The Value of Disaster Recovery

This weekend my network media server died.  Being a tech guy, computer failures are to be expected.  Even though total loss of new gear is possible, usually failures seem to happen most with older equipment.  This media server is about a year old and the hard drive warranty is good until December 2012.  However as good as the warranty is, nothing is going to bring the data back from that crashed hard drive. (Yes, I froze the drive and tried any number of recovery efforts.  It is toast.) 

 
As it happens, one of my medical clients asked me to help them with their disaster recovery and back up system a few months back.  I needed to find a system which supported HIPAA compliance and was reliable.  I stumbled upon KL Security which sells the IOSafe.  Their sales rep was very helpful and suggested to buy a NetGear Ready NAS 4000 NV+ (network attached storage.)  The IOSafe plugs into the NAS and provides a redundant, single disk backup which is waterproof at 10 feet depth for a week and fireproof at 1500 degrees for at least a half-hour.  The NAS runs as a RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks) in a proprietary format similar to RAID5.

I set up a prototype system at my offices first to make sure it would be a good fit for the customer.  So about $900 later, the system arrived.  It was easy to set up… Pop in the hard drives and let the NAS do the rest.  After install I set the time and network information.  The NAS comes with on-board back up software which was easy to use.  And the IOSafe plugs into the NAS via a USB cable. I needed to format the NAS to FAT32 which required a third party software to exceed Windows rules (see Ridgecrop Consultants Ltd Fat32Format.)

NetGear ReadyNAS 4000 NV+

So I programmed my back up on a nightly basis.  Fortunately I set up the software to fully back up the data on all network attached devices including the media server.  Normally I back up my data off site with Mozy.  But Mozy does not allow you to back up network attached devices, nor would I want to because we are talking about 500GB of storage which is impossible to back up remotely (at least as of this writing.)  The NAS box started throwing me error emails about the media server while I was on the road, upon return, I found the hard drive had failed.

After replacing the hard drive, I used Microsoft SyncToy v2 to copy the backed up data from the NAS to the new hard drive… Over the gigabit network the restore time was very quick, and inside of the afternoon,  my entire media server was fully restored.

It’s the first time in 20+ years of computer/technology that I’ve ever experienced a full drive failure.  The disaster recovery backup saved my weekend.

Network Tool Upgrade

Today, my old RJ45 Cat5 crimp tool died after too many crimp attempts finally caused its mechanism to give out.  So I drove to my local electronic parts distributor to find a replacement.  From past experiences of easily breaking the plastic tools with my vise-like grip, I knew that I wanted a metal construction with a ratchet.  The counter representative suggested I try the Platinum Tools EZ-RJPRO HD Crimp Tool (P/N 100054); and use the EZ-RJ45 pass through plug connectors (P/N 1000010B.)

I learned my networking skills thanks to Anixter back in 1995.  Back then, Cat5 was state-of-the-art and so companies were aggressively training network engineers on the skill-sets needed to sell network hardware and cable systems.  Crimp tools were basic having a lineage that stretched back to Cat3 telephone cables…and they were expensive because the production was limited…and there were wiring standard competitions (A vs B.) My first crimp tool and scissors came courtesy of Anixter.

Several times since 1995 I’ve replaced my crimp tool.  None of the tools had the positive qualities I look for in my tools.  These replacements didn’t strip the wires well, they broke because of bad plastic, and on the metal tools the tolerances were so bad that after a little bit of use the crimp tool would lose alignment.  In addition the process of properly cutting and inserting the wires to meet Cat5 tolerances to meet strain and crimp requirements was cumbersome.

EZ-RJPRO HD
Platinum Tools Heavy Duty Crimp Tool

As it happens, an inventive mind was at work.  And in 1997 and 1998 several patents were filed by Robert Sullivan.  These patents became the first version of Platinum Tools’ RJ45 crimp tool.  By the way, this tool still is sold and has a suggested MSRP of $59.95.  Keeping with traditions of innovation the third generation of the crimp tool was released to market in 2009.  A call to the company revealed that this third generation tool is selling so fast that they are back-ordered.

