Archive for April 25, 2011

Assorted News 35 – Tidbits.

Assorted News 35 – Tidbits.

n this edition:

Not a great deal of news, but a few ramblings and stories. The most useful item for most people will probably be how to back up your important stuff on the Internet for free.

Assorted News:
Free and easy Offsite Backup with DropBox.

General Ramblings:
Read the Guyra Argus an Armidale Express online
What is a 3D Printer?
Desktop, Laptop or Tablet?
Android Tablet $299 until May 5…
Shopping Online vs. Shopping Local.
Longer Passwords and LastPass?

Bluebird gets new look.

Free and Easy Offsite Backup with DropBox.

There is a saying in IT that a file doesn’t exist until it exists in three places. However, most people tend to have their files in one place only, or maybe two. The question to ask is ‘what would happen if my computer blew up or my office / home burnt down?’ The computer hard drive dying is about 6% chance per year. The house burning down is thankfully much lower than that!

Backing up to Memory Stick / USB drive / Thumb Drive / whatever they’re called today is the most common way to back up, and it’s probably good enough as long as you remember to do it 🙂

Well, here’s another way. It’s free and it’s been around for years. It’s a program called DropBox. When you install it on your computer, any file you put in the DropBox folder is copied onto a private spot on the Internet. If you have more than one computer, that file will also appear on the other computer automatically.

In practice, you probably only have a couple of really important files. Quickbooks, MYOB, CashBook Plus, etc. All you would need to do is put the backup into the DropBox folder and bingo – your file is safe on the Internet in case your computer goes bang and takes the office with it.

There are many other programs that will do a similar thing. Dropbox is just one of the easiest to set up. Free from

Reminder: I also offer a managed offsite backup feature with version control through CCC for prices starting at $10 a month.

Also, as mentioned later in this newsletter – a longer password or a passphrase is recommended since it’s the only thing protecting your DropBox files.

Read the Guyra Argus an Armidale Express online

Doubtless you already know that you can read most newspapers on the Internet, but perhaps thought that the Guyra and Armidale ones were too small? Well, they’re not 🙂

Read the Guyra Argus main articles free at

Read the Armidale Express main articles free at

What is a 3D Printer?

We’re not too far away from the day when you can say “I want one of those” and your computer prints a real one for you. Or perhaps you have one part and need another identical one? Print one 🙂 A reasonable article about this is at and there’s plenty more on Google.

Pictured there for example is a working bicycle printed out of nylon, as well as dentures.

You can also print edible chocolates, etc 🙂

.. and once you’ve eaten too many of those, you can soon print a new, working kidney!

.. and a replacement bone if you broke one…

Amazing stuff.

Of course, we are talking about printers here. You know, those bastards that occasionally take paper and turn it into a torn mess, or refuse to stop when asked…

Desktop, Laptop, Netbook or Tablet?

One of my customers is planning a trip overseas to some lesser-known places for a while, and wanted some mod cons such as GPS, Book Reader, Email, Internet, etc. The GPS part was easy. Her Nokia Mobile has that built in, and crucially supports offline maps so she doesn’t need Internet access to know where she is. (An advantage that up until very recently only Nokia had.)

My normal answer to the rest of the desires is “NetBook.” As well as giving her all the book reading and email / internet capabilities, it would also be a worthwhile replacement for her 7 year old laptop. She liked the now old 8.9″ Netbook I have, but we were both surprised to find that nobody makes a netbook in that size any more – they’re all 10″ or larger. (Strange to think the Netbook I bought new only last year is already a museum piece!)

Tablets were another option – but hey, they were still around $600 to $1,000 – too expensive to consider. Nonetheless I pointed her at the Samsung Galaxy Tablet shown online at Dick Smith as $588 with the suggestion to check out the other retailers. Next day I get an SMS to say “got one for $299 at Harvey Norman”. One visit to said customer, and about an hour later it was all set up with email, internet, GPS, a couple of offline map programs, standard GSM phone, Amazon’s Kindle software, Angry Birds and Skype.

So it’s now a very real question for people. Do you need a laptop, or would a tablet computer – AKA ‘fondleslab’ suit you better?

What you get with a tablet?

* Email, anywhere there’s Mobile or WiFi reception
* Internet, anywhere there’s Mobile or WiFi reception
* An always up-to-date GPS, with or without Mobile or WiFi reception.
* A Video and YouTube player (that can connect to your TV too.)
* A reasonable still and video camera
* An Internet Radio player
* All your music collection in one gadget
* Contacts and Address Book, syncable.
* A games machine
* A mobile phone – albeit comically large
* 5-10 hours battery life
* A word processor
* A spreadsheet
* A book reader with almost instant access to 900,000 books.
* A Skype phone with teleconference capabilities.

Other features can be added for free or small amounts by buying apps – for example, an accounting program.

What don’t you get?

* Viruses (yet)
* A big screen
* A traditional keyboard or mouse
* Traditional Accounting Software
* Easy ability to print. (Some Bluetooth printers might work, not tested. But why print?)
* Something that stands still in the upright position.

(Note: most of the above also applies to any Android-based Mobile Phone.)

