Friday, December 29, 2006

Web 2.0 Mashups are so yesterday

While everyone and their sister is trying to come up with code mashups (i.e. plot your flickr pictures on Google Maps), a guy named Chris Hughes (see the accompanying video), has found a way to use a Nintendo Wii remotes motion sensing capabilities to control his Roomba. This is such a great concept. 20 years ago, even our phones were closed boxes, now everyone can be their own hacker. Don't like your alarm clock? Want to use your cell phone to shut your lights on and off. And if you don't want to go onto the Internet, you could just as easily buy books on these subjects in your local bookstore.

Kudos to you Chris Hughes, and all of the other people out there who don't ask why, but why not.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The second end of the VoIP Candle

As Murphy's law dictates, a newer better technology will come along the day after you bought the latest and greatest technology, rendering it obsolete. Just the other day, I blogged about SkypeOut and my new Skype phone, and today I discovered that T-Mobile has rolled out its Hotspot@Home service. Essentially, for an extra $20/month on top of your T-Mobile bill you get a phone that can connect to either a wi-fi network (your home or any other public wi-fi network) or to the cellular network. When on Wi-Fi calling is free anywhere in the US and unlimited. It can also supposedly switch over seemlessly from Wi-Fi to cellular networks and back again.

Of course, I am trying to see the real benefit in this? I guess this works if you have broadband at home but bad cellular coverage, or if you talk a lot in proximity to wi-fi networks and the $20 unlimited will provide you with cost savings. It goes without saying that if I am in a Foreign country and I can get my US phone to ring without having to pay international roaming, this would be tremendously beneficial.

But all that aside, the concept of UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access), and T-Mobile's launch of it, shows that the VoIP candle is being burned on both ends. On one side you have startups like Skype and Vonage that are trying to bridge VoIP to traditional phone networks using PSTN access points, and on the other you have cellular carriers looking to roam seamlessly between their Cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

A couple of years ago I made a prediction that in 3-5 years everything will be running off a giant IP-based platform. At least one of my predictions is coming slowly to fruition

Friday, December 22, 2006

Trying to have some fun with Google Maps

Back in the day, in the B.C. (before children) era, I used to code for fun. To some of you the very notion of coding in general sounds bizarre in and of itself, yet alone as something that someone might enjoy.

On Thanksgiving, something cool happened - I was showing some family members aerial photos of my in-laws new place down in Florida using Google Maps. Everyone was impressed with the levels of detail, down to the pictures of my in-laws backyard. Upon seeing all of this, my Grandma asked if they had the same maps and pictures for Europe. I wasn't sure, but we put in the address of her childhood home in the Alsatian city of Saarbrucken. Sure enough, she was able to zoom in down into her old neighborhood, and all of the childhood memories of street names came echoing back.

It was than and there that I started thinking that there was a lot more to maps than simple driving directions and traffic reports. People are developing mash-ups with Google maps of all kinds, but those mash-ups, for the most part, so far, seem to be primarily 'kick the tires' products. i.e. Flickr photos on the map, or a topographical view of our contacts. But GIS (Geographic Information Systems) have hundreds of other purposes that have yet to be invented. One good example, law enforcement. The NYPD and other law enforcement agencies have use GIS for years now to help map geographic crime patterns and help solve crimes as well as investigate and discover environmental factors that lead to more crime.

I have started reading the maps API docs from Google, and I am thinking about ways to create a fun, but practical GIS tool. Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Review of the iPhone (uh... the Linksys CIT 300)

I know what you're thinking, but unfortunately I do not have the 'Inside Scoop from Infinite Loop'. I do however enjoy the many benefits of VoIP. While I have been using Skype for a while, I never quite viewed it as a true VoIP phone, in the vane of VoIP providers like Vonage, OptimumVoice, and Broadvoice who actually provide me with something akin to a traditional phone experience. Skype was too IM-like for me to consider using. But then the lovely folks at Skype offered free calling to any phone in the US and Canada for free to the end of 2006. Since my phone calls at work are metered (we are only allowed a certain amount of long distance calls for non-business use per month), I starte using Skype to make long distance calls via the PC. And while it wasn't perfect, I was definitely impressed with the call clarity, and its ease of use. Although I didn't use them, Skype also had dirt-cheap rates for international calling.

Still, as impressed as I was, I didn't look to skype as a full-time replacement for my VoIP phone - that is until last week. Last week Skype upped the ante in the VoIP wars - it began offering a full year of unlimited calls to the US and Canada for $29.95 (only $14.95 if you sign up before 12/31/06). In essence, Skype's annual rate is what its competitors charge monthly! While I was very intrigued by this, I knew that I couldn't sell skype to my wife without having a 'real' phone to call on. Since our VoIP phones offer low international rates, we actually use that as the only source to keep up with family and friends overseas.

Thankfully, I discovered the CIT 300 - one of new Linksys's new iPhones (touche Apple!) that connects to your PC and landline (i.e. it's a two-line phone) so that you can choose to make calls either from Skype or your home phone. I also discovered that with a $10 Linksys Rebate and Google Checkout's $20 discount, I was able to get this phone for $50 (a lot cheaper than the current Wi-Fi skype phones which run about $150 on the street).

So I bought the CIT 300, and have since installed it half-way (I don't have an available landline near my PC) and here are some of my impressions so far:

For starters, the phone has several large drawbacks. First and formost, this phone is just like all of the other USB phones that one can use for Skype in that it requires you to interact with the existing Skype application to work. This means that your computer will always need to be turned on with Skype running and you being logged in. Essentially, the Skype phone is set up so that all of your audio for Skype calls is routed through the phone. This means that if you don't have the phone handy (or if someone else is using it for a landline call), you won't be able to answer a skype call with your PC. In addition, there is no way (that I have discovered yet) to make a call directly from your PC without dialing it from the handset. So if you are sitting at the computer and want to call someone, you need to initiate it from the phone first, or change your Audio settings.

Another inherent issue with Skype is that it allows you to log in from multiple places at once. If someone tries to call you on Skype, and you are logged in at Work and at home, it will ring in both places, but whoever picks up first, wins. So if your CIT 300 is at home, and someone answers it while you are waiting for a work call, you won't be able to pick it up. It can also be annoying to have the phone ring at home even if they know not to pick up.

2 other pet peeves of mine about this phone - to dial a landline using Skype, you need to either prefix your number with 001 or a + sign, otherwise it won't go through. In addition, there is no way to bridge the gap between the landline and Skype - so if you want to make a three way call, you will need to do it with SkypeOut and not the landlines.

