Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) Mini PC

A few years ago I hypothesized that one day Intel will start selling complete personal computers, as opposed to just processors and components. Speaking of components, Intel has purchased enough graphics, networking, and other hardware vendors to manufacture the whole PC in-house (although they still might be outsourcing the case manufacturing). No other computer vendor is able to do so! For many years now Intel has been manufacturing complete servers, so venturing into the desktop PC market is a logical step for them.

In my prediction I theorized that it would be a small form factor black box – basically a processor with a bunch of interfaces and ports attached. What Intel built looks pretty close to what I imagined it would be. As an aside, I always wondered how come Intel never acquired a “spinning disk” vendor such as Western Digital or Seagate? Looks like they knew better, as most of tomorrow’s storage is moving to solid state disk (SSD). Intel already has the ability to manufacture SSDs and RAM – it’s just more chips.

The Intel NUC is an ultra-compact form factor PC measuring 4-inch by 4-inch. Anything your tower PC can do, the Intel NUC can do and in 4 inches of real estate. From home theater to gaming to running a digital jukebox, the Intel NUC has what you need to power your digital potential. Browse social media, check e-mail, and video chat with a friend, all while keeping your office space uncluttered. The Intel NUC is also the perfect solution for business applications, such as digital signage and kiosks. Think you know what small can do? Think again.
Intel NUC Board D54250WYB
Intel ships each NUC model as a motherboard only (the board) or complete PC (the kit). Intel NUC board is a 4-inch by 4-inch motherboard with a soldered on processor that you will have to integrate into a case. The board primarily targets hardware vendors that may choose to integrate with other components such as a monitor for example to produce an all-in-one PC.

Intel NUC Kit D54250WYKThe Intel NUC kit comes with a 4-inch by 4-inch motherboard, soldered on processor, enclosure around the board, a power brick, VESA mounting bracket (allowing attachment to the back of a monitor), wireless antennae (integrated into the chassis), Intel brand sticker, and option for a power cord (with 4th generation models only). It’s about half the size of Apple Mac Mini.

The target market segment for the kit are enthusiasts and PC integrators who may choose to use it as hardware platform upon which to build their various vertical solutions: media PC/DVR, security, kiosk, thin client, etc. Granted some may simply choose to use it as a corporate desktop. Personally I am not a fan of all-in-one PCs mainly due to limited upgrade path and general serviceability, so to me the NUC kit offers a much better solution in an ultra-compact form factor PC that can be mounted to the back of the monitor rather than inside of it.

Intel NUC roadmap 1

Intel NUC Kit DE3815TYKHE
Out of the available Intel NUC models, the ones I find the most interesting are the fan-less models based on the Intel Atom CPUs: The Intel NUC Kit DE3815TYKHE and Intel NUC Board DE3815TYBE, built with an Intel Atom processor for intelligent systems, are a pint-sized powerhouse for value-conscious businesses and organizations. Low power and fan-less design has quite a few applications.

Intel NUC roadmap 2
By comparison the smallest PC Dell offers is about six times the size of the Intel NUC. Dell and other PC vendors should definitely take notice. In the future Intel is their supplier and their competitor.

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Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 vs. C930e — which webcam is best to use for Lync/Skype high-definition (HD) video conferencing?

Video conferencing is ubiquitous today, but high-definition (HD) video conferencing is just starting to take hold. The latest versions of Microsoft Lync and Skype are first to market with support for HD 1080p (1920×1080) video [although most video conferencing will occur at 720p (1280x720)]. HD video conferencing requires a minimum of 1.2Mbps/1.2Mbps download/upload speed (1.5Mbps/1.5Mbps recommended), which is attainable on most broadband Internet connections. The only question that is left, is which HD webcam is best to use for Lync/Skype high-definition video conferencing?

