mystique.

With Halloween fast approaching, what better gift for that favorite geek in your life than this Spider Computer Mouse?

Get your own Spider Computer Mouse here!

Archos GamePad: a New Way to Game

Archos GamePad: a New Way to GamePhysical gaming pads that blend a screen with physical buttons may not be new, but the Archos GamePad is one of the first gaming pads that will be offering Android Jelly Bean 4.1. For those of you who are not familiar with the Jelly Bean operating system, it is Google’s latest release of its popular Android system that has proved itself to be the best version yet. The Archos GamePad will bring the power of Jelly Bean with a light and thin device that will also take advantage of Google Play, along with Google Mobile Services.

The Archos GamePad will offer a 1024 x 600 pixel screen along with 16 million colors to bring a bright and vibrant experience to the device. For those who have found touchscreen operation of a game cumbersome, the Archos GamePad offers 14 physical buttons and dual analog thumb-sticks. In addition, the GamePad also offers a revolutionary new gaming tool called mapping, which Archos claims is an exclusive to its product.

On the official website, the developers of the Archos GamePad state that their unique mapping tool will:

  • map any virtual-controlled game
  • provide an easy-to-use, drag and drop interface that will map a game in seconds
  • automatically load mapping profiles and start your games
  • include hundreds of profiles for the popular games

But hold on. Not only is the Archos GamePad a gamer’s delight, but it is also a full-fledged tablet computer. Users can enjoy Google Now to search and find anything on the Internet, surf the Web faster with the Google Chrome browser, and even check Google Gmail. In fact, this gaming device has access to all of Google’s most popular services including Google Maps, Google+, and even Google Drive with 5 GB of free storage for your stuff.

These are the specifications for the device:

  • Google-certified Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system
  • Quad-core Mali 400 MP GPU paired with a 1.6 GHz dual-core CPU
  • 8 GB of internal memory with a microSD slot or up to 64 GB of additional space
  • A mini-HDMI port for connecting the GamePad to a television
  • 700,000 apps and games with DRM support for downloading books, magazines, music, movies, and TV shows available through Google Play
  • Tailor-made apps for video and music that include metadata scraping, auto-subtitles, and format and codec support with 1080p video decoding

The Archos is in every way a full-fledged tablet computer, so buying this GamePad has a lot to offer. The device should become available here in the US sometime in early 2013.

Comments are welcome.

Source: Archos

Tablets: Not Just for Consumers

Tablets: Not Just for ConsumersNo one needs to tell you that tablets, with an estimated 117 million to be sold in 2012, have become the most popular device in the history of the computing industry. However, it appears that this may be just a blip in what will occur in the future as sales are expected to continue their growth spurt in 2013. These sales should also help boost declining sales for dependent e-book giants Barnes & Noble and Amazon. For these and other tablet software manufacturers, 2013 is being predicted as the year that the enterprise embraces the tablet computer.

However, to date, the tablet has been viewed as a consumer toy — one that the user can easily maneuver while traveling or sitting in front of the TV. Now, however, we await Microsoft’s introduction of its latest iteration of Windows, which many believe will be specifically targeted for use on a tablet computing system. Could this mean that Microsoft has engineered a tablet OS specifically targeting the enterprise market? Did Microsoft design Windows 8 to keep its enterprise customers from jumping ship to Apple or another competitor? If so, why is the enterprise market considered a more coveted prize than the consumer market?

The answer is fairly simple and is something that most computer geeks already understand. The big money is made in supplying the hardware, software, and expertise (in its many facets), needed for any 21st century business to function efficiently. More important, the money machine revolves around the licensing and agreements that Microsoft has incorporated since its early days of software development. With these licenses in hand, businesses have extensively come to rely on Microsoft as the go-to company for its have-to-have products such as the Windows operating system and Microsoft Office.

With this being said, one could easily make the assumption that many enterprise customers will follow wherever Microsoft leads them, because they feel comfortable in using Microsoft products. This confidence regarding these products ranges downhill to a business’ employees and IT departments that understand the software and know its limitations and advantages. However, while this sounds great, there are some issues that enterprises will encounter when they upgrade to Windows 8 or buy new tablets with RT pre-installed.

First, many enterprises have legacy applications that may not function properly on the new Windows operating system. In addition, Windows RT is not designed to run full-featured software, such as Microsoft Office, which could also pose a problem for adaptation by some companies. However, these issues are generally addressed and can be corrected through revisions or upgrades that are usually offered over the course of a few months after a new software is released. This being said, Microsoft is extremely hopeful that any issues regarding its new operating system can be quickly resolved and that Windows 8 will take the enterprise by storm.

However, even with all the hype, I am not sure if fragmenting the operating system between a full-blown Windows 8 version and a slimmed version of Windows 8 known at RT is going to be received with open arms. One major reason for my cynicism is that I don’t know how many companies that have upgraded to Windows 7 may be reluctant to upgrade again. In addition, there is always the possibility that enterprises could accept the BYOD (bring your own device) approach. This approach would allow employees to bring their own personal devices to the work environment, which would mean that the company has the potential to save itself the cost associated with buying new hardware and software.

So now you’ve gotten my take on tablets and the assumption, by Microsoft, that its new Windows 8 software will be the answer to the tablet crossover between consumer and business use. What do you think? Will the enterprise readily switch over to Windows 8 or Windows RT, or is it going to take a wait and see approach?

Share your thoughts with us.

Comments welcome.