Quirks aside, this is a good phone. All of my skype contacts come through to the handset for speed dialing (both Skype contacts and landlines that I have added to Skype as SkypeOut contacts), and the speaker phone is great. Call Quality is as good as your skype quality - i.e. it's not the phone's fault, and the backlit keys make it easy to dial in the dark.

All told, this phone is a decent option if you want to use Skype for VoIP, but if you can afford it, you will get a little more flexibility with a Wi-Fi skype phone or Linksys' CIT-400 iPhone (which has skype built-in, and doesn't require your computer to be on to work).

One more note, it seems that these Linksys phones allow for multiple handsets, but I have yet to find where they offer an individual handset for sale. However, since they just released some new products in the 'iPhone' line, it could be that those are not too far away.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Off the Spot?

A while ago, there was a lot of buzz about Microsoft's SPOT Technology. SPOT was an information delivery technology that used FM radio frequencies to send data updates to small devices like watches and clocks. In addition to getting atomic time, you could also get stock quotes, sports scores and the weather. While people initially greeted it with great fanfare, it seems to have fizzled out a little bit.

Yes, just like Microsoft always does, it seems to be fiddling with new uses for it, and maybe in the 3rd round of revisions they will get it right, but I wonder, will its promise be utilized? Melitta thinks so, they created a coffee maker with SPOT built-in to give you the weather and time along with your daily grind. I wonder what comes next for SPOT? I wonder if Microsoft has any SPOT announcements brewing (pun intended) for CES?

Regardless of the early adopter caché of such devices, will people really shell out $200 for a coffee maker that tells you the weather?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why Open Access Trumps Open Source

A handful of years ago, during the dotcom boom, there was a period where Linux and other Open Source technologies were getting a lot of headlines and attention on Wall Street. They were the next revolution. While some of the spotlight on Open Source seemed to flame out a bit along with the dotcom boom,  companies continued to (and still do) take it seriously. Despite that, many companies realized that just because the software is free doesn't mean it has no cost. While there are many Pros (and Cons) to Open Source software, people have come to realize that using open source software does come with it's own costs - hardware, maintenance, training and customization aren't free. While many companies find Open Source to be a good fit, many others see it as too costly. Quite frankly, the latter have come to the realization that sometimes, for specific needs, COTS (Commercial - Off-The-Shelf) software is a much better, less costly alternative. But therein lies the rub.

One of the biggest benefits of Open Source is your ability to customize it. As a Software Professional with over a decade in the industry, one of the key pain points for CIO's is Integration. If I had a Nickel for everytime I was asked to help with an Integration issue, I could've bought YouTube myself! Yes I can buy great COTS for CRM, and for ERP, and for Financials, but how do I get them to talk? How do I get my website to talk with my fulfillment and inventory systems? How do I get my suppliers and customers systems to talk to my own? How do I create unified reports across all of these systems so that I can get a clear picture? With two incompatible COTS packages this can get very tricky. Open Source seemed to solve some of these issues, because it enabled companies to get at an applications underlying data structures and make them integrate with their neighbors. But along with power comes responsibility. Using open source meant that you had to keep up with patches, that you had to do regression testing that you had to work harder to ensure your own data integrity. While this worked for many, it was obviously not the most ideal situation.

Enter Web 2.0, the birth of the 'New' web, blogs, and rich content recently caused two very important things to happen - first, it bolstered the popularity of a little-known technology concept called AJAX (I was using the underlying technologies of AJAX in 1997, but  they weren't called AJAX then) and as people became more and more creative with AJAX, the advent of the Mashup. These two concepts have given people the ability to visualize a new concept - Open Access.

In my definition, Open Access is the notion that a developer of commercial software provides its users with an API or Web Service that allows them to directly interact with the application's data. IMHO, Open Access is great. It enables me to leverage my existing COTS by scripting integration points between them. By utilizing COTS with open access, my development staff can focus on specific integration needs without having the extra burden of maintaining software patches for Open Source Software. Interestingly enough, Open Source also benefits from open access, as it now becomes easy to even integrate Open Source and commercial products.

As companies like Google, Salesforce, and even Microsoft open up these Web Services and APIs, it will give new dimension to the trials and tribulations of integrating software.

Now if only I can discover that killer mashup? :)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

e-mail 4rmal-t? - u have got 2b j/king

For those of you who actually read my blog, you know that I am a big fan of G-Mail, and Google Talk. I was very pleased that they integrated IM and presence into e-mail. Just like Microsoft has done, albeit with a different set of features, to outlook and office. Yet today, Yahoo announced that it too is integrating IM into it's web mail client. Finally we are seeing the convergence of IM and e-mail, with the only distinction to be whether or not the user is currently available to chat. I would think that this is a good thing, but there is one reason holding back the rays of light between the clouds - my Brother.

No, my brother isn't some kind of evil dictator nor does he work for any of the aforementioned companies. But my brother is, at least for me, a prime example of what might soon happen - the loss of formality in e-mail. My brother is one of those people who's first exposure to communications on the Internet was IM. What's wrong with that? Simple - its not a formal means of communication.

When e-mail was introduced, it was simply a means to communicate formal communication via an electronic medium. In simple terms, people used e-mail to type up the same memos as before, however they now didn't need to make 500 physical copies of them, but could distribute them almost instantly. Despite the influx of spam, forwards, and viruses, e-mail today still has that level of formality.

IM on the other hand, was a way of talking with text (and now voice and video via the computer). Since we all talk faster than we type, a shorthand evolved. And since e-mail was primarily an informal means of communication, people were willing to forgo things like grammar and punctuation for the sake of expediency.

Enter the AOL generation. Somehow, because they are IM'ers first and an e-mailers second, the lines between the two are very blurred. These are the people who will use IM shorthand in e-mails all the time. The people who are reminded by their first bosses that e-mail communications needs to be formatted in proper English. It's a hard enough battle as it is, think of how much harder it will be now that the software companies are blurring those lines.

I hope that despite this innovation, people will still be able to write a decent letter every once in a while.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Second-class Google Accounts

I have been using Google Apps for my domain for a few months now, and by and large, I have been very satisfied with their service. But all that aside, there is one big problem that I have with my Google Apps accounts - that I can't use them in any other services aside from those setup for my domain.

