April 1, 2007
I thought I would use my space in this opening segment to discuss the future of Microsoft, its new operating system – Windows Vista, and some alternatives to their high priced “Office” software. One of the questions that I field most often these days is “Should I upgrade to Vista now?” My answer is an emphatic “NO.” Don’t even think about it! After getting some hands on experience with this new OS during the month of March, I don’t believe it’s a finished product by any means. I’d hate to see how bad this software would have been if Microsoft had stuck to its original schedule and released Vista much earlier. Well, that may not be a fair critique because this operating system was supposed to be a bridge between Windows XP and a complete revision of Windows to be developed later on. In 2004, Microsoft released Service Pack 2 (a free download) for Windows XP that provided significant security and web browser improvements to the OS, which was then nearly 3 years old. Around the same time it was announced that their next operating system, Vista, would be a complete overhaul of XP and not based on past Windows programming code.
While the buying public was hoping for a full release of Vista by Christmas 2006, the worldwide launch did not occur until 01/30/07. Customers who purchased new PC’s from major manufacturers, starting in October of ’06, were given a “free upgrade coupon” that would get them a Vista Upgrade disc when they became available. If you purchased a system in late 2006 / early 2007 and are tempted to redeem your upgrade coupon, please just take the disc you receive and bury it in your desk for use at a much later date.
Let me give you a little primer on computer hardware. Your PC has many different devices that are needed to make it run properly. Some of these components are internal, such as your sound card, graphics card, Ethernet card, and RAM. Others are connected externally, like your printer, USB flash disk, keyboard and mouse. All of these devices interact with your version of Microsoft Windows through software files called “drivers.” Some drivers are very small and simple, such as your keyboard and mouse driver. Unless you’re using a highly specialized input system, such as a wireless keyboard & mouse, wired versions of this essential hardware usually run on generic drivers built into Windows. Graphics card drivers are far more complex, as are iPod drivers, and drivers for other media hardware. When Windows XP first came out in the fall of 2001, there was a very good chance that driver files for key system hardware were built into the OS when customers upgraded from “95,” “98,” or “ME” to the new software.
When doing these aforementioned UPGRADE installations of “windoze nightmare” (Windows Vista is what it says on the box), several key drivers were missing. In one instance Dell provided a supplemental disc with drivers, but the initial Vista upgrade labored along at such a painfully slow pace that it actually broke my client’s DVD/CD drive and we couldn’t even install any files from disc #2. Due to the inability to use critical hardware, the client was stranded and could not take the laptop on a weekend trip. The whole upgrade process was totally unacceptable and resulted in my customer incurring increased costs for computer support services (thank you!) and lost productivity (shame on you Dell). On the positive side, Dell shipped out their replacement CD/DVD drive and replacement keyboard (unrelated to the Vista issue) on a Friday and they received it on Monday. That was prompt service. Another unusual surprise was that nearly all of the calls placed to Dell’s technical support were answered by U.S. call centers. Aside from the obvious complaint of outsourced jobs, the main gripe many have with overseas based tech support is that the representatives are very rude and either trying to sell you something or simply not willing resolve your issue. Perhaps Dell is listening to its customers for the first time in many years. It’s about time. The growth of their stock price has been flat, HP is now the #1 computer manufacturer (by volume) in the USA, and the tenure of CEO Kevin Rollins was a complete disaster. Rollins took over the reigns of Dell in March 2004 as the hand picked successor of Michael Dell, and resigned this January. Mr. Dell took a very bold and wise step of assuming the role of chief executive to revive the company he started more than 20 years ago. To Dell Computer: bulk without quality means nothing. Cut your costs and keep customer prices low without tricks. Re-build, re-invest, and revive. Above all else, innovate! You won’t make it on plain computer boxes alone.
Back to my main point: the problem of “closing windows.” If you told me you were buying a brand new PC today and were not interested in a Macintosh under any circumstances, I would give you a “one thumb up” endorsement. Let me explain. It’s quite doubtful that you will encounter the problems I faced with the upgrade installations. All new computers sold with Vista installed at the factory are supposed to have compatible drivers installed for all necessary hardware. I fully believe this to be true. However, there may be software applications such as older versions of Microsoft Office and other specialized applications that do not run properly in Vista. Also, as I write this edition of The Acronym, iTunes software and iPod drivers are still not Vista compatible. So if you are basically an e-mail, web browsing, and limited word processing sort of computer user and are in need of a new PC, I think you should buy it. However, if you already use XP and are dependent on old software that may have compatibility issues, hold off for a while. And now for tonight’s technology altar call: “For those of you who are still using Windows 98, ME, or 2000 – step into the light, move out of the darkness, and leave that dead weight behind you. Brothers and sisters, there IS a better way! Save yourself before it’s too late.”