The company has posted a video on the internet:

Platinum Tools Demo on EZ-RJPRO HD Crimp Tool Use

So how does it work?  I didn’t have access to the video when I first used the tool.  It was very intuitive to use in part because the company has taken the time to laser etch the pin numbers and the Cat5 wiring specifications on the handles.  The pass through plug connectors are amazing!

With the older tools I would try to smooth and line up the wires and then cut them as straight as possible for an insert in the connector.  This is a time consuming process because you want to keep the twist in the wires into the connector and because improperly seating a single wire strand leads to a bad crimp.  Bad crimps mean having to repeat the process.  And this means more labor and more parts.

This ‘new to me’ pass through connector makes it easy, I could run a single or pairs of the wire into it; this means that it is easy to get the pin placements correct…that was a bonus.  More importantly it prevents a bad crimp which is both a time and a money saver.

And the crimp tool makes it easy to insert and seat the connector prior to the crimp.  With the standard diagram on the front side I could easily compare the wire colors to provide a second quality check that the connector was wired properly.  The crimp tool’s sturdy metal construction with ratchet action assures proper setting of the crimp.  And the cut off blade cleanly sheared off all 8 wires.

The tool is also capable of crimping shielded cables.  The current crimp rating is for 1 gigahertz (GHz)…and there is a rumor that a 10 GHz tool is on the way.

This is one crimp tool that will be staying in my tool box!

Here are some spots to buy the tool and components:

Our webstore, MyTechMyWay.com, sells the Platinum Tools EZ-RJPRO HD Crimp Tool P/N 100054 for MSRP of $85.00  We also sell the EZ-RJ45 Cat6+ connectors.

If you want to save some money, try ordering the tool from H R Distributors (www.hrdistributors.com) by calling (207) 773-2552.  They sell the crimp tool for $72.54 (item # PLT 100054.)

SlideIT for Android

For years we’ve all struggled with the qwerty keyboards…after all the keyboard is a hold out from the analog typewriter days. Recently I’ve tried SlideIT for Android. This virtual keyboard tool makes it possible to help portable devices overcome the limits of screen sensitivity, processor issues and the cumbersome QWERTY typing process. Check out this video:
SlideIT Demo Video

Competing in the US Chamber’s I AM FREE ENTERPRISE Contest

American Special Projects and its team members have entered the US Chamber of Commerce’s I Am Free Enterprise video contest. We learned of the contest on Wednesday April 7, 2010; shot the video on Thursday; and edited/submitted it on Friday before the 6 p.m. deadline. Our ability to meet this tight timeline for a video of up to 3 minutes in length was possible because of our (pending release) low cost video production template.

We’re looking for you help to help promote our video to the to 25 clicks. This will help our team get judged in the Round 1 of the contest which wraps up by April 16, 2010. Finalists then move onto Round 2. The grand prize is $50,000; with second and third place prizes of $30,000 and $20,000 respectively.

There are a number of good videos in the contest. Although I am biased towards American Special Projects’ “American Free Enterprise” video.

Please help by clicking.

American Free Enterprise

Menthol Smokers Are More Likely to Quit Smoking

American Special Projects reports data on cigarette reduction and cessation study. To be published study, performed for a client, indicates that menthol flavor may aid in reduction and cessation programs for cigarette smokers.

The study results mirror and expand on scientific research from earlier in 2009 indicating higher addiction rates for menthol smokers.

Update on 12/25/08 post Best (and sometimes free) Tools for the Mobile Professional

On 12/25/2008 I wrote about my initial evaluations of GooSync.  This will serve as a follow up and revision on those comments.

For the past couple of months I’ve been struggling using the GooSync contact-sync.  It’s been buggy, suffered through server downtime and other quirks.  I finally resolved to update my contacts only when it was really necessary…and then only over a WiFi network.  Happily the GooSync calendar-sync has been flawless.