If I want to use Orkut, the new Blogger Beta, or even the Google Toolbar's custom features, I still need to use my old G-Mail account. Granted, this isn't a major inconvenience, but I would much rather have an opportunity to do this with just one account, and just one password - it would make things a lot easier.

Are you listening Google?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

If you Write it, It Will Come + Applesque Simplicity

No sooner did my last posting about wanting an iPod hit my RSS feed, did I win an iPod in a raffle (which is weird, because I never win anything). No, not the 4GB Red Nano that I wanted, but even better - a 30 GB Video iPod. (Of course, I would still love the Zegna iJacket, and maybe a Mirage Omnivibe to go with it, instead of the Nike + Sport Kit). I have been wanting one for a long time, and I in my first few days I have been enjoying and playing with it.

In my first impressions, I have been discovering the beauty of Applesque Simplicity. I wanted to start studying things, and thought that an MP3 player of any kind would be beneficial for me, so that I could, say, learn a foreign language, or listen to lectures or audiobooks (and of course, the ocassional vodcast). I thought subscribing to podcasts would be hard - but it's so simple. With just one click, I add a podcast subscription and next time I sync the iPod - presto, it's there. It just works. No downloading multiple MP3s, or 5 different software packages, or worrying about compatibility between my player, it's loading software, my favorite music software, and the web site producing the podcast. It Just Works!

This is precisely the reasoning that Microsoft is creating the Zune. To provide its users with the same kind of user experience. Of course, Microsoft has a lot of work to-do, as Apple is currently perched at the top of the mountain.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Still wish I had one...

The iPod is just about 5 years old, and I, of all people, still don't have one. Personally, at the moment I have conjured up a 100 reasons to justify me buying one, but none of which pass the Spouse/Sleep test (i.e. if I buy one without spousal approval, will I still be able to sleep in my own bed).  The irony here is that an iPod isn't just about playing music. Firstly there is Podcasting. Podcasting is great. Not only can you get Music and video podcasts, but you can also get all kinds of Radio and Learning programs on the Podcast. For example, you can subscribe to a PodCast to help you learn the Talmud or even download MP3 and other files to help with your workout. Speaking of workouts, in addition to giving you the inspiration and motivational music you need to keep going, the iPod can also track your workout . Finally, what is a good ipod without accessories? That's why you need to buy a good jacket with iPod controls.

I just hope someone is kind enough to get me one :)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Windows Live Writer Review

Google, insofar, seems to be the king of the Web 2.0 space. There are other players in this arena ranging from Google's search Rivals Yahoo to newer startups like YouTube, Digg, Technorati, et al. The only key player seemingly not making big strides into this new world is Microsoft. Yet, while they are playing their Web 2.0 stuff closer to the vest and not promoting it with a lot of hoopla, they are definitely making great strides in developing products under the radar.  Case in point - the tool that I am using to write this entry - Windows Live Writer.

This small little tool has been in beta for a few weeks now and is available for download at Microsoft's Live Ideas site. I have been using this little tool, and so far I am loving it, primarily for one key feature- it gives me a WYSIWYG way to create and edit blog entries while offline.

Up until using Windows Live Writer, I would either need to edit my blog online or edit it offline with word or a text editor. Yes, there is a plug-in for Word that allows you to post postings to Blogger, but that still didn't give me a good way to see what my posts would look like when uploaded.

Windows Live Writer on the other hand, downloads my posting templates and style sheets so when I edit, I can see (even offline) what my posts will look like exactly on my blog. It also makes it easier by providing drag and drop uploads of pictures and allows me to easily insert 'Tags' for meta blog sites.

I also have the option to save entries locally, as drafts on my blog site, or publish them immediately.  It also has built-in spellchecking that is, IMHO, much better than so of the other lackluster tools that are part of blogging sites and/or web toolbars.

And you might be thinking that because this is Microsoft, it will only work with Microsoft Live Spaces blogs - but you'd be dead wrong. Microsoft finally learned that it's software needs to play nice with others to gain acceptance. So it decided to utilize standardized blogging apis to enable you to use Windows Live Writer to post to blogs on TypePad, LiveJournal, MoveableType, Blogger and other Blogging services (I have been using it with much success with all of my Blogger Blogs, however, I have not yet checked against the new Blogger Beta version).

Windows Live Writer is a great little tool that will only get better with time. Download it and see for yourself.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Free Wi-Fi In Jerusalem

Apparently, with all of the discussions of Municipal, Free Wi-fi (like the kind Google Offers in Mountain View, CA) I missed that Jerusalem has also started setting up Free Wi-Fi as well in a project called Unwire Jerusalem. Now I just need to get a plane flight there.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wi-Fi without power

Today I discovered an organization called Green Wi-Fi. Green Wi-fi's project is a great idea. The premise is that there are hundreds of places on this earth that don't have reliable (if any) electrical power. While the One Laptop Per Child project is working on PCs with hand cranks, people wondered how those laptops would get networking power?

That's where the folks at Green Wi-fi Come in. They developed a solar powered Wi-Fi Router that can take part in a Mesh Network. While its still in the design phases, it is definitely an amazing idea who's time has come. The most unique and interesting feature is that to optimize power efficiency and keep costs down, they developed a power control module to regulate bandwidth when power is low (i.e. at night or during long periods of rain where sunlight is limited).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Now if they could only make it in a minivan

I really hate hybrids. Yes they are good, yes they will save you a few bucks on gas, but I still think that the hype is overplayed. Sure there are the ethanol cars that can run on either gas or biofuels, but I am willing to wager that not too many people are using more ethanol than straight gas.

But that's precisely why I love the Tesla Roadster. This thing is gorgeous, and green all in the same breath. It can go up to 250 miles on a full charge. Which makes it practical for local use, but no long-haul road trips (until the adequate infrastructure is in place).

I heard that a lot of the pre-orders have been bought by some Google Billionaires, including founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page. This is a great car, there is only one problem. It's just a two-seater. If only they could come out with one of these in a minivan for those of us who buy cars for practical reasons, I would give it three thumbs up.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Would you pay almost $300 for a headset to use with a free service?

Sometimes I feel like I work for Google :). Okay, wishful thinking, I know, but I do use and like a lot of their products. I happen to like their e-mail, Calendar and talk products a whole lot. I was pleased to see that Google started to sell headsets for Google Talk, but to my chagrin, the wireless one (to the right) costs almost $300! I can imagine that there are a handful of people out there willing to shell out for something with a Google logo on it. But if you really want a wireless headset to use with Google talk or any other VoIP or Voice chat service, why not get a bluetooth one? For under $100 you can get a decent bluetooth headset and probably even a USB Bluetooth adapter so that you can use it on your PC, and even better, you can use the same headset for your Bluetooth phone to boot.

