Delousing the Tween’s Windows Laptop… and Tales of Recovery & Prevention

April 15, 2010 Leave a comment

My lovely tween daughter really hosed her laptop weekend before last and was infected with a rather insidious piece of malware called XP Smart Security (also masquerades as Vista Smart Security, and various Windows 7 variants). It appears as a legit microsoft-type applet, so at first the casual user just assumes that the behavior is normal. My first round of delousing this took about 5 hours, and I’d thought I’d nabbed it using a couple of different anti-malware remedies, only to have it quickly reappear a few days later. Here’s what it looks like, so if you see something like this come on your computer…. run!

You Need Multiple Remedies
In addition to being careful regarding where one treads online, the real lesson is that one needs to use multiple remedies for these types of things, as the bad guys are really crafty and it’s hard for any one of these solutions to cover it all. In fact, there are many out there who will tell you that if you are infected with this type of malware, the best remedy is to wipe the machine and restore to the system’s original state using the manufacturer’s restore partition or CD/DVDs. I was absolutely ready to do that, but the pains of bringing the system back up to its current state software and configuration wise was not anything I was looking forward to (especially with an impatient  almost 12-year old hanging over my shoulder). And yes, if she were running an Apple machine, or Linux like her Dad, she would not be subject to this type of infestation, but let’s not cover that here.

For the working masses who own Windows machines (still in the ~90% range by all accounts), I would highly recommend running 2-3 of these malware remedies regularly (perhaps once a week, or at least once a month), and not just in a time of crisis. Trust me, if you are running Windows, preventative maintenance is necessary. And in spite of the false sense of safety you might get by running McAfee, or Norton, or the security suite of your choice, your anti-virus software being up-to-date, and running utilities like Ccleaner (really has no impact on these kinds of things), are not enough. And I can guarantee that when you run these remedies they will find stuff, regardless of how careful you think you are being.

This Week’s Windows Toolkit
Malwarebytes helped irradicate daughter’s issue. I also used A-Squared and Spybot Search and Destroy. These programs all have a free version (the real difference about the free versions is that they often don’t come with real-time protection or scheduling). I’m by no means religious about these brands, and there are many other good programs that can help. And while one can truly try to stay away from bad websites and never click on stuff you’re not sure about, it’s increasingly hard and almost impossible to avoid. My larger point is that you should use multiple products and do it regularly.

If you are little bit technically inclined, I really like Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, which allows you to create a completely free and comprehensive recovery environment that boots from a CD or USB drive and includes both anti-virus and anti-malware tools. If your machine is really sick, and your are you can follow some basic technical instructions, this CD can be a life saver (e.g. it can allow you to get your data off of a machine that just won’t boot up).

Make sure that when you install any of these programs that you run the updates for each of them. In the case of the anti-malware tools, once you run them, make sure that you execute the sequence that will actually remove or quarantine the issues it finds.

Image Your Machines. It’s easier than you think
Also, once you’ve done this, I would highly recommend “imaging” your machine (e.g. NOT backup, but a restorable image). For Windows, I like Macrium Reflect (also free), which can run from inside of Windows and image to either external USB or network drive. Backing up your documents regularly is a given, but by making an image you can then get your system back to a known good state is easily if you ever completely hose your machine (and chances are that could happen). I try to make a system image once a month.

Yes all of this sounds like an incredible pain, but if you rely on your computer for business, entertainment, balancing the checkbook, or whatever your needs are, this is kind of like changing the oil in your car.

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Categories: Software Tags:

Moving your Blackberry to Google Apps? Some things I learned along the way

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

If you ended up at this blog post, there’s a good chance that you are a long-time Blackberry user like myself who is either thinking about moving over to Google Apps or have already done it. Before we pulled the plug last week on our BES-based deployment for our boutique healthcare technology business, I did as much homework as I could. Oddly, in spite of the millions of users out there who have Blackberry’s tied to a BES and Exchange server, I was hard pressed to find anyone who had the complete picture of doing this type of migration cleanly. Frankly, I was nervous. Now that our migration is done, I feel compelled to share some things I learned along the way.

