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Comment There IS a decent way to use a smartphone... (Score 1) 508

I have to mildly disagree with point 6 - it's maybe not QUITE $20, but you can assemble a few components which will make a decent Android phone into something resembling a desktop.

First you need a Miracast dongle - they're available as low as $10-$15 on eBay, though the cheaper you go, the worse the performance can be (they all use the same chipset but some skimp on the antenna...). Second, get a microUSB OTG hub so you can plug in a commodity mouse and keyboard. Third, download Google Docs or get free MS-Office.

Assembly: Plug Miracast into HDMI input of old monitor (or use $5 HDMI-DVI adapter). Plug peripherals into hub and hub into phone.

And that's about it.

I did a lot of product research on these components during the first half of this year, intending to turn it into a pocket-sized product with a custom case and everything, before dropping the project due to lack of time. So I've bought half a dozen kinds of dongle, as well as virtually every folding Bluetooth keyboard on the market (none worked well enough to be worth it for me) and about half the pocketsized Bluetooth mice, and I've done a lot of testing.

Of course this depends a certain amount on the performance of your phone (Miracast does put a load on the CPU) and the availability of monitors and keyboards. But more and more offices are offering docking stations for roving/traveling employees' laptops, which was my intended target market.

As for underprivileged students, my own kids use 4-5 year old desktop PCs my employer gives away for free and every time they get an upgrade, their old ones go to our school for the less-privileged. I just gave away a Core2Quad Dell with 4GB RAM and a 320gig HD, monitor, and color inkjet, with Windows 7 Pro. Because that's what my office was giving away LAST YEAR...

Comment Re:Mdisk - advertised to last 100 years (Score 1) 174

MO-DISC (or Milleniata) discs are what I use for offline storage. They're not THAT expensive - I only do a backup onto them once per year (Time Machine to an onsite server for everyday), and so far my wife's annual output of photos and video can be coaxed to fit onto a box of 10 DVDs, for roughly $35-40ish

I put 'em in a fire-resistant waterproof portable safe hidden elsewhere on the property, and consider myself safe from lightning/flood, theft and a few similar gotchas. I originally had a plan to put a wee server in at a friend's house several km away, and do reciprocal backups that way. But it's only recently that the bandwidth for that has been affordable (in Australia) and the above solution makes me feel safe enough that I haven't gotten around to it.

I don't need them to last 100 years, I just don't want to be surprised by bad DVD+R dye or whatever in 3-5 years as has been the case with other types of burned discs. I've never been able to get a straight answer on how long burned DVDs can be expected to last, but the MO-Disc people claim 1,000 years and I'll be happy with 2% of that.

If DVD readers go away in a decade, they won't go away WITHOUT WARNING - I'll have time to move data onto holographic crystals or whatever replaces them. After all, we can still buy floppy drives and VHS tape decks and vinyl record turntables... Plus I can also put everything we've done onto a 500GB drive and toss that into the fire safe, while I'm at it.

I've been doing this for a few years now and so far all the earlier stuff remains readable when I pull 'em out every first-week-of-January...

Comment Re:Have you dug into the cameras a bit? (Score 2) 134

I have (and still use) several Foscam standard-def cameras, but I've had a lot of trouble with HD (720p) models from Foscam and others. Can't find any which don't require ActiveX - not only for streaming, but for SETUP.

I can't give them my WiFi password without being able to run their proprietary plugin, necessarily on a Windows machine, to access the web interface. And even when I use a Windows machine and go through the process, I to end up with repeated failures.

I'm sure it must be working for someone out there, but I documented my experiences thoroughly (tried all browsers, OSX/Linux/WinXP/Win7, etc) and encountered nothing but a broad spectrum of errors.

Once they're set up, apps like tinyCam Monitor Pro (consider this a plug, it's great) can do everything you need. So if ActiveX is your only barrier, just use it for the setup stage.

Comment Re:don't worry about it (Score 4, Funny) 178

Yeah - I worked for a gadget retailer and was asked to test some 8GB flash sticks several years ago.

You could write 8GB to them, but anything past the first 4GB returned a read error.

My boss called the supplier in Shenzen to yell at them - "How could you do this?" Their response: "I don't understand - you SAID you wanted the best price?!"

Comment Mentor? (Score 1) 234

There's something of a dearth of material out there for people who want to learn STEM topics on a casual basis and are somewhere in between a layperson and a specialist. Most of what you can find to read is either written for the general public (popular science books and magazines) or dry scientific papers. I've also had a lifelong interest in science, but did not pursue it as a career, and it's always a challenge to find stuff which I can read and yet which hasn't had the details filtered out...

"Science News" magazine is a stand-out example though - it's science reporting written for an educated audience, often people who are scientists themselves who want to keep up in other fields. It's amazing how concise and information-packed the articles can become when you can use words above the typical 6th-grade reading level (or whatever they use for newspapers these days).

But, I digress. In your position I'd try to find a mentor - maybe barter some IT services in return. There are lots of people out there who'd probably enjoy the process of helping a mature student get started.

Comment Re:Content Developer here (Score 1) 158

By the way - the coolest thing about transitioning OUT of IT is that when the office network goes down, it's neither your fault nor your problem... you get to hang around the coffee machine and complain with everyone else!

I don't tell most of my coworkers about my background. If they know you can fix computers... well, it's like owning a pickup truck, and everyone asks you to help them move!

Comment Content Developer here (Score 1) 158

After ~20 years working in every area of IT, for a number of reasons I've recently transitioned over to "Online Content Developer" as a career track.

I'm just starting a new job with a major supplier of accounting / tax software. Most of the reason I was hired was my IT background, since a big part of my job will be helping manage the flow of information (internally and, eventually, to the public) from the tech support and consulting departments to other areas of the company.

In this new role, I use some of my technical skills just getting the most from all the internal systems and platforms here, but mostly I draw from my experience with helping people use technology. I understand tech support from both sides of the equation, and can help translate issues to people who don't. Later on I'll be tasked with helping interpret complex accounting software issues for the general public as well.

In the past I've done similar work for a vocational training company, and again my experience with developing helpdesk materials, Knowledge Bases and other forms of online training was a big reason why I was hired. (I also have a track record in writing and video production, with lots of exposure to online marketing methods as well - but many people have that without being techies)


A sine curve goes off to infinity, or at least the end of the blackboard. -- Prof. Steiner