The Meister House Graveyard 2008

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We added a little light show to the Meister House’s Halloween display this year, and after much work, it’s nearly complete!

The show is powered by Aurora software running a D-Light ACx16 controller.

Ultra-Compact Laptop Market: Small, but Growing

If you’ve been keeping up with currently available notebooks and laptop PCs, you may have noticed the new phenomenon that is netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC or the Acer Aspire One. Also, Lenovo and Dell have both recently made announcements about their plans for ultra-compact notebooks. “Netbook” is a term often used to describe the new class of ultra-portable and inexpensive subnotebook computers that trade features such as DVD drives for reduced price and size.

I first came across this new class of portable computer when I began to look for a smaller form factor to take with me out into the field.

The idea of a reduced functionality laptop isn’t new, and dates back to
portables such as 1983’s Tandy Model 100. In the 20 years since then, a number of ultaportables have been released, though few caught on due to the premium prices that came with them.

Much of the current interest in netbooks comes from the excitement generated by the One Laptop per Child project’s goals to create a $100 laptop. While the project wasn’t as successful as it hoped, it did compel manufacturers to work on their own inexpensive and ultraportable devices.

The first of these attempts to take off came from ASUS in the form of their Eee PC netbooks released in 2007. The Eee 4G Surf series first came to the US in late 2007, with a sub $400 price point for most variants. Although there were complaints about the tiny keyboard and reduced-resolution screen, the paperback sized device sold better than anyone expected, prompting others to quickly begin work on their own entries.

Current competitors include the MSI Wind PC and the Acer Aspire One, which features the Intel Atom processor and is available at Best Buy for around $350.

While the price and size of netbooks are tempting, it’s still important to consider how you will use the device. If you often use your laptop to watch DVD movies, for example, you’re going to need to invest in an external USB DVD drive. And while the keyboards are improving, they do take some time to get used to and aren’t always the most productivity for long periods of word processing.

From my own experience as an owner of an Asus Eee PC, I’ve come to really like how portable the device is. Instead of a full-sized laptop bag, I can carry the system, complete with charger, USB hard drive and tools, in a portable DVD bag nearly half the size. While the Eee PC works great for most of the on-site troubleshooting tasks I need it for, the small keyboard does slow down my typing speed. I’ve also found the reduced 800 x 480 resolution LCD screen can also sometimes be a problem when surfing web sites for technical information.

Still, having a ultracompact and inexpensive device as a secondary PC does make it an easier decision on whether to take a PC with you when you’re away from the office or off to school. With the number of services available on the Internet, such as Google Docs, using that netbook as an on-the-go machine has really made the devices a solid option for the modern, highly mobile person.

Missing Ohio Votes Raises Technology Concern

We all have seen what can happen when a computer crashes and valuable work is lost. Many people swear a few curses towards their PCs, but then resolve themselves to the idea that this is just “one of those things” you have to accept when it comes to dealing with computers.

What if, however, those computers are touch screen voting machines and that lost data are votes in a national election?

This is a question that faces Premier Election Solutions, the company formerly known as Diebold Election Systems, which recently admitted that a programming error in their voting equipment has been responsible for dropping votes in some of the Ohio counties that use the devices.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the company had originally claimed the issue stemmed from an incompatibility between software on the voting machines and anti-virus software installed to protect them. However, in August, the president of the company sent a letter to Ohio’s Secretary of State confirming that the problem is with a programming error that under the wrong conditions can lose votes when the system memory cards have their contents uploaded.

Because the admission comes just a few months before the November election season, it’s unlikely that the programming error can be corrected in time. This has resulted in guidelines being issued jointly by Premier Election Solutions and Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to Ohio counties on how to work around the issue in the meantime.

The issues with the touch-screen voting machines raises another issue, though, which is how to handle what is a technical issue using the already understaffed polling station volunteers in Ohio. Equally important is the lack of tech-savvy volunteers willing to man those positions.

This has lead to widespread calls for technically-inclined citizens, especially in Ohio, to reach out to their local Ohio County Board of Elections to help reduce the technology problems that may negatively impact every voter’s right to have their vote count.

This story also serves as a good reminder for all of us to start the discussion in our communities about how much impact technology may play within future elections and how we can help our counties and states overcome those issues.

13 Things Your Computer Guy Won’t Tell You

The September 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest hit newstands this week with an article entitled “13 things your computer guy won’t tell you …

I supplied several tips and received a name check for it, though I would point out that everything I contributed are absolutely things I tell my clients about.