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 vs. C930e

My past experiences with corporate audio visual (AV) systems have proven again and again that most video conferencing solutions easily evolve into complicated projects, which result in systems that are either too complex to use, or simply do not work as originally intended. This is why simple USB webcam solutions usually shine, as these work [period]. Microsoft Corporation brought video conferencing to the masses [in the corporate world that is] with the Office Communicator product (now rebranded as Lync) and through their acquisition of Skype. Unfortunately on the hardware side of the house Microsoft has dropped the ball.

Microsoft LifeCam StudioMost experiences with Microsoft webcams are usually described as miserable. Software is partly to blame. No, not Lync or Skype, but the driver package that comes with the webcam. Nethertheless, ignoring my past experiences and in the hopes of finding a winning software/hardware combination from a single vendor, the first HD webcam I researched was Microsoft LifeCam Studio (at the time of this writing it was the top of the line webcam the company produced). But, as I already gave away the answer earlier – the LifeCam Studio simply did not measure up. First of all the physical design of the camera, which makes it seem professional grade at first glance, actually makes it cumbersome to use in real world situations. Second, while the spec mentions a 1080p HD sensor, nowhere was I able to confirm that the webcam is capable of recording video above 720p resolution. At this point in my research I simply moved on to the next vendor.

Logitech was the next logical vendor of choice, and I was not disappointed to find two Logitech HD Pro Webcams: the C920 and the C930e. Logitech HD Pro Webcam C930e is marketed as a business only webcam, while the C920 is marketed as both consumer and business. Physically and dimensions wise the cameras are identical, except for the fact the C920 is all black, but C930e has a grey front bezel. Both webcams are capable of recording video at full 1080p HD, both have a Carl Zeiss glass lens, and both have a standard tripod mount bolt socket. I won’t go into all the details and features here, but rather will point out the three major differences between the two models:

  1. Logitech HD Pro Webcam C930e External Privacy ShutterThe C930e comes with an External Privacy Shutter — “an easy lens enclosure for added privacy and security“, which is basically a plastic lens cap. This is a no brainer feature that should have been included with both models [and it does fit both models since their dimensions are identical]. Why Logitech chose not to include it with the C920 is a mystery to me.
  2. Both cameras offer a wide field of view (16:9), which “covers everyone on group calls without having to reposition the camera“. This is the major difference between the two models. The C920 offers a 78 degree field of view, while the C930e offers a 90 degree field of view, and those 12 degrees do make a difference. Logitech HD Pro Webcam C930e field-of-viewC930e is perfect for the conference room, presenting using a whiteboard, having a group of people in front of the camera, and other similar situations. When mounted on top of my monitor, the C930e’s field of view included not only my desk, but also the desk of my colleague sitting to the left of me, which seemed like an annoyance to me, the people on the video call, and also to my neighbor. In situations where less field-of-view is desired the C920 is a clear winner.
  3. The final major difference between the two models is the software driver package. The driver package downloads and installs when the webcam is first plugged into the USB port. The software for each model offers different functions indicated by the screenshots below.

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 Webcam Control Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 Advanced Settings
No matter which model webcam you chose, both should be good choices for HD quality video conferencing. As final notes on Logitech HD Pro Webcam C930e, I did want to mention that using either the digital zoom or the pan and tilt functions adversely affected video quality to the point where it was no longer broadcast in HD. Due to this I chose to ignore these features during the webcam selection process.

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Amazon Cloud Drive vs. Apple iCloud Drive vs. Box vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive vs. Microsoft OneDrive, and the commoditization of consumer tier cloud storage

Almost everyone I know has a Dropbox account, but I don’t know one person who has a paid Dropbox account, which definitely brings into question the valuation for this company. But what is more interesting is how quickly consumer tier cloud storage became commoditized, with every major vendor jumping into the pool. For personal accounts everyone is offering a free tier of storage, with Google and Microsoft being the most generous at 15 GB, and while Dropbox was first to market — it comes in last here at 2 GB.

