Archive for category Technology

Why should you pay for a free service?

I am always asking myself this, why would I pay for a free service? Services like Pandora and Passpack to name two that I use A LOT. I choose to pay for both of these services since I utilize them on such a regular basis. Does the free plan fulfill my needs, yes. However, I have to look at it in the light of how much convenience and usefulness the service has provided me. If the usefulness is less than the minimum amount for a membership with the service, I don’t pay. If the usefulness is more than the minimum subscription then I really have no problem paying for it. Pandora is $36 per year and we listen to it constantly around the house. Passpack is $18 per year and I use it at least 10 times a week.

The small amount you pay for a service keeps the service going and supports the free memberships. I don’t resent the people that use a free service without paying for it. I think most people either: 1) Don’t find the service as useful as I do and thereby don’t feel a need to pay for it; 2) Too cheap to dish out for a free ride; 3) It never really occurred to them to pay for the free meal they get, everything on the internet is free right? (a lot like #2). There might be more reasons, but that’s all I can come up with right now 😀

I guess my reasoning to pay for free services is really just a personal preference. I enjoy these services and hope they continue to provide a quality product that fills a need/want in my life. If I can keep them going for $36 a year, then I really don’t see a downside to it.

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Using the OBi100 for my home phone

So the plan went like this. I wanted to save a couple dollars a month by switching my house phone to use Google Voice (GV). I didn’t pay much for the house phone and I considered getting rid of it entirely, but a lot of people have that number and I didn’t want to lose it.

I weighed the pros and cons of doing this
– Free
– Manage voice mail online
– Obion software that integrates with the OBi100 is pretty cool
– Can’t use 911 from the house phone
– If the internet/power goes out, so does the house phone

I decided since we basically rely on our cellphones for most of our calling anyway the cons weren’t that bad. I couldn’t directly port my home number to GV since Google will only port mobile numbers. So there are a couple steps in this process.

First off I created a GMail account for the family. I already had a GMail account but I use GV for voicemail, so that wasn’t going to work. Then I created a GV account and let it provision me some random number. I purchased the OBi100 from Amazon. After receiving it, I hooked it up to the internet and a basic corded phone. I went through the setup on the website. I pulled out the trusty Droid RAZR and dialed the GV number. IT WORKED!

Second was porting my home number to GV. I looked at a couple different providers for the absolute cheapest plan and phone combos. I was able to find an old Tracfone and 30 minute plan for $20. I got it setup and working then initiated the number port through the Tracfone website. 4 days later my old house number was ringing on my Tracfone. The second I was informed the port was complete I went to the family GV account and initiated a number port there. One little hiccup was that Google detected my Tracfone number as being an AT&T number and wanted an account number, which I didn’t have since Tracfone doesn’t work like that. I entered the MEID number of the phone, paid my $20 for the port request and crossed my fingers.

That’s where I am currently at. Waiting for Google to complete the port from Tracfone to GV. I’ll let you know how it goes in a couple days.

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unRAID Home Server complete

In my last post I was talking about building a home server to replace my dying Linksys NAS200, which was dying from day 1 unfortunately. I priced out and built a home server for under $226 by mixing and matching retailers ( ). This price didn’t include the existing two 1 TB drives I already had from my existing NAS device however. I put it together and it worked great, the little Sempron processor easily overclocked to 3.6GHz and has been stable since I turned it on.

First I tried FreeNAS and quickly remembered why I hate BSD. As a Linux user, the slight command differences on the terminal quickly drove me to remove it. I played around with OpenFilr with little success and ended up settling on unRAID ( It’s based off of Slackware so it felt more like home than the others. The initial install WebGUI is pretty minimal and ugly, so I quickly replaced that with a plugin called SimpleFeatures, muuuuch better. The whole distro runs off of a USB key so I don’t have to use any of my array for the OS, a VERY nice feature. I got a Sandisk Cruzer micro 16GB and its working great.

unRAID limits you to only three drives on an unregistered version of the software. So with my three 1TB drives I have around 1.9TB of storage space. More than enough for my current needs. The best part is I have two paths for upgrading. 1) Upgrade each drive with a larger drive 1 by 1; 2) Purchase a license and add more drives to the array. Believe it or now #2 is actually the cheaper option. The license is $69 and a good 1TB drive is less than $100. Just adding 1 more drive gives me 2.8TB of space, and I can add 1 more if wanted. Any more than 5 drives and I would have to upgrade to the next license level, but its still cheaper than buying all new drives.

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Why MS Office trumps LibreOffice, my take

I recently came across an article that lays out 11 points where they feel MS Office has an advantage over LibreOffice (formerly OpenOffice for those of you living under a rock). While I am no LibreOffice expert I do spend a fair amount of time with it, so I thought I would offer my counter points…and yes, I do concede some of their points, this is not a fan boy rant. Here is a link to the article I am referencing.

