Microsoft Fingerprint Reader

April 20th, 2005

I'm just finding this bit of kit to be just so darn useful!

I've written quite a bit about my Microsoft Fingerprint Reader here on my main website but I still don't think that it does this bit of kit justice - in the space of a few short weeks it has become one of these bits of kit that I just find myself turning to automatically many times a day and each time I need it to work it does.

By now I have a lot of website passwords built into the DigitalPersona software (no critical ones as this is not recommended but all those other places that require to to have a username and password to get the most out of the site) and the main benefit of ownership that I'm finding is one of increased productivity and just how much more I use the sites I signed up for. I've never been a big fan of storing passwords in the browser so this is a great way to keep the information at my fingertips (pun intended) while still keeping all the information secure. It's also got that right level of "geek" appeal!

This really is a superb bit of kit that well thought out and executed and it actually does fill a need rather than being a bit of kit looking for a problem so that it can be a solution to it.

Top marks to Microsoft and DigitalPersona!

Eating at your keyboard …

April 20th, 2005

"Office workers are exposed to more germs from their phones and keyboards than toilet seats, scientists reveal.
Work stations contain nearly 400 times as many microbes than lavatories, it is claimed."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3505414.stm

I've always said you shouldn't eat at your keyboard! I say this because food and drink (especially soda) can seriously damage peripherals. However, this seems to raise the stakes a bit and turns it into a health issue.

The scary part comes later:

"The key offenders are telephones, which harbour up to 25,127 microbes per square inch, keyboards 3,295 and computer mice 1,676.

By contrast, the average toilet seat contains 49 microbes per square inch, the survey showed."

I sometimes eat at my desk (do as I say, not as I do!) but I try my best not to but I think reading means that I will make try a little harder - not to mention give my peripherals a good clean out a little more often!

The tale of two USB 2.0 hubs …

April 20th, 2005

One PC, two USB 2.0 hubs.

One hub was a Belkin F5U234 hub. A really small, smart looking, compact hub that annoyingly uses a mini-B USB connector at the hub end instead of the full-sized B connector like all the others (which means that if you want to move it to a different system you have to take the cable too). Another annoying feature of this hub is that the ports face the back rather than the front (cables might "look" untidy but it's a major pain having to reach around things to plug a connector in).

The other a D-Link DUB-H4. Front-facing ports.

Both powered hubs, both 4-port, both roughly the same price.

One key difference - power up the PC with the Belkin hub connected and none of the devices on it would be recognized and the power had to be cycled to get it working (annoying because the mouse was connected to it). Power up with the D-Link hub attached and everything works fine.

Solution - swap the Belkin with the D-Link and then the Belkin worked just fine on the other PC. I'm still bugged by what caused this problem but sometimes a simple solution such as swapping one bit of hardware for another is the quickest.

USB is supposed to be an extensible solution that's easy to use and versatile - and mostly it is. However, more and more people seem to be having problems. Take a look at http://www.usbman.com to get a glimpse into the problems (along with solutions) that people are having.

Back at the (Microsoft) Word mill …

April 19th, 2005

The past few days I'm back at the keyboard plugging away at a new writing project again but watch this space for details in the coming months. I'm never "not writing", there's always something to do - emails, promotional material, website, blog, preparing the next project proposal. I once read that Stephen King writes every day except his birthday, Christmas and Thanksgiving, then a few years later he went back on this and said it was rubbish, in fact he writes every day. I can understand why. Coming back from a writing hiatus is painful and I've learned it's not worth stopping. It's like exercise, taking a break might feel good but you pay for it with interest when you try to get back into the routine. But writing and writing under contract (which has deadlines) always has a way of sharpening the mind!

By the way, I can't release any real details on this project just yet. The world of publishing is very hush-hush, or at least it is until the final project, title and sometimes cover and all, appears in Amazon or B&N before I've even submitted the first draft chapter!

One thing that I never fail to notice when I'm back "writing to a deadline" is just how robust and reliable things have become over the years. I've been making ASCII characters appear in Microsoft Word and using email to send off completed packages of ASCII characters (organized into chapters) to publishers for a number of years now but the writing process certainly seems a lot easier and less hassle now than it did about a decade ago - Windows and Word are both are infinitely more stable and I am now getting into bad habits like not saving a document until I'm done for the day (although I do still have the autosave feature switched on and saving every 2 minutes - I might be brave but I'm not stupid!).

When I'm done for the day I back up onto USB flash memory (encrypting anything sensitive) and at the end of the week I do a CD backup. I also have a backup going to another machine daily. Problem is, I can't remember the last time I needed to recover a document out of archive.

When I send the manuscript and images off to the editor I used to need to compress the files manually before attaching them to an email, now thanks to the Winzip Outlook Plug-in this is all done automatically. I hardly have to do anything.

Compare this to a few years ago - Windows Page Faults at the worst time possible, word processor lock ups, slow connection speeds, painfully slow backup (not to mention buggy recovery if you actually wanted to recover from the backup) ...

I'm in the tech industry and I'm certainly impressed with how much better things are now!

VMware 5.0

April 19th, 2005

Recently I've become a real convert to VMware - If you've not seen VMware before this is an application that allows you to have almost an unlimited number of virtual PCs on one PC. Onto these virtual PCs you can load different (or the same) operating systems and applications. I'd always looked at it as a testing platform but after talking recently to the developers of the software I got a whole new insight into the application - it does a lot, LOT more than I'd initially thought.

And what happens as soon as I get used to version 4 and start to appreciate what it can do? They bring out version 5 that does a LOT, LOT more!

In the next couple of weeks I'm going to be setting out some of the great features of VMware 5 .0 in a series of articles and how-tos.

My initial feelings about VMware 5.0 are very positive - it's very stable and robust (in fact, much more robust than a real PC is). So far I've used it to trial some new hard drive cloning tools and these can't tell the difference between the virtual machine and a real one! It's also safer - trialing disk tools on a critical PC is asking for trouble but on the virtual PC if things go wrong I just go back to an earlier snapshot and the system is recovered in seconds!

I find VMware great for a number of reasons - I can have a group of PCs specifically for testing new software on my one PC, no having to mess about with different hardware setups. I can also have different operating systems for diagnosing problems, again without the mess and hassle of duplicated hardware or multi-boot. As a tech author it's also a great tool for screenshots and walk-throughs - I can use Microsoft Word in my main machine for all the typing and use a virtual machine for the running applications, image grabbing and walk-throughs. Brilliant!

Watch this space for more info!