As of yesterday 2/9/2008 I ceased using GooSync to move over to Google’s new Google Sync.  Not that this transition was not without problems; these were resolved by backing up my contacts/calendar and then wiping the Windows Mobile v 6 Pocket PC to factory specifications.  Google’s done good with this release — you can now merge multiple contacts into one, online corrections quickly mirror to the handheld and the sync (at least for me) is working beautifully over GPRS/GSM.

Thoughts on and following the Consumer Electronic Show

In early January I flew to Las Vegas for the International Consumer Electronics Show.  Despite the tough economic times and rumors that attendance was down, the show floor was a bustling place.  Overall there was a lot of excitement around big tickets items such as sub-inch thick televisions, netbooks and 3D television.  I’d say the top four areas where I saw significant traffic focused on booths which featured:

·  wii gaming accessories (chairs, 3D monitors, interface devices, killer audio systems with rumblers)

·  car audio and gadgets (tons of products on location based services)

·  TV’s with a strong focus on the new 1/3″ to 1″ thickness and 3D (bad news on 3D, it still requires glasses)

·  netbooks (sony just released a small screen with a conventional laptop keyboard)

From a consulting and business perspective, I think the netbooks bear the most watching.  These netbooks won’t be mistaken for a gaming notebook nor will you be crunching any Microsoft Excel spreadsheets on them.  However, if you’re signed up with Google Documents or Zoho, then the netbook will work just fine for you.  This baby cousin of the notebook computer will offer you a rapid boot and easy to use platform.  Trying to hop into the netbook game with a software solution is Phoenix Technologies via their Hyperspace software.  I’ve heard they manufacture the majority of the motherboard used in computers.  I saw the demo of Hyperspace in their booth.  It was impressive and they gave me a disk to take home with me.  Sadly, three laptops later I have yet to find one which can install the software.  So if you need a fast booting, lightweight machine then stick with the netbooks.  If you are looking for a manufacturer, try Sony for a big name.  At the International Pavilion on the other side of the show, there were dozens of Chinese companies with knockoffs selling for half-price.  You might even be able to buy a generic netbook at your local street vendor or pharmacy in the near future.

Several other technologies should be watched for potential business opportunities.  These include the Digital Living Network Alliance’s DLNA standard. 

…A few years back I went to a technology presentation for the then developing Bluetooth wireless standard.  The industry representative promised that Bluetooth would someday connect all of the electronics you owned.  A couple of years later the ultra-wideband working group promised the same trick with wireless USB 2.0….Well, Bluetooth and ultra-wideband didn’t happen as planned…maybe because they required totally custom and new hardware?

Skip ahead several years to this year’s CES show where I dropped by the DLNA booth, saw the presentation and then witnessed the demonstration.  DLNA is going to do for the audio/visual/data world amazing and magical transformations.  DLNA is way cool and it works in other places too — such as your living room, your car or the office.  This DLNA standard already has accomplished a tremendous amount in a short time; should it complete even half of its roadmap of milestones it will become a formidable standard.

Here’s what I saw: the DLNA rep using their Nokia N95 phone as a ‘controller’ directed a video from the ‘server’ to be played on a television ‘client’.  The video streamed flawlessly and the onscreen display was easy to follow.  What is cool to me was that the N95 was running on WiFi, the server was connected to a LAN, and the client a ZyXel DMA1100P was receiving the data over a powerline interface…3 different media layers all sharing data seamlessly and in real time.  I was so enthusiastic about this standard I’ve set it up in my home office/lab. 

What I’ve built has a little bit more power than what I saw at the show.  (Maybe it’s the Tim “Toolman” Allen part of me… grunt grunt grunt, more power)

I’ve be experimenting with the VortexBox from VortexBox.org which is shareware (to be honest I sent a small donation), so if you don’t like it then it is free.  Vortex allowed me to resurrect an old Dell Pentium 4 machine with 256MB of RAM from the scrap pile…making me a little bit green.  In about 20 minutes the P4 was a VortexBox.  Now let me tell you why this is so cool…the programmers at Vortex have put a SqueezeCenter interface on this little package which by the way also includes DLNA, UPnP, SMB, and a whole host of standards/interfaces.  The Vortex has now become my network area storage (NAS) via SMB, media library for iTunes, SqueezeCenter for my Logitech Squeezebox and SlimDevices SoftSqueeze, video/picture resource for my XBMC devices and soon to come my DLNA server for my televisions.  Initially I was leaning towards a Microsoft Media Center install — which requires licensing and a more expensive box; but the VortexBox did the trick.  Total cost for the Vortex $55 because I put in a 160GB hard drive.