Our Goal: Retain as Much Continuity as Possible for Mobile Users
Trying to maintain a continuously synchronized wireless environment for our Blackberry users was an important goal for me. I wanted it to be as BES-like on the user side as possible. At this point, we’re most of the way there. If I were starting from scratch, here’s what our “To Do” list would have looked like. Note, that if you are not coming from a BES-based environment, this post is not for you.

  1. Migrate users Exchange data to Google Apps first. No matter how you slice and dice it, moving a mailbox that has been building up over many years can be messy, especially if a Blackberry is involved. The key here is create a single master repository and make sure things look they way you want it. There are many ways of doing this, including Google’s new Exchange-based mechanism; however, I found that using Google’s IMAP migration tool was cleanest for us.
  2. Clean calendar and contacts migration can be tricky. For calendaring and contacts, after many experiments we found that doing .csv-based uploads was also cleanest (and yes we tried Google Apps sync). As hard as Google engineers have tried to make this easy, Outlook/Exchanged based mailbox data structures can get screwed up over time, especially if users have ever had any kind of plugins involved, or have ever used 3rd party synchronization tools. I found that using .csv was fast and accurate with the least amount of heartache. There are some short coming to this (recurring meetings will get replicated, rather than retain their recurrence), but I’m not sorry we did it this way. If you decide to do the the .csv thing, make sure your users specify a wide data range if they want to preserve past and future calendar entries (e.g. we chose 2/1/2006 – 2/1/2012). If you’ve never done this before, you can try this recipe
  3. Break the connection between the Blackberry device and the BES. For the enterprise, the Blackberry Enterprise Server is the secret sauce for management, control, and security. Fortunately, our former Exchange provider AppRiver doesn’t lock down the devices security policy wise on their hosted BES. In the event, that you find yourself with devices that have a BES security policy, you will want the BES admin to send a blank security policy to the device. If for whatever reason you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have access to the BES admin, this link details how you can roll your own without help of the BES. We were determined to not completely wipe the devices, but if your users can deal with that, a complete wipe is probably not a bad idea.
  4. Prepare a machine with a copy of a recent copy of the Blackberry desktop software. In order to avoid duplication of messages during initial synchronization with Google Apps, I advise wiping the “messages,” “address book,” and “calendar” databases off of the Blackberry’s you’re working with. Again, the best data integrity will come from having one master and making Google be it made the most sense to me. If your users must have access to their old mail on their device, skip clearing the messages database. Some other things to keep in mind as you approach this:
    1. Turn off wireless reconciliation for each of the core databases. This link will show you how. If you don’t do this, you will not be able to clear the databases using the desktop manager
    2. Wiping the databases entails using the Backup and Restore feature in the desktop software. Not a bad idea to make one last backup of the device databases and save them to somewhere safe. Use the Advanced option described here to clear the databases from the device (this link only describes how to do the address book, but you can apply the process to the other databases too).
  5. Delete the “Desktop” service book from the devices. There are many sets of instructions on the net on how to do this. Here’s one in case you can’t find this on your own. This step allows the device to forget about it’s former partnership with a BES.
  6. Make sure to enable IMAP in the respective user’s Google Apps Gmail account. This is not turned on by default, so  you will need to go into the user’s email settings as described here.
  7. Get your users BIS credentials and Setup Up Each User with IMAP. If a device never had personal email addresses associated with it, creating a new account is pretty straight forward. If your users have already been using their devices for “personal” email, chances are they set up an account with the Blackberry Internet service from the device itself. Ask the users if they remember the users name/password combination (many will not, and you may end up calling the carrier to find out). Keep in mind that the end point for this migration, will be an IMAP connected Blackberry that uses the Blackberry Internet Services (BIS), and you will need to either create a new BIS account (for the user that hasn’t already done this), or associate Google Apps IMAP configuration with the device’s PIN. In practice, it is much easier to do from the web, rather than from the device. You can find links to the respective carriers here. While it is possible to do this from a wizard on the device, the web-based interface is much easier, especially if one using a touch-screen based Blackberry.
  8. Resend the Service Books from the BIS. On the newer version of the BIS, you will find this option under the “Help” menu. While this isn’t absolutely necessary, this kind of completes the housekeeping in converting over to BIS-based email.
  9. Install the Enhanced Gmail plugin.  This Blackberry plug in brings the Gmail experience to your device, allows you to archive emails, use labels, and look at threaded conversations in a gmail-centric way. If you ask around you will find that some people love it, and some hate it. Usability wise it doesn’t feel very Blackberry like, and some have reported that it’s slow.  I’d suggest installing it, as it doesn’t take away the normal methods of interacting with email on your Blackberry (the native email now configured for IMAP and Gmail will still work). Details on setting up the plugin are here.
  10. Install Google Sync on the Blackberry devices. This device side application will make your device whole again as it relates to calendar and contacts. In practice it works quite well and you won’t notice it’s there. There’s a link on this page that will send an SMS with a link to the mobile application set up. Once setup this runs in the background in provides a 2-way synchronization of the core PDA apps. Heads up, Notes, and Tasks will not sync.  According to Google the “automatic” setting (the default), syncs every 2 hours, or every time you change an event on the device.
  11. Call your carrier and change the data service for the Blackberry to the PDA plan, rather than the corporate or BES-type plan. In the case of AT&T this downgrade saved us $15 per month per user.