Now I need to decide on which Voice chat client I like best and then get other people to start using it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Google to Go

Back in April, I finally bit the bullet and started wearing a company issue BlackBerry on my hip. Of course, being the gadget head that I am, I took every opportunity to customize it. In short order I found two great applications from - guess who - Google. I started using both Google Talk and Google Maps right away on my BlackBerry and received instant gratification from each of them.

For starters, Google Talk helped push me to push more of my friends to start using this IM/Voip service. Now, even when I am on the go, I can get IMs from people at work and friends. It also has several key features that differentiate it from amongst other IM services - namely, I can start a conversation on my BlackBerry, and seemlessly continue it on my PC. I simply go to the talk client on My PC, double-click the name of the person I am chatting with and Voila!, my conversation history is already there. The other feature is that it integrates with the BB's inbox, so when new chats arrive I automatically get notified as if it was an e-mail coming my way.

Maps has also turned out to be a lifesaver. Never again will I need to carry tiny scraps of paper directions with me on business trips anymore. It's great, just put in an address and go.

And now Google has promised to improve and expand its wireless offerings, I am looking forward to them.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Can you hear me now?

Apparently, kids not only outsmart adults when it comes to computer tech, but in bio-tech too. As reported by CNet, kids have taken advantage of the fact that there are certain sounds that are inaudible for adults, but that kids can hear just fine. Using this fact, kids have created ringtones that their teachers can't hear, thereby making it easier for them to pass text messages in class.

We've come a long way from the 'clothesline' note-passing system of the 80's.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The return of the Transportable Computer

Many, many years ago, when I was a starry-eyed, 12-year-old geek, I would thumb through computer magazines and drool at the ads for the new and super fast 286's (yes, that long ago).

Compaq Computer - an upstart in those days - had a transportable model, it had a tiny screen and weighed a ton, but you could, in theory, carry it from place to place. That is a far cry from all of the laptops I currently own. Obviously, as time went on, laptops became smaller and more powerful.

But recently, there has been a more interesting phenomenon, in that it would seem laptops are overtaking desktops as home computers. Maybe this is because of their inherent portability, or because laptop firepower (i.e. display size, cpu speed, etc) has pretty much caught up to that of the desktop. In addition, Wi-Fi wireless networks have made it even easier for you to move your laptop around the house and surf the net - seeing that you are no longer chained to within 12 feet of your DSl/Cable modem.

And just as the cost of PC's has come down significantly, so to have the cost of laptops. For between $500-1000 today you can get a brand new laptop these days, and while the $700 laptop isn't powerful enough for a corporate road warrior, it is definitely powerful enough for the average e-mailing/photosharing/mp3-playing/word-processing consumer. (In fact, there is a project out now aiming to produce a $100 laptop for children in 3rd-world and developing nations). These laptops are also aimed more at the 'moveable desktop' concept - that is for people who plan to use these at home and never move any further then from the den to the living room and back again. In that vane, Dell has introduced the XPS M2010.

The M2010 is an interesting cross between an all-in one desktop and an oversized laptop. It has a 20.1" LCD, a wireless keyboard and very interesting looking CPU. The whole thing can be carried like a giant laptop (complete with handle) from place to place and also used as a TV or DVD player (it is Windows Media Center enabled and comes with a remote).

It is a very cool piece of hardware, however, I have to say at $3500 - there are probably not that many people who will buy it. Even Dell alludes to their target market - the tag line on the base configuration reads - Be a show off.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Someone Listens to me, part 2

Okay, so maybe lightning does strike twice. Earlier this week I discovered that D-Link was making a wireless print server that also connected you to the scanner function of your MFP. So that you can print and scan wirelessly. Since one of my pet peeves have been fulfilled, it was only a matter of time before someone else solved another one of my tech pain points.

What is my next tech pain point - digital music. My wife and I are not audiophiles, yet we still listen to music. Our kids, on the other hand, are big music buffs. They listen to their favorite albums all of the time. Of course, since each one of them wants to listen to something different in a different room of the house, it means we need multiple CD players - one in the living room, in each of our bedrooms, and the den, etc. Thankfully there are CD burners and the like so that I don't need to buy more than one copy of each album. But, as anyone with little kids knows, the CDs are always getting scratched. I also have various music scattered on computers around the house as well.

I would be so much easier if I had a single digital system that let me have one central digital music system and wireless satellites around the house that could access the same music but each pllay their own playlist.

While Sonos has something like this, a new company called Olive has developed a really solid solution. Their Symphony music player (above) is a household uber system that work with standard wi-fi (even acts as a wi-fi gateway) and in addition to its own 80gb hard drive, it can also access music stored on PCs and macs around your house. Heck, it can even act as your wi-fi router and gateway and has a 4-port ethernet switch for any other ethernet devices you have in your rack. It comes with a built-in CD burner so that you can rip your existing CD's and burn new ones.

What's more is that they have another component called sonata which is a a wireless receiver that can be placed in any room and access all of the music you have on your symphony. This system is one of the first that I have seen to meet all of my music needs and desires. Well, all of them, save one - the price point. The Symphony costs $899 and Sonatas are $199 each. (Olive also has two-higher end music systems that cap out at $2400). For the config I want, it would probably run me about $1500. Hardly chump change.

However, I'll hold out in the hopes that folks from Olive will stumble across my blog and give me one to review (okay, so I will need to return it, but it will be fun to play with).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Finally, someone listens to me

Back in February, I wrote an FAQ of sorts about wireless printing. One if my laments then was that while wireless print servers will let you print to a Multi-function printer, they will not let you use the scanner or other features. Someone at D-Link must have been listening because now they just introduced Wireless Print Server that actually let's you scan from your MFP.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Nike - The New Titan of Web 2.0

I like to think that I am a sports nut, although I definitely don't exercise as much as I used to. I have been a big fan of the Nike brand for a long time (although my current sneaks are Reeboks that I've had for 3 years and have very little wear).

Nike has gear for every sport - Baseball, Soccer, Basketball, Hockey, heck, they even have Tae-Kwon-Do Duboks (alas, no Judogi yet). But short of their watches, Nike wasn't really much of a technology company. However, today I came across two sites that made me change my mind.