The SoftSqueeze software is also a free software package.  It’s made by SlimDevices which is now owned by Logitech; who by way of acquisition now owns the SqueezeBox.  I’m guessing it is a loss leader to convince the American consumer to buy the SqueezeBox.  It worked for me.  I recently headed down to the soon to be defunct Circuit City and bought a SqueezeBox Boom for $239 (which is $100 better than at PCConnection.com and $60 better than Logitech/SlimDevices online stores.)  The SqueezeBox Boom was easy to install as it supports a WiFi connection with WEP.  In about 5 minutes or less I was streaming digital radio from the Internet and able to access of the music on my VortexBox.  The Squeeze product line can connect to pay services such as Sirius, Rhapsody, etc.  So this product can run independent of the rest of my system.

The final piece of my network is yet to happen…which is to integrate the DLNA video stream.  For this I picked up the ZyXEL NBG318S kit which includes a powerline adaptor for $199.  I won’t need the kit as the ZyXEL DMA1100P has a built in powerline adaptor; I picked it up to have an extra network jack available if needed.  The DMA1100P will run you about $269.  The ZyXEL is sitting behind a Linksys WRT54G wireless AP/router; so it was a little finicky to install.  The trick I found to installing it was to set it up in the same subnet as my Linksys and then to go into the advanced setting screens and turn on the IGMP, any IP setup and all between LAN/WAN options.  The information I read on the web said static routes don’t always work with Linksys; and my experience with SOHO devices has taught me to use what works.  The DMA1100P is still in transit to me, so early in February I’ll be blogging about how easy it was to set up and use (hopefully.)  I have been using the powerline adaptor to access both the internet and the VortexBox.  It couldn’t be easier.

So far my out of pocket costs for this experiment has been:

$55 hard drive (optional)
$50 donation for shareware (optional but suggested)
$239 SqueezeBox Boom (optional)
$199 NBG318S
$269 DMA1100P

$812 total

Now I could have done without the SqueezeBox Boom.  But now that I have bought it at a discount and used it…I just can’t get that quality of sound out of my laptop.  If you can add this item, I’d strongly suggest it.

You could forgo the DMA1100P if you own a Samsung LCD HDTV.  Today a few manufacturers, such as Samsung and Sony, are beginning to bundle DLNA in their sets.  The DMA1100P will enable you to breathe new life into your older TV’s which soon will need cable or satellite feeds to receive signals without an adaptor.  My wish lists for DLNA is the ability to grab live, recorded and on-demand signals from my VortexBox or maybe another device.

Thanks for reading.  As usual, we’re available to help with your technology needs.

Helpful Links:

Netbook Article on FoxNews http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,483564,00.html?sPage=fnc/scitech/personaltechnology

Digital Living Network Alliance http://www.dlna.org

Slim Devices http://www.slimdevices.com/

ZyXEL http://us.zyxel.com/

Vortex http://vortexbox.org/

 Samsung’s Committment to DLNA http://www.samsung.com/my/consumer/learningresources/tv/mediasolution/dlna_introduction.html

Sony’s Overview of DLNA http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/technology/technology/theme/dlna_01.html

 

Links to Buy Products

ZyXEL NBG-318S 200 Mbps Powerline HomePlug AV 802.11g Wireless Router

Best (and sometimes free) Tools for the Mobile Professional

A few weeks ago a long time friend asked me to find a free tool to enable his small home office team to share contacts and other valuable information.  He didn’t need a CRM as they were already using SalesForce.

