Browse Author

David Artiss

Happiness Engineer for the WordPress VIP team at Automattic. Gamer, entertainer and general fan of all things Marvel.

Changing views of Apple and a possible new laptop

It wasn’t too long ago that I would always talk about Apple products negatively. However, reading Steve Jobs’ autobiography I began to understand a little more of what he was trying to achieve (even if I didn’t like the man himself). This, coupled with frustration at the way that hardware and software often don’t “gel” together, has lead me to appreciate a lot more the walled community that Apple has created – control over both elements has meant that they can ensure that everything just works.

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Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G2

I’ve tried a number of different USB memory sticks in the past, but none like this. As well as being robust – a metal case surrounds it – it also includes double hardware encryption. If security of your data is important then this is the kind of device you’d be looking at.

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My new obsession – Battlefield 3

A friend had been trying to get me interested in Battlefield 3 for a while. It was only after finding that I had some Nectar points to spend that I decided to buy it. Having said that it’s only £25.

At first I had no idea what I was doing, but assistance from the same friend helped out. He’s often online when I’m playing and we group together (a shame he has a rubbish headset, though).

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PCTV Broadway 2T

The Broadway 2T, made by PCTV but sold by Hauppauge, looking not unlike your typical router is actually a wireless method of streaming TV (and other video sources) to any internet connected device. Mostly for use around the home it also provides method to access the stream wherever you may be.

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Finding the perfect small form factor desktop PC

I recently mentioned I was searching for a new desktop PC. In particular, I’m looking for a small form-factor PC that will sit, quite literally, on my desktop. It needs to be reasonable powerful and quiet. At the time too I mentioned it was difficult to find such PCs, without having to build one yourself. However, I’ve now come across 7 and I just wanted to provide details on each and where, I think, they’re lacking. I haven’t used any of these, I should add, so this is not a review!

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Eye-Fi Pro X2 8GB

I’m always astounded by the number of people, photographers included, who haven’t heard about Eye-Fi. Yet, when I explain the product they are, without exception, excited (in fact when I told one person he immediately rang his brother who then bought one).

Eye-Fi are SD cards with a difference. The difference is that they have WiFi built in, allowing instant uploading of photos. In the case of the top-of-the-range Pro X2 they can do much, much more as well.

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Samsung Galaxy Ace 2

Only available for the last couple of months, the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 is a mid-range Android Smartphone.

A bit smaller but dumpier than, say, the Galaxy S2 it also has rounder corners, a lovely chrome surround and a flatter home button similar to the Galaxy Nexus.

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EaseUS Todo Backup Workstation 4.5

EaseUS Todo Backup is a commercial home backup and imaging solution. There are plenty of similar free products available but for my money none are as complete and well thought out as the EaseUS solution.

The initial installation is not particularly quick but there’s not many actions to perform before it completes. By this time you’ve already specified where you want to save your backups (although you can change this later – including specific solutions for NAS devices, which is good to see) and can set up your first backup quickly.

You can create full, incremental or differential backups and schedule them to run when you want.

So far, so normal.

Backups can be compressed, encrypted and password protected. You can set priorities, have backups split into “chunks” when they reach a particular size, be emailed when a backups works and/or fails. You can limit network speed and even send a copy “offsite” via FTP.

From the main menu you can view logs of what the software has been doing as well as manage any backups you have. There are a vast array of additional options, though…

  • Create a system backup – this will back up your operating system, for easy restoration. This comes with an additional restoration option where you can restore to dissimilar hardware – during this it will detect hardware differences between the backup and restoration processes and allow you to install any new drivers required.
  • Disk and Partition Clone – from these you can create an exact copy of an entire drive or a specific partition.
  • Create Bootable Disk – this creates bootable media which can be used if your system fails to boot. Using WinPE it presents a simplified Windows environment.
  • Enable PreOS – like the Bootable disk, this uses WinPE to provide a protected environment under which you can perform maintenance and access your backups. However, rather than being created on a removable disk, this will install on your hard drive as an additional boot option.
  • Wipe Data – securely wipe data from a drive or partition. You can choose the number of secure wipes that are performed.
  • Mount and Convert Image – there 2 options allow you to mount (view) a disk image and convert them to virtual drives.

Help and a full user guide are always a click away and are well written and detailed.

EaseUS ToDo Backup Workstation is available for download for $39. This provides you with a single licence with free email support.

Screenshots

[review]The emergency WinPE environment alone makes this product worthwhile having but the vast array of additional options, excellent documentation and general ease of use, certainly fulfils requirements. I’d have no hesitation in recommending this product to anyone who’s serious about backing up their system.[/review]

HIS Multi-View+Sound Adapter

The HIS Multi-View+Sound Adapter is a device, smaller than a pack of cards, that allows you to connect a PC with USB 3 (although USB 2 will work, although slower) to a monitor to use it as an additional desktop.

In the box you get the Multi-View device itself, an HDMI cable for connecting to the Multi-View, a CD containing manual and drive software and a brief leaflet explainig how to install the CD contents. The CD manual, however, only covers the software in more detail so there is explanation of use of the hardware (not that there’s much to understand, but none-the-less…). The cable has an HDMI connection on one end and a  proprietary connector on the other – the latter plugs into the Multi-View and the former onto your PC.

One thing I do want to mention, though, is the actual packaging which is far too excessive – considering the contents, the box is oversized and the use of plastic to show the adapter is unneeded. A simpler, smaller box without the plastic would have been far more appropriate. Equally, I’m not sure if installation CDs are required any more, with many other manufacturers simply providing software and manuals online. However, having the basic CD installation instructions on a printed manual was good, though.