Source: IDC Press Release

Source: Connected World

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by bigdigo

One Teacher, One Classroom, One Amazing Computer Lab

One Teacher, One Classroom, One Amazing Computer LabIn today’s struggling economy, we find many US school districts strapped for funding which, in turn, places our children’s education at risk.

To address this issue and to ensure that students are able to garner at least basic computer concepts, one innovative teacher took matters into his own hands. With a computer budget of $0, an Alameda County school district teacher built his own computer lab. No, he wasn’t an heir to a fortune or in any way independently wealthy, but he was resourceful and found a way to collect and breathe new life into old, discarded computers. His tenaciousness, organization, and foresight is certainly a novel approach that may be worth emulating.

What Happens to Old Computers That People Don’t Want?

Think about it. Many colleges teach outdated computer skills and use older equipment. In these cases, the students will receive a degree, but are then expected to bring themselves up to date. In the case of younger children, older computers will allow them to learn keyboarding and other basic computer skills. Fortunately, these older computers are available in excess and consumers in California who choose to upgrade to a laptop and discard their old desktop computer face one of two choices. The first, and least desirable choice, is to discard their old desktop computer (and monitor) in a landfill or, better yet, dump it on the side of a back country road or down a ravine. Surprising? Not really. Considering the fees charged by landfills in the northern California foothills, one cannot be surprised when I tell you that discarding old appliances, tires, computers, and other garbage on the roadside is more common than one would think. For many who have no disposable income, dumping has become a way of life. It seems that they were the children whose mothers came in and cleaned up after them and they are now content to allow country road crews to clean up the messes they make.

The second choice that California consumers have, and one with a more desirable outcome, is to recycle their older computers. With this in mind, a 2005 California mandate created a recycling program that was meant to encourage this avenue of disposal and to circumvent illegal dumping in California. The plan was targeted towards the recycling of computers, monitors, and laptops, but also included all other electronic devices. To cover the cost of the program, the recycling fee was paid when a consumer bought the product.

What Did This Teacher Do to Breathe New Life into Systems That Were Allegedly DOA?

The teacher, identified as Robert Litt, discovered some interesting facts when he started scrounging around for computers. Here is what he learned:

  • Most Windows-based computers ran slowly because they had been infected with viruses or malware.
  • Most of these computers had hardware that was basically sound.
  • Once Windows was removed and the hard disk was cleaned, installing a version of Linux breathed new life into the systems.

Through his research, Litt discovered that even systems made back in 2002 with 512 MB of RAM could handle Linux. However, Litt wanted to make the best out of what he was able to gather together for his students, so he sought help from a local Linux user group. Fortunately, this group of individuals, whose main objective is to instruct consumers on how to use open source software, was more than happy to lend assistance to the project.

As Litt proceeded with his project, he also learned that finding old computers was much easier than he had envisioned. In fact, he found that both businesses and homeowners had old systems sitting around collecting dust and that the owners were happy to part with these relics. Of course it didn’t hurt that, since these were educational donations, they were given tax deductions for their generosity — and it saved them the hassle of having to dispose of the systems themselves. In addition, to top off the reasons they would never voice, they were able to feel good about having their old system used for an excellent cause.

After reading about what this man has accomplished, it made me ask myself why other school districts aren’t doing this? What about third world countries? Since Linux open source software is free to all, don’t you think that this would be a great way to recycle used equipment and squeeze a few more years of life out of our aging electronics?

Innovative? Definitely. Resourceful? Without a doubt. Driven by someone with foresight? Most decidedly. What this one teacher has effectively demonstrated is that old computers can be brought back from the dead and become useful tools. In other words: Why go the way of the disposable society when you can effectively use something for the betterment of our children and save a few tax dollars in the process?

What do you think? Comments welcome.

Source: ifixit.org

Google Nexus 7: How Accurate Are Defect Reports?

Google Nexus 7: How Accurate Are Defect Reports?Are the reported defects surrounding Google’s new Nexus 7 true, or just something being rehashed for lack of something better to write about? This is the question I posed to Chris last Sunday afternoon when I suggested writing this article. My premise was that, if a search is made on the Internet referencing the topic, one finds a slew of reports concerning the same seven issues. Suspiciously, however, many of the reports/reviews that have been written appear to be just a rehashing of information that can be found on the Internet and don’t support the claim that an author has any personal experience with the product. With this in mind, what are the complaints on which these reviewers are agreeing?

The seven main issues being reported are:

  • It appears that there is a screen separation accompanied by a creaking noise when one pushes on the screen.
  • There is a backlight bleeding issue that one doesn’t usually see on tablets costing more than $100.
  • There are charging problems due to an apparently faulty micro USB charging port.
  • There are touch screen detection issues that usually occur when the user is involved in extreme game play requiring multiple screen gestures.
  • There appear to be areas of the screen that are unclear due to dead screen pixels.
  • The screen flickers — a problem that is being blamed on the light auto sensor.
  • The microphone is DOA.

When I spoke to Chris on Sunday about this article, he informed me that his Nexus 7 unit was experiencing the screen flickering issue. He had not decided as of this writing whether to return the unit or not.

In reference to the first issue of screen separation, the xda-developers forum has provided a fix. However, the fix requires the user to pry off the back of their brand new Google Nexus 7 and tighten all of the screws. This is something I can’t wait to do to my newly purchased unit, especially since two problems immediately jump to mind. What happens if:

  • I accidentally break something inside the case while applying this fix; would I void the warranty?
  • The fix doesn’t work or if the problem recurs?