  1. An Advanced Grammar Checker
    This might be due tot he age of the article, but there is a grammar checker built-in for LibreOffice 3.5, not nearly as mature as MS Office, but they both still get confused sometimes.
  2. A Useful Bibliography Database
    I am not 100% sure with this one since I have never written a research essay with MS Office, so I can’t directly compare the functionality. There is, however, a very capable plug-in for LibreOffice called Zotero which integrates with Firefox for managing your research sources. Granted, not built-in, and you have to know about it to be able to find it.
  3. Advanced Diagramming Tools
    LibreOffice Draw is capable tool, but no where near the functionality of Visio.
  4. Sound in Slide Shows
    Honestly, I have never used Impress, so I will have to concede this one if it is true. I generally use Prezi for presentations.
  5. Broadcasting Slide Shows
    Again, I never use Impress. I have never seen anyone that uses this functionality in Powerpoint though.
  6. No Whiteboard
    OneNote was a late comer to the Office suite. It is a powerful tool that I really like, no equivalent in LibreOffice exists.
  7. Screen Capture
    Seriously?! I am not really sure how the author considers this a feature of Office, since most people just hit printscreen, then paste into Word. I can do that with MS Paint too. Most basic screen capture programs trump Office in this regard.
  8. Sparklines in Spreadsheets
    Ok, so Calc is lagging behind Excel in this regard, I will admit. However, I will throw in that most people that use Excel don’t use Sparklines anyway. Yes, they are a nice feature, but so are pivot tables, which is supported by both.
  9. Filtering Spreadsheets by Color
    I am not 100% sure how to respond to this one since I have never really seen it in action in Excel. I guess the author uses this feature a lot, but I think most people don’t. If you gotta have it, then yeah, you will miss it in Calc.
  10. A Useful ClipArt Gallery
    I am not even going to argue this one. LibreOffice has no real clipart
  11. Easily Available, Ready Made Formats
    Agreed, setting styles in LibreOffice is sort of a PITA. There are no usable default styles so you are stuck making your own. This definitely needs some work

So there you go, yes, MS Office still trumps LibreOffice. However, when you compare pricing, you can’t compare the two. So if someone asks you what paying $300 for a retail copy of MS Office will get them, now you have an answer.


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Oneric right around the corner, vpn woes

So according to the countdown timer, we have about a day left until Oneric (Ubuntu 11.10) goes gold and there is a mad rush to download it and complain about Unity. The problem for me is that I have a feeling I will never get to enjoy the new release. At work they recently moved to a new two-factor authentication system where first a certificate is traded then you auth with the usual u/p creds. Great..

First problem, vpnc has been working fine for me, but won’t work with the new scheme. I recompiled vpnc to support ssl certs, but after running it I found it only supports a hybrid client-only cert mode. Not compatible with the new vpn.

Second problem, I can’t get a 64-bit version of the official Cisco vpn client. The Cisco client does support certificate exchange, but I can’t find a 64-bit version that works. I was using this site, but it hasn’t been updated in a while. Then once I get the ipsec module compiled and installed, when I try to connect to it with the vpnclient, it dies a nasty death that takes the whole networking subsystem with it. Only a reboot can get my networking running again.

So what are my options? I am going to request a MacBook, but they take the better part of a year to get. So that means I will have to boot into Windows to use any company resources that require a vpn to access. I can still run Linux when I am at the office, but I end up needing a vpn much, it might become a major pita if I have to keep switching back and forth.

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The Netflix debacle

I received an email list night that I found rather humorous. Below is an excerpt:

“It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.
This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.
While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.”

I have been a Netflix customer for the past 6 years and I have enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised when, 3 years ago, they unexpectedly lowered our monthly cost for a reason that escapes me now. I thought I was with a pretty cool company that would actually lower their customer costs as the company did better. When the price hikes came about I begrudgingly accepted them as the price of Netflix’s rising popularity. I knew the movie industry fat-cats would want a piece of the expanding Netflix pie, and licensing is a highly subjective pricing scheme so I knew there were going to be repercussions that would radiate down to us, the consumer.

When Netflix CEO Reed Hastings came out and said that DVD’s would be handled by a new company ‘Qwikster’, I had a major WTF moment. No really, there is nothing I want more than another website login, and an entirely separate queue for my movies. Really!? But then, they tantalized me the prospect of renting games with this new split. Hmm, I might be able to warm to this, maybe.

Now, the intrepid Netflix CEO made a blog post that says Quickster is dead before it ever started and game rentals are a possibility. Oh wow, so you are taking away something I didn’t like and something I did like. I guess the status quo is maintained, I love them but I don’t exactly hate them either.

At least there have been some positive rumblings for a native Linux Netflix client.