First off, Nike is teaming up with Google to produce a Social Networking Community site for Soccer Players called Joga. Joga is designed to help build up the world and local soccer communities and its launch is tied to the World Cup in Germany that's just days away (Go USA!).

Secondly, I discovered this site today: Nike+ . Apparently, Nike has teamed up with Apple to not only create iPod friendly accessories and gear, but they've also developed a tool to enable you to use your iPod Nano to track your workouts. (I now have yet another reason to buy an iPod).

The new iPod gear also connects to the web and uploads your stats!

If that isn't what Web 2.0 is really about, I don't know what is.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mac in Black

Apple just released its new MacBook sporting an Intel Dual-Core processor. While the likelihood of me switching anytime soon is almost nil, everytime Jobs and company come out with a new toy, I do tend to salivate just a little bit.

First and foremost, the folks at Apple have mastered the fusion of form and function to create elements of desire. They are very consumer focused, and do the branding thing well enough that people are willing to pay a premium for their computers and iPods. They also throw in some of the Gee-whiz things (like the built-in camera), for their coolness factor, even though the functional aspect of them (for many) is still not there. But beyond all of this, there are also the little things. There are two little things about this laptop that would make me want to buy it and have me pining for a PC with them:

MagSafe - A very cool magnetic connector for the power cord that breaks away from the computer if it is yanked. This might sound like it could be annoying but as someone who actually tripped over the power cord of his laptop and nearly fried the MoBo as a result, this is a welcome addition that will hopefully save countless Macs from an untimely death.

Bluetooth - why is it that very few PCs have Bluetooth Built-in? Think about how much easier it would be if I could use my bluetooth headset for both phone and pc, and how I could easily get my contact list and my calendar to sync. I once tried getting my windows laptop to sync with a bluetooth phone and it took me forever to get it going. Then when it finally worked somewhat correctly, I got a new bluetooth phone and had to re-configure everything again. I also had to be careful not to lose the little dongle either. This is one of those little things that make so much sense, yet don't make any sense at all.

While I am not able at the moment to buy one of these, nor do I have the opportunity to wait in line for Apple's fifth avenue store opening in the hopes of winning one, I will gladly take one of these if Steve Jobs is listening - make mine black please.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Thinking Positive about Security

As many of you do, I participate in a handful of discussion forums and mailing lists reagarding the various technologies that I use or have used. Every so often, I see a posting regarding security of sorts and wanting to provide advice, I wind up providing the same advice over an over again - think positive!

There is a great quote from the talmud that embodies this, one that is used in the book Firewalls and Internet Security by Bill Cheswick and Jim Bellovin (I am referring tothe first edition, ca. 1994, but the second edition, to which the link points was published in 2003 and added Aviel Rubin as co-author) to introduce one of the chapters (if memory serves):

Low Alecha HamLachah Ligmor, v'Low Atah Ben Chorin l'He Batail me menah - Loosely translated, this means It is not your duty to complete the work, but you are not free to let it lie fallow. The notion here is that it is very impossible to completely secure anything, but don't use that as an excuse to not even try.

Some people take a very negative approach to security. Let's do the bare-bones, and that's it. They wait until a breach happens before they start patching things. In the real-world, this approach is what I call a negative approach - i.e. Let's only prevent the things we find to be harmful, and allow everything else until it is used against us. In the real-world, this is the equivalent of saying, let's not put a lock on our door until we get robbed. Granted, I am over simplifying. Many people have the equivalent of a front-door lock in the form of a corporate firewall, but completely ignore that they left the side window wide-open.

While I am nowhere near perfect myself (read: please don't hack my site :) ), I am an advocate for something that I like to call Positive Security - i.e. only open up the services that you need to offer and nothing more and then monitor them dilligently.

Here are five basic points towards thinking positively about security:

  1. Remember to close everything down on your servers that doesn't need to be used publicly. It is more difficult figuring this out at first, but it is better to have to figure out which service needs to be turned on, then to browse through a list of services after a breach and figure out who is the weakest link.
  2. Don't worry as much about the ports you close than the ones you open. You need to open port 80 (and/or 443) to allow access to your site, and it makes sense that attackers will try to find ways to exploit these to ports before trying more difficult means.
  3. Despite what you and your development team think, your code has bugs. Whether you're vulnerable to SQL injection, buffer overflows, or privacy issues, don't be so naive to think that your code and security are flawless. Test it for common vulnaerabilities (like the aforementioned SQL injection).
  4. Don't worry about inconveniencing users. Which conversation would you rather have with a user - explaining to them that they can't do something because of security concerns, or explaining to them that 5,000 customer credit cards or social security numbers were stolen.
  5. Minimize your liability by minimizing the sensitive data you store. Since no security measures are strong enough to prevent every breach, why not limit the amount of sensitive data you store to mitigate risk. For example, if the credit card is processed by a third party, why store them on your site altogether? There is also no need to store passwords in plain text. A one-way hashing function is almost always available with most APIs, and that's all you need for passwords. In addition, if you are worried about your code, why not obfuscate it, or only install executables on your servers when possible. While these methods are not completely foolproof, they will repel the casual attackers and make things more difficult for the more experienced ones.

Again, the minute you connect something to a public network it ceases to become completely secure, but the more steps you take to secure it, the better your chances are of keeping it safe.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Windows on a Mac Revisited

I guess I stand corrected - or do I? Today, Apple released a beta of Boot Camp it's dual-boot loader for Windows and MacOS on its Intel based macs. A few weeks ago I opined in this very space about why anyone would want to convert a mac to run Windows. Clearly one would think that my thoughts were contradicted by Steve Jobs with an exclaimation point. But that is not the case.

I still wonder why anyone would exclusively want to take their very expensive Mac and run windows on it. Seriously, If I was going to buy a mac, it would be to get away from windows and not take the Applepeal (pun intented) of the iPod and bring it mainstream. But dual-booting, well, that's another story.

Dual-booting, to some extent, helped boost linux usage. Why? Because it enabled people to make the switch without having to completely abandon windows altogether. But Linux never quite made it on dual-booting simply because it made the already-difficult process of installing linux a little more difficult for Joe non-techie. That's what Jobs and co. have up on this software - they have a piece of Consumer oriented software that makes it easy to determine which way to go when the machine is booted and is easy (seemingly) to configure.

