Tag Archives: Technology

What technology actually improves your life?

Nearly a year ago, I blogged about the fact that I had no “cool” technologies in my house.  I didn’t own a single gadget that anyone would consider to be “up to date” by any standard. I didn’t own a PDA, a laptop, or even a modern cell-phone.  I didn’t have flat-panel monitors or anything other than a standard 27″ television — with a broken power button at that.  I had several computers in the house, but all of them were at least a year and a half old. 

I decided after posting that complaint that things were going to change.  I released my death grip on my cash that I had been hording and sprung for a new, improved, gadget-savvy image.

Flash forward to today — 11 months after that post.  As I got ready to head into work, I closed up my 17″ widescreen HP media center ready laptop and turned off my HP printer/copier/fax.  I packed up my Gateway Tablet PC and shoved it into my Microsoft backpack along with my 60GB video iPod, assorted USB flashdrives, bluetooth adapters, folding headphones, and the like.  I strapped my 8.1 MegaPixel Nikon digital camera and Audiovox Smart Phone to my belt.  I put my Motorola bluetooth hands-free headset on my ear.  I walked into the living room and turned off my 50″ Plasma TV and shoved the wireless controllers for my Xbox 360 under the TV stand.  I walked out to my car and looked at the windshield cluttered with an XM SkyFi2 satelite radio, a Sirius satelite radio, and a Microsoft Streets and Trips GPS device.  Now, I say all of this to point out that I’ve gone from one extreme to another and at no small expense.  I sometimes wonder if I should have just hung onto my cash, but in other instances, I really enjoy my products.

I asked myself as I traveled to work this morning “Have I gotten my money’s worth out of these devices? Have they made my life better — or just more expensive?”  It seems that many of today’s top technological gadgets are great at overcoming technological problems, but do they really enrich our lives?  My Smartphone is one device that I just couldn’t live without.  I keep track of my appointments, birthdays, phone numbers and so much more on that little thing.  I also keep a copy of Microsoft Pocket Streets and Trips on there — which is a great little tool for getting around.  There is no question that this device makes my life easier in today’s society that requires that I know how to contact any number of people, keep track of appointments and schedules that change every hour, or keep me up to date with birthdays of family members all the way on the other side of the country.  My camera is great. Photos are so hard for me to keep track of.  I keep a few but they are usually buried in boxes that I have to dig for if I want to view them again.  I can snap pictures of the mountains out here in the Pacific Northwest and immediately send them to my parents.  The camera is a great addition to my “technical family.” That said — there are other devices that just seem to be excessive (Who needs XM and Sirius and an iPod?  Could I do without them? Most likely.)

I could go on and on talking about my devices.  Instead, I’d like to hear from you.  What technologies have made your life better?  These could be services, pieces of hardware, or even websites in general.  I want to know what technologies make a difference in your everyday life and what technologies have you invested your hard-earned money into that haven’t been worth it.

Sirius-ly paying for radio

I’ve been an XM listener for a about a year. When I bought my XM, however, I said that I felt that Sirius would be the overall victor in the race for the best programming. There is going to be a long debate about whether Sirius or XM has already or will win that race any time soon. The choice couldn’t be any clearer for me though. I went out and bought a Sirius radio tonight. That means I’ll be paying about $26 a month for radio — both XM and Sirius. So why pay for radio? Mostly because I travel a lot and need to be entertained to avoid taking a mid-freeway nap. Anyone else paying for both radios? Anyone have a preference yet? I know Bill is paying for more XM subscriptions than the entire west coast but hasn’t sprung for one Sirius subscription yet.

Review: HP Officejet 7410

Product Review: HP Officejet 7410
There are just some times in life when you have to spend money on equipment that you’d prefer not to. Yesterday was one such day for me. I’ve never been in the market for a combination fax/copy/printer/scanner before, but yesterday I had to break down and go shopping for one.