Google Should’ve Partnered with Zappos Instead of HTC on the Nexus One!

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a story about customer service and the smartphone, about how Google not completely comprehending what they bargained for when they decided to get into the phone business. In spite of early issues, Google’s piece of the customer service equation likely works right (I truly was handled by a great rep), but that’s only part of their equation. They are not going at this alone. The other part is their unforgiving partner HTC (manufactures their devices and handles device fulfillment and customer service) who live on a separate island (and as a google phone customer you will likely feel this). And yes I made the choice to roll my own here by buying a device without a carrier, but I’d truly believe we deserve all better than this.

And let’s say that in spite of bad rap that the various carriers take (I’m with AT&T); they would have handled my situation so much better. And Zappo’s, in spite of the ordering confusion (on whomever’s side), I would have walked away from the transaction with a smile and confidence that would make me easily come back to them for lots more stuff. Now Zappos doesn’t sell the Google phone, but ah we should wish they did 🙂 And maybe if Google figured their way through their customer service weaknesses (in this and other areas), they would be able to sell a lot more Nexus Ones (which are apparently not selling as well as hoped for).

So What Happened Mr. Schiff?
I put the hammer down last Wednesday on the just released AT&T-ready Google Nexus One. I’m one of those folks who prefers to shop online (I put my Honda Accord from CarsDirect sight unseen). So I happily went to Google’s website and plunked down $1,058US for 2 devices purchased without a contract and no strings attached to my carrier (I covered my thinking on this previously here). The transaction part was easy… and the devices were on my doorstep within 36 hours.

I quickly take the old SIM card out of my Blackberry Curve, stick it into the Nexus One and I’m off and running. The device boots. Phone calls work. I can surf the web… All is seemingly good in smartphone land. Several days into my Android weekend fog (learning how to use the thing) running it on my home network, I realize that device is has not once managed to get on AT&T’s 3G network.

OK, I’m thinking, I live in a heavily wooded area, maybe they don’t have coverage here. So I check the “map” and find out that I truly live in a blue state and there is 3G in most places I’d likely stray in my day-to-day travels. I drive down from the woods, still no 3G. Drive up to Danbury, still stuck on the AT&T’s 2G Edge Network. Something is off here.

So where does one go for help on this? Hard to know where to start
I do what I know how to do and head online (imagine if my Mom or Mother-in-law had the same problem?) Someone in one of the quickly developing Android community forum sites suggested it might be my old Blackberry SIM. Made sense, so I headed to the AT&T store. Nice folks over there, but they’d never seen one of them Google phones (agent scratches his head), but they happily upgrade my SIM no questions asked. Still no 3G. We reboot the phone, downgrade my data plan now that I don’t have a Blackberry in the mix, but that didn’t do it either.