Oh, there's just one more thing (couldn't resist) - if you were going to put windows on a mac, which method would you rather use - the one provided by Steve Jobs, or the convoluted 'might fry your motherboard' way?

Friday, March 31, 2006


Ni-How-Ma? You might be asking yourself? Is that the name of a product? A crazy obscure technology acronym? No, actually, based on what my Asian friends in college taught me - it means "Hello" in Chinese (I can't remember if it was Cantonese or Mandarin). Somewhere on my To-do list is a to-do of all of the languages that I want to learn in my life. While there are many that I would find practical and useful, number one on the list is Chinese. Why, you might ask? Because I believe in the next decade or so, that Chinese will be more important than English, Japanese or Spanish in the business world.

Why chinese? Imagine, if you will for a minute that every last person in the US had a cellphone, heck in fact, imagine that 1 in 3 people had two! - that would equal the current number in cellphones in China - think about it - there are 4 cellphone users in china for every 3 people in the US.

The chinese economy is going to continue to grow, and make inroads on the tech front. Ultimately, chinese companies like Huwaei Technologies and Ningbo Bird will be as commonly known as Cisco and Motorola, their household counterparts. And as much as Detroit is reeling from years of falling behind the Japanese in car sales, China might jump into the mix sometime soon as well.

So learn chinese, and in a few years, you'll all be calling me to say 'Sheh-Sheh'

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Biometric Security - the Rube Goldberg Device of Password Entry

Yesterday I helped a friend setup a new laptop with a fingerprint reader, and today Walt Mossberg expounded on the subject in his column. While I think that biometrics are truly a great convenience, it is my opinion that they don't offer any greater security, especially on the web, and here's why.

Consider what happens when your fingerprint reader fails? What about when you take your laptop on a business trip and don't bring along your external fingerprint reader? Or better yet, how you log in to corporate e-mail from home?

Because biometric devices are not a de-facto standard on most computers, even computers that utilize them still need to accept standard passwords. This means that those passwords are still vulnerable to cracking. This is doubly true for the web, because for the most part, biometric password utilities that allow you to 'web login' with biometrics, simply store your username and password and then send them to the web site when you swipe your finger. While this might help protect you against keystroke logging software, it will not proctect you against someone sniffing your network connection or against someone trying to crack passwords on a web site.

Bottom-line, the only real benefit to biometric security is when it is the ONLY method of logging in, until that day comes, the only real use I can see for it is encrypting files on your computer and as a convenience to prevent you from having to type in those 8-10 characters in your password.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Hacking the new Intel Mac - so what?

There have been some posts (like this one on C|Net), indicating that someone might have actually managed to install Windows XP on Mac. While I want to congratulate the person who did this (assuming it is true), I would also like to know what the point of this little exercise is beyond proving it could be done?

Maybe I am wrong here, but are there really that many people out there who want to buy a Mac only to put windows on it?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

iTunes - the Future of TV

A while Back I started talking about the IP-TV future. Of course, I don't consider my thoughts about the IP TV future to be visionary, but rather, my thoughts are an obvious progression from the current emerging state of televsion technology.

With the advent of iTunes videos and Google Video, as well as the talk about how telcos are prepping and market-testing their own IP-TV services, there has been a lot of buzz about how IP-TV and unbundling of TV networks in cable offerings will kill small networks and, by proxy, eliminate the made-for-tv productions that they currently produce. While I don't disagree with the former, I totally disagree with the latter point - case in point, NBC's marketing campaign for the new drama Conviction.

NBC has teamed up with Apple to offer the pilot on iTunes as a free download. Why? because this generates buzz, and potential interest in the show. In addition, feedback on the pilot will help dictate if the show should be cancelled, or give possible indication of re-working. It will also give the network an early idea of the popularity and maybe even determine pricing.

I think that iTunes, Google Video and the like are the real future of TV.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

VoIP's Apples and Oranges

I am a big fan of CNET, and not only do I use it for my own product research, but I reccomend it to others as well. But I must have just read the most useless review on their site - a head to head comparison of VoIP services entitled - CNET prizefight: Skype vs. Vonage - CNET reviews .

The reason why I feel that this article is usless is because not all VoIP systems are created alike, nor are they all a good fit for the various scenarios in which one would use them. From my perch, VoIP systems come in three forms - Phone replacement services, like Vonage, and Optimum Voice, Voice peer-to-peer services like Skype, AIM and MSN Messenger, and services that are kind of a Hybrid between the two.

Make no mistakes, Vonage is going after ma bell'. They want you to dump your landline phone for their service. They want you to view Vonage as you do your landline phone, only cheaper and with different plumbing.

Skype is primarily a way for people to contact each other using their PCs. It's lightweight enough that it works great with a Wi-fi hotspot and a laptop or in a library or internet café. As an added bonus, Skype lets you connect to the Public phone network and can get you a phone number in a dozen countries as well.

So for Cnet to compare the two on, say, 911 interoprability - is stupid, because while Vonage's business model requires it to adapt, I don't think that anyone has downloaded Skype expecting 911 to work.

I used to have Vonage and Optimum voice and used them to call people on their regular phones. I have downloaded Skype, but I am still waiting for someone else I know to get it.

If you're interested, click the link to the left and call me.

Linux for Kids?

Someone recently turned me on to Ubuntu linux . I went there and ordered their free CD's (they haven't got here yet, but hey, they're free so I'm not complaining!) I also noticed their spinoff project - Edubuntu, an educational version of Linux.

I downloaded their ISO, and Installed it on my Compaq Laptop - one that I have had problems with installing previous versions of Linux on. While I am quite comfortable at compiling my own Kernel, I prefer not to, for a myriad of reasons. But I have to say, that this Linux install was by far the easiest I have ever done in about 10 years of casual linux use. It recognized all of my hardware out of the box and installed easily.

As soon as I got it up and running, I tried to figure out how to get it to work for my kids. While a lot of the Open Source Software bundled with Edubuntu was available for other Distros, what got me was some of the subtle touches. The kid friendly UI for example, with its oversized and kid-themed icons, which made them more clickable to little hands. My kids loved the Glibcompris (sp?) games, and the only thing I need to do for them is a them a kid-sized mouse.All in all, I am loving it so far, and might start reccomending it to friends - after all, you can take an old PC, throw this on it, and it can entertain your kids for a while. Besides, all schools now have Windows PCs in their computer labs. At least your kids will get the best of both worlds. And because it is Linux, there are other things that I can teach him - for example, I think after I buy a kid-sized mouse, I will teach my four year-old how to write shell scripts. (So what if he doesn't quite know how to read yet :)).