I want to reiterate something I shared in the September 2006 edition of The Acronym. You do not have to buy the $500 Microsoft Office to be able to word process and create spreadsheets in XP or Vista. If you have a high school or college student at home, the $150 Student and Teacher Microsoft Office may be a reasonable compromise. Still, I think you are wasting your money if you go that route. Open Office (http://www.openoffice.org) and its sister NeoOffice – for Mac users (http://www.neooffice.org) are FREE software packages that can compete with MS Office in every way. Open Office gives you Word, Excel, and PowerPoint equivalents and allows you to open and save in those formats if you choose to. Open Office also allows you to export files to the universal PDF format for easy sharing via e-mail. You need to purchase additional software to replicate this feature in Microsoft Office. Open Office is like money in your pocket! I’ve developed a strong record of helping my customers save on technology spending over these 10 years and I am not going to let you down now. Consider this my $500 gift to you.
Finally, I will let you know about Google Docs & Spreadsheets (http://docs.google.com), a free web-based word processor, that allows you to compose simple documents from within your Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers. You need to create a free Google account to access this feature. Simply go to the address I have provided and you can take advantage of this next generation web application. As its name implies, spreadsheets can be created too, but I don’t think this feature has been developed to the extent that the word processor has been. You can really reap the advantages of web based documents if you work at multiple computers on a routine basis. Files created in Google Docs & Spreadsheets can be exported and emailed in popular formats such as .doc (Word), .odt (Open Document Text), .pdf (Adobe PDF), and .rtf (Rich Text Format). You are also able to share your documents with others, known as “collaborators,” so they can edit your work in real time. FYI, I composed all of the pre-layout text of this month’s The Acronym in Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Try it out for yourself sometime.
Really Honest Reviews
First & Last Tavern: Hartford, CT
I recently enjoyed a weekday lunch at this longtime Hartford fixture with some of my dearest family members, known more affectionately as the “580 Crew.” We had originally planned to go there because, as frequent pizza eaters, we were simply tired of that thick cheese making us sluggish and desired to order their famous “tomato pie.” Since we had planned this outing for well over a month, we had built up a lot of expectations. The first thing that impressed the 580 Crew was the dim lighting and dark wood paneling on the walls. Pictures of Hartford and national sports legends, entertainers, and politicians adorned the walls in an elegant manner. We almost forgot our original meal plan and contemplated ordering individual items. So I had to sell my crew on the idea of the tomato pie once again. After explaining how much I liked it in the past and how healthy it was relative to regular pizza, we ordered an 18″ pie with sausage on half of it ($18.50) and antipasto w/o anchovies ($7.75). I want to make a brief comment about their lunch menu; it’s not a bargain. They have a limited number of lunch specials and some very reasonably priced grinders, but don’t come here looking for midday meals in the $6 to $8 range. I am not saying that it isn’t worth going here for a regular lunch, but they don’t go out of their way to keep it affordable as other “casual dining establishments” do. Nevertheless, we were extremely pleased with the assortment of hot, fresh rolls the waitress brought for us. It is a safe bet that these were baked at their bakery, which stands on the opposite side of Maple Ave. in Hartford. We did not have time to investigate the First & Last Bakery Cafe, a fairly recent edition to the F & L family, but given the number of cars I usually see outside at breakfast time —–> one should expect the same standards as the restaurant.
Once we had devoured those rolls and a basket of “white face pizza” we thought the antipasto was just going to be a little appetizer to hold us over. Wow, were we wrong!! It was huge. There were plenty of veggies and several slices of meat (turkey, ham, and prosciutto). Upon completing round 1 of this dining experience, we were impressed but pretty much knocked out. When our waitress brought the pizza out, we knew that some of the 12 slices would be taken home as leftovers. Let me explain the tomato pie to you. Some might think, incorrectly, that it was just a pizza with tomato slices for a topping. Basically, they start with their thin crust (choice of traditional or whole wheat is available), add olive oil, and their delicious sauce and just top it off with some grated parmesan cheese. That is it. It sound’s so simple, right? You can also add whatever toppings you want to it. The 580 Crew and I never felt so good about eating a pizza. The sweet sausage was the perfect compliment to the thin crust and light layer of sauce.