So, for many people there’s a strong chance that a tablet computer – or even just a mobile phone – will do all you need without the learning curve that applies to standard computers. As the price for these devices drops, they’re becoming ideal ‘first computers’ for people new to the Internet.

Note – I haven’t mentioned the Apple iPad or iPhone here – they are similar to Android-based tablet and phone devices, but the more I use both the more I see the iPhone as a ‘co-dependent on iTunes’ Apple-controlled marketing device. They’re OK, but in my mind just a little ‘retarded’ in some of the ways they perform. I suspect that Android (Google) vs Apple (iOS) will be like Windows vs. Mac – I may yet be proven wrong however as Android too does have some rough edges here and there. Poor Nokia dropped the ball some time ago, and from what I hear Windows Phone 7 is still a problem child.

I sell SIM cards for them all if you need one – phone and Internet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab $299

Harvey Norman sold out of these on Saturday at 3:01pm care of yours truely – and apologies to one of my customers who tried to buy one at 3:02pm and couldn’t! They’re still available at Telstra – see – cheap because they’re an older model about to be superseded.

Shopping Online vs. Shopping Locally In Store.

You may have recently heard Gerry Harvey complaining that he was having trouble competing with online sales? This kind of backfired as it encouraged people who hadn’t already done so to have a look at what they could get online. Myself included. But it’s not always guaranteed to be a better price.

Some retailers, such as and are purely online.
Most retailers are hybrids, such as Dick Smith,Harvey Norman, RetraVision, Bing Lee.

Many of the hybrids are behind the game. Dick Smith ( is probably the best of the four above as their website lists exactly what’s in stock in which store. RetraVision Armidale is probably the worst, having a website that at time of writing shows a two page catalog with no products; and confusingly has a second website that lists a couple of stereos you can buy online and that’s it. Harvey Norman is a bit better having a few products listed at but there’s no guarantee that what’s listed there is present in your branch. Bing Lee’s website looks OK at but they’re confusing to deal with since they tend to ‘negotiate’ on price, you can’t compare them readily to the others. (For example, a freezer listed as $479 will come down to $429 the moment you look at it in the presence of a customer service rep.)

There’s nothing wrong with these retailers – except perhaps for some of the sales people. Apparently Dick Smith has a “horrbile rude little man’ according to one customer, and Harvey Norman has a ‘salesman that gives me the creeps’ according to another; but in my experience they’re all just unique humans with their own ways. Only one ever annoyed me by making up info that I knew was wrong. I’ll regularly wander through all four when shopping for customers needs.

My recent personal experiences: Bought a freezer for $399 + $79 delivery from Appliances Online since similar sized ones where available were $600+ without delivery. It arrived OK without issue. On the other hand, I also made the mistake recommending a Dell NetBook to a customer in comparison with others; not realising that there was up to a one month wait on them. Surprisingly it turned up a week later. Surprisingly it was also dead on arrival. Surprisingly a Dell Tech Support person arrived two days later to fix it. Surprisingly, he didn’t have the parts. Then came Easter so we’ll wait and see what happens next. A bit of a negative for Dell, as my other purchases with them have been good. I’m also always buying replacement laptop screens at a rate of one a fortnight from eBay, and am yet to have a problem other than slow delivery from Honkers. (Hong Kong 😉 )

And then, there’s the $197 NetBook from last year and $299 Tablet from this year, both at local retailers. Sometimes the real world deals are as good or better than the online ones.

So, there’s a debate. Do you save 20% or so on Retail and forego the customer service, or do you buy something locally with a markup? You decide 🙂 But if you do shop online, the one key tip I have is to research before you buy. The counter point is ‘what is your time worth’ – what are you sacrificing in order to spend time researching. The Dell NetBook fiasco is an embarrassment I should not have caused.

Longer Passwords and LastPass?

As more and more of our stuff ends up online, it is often just our password that protects us from hackers. But we all hate passwords.

There’s a new problem too. Computers are getting faster. Given the chance they can break simple passwords very quickly now. See for example. Generally, the longer the better. So perhaps consider using a phrase such as ‘the dog smells’ rather than ‘rascal’ – 400 years to crack is much longer than ten seconds.

.. and then if you don’t want to have to remember all those passwords, you can use a free program called “LastPass” which will remember them all for you and protect them with a master password. See

Bluebird gets a new look.

I’ve had a few ‘fun’ things on the queue for the Easter break. One was to add LED lighting to the Bluebird.

Since it’s one of those colours that ‘blends into the road’ I’m conscious that it’s a bit hard to see in overcast conditions. However it’s also one of those evil cars that will happily let you leave the lights on when you get out so you come back to a dead battery. Queue $10 worth of bits from eBay and a few hours of glueing, screwing and soldering and here’s the result: – although I should have scraped those juicy dead bugs off first! As far as I know it’s a legal modification, seeing as it’s white in colour, but time will tell. The RTA site isn’t clear on LED lighting. I have seen a couple of Armidale vehicles breaking that rule with red and blue illumination at the front.

Well, that’s it for another newsletter. I now own a FondleSlab – primarily for experimentation and programming – so if you want to see one in real life, flag me down 🙂

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