Consumer Cloud Storage Services Overview
Service Free Tier Tier 1 Pricing Tier 2 Pricing
Amazon Cloud Drive 5 GB 20 GB — $10/year 50 GB — $25/year
Apple iCloud Drive 5 GB 20 GB — $1/month 200 GB — $4/month
Box 10 GB 100 GB — $5/month
Dropbox 2 GB 1 TB — $10 /month
Google Drive 15 GB 100 GB — $2/month 1 TB — $10/month
Microsoft OneDrive 15 GB 100 GB — $2/month 200 GB — $4/month
Note: Prices listed above may not include any applicable taxes or fees associated with your country of residence. You may be charged taxes or fees in addition to the prices listed above.

Amazon Cloud Drive pricing is somewhat deceptive, as their prices are listed per year, and not per month like every other vendor. And while the Amazon storage plans of 100 GB or less are priced very competitively, the plans of 200 GB and above are the most expensive out of the bunch. Beyond the free tier, Box is primarily targeting business users by offering various sharing and collaboration features. And while their free tier plan offer the least amount of storage, Dropbox offers a fairly low price for their upgraded storage plan. It should be noted that Dropbox is currently one of the top sites/services that is being blocked by corporate firewalls, mainly to prevent the leakage of sensitive data outside the company.

Consumer Cloud Storage Services Pricing Matrix

Microsoft OneDrive, formerly LiveMesh, is finally a contender, but beware of the Business Edition (1 TB) version that comes as part of Office 365. OneDrive for Business is actually rebranded SharePoint Online and comes with all the limitations of a hosted SharePoint solution. OneDrive (non-business) is the upgraded LiveMesh product with a pretty solid synchronization client. I have personally tested both flavors of the service, and can tell you without any doubt that the Business Edition can not be recommended. A quick Google search on the topic of OneDrive for Business/SharePoint Online sync issues will confirm this fact.

As one can gather from the comparison table above, most storage plans offer fairly cheap pricing plans, so in most cases the vendor selection will be based on additional features and platform support. I fully expect most Mac OS X and iOS users to pick Apple iCloud, and most Gmail and Android users to pick Google Drive, or at the very least to store some of their photos and mobile data there.

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Nest smoke alarm — good idea, bad execution

Nest ProtectorRecently I looked into purchasing a Nest Protect Smoke Plus Carbon Monoxide Alarm. In theory it seems like a great idea, which was long overdue.

Nest has been in the news earlier this year: “On January 14, 2014, Google acquired Nest Labs for US $3.2 billion and left Nest Labs to use its own brand. Nest Labs continues to grow quickly with more than 460 employees in mid-2014. Nest Labs is a home automation company headquartered in Palo Alto, California, that designs and manufactures sensor-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled, self-learning, programmable thermostats and smoke detectors.”

I have no idea what Google paid $3,200,000,000 for. Nest Labs makes two products — a thermostat and a smoke alarm. I have not looked at the thermostat, as I have no use for it, so I can’t qualify its value, but I have definitely researched the smoke alarm. This product is loved by all reviewers, except for the people that actually bought one and tried to use it. Most of the positive press seems to revolve around the idea for this product and is based on its specs. None of the folks who actually tried to implement one, gave it more than one star (out of five) in the Amazon.com reviews.

According to one customer “By suspending sales for a bit, Nest was cleverly able to remove the Amazon listing in Spring of 2014, hence removing all the prior negative reviews. So the high rating on the current product listing is not an accurate representation of the customer satisfaction.” On April 3, 2014, sales of the Nest Protect were suspended, due to the potential for the alarm feature to be accidentally disabled. 440,000 existing Nest Protect units were recalled because of this problem on May 21, 2014 and a software update was distributed to disable this functionality.