We finished 8 of the 12 slices and felt obligated to try their dessert menu after having an all-star experience with our first two courses. The 580 Crew members ordered an ice cream puff with hot fudge sauce, a cannoli, and bread pudding (without the ice cream). I had actually ordered my own bread pudding, but the waitress forgot mine. This was the only error she made during our entire visit and I wasn’t upset considering that I was able to share with “Grandpa Jones” and the rest of the crew. One interesting thing that I’ll mention is that the cannoli had a cherry flavor and red colored filling. I had eaten many cannolis in my life, but had never seen this variety before. FINAL ANALYSIS: **9 out of 10 stars** A thorough luncheon meal, incredible service, stomachs filled to our deepest content, and would DEFINITELY do it again. You may find their other locations in Middletown or Avon, CT and Scarborough, ME more convenient for you.
Kev’s Short List of Connecticut Buffets
Once in a while we have nights where we just want to put good dietary habits aside and JUST PLAIN EAT!! We don’t want to wait for beverages, appetizers, and the meal 45 minutes later. One choice comes to mind: the “all you can eat” buffet. Here I will give short reviews on some of my favorites so that you may evaluate them for yourselves the next time you want to fill yourselves past the “F” line.
ROYAL BUFFET – Manchester, CT. This establishment is located in the Super Stop & Shop plaza on West Middle Turnpike. I have eaten there several times over the past 18 months, and find it to be a very good value for the price. They have a vast selection of hot foods, fruits and vegetables, and desserts. This buffet is primarily Chinese, but frequently includes diverse items like calamari, carved steak, and BBQ pork ribs. They also have a sushi bar and stir-fry station in the back where you can have your favorite meats and veggies mixed with lo-mein noodles prepared for you on the spot. Some patrons do give small tips to the chefs at the sushi and stir-fry stations, though it is not necessary. If I ask for a large quantity of or specific assortment of sushi, I typically give a dollar or two. Prices as of my last visit: $11.95 for dinner Monday through Thursday. $12.95 for dinner Friday and Saturday. $12.95 all day Sunday. Special note: In my honest opinion, most Chinese buffets have a significantly reduced menu at lunch time, at a reduced price of course. Given the limited selection, I stay away from these restaurants unless I am going for dinner.
TASTE OF INDIA – West Hartford, CT. The management of this restaurant changed hands a few years ago, but in my opinion it seems even better than before. Taste of India has a lunch buffet that runs $7.95 during the week and $9.95 on the weekends. The higher weekend price is easily justified by an expanded dessert offering, an additional meat choice, and last but not least…. unlimited champagne or soda. I don’t know how you guys feel about dirt cheap champagne, but one glass of their “Asti Cheap-ante” makes me want to hand my keys to a designated driver. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if this stuff is grain alcohol mixed with ginger ale. Moving on….. Taste of India has a very small selection in terms of different hot food choices, but I see this as a strength rather than a detractor from the overall presentation. Let’s face it, if there are 35 choices in a large buffet, many of them are going to be quite mediocre. One fixture is the chicken tikka masala. This item really makes the meal for me. I take heaping ladle-fulls of the orange chicken tikka masala sauce and pour it all over my naan bread and basmati rice. These three items alone make it worth the price of admission for me. There is a good selection of fruits and vegetables to the right side of the hot foods and traditional Indian rice pudding, known as “kheer” to the left. I am not usually very eager to try other hot foods they offer, but these choices may include selections with chick peas, beans, a cheese and spinach mixture, and fried potato wafers. I always leave the Taste of India very full and very satisfied. Note: their buffet is only available for lunch. They operate on a standard, fixed-portion menu for dinner.
HOMETOWN BUFFET – Various locations. If you’re looking for a buffet with American food, two choices come to mind: the casino and Hometown Buffet. Since there are several of the latter in the Hartford area, I wouldn’t even consider going to Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods unless it was a special outing. At Hometown Buffet, the price is right! Dinner usually costs about $11.00 including taxes. Your soda, coffee, tea, or juice is included. I’ve always appreciated the Southern and Spanish influence on their buffet items. On a given night you may see, St. Louis style beef brisket, BBQ pork ribs, carved ham or turkey, “prime” rib, tacos, and country fried steak among the hot food offerings. The dessert bar is equally tempting. There you will find, bread pudding, apple crisp, peach cobbler, reduced-sugar apple pie, brownies and soft serve ice cream. Hometown Buffet offers up some real “comfort food.” Just don’t get too comfortable or you’ll weigh 5 to 7 pounds more the next morning. I like the fact that they have a beverage dispenser dedicated to unsweetened iced tea. Hometown Buffet often rotates through theme nights throughout the year. Some themes from the past have emphasized steak, shrimp, seafood, BBQ. For the past few years, H.B. has added breakfast service on Saturday and Sunday morning. The price is under $9.00 including tax. One of the cashiers at the West Hartford location once bragged to me, “We put the IHOP out of business.” I don’t have the time to evaluate the legitimacy of this statement, but I will tell you that they have a strong base of customers that comes between 8 and 11 AM on weekends. H.B. offers lunch at a reduced price, but I feel the same way as I do about lunch at Chinese buffets; it’s nothing to leave home for.