Having left the corporate world in December 2007, I’ve had an opportunity to explore the computing environment beyond the secure walls of Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint.  I don’t know what Microsoft is thinking, but my thoughts are with Google and a host of smaller third parties you can pretty much do the same thing as most of the Microsoft tools for tens of thousands of dollars less.

Let’s examine the instrumentarium most working professional use in their business week:

  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Email
  • Bookmarks
  • Word processing
  • Spreadsheet
  • Presentations
  • Document storage / management
  • Collaboration Tools (teleconference, telephone, web presentations, white board)
  • Data backup

And if you are a mobile professional, then you’ll be needing to take the tools portable onto laptops, telephones and PDA’s.  I’m going to assume that you probably have at least one PC or laptop.

Email

If you don’t have a domain, I recommend that you pick one up.  They’re less than $15 at GoDaddy.com and comparably priced via Google.  I use the Google Apps web portal for all of my email access.  This service, while not free, will only set you back $50 per year per user.  It gives fast, easy, ad free, and nearly unlimited storage email.  In addition to email it gives you a host of collaboration tools — including Google Site which is remarkably similar to the collaboration tool Sharepoint from Microsoft, word processing, spreadsheets, calendar and contacts.  Recently added features include an online PDF viewer which means your email can now literally be used anywhere and anytime on any machine.

In addition, Google mail will allow you to pick up email from other services.  Sometimes on consuting gigs the customer prefers I use their email system.  When I need to do that all I do is temporarily add the email server settings to my Google mail account.

Calendar

I recommend the Google Apps Calendar.  You can have one to many calendars which can be private, shared and public.  In addition a freeware application called GooSync can be used to synchronize your Google calendar with your PocketPC PDA.  The only major downside that I’ve seen on the Google calendar is that you can’t start an appointment in one time zone and end it in an other…this would be especially useful for travel.

Contacts

I am currently evaluating a contact sync from the same company that publishes GooSync.  It has been working great except for one little bug — for which I have received an email indicating they are addressing it — which does not adequately categorize a business name lacking a contact name.  

Ignoring the only bug that I’ve found, all 1,900 of my contacts are syncing accurately with my Google Contacts wirelessly over T-Mobile’s GPRS/EDGE network.  Unlike the GooSync calendar, this software costs around $80 (exchange rate dependent) for a lifetime subscription.

Bookmarks

You’ll probably be seeing a theme here — I use Google Bookmarks.  Once you’re signed into your account all the bookmarks you save as well as history are stored online.  Once your information is online it can easily be classified, cross referenced and searched.  Google has a great tool bar in Internet Explorer; oddly enough it is missing in their new Chrome Browser.  So when using Chrome you have to use the Links Java Quicklink to add files.  The advantage of using the Java Quicklink is that you can add comment information to go with the link.

Word Processing, Spreadsheets and PowerPoint

For seamless editing, I recommend the Microsoft Office 2007 office suite.  It can be pricey but in most cases you can find it on sale for less than $100 with just the basic components.  I’ve not been able to adequately use the freeware tools for redlining and other editing.  If you need to go free, then I’d recommend Google Apps, OpenOffice and ZoHo as good alternatives.  Or if you can’t afford a license for every PC in your office, then I’d recommend the basic suite for the working computer and the freeware suite to present the documents when traveling.

When you are on the road, KinkosFedex has a great online printing service that prints and binds your documents.  This can get pricey but in a hurry or showing that professional edge this is critical.  If you join the US Chamber of Commerce — they’ll give you a variety of discounts at FedEx.

Document Management Systems

As reported in last month’s blog, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 with their Rak2U software is my system of choice.  Our consultancy has helped several businesses acquire and deploy this system.  

Synchronizing Files Across PC’s

I’ve been using Syncplicity.  This is a freeware tool for up to 2GB of storage.  It is a quick download, easy to install and receives great support/updates.

Backing up files

I’ve been using Mozy.  Can’t beat $5 per month per PC and if you have less than 2GB of data it’s free.  Several of American Special Projects clients have implemented this tool.  A cool feature is the backup function triggered when the machine is idle — this software is a time saver.