The biggest complaint about this product is that it does not detect smoke [when compared to standard issue $20 smoke alarms]. Just imagine the liability issues for a smoke alarm that is not able to alarm if there is a fire. A few more common issues with the Nest Protect Smoke Plus Carbon Monoxide Alarm include:

  • False positive alarms — alarm goes off when no smoke is to be found.
  • In scenarios where multiple alarms are deployed, a false positive triggers all alarms and all smartphones.
  • No way to silence the alarm other than removing the battery, which requires a screwdriver to remove the cover.

Other than the issues mentioned above, the product itself is nicely designed and pleasant to look at. Can someone explain to me why did Google buy this company?

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Getting rid of cable TV, aka “cutting the cord”

We truly live in the digital age, and even knowing that cable providers switched over to digital set top boxes, many of us are choosing to get rid of cable all together. To fulfill the appetite for entertainment video content one can use a few free and low cost Internet video content providers. Plus in this day and age most major U.S. TV networks make their video content available online (usually for free, but possibly with a broadcast delay).
set-top_box
Personally I cut the cord a few years ago and have never looked back. Cutting the cord, also meant getting rid of my TiVo DVR. In the world of tablets and smartphones a DVR does not make much sense. Also omitted from this discussion are the digital over-the-air ATSC tuners as these require either an actual TV or a set-top box.

TV networks:

  • ABC — Jimmy Kimmel, Revenge, Scandal, Dancing with the Stars…
  • CBS — Star Trek, 60 Minutes, The Good Wife, Hawaii Five-O, David Letterman…
  • FOX — The Sipsons, 24, Family Guy, American Idol…
  • NBC — Saturday Night Live, Dateline, Law & Order, Jay Leno, 30 Rock…
  • PBS — Antiques Roadshow, Austin City Limits, Frontline, Masterpiece, Nature, NOVA, POV…

Free content aggregators:

  • Hulu — ad-supported on-demand streaming video of TV shows, movies, webisodes and other new media, trailers, clips, and behind-the-scenes footage from ABC, Fox, NBC, TBS, WWE, and many other networks and studios.
  • Crackle — online distributor of television-quality original web shows, Hollywood movies, and TV shows. Crackle is backed by Sony Pictures Entertainment. The service is free on all supported platforms, however is interspersed with commercials from sponsors, much like network television.
  • Popcornflix — free ad-supported streaming video of feature-length movies and webisodes. The site primarily consists of independent feature films, many of which come directly from Screen Media’s library.
  • YouTube — available content includes video clips, TV clips, music videos, and other content such as video blogging, short original videos, and educational videos.
  • Vimeo — video-sharing website on which users can upload, share and view videos.

Paid content providers:

  • Hulu Plus — $8 / month. Hulu service plus more full seasons; ad free kids shows and movies; ability to watch on TV and mobile devices*.
  • Netflix — $8 / month. Arrested Development, House of Cards, Orange is the new Black…
  • Amazon Prime Video — $99 / year ($8.25 / month). Alpha House, Betas, HBO library…

* Hulu Plus allows only some of the content to be streamed on TV and mobile devices. All content is available on PC browser platforms only.

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Good bye Amazon Prime!

For all the talk by my colleagues about how great Amazon Prime is, I finally signed up last year. Now that’s time to renew, I decided to reevaluate the value of this membership. Over the past year I used two features only — the Prime Instant Video and FREE Two-Day Shipping. Prime membership also offers Prime Music and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, but I am not much of a Kindle user and I am sticking with Pandora as far as music is concerned.

Prime Instant Video has a couple of things going for it — original shows like Alpha House and the HBO library. Unfortunately the interface to view the videos is not in the same league as Hulu or Netflix, and trying to watch on a tablet or a smartphone is just a hassle. My verdict – I am Ok to give up Alpha House and the old HBO shows, and save $99 a year in the process.