EAST BUFFET – Hamden, CT. Out of all the Asian buffets, this one is my favorite. I don’t make it down to Hamden very often, but have gone there on occasion or stopped by on the way home from NYC. This restaurant used to be affiliated with the East Buffet in Huntington Station, NY (Queens area), but I’ve come to realize that they are under different management now. Technically, it is called the “East Melange Buffet,” but that is the only difference I’ve noticed since the ownership change. This buffet is significantly more expensive than most Asian buffets, but if you’re in the area and plan to spend $20 for dinner anyway — it’s well worth it. As of my last visit in August 2005, the weekday dinner price was $16.95 and $18.95 on Fridays and weekends. Extra touches that make this all-you-can-eat affair special are a unique assortment of gelatin based desserts, an extensive sushi bar, fresh shucked raw oysters, real peking duck, Chinese fillet mignon, lobster, and crab. They also offer sweet drinks (non-alcoholic) with tapioca pearls. The bill is never small here, but I always leave feeling like I got a good value.
VIKING BUFFET @ The Nordic Lodge – Charleston, RI. This buffet is outside of Connecticut, but it is just over the border so I thought I would mention it. I went there in 2000 with Mr. Bear and his entourage. Back then the price was $47 plus tax and tip. It seemed like a lot then, but I will never forget the experience. For 2007, the Viking Buffet is $70 per person, but it includes tax and tip. You can eat an unlimited amount of lobsters, and fresh grilled steaks. These aren’t teaser entrees like they offer at other buffets. Here you get real lobsters, with 2 claws and a tail. You can also get fillet mignons and strip steaks cooked to order or a slice of their carved “prime” rib. It may even be a safe bet for me to take the quotation marks off the word PRIME because at the Nordic Lodge, you get quality meats. Also available is a salad bar, scallops, oysters, and other side items. Depending on the size of the crowd, they have been known to enforce a 2 hour rule, but I do not recall this coming into play on our visit. The Nordic Lodge farms these lobsters in their own pond behind the restaurant. It is not uncommon to see coach buses filled with hungry travelers at this buffet. Check them out on their website, http://www.nordiclodge.com. If you want the best surf and turf experience money can by, and have a warrior appetite try the Viking Buffet. They are located “off the beaten path” so make sure you call for or print out directions. They are open Friday through Sunday during dinner hours and also on Thursdays during July and August. The Viking Buffet is closed during the winter months. Opening day this year is set for April 27th.
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BACK TO BASICS: Backing Up
Usually I make one article in the bi-monthly The Acronym newsletter a feature on a very specific topic. Off the top of my head, some issues I’ve covered recently were: parental control software, NETPLEX – a local DSL provider, Internet-based e-mail accounts, and MySpace. I realize that the discussion of these subjects doesn’t apply to certain readers and in some cases encompasses a level of technical expertise that you can’t comprehend or are unwilling to learn. For April, I am really going to take things BACK TO BASICS and guide you through a really simple concept: backing up your data.
I feel bad when I get a call or e-mail from a nervous customer saying “my hard drive crashed and my son had 250 purchased songs on his iPod, what can we do?” or “Kevin, I was typing an 8 page document and only saved it to the hard drive. I somehow erased all of the text and didn’t save my file in any alternate locations. Please help!!!” In cases like these, even the “Computer Evangelist” can’t SAVE you. Welcome to the world of human and machine error.
SPECIAL NOTE TO IPOD OWNERS OR PARENTS OF IPOD OWNERS: (If this does not apply to you, skip to the next paragraph!) I have tried to stress this point with every parent or child I have worked with in the past year. iPods are not meant to suffice as a method for backing up your songs. These portable music players are meant to be a method for playing songs on the go ONLY! If you lose all of your data on your computer and have to reinstall Windows and iTunes, and then connect your iPod you will lose all of the songs on it. This concept almost defies logic and I agree with you. However, the iPod is the king of portable media players and I don’t think that is changing anytime soon. You or your child need to back up your songs onto a recordable DVD disc (DVD-R or DVD+R) or an external hard drive. If someone you love owns an iPod, there really aren’t any excuses why you shouldn’t back up your songs on a monthly basis – at a bare minimum. If you have an older computer with a CD-burner (capable of burning DVDs), this really won’t cut it. A CD-R disc will hold only about 100 songs. Today’s iPods hold anywhere from 500 to 20,000 songs. Invest in a DVD burner drive and if there is the potential for a lot of songs to be involved — go with a USB 2.0 external hard drive. If you are in a crisis situation, and your hard drive crashes and there are a significant # of songs on the iPod, there are a few emergency software programs that cost in the $20 range that may help you become whole again. I can give a more detailed explanation at your request. The morale of this lesson: Back up your iTunes songs!!!