The unit I purchased displayed this issue and I chose to return the unit rather than take a chance at voiding my warranty. I am now patiently waiting for a replacement.

Due to my own experience, I was interested in an unscientific poll that the xda-developers forum put out asking its readers if they were experiencing screen separation. To date, the poll has received 355 responses with the following results:

  • No: 209 (58.87%)
  • Yes: 146 (41.13%

However, like with all polls and/or reports, the problems with the Google Nexus 7 may be exaggerated. It could also be that other competitors are allowing their sales representatives to write articles in an attempt to discourage consumers from buying the product. These writers, as well as those who just enjoy throwing a monkey wrench into the buying process, are known throughout the Internet as trolls. These trolls intentionally write either glowing reviews about a product for financial gain or they can write inaccurate or negative reviews about a service or product to the same effect. With this in mind, a purchaser who is really scouting for the perfect product must first determine the truthfulness of the reports.

So, in order to follow my own advice, I asked my fellow Gnomies if they had experienced any problems with the Nexus 7. Here are a few of their responses:

Williams R. Reynolds Young: No problems here. Not being a huge tablet fan, I wouldn’t say that I am in love with the device, but I love the form, factor, and price — it’s a no-brainer!

Chris Pirillo: Mine was flickering — the company has offered to replace it. Unsure if I wanna go that far.

After reading his comment, I made mention that he could try to go into the settings area and turn off the Automatic Brightness, to which I received this response:

David Di Franco, Jr.: I did this right away. It makes a huge difference.

Unfortunately, however, while David was pleased with this improvement, he found another issue that didn’t have such an easy solution.

David Di Franco, Jr.: The left side of my bezel sometimes makes a slight clicking noise. You can feel it moving a bit. However, it’s nothing too bad — just slightly disappointing.

As you can imagine, after reading all of the complaints, my immediate reaction was that I regretted buying the Google Nexus 7 so soon after its release. Perhaps I should have waited a few months until Google and ASUS got the bugs worked out of this new system. However, I have purchased products before, like the Amazon Kindle Fire, that were new to the market and had some bugs that resulted in consumer complaints. For example, the Fire has been labeled as clunky, heavy, and poorly designed, without Bluetooth, a USB port, or a volume switch. Some users also complained that they had trouble getting onto the Internet via Wi-Fi, and still others took issue with the Kindle’s picture quality.

However, Amazon had been producing various Kindle products prior to the release of the Kindle Fire; as a result, the company had the know-how and experience to quickly repair some of these issues via updates. One cannot help but recall the famous Antennagate in which the Apple iPhone 4 was problematic when it came to connecting to various carriers. For this issue, Apple provided all owners with a free bumper case to fix the problems.

With that being said, we all know that no company is infallible. Remember, ASUS (the manufacturer of the Nexus 7) as well as Google have a lot riding on the success of this new tablet. Knowing this, one would have thought that most, if not all, of the design flaws would have been worked out. I hope, for Google’s sake, that the problems being reported don’t turn into an epidemic of complaints resulting in the Nexus 7 becoming a pariah in the tablet computer market. If this happens, and if Amazon does come out with the rumored five or six new Kindle Fire 2s, or if an Apple iPad mini becomes a reality, Google can forget about tablets and give up any hope of competing in the tablet market.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.

PS Yesterday afternoon, a replacement Google Nexus 7 arrived. I will be checking it out during the next week and will do a follow-up report on whether I discover any issues or not.

Source: PC Magazine

Source: xda-developers forum

Source: xda-developers poll

How Good is an $89.99 7″ Android 4.0 Tablet Computer?

How Good is an $89.99 7-inch Android 4.0 Tablet Computer?Let me explain how I came about to even thinking about buying or even using an $89.99 tablet computer — something about which I never before gave any thought. Like many of you who are reading this, I buy mainly brand name products such as from Apple, Google, or Amazon to satisfy my tablet needs. In our home we already use an Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire, and a Google Nexus 7 should be arriving soon. So what attracted me to a cheapie, no-name tablet computer?

I found myself surfing around eBay when I accidentally stumbled upon a no-name, no-brand 7″ tablet computer for only $69.89. But what was strange about this device was that it came with the following:

  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • 7″ touchscreen
  • 512 MB memory with 4 GB flash storage.
  • 1.5 GHz processor and 800 x 480 screen resolution
  • Micro SD and USB
  • HDMI

I know, I know; the specifications are fairly weak and I seriously doubt that this would be a blazing experience. I also didn’t want to order from the eBay website since the device needed to be shipped directly from Hong Kong. Because of this, I thought that returning the device might be problematic and I looked elsewhere to order one of the devices. I found a similar device (priced at $89.99) on Amazon, which was also being offered with an optional keyboard and case. The total cost was $98.84. I also added a SanDisk 16 GB MicroSD for added storage at only $7.67, bringing the total cost for the unit to a low of only $105.32.

What Did I Get for the Price?

What I got for the price was a surprisingly snappy 7″ Android-powered tablet. The first thing I noticed was how much lighter and more comfortable the unit was compared to my Amazon Kindle Fire. I estimated that the no-name tablet weighed in at about four to six ounces lighter, which, when holding in your hand for extended periods, is quite noticeable.

I was immediately able to set up a Wi-Fi connection and activated my Google account. Email started to flow to my Gmail application and I was able to sync to my account without issue. I then downloaded those Android apps that I use including Dolphin HD browser, Easy Installer, ES File Explorer, App2SD, Box, Lookout, Facebook, and several games, which all installed without a problem.