Alpha House

This brings me to my next point. A year ago the price was $59 per year, but it was raised to $99 this year. It’s not that it’s a lot of money, it’s just that’s it’s no longer a no brainer deal like it was at $59. Why? Because where I live I miss out on the benefit of FREE Two-Day Shipping. Granted any large items, such as the dehumidifier I recently ordered, get shipped via FedEx or UPS and easily arrive within the two business day timeframe. Not so with the rest of the packages that get shipped via USPS, the Amazon preferred shipping method.

Usually I am impressed with the United States Postal Service for its ability to deliver mail (they have not lost a letter of mine as far as I know), but I am less impressed with their ability to deliver parcels on time. The most common issue – in order to adhere to the promised two day delivery, the tracking system will show an attempted delivery on the second day, but no attempt to deliver has actually been made. The package is then delivered a day or two later, which may not even be reflected in the tracking system. End result is I am looking at 3-5 days delivery for most shipments, but guess what? Amazon offers FREE 3-5 day delivery on most items, so why am I paying for a Prime membership then?

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“Hyper-V cannot be installed: A hypervisor is already running” error when trying to install Hyper-V Management Tools in virtualized Windows Server 2012

In certain situations one may want to install only the Hyper-V Management Tools feature in Windows Server 2012 (this includes 2012 R2) rather than the whole Hyper-V role. The most common scenario for this, and the one used in this example, is Windows Server 2012 itself is a virtual machine (VM) running under either Microsoft Hyper-V Server or Windows Server with the Hyper-V role:

Microsoft Corporation Virtual Machine

Since the Windows Server operating system knows the type of underlying hardware, and that in this case it is a hypervisor, trying to add the Hyper-V role via the Add Roles and Features Wizard will not work.

Add Roles and Features Wizard

Add Roles and Features Wizard does not allow one to select to install management tools only in the Add features that are required for Hyper-V? option:

Add features that are required for Hyper-V?

Attempting to install Hyper-V feature on a virtualized Windows Server 2012 will produce the following error: “Hyper-V cannot be installed: A hypervisor is already running.

Hyper-V cannot be installed: A hypervisor is already running.

The simple workaround is to use Windows PowerShell to add the Hyper-V Management Tools feature:

Add-WindowsFeature –name RSAT-Hyper-V-Tools

Reminder: Add-WindowsFeature cmdlet needs to be executed under administrative credentials:

Add-WindowsFeature –name RSAT-Hyper-V-Tools

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How to install updates in Ubuntu via command line (CLI)

Ubuntu was built to compete with Windows, and as such it includes a lot of features Windows users take for granted. Canonical packaged Ubuntu with the automated process for downloading and installing security and performance updates over an Internet connection, a procedure very similar to Windows Update in Microsoft Windows versions. As an aside, the amount of effort to build this service and the content delivery network (CDN) to distribute the updates is fairly impressive.

While Ubuntu Desktop gives users the option to update the system via the GUI interface — that is generally not an option with Ubuntu Server, as most deployments will run it with command line interface (CLI) only, so included below is the description of the two commands necessary to kick off the Ubuntu update process.

To fetch the list of available updates for your system, enter the apt-get update command via the CLI. Running this command without root superuser privileges will produce a permission denied error.

apt-get update error

Thus you must prefix it with the sudo command:

sudo apt-get update

You will be prompted to enter the password prior to getting the list of updates.

sudo apt-get update password

Run this command periodically to make sure your source list is up-to-date.

sudo_apt-get_update ran

To download and install the applicable updates, enter the apt-get upgrade command via the CLI:

sudo apt-get upgrade

This command upgrades all installed packages.

sudo apt-get upgrade ran

If you look at the upgrade installation results closely, you may notice that 3 packages were not upgraded, but kept back.

sudo_apt-get upgrade kept back

According to Ubuntu manual: “Running apt-get dist-upgrade adds the “smart upgrade” checkbox. It tells APT to use “smart” conflict resolution system, and it will attempt to upgrade the most important packages at the expense of less important ones if necessary. Please note apt-get dist-upgrade does not perform distribution upgrade.

