Tag Archives: unreview

Microsoft Action Pack Update for July

One reason why I like the Microsoft Action Pack is that it gently feeds you a trickle of the tsunami of new Microsoft products, betas, Community Technology Previews (CTPs), samples, trials, and templates. This months quarterly update is no different and includes a couple of interesting products:

  • The 64 bit version of Vista Business
  • Beta 3 of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise in both 32 bit and 64 bit versions.
  • System Center Essentials 2007
  • Office Live Communications Server 2005 Enterprise Edition
  • Windows Server 2003 R2 32 and 64 bit

I’ve been running Windows BackOffice 2003 on my server for what I think is at least two or three years, so I’m contemplating installing one of the straight Windows Servers as a replacement. BackOffice is fine if you want to run Microsoft Exchange, and you want to have some beefed up management tools, but I’ve never been convinced of its utility over the regular Windows Server product. Exchange is a whole trip in itself, (can you say backup and spam control?) and in small offices that would otherwise be the typical customer for BackOffice, I would normally recommend just going with mailboxes from your internet service provider.

Live Communications Server is the Microsoft VoIP back-end product…something I’m interested in looking at; but was unable to install on my Win 2003 BackOffice server.

The Action Pack is a quarterly shipment to Microsoft Partner subscribers, and is suited for small consultancies or businesses with ten or fewer desktops. You get the full office suite with all the goodies like Visio and MapPoint, as well as all the server operating systems. No development tools–that is for the Microsoft Developers Network Subscription, but so many of those are available as trials and free versions that you can get pretty far without spending a lot in that area.

New Dell Lines


Dell’s new “services and systems for small business” adds a new line called “Vostro”. Maybe it is because I just enjoyed “The Hunt for Red October” on DVD with Sean Connery and Sam Neill, but the the name sounds like shades of the 1950’s and the cold war. Dell was never one for particularly attractive designs, the units even look a little bit like something designed in the former Soviet block, relentlessly unadorned and practical..and actually more attractive than the standard designs for desktops a few years back. Still, I wish they’d hire the Apple designers.

Apparently the features of units for small business include:
1. Tech support delivered from the U.S.
2. Elimination of all the shovel-ware that they used to put on the hard drive.
3. Software to allow Dell technicians to log into the machine remotely.

And yet, Latitude and Optiplex live on. So does this mean the death of the Dimension? and the end of the Dell Precision?

Embedded Hardware and Software Resources

Beginner’s (that’s me!) Information:

Application Specific Integrated Circuit

Introductory information for Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA)

Programmable digigal logic chips.
Are “volatile”, program has to be reloaded when the unit is turned on.

Article/Blog about working with FPGA development kits

Complex Programmable Logic Device (technology of the 1980’s
More complex than a PAL, less than an FPGA
Non-volatile mmemory
Useful for providing “boot loader” funcitionality

Microsoft Windows Embedded Developer Center
Articles and resources from the MSDN library regarding Windows embedded.

Embedded Technology Journal

Nuts and Volts Magazine

Circuit Cellar

Unreview: HP OfficeJet K5400

After working with a crippled HP c2000 OfficeJet printer for almost a year, I finally gave up, and purchased an HP OfficeJet K5400. I still have a LaserJet 2420 for black and white, but I found I was missing having color. So far the color inkjets surpass the laser versions, at least in my price range.

The K5400 was selling at Staples for about $175.00. I was so tickled that they would recycle the old printers for $10.00 each, that I went right ahead and followed the salesperson’s recommendation for the replacement. At the same time they attempted to sell me a separate warranty, a USB cable, and extra ink cartridges. Had I bought all those, I’m sure I would have spent over $300.00.

This is a “conventional” (i.e. not photo) printer, with 4 ink cartridges. Still, the photo printing is acceptable. The version I bought, which may acount for the difference in price between Amazon and Staples, includes a duplexer and a network interface. I plugged the printer into my hub, and it went out and got a network address from DHCP.

One thing I wasn’t used to: the printer actually takes almost 20 minutes to set itself up to align the print heads. I guess hardware is getting dumber, and software is getting smarter.

It is amazing all the disposible junk that comes with the printer, by the time you’ve unwrapped the ink cartridges and the printer heads.

The sticker on the printer advertises that it is “cheaper than a laser”. We’ll see.

Trackrecords: Client Outcomes Software Database

A few days ago I wrote about potential holes in non-profit record-keeping systems, specifically the problem of tracking program outcomes or client outcomes. Today I started looking around and with a quick Google search I quickly found a discussion of just this problem at TechSoup. Several people commented on the article, and gave examples of the systems they use. A quick click and I found myself at Track Records Software. This package, Track Records CM (client manager?) was designed for a service provider who provides counseling and training and assistive technology for clients recovering from brain injuries.

This is an unreview, I didn’t actually run the software. Instead I walked through the online screencasts which give a pretty good idea of what the package can do. Some impressions:

  • This is a web-based system. The screens and reports are pretty much plain-vanilla html-type forms. Reports are basic html tables.
  • The system is client-centered.
  • Staff members have a password and can be restricted to seeing “their” clients.
  • You can “attach” another staff member’s name to the client record. This allows the staff person to access that particular client record.
  • You can make unrestricted log entries with a date and staff person who worked with that client.
  • Monthly reports are available which is pulled for all transations per months.
  • You can track goals and instructional data, and keep case notes.
  • You can schedule a client, and record whether they kept the appointment or not
  • You can schedule recurring appointments (“every week, Thursday at 10:00AM”).
  • There is a “document repository” which allows you to upload documents created or scanned from outside the system. These are held in a secure database which is subject to the same restrictions as the client records.
  • They mentioned donations and pledge tracking, however, this wasn’t demonstrated in the online screencast.
  • There is a “lending library” function which allows you track materials on loan to clients.
  • In keeping with the “outcomes” theme, there are fields and reports which track the placing of clients in job programs.
  • On-screen reports have embedded links to allow drilling down for more detail.
  • There is a very nice client record report which shows a summary of all activity related to the client on a single screen.

Things I’d like to know…

  1. What is the back-end database, and what are the hardware requirements?
  2. What is the cost of the system?
  3. Is the source code available, or is it possible to make modifications, add fields, etc? There is a simple and more complicated query/report writer available within the system already which may be sufficient for end-users.
  4. Is the system currently being enhanced?

The same vendor also has a payroll/staffing package.