I’ve been signing a lot of contracts lately for various things. Going back out on my own has just required that I spend a considerable amount of time restructuring my life, my finances, and my contracts. Documents come as hard copy via the postal service or courier. Purchase orders come through email. The sales contract on my house had to be handled by fax. All of these things are pretty standard forms of communication, but require I spend time going to Kinko’s to make copies, or to scan the documents into digital format. Sometimes, the emailed documents have to be printed, signed, then scanned and emailed back with my signature. I’ve had a scanner for the longest time that just finally had to be replaced. It was also an HP scanner and it has served me well. Its time has come, however, and I was in the market for something better. I also had a Canon photo printer that was going to need replaced. I don’t have a home phone line, so the idea of having a fax machine really hadn’t occurred to me. Whatever I did decide on, however, had to actually be worth my while and help me do business. I didn’t want another expensive obstacle sitting in my home office.

I’m not a person that likes to spend a lot of time on product research. In general, I make sure the product I’m buying is a brand that is trusted, and has all the features I want. After that, I’m not really concerned if one uses a lower voltage or has a better network throughput. I care about a product that works reliably and at a fairly decent rate of speed — nothing more.

When I reached Office Depot, I found several “all in one” appliances. Many of them were in the upper $800-1000 range. Once I determined that these were laser printers/copiers I walked around to look at the much more stylish and much more affordable HP Officejet products. The started at around $199 and went up to as much as $899. As I walked down the isle, the prices and features increased. I settled into a sweet spot of about $500 where I found the Officejet 7410. After glancing over the feature set, I decided to bite and bought it for $457.00 after getting a price-comparison mark-down from SAMs club. I used the money I saved to buy an additional 1 year extension onto the manufacturer’s warranty. I don’t typically buy these warranties, but I was able to get a signed and personal commitment from the manager promising to abide by the terms of the agreement — terms that stated if I dropped the printer off my desk and broke it 729 days after I bought it, they would replace it.

So here is how I feel after one day of owning this device:

Assembly / Setup:
The folks at HP showed just how smart they are with this device. I don’t mean that sarcastically either. I unpacked the machine immediately and started putting it together. Surprisingly the device was very easy to assemble without so much as a glance at the instructions. I stacked the printer on top of its lower tray base; I added the two-sided printing attachment onto the back and plugged the device power cord and network cables up; I then attached the faceplate to the front of the machine. At first I thought it was odd that I would have to attach this faceplate but then quickly realized that HP did this so the product interface could be completely localized based on where it was being shipped to. After realizing the genius behind this move, I smiled and moved on.

After setting all of these things up, I turned the device on. The instructions on the LCD panel told me to attach the faceplate (oops, I already did). It then did something that I found nothing short of brilliant. It told me to look for any buttons that might be stuck under the faceplate and then cycle the power again. Sure enough, I found one that didn’t quite make it into the faceplate hole. I giggled the button a little bit and released it. Had they not provided this step, I would have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why my device was misbehaving. My hat is off to the quality assurance folks who undoubtedly pointed this out in tons of testing. The hat is off once again to the product team who decided the QA/usability staff were right and should be listened to!

At this point, unbelievably, I was done. The network automatically configured itself using my local DHCP server. It did have one disappointing feature, however. This device comes with wireless networking capabilities. For those of you familiar with my typical stand against wireless, I do understand that sometimes this is the most usable approach and as long as security best practices are kept up with, it’s “reasonably” secure. HP, however, didn’t follow best practices, IMHO. The device came with its wireless radio ON by default. While I do see this as a usability issue, I would have preferred to see the secure approach of leaving the radio off by default and forcing you to simply turn it on. They could have even done the same thing they have done with their laptops, which is to provide an “on/off” button to enable and disable wireless. It’s a minor issue but one that I find important in this day and age.

The Photo Printer:
This machine boasted that it was a photo-quality printer. To enforce its usefulness as a photo-printer, the 7410 had many multi-media slots on the front that allow you to simply plug in your favorite digital camera media. Once you provided the media a small LCD allowed you to select the photos you wanted to print and queue them up for immediate printing onto your favorite photo paper. I tested this feature out right away and printed a large picture of our new kitten, “Rayne”. While the picture was taken with a very old Epson digital camera, the photo came out wonderfully. There isn’t much more to say about photo printing for me — it’s just not the most important feature I was looking for, but it did a great job and I’m sure that will come in handy when I print brochures or reports with graphs and images.

It would have been nice to see a little on screen cropping or orientation available to me, but once again, that isn’t ultimately the main purpose of this machine, in my opinion, so keeping the price down for us folks that just want “reasonable value / quality” is great in my book.