The AT&T guys bid me good luck and I’m home to figure this out on my own. Next step is to head to Google’s phone website, and alas there was a real phone # to call: 1-888-48-NEXUS (63987)–at least you can call them. I was very quickly on the line with a very knowledgeable agent. Within less than 5 minutes, we figured out that I somehow ended up with a T-Mobile version of the phone, which because it wasn’t provisioned with the right radio would never work on the AT&T’s 3G network. Bingo… this should be easy to correct. Hah!

The agent asked me at the end of the call, how I’d rate the service on the call on a 1-5 basis (5 being best)… I emphatically said, 5!  I asked if he would set up an RMA for me (I was clearly too fast in my rating of the transaction), and he said that HTC would handle, but that he would get me on the line with one of their folks. OK, no worries. I was quickly talking to an HTC agent.

The Dreaded Restocking Fee
The new agent was very quick to advise me that if I’d used my phone, it would be subject to a $45US restocking fee. Thanks Mr. Agent, but I’m not one of those folks who kicked the tires and decided that perhaps an iPhone would be better for me. And yes, I just paid full boat for two devices! I quickly explained to the agent my tale of mistaken phone identity. Surely he would understand that there’s no way I would have ordered a T-Mobile phone, especially since I ordered two, and the other one we received was an AT&T one. And taking that one step further, the T-Mobile option was 2nd on the list of two that one could select on Google’s site, and it just didn’t make sense that I would be confused by that usability wise. I would have had to deliberately moused down to get to the T-Mobile one. I suggested to the agent that this was a supply chain error, and there’s was no way I was paying them $45 for their error.

I was getting nowhere fast with this guy, so asked that he escalate this to his supervisor. The supervisor gave me no satisfaction either.

In fairly routine fashion in spite of whatever angle I approached him from, he read me back the terms of service regarding open packages. He was careful to not give me an inch or set any expectation that I would end up doing anything else but paying them $45 for what was obviously my error. Surely I suggested that he must have some discretionary ability in these cases to make it right for the customer. “Sorry Mr. Schiff, but our system says you bought a T-Mobile device, which we delivered per the terms of service.”

And even if he felt compelled by my story, he reiterated that “his systems were not capable of accommodating any kind of reversal for this type of issue.” He wasn’t budging. OK, I asked if I could talk to his supervisor. “Sorry, it’s after 6 PM and there’s no one around who would be any higher up than I am.” I asked if I had any recourse, and he indicated that he can place a request within the system and that someone would get back to me in 24-48 hours, but I that he would do nothing to encourage me to believe that there would be a different outcome. OK, so I have a case #… Good luck!

The HTC  agents were professional and polite throughout, but I never had the sense that they cared a rat’s a*s about making it right for me, or anyone else. And in spite for the fact that I bought the phone from Google, they were gone from the transaction. The Google guy was great technically, but he had no capability of closing the loop on this own, and no ownership over what happened. By the book, he did his job, but clearly there was something missing. Once I was shoveled off to HTC,  the message was pretty consistent throughout. Per them, there’s no way that I as a customer could be right. No benefit of the doubt in their world.

High Volume Online Transactions and Quality Customer Service are Not Mutually Exclusive
In the end I am likely to eat the $45 here, and in the big scope of things, this is really a small story not worth crying too much about. Still, high volume online transactions and customer service can be delivered much better than this. Zappos, LL Bean, and Amazon come to mind. These are folks that know how to do this right. I’ve bought and returned tons of electronics items from the likes of NewEgg.com and Buy.com without friction… and I’ve gone back to those sellers time and again because of the trust that they will do what’s necessary to make it right. I go to buy something from them, I know I won’t get the third degree if something needs to be returned.

The Google/HTC thing is still very young. As they move out of the pure world of bit and bytes, one hopes they get better touch with their customers as human beings rather than just transactions.

