Technology Today – June 2011
One of the joys about writing about computers is the new stuff you get to test and try out. One of the pains is the same. I am helping a friend with a web site and they decided that they wanted to have some of the pages translated into different languages for the site. With most European languages, it is pretty easy as you can get someone with that language fonts on their computer, create the document, and we can import it to the web. But when we ran into a non European standard language like Chinese or Urdu, then life gets a bit more confusing. To shorten a very long story, I found an application that would work in translating the language in question but it came from a somewhat suspect source and there was no way I was going to install it on my computer.
After reading column after column about virtual computing, I thought with this new Windows 7 Machine I have running the Professional version, I already have a Virtual PC environment ready to go and in fact, setting it up is pretty easy. Microsoft has already put together a version of Windows XP Professional to use without having to go through the hassle of installing, activating, and setting it up all the hardware that is attached to the computer. To run this, all you need is a virtual capable processor and Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate. Once you have your virtual XP Pro system running, add the software you need to keep it running smoothly like Java updates, Windows updates, and the free Microsoft Security Essentials. You might even want to add an up to date internet browser and Adobe free Acrobat Reader program as well. It is really pretty neat that you get a Windows system to test programs and even hardware if you like as you can attach USB devices directly into the virtual machine. Look at the help files and you will find that setting up your test computer is actually very easy. Once it is setup, the first thing you should do is to make a clone copy of your virtual system so that you have a base line copy to start with in case things go wrong with the virtual setup. This is almost as easy as just copying the files of the current virtual machine, startup Virtual PC, and create a new one pointing to the cloned files.
For me, this was well worth the effort as when I started up my virtual XP Pro machine and installed the new software to do some of the translations, it not only locked the machine up after installing new “drivers”, it prevented it from booting at all. Having the clone copy saves my virtual machine and me from the efforts of reinstalling and configuring the system. Windows 7 also makes another backup available when you right click the Virtual Machine that is powered off, you have an option of restoring an earlier version that was saved when the system created its own restore point. So in this case, that is what I did, restore the earlier version, ran the windows Update one more time to make sure everything was up to date, and tried the new software again. Same result, a crashed virtual computer. To me, this is great! If it won’t work, I can just dump the virtual XP Pro, start up my clone, and be in business ready to test the next odd piece of software that I just don’t trust to use on my own main computer.
Windows 7 users, if you didn’t focus on this last comment about the restore feature, you are missing something very useful. Windows 7 has a new backup feature built in that allows you to restore a previous copy of nearly any file on your computer. Just right click on that file after you have made your major ooops moment and you will see a variety of restore points you can select for just that one file.
Passwords and managing them is one of the biggest pains that people have to deal with if you use computers on a regular basis. If you have more than a dozen passwords to deal with, you need some help and the good news is that it is available in lots of places from programs like Roboform, www.roboform.com, one of the most popular programs out there to one I use all the time, Ilium Software’s eWallet, http://www.iliumsoft.com/ewallet. You need to get something because using the usual things like 1234 or your birthdate just won’t cut it anymore. One of the problems with passwords is trying to figure out something easy to remember but difficult to hack and here is where a website from Steve Gibson comes in handy. Take a look at his Haystack page: http://www.grc.com/haystack.htm and then plug your own passwords into it and see what it thinks of them.
iSockets Energy Saving Monitor
Recently, we received a letter at home from Indianapolis Power & Light Co. asking if we would like to have a free energy audit of our home. The benefits to us would be immediate in that they would also give us a number of the CFC electric light replacement bulbs, a shower aerator, and several more for the rest of the sinks in the house to help us immediately save money. The audit cost us nothing and the benefits were real and saved us a bunch not only on the price of the equipment they left, but also the long term savings to our water and electric bills. As we read more about the cost of leaving appliances running all the time, it made me think of everything else in the house that constantly runs whether we want it to or not and how much energy was being wasted there. So when CES came along, I went looking for companies that help us understand this better and ran into iSockets. www.i-sockets.com
It is really an interesting technology. You start with a power strip (which they call a terminal) that has an lcd panel that tells you immediately the usage of the different appliances plugged into the strip. The iSockets power bar has room for six devices. My first use of this was the living room where I have my entertainment center and I wanted to see how much energy was being used by those devices.