The provided driver software adds a new program to your system tray for configuring the additional screen. And that’s all there is to it – connect up the hardware, install the driver and you now have a multi-screen setup. The fact that HDMI is used means that the sound is also transmitted too.

It supports resolutions up to 2048 x 1152 and with the user of additional adapters you can connect up to 6 monitors to the same PC. The HDMI connection is HDCP compliant, so you can play DVDs and Blu-Rays on your additional monitor without any issues.

They say it will also support, to a level, USB 2 so I tried it on that and it worked perfectly. I used a Dell UltraSharp U2311H which has a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Playing full screen video showed some artefacts and dropped frames but this will also be affected by the power of your PC – with some programs running this became worse, so having a faster PC will certainly help here. As you can imagine when using USB 3, which its much higher speed, the picture is vastly improved.

You can use the additional monitors in different ways – I usually use them as additional desktops where I can move windows between them. In “mirror” it will duplicate your primary display – when using this I noticed a very small delay between the two, even when using USB 3. Not a great issue, but I probably wouldn’t recommend using this to play games 1.

I also connected my laptop to a Samsung 40″ TV using the HIS adapter – this allowed me to test the sound as well. Again, I was using USB2 so the video was as before 2. The sound was great and required no settings changes for it to work – it just did 3.

The software running all this is DisplayLink, which is also used with my Lenovo ThinkVision LT1421. In the case of the Lenovo this uses USB 2 but without sound and at a lower, fixed resolution. It’s incredibly easy to use, with all options available from the system tray. It’s also worth noting that the latest version of DisplayLink is available to download from their website 4.

My only complaint about the whole thing, considering the price, is the low quality plastic that the adapter is made from. However, as this is something you’re likely to tuck out of the way then this is hardly an issue.

At the time of writing the HIS Multi-View+Sound Adapter could be found for £53.32 at eBuyer.com.

[review]The HIS adapter is a great solution to connecting multiple monitors to your PC or laptop when you don’t have the graphics ports to do so. I’m not sure about gaming, but watching films or just extending your working desktop is simple and well done. Video and sound is great and the fact that it works with USB 2 as well as 3 means that this can still be used even with older machines. You just need to decide if paying £50+ is the best solution to your connectivity issues.[/review]
  1. although I suspect such a games player is likely to have a graphics setup that will support multiple monitors anyway[]
  2. although the resolution is set correctly, the screen didn’t stretch to the entire size of my TV, but there is an option within the provided software to resolve this[]
  3. the last time I connected my laptop to the TV, using a straight-through DVI cable I couldn’t get the sound to work[]
  4. it’s worth keeping up to date with this as it’s likely that updated will fix bugs and improve quality and performance[]

Half Baked Cookie Regulations and PC Pro Magazine

Photo credit: Eric M Martin

Back in May the PC Pro team discussed, on their podcast, the (then) upcoming ICO cookie regulations. However, as is often the case, they got so lost in the idea that big websites can easily do this kind of work they missed the point that this would cause issues for smaller website owners, who may not have the necessary skillset to provide the solutions that the ICO wanted.

Darien Graham-Smith appeared to be the most vocal so I emailed him, putting forward my views. Rather than respond to me I’ve found my email, modified, appearing in the letters page of the latest PC Pro magazine. With this letter they’ve not put any kind of reply to so I still have no idea whether they support my ascertions or not.

Here, then, I’ve published the original email…

Hi Dr Graham-Smith,

I’ve been listening to the latest PC Pro podcast and wanted to add something to your discussion about the ICO legislation changes.

I run a modest website (20k+ monthly views, earns me some reasonable pocket money on top of a day job, I’m sure you understand the kind of thing). The ICO changes, as they were, were literally causing me sleepless nights and I don’t think I was alone.

What I think you missed in your conversation is that we’re not all big companies with developers on-tap to provide the solution that the ICO wants. There are probably a lot more owners of modest websites than there are “PC Pro’s” of this world.

My site is a self hosted WordPress installation. As such it was my responsibility to implement the ICO changes. However, a developer I may be but that doesn’t mean I know everything about everything and cookies “aren’t my thing”. Instead, like thousands of other self-install WordPress users alone, I was reliant on some clever soul providing a plugin to do what was needed. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen (I wrote a review of what was available in case you’re interested – https://artiss.blog/2012/05/how-to-get-your-wordpress-site-ready-for-the-ico-cookie-regulations).

In the case of WordPress most cookies are generated by third parties or by plugins. In the case of the latter any scripts are added by the plugins. As suppressing cookies invariably means modifying the scripts that output them, this would have meant updating other people’s plugins. Then when the plugin is updated our changes are lost. All of this requires a level of knowledge that most WordPress owners wouldn’t have anyway. The only solution that WAS available to such owners before their change of heart on Friday was a pop-up that only allowed you to view the site if you accepted cookies – I wouldn’t allow this approach on my site and would rather have incurred the wrath of the ICO in preference. Therefore I approached the weekend with no solution that met the ICO criteria.

So, to find the rules relaxes was an absolute god-send. I can now implement a thorough cookie policy, highlighted at the top of the site and can list the cookies used by the site. I don’t have to offer any opt-out or make any scary code changes. Of course that will take me a few days in my occasional spare time which is why I’m equally glad the ICO aren’t chasing people too keenly.

If these last minute changes hadn’t been made I suspect a LOT of websites would not have met the ICO criteria any time soon and the whole thing would have un-policable as a result.

The thing is, though, after everything I said I believe the original solution was the best one for the consumer. However, if the EU are going to introduce some laws would it have been beyond them to have provided tools and software so that site owners could have easily provided a single, easy solution? As it was, each person that did implement something did it in their own (often unique) way – how many hours of time was wasted on everyone trying to achieve the same thing?

Those are my views, anyway 😉

Kind regards,
David Artiss.