Update 1: It appears that others have experienced the same problem with getting shipped the wrong N1. So if you’re buying a Nexus One from Google be careful during the checkout process, but also when you receive the device. Here’s some info to help you clearly see what you’ve purchased…

If it’s AT&T, your invoice will say:
Nexus One phone (GSM 3G 850/1900/2100MHz)

If it’s T-Mobile, your invoice will say:
Nexus One phone (GSM 3G 900/AWS/2100MHz)

Careful, during the checkout process this is far from from obvious. And once you receive the device, there’s nothing on the actual device or box that clearly identifies a device as T-Mobile or AT&T.

The only way to know for sure is to look inside behind the battery, or on the white box that the device is packed in (next to the bar codes).

The T-Mobile device will read: PB99100
The AT&T device will read: PB99110

Update 2: It appears that my “case” didn’t get far on its own within the walls of HTC. I decided to give them a follow up call with my case # in hand. This time around I was not stonewalled and a supervisor was quickly brought in a waived the restocking fee. So if you get stonewalled, make sure to keep pushing, get a case # and make sure to follow up. HTC can be reached directly @ 888.216.4736

Categories: Mobility Tags: , ,

Free Conferencing Calling: You Get What You Pay For (Part II), or Yugma and Audio Quality

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

A couple of years ago while working on a web application development project with an outsource shop in India, I was introduced to a desktop sharing/webinar service called Yugma (pronounced “Yoog Muh”). It was amazingly free and also worked cross platform (good with Windows, Macs, and Linux users bi-directionally). After using the free service for a while, I signed up for their Yugma Pro 20 service for $149 a year as the additional features seemed worth it to me.

Audio Quality: Is it Us or Them?
In working across the time zones with our friends on the subcontinent we noticed pretty quickly that even through the desktop sharing worked great, the audio was inconsistent and of inferior quality. I initially chalked this up to our respective VoIP telephone system, but soon wondered whether something else was at play. I wasn’t sure, but didn’t have the patience to figure this out.

Since the web features were quite good, we began simply using our InfiniteConferencing.com audio service coupled with Yugma to do what we needed. This added some complication to those of us scheduling meetings, but this allowed us to get the best of both services without it killing us cost wise. In fairness to Infinite Conferencing, they do offer desktop sharing features too; however, the meter runs twice for those meetings (web + telephone), and they also don’t work across platforms for the desktop sharing piece.

Trying Again
This fall we revisited the audio portion of Yugma’s conference service as an experiment for our weekly sales meetings. We figured that even though Yugma’s telephone numbers are in South Dakota, since our VoIP telephone service doesn’t assess toll charges, it didn’t matter for us. This lasted perhaps 2 weekly meetings before we bailed in frustration. The lines in Mount Rushmore state didn’t reliably pick up, so we were back to the drawing board.

I ran a web meeting last Thursday and scheduled it as normal via the Yugma web app and forgot to inform the team that they should ignore the standard dial in instructions and we tried calling in via the standard Yugma number in the 605 area code. When it didn’t pick up after the 2nd call and 10 rings, we reverted back to the daisy chain method described in the previous post.

Since I’m a paying Yugma customer, I decided to complain. What follows is my email exchange with them.

From: Kenny Schiff
Sent: Thursday, February 11, 2010 5:18 PM
To: support@yugma.com
Subject: Telephony Issues. Dial in # just rang and didn't pick up

I have found the audio portion of your service to completely unreliable. We had not used audio for a while, and when I called into a scheduled conference today @ 3 pm EST (Meeting ID: 404166026), the phone never picked up on your end. I would consider this to be a major show stopper and I really have to think twice regarding using this with customers (BTW, I have the Pay version). I’ve never had a problem with the web portion, only with telephony.

Their response was a revelation for me (loved the Mr. Kenny touch), and not unfair, only unreasonable in the fact that that had I not complained, I would have not known that this was the only way to guarantee audio quality.