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Printing through thin air

I was reecently approached by a couple of friends and asked a bunch of questions about network print servers, so I thought I would expound on the subject a bit with a little FAQ of my own. In general netwotrk print servers, if they work correctly, provide great convenience, however the trick is getting them to work.

What is a Network Print Server?
Simply put a Network Print Server is a device that provides you with a way to connect your printer directly to your home or office network.

Why would I want one?
There are several reasons, but if you are a home user, there are two main reasons why you might want one: a) You have several computers and want to share one or more printers with them or b)You have a wireless laptop and wireless network, and you want to be able to print without plugging the printer into the laptop.

Can't I share a printer without buying one or more of these devices?
Yes you can. Regardless if you're running Windows, MacOS, or a Linux variant, almost all operating systems will allow you to connect a printer to your computer and share it with others on your network.

So what's the benefit of a Network Print Server over Printer Sharing?
The biggest downside to printer sharing is that it requires the print-sharing computer to be on and connected to the printer. Even if this isn't an issue (i.e. you have a computer that is always turned on and can connect a printer to it), if someone on the network prints a large document it will potentially effect the performance of the computer that the printer is attached to.

What's the difference between wired and wireless print servers?
Essentially, a wired print server connects to your network via an ethernet cable, while a wireless one connects to your network using a wireless connection.Otherwise there is absolutely no difference between the two.

Do I need a wireless print server to print from my wireless laptop?
No, so long as your wireless access point or router has a free network (ethernet) port to plug in your wired print server to and provided that you can place your printer within a wire's reach of your router.

Which is better a wired or a wireless print server?
Typically speaking, a wired one is better for many reasons - less setup and configuration, faster speeds (100Mbps ethernet is still typically faster than even 108Mbps wireless - explaining why is for another article) and they typically cost about 40% less.

So why would I even consider buying a wireless one then?
For the same reasons listed above - your router doesn't have extra ports, or you want to put the printer in an area where its not feasible to connect a wire from it to your router.

I have two/three/more printers, how many of these print servers do I need?
There are many models out there, and while many are made for a single printer, still others have 2 or 3 ports. A two-port one might be ideal if you want to connect both a laser and a photo printer to your network. However, the downside is both printers need to be near each other for this to work. In theory, you could buy as many print servers as you'd like for each of the printers you have so long as you have enough network ports to plug them into.

Do all print servers work with all printers?
No. This is why it is important to check the compatibility lists first. While there are no guarantees that a particular printer will not work with a print server if it isn't on the compatibility list, you will probably not be able to get tech support from the print server's manufacturer if it isn't.

Do any printers come with these built-in or as add-on modules?
Many business printers (like those from HP) come with wired and/or wireless print servers as either built-in or optional models. Many consumer models do not, specifically on the low-end (for example, most HP printer with network print servers retail for $75-100 more than their non-network siblings, which means that it is unlikely you will find a network print server built-in to a $69 printer).

What is the benefit of a built-in print server vs. buying one from a third party?
The benefit is that you know that it is more likely to work, and/or at least you will be able to get support from one company for it. For example, if I have an HP printer with an HP network print server, HP technical support cannot pawn me off on someone else. While if I have an Epson printer with a Linksys print server - Linksys will tell me to call Epson and Vice Versa. However, built-in print servers typically cost more than buying a separate unit, and if you change printers, you will typically have to buy a new printer with a network print server as well, since you probably will not be able to swap it out (there are some exceptions to this rule, namely HP's JetDirect cards).

I have an all-in-one (MFP), will the network print server also allow me to Scan/Fax/etc. over the network?
To the best of my knowledge, the network print servers, in general, only support printing. If you need to scan something or receive a fax to your computer, you will need to plug it in directly. (If anyone knows of any exceptions to this rule, please let me know!)

If hope you have found this informative, and If you think I am wrong or if you'd like to ask and add more questions to this FAQ, please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Verizon One Phone - First Impressions

If you are like me, or any other broadband user, you have the 'desk'. This desk probably has 3 or 4 devices on it - A telephone, a wired or wireless router, a cable/dsl modem and/or your computer. It is probably also a mess of cables and clutter as well. The there is the power issue too - All of those devices and their huge power bricks probably make it difficult for you to find space to plug them all in. The premise of the new Verizon One phone from Verizon is to consolidate all of that.

The Verizon One phone is not only a cordless land line phone, (with a base station speakerphone, I might add) but also combines a DSL modem, and Wired and Wireless router all into one unit. This of course might have started to Pique your interest, but as the infomercial salesman says - 'But wait, there's more!'

The Verizon One has a nice 7-inch touch-screen LCD screen that helps it serve as an internet connected appliance. Not only does it show caller IDs, the time and weather, but it can also serve up web snippets, the local weather, your calendar, and hand-scrawled notes for others in your family. Some might say that it's trying to replace not only the mass of cables and boxes on your desk, but the notes and calendars magneted to the fridge.

'But that's not all!'

You can also upload pictures to it and use them as the screensaver, so in essence, the phone becomes a digital picture frame as well.

I've been using a version of the phone (thanks Yussie!) for the past few days and so far the basic setup was relatively straightforward. However, I have still yet to access the advanced features - i.e. the online calendar integration and screensaver. I hope to get them working and update my review soon.

So far the only bad thing that I have to say about the device is that from the on-screen menu the only wireless setting that I can configure in the SSID. While the Verizon One does support WEP, WPA and some other standard wireless settings that most routers support, I had to access them by logging into the Verizon One's web admin tool, something that might not be so simple to do for the average wireless user. To be fair though, my phone might have an earlier version of the software, and the production versions might have improved upon this.

More to come.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Photo Printing Experience - Kodak Easyshare Gallery

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was debating the array of choices when it came to printing digital photos.

I recently printed 250 photos, and after adding up all of the pros and cons about each of the individual photo sites, I decided to choose Kodak's EasyShare Gallery. Simply put, the price was the same to either ship photos or pick them up at my local CVS. Even thought Snapfish offers 12-cent prints on their site, the shipping costs make Kodak cheaper for this volume of prints, and if you want local pick-up, it will cost you $0.19. Kodak, on the other hand, charges $1.50 per order - far less than actual shipping would be. As promised, the photos were ready for pickup at my local CVS store within 36 hours.