Fifteen years ago, we only backed up on 3.5 inch (or 5.25 inch — can you remember these?) floppy disks. In the the late 90’s Zip disks became a much more reliable form of backup because they held 100 MB of data compared with 1.44 MB for a floppy disk. As we moved into this century, recordable / re-writeable CD drives (aka CD burners) became the “next big thing.” In the past couple of years, DVD burners were a standard internal feature on most “new” desktops and external models dropped in price to between $100 and $150. However, despite the ability of these optical drives being able to back up significant amounts of data, you were engaged in a one way process. I don’t want to talk about +/- RW discs. Yes they can re-write, but I’ve never been thrilled with them. They’re of no use to me. Disc burners are good for creating copies of other discs or backing up strictly for archival purposes. They are limited and stationary, and time consuming. It’s a process, or as they say in Vancouver, Toronto and English speaking sections of Montreal, a pro-cess.
Welcome to two-oh-oh-seven or 2007! You want a backup system that is easy. I recommend a two fold approach, but if you only have the patience for for one, I’ll cover that too.
Recipe For Success
–> Ingredients needed:
1) an external USB 2.0 hard drive larger than your internal hard drive and
2) a USB 2.0 flash drive. 512 MB to 2 GB in size
1) You will use the external HD for large, archival-type backups. Brands I could recommend are Western Digital, Maxtor, or LaCie. I tend to prefer Lacie or Western Digital because of their commitment to customer satisfaction and overall product quality. If your computer cannot boot to the USB drive as a standard option, choose an external hard drive that comes with backup and restoration software. In this scenario, you will simply pop that CD or DVD in while your computer is booting and it will tell the machine to boot from the USB hard drive. Some of these external drives have a button on the front that provides for a “one touch” backup. This may come in handy for some, but remember you still have to press the button to initiate the backup. It’s much easier to use the backup software to initiate this process at regular intervals. It is my sincere recommendation that you schedule full system backups at an interval somewhere between nightly and bi-weekly depending on how important your data is to you. There is no problem with having a new backup writing over the previous one. Hard drives are, after all 2-way media. A decent external hard drive will run you between $100 and $200+
2) You also need a USB flash drive (aka. thumb drive, aka. pen drive) for specific backups of individual files that are of importance to you. For instance, if you type documents in a word processing program or create spreadsheets on a regular basis, you’ll want to back them up to another source besides your hard drive. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the worst feeling in the world to type a document for hours and hours and lose it without any chance of recovery. A flash drive has a virtually 100% chance of being compatible with your computer. There are no software or drivers to install to make it work. This little drive is the modern-day equivalent of the old floppy disk. Plug it into one of your computer’s free USB ports and it will appear in My Computer (Windows) or Finder (Mac) as an additional disk you can save to. You are able to change the name of the drive so that it is easy to recognize. When you are typing a document, spreadsheet, or working in a program where it is necessary to backup individual files, simply select “Save As” (or an equivalent function) from the appropriate menu and choose your flash drive. Some people may like saving to their hard drive and flash drive at alternative intervals, or if you’d like to really be safe you can take an extra minute or two to save to your flash disk each time you save to the hard drive. It’s up to you. There are numerous brands of USB flash drives available. I can’t really recommend a particular name. You can find them at any office supply or electronics store or even WalMart. Estimated price range: $20 to $40.
Final thoughts: If you don’t have a lot of patience or time to implement both steps into your computer routine, definitely go with step 2. It’s an “Asti Cheap-ante” solution for the occasional backup.
Published periodically since 1999
Next issue: June 2007
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Public Service Announcement(s):
It is Easter & Passover season once again, yet there are many families in our communities that go without adequate food. The hungry among us don’t only need food for the holidays, but all year long. Help a needly family directly (if you know of one). If not, your town probably runs or is affiliated with a food pantry that you can contribute to. In my town of West Hartford, our library is canceling late fines in exchange for canned food donations of any amount. Organizations such as America’s Second Harvest and the Salvation Army also do a wonderful job of aiding those whose only want is a hot meal. I challenge you to make an effort to help feed someone in your community over the next few weeks. E-mail me and let me know how you helped the hungry. I will share what I did in June’s edition of The Acronym.