Installing is very easy, just plug your devices into the unit, hit the power on button and you are set to go. You can even change the electric rate that you pay to get a better reading of what you will pay for the devices plugged in and that can be an effort in itself. I am lucky to live in Indianapolis because we have some of the lowest electric rates in the country. Half of what you normally pay in NYC and most of California and a third of what they pay in San Francisco. Finding out what you really pay can be difficult as well but I just went back to my electric bills of the last few months and figured out an average kilowatt hour rate to plug into my iSockets power strip. And instantly, I see that the four devices I had plugged into the strip were eating up electricity even though they are all turned off. As you read more on the internet about electric use, you will come to learn that much of what runs in your house runs whether you think it is on or not. They call that trickle charge and I can see why many devices do that. My cable box is a good example. When it is powered off completely, ie, pull the power plug, and then plugged back in, it takes upwards of 10 minutes for the silly thing to boot and be ready to show me what is on television. So, maybe I want to leave that one on all the time.
What is cool about this device is that once things get rolling along, it will show you dynamically how much electricity and how much that electricity costs to power those attached devices. You see both the cost and how much wattage is being used. The meter will also show you voltage and current amperes being used. What is also nice is that the LCD screen is backlit so when you push a button, it lights it up for working with it in dark corner.
The second part of the package is the iSockets monitoring kit to allow you web access to historical information as well. Just by plugging the unit into your network, typically directly to the router in the house, you are connected to the iSockets management system. It also then seeks out through your home power grid the iSockets measuring power strip to then send the data it collects to the iSockets web management site. From here, you can then manage what kind of device is on each socket on the power strip and over time will be able to see how much power is used. In my case, it was a little more difficult. The router I have did not have an available port on it so I ended up connecting the control module to a switch and that part worked just fine as it made its connection to the internet to phone home. Except that it would not connect to the power strip. It seems that he power strip I want to monitor was on a different household electrical circuit than was the router and network switch. In my case, I had an Ethernet connection available in a downstairs room I used to use as my office and so connected the control module to that which happens to be on the same electrical circuit as the power strip and then finally, got all the lights on which means that it was connected and gathering the information for the web.
To setup the iSockets Kit, first write down the numbers on the monitoring unit if it is not going to be sitting right next to your computer. You will need the MAC number, a serial number, and the password printed on the unit to set up your online management account. Once you do, you just go to the website, www.i-sockets.com and hit the orange “Energy Management” button to create your account using the information you just wrote down. Once there, the web based control system seeks out your device and you are connected. Next, go to the Setup tab and depending on how many of the power strips you have, you can assign a room to each one and you can assign devices to the individual sockets on the power strip and manage and track the usage of each device separately. The website is easy to navigate with four main tabs: Monitor, Analysis, Planning, and Setup. From the Monitor tab, you see a replica of your power strip with the usage of each plug. Don’t be surprised to see very little monitored as it shows usage in kilowatt hours and so it may take a few days to register depending on how heavy a load you plugged into the unit.
Once you have connected and have been using it for a while, you see the numbers and dollars start to add up. Check the monitoring tab for the quick overview of usage. The Planning tab is used if you want to set the schedule where the unit is powered off effectively really turning off the devices plugged into the unit. The Analysis tab pages show you how much electricity is being used for a week, month, and year, and once in place for a long time, you will be able to compare usage over time to prior weeks, months, and years.
The system is designed for long term use and monitoring of electric usage and if you have multiple units or terminals around your home or office, you can measure each one individually and see what the long term effect will be to your usage and hopefully, help you reduce your usage and cost.
When available, I-sockets will priced around $60 per unit.
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