How Good is an $89.99 7

I next connected the keyboard/case to the unit and the keyboard worked perfect. When the keyboard is connected, the device automatically shuts down the built-in keyboard. Typing on the pint-sized keyboard was actually easy and everything on the keyboard worked perfectly. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised because I did have reservations about how well a $10 keyboard would function. Also, the no-name 7″ tablet fit perfectly into the case and did not slide; it fit tightly, holding the tablet securely in place. The case, which also houses the keyboard, is imitation leather, but has a nice, quality fit and appears to be well-made. There is a stand on the back of the case to hold up the tablet while typing and a magnetic case latch.

Some of the Other Features I Like

  • The on and off button is located on the top right side of the unit and is easily accessible.
  • Next to the on and off switch is a rocker arm for setting the speaker volume up and down. (Hello, Amazon. This is one of the biggest complaints about the Kindle Fire.)
  • The keyboard/case combo included a micro USB to standard USB connection cord.
  • The device also came with a micro USB connector to standard USB connection cord to connect the tablet computer to a PC.
  • The microSD slot worked perfectly and immediately recognized the added storage when I inserted the SanDisk microSD card once inserted into the device.
  • The tablet also came with a micro HDMI connector.

What I Don’t Like About the Tablet

  • Picture quality and resolution, at 800 x 480, is rather poor when compared to an Amazon Kindle Fire, Google Nexus 7, or any of the Apple iPad models.
  • The rear of the tablet is made of cheap, shiny plastic and is a fingerprint magnet.
  • The unit did not come with a micro HDMI connector.

Conclusion

I believe that this would be a great tablet computer for anyone looking for an inexpensive device, knowing the tablet’s limitations. The tablet responds very well to commands and I found Ice Cream Sandwich very easy to use. For surfing the Internet, checking email, and playing games, this tablet will meet your needs.

While we are all making goo-goo eyes for the new Google Nexus 7, what is surprising is that the none of the bigger names — Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, Apple iPad — include a microSD slot for added storage.

Amazon 7″ Android tablet at $88.09

Amazon keyboard at $9.54

SanDisk 16 GB MicroSD at $7.69

Comments, as always, are welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Mesq

Source: eBay

What’s the Best Computer for Your Parents?

Best Computer for Your ParentsThis post doesn’t apply to all parents, obviously. But if you’ve been living out of the house for a couple of decades or more, you might find this situation familiar. (Or, if you’re younger, you might substitute “grandparents” for “parents.”)

Computers and parents don’t always mix well. They’re going to have problems. They’re going to get viruses. They’re going to call you while you’re eating dinner so that you can explain how to log into Skype. Troubleshooting issues over the phone is difficult and frustrating for both you and them. Using remote desktop software is easier, but explaining how to set it up on their end — over the phone — can be as difficult as solving the original issue over the phone.

Getting them set up with the right computer and the right OS can make many of their issues disappear. If their issues disappear, it means less work for you. However, it’s best if you do this right from the beginning. Switching your parents to a new platform isn’t easy. They don’t like change. They want their “Start” button to say “Start” and they want it in the exact location where it has always been.

The majority of parents probably use Windows. While Windows (7) is a great OS, there are alternatives that may be better for an inexperienced user. Keep in mind that I am not offering a biased opinion. I am currently using a PC that I built, running Windows 7, but I have experience with many other platforms.

Macintosh

A Mac is probably a great computer for your parents. It may be more expensive than a PC, but the resale value is great and it will likely be much easier for your parents to use.

  • The Menu Bar is always at the top. It’s easy for them to remember and locate.
  • The Mac App Store makes it easy for them to find and download software.
  • Viruses are less common than on Windows. Less viruses mean less work for you.
  • If something goes wrong, there’s someone they can call that isn’t you: Apple.

Even if you’re a PC fanboy, you can’t deny that paying $99 for Apple’s One to One program, which teaches your parents how to use their computer, would save you a lot of time and many headaches. They’d likely be doing things with ease that they never would have imagined doing on their PC.

PC with Ubuntu Linux

Your parents probably wouldn’t be able to set this one up on their own, but once you complete the setup for them, it’s much simpler than what they’re used to (Windows). Just beware of driver issues. Try the live CD and make sure you’ll be able to get their stuff to work, including wireless Internet and their printer.

Linux viruses are very rare. It’s something that your parents likely wouldn’t have to worry about and it’s something that you wouldn’t have to resolve.

Ubuntu has a software center that allows you to download free applications with just the click of a mouse, similar to the Mac App Store. Your parents won’t have to call you to find out where and how to download a specific application.

Ubuntu comes with Firefox by default and if your parents don’t like it, they can download Chrome from the Software Center. Let’s face it: No matter how many times you install a Web browser for your parents and explain how to use it, they’re going to go back to using Internet Explorer 7 eventually. I’m not sure if they can’t tell the difference between the two or simply forget what Firefox is for, but it happens.

iPad

Sometimes a touch interface is easier to interact with. It may feel more natural for your parents. If your parents already have experience with another touch device, such as an Android phone, you may want to consider an Android tablet rather than an iPad. Change is scary. Just make sure that, if you go this route, you set them up with Amazon’s App Store because it has an approval process similar to Apple’s, so they won’t have to worry about downloading anything malicious. But back to the iPad.