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

As you may have noticed from the screenshot in the above example, the apt-get dist-upgrade command did upgrade the three Linux packages that were previously kept back.

While on this subject, here are a couple more package update related apt-get commands:

apt-get autoclean

This command removes .deb files for packages that are no longer installed on your system. Depending on your installation habits, removing these files from /var/cache/apt/archives may regain a significant amount of diskspace.

apt-get clean

The same as above, except it removes all packages from the package cache. This may not be desirable if you have a slow Internet connection, since it will cause you to redownload any packages you need to install a program. The command “du -sh /var/cache/apt/archives” will tell you how much space cached packages are consuming.

Also, these commands were ran in Ubuntu Server 14.04, but the apt-get commands are the same and have not changed going back quite a few versions of Ubuntu.

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How to disable Java Update in Windows 7

Anyone dealing with enterprise applications, ends up having to deal with Java. My fate is no different. If you have standardized on using Java platform 6 (jre-6u35 most likely), you have probably noticed that while the Check for Updates Automatically checkbox can be easily unchecked in the the Java Control Panel in Windows XP, in Windows 7 the setting reverts back to the checked state as soon as you close the window.

Java Control Panel

The only solution I have found to resolve this issue, is to edit the Java Update setting in Registry Editor (regedit.exe). In Windows XP the EnableJavaUpdate registry key was located under My Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\JavaSoft\Java Update\Policy. It’s a REG_DWORD with 0x0000001 (1) value for enabled, and 0x0000000 (0) for disabled.

Java Update Windows XP Registry Editor

In 64-bit (x64) version of Windows 7 the EnableJavaUpdate registry key is located under Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\JavaSoft\Java Update\Policy. It’s a REG_DWORD with 0x0000001 (1) value for enabled, and 0x0000000 (0) for disabled.

Java Update Windows 7 Registry Setting

Changing the setting removed the Update tab from the Java Control Panel in Windows 7.

Java Control Panel Windows 7

Anyone who is running 32-bit (x86) version of Windows 7, will find the registry setting to disable Java update at the same path as it is in Windows XP — Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\JavaSoft\Java Update\Policy.

Windows 7 x86 EnableJavaUpdate registry entry

As previously described, to disable Java updates simply change from 1 to 0 the EnableJavaUpdate registry value.

EnableJavaUpdate edit Registry value

The above example is based on Java Version 7 Update 67.

About Java

The state of the Java Control Panel prior to making the Windows Registry EnableJavaUpdate value change:

Java Control Panel

After the EnableJavaUpdate value is changed:

Java Control Panel without Update tab

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Demise of Fitbit

Just cashed the check I received from the recall center for shipping back my Fitbit Force. According to them: “Because Fitbit received reports of skin irritation from a small percentage of Force users, we have decided to stop sales of Force and conduct a voluntary recall. Fitbit hired independent labs and medical experts to conduct a thorough investigation to identify the potential causes of skin irritation reported by a small percentage of Force users. Some users may be reacting to nickel in the stainless steel used in the device, even though the surgical grade material meets the most stringent regulatory standards. Other users are likely experiencing an allergic reaction to the materials in the strap or the adhesives used to assemble the product.

Fitbit One

I owned three generations of Fitbit activity trackers starting with the very first one. All three died due to water damage. What’s more amazing is that every consecutive model of the device was actually worse in terms of functionality than the previous generation. That is an impressive achievement in the technology business.

What’s seems like a great idea for a product, can easily suffer from poor execution, as well as inadequate customer support. Having to use the “email only” support system on three separate occasions, I walked away severely disappointed every time. The support process always involved having to prove the fact that you were their customer. That is strange when one considers the fact that the products were bought directly from Fitbit.

There are other activity tracking devices on the market now. There is also the upcoming Apple iWatch. But Fitbit truly ruined the experience for me, so I won’t be buying another activity tracker for a while.

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