From: Support [mailto:support@yugma.com]
Sent: Friday, February 12, 2010 2:31 AM
To: Kenny Schiff
Subject: RE: Telephony Issues. Dial in # just rang and didn't pick up

Dear Mr. Kenny,

The teleconferencing service is a free service which we are extending to our users as a courtesy through a partner of ours. Unfortunately Yugma does not have much control over the quality or nature of the service. We understand your concern about issues with this service at certain times. We propose that you use our new Toll Free Option which comes with an attractive rate of $0.04 per minute per user, with a committed $200 per month (a total 5000 minutes per month usage), and sliding higher rate for lower volumes.

The charge for using a GX-toll-free number is paid by the meeting host, and all the incoming attendees join the call toll-free. With Toll-free Service, your meeting attendees call you free of charge. This way you can handle and satisfy more customers. A seven digit access code will be provided to the HOST and will be visible on main console of Yugma for all attendees. Subscribing to this feature will make all scheduled Yugma meetings as public meeting, which can be attended using the unique seven digit access code. To subscribe for Toll Free Service visit this URL https://www.yugma.com/buyyugma.php Once you have subscribed, it takes 24 to 48 hours to activate the Toll Free number. Please let us know if you would be interested in subscribing to this premium audio service. I hope this information helps.

So the short story here is that if you are attracted to Yugma’s services and anticipate doing both audio and web conferencing at the same time, don’t have high expectations for the free audio portion. In fact, per my previous post I would not hold out high hopes for decent audio service through any provider that offers it for free. In the case of Yugma, if you are using this regularly with customers, go with “toll free” option and pay the extra fees.

Categories: Business Services

Free Conferencing Calling: You Get What You Pay For (Part I)

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

If you’re reading this and you’re in business that has any technology element to it, it’s likely you’ve done your share of web conferences or conference calls through WebEx, GoToMeeting, InterCall and a long list of competitors. 10 years ago you’d likely use an operator supported reservation oriented service provided by your business’ telco. Not today. Using Conference call service as a Google search term will yield you 68 million hits. This is a seriously crowded space, only further muddied by the rise of free services (especially for audio only).

Larger companies who need to host conference calls regularly are likely to stick with the big guys for guarantees regarding quality of service and supporting services. For smaller guys like me, it can get expensive very quickly, especially if you mix desktop sharing/webinar elements to your audio conference. But even audio conferences alone can be expensive. For example a recent call between my engineering team, a manufacturer’s technical support group and a customer ran up 386 minutes of talk time ($46.32). From a small business perspective, this adds up. Last month (not a particularly heavy month for us, we spent $113.20 on top of our regular phone and mobile phone services).

So Why Don’t You Use Those Great Free Services?
We’ve played around with various free conferencing services on the audio side, including: Rondee, InstantConference,  and Free ConferenceCall.com (yes there are tons of others). And although the services in some case came highly recommended, we found reliability and quality issues with each of these providers. Probably the most common thing we experience is users dialing into the call-in number and the service not picking up (e.g. just rings and rings), but we’ve also had call drops, and unacceptable audio quality.

And if you dig in and understand the business model of these types of services, you will begin to see why it’s hard for them to provide reliable and high quality services (this blog begins to explain what this is about). The folks in this space are in most cases skinny little businesses with some hardcore technology working on the backside, hoping desperately that they can get enough mass to have those pennies they share with local rural carriers add up to real money and enjoy a 4-hour work week 🙂

Sticking with What You Know (and cheapie workarounds that work)
So even though it can get expensive, we’ve stuck with InfiniteConferencing.com when we need to do calls with customers as it is reliable and customer friendly. For team calls, we often use the conference feature of our hosted VoIP system and daisy chain our calls (Kenny calls Bill. Bill puts Kenny on hold and conferences Paula in. Paula puts Kenny/Bill on hold and conference Mark in). Sounds painful, but it works, and is also free.

And while I continue to be open to alternatives, with conference calling being a regular day-to-day business operations, this is not something I can afford to skimp on.

Part II of this post will cover an interesting exchange between myself and Yugma (a desktop sharing/webinar oriented service) regarding audio quality.

