Aug 29

Alarm.com LogoBeing a computer geeky type, I have always been enthralled with technology. I suppose it makes sense then, that I recently started pondering security systems for my house. After spending “countless” hours reading forums, talking to friends, meeting security system installers, et cetera, I have made a decision on the best one: Alarm.com.

Ok, now you might be thinking: “Big surprise, Dustin, the web developer, chose a security company that has .com in the name”. I promise you though, it’s more than just the name!

Here’s my reasoning:

1) I don’t have a regular land line (POTS) and I don’t intend to get one just to support a security system (especially since it seems to be pretty easy to cut).

Alarm.com uses a wireless cellular (GSM) system — no wires to cut and reliable service 24 hours a day.

2) I don’t want my security system to depend exclusively on a home internet connection (and again… that’s easy to cut).

There are alternate companies who rely exclusively on home broadband internet based communications. Home internet connections are fine for email and web surfing, but I would never trust my home security to a cable or DSL modem.

3) I want a system that is built solidly and will protect my family and home from the blights of society.

Alarm.com currently uses a GE Concord panel, a highly regarded system in the security arena. It’s reliable, tough, and well-tested.

4) I need flexibility, expandability, and advanced features, while still being easy to use (since my wife is not a computer programmer).

The panel used by Alarm.com currently has 96 available wireless zones, 16 wired zones (plus 2 smoke detector zones), easy to use interfaces, and everything else you could possible need.

5) I prefer a price that doesn’t require a 2nd mortgage to keep running (the price should be mostly offset by a homeowners insurance discount).

Alarm.com is a relative bargain compared to other companies (especially making use of wireless signaling and internet reconfiguration).

6) I yearn for a system that appeals to my nerdy gadget-oriented side.

This is the part that really had me convinced! Imagine being able to log in to your alarm system from anywhere in the world and see what is going on currently and what has happened in the past.

What if you could program new security codes, arm and disarm the system, set up lighting schedules (based on events like doors opening) using standard X10 controllers?

What if you’d like to see if “someone” has gotten into the alcohol cabinet when they weren’t supposed to?

Alarm.com makes it all possible and much more, through their powerful and simple online interface. The portal makes programming your alarm system a snap and it’s very simple to set up notification contact lists (both phone and email) for everything from a door opening to true alarm events.

So, add all those requirements & features up and what do you get? Alarm.com tops my list. In fact, even if you take out many of my personal “requirements”, Alarm.com is still the best bang-for-the-buck of any security company I researched or talked to (and I talked to a lot of them).

I can also personally attest to the over-the-top customer service at Alarm.com. They respond to your emails, treat you like a real person, and don’t have a foreign accent (ie: they are easy to understand).

At this point, I’ve chosen the equipment and picked an installation date. I’ll update you as the house nears completion and the service goes live.

Leave a comment if you have any questions.

EDIT: Please read my new review everyone – it’s been a while since I wrote this. 

Mar 17

google-apps.gifSo what’s with this new-fangled Google Apps thing?

To me, it initially just seemed like a fancy version of Gmail. However, as I really started delving into it, I was thoroughly impressed.

Here’s the general description from Google:

Communicate…
Give your users Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Talk accounts that
use your own custom domain, helping them to stay connected and work
together more effectively.

Collaborate and publish…
Docs & Spreadsheets lets users share files and collaborate in
real-time. The Start Page is the first place your users will look to
preview their inboxes and calendars, access your essential content, and
search the web.

…and get on with business.
It’s all hosted by Google, so there’s no hardware or software to
install or download, and minimal setup and maintenance. You can get up
and running quickly, even if you don’t have technical resources.

To try it out for myself, I moved all the email accounts for my web development business to Google Apps Standard Edition. I have to admit, the changeover worked flawlessly. All I had to do was verify my domain by uploading a file to my server. Once verified, I was able to get the email moving to Google’s servers with a few simple MX record changes (and as far as I know didn’t miss one single email in the process). Soon after, I created some additional CNAME’s so I could access the calendar, document, and start page functionalities a little easier. Once those few things were done, I tinkered around with some of the admin controls in Google Apps, but for the most part, the process was complete. It all worked amazingly well.