  • It will do what they need it to. They can browse the Web, take and organize photos, play games, use Skype and/or FaceTime, etc.
  • They won’t get viruses. All apps have to go through Apple’s approval process before they’re available in the App Store. You don’t have to worry about malicious apps.
  • All of the apps are downloaded through the App Store, so you won’t have to tell them what website to go to, to download what they’re looking for.
  • They can use Apple’s $99 One to One program to learn how to use it.
  • If something goes wrong, they can contact Apple.

Chromebook

If your parents are like my dad, all they use is a Web browser. If that’s the case, a Chromebook would be the perfect solution for them. It runs Chrome OS, which is basically just a Web browser and Web apps.

  • The setup is extremely simple. Turn it on, connect to the wireless network, and begin using it. It also boots up very quickly (in about eight seconds).
  • It does what they need it to do. From the Web browser, they can check their favorite websites, look at family pictures on Facebook, check their email, browse YouTube, etc.
  • They have a 3G option. If your parents decide to get a 3G plan, they’ll be connected everywhere that has coverage. They won’t have to deal with connecting it to their wireless network.
  • Security is excellent. It is automatically kept up-to-date. It runs applications in a sandbox, meaning that a virus cannot affect anything outside of that sandbox. While it may affect the browser, it will not affect the OS. It also encrypts the data, so if you share your Chromebook with someone else, they won’t be able to access your data.

Change can be hard, but it can improve your parents’ technology experience. If you’re considering one of these options, try one out first. Go to an Apple Store; talk to the staff there. They’re usually very friendly and will answer any of your questions. Use the computers there. Use an iPad. Try an Ubuntu live CD. Find what is best for you/your parents.

What do your parents use? Do you know of any other user-friendly options?

How Technology Will Change Your Future Dining Experience

The standard restaurant experience involves our short-term relationship with our table server. This relationship begins as soon as the host or hostess has seated us at our table and our waiter or waitress arrives to take our order. During this first meeting, there will be a basic exchange of information that will include what we want to eat and how we would prefer it to be prepared. After that, we are generally left to our own devices until the same person, or in some cases someone else, delivers the meal to our table. Then, if we are lucky, the server will return to confirm that the meal meets our expectations, provide us with refills on our drinks, and present us with a bill. At nicer restaurants, the server will allow you enough time to finish your meal and then return to accept your payment in the form of cash, credit, debit card, gift card, or other form of payment. This may be your last contact with your table server, unless a signature is required that would cause the server to return to your table to present you with the form and then present you with some type of receipt.

Here are a few of the problems experienced by those of us who have ever needed service in a rush in order to catch a plane flight or make it to a scheduled meeting.

  • For a multitude of various reasons, we need to make contact with the server responsible for our table and we can’t find them, forcing us to flag down another server or manager for assistance.
  • The order we placed seems to take forever to arrive at our table. (This recently happened to my wife and me at the Atlanta airport when we found ourselves with just enough layover time to grab a quick bite. We chose a restaurant that looked like it was serving patrons quickly but, once we placed our order, we waited as long as possible to receive our food and then had to give up and run to catch our flight.)
  • What you ordered is not what you are served. (This also happened to me — this time in Boston — but luckily it was wonderful, so I couldn’t complain.)
  • Once you have finished eating, your server seems to have been abducted by aliens and is nowhere to be found.

For those of you who are food servers, please don’t take offense; I know that dealing with the public can be quite unpleasant.

However, technology is making strides to help both sides find a possible remedy that could both decrease the stress of the table servers and increase the level of service the patron receives. This help may come in the form of a tablet computer that is already being beta tested in some areas. Here are a few examples of how some select restaurants have employed this new technology and how they believe they have improved customer satisfaction by changing how we order our food, drinks, and deserts.

  • Improved menu selection with digital photographs of the food we wish to eat.
  • Better descriptions of the food items available, including those that are dieter friendly or gluten free.
  • On the tablet, the establishment can immediately update price changes, thus protecting them from revenue loss due to escalating costs.
  • In most cases the server is protected from abuse about taking too long to place a patron’s order or it being wrong, since it is the patron who is responsible for entering what they wish to order on the tablet.
  • Payment is also quicker as the patron doesn’t have to wait for the server to remember them. They can simply use the tablet to pay for their meal. This also means that there is less chance of a credit card being used fraudulently.

So how well does this new technology work?

My only experience in using a tablet for ordering from a menu occurred in September, 2011, at a Chicago Chili’s. At that time, the restaurant was experimenting with the tablet menu system, so it was limited to the ordering of drinks and desserts. I ordered our drinks on the tablet, and I was surprised at how quickly they arrived — especially since the restaurant was jam-packed with diners. The quickness with which we received our drinks demonstrated how well this system could work. Given that experience, I can see how the tablet could benefit both restaurant employees and customers by improving the speed of service and the time it takes to turn around a table. For the patron, there is no difficulty in using the tablet application, so it shouldn’t pose a problem for the elderly or those with handicaps.

Restaurant News reports that Chili’s is now using the tablet menu for ordering its entire menu — from appetizers through dessert.

One restaurant in Myrtle Beach, called Capriz Italian Feast, is using the Apple iPad to display its wine list. An article in the Myrtle Beach Restaurant News states that the wine list on the Apple iPad displays what wines are being offered, the vintage of the wine, and the vineyards where they were made.