The Document Printer:
I installed the printer drivers and software that comes with this machine and followed the instructions to add the printer as a network printer. I was impressed at just how easy this was. It should be noted that my printer was NOT detected by default. This was more a function of my paranoid network than it was of the printer. I was able to easily set up the printer, however, based on the network setup sheet I printed from the printer. I quickly configured my internal home router to allow traffic to this IP from my secure network as well as from the few devices I have sitting in a semi-DMZ. Once this was done, I printed a contract that I had to get out the door immediately. It was a three page document and the printer I printed it from was down the hall from me. By the time I got to the printer, the last page was just completing and the quality was excellent.

I’m giving this document printing feature high marks – not because I feel it’s the best document printer out there, but because it does exactly what it advertises it will do and with the same speed and quality I was expecting from the product. My one beef with printing is the paper catcher that holds your printed documents as they are printing. Its very flimsy and doesn’t hold the full document. This means if I don’t pick up my print job right away, the corners of my document curl up from their own weight. This would have been fine if HP would provide a much more “durable” print job catching accessory.

I had to scan some receipts into my scanner to record my expenses for my latest trip to Redmond. I decided to go ahead and try the scanner out and boy was I in for a treat. Obviously I had several pages worth of scans to make with airline tickets, hotel bills, gas station receipts, meal receipts, etc. In case you haven’t figured this out yet, I have placed my device in another room – different from the one I’m using as my main home office. I thought I was going to have to scan the document, run to my computer and save it, then go back and forth until this was done. This wasn’t the case at all. I lined up each of my receipts as I wanted them laid out on the scanner and pressed the “Scan” button on the device interface. The LCD then prompted me to tell it where I wanted to send these items. I selected my computer from the drop down list – that’s right, it knew my computer was already configured with the software I needed to handle this scan. I was then asked how my computer should handle the scanned document. I was given several choices: HP Image Director, Word Document, and email were among the choices. The last choice was the file system. This is what I wanted so I selected the OK button and let the receipts get scanned. When the scan was complete, it asked me if I wanted to scan anything else. I did, so I continued scanning my documents one at a time until I was done. When I returned to my computer, I was prompted with a message box that asked if I wanted to save. I, of course, said yes and selected my location and file name. All of the documents I scanned were then saved with the format of xxxx.bmp. (I could have selected a different file format if I wanted too). This is exactly what I wanted. I need to be able to put forth as little effort as possible to get this paperwork out of the way. HP has come through!

Any time you have a scanner and a printer in one product, it just makes sense to add copying to the machine as well. After all, copying is simply scanning one document and then printing it. This device has implemented this copying feature brilliantly. I hesitate to give it a 4 out of 5 but had to based on the speed and usability. By default, the copying machine uses the second tray whereas printing uses the upper tray. This is a great feature to have since you may want to use different paper for copying than you do for printing. When I attempted to make a copy however, it simply told me that I was out of paper. After adjusting the paper in my upper tray several times, I decided to try putting paper in the bottom tray. Sure enough, my copy job worked. Since this is a “scan-based” copy and the 7410 isn’t an “industrial” copier, the copy took a little longer than I expected. The great thing is that if I have a multi-page copy job to create, I can simply place the copies in the upper paper feed and walk away until the job is complete.

I personally use eFax for my faxing needs. I like it because I can fax documents from anywhere. Since I’m out of town a lot, this is important to me. Technically speaking, I could open up enough ports on my network to let me fax to my network-connected printer However, this wouldn’t be the most secure approach. Because there isn’t a really secure way to implement this functionality, I am sticking with eFax for now and calling the fax machine “average”. It will be a welcome feature for the average home office worker, but not necessarily the best approach for the traveling consultant. You’ll be able to fax a document directly from your computer without printing it first and then faxing it. In fact, the drivers install a new type of “HP fax printer” that allows you to “print” any document directly to your fax machine. When you do this, you are prompted for the recipient information. The interface for the recipient information is a bit out of date and slightly cheep looking, but it definitely works. You can add recipients from your address book, add a generated cover page (and edit the contents), set the quality and contrast levels and preview the fax before sending it away.

