Friday, May 15, 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Who needs Google? Not anymore!

I'll admit I have always been interested in Wolfram's products. Mathematica is a great tool even though I use MathCAD for most of my work. Why? Because I like the format of MathCAD better, it reads easier, flows into reports better, and I'm more experienced at using it. I won't say anything specific about the deals PTC offers to make it incredibly affordable, too.

I still use Wolfram's website for numerous mathematical problems. A google search for a math problem will often bring up Wolfram's knowledge base as the first hit.

So what is Wolfram Alpha? It is something worth more hype than just a tweet, that's for sure. I may be a little hasty in saying that it is the beginning of the end of Google, for they each serve a different purpose. I also won't say it is the beginning of the end of Wikipedia either, because Wikipedia currently has a bit more description behind it. But what Wolfram Alpha is, is a combination of the two. It's knock-your-socks-off intelligent searching and data analysis. Or, as they call it, Computational Knowledge Engine.

Engine? Heck no! This is a suped up piece of hyper-drive technology capable of going warp speed. "She's givin' 'er all she's got, Captain."

Wolfram Alpha will be announced today. For now, check out the website and view the quick intro. Don't forget to subscribe to their blog and follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Windows Startup Locations

I hate HP Printers. I really do.

I have an Officejet all-in-one printer for my day to day printing and a Photosmart printer for my wife's scrapbooking hobby. When I first installed the Photosmart printer, the all-in-one didn't work. Apparently, there was a version conflict in HPs universal controller that didn't allow my aged all-in-one to coexist peacefully with the newer Photosmart technology. (No, not quite as old as the image of the printing press.) I will give HP credit though, hours of phone time with their clear English speaking tech support told me the only solution, after trying all the rest, was to buy a new printer. The biggest problem, I use fast-user-switching at home and the old printer didn't recognize it.

So I buy myself a shiny new all-in-one. This time, though, I make sure it is a network capable printer. Afterall, network printers deal with multiple users all the time, so it must be able to handle fast-user-switching. Besides, I have room on my switch for it. (And the Photosmart has a wired or wireless network option.) After hours of productive conversation with HP Tech Support, I got both printers to work in harmony with eachother on my home network.

By now you are asking yourself what HP Printers have to do with Windows Startup Locations? I'm glad you asked. The problem with HP Printers for home use are that they require that stupid HP Solution Center software. What happened to the good old days of printer drivers instead of printer software? Anyway, that bloated software that I don't use for anything but shoveling out print jobs causes my PC to have 5 minutes startup times. COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. Without the HP software, I can start up in under 30 seconds.

How does one decrease the startup time but keep the software running to be able to print? That's right, registry hack. Turn off all the startup commands put into the registry by HP except for the one that I need to print. But trial and error by backing up and deleting registry keys is very time consuming and could lead to other problems if I delete the wrong one. Not to mention, searching the registry for all those startup locations is a royal PITA. Enter, autoruns.

Autoruns is my new favorite registry tool for finding and removing all those extra startups. And what's best, it's not a true 3rd party app. The link I provided is to Microsoft's Technet on the Sysinternals site. You can run Autoruns through the GUI or via command line for you network admins. My favorite part, autoruns allows you to not only delete unneeded registry entries in the startup locations, but it allows you to just "turn them off" if you want to test it out first, prior to deleting them. And of course, autoruns finds EVERY start up location and event. Talk about easy. Welcome back 30 second startups!

P.S. My next printer will definitely be a business level machine. One that doesn't require software to use, just a driver, a driver that allows for automatic duplexing. One that I can actually use on my network and not via USB even though it is network capable. One that is capable of living in harmony with other printers on a network so there is no software conflict and I'm not forced to go back to USB connection and Windows Printer Sharing to see it on my other nodes. One that works and doesn't say HP on the side.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Alibre Tries New Feedback Mechanism

Tired of sorting through pages of posts from the: enhancement request forum (, wishlists, and incident reports, Alibre has developed a new means for users to vote on their favorite enhancement requests.

While not perfect, it is a good start at working towards a more robust means of finding where the user's priorities really lie and to not lose enhancement requests deep with a database. How many requests do you have in your software package dating back to 1995 that still haven't been implemented?

And with all silver linings there is a dark cloud within. No sooner was the announcement made when users started asking questions and making criticisms on how to make it better.
Here's the short list:
  • No guarantee the top voted enhancement will make it in the next release. But at least we know Alibre has put it on their list if high priorities.
  • No means to include attachment to better illustrate the request.
  • No support for localization (other languages besides English).
  • Only 10 Votes per user. Not a bad thing, but what about local VARs who speak with one voice for many users?
  • Yet one more User ID and Password you have to create when registering on this site. Where's my one-click access to Alibre's Website, Alibre Forums, and the Feedback Forum?
  • Will requests made in the forums or through incident reports still be recognized?
Now I don't want to paint a bad picture here. Overall, users are very happy with the new method of enhancement requests.
  • Users can search for existing requests and easily tack-on their request.
  • The forums are already in English and provide a wealth of knowledge, non-English speaking countries appear to have representation in the forums. (I really need to see some demographics of Alibre users to know if they are adequately represented or just have a few strong English speaking proponents talking for them. See the bullet about localization and VARs speaking with one voice above.)
  • There is a feedback method for when Development has incorporated a request, which means it should make the next release.
  • Once you register, you can stay logged in or use the "remember me" features of browsers.
  • A place to comment on existing requests.
Overall, I'm happy with the new approach. It's still too early to tell how valuable it will be. But, like anything, with more users and more feedback, I'm sure it will develop into a worthwhile resource guiding the future development of Alibre Design.

See it for yourself.