Netbook for the Kitchen and Linux Mint: Refreshing

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Soon after we moved into our house nearly 10 years ago I found myself with a spare computer and LCD monitor that I convinced my wife would be a great thing to put in our kitchen. As with a lot of my household experiments, she was skeptical, but soon realized that having connectivity in the kitchen was a great idea (this was before wireless was popular or easy to do).

For a variety of reasons (including a renovation and the introduction of an HDTV into the mix), my desktop kitchen computer was no longer practical. I initially thought I’d put my Vizio TV to double duty as a computer monitor, and did a short experiment with an Asus EeeBox PC B202 nettop that invisibly mounted behind our TV. Good idea, but the TV was simply too small to read the NY Times or recipes from a distance. So back to the drawing board.

I eventually decided that a cheap netbook was going to do the trick and went searching for something that had a decent keyboard, a 10″ screen (IMHO about as small as is practical), and was hoping to find something south of $300 ($200 would have been even better). Based on what I’d read about the keyboard and screen, I decided on a MSI Wind U100 ($289 back in September, but can be even had for less on eBay), and have not been sorry. MSI makes excellent equipment that meet my price for performance criteria–in this case, I was not looking to spend a lot for a muffler 😉

So not that buying a netbook for the kitchen is especially noteworthy, but for those of you not yet on the netbook bandwagon, a few things worth sharing.

  • Windows XP is a dog on these machines and you are likely to be very disappointed by system performance, even for things like basic web browsing and email. Windows 7 promises to be better, but why pay the extra tariff to Microsoft when it’s truly not necessary. After many experiments, I’ve arrived at using Linux Mint 8 (more on this later in this post), a very slick and easy to use (and setup) variant, that is like all other things Linux, free. I quickly ditched XP, and worked my way through Ubuntu 9.04, Moblin, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and CrunchBang!, until eventually arriving at Mint (based on Ubuntu)
  • I consider the netbook to be a satellite computer, so having a big hard drive is irrelevant as is having lots of ports and or bundled software. Everything one needs software wise for a good kitchen machine can be had legally for free
  • 3-cell batteries that come with these machines by default will not yield acceptable battery life. You will absolutely want to go for the more expensive 6-cell batteries (I bought one on eBay after market)
  • Mozilla’s Firefox web browser can be a real dog on these machines. I opted for Google Chrome, which while not 100% compatible on all websites is much speedier and very much worth considering

So Ken, Why Mint? Why Now?
Most day-to-day users of computers either at home or the office didn’t make a choice (unless they specifically bought an Apple computer). They run what came with the machine, and according to STATOWL for nearly 9 out of 10 people that means some flavor of Microsoft Windows

Mint is different, think Apple different, but not driven by profit (or by elitism). You can learn more about it here.

Mint is indeed subtle, elegant, and unless you want it to be, not in the least bit geeky. While there are literally hundreds of variation of Linux distributions to choose from (I use Ubuntu on my main Thinkpad X61 laptop), Mint’s mission in life is to look good and be easy to use (yes Linux can be easy). In the case of my Netbook it installed perfectly without the need for any drivers or oddball configuration workarounds. Within minutes I was associated with my wireless network was off reading the New York Times, responding to emails, and looking up recipes (things one does with a Netbook in the Kitchen). You will find that Mint easily goes to sleep when you are done with your computing session, and if you visit my home, you will find the Netbook sitting on a shelf ready to be opened at any time if I want to check the weather, look up an oddball fact, or read and comment on my wife’s latest blog post (part of being an attentive husband in my world).

So How Do You Install Mint (especially if you don’t have a CD drive)
For those not especially technical the only problem you are likely encounter has to do with the fact that your Netbook will not likely have a CD drive (and you are not likely to have an external CD drive sitting around). More than likely you will have a USB Flash Drive sitting around, and with some help from the following tutorial, you will be able to make a bootable version of Mint that will allow you to try out Mint (without installing it on to the Netbook), and when ready, install it.

