Category Archives: Reviews

Gifts for Geeks



OK, I get to order neat computer parts. There are computer cases of any size, routers, SSD drives, boards, nearly anything a client needs for their office technology solutions. So I keep up with the new stuff, and sometimes, I just kinda ask, “What? Why would anyone buy that?” Here are my suggestions for geek toys, er, I mean computer hardware, starting with practical, and ending with insanity. I can’t work without the first three of these gadgets. The last two, well, not.

Computers with Multiple Personalities

I have a testing computer with multiple personalities. I’ve had a few of these over the years, and have used drive racks, virtual machines, multi-boot drives, each of the usual methods more than once. Here’s what I like now:

Antec Easy SATA

The Antec Easy SATA is a hard-drive docking station with eSATA Port, under US$30.

This is a drive holder for a computer, but unlike most holders, it allows sliding in a bare drive, with no carrier. You can have a hard drive for each operating system, and a few for testing. I have a drive for Vista, Windows 2000 Pro, Linux Mint, a few others. It’s also handy for when I have to test a hard drive quickly and don’t want to open a computer, or need to run a security erasure program on a drive.

There’s also an eSATA (external SATA) port on the front for running backups, if you have an eSATA external drive (see below). The eSATA setup requires a second SATA cable inside the computer. That’s a lot of options for the price; an external eSATA adapter usually costs around $15 to $20 all by itself. No, it’s not hot-swappable, but it’s still very useful.

Malware Rescue Kit

OK, computer programmers always get asked to fix their friends’ computers. And it’s usually a malware infection, and it’s been lingering a while, so it’s really, really bad. So the first thing you do is load up some cleanup software onto a USB flash drive and take it and plug it into the infected computer. Oops. Really bad move. Some malware will infect flash drives and add nasty stuff as autoplay files in the root folder, so that it can send badness to other computers–it’s the computer version of coals in a stocking. What you need is a small drive with a write protect switch. I’ve checked–none of the name-brand manufacturers of flash drives have a product with a write switch anymore. Must have been too expensive to include a little slide switch.

SD Card Reader, under $5.

Yes, it’s just a small SD card reader. Why? Well, SD cards have write-protect slide switches on each card. Load the card up with cleanup utilities, then slide the switch on the card, load it back into the reader and take it to an infected machine, and know you aren’t carrying souvenirs back to your office for your work systems to share.

These mini card readers tend to be a little larger than a flash drive, and may not fit in some computers without moving surrounding cables, so take the shortest possible USB extension cable with you on repair trips. Startech has a 6” cable for around $4, model USBEXTAA6IN. For other brands, look for the ends to be one each of type A male and type A female.

Multiple-Access Method Backup Drives

External hard drives are everywhere. I’ve had at least six of my own, going back as far as a parallel-connected IDE case that held a 40 Mb hard drive. It weighed around nine pounds. Found it at a hamfest back around 1988, and never could get it to work in Windows 95… (sigh)

Macally T-S350SU, under $30.
Why pick this case? There are thousands of the things to pick from. Well, it’s the best value (cheap, for these features), it doesn’t stand on an edge (and then fall over), it’s stackable, it accepts SATA II drives, can be very quickly opened for drive swaps or drive forensics and recovery, and it has built-in eSATA as well as USB 2.0. One negative–the bundled software is obsolete.

This is vastly better than a sealed unit, which can’t run drive diagnostics software, as those are mostly USB-only, unless you want to break the case to hook up a SATA cable.

Solar Power

Want to be truly mobile? How about a computer bag that recharges your toys? Well, it doesn’t exist yet. Soon, though.

Traveler’s Choice Solar Messenger Bag ET0120K ECO, around $150.


Yes, that’s a solar panel. No, it won’t charge your notebook, but it will charge cell phones and other gadgets of a similar size. There’s a whole line of these by Eco Traveler, in messenger bags, backpacks, soft-sided coolers, and they’re in multiple colors. Some are Checkpoint Friendly, so they can go through USA-based airport scanning laid unfolded and flat on the XRAY belt with a notebook still inside.
I think I’m waiting for the version that can charge my notebook, but that’s probably a few years off yet.

Show-Off’s Computer Case

Finally, nothing beats a neat computer case as a geek gadget. Well, not this one, anyway.

Antec Skeleton

I saw this monster running at a trade show. That top fan is 250mm across, nearly 10”.
I can’t begin to describe this construction, so here’s the official scoop:
The Skeleton open-air, easy access case is a revolutionary step forward in enclosure design, perfect for the gamer enthusiast or constant hardware tinkerer. This enclosure features four internal drive bays and seven expansion slots with four optional 3.5" device external mounts for a truly unique aesthetic. Internal components mount on a removable, dual level component tray in a reinforced, durable plastic frame with rackmount quality side rails. This uniquely designed tray is capable of supporting up to three 11" graphics cards in SLI configuration and a standard ATX size motherboard for maximum power and versatility. In addition, the overhead "Super Big Boy" customizable 250mm multi-LED fan keeps the motherboard, graphics card and memory chipsets cool, while a dedicated 92mm fan cools your hard drives. The Skeleton also offers a versatile array of front ports, including USB, Firewire, eSATA, and high definition audio functionality. 0.8mm cold rolled steel component tray and high density ABS frame reinforced with with 0.8mm cold rolled steel for durability.

Jerry Stern is the editor of ASPects, the ASP’s Coordinator of Anti-Spyware Operations, and is online at www.pc410.com.

Book Review: This Little Program Went to Market

Now here’s a book that appeals to the microISV. This Little Program Went to Market, by by Annette Godtland, takes on the rather large task, for an encyclopedia, of teaching the reader everything they need to know about creating software and selling it on the internet. For one book, it’s a somewhat ambitious goal.

Here’s the subtitle: Create, Deploy, distribute, Sell, and Market Software and More on the Internet at Little or No Cost to You. That’s a strength and a weakness–that subtitle would take several thousand pages to cover properly, and at 546 pages, the book is nowhere near that heavy–this is a good introduction, but hardly all that’s needed. There are five parts:

Part I: Create a Program. Godtland chose Java as a sample language to create a classic ‘Hello, World’ program or Java applet. There are details on where to get tools, source code examples (also downloadable from the book’s website link), and all the steps needed to write a program, but this section is not a programming manual; it’s enough to get started, before looking for more elsewhere. Most programmers looking to sell software online are already programmers, and will just skim these four chapters.

Part II: Deploy a Program. That’s creating a help file, a program icon, wrappers for Java applets, piracy protection (but see below), trial versions, an installer, and testing. That’s 10 chapters, and a lot of information. The Install chapter is a better tutorial on Inno Setup than is easily found online.

Part III: Create a Web Site, Distribute a Program. Covers web site creation, hosting, HTML standards. Four chapters, and again, basically an introduction.

Part IV: Sell a Product. Covers taking check orders, credit cards, PayPal, creating keys, filling orders, adding a shopping cart in Paypal, but doesn’t cover using ecommerce partners other than Paypal.

Part V: Market a Product. Search engines, shareware versus freeware, marketing, and web statistics and logs. The definition of shareware is interesting, taken from an online dictionary, but it’s something out of the 1980’s.

This is a good book for new software publishers. It’s like the notes that a first-time attendee to the Software Industry Conference (ISVcon.org) would make–pages and pages of information that’s hard to find all in one place, and information overload is possible. There’s lots of information, and good coverage on the technical topics. The writing is clear, the code samples are formatted nicely, and opinions are generally labeled as opinions, not as absolutes.

However, there are gaps here. The ‘Piracy Prevention’