Since I don’t use the faxing feature that much, the cool thing is that the rest of these features make it easy for me to scan documents and store them on my computer to be faxed out later – either through the fax feature on the 7410, or using eFax messenger.


Feature Rating (0-5)
Assembly / Setup 4.0
The Photo Printer 4.0
The Document Printer 4.0
Scanning 5.0
Copying 4.0
Fax 3.5
Over all 4.0

This device has a lot more to offer than what I’ve described here. You can sign up for the “HP instant share” service which will allow you to instantly share information with others you scan, print, or add through the multi-media ports. This is a fee-based service and requires that you and the people you know have the same service, but it is very interesting if you want to send a picture of the kids directly to grandma’s photo printer after you take it.

I love that I bought this device. I really just wanted to have a product that met my needs, but this has turned into my new favorite toy. I’d change a few things on this product which I summarize as follows:

  • Disable the wireless radio by default
  • When you state that I’m out of paper, tell me what tray you are trying to load from.
  • Provide a free or fee-based service that allows me to use my fax machine from anywhere. Just like you use Instant Share, you could provide the ability for me to add a fax job from anywhere and let my fax machine do the work. I’d drop eFax in a heartbeat if I could use my own machine securely!

Aside from that, I would highly recommend this device to anyone looking for something in an all-in-one device.

Review : SMT 5600 Smart Phone

This product has been out for quite some time. Some of you may know it by other names such as the Orange SPV. I finally decided to break down and buy one of these guys. I managed to wrangle one from Cingular for about $219 bucks by extending my service contract with them. I was a bit apprehensive about buying this a Smart Phone as opposed to a Pocket PC Phone because of the size of the screen — I really enjoy having a large screen to look at. However, I really didn’t want to hold that large screen up to my ear or rush for my bluetooth headset every time the phone rang. Since my current phone service is through Cingular and I haven’t had a large complaint with them, my only option made abundantly clear to me was the SMT 5600.

First Impressions
After my first day with the device, I wasn’t very pleased. I pulled out my data cable and configured ActiveSync how I wanted it. I synched up some tasks I and appointments I had and was shocked at how hard it was to read this data on the screen. For instance, I am scheduled to fly out to Microsoft on the 17th-21st, and one of my calendar items had my flight information in a fairly simple, fixed-width format with my flight number, gate number, departure time and arrival time. I figured it would be very convenient to be able to look at my schedule quickly while switching flights in Ohio. However, when I looked at this data in the smart phone, I could barely make heads or tails of when one flight’s data ended and another started. I found this same problem with formatted email, tasks, and other outlook artifacts I have. I’m completely new to mobile devices, and don’t feel like reading a ton of how-tos to figure out how to use features of my phone — If its not intuitive, I dont want to use it. I was going to return the phone.

Day Two with the device
I found a WMA file of “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” and though I just had to have it on my smart phone for a ring tone. I noticed a “mobile devices” icon sitting in the “My Computer” display. I clicked on it while my data cable was attached. “Wow, that’s pretty cool”, I can access my phone’s file system — almost like my USB pen-drive. I dropped the WMA file into the “My Sounds” folder and searched for a way to add it as my ring tone. No luck. After digging around in the phone’s file system, I found the folder where ring-tones are stored and I added the WMA file there. I changed my ring tone and called myself from another phone — it worked. Obviously, I wouldn’t keep a phone simply because I could add a media file to my phone and use it as a ring tone, but I was somewhat amused.

Day Three
As I stated, I left my job so I needed a laptop. While I had a new laptop on order from HP, I needed something right away since my order wasn’t scheduled until October 15th. I went out and bought a pretty nice Lance Armstrong L2000 Special Edition laptop (review will be forthcoming). The laptop had bluetooth and I thought “oh, cool, I don’t need to use my datacable all the time now.”. After unpacking the laptop and charging the battery appropriately, I booted up the computer and immediately installed ActiveSync on it. I clicked the spiffy little “wireless enable” button on the laptop and noticed that bluetooth was now running as I expected. Excited about the prospect, I immediately tried enabling bluetooth on the phone and connecting. After an hour of searching the web for help and impatiently fumbling around with the phone itself, I managed to get the ActiveSync to work. This phone’s street cred is picking up pace quickly — now I can drop ring-tones onto my phone without a data cable. Ok, so maybe I can do a bit more, but for now, the idea that my laptop can access my phone from across the room (and vice versa) is pretty cool. Just for fun, I used the phone’s camcorder feature to record a short clip of my cat playing around on the floor with, well, nothing (go figure). I immediately sent it to my laptop with bluetooth and had it playing on my 15″ widescreen LCD with decent sound quality. Had I opted for a media center PC, that would have allowed me to record the video and put it on the television immediately — that’s cool!

