Have you done your pre-Fall digital housecleaning yet?

With summer almost over and things already picking up (I'm referring to Intel's Developer Forum taking place last week and Microsoft Professional Developer Conference coming up in two), I'm taking these last couple of week of summer to get ready for the Fall rush. Fall is always the busiest time of year for the technology business.

With summer almost over and things already picking up (I'm referring to Intel's Developer Forum taking place last week and Microsoft Professional Developer Conference coming up in two), I'm taking these last couple of week of summer to get ready for the Fall rush.

Fall is always the busiest time of year for the technology business.  Not only will consumers break all sorts of records this year in the amount of money they spend on digital gear leading up to the holidays (e-commerce records will also get broken), but, in the budgeting spirit of "if you don't use it, you lose it," enterprise buyers will go on desktop, notebook, server and networking shopping sprees in order to burn out whatever remaining dollars are sitting in their '05 IT budgets.  For the trade press, that means many more events and vendor briefings to attend which in turn means less time to take care of that digital To-Do list that's been nagging at us all year long.  For me, that list consists of not only cleaning a bunch of files (software, data) that I don't want or use off my system, but reinstalling some old favorites (for example InfoSelect and ActiveWords) that I miss.  Also, getting back in the habit of backing my data up. 

In the next week or two, I'll be resurrecting a system or two for testing not to mention getting my newly arrived AMD Turion 64-based Acer Ferrari 4005 primed and ready for testing of the 64 bit version of Vista.  On the resurrection front, I've already started the resurrection an old notebook.  Although the problem will probably get worse with Vista, I never cease to be stunned by Windows' bloat.  After installing a fresh copy of Windows XP on the notebook, updating it with all of Microsoft's security updates and then installing Sun's Java Virtual Machine, Cisco's Wi-Fi drivers, Firefox, and Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus (a mistake for non-technical reasons I'll describe in a second), the subsequent required anti-virus scan of all the files on the hard drive took about 45 minutes.  The reason? It had to scan over 80,000 files.  80,000? Sometimes, I miss the days of MS-DOS when all it took was a handful of files to get a system running. 

On the Norton AV front, I paid $30 for a 2005 edition of Norton AV at Sam's Club only to find out (in the course of finally digging into all the new services that my Internet Service Provider Comcast gives me for free) that I as well as every other Comcast subscriber am entitled to seven free copies each of McAfee's Viruscan, McAfee's Personal Firewall Plus, and McAfee's Privacy Service (for parental control and identity theft protection).  Surely there must be a catch.  As it turns out, there's none.

I contacted Comcast spokesperson Jeanne Russo with a list of basic questions.  Although I find it hard to believe that Comcast doesn't recover some of this program's cost in the way a lesser burdened infrastructure (no company ever really does something just for its customers' benefit), this is one offer that demonstrates what broadband ISPs must do to win and keep customers.  On the flip side, this is also an indication of where households in terms of the numbers of computers getting used and the local area networks that are in place, and, if you ask me, there's a  new market there -- a golden opportunity that time is forgetting --  that isn't addressed by one security vendor that I know of.


Back to the newly arrived Ferrari box, yes, it is here and I never expected it to be nearly as cool looking as it is.  The case has a slick composite fiber look to it with bright red trim and most notably, the Ferrari logo positioned in several strategic locations (one is right on top of the Bluetooth mouse that comes with the system, see photo left).  So far, the Ferrari is noteworthy for several reasons.  I'm addicted to the TrackPoint pointing sticks on IBM's Thinkpads.  The Ferrari doesn't have one (it does have a touch pad, but I hate those).  I am aware however that my addiction is an unhealthy one given how few notebooks have Trackpoints.

Reminiscent of the nimkampoop who thought it was a good idea to put the horn on the end of the blinker post in certain Ford models, the Ferarri has a keyboard that's shaped like a smile (see photo below).  Not a big smile.  More like a grin.  But, what a dumb idea.  As a touch typist, I find that my pinky and ring fingers have to reach further to get to the keys above the home row (keys like Q, W, O, and P) and I'm making more mistakes that are slowing me down.  I'll have more to tell about the Ferrari box and my ongoing Vista testing (which includes an attempt to live with the beta operating system day in and day out) over the coming year.  First up will be a detailed explanation of the "testbed" configuration which will involve multiple partitions, multiple operating systems, and a copy of VMWare Workstation.  So stay tuned for that.


Also on my list is to continue prepping my Verizon Wireless-provisioned  Audiovox XV6600 Windows Mobile 2003-based smartphone for primetime.  High on my smartphone To Do list is to get rid of my "wired" headphones/headset. I use the two terms because the same set of wired earpiece-based headphones that come with the XV6600 can serve as both stereo headphones (for listening to music and podcasts) and as a hands-free headset for using the telephone.  But, so tangled have the wires become at times that I've been unable to get the earpieces into my ears in time to answer a call.  It's a sloppy solution that I should have dispensed with at least a month ago since the XV6600 can support some but not all wireless "headgear" via its built-in Bluetooth radio. Unfortunately, finding the right solution isn't so easy. One reason is some very confusing terminology and documentation on the Bluetooth front that's going to get some coverage here.  Bluetooth can do some really cool things.  It just does them in really horrific says.  More to come on that.

In addition to looking for a solution to headgear problem (and avoiding these headsets), I'll also be looking to get the XV6600 loaded with the software and data that allows me to take full advantage of all that the device is capable of.  For example, I don't have many family pictures on there now.  I will on short order (as soon as I get all my digital pictures organized).  And, there's no reason I shouldn't be subscribing directly to my favorite podcasts using the XV6600 (given the way it's connected to Verizon Wireless' high-speed EV-DO network) to handle the downloading, organization, and playback of my audio.  The PocketPC-based software that I'm spying to do this is called Skookum.  So, stay tuned for details on how I fair with the installation of that. 

Somewhere, in between trying to get all of this done, I'm also overseeing a digital home project that involves


the flexible distribution of everything you can think of (audio, video, internet, etc.) to almost every room in the house (even the master bathroom and two rooms that have surround sound embedded in the walls.  To make it all happen, there's a central location for most of the entertainment gear and when I'm done, I'll be able to tune into any source (FM tuners, cable boxes, DVD players, MP3 servers, etc.) from just about anywhere.  This way, our guests can be listening to Green Day coming off the MP3 server through the speakers embedded in the ceiling of the guest room while the rest of the rooms in the house have both the audio and video from a cable TV channel or a DVD player. 

Think I'm doing all this with computers and wireless technology (subject to crashing and interference)?  Think again.  Much to the chagrin of companies like Intel and Microsoft, there's really not much in the computer world that's seriously up to the task of mission critical full home audio and video.  For that you need dedicated equipment (like Xantech's MRC 88 and the associated controllers that go on the walls), miles of pink monster cable (see photo, right) going through your walls, and all sorts of hardcore connectors poking out of strategic, but completely out-of-sight locations.

The scary thing is that I've barely scratched the surface of all the digital housecleaning I need to get done before the Fall rush.  But sometimes, you just have to put everything down, and regroup a bit before trying to boil the ocean.  So, if you don't hear much from me this week, you'll know why.  So much to do. So little time.