I am totally sold on this system. I think this new offering will change the way many small, medium, and large businesses handle their communication infrastructures. The real advantages come with the Premier Edition of the service. The most important additions are as follows:

- 99.9% uptime guarantee for email
- 10 GB of space (and I suspect that will grow in the future)
- No ads in emails
- Conference room and resource scheduling
- A very poweful API system (including custom sign-on, authentication, user provisioning & management, and support for email gateways allowing backups of data).
- Email migration tools (in the works)
- 24/7 support via phone/email
- A variety of 3rd party applications and services to enhance the system
- Extremely low-cost ($50/user/year)

Yes, the amazing email client is incredible with it’s spam filtering, organizational ‘labeling’, and search functions, but the other tools included are the pieces that will create an evolution in how businesses operate (in my humble opinion):

- Imagine having the ability to have incredibly powerful calendar/scheduling tools without the hassle and complexity of expensive Exchange servers.

- Imagine being able to only allow certain groups of people (or individuals) to see certain calendars and events in real time, with just a few simple clicks.

- Imagine having a chat client integrated with your system that allows quick and effortless communications instead of picking up the phone or waiting on email responses. What if this client was embedded throughout the system and all communication could be archived and saved for security/legal purposes? What if that chat client also allowed voice calls to be made for free over the internet?

- Imagine being able to collaborate on documents or spreadsheets with teams of users all in real time over the web. What if you could publish these documents for only certain members of your organization to see? What if they could be saved in popular document and spreadsheet formats for desktop editing?

- What about a very powerful, yet simple & easy to use corporate start page that has important information customized for each particular employees’ job functions and can be easily branded?

- What if your users could access this data anywhere in the world with just a browser? No more need for VPN’s (to access email securely), Outlook clients, software updates, et cetera.

- What if the majority of these systems integrated with wireless/portable devices like BlackBerry phones with little-to-no effort?

- What if this entire system was simple to administrate for even the largest of companies? You would hardly need one employee (at most) to manage the system. No exchange server experts needed ever again (sorry guys)!

- What if this amazing system was hosted in some of the most secure and reliable data centers in the world (Google’s) and optimized for world-wide use? No more worrying about expensive hardware, licensing, storage, bandwidth, replication, or down-time concerns.

- What if there were a plethora of 3rd party and advanced packages allowing custom email gateway services, archiving, security, authentication, et cetera?

It’s all available right now!

So go and check out Google Apps Enterprise Edition… no matter what your company size, it has the potential to save your company time, effort, and vast quantities of money while increasing productivity and profit. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Jan 11

Quoted from here:

Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 uses the HTML parsing and
rendering engine from Microsoft Office Word 2007 to display HTML
message bodies. The same HTML and cascading style sheets (CSS) support
available in Word 2007 is available in Outlook 2007.

The limitations imposed by Word 2007 are described in detail in the article, but here are a few highlights:

  • no support for background images (HTML or CSS)
  • no support for forms
  • no support for Flash, or other plugins
  • no support for CSS floats
  • no support for replacing bullets with images in unordered lists
  • no support for CSS positioning
  • no support for animated GIFs

Read More.  What do I have to say?  Buh.

Dec 31

When I read this, I scratched my head:

Technalign, Inc. has announced it has released its Beta 1 Pioneer
Linux Christian Edition operating system to the community. The beta includes
many of the features that come standard with Pioneer Linux. The application
includes the King James Bible and many study applications. 


“The Christian
Edition provides users with the ability to get full support from our user
community as well as boxed sets from authorized resellers,” claims
Technalign CEO Dianne Ursini. “The Christian Edition provides users
the ability to purchase products for full support or download the free
version”. 


The Pioneer Christian
Edition replaces the Frontier Christian Edition previously retailed by
Technalign's partners. There will be a non-installable edition available
for Windows users who only want to use the Christian Edition for study.


Technalign requests that users report back any applications they would
like added as well as applications that they wish removed along with bug
reports.  The commercial versions
have minor differences between the free version. Individuals may choose
from either the free version or a boxed set available from the over 600
Technalign partners in the US and Canada. 


The Pioneer Linux
Christian Edition is targeted at new Linux users as well as experienced
Linux users who are looking for a study guide as well a solid operating
system. The Pioneer Christian Edition provides compatibility with many
existing proprietary applications, Pioneer enables migration to Linux
with a minimum of effort. By running the most popular desktop Office suite,
users can keep their data safe and secure, and initially not learn a new
application. 

I think I've now seen everything.  And yes, I'll be downloading it tonight.  Do you want it too?  It can be found here.

Nov 06

I'm hoping by now, you have at least heard of VOIP and preferably use it (if you have a home phone). 