Day Four
I’m at Sam’s club looking for a new case for thislaptop. The one I had ordered for my other laptop was too big for this smaller laptop. But as I came into Sams, I saw “it” blinking at me. It was one of those dreaded blue-tooth headsets. Since I wanted to geek out a bit more with this bluetooth stuff, I decided to go ahead and buy one (product review forthcoming). I do drive around a lot, and with my schedule for the next couple months being hectic, having a hands-free device to talk on would come in handy. I followed the instructions and immediately got the device working. I paired the device with both my laptop and my SmartPhone. It seemed to work and it has this ultra-geeky blue LED that turns on and off when I’m talking on it.

Day Last+n
I’m sitting in my hotel room. The wireless internet connection the hotel purports to have is down and doesn’t have much hope in coming back up, so I take a chance to try using my phone as a means to connect. I did some easy configuration with the bluetooth modem in my computer and dialed *99#. I watched in amazement as the network icon showed up on my phone. “Dialing *99#…” , “Connecting…”, “Verifying Username and Password”, “Registering computer on the network” — HOLY COW! My laptop just connected to the internet through my bluetooth modem. I know this is trivial stuff for a lot of people, but I am truely amazed. The connection is somewhat glitchy. I got disconnected a few times and finally got disconnected for good just before posting my last blog post. But I was still very much impressed — something to fall back on in a pinch. As I write this blog now, I’m sitting in my bed and I have no idea where I set my phone. I know its here somewhere because my bluetooth modem connection is working just fine.

I’m able to watch video and listen to music on my phone. Its not the greatest quality in the world — but its a phone so I don’t expect it to. What I don’t like is the digitized voices I hear now and again on this phone. For some reason, I hear clicks in the phone and digitizing of both my voice and the voice of the person I am talking to. The interface and action items aren’t always completely intuitive. I hate the action and directional control button – its very hard to control at first. Despite all of my complaints, I really am starting to warm to the device as I learn how to be more effective and efficient with it. All in all, this device is a thumbs up for me. I definitely have a laundry list of wishes and wants for the next generation phone, but this phone will suffice for my needs for now.

Where’d all my ‘tech’ go?

I’m sitting in my apartment in Greenville, SC looking over the pool, listening to a television that’s sitting on the floor, watching commercials for one piece of technology after another. Suddenly something hit me.

When I was a poor guy working for next to nothing, I had access to pretty much the best of technology. I always had a computer or two that were top of the line with the best graphics and processor upgrades available. I had the newest cell phone and knew about pretty much every gadget coming out in the next 6 months to a year.

I sit here in astonishment wondering where did all of my technology go? I still have ALL CRT displays in my house, I have mediocre computers with the exception of a laptop that the company issued me — which of course really isn’t top of the line either. My cell phone is old and tired. I don’t even own a PDA. I see one of our GS folks at work won an HP63xx Pocket PC and isn’t even using the cell phone built into it. I don’t own a tablet PC. I don’t even have my own subscription to MSDN universal anymore. What happened to me?

Has anyone else noticed this sort of trend in their own lives? Its not that I don’t have the money. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy playing with the gadgets. I just, don’t seem to have the time to do the research on the products anymore. I go to the local electronics store and stand in front of the latest super-snazzy tech and then try to decide which is best based on the specs, but then decide I’ll go back home and do some more research before buying the item. By the time I remember to look it up, some new gadget is out and I repeat the cycle. I’m sort of frustrated now and I feel like I may just have tech-envy. I see everyone else with their gadgets and I have to say… where’s my tech? Someone please stop me from running to the store in a panic and buying up a storm! Tell me this is normal. Someone? Anyone?