As long as I am looking for value in photo printing, this seems to be the way to go.

Two Cameras I would love to try....

When I say camera, say the first three things that come to mind? 10 years ago, before the advent of digital, one of those three would have definitely been Kodak. Today, because of the advent of digital cameras, that list is less likely to include Kodak as it is to include some of the digital-only players that have come on the scene in the last few years - Sony for one, or companies like Shutterfly, SanDisk and HP that all provide products and services for the digital camera world. Kodak was dead - or so they thought.

After some of their recent innovations, they are coming back as a player to be reckoned with in the Digital marketplace. Firstly, they bought Ofoto and turned it into the KodakGallery - bolstering their foothold in the digital photo printing arena. But more importantly, they are also trying to innovate on the digital camera front as well.

Hence the title of this article. The two cameras in Question are the EasyShare one (left, above) and the V570 (right). The former is among the first cameras to include Wi-Fi for uploading pictures (while it might seem stupid, imagine that you are on vacation and upload pictures to share with family at a hotspot?). The latter has two lenses, one focused on closeups, while the other allows you more of a view in Panaromic and Wide-angle photos. Using two lenses instead of one enabled them to build a feature-rich camera with a more compact design.

When it comes to photography, I am nothing more than a nerd snapshooter, but I would love to get my hands on these for a review. Kodak, if you're reading, let's talk :)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Site updates... please be patient

Just FYI, I recently migrated from Linux hosting to Microsoft so that I can compliment my blogs with some ASP.NET programming. However, I am still in the conversion process, so bear with us as we get our house in order.

Playing with *@H

A friend of mine commented over lunch the other day that he has fully embraced VOIP. He even said that he had setup an Asterisk PBX for use in his home. In the ensuing conversation, I mentioned that I tried playing with it once, but that my lack of linux skills and 'hacker time' prevented me from getting it going. Then he pointed me to Aterisk@Home, which was essentially someone's cool idea of packaging Asterisk into a single ISO for installation.

I downloaded and installed it at work, with the intent of setting up a means for people to dial into our IT helpdesk, and have a voicemail message routed immediately into our ticketing system.

But I have some other plans for personal use too, and as time, money (read: my wife and kids) and passion allow, here are some of the things that I would like to accomplish:

- Set it up as PBX in my home so that all phones in the house will be able to pick up either my pots or voip lines, and that I have one unified answering system for both.

- Build an outward dial script and then offer it to local community groups for a phone tree system. (i.e. say, offer it to my kids school for snow closings, etc).

- Set it up so that I can dial-out and/or answer all of my phones from the road - i.e. log into my home phone as a SIP client from any internet connection.

Of course, I have said things like this in the past, but we'll see where this one goes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Monkey Bites

According to the Wired Blog - Monkey Bites (click the title). I am not the only one playing with Flickr

Friday, January 13, 2006

More AJAX - a Flickr Slideshow

As if I didn't have enough places with uploaded photos, I recently joined Flickr. Intrigued by the RSS Feeds, I thought of a great idea - build an AJAX slide show from a Flickr RSS feed!

I saved the RSS XML to my laptop for working offline, and designed a simple slideshow that reads the RSS, and loops through the pictures. I then put it to work at a domain that I hadn't really used before - The slideshow program polls Flickr every 15 minutes for a new RSS feed. The code isn't polished or commented, but I promise to do so soon and make it available for the masses.

One caveat though - XMLHTTP will not allow you to cross-script - i.e. an XMLHttp object on a page served off of can't read an XML doc from . So, with a little help from my buddy Heshy , I wrote this PHP wrapper script. The script runs on my server, but retreives the XML data so that my XMLHttpObject thinks that the data is from the same server.

Here is the code (Note, I don't program PHP much, so it definitely isn't elegant):

< ?php $url=$_GET["url"]; //Pass the url in foreach(array_keys($_GET) as $getKey) { if($getKey<>"url")

//echo $url
$httpfile = file_get_contents($url);
header("Content-Type: text/xml; charset=utf-8");
echo $httpfile;

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Another reason to look before you forward...

This morning a friend of mine forwarded me an e-mail stating that as of February, cell phones would be open to telemarketers, and that to protect myself, I should put my cell numbers on the national do not call list. While I was there, I clicked on their FAQ link to verify if this was the case - lo and behold, it is not. So, I quickly went to the two sites that I usually go to when people e-mail me things that sound too good to be true - and and low and behold, I discovered that each had an article on this one.

Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way to look before I forward.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wi-Fi Enabled LCD Frame

Thanks to my friend Heshy , I discovered this new Wi-Fi LCD Frame. It can read Flickr RSS feeds and it can also display e-mailed photos. Although it costs $250, it, IMHO is a much better deal than the Ceiva Photo Frames, which require you to pay an annual subscription fee.

One of these days, I will convince my wife and siblings/siblings-in-law to buy this for my parents, in-laws and/or grandparents. All of us could e-mail new pictures to the phone and they would always have a fresh set.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Printing Photos

Sorry for the long delay of not posting, but I just got back from spending a weeks' vacation with No Internet Access! While it was one less distraction for my vacation, It definitely meant a lot of e-mail to sift through and catch-up on.

While on vacation, I followed my own advice and managed to squeeze some more pictures onto my digital camera. After informing my wife that I had nearly 300 photos of our vacation, she went on her usual diatribe of how we never print any of our digital pictures.

When I bought my camera phone last year, I got a 100 free prints with Ritz Camera, which I have yet to use (and hope that they haven't expired). But beyond that I would love to print many more photos on a regular basis.

While I do have a decent photo printer at home, I usually only print the ocassional snapshots to give to my parents or in-laws. I also maintain accounts at 4 different photo services:
Snapfish, Kodak Gallery, ImageStation, and Shutterfly. While I do upload all of my photos to at least one of these sites, and while I often use them to print greeting cards, photo mugs (especially popular with the in-laws) and my annual mother's day photo books - selectively choosing one or the other based on the current deal at hand.

But now I want to actually start buying prints from these guys and I wonder which one to choose, of course, the quality and pricing matter, but there are other variables as well: For example shipping vs. local pickup (Kodak charges $1.50 to pick up at my CVS less than 1 mile away, while Snapfish will deliver to Walgreen's for free, but there is none within close proximity to my home). To add to this mix is Costco (which is run on Snapfish's platform, but at the same time won't let me share my account?).

I think that this one will require a spreadsheet, or at least some trial and error.