If not, shame on you!  You can save some serious money over your traditional home telephone service.  Anyways, back to the point:

The inherent problem with VOIP stuff is that it's invariably finicky and a tad more difficult to install than simply plugging your phone in like POTS

I recently switched to Vonage and have been very happy with the service except for some odd quality issues I've had (things such as an echo and random phone calls getting dropped).  That is why I found a humble site, Vonage Forum, really helpful.  Within just a few minutes, I was able to quickly discover the problem and solve it (it turned out to be a bandwidth saving feature I forgot I had changed).   I really like that it's a totally independent service, so they aren't any inhibitions… the forum members will really let you know about all the “secrets”.

So, if you are having trouble with Vonage (or are just interested in the service) and need un-biased help, Check It Out!

Apr 29

Care to see what some geeky types do in their free time? 

A couple of my buddies recently completed a wireless network connection between their homes using roof-mounted directional antennas.  After literally months of custom design work, troubleshooting, climbing on ladders, and a still non-working network, they finally got it going.

Doesn't sound riveting does it?  Despite your preconceived notions, it's actually a decently entertaining tale.  Take a moment to check it out.. if you have any interest in this sorta thing.

Click Here to see the blog. (Start at the entry transpalisades is live!)

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Apr 17

I remembered seeing SawStop quite a while ago.  Although I was very aware of it's presence and cool factor, I wasn't sure about the rest of you.. so here it is:

The basic idea here is a table saw that senses the electrical current change that occurs when your flesh touches the spinning saw blade.  When the system senses this change in current, it instantly applies a brake and retracts the blade.

This whole process takes 3-5 milliseconds.  It's fast enough to save your finger, or in the case of the video, a hotdog.

I don't have any hard numbers on the dangers of table saws, but if you ask me, it's a pretty cool technology.  Check out the video, I bet you'll agree.

Click Here to see the video.

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Apr 14

After I finally tracked these down, I have to admit, it was worth the time.  What an incredible idea and sweet piece of technology.   These rims have LEDs that you program using a
laptop and a wireless connection.  You can put almost any type of picture or colorful text you want on there.  No batteries required.  You can even choose time intervals for changing pictures and other options. 

Pretty sweet right (make sure to check out the video at the bottom of the page)?

Prices are as follows (including tires):
| $12,500 for 22″ | $15,000 for 24″ | $19,500 for 26″ |

Whew, I better start saving up!  Wait wait, I don't think I'm quite cool enough for these yet.  Maybe instead I don't really like them, but just the technology behind them.. dunno.  Maybe someday though, yo…

Want to see a video of them?  Click Here! (Excuse the oddly-placed girl)

You can buy them Here.

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Apr 07

I stumbled across this video on Google Video the other day.   I used to be into gaming a lot more a few years ago than I am lately (mostly because of time constraints), but this game makes me want to get back into the swing of things.

It's really important that you watch the whole video from beginning to end to get a feel for how the flow of the game works…. I know it's long (35 min.), but it's worth it. 

It's a game entirely based on evolution, so it's bound to cause some controversy if it becomes as popular as I think it will.  Despite the theme, I still think it will likely be quite enjoyable and an easy way to waste away the hours of my life.  Supposedly, we are looking at a 2007 release from Electronic Arts.

To read more about the game itself, Click Here.

To see the video demo of the game, Click Here.

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Apr 04

In some odd way, I find this information both interesting and sad.  I happened across a USA Today article about the abuse of GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers in some cars offered by rental car companies.  These abuses culminated in a certain company whose “policy was to fine renters $150 each time a car exceeded 79 mph for more than
two minutes
“.  The idea was to prevent wear on the vehicles, reduce the risk of accidents, and more importantly, to make extra money from the average customer who wasn't aware they were being watched over by this nifty gadget.  The entire article can be found here.

Thankfully, these policies were quickly scrutinized by the government and most were forced to refund the charges.  Is that the end of this type of controversy?  I think not.

Another privacy concern has been garnering more attention lately.. and we are all susceptible to it's possible abuse.  I'm talking about the latest breed of Event Data Recorders (EDR) that have been installed in most newer cars.

EDRs have been used in motor vehicles for years. Their main job is to
serve data to other systems, such as ABS, traction control and
supplemental restraint systems (SRS). As such, they continuously record
driving factors such as speed, braking, engine rpm, throttle and air
bag deployment. Auto manufacturers looking for ways to make their
vehicles safer have engineered EDRs to store the five seconds of data
that precede an accident (and sometimes a near miss). More than 40
million vehicles, including most built in the last five years, are
equipped with similar EDR technology.