During my search on the Internet, I found not only several chain restaurants that have embraced the new technology, but also a smattering of smaller mom and pop restaurants. All of these restaurants, big or small, are using tablet computers to improve their service and the customer experience for everyone who visits. I would make a prediction that some type of a tablet computer will become the norm in the restaurant industry as we continue to seek ways to increase speed, efficiency, and profit margins. The unfortunate side effects of this new technology are that the number of servers needed at your favorite eatery will dwindle, placing yet another hardship on our already struggling economy with its high unemployment rate.

Comments welcome.

Review of the Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7340 17.3″ Laptop

Back on December 22, 2011, I wrote an article addressing my reasons for sticking with Windows and why I had purchased a laptop computer system.

The system I purchased at Staples — for a bargain basement price of only $529.99 — is a Toshiba Satellite model L775-S7340. This is a replacement for my older Toshiba laptop system and boasts a screen measuring in at a whopping 17.3″, while weighing in, according to the specifications provided by Toshiba, at 6.2 lbs. Given these specifications, you are already aware that this is not something you want to lug through an airport, but once you settle down to the fact that this is something you use at home or in a small office environment, you can then savor the awesome hardware that this laptop provides. The hardware specifications for this model include:

Review of the Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7340 17.3

  • Quad core AMD processor
  • 6 GB RAM
  • 640 GB hard disk
  • Blu-ray player
  • HDMI, 3 USB, and RGB
  • Wireless & RJ-45 LAN jack
  • HD+ TruBrite LED backlit display
  • Built-in Web cam and mic

Since purchasing this laptop, I have been able to compare it to the four-year-old Toshiba laptop that I already owned. Upon seeing them side-by-side, as I transferred my files over to the new system, I immediately noticed the increased resolution and clarity of the monitoring screen. I guess part of this is due to the fact that you don’t notice how, over time (and without a new screen next to it for comparison), an old screen softens in intensity. However, the new screen, with its LED backlight and a higher resolution, definitely displays a much brighter picture. In fact, the picture was initially so bright that I actually had to tone it down to prevent it from being overwhelming. After noting and readjusting the screen settings to my liking, I then spent the next several hours moving files, installing programs, and removing extraneous software that bogs down all new computers. This, in turn, allowed me to defrag and scan my disks to free up additional hard disk space and to adjust all of my settings to my personal preferences.

Once all of the setup was out of the way, I was really anxious to evaluate just how good this system would operate when used to stream video or play DVDs/Blu-ray discs on our HDTV. In preparation for this, I had previously purchased a 15′ HDMI cable from Amazon. The cost of the cable was a mere $3.64, and, with me being an Amazon Prime account holder, the shipping was free. (At that cost I knew I couldn’t go wrong, but when I received it the next day, I was still surprised at the quality of the HDMI cable.) With the computer ready and the cable in hand, I held my breath as I connected the pieces to test out my newest toy. The result: I was delighted to find that streaming from Netflix, Hulu, and a number of online TV channels was flawless, while the DVD and Blu-ray playback was comparable to our Samsung Blu-ray player’s performance. With that in mind, this laptop may prove itself invaluable when I finally cut the cord with my satellite company.

If you desire an aesthetically pleasing device for your small office, this unit, with its full-sized keyboard and handy ten-key pad, provides the tools you need at your fingertips and should meet your needs to a tee. The specialized look is enhanced with some classy aspects such as a brushed blue aluminum-looking paint job as well as chrome plastic trim around the speakers. The trackball mouse is a nice touch, too. Toshiba was, however, quite careful in its description so that no one could (or should) expect an aluminum-bodied laptop system at this price point.

So, while this new look is a selling feature for the unit, I think that the paint job is just okay. However, its major advantage for me over my old Toshiba is that I don’t have to deal with the fingerprints and smudges that drove me nuts on the shiny surface of the old unit.

Review of the Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7340 17.3Putting looks aside, it is performance that ultimately matters, and using the AMD quad core provides what it promises. This is AMD’s model A-6 3400m, which supposedly runs at a meager 1.4 GHz as its base clock speed. This clock speed may seem slow compared to the specs of other machines, but I didn’t notice any slowness of operation when I first fired up the system — I was actually impressed with how snappy this unit was in loading Windows and Office (two huge memory and processor intensive pieces of software). I was quick to see that, when the need arises for faster processing speeds, the AMD quad kicks up the speed to 2.3 GHz by using its built-in turbo feature. To further amplify its performance, the unit comes equipped with a Radeon HD 6520G video chip that is integrated into the CPU to handle the HD video which, in my tests, displayed flawlessly.

Additional features include one program that I have been using called sleep-and-charge. This feature allows you to charge your smartphone or other device when the computer is asleep or turned off. Another feature that I think is worth mentioning is the built-in facial recognition software. This makes logging into your computer a breeze because you no longer have to remember different or incomprehensible passwords in order to log on since the system will simply remember your face and unlock on recognition. This particular feature can be of great value to anyone who chooses to lock down their system, protecting it from young family members or coworkers.

For performance, this system came preloaded with the Windows Home Premium 64-bit operating system that is designed with 6 GB of memory. Fortunately, the 64-bit OS recognizes all 6 GB to add to the performance. Additionally, the 640 GB hard disk provides plenty of storage space while providing support for the Blu-ray player, DVD playback, and recording.

The cons to the new system are minor, and include such minor concessions as dealing with a keyboard that has flat keys, whereas my old Toshiba was designed with slightly curved keys. While this is a change that I immediately noticed, it does not affect your typing ability — it simply has a different feel. The second con is that two of the USB connectors are on the right-hand side of the unit. This creates a minor issue for me because I use a Cooler Master laptop cooler under my laptop to help cool the unit. Due to its required placement, I chose to connect the cooler adapter into the lone USB port on the left side of the laptop, which meant that I had to connect my wireless mouse adapter to one of the USB slots on the right. This resulted in the USB adapter, for the mouse, sticking out and slightly interfering with the mouse’s operation. However, I resolved this minor issue by moving the unit slightly to the left, thus eliminating the problem.