So if you’re on the fence about doing the Netbook thing, I would not hesitate, especially given that you could get something very usable for very little money (as of this writing $250 can get you a brand new machine with a 10.1″ screen from TigerDirect). The Linux Mint thing is also easier than you think, even if you’re not inclined to muck with such things. And while you could easily drag your work machine or family computer into the kitchen, it’s quite appealing to have a computer that’s not loaded up with business applications and all the other trapping that we tend to clutter our day-to-day computing environments with.  And of course, Mint’s cool green is especially refreshing in the kitchen 🙂

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My Lyric Beta Ended… Seems like I need to Wait for 2.0

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

More on My Lyric Hearing Trial

Last Monday was day 25 of my trial of the Lyric hearing devices that I previously detailed here and here.  Sadly, in the short-term, I will go forward without the devices. As I will explain below, I already had to remove the Lyric in my left ear roughly two weeks into the trial. Upon inspection of the right, the team at my Lyric provider and I agreed we should remove the second one as well.

In spite of issues that I’ve had, I remain impressed with the product and am hopeful that we can try again at some future point, perhaps when the newer Lyric devices hit the market (see this story on the swim proof version being tested. For the days when the devices were working and properly in place, it was truly a revelation to hear better. Although my hearing loss is not truly severe, it was amazing to realize how much I’d been missing.

All of this didn’t really hit home until I no longer had the devices.

For those of you considering Lyric, I share my experience as it may be useful to you as you evaluate this technology.

The Devices Initially Worked Great
The devices initially fit and worked properly even though the ENT folks that are seeing me had some concerns regarding the depth of my ear canals. Fairly quickly I noticed that my left ear seemed a bit clogged. I had a scheduled (and unrelated appointment) with the ENT office and while I was there I shared my experience. My nose seemed to showing some signs of a sinus infection, so they put me on antibiotics. After about 5 days with no real improvement, I went back and we decided to pull the device from my left ear.

Upon inspection of my left canal, the PA indicated that there was “ulceration,” and we agreed to medicate it topically (to calm it down) and that I would come back in 10 days or so to determine next steps. Her suspicion based on looking at the pulled device was that some internal movement (e.g. chewing, etc…) likely dislodged the device enough so that it began to irritate/inflame the canal enough for me to get the plugged up sensation.

For those you considering this technology, it’s important to understand that the devices are really disposable. Once you pull a device it can’t be reused or reinserted again, so providers are going to be understandable reluctant to wantonly remove devices unless absolutely necessary, especially during a free trial period.

After that visit, I retained the right Lyric device only, and I suspected all along that my right ear was going through something similar. It still seemed inserted, but I could kind of feel some movements of the device, especially when chewing or moving my eye brows.

When I returned for my next visit, the audiologist and physician’s assistant immediately noticed an abnormal waxy buildup in my right ear, and given what I described regarding the movement and the plugged up feeling, we decided to pull the second device as well.

Be Very Careful to Set Your Expectations Properly
Based on my discussion with my providers, I suspect that what I’m experiencing is fairly common. Indeed the practice I’m seeing has indicated that in spite of great interest, they have been experiencing very mixed results with as much as 60% of their trial customers bailing. From the very beginning they were very careful to set the expectations properly… and I always looked at this as an experiment.

I know that there are new Lyric devices on the horizon and am hoping that I might be able to get access to the new models sooner rather than later, and wondered where they were at in your development cycle. My local provider is admittedly in the dark regarding what’s coming, so they have been unable to shed any light on what to expect.

Meanwhile, although the audiologist was keen to get me to try alternatives to Lyric, I’m not quite ready to do that yet. So for now, I’m back to being a bit hearing challenged.


Note: For those of you watching this space from a business perspective, InSound Medical, which created and markets Lyric announced today it has been acquired by Sonova Holding AG, of Switzerland, the folks behind Phonak hearing aids. Sonova’s latest deal comes just days after it completed its acquisition of cochlear implant maker Advanced Bionics. Clearly they are seeing a lot of potential growth in this market. The acquisition is likely good news for customers, as the infusion of Sonova’s smarts and resources is likely to accelerate Lyric’s development. Find out more about this deal here.