Why the controversy?  Mainly because insurance companies are interested in the data (to see if you are a safe driver).   More importantly though, this data is being used to convict drivers in serious motor vehicle accidents:

On June 30, a Peabody, Mass., District Court jury found Michelle
Zimmerman
guilty of misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide in the death of
her front seat
passenger, Kenneth Carlson. The jury concluded Zimmerman
was driving
negligently when she skidded out of control and struck a
tree on Jan. 4, 2003. Information collected from the event data
recorder (EDR), or black box, in her GMC Yukon reported that Zimmerman
was driving 58 mph in a 40 mph zone—on an icy road, according to Essex
Assistant District Attorney William J. Melkonian. EDR data also showed
that Zimmerman never applied the brakes.


Judge Santo Ruma sentenced Zimmerman to two years in prison, one
year to be served with the balance suspended for three years of
probation. The conviction carries a statutory 10-year loss of license.


The entire article can be found here.


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Mar 16

There is a good chance you have already heard of Firefox, the competition to Internet Upgrade to Firefox 1.5!Explorer that ships with every modern version of Microsoft Windows.  If you haven't, find out about it!

I'll be honest, for a long time I refused to switch.  All of my friends moaned and criticized me, but I was steadfast in my love towards Internet Explorer

One day, fed up with twenty windows open, I decided to try out Firefox to see the “tabbed browsing” feature.  Once I realized you could have twenty sites (or more) open in one Firefox window, I was hooked.  When I started using it, I realized how much better is in almost every regard.
Switch now!

Don't wait, Click Here to get it!


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Mar 12

I happened across this article on Gizmag a while ago and was pretty amazed by this new technology Michelin has coming out called the Tweel (i.e. Tyre/WhEEL).

“The heart of Tweel innovation is its
deceptively simple looking hub and spoke design that replaces the need
for air pressure while delivering performance previously only available
from pneumatic tires.

The flexible spokes are fused with a flexible
wheel that deforms to absorb shock and rebound with ease. Without the
air needed by conventional tires, Tweel still delivers pneumatic-like
performance in weight-carrying capacity, ride comfort, and the ability
to “envelope” road hazards.

Michelin has also found that it can tune Tweel
performances independently of each other, which is a significant change
from conventional tires. This means that vertical stiffness (which
primarily affects ride comfort) and lateral stiffness (which affects
handling and cornering) can both be optimised, pushing the performance
envelope in these applications and enabling new performances not
possible for current inflated tires.”

I don't know about you, but I look forward to seeing this out on the
streets.  I hope it turns out to be as great as the hype is. 
If you want to read the entire article from Gizmag, Click Here.


Or,
Click Here to see more picture of this incredible innovation.

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Mar 10

Microsoft has come out with an incredible piece of web software called Windows Live Local in beta form.  It seems as though they're taking on Google Local.  Regardless of their intentions, they have come up with some incredible advances that will forever change the way we using mapping software on the internet.

The most obvious and incredible feature is the Bird's Eye view.  This view allows you to zoom in so far as to see people walking, cars driving, white caps on the Ocean, etc. at a 45 degree angle.  Even more incredible than that, you can change the orientation of the view to see your target from all four cardinal directions.  Essentially, it's like being able to see most major cities from a low flying airplane or a 'bird'.  Yes, it's as amazing as it sounds.

Another notable feature of the system is the street level view for
Seattle & San Francisco.  It's obviously buggy at this point, but
it sure will be amazing once they get the kinks all worked out.  It basically let's you see both cities from a viewpoint that simply isn't available anywhere else on the web.

My favorite part of the new system is the Locate Me button which let's you see where you are located based upon variables such as IP address, Access Point connections, etc..  It's pretty cool when it works.

Most importantly to people who want to be productive: the system
let's you find directions to and from almost anywhere with significant
ease.

At this point, my research indicates only a few major cities are available in Bird's Eye mode: Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.  However, I have found other areas that are available, so that may not be totally true.

You should take some time to check it out by Clicking Here, or you can see some notable locations I found below:

Golden Gate Bridge – San Francisco, CA
Central Park – New York, NY
Washington Monument – Washington, D.C.
Luxor Hotel – Las Vegas, NV
Back of the Hollywood Sign – Hollywood, CA
Bill Gates' House – Medina, WA
Some Random Boats in Boston – Boston, MA

Windows Live Local Technology Preview – Street level view of Seattle, WA or San Francisco, CA.

Way to go Microsoft, you have thoroughly impressed me!

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