Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Now blogging at Computerworld

I'm still blogging on Defensive Computing, but starting January 1, 2009 it's for Computerworld at blogs.computerworld.com/horowitz.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Moving over to CNET

As of July 2007, I do my blogging at CNET. The blog is called Defensive Computing and it's a continuation of this blog.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Comments on David Pogue Article

David Pogue is not a computer nerd. I mean this neither as a compliment nor an insult, just a statement of fact. I mention it because when reviewing computer "things" his mind set is different from that of a computer nerd.

Mr. Pogue plays with toys and writes about it. This is certainly useful, as far as it goes. I read his columns and have learned things from them. But without an IT background, Mr. Pogue is limited in what he can add to the discussion above and beyond what is in front of him. That is, he can't put things into perspective. It's one thing to say what a device or service or software is, but quite another to say when/where/how to use it. (I can describe a scalpel, but you don't want me operating on your appendix).

With this in mind, let me try to put his article in today's New York Times, The Cartridge, Updated, Catches Up to Data, in perspective.

The article reviewed three removable cartridge devices that are fast and hold lots of data. In general he liked the devices but felt the cartridges were too expensive.

What he failed to mention is that each of these removable cartridge drives is a single point of failure. That is, if the drive itself dies, you lose access to all your data.

Experience tells us that computer backup devices have a limited shelf life. It is all but guaranteed that in a year or two none of the devices he wrote about will still be on the market. And, it goes without saying, that hardware breaks. So anyone planning on depending on these things, needs to buy two - one for now and one for the future when they can't be replaced.
In addition, the drives should be stored in different physical locations.

And if you are really going to depend on them, a case can be made that you need to buy three drives. In other words, you need to treat the backup hardware itself just like the data. Backup. Backup. Backup.

Switching focus to the cartridges, two of them have no track record. Mr. Pogue mentions the "click of death" that haunted previous backup devices from Iomega and notes that their current product, the Rev, seems to have stood the test of time. An excellent point and one that should make anyone wary of the two newer products.

If one of the newer products sounds appealing, let me suggest making a couple phone calls. DriveSavers and OnTrack are the companies of last resort when it comes to extracting data off hard disks. Call them to see if they will extract data from a Rev, GoVault or RDX cartridge. If not . . .

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Improving WiFi Reception: An Improved Answer

In the Wall Street Journal on May 17, 2007, Walter Mossberg answered a question about improving WiFi reception. I think his answer could be improved.

He starts with "A more powerful router might help..." I am reasonably familiar with WiFi wireless networks and the power ratings for routers are not a standard topic. Even finding the power rating for a router is probably going to be difficult. While a stronger signal should help reception, anyone reading this needs to be informed as to what constitutes a low, medium and high power ratings for routers.

He also says "You might look for a new router that features a technology called MIMO...".

While true, this is not really the point. The point is to get a pre-N or draft-N router. They all use MIMO, something a non-techie shouldn't need to know. There are many important facts about Pre and Draft N routers that he failed to point out such as: their effectiveness varies greatly, there have been at least five (by my count) generations of "early" N routers, to get the best performance you need to pair an early N router with a matching WiFi adapter and, unlike WiFi G, there is no interoperability between brands.

Then he says "There are also various boosters and repeaters that can be used, though some of these require more technical expertise to install than most folks have."

If it takes technical expertise then its not a suggestion for the audience Mossberg claims to serve. A much better suggestion, and one that does not take technical expertise, is to buy a better antenna and connect it to the existing router. There are omnidirectional antennas that transmit the signal in all directions and directional antentennas for use when you only need the better signal in a single direction. Also, this would serve a heads-up to anyone buying a new router - get one where the antennas can be removed and replaced by better antennas should the need arise.

Then there is what Mr. Mossberg did not say.

The first and easiest step is to change the channel. The G flavor of WiFi uses a single channel, numbered 1, 6 or 11 (I'm simplifying this a bit). If your neighbor has a strong signal on channel 6, for example, it will interfere with your network if you also use channel 6. Determine the channels used by the strongest signals near you, then configure your network to use a different channel. Windows XP does not display the channel used by WiFi G networks, but pretty much all other WiFi software does.

Finally, the router is not the only end of the network that can be improved, so too can the network adapter in the computer.

You might try a USB based WiFi adapter because it lets you move the adapter around to get the best signal without moving the computer. I forget the exact spec, but USB wires can be pretty long. Then too there are PCMCIA (a.k.a. PC Card) network adapters that have very large antennas.

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