Why did I choose a Toshiba laptop to purchase instead of another brand? The answer is simple. After having owned three previous Toshiba laptops, without issue, I know them to be reliable. The only time I did have a problem — a hard disk failed in the first 30 days of use — Toshiba support mailed me a pre-addressed and paid for box in which to return the unit. It then repaired and returned the unit to me within five days. That is what I call fantastic service and support.

If I were to rate this laptop on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest possible rating, I would give this laptop a 4.5 star rating. Staples is currently selling the unit for $579.99, and though it is $50 more than what I had paid, I still believe it is a steal.

Comments welcome.

The Staples sale price on the Toshiba L775-S7340 is $579.99 between January 1st to the 7th, 2012.

How to Keep Your Laptop Cool

One of the biggest problems with laptops, even today, is cooling and preventing them from over heating. It is a common occurrence for not only Windows based laptops but Apple laptops, too. If left unchecked, a worst case outcome could make your laptop catch fire, but that’s the worst of the worst; usually it will just burn up your legs if it’s sitting on your lap. There are a couple ways to circumvent this and if you’re willing to spend a couple dollars, it can make your laptop run cooler and longer.

The reason why laptops get so hot is because of the components inside of them; they are all crammed into a tight space. As with all electronics, they generate heat, but since a laptop is in such a confined space, it will heat up much quicker. Another reason why laptops become so hot is the power needed to run them — as processors become more powerful, they need more energy to keep them running, and this also creates an immense amount of heat.

If you’re not willing to spend any money to cool off your laptop, or you cannot do this on a constant basis, take a look at your fan speeds when running. A simple diagnostic application can give you all this information. If you are using Windows, check out CPUID to look at fan speeds and Mac users check out iStat Pro as a free dashboard widget to find fan speeds and heat information. That is all you can pretty much do when looking at the hardware side of it.

If you’re willing to spend some money to cool down your laptop, check out a laptop cooling platform. You can find these from many different manufacturers. Some are plastic and have only one fan attached to them and use a USB cable to power them. This is fine for keeping your laptop cool, but it has some setbacks. Because they’re made out of plastic and have a single fan, they’re known to be cheap and break after some time. If you’re serious about keeping your laptop cool, check out a laptop cooler made from metal — like aluminum. This not only makes the cooler a bit more rugged, but the metal acts as a heat sink and pulls the heat from the device much more quickly effectively. After searching around, I found the perfect one at a great price — and it even comes with an extra USB port so you don’t lose one. It’s the Zalman ZM-NC2000 Notebook Cooler. It works like a charm and I’ve used it for the past two years with no issues; just remember to clean out the fans with a little compressed air to keep the airways clean.

5 Reasons Why Microsoft Won’t Be Building Its Own Tablet

5 Reasons Why Microsoft Won't Be Building Its Own TabletThe latest rumor making the rounds on the Internet is that Microsoft is considering building its own tablet PC. Rumors have it that Microsoft has been in talks with some of the major hardware companies in Taiwan, though no one knows exactly what the discussions entail. However, I believe that Microsoft will not build its own tablet computer and here are five reasons why it won’t:

When Microsoft built its first Xbox, the company acknowledged there were hardware issues — mainly overheating — that it had to deal with. Microsoft extended the warranty repair period, which allegedly cost the company over $1 billion.

The Zune media player was a flop. This was Microsoft’s attempt at competing with the Apple iPod.

Microsoft’s Kin was another hardware failure that Microsoft would soon forget. The Kin was overpriced, lacked application support, and the timing of its release was poor. There were too many smart phones on the market that did much more than the Kin could do.

Microsoft is coming late to the party where Apple is the host with the most. Tablets are not about the operating system alone. Tablets consist of support by application developers and this is where Apple and Google already have a commanding lead.

Microsoft is not going to alienate its hardware partners. Microsoft makes its money from licensing fees, which is the bulk of its wealth. Building its own tablet and competing with its partners would be suicide.

The bantering of words between Microsoft and Apple is just that. Microsoft is the world leader when it comes to the desktop and laptop operating system market. Apple has a sizable lead in the tablet arena and its iOS is superb. Google and its Chrome OS is an unknown and we will have to wait to see how well this new OS is accepted by consumers or by businesses.

Though I do believe that Microsoft is facing stiff competition from Apple, Google, and now HP with its webOS, Microsoft is not foolish enough to compete against its valued partners.

Soluto Now Fixes PC Crashes and Analyzes Browser Applications

I have used Soluto on my personal computer system for about nine months. The original version only dealt with applications that started in boot, which the user could delay or pause. Soluto analyzed your boot process and then provided a listing of applications that could be delayed or paused to speed up the boot process. The software was so innovative that TechCrunch gave the software founder its annual Disrupt award.

I was honored when I received an invitation to try two new additions that Soluto was adding to their already fine product. The features are PC crashes and how to fix them, plus browser applications that also could be delayed or paused. During the testing process we were asked not to write about the new features until they became public. Yesterday Soluto made the download available to all Soluto users in beta form, which includes the added features.