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The Windows 95 paradox

Unknown to most (sarcasm), I am an avid Linux user. I know a great many other Linux users. As Linux users I feel we have a certain free spirit that comes with using our free OS. But I am finding a disturbing paradigm in regard to the response to the Gnome 3/Unity desktop environments that have surfaced recently. The number one rant I have read about online has been about how hard the new interfaces are to use. People want their program button with its flyout menus back.

Now I realize that many of the reviews were knee jerk reactions to the new interfaces. I had much the same reaction, when I upgraded to Natty. I couldn’t figure out how to use it, and I just wanted my familiar interface back. But wait, at some point inmy life, the familiar had to have been unfamiliar. When was that.. lets see, when was a little button in the bottom left corner of the screen for accessing programs and settings introduced… oh yes, Windows 95!! People want their Windows 95 like desktops back! For gods sake, that OS has been setting the desktop top standard for the past 16 years. This is almost the EXACT same reaction I get from people when I try to introduce LibreOffice to people that are used to MS Office.

Them: “This sucks, I can’t find anything.”
Me: “But what about the functionality, how does it compare to Office?”
Them: “Oh that, its fine, I just can’t find anything”
Me: “What options are you having trouble finding precisely?”
Them: “I have found everything I was looking for, it just sucks that I had to look for them.”

The problem isn’t the interface, you can teach old dogs new tricks. Its the fact that people don’t like new things. But wait, what about when MS changed the Office menu bar to the ribbon? Well, people were forced to use it, so they bitched, then got over it. And started to realize, maybe it isn’t so bad after all, they just needed to retrain their brains a little. You never know, you might find that your better with the new interface.

I for one love the Unity interface. There are quirks that annoy me, but what doesn’t have annoying quirks? Usage note with Unity; people love to complain about how hard it is to launch programs. If you have ever used Launchy, or Gnome Do, then this will be easy. Hit the super key, type in the first couple letters of the program you want, hit tab when it shows up, then hit enter, your done. I can launch a program in under a second, try that with a fly out menu and a mouse. Learn the keyboard short cuts, or stop complaining about using your mouse so much.

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Nothing like those ole’ midnight deploys

…*sigh, yeah, that what I am doing right now. Pining for midnight, fingers itching to hit the send button on the email to the admins to deploy the tag to the production servers. 57…58…59…MIDNIGHT, rock and fire!

Now I just wait while the admins do their things, and watch the ‘The web site is down’ alert messages from our hyperactive monitoring software. Yeah, thanks Chip..

Whee, the app is back online. QA … go get ’em


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UbuntuOne now with more of the GB

UbuntuOne, the service that integrates seamlessly with your Ubuntu desktop to store your files online, now offers 5GB of storage with their free account. The question is, how long will it take the likes of Sugarsync and Dropbox to follow suit? I have been syncing with Dropbox at work and home for so long now, I probably won’t be in a huge hurry to move. But it will most likely happen, probably on my servers first.

One of the things that prevented me from using UbuntuOne was the fact that they didn’t offer the simplicity of Dropbox’s public download URL’s. I use this so much I can’t even count. No work if UbuntuOne has pushed this out, or is still working on it (most likely).

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Google+ for me

So I received an invite from a friend to join Google+ this week and I spared no time getting logged in and setup.

The first thing we tried as a hangout, basically a netmeeting, only with the ugly MS requirement. After installing the plugin (they actually have a Linux plugin!!) and a little snafu with my mic (which was totally my own fault) we were video chatting with each other and sharing YouTube videos. You can chat with a bunch of people all at once so I see this being a contender to all the WebEx and DimDim clones out there. [ BTW, if you miss DimDim, try BuddyMeeting, it is a fork of the open source DimDim code ] Actually on second thought, I am not sure if it will compete with those sort of products, its contingent on everyone having a Google+ account, so that right there is a big strike against its viability as a WebEx contender. But still, all in all, very cool.Google+ screenshot

Next are circles, or groups, for friends. A novel idea on groups, but nothing terrible new here. The act of adding friends to circles is sort of fun with the animation, but other than that I haven’t seen a lot of difference there. There is one thing worth pointing out about about how Google+ uses these circles however. When you post to your stream, or your microblog of sorts, you can choose which circles get to see the post. This is huge for me. One of the things that really turned me off to Facebook was the fact that when ever I posted anything, ALL my friends would see it. So all those stupid YouTube videos or slight NSFW links that I wanted to share with my friends, yeah, my parents could see them too. The only alternative would be to unfriend my parents, not really an options when I want to share pics and videos of the kids with the extended family.

Other than that there aren’t a ton of differences from Facebook. You can share your videos and photos, nothing new there, and having an android phone makes it even easier. Its intriguing enough to bring be back from a self-imposed exile on social media, but if it will keep me remains to be seen.

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