Collaboration

Vyew, DimDim, Yugma, FreeConference, Vonage — take your choice.  My preference is FreeConference for telephone bridges and Yugma for collaboration.  Vonage‘s 12 months plan for phone service is reasonable.  A runner up is Skype — however they do not offer an e911 service and no local telephone numbers for Maine.

Mobile

I believe that T-Mobile at $99/mos + $19/mos for Internet access…offers the cheapest monthly plan.

Networking

We use Linksys for our private network and offer WiFi for a fee through Meraki.  In beta Meraki was reasonably priced, at the moment they appear to be the lowest priced for fee package provider.  We’ve examined a number of alternative WiFi mesh services.  At the moment Meraki’s $149 per access point is the cheapest — at $100 increase over the beta price it caused an uproar; but compared to competitor prices which can run $39 per month they are the Yugo of pay per use WiFi.

Graphics

SnagIT is our all time favorite for the Prnt Scrn button.  You got to try it for free — you’ll end up buying it.

 

We hope this helps you.  Happy Holidays and Healthy New Year.

American Special Projects (a Madison Connections Inc. company)

SOHO Document Management Systems

This month I was preparing to write on the wonders of the free web tools available from Google and other vendors.  The review of essential freeware is going to have to wait until next month.   This month I had an opportunity to research the various types of document management systems available for home and small home offices.  I have arrived at this point because a number of my clients have asked me to help them find ways to save money while streamlining their offices.  

Let me preface that this entire blog is about one product and will not be a review of the experiments I took along the way.  That said, so we’re clear, I researched a number of systems — public domain and licensed.   And I happen to have a bit of experience in this area.  Back in the mid 90’s I worked for a Big 5 accounting firm’s government consulting division as the head of the Solutions Lab.  One of the projects I was working on at the time was a document management system.  In those days scanners were big, slow and expensive.  Software was hugely proprietary.  And while it was functional it was not graceful nor easy to implement.

I decided to give the Fujitsu S510 package a try.  It was purchased from TigerDirect.com for $419 (and through the end of the year subtract another $50 for a rebate.)  It comes bundled with a 30 day trial of Rack2-Filer software from PFU a Fujitsu company.  The licensed version of the software will set you back $249.  Other software included in the bundle is Card Minder, ABBYY OCR and Adobe Acrobat.  The ABBYY and Adobe software will cost $400 combined without the scanner (by the way the other DMS systems I researched require you to buy ABBYY and Adobe to make their systems work.)  I’d recommend picking up a Maxtor 1TB drive at the same time for $139; and to be safe you should back it all up using Mozy which is free up to 2GB.  Cost at the end of the day I’d expect you to be around $757.

Rack2-Filer software is capable of digitally archiving the equivalent of 2,520,000 digital pages in up to 2,520 e-binders. A maximum of 1,000 pages can be placed into each ebinder.  Needless to say most SOHO’s won’t max out the capability of the software.  For example, in the American Special Projects offices we typically file around 2,500 to 3,000 documents annually.  We track every document and email which comes into the offices.  

The scanner advertises 18 pages per minute and it delivers; however I decided to go with the full OCR scanning for best indexing of the documents.  Running the full OCR package can add up to a minute onto each scan depending upon how many words are on the document.  All told, I spent less than 12 hours to scan in the entire year’s worth of documents.  The software is very easy to use and I was able to duplicate our manual system and add a whole bunch of features.  After loading up all of the documents which included text, color and graphics the entire drive footprint was less than 1GB.

I’d anticipate that we met our return on investment (ROI) in the system already.  Here’s the head to head cost comparison

ROI DMS versus Traditional

Beyond ROI, we picked up a number of additional features which simply are not available with a traditional system, including: portable filing, OCR of all documents, a searchable index and encrypted off-site storage. 

I think the system is easy enough to set up yourself.  However if you’re feeling technically challenged feel free to give us a call.  We can help you get started.

 

 

Some helpful links:

http://www.fujitsu.com/us/services/computing/peripherals/scanners/software/

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=3222616&CatId=296

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=3617658&CatId=2423

http://www.mozy.com