Notice I said in beta. The software is still in its testing phase and is dependent on users like you and me to test the software. In order for Soluto to be more effective, each phase requires input of data from your system to the Soluto servers in order to analyze and recommend solutions for all users. If you feel uncomfortable with this procedure, this software may not be for you. In my professional opinion you have nothing to be concerned about and I trust the folks at Soluto to only collect information that will improve their software.

The first new feature Soluto added helps to identify applications and toolbars that may be slowing down your browser. In addition, Soluto can identify those toolbars that can hijack your browser and prevent you from selecting your preferred search engine of choice. Soluto also finds add-ons that might be sucking the life out of your browser.

The second new feature is my favorite. It monitors system crashes and attempts to provide a solution for you. The crash report also makes suggestions as to what is causing the crash. If a solution is currently not available, and if a solution is found at a later date, you will be notified.

Take Soluto for a test drive and see what you think.

Glary Utilities Free Edition Is Must Have Tool For Your PC

I have been an advocate of free Windows utilities for years. One of the recommended free products I personally use is Glary Utilities. Glary Utilities provides a combination of different resources that is designed with both the novice and advanced Windows user in mind. The software is easy to use and includes a ‘1 Click Maintenance’ button that does all the primary cleanup procedures for you.

In addition the user can select which maintenance modules to use manually which include the following features:

Disk Cleaner – Removes junk data from your hard drives and recovers disk space

Registry Cleaner – Scans and cleans up your Windows registry to improve your system’s performance.

Shortcuts Fixer – Corrects the errors in your Windows Start Menu & desktop shortcuts

Uninstall Manager – Uninstalls programs completely that you don’t need any more

Startup Manager – Manages programs which run automatically on startup

Memory Optimizer – Monitors and optimizes free memory in the background

Context Menu Manager – Manages the context-menu entries for files, folders…

Registry Defrag – Defrag the Windows registry to speed up your computer

Glary Utilities Glary Utilities provides an additional 11 other features to keep your Windows PC operating at its peak performance. Two of these additional features, which I believe are very useful, are:

Windows Standard Tools, which for the novice user, provides an easy way to access the built-in tools that are included with Windows. I also like the System Information tool which is handy for those of us who are repairing an unfamiliar system, in order to determine the hardware and software that is installed on the PC.

So how helpful are all of these tools?

Last Saturday I picked up a computer from our local food bank, that they had had problems with. It seemed that the system would not boot properly, and when it did, the monitor would flash on and off after the system warmed up. I determined that the video card was the culprit and replaced it. After a normal boot and updating of the video driver, I installed the free edition of Glary Utilities.

From the System Information I determined the CPU speed, the amount of memory the system had, plus that Service Pack 3 for Windows XP had previously been installed. From the information I obtained it was apparent that Windows XP was a good fit for the hardware and that the system could not be upgraded to Windows Vista or Windows 7. The food pantry coordinator had asked me if this could be done and armed with the information obtained from the System Information utility from Glary, I had a ready answer to the question.

I then ran the Disk Cleaner, Registry Cleaner and Uninstall Manager modules to tweak the system. I followed this by using another free tool, Auslogic’s Disk Defrag program, as well as installing 25 Windows updates. I also installed the free version of Avast anti-virus plus definition updates.

Once I completed the cleanup chores, defragmented the hard disk and installed the updates, the system purred like a kitten. All of this was done with free software and the only expense incurred was my time.

Download your copy of Glary Utilities

Shopping For A New PC? Consult Windows PC Scout First

Last Wednesday evening we were having dinner with several other couples when one mentioned they were in the market for a new laptop PC. The words were just out of his mouth when the recommendations came pouring out, including from myself.

“You need at least an Intel i5 processor,” said one person. No, get an AMD processor, I said. “4GB of RAM should be enough,” said another. Nope, get 6MB of RAM if you are going to do video editing, I countered. Back and forth went the recommendations for buying a new computer without one of the most important considerations. How much money did this person want to spend on a new computer?

When I was teaching computer science classes for the Community Education Dept., at Columbia College in Sonora, CA., I was asked many times by my students what computer should they buy. I always responded by asking them the question ‘How much money do you want to spend?’ Or I would joke asking them ,’How much money do you have in the bank?’

Microsoft now offers a simpler way to select a laptop or desktop computer, with a website designed to help you make an informed computer shopping decision. The website is called Shop: Windows PC Scout, in which a consumer can make an intelligent choice about which Windows 7 desktop or laptop they should purchase.

The Windows PC Scout website is broken down into 5 computing categories, which include Everyday, Professional, Gaming, Entertainment, and Mobile computers. The Windows PC Scout starts by asking the user some general questions to ascertain how they will be using their new computer.

As the user proceeds through each page, they are asked a series of questions. Towards the end of the process the user is asked the question how much they are willing to spend. When I did a search for a laptop PC with my specifics, I was asked if wanted to spend $800 or less or more than $800. I choose less than $800 and I ended up with a list of 8 different laptops meeting my needs.

The laptop models varied and were from several computer manufacturers, including Lenovo, Toshiba, HP, and Asus. A specification sheet presented all 8 laptop systems and the specifications for each. A list of three sources showed me where I could purchase one of the PCs.

Overall I believe that Microsoft’s Shop: Windows PC Scout is a valuable source in helping to determine which PC computer is right for you and will meet your needs. Before you make a computer purchase, I would also recommend showing the list generated by Windows PC Scout to your family, friends or co-workers and garner their opinions as well. By doing this, I believe you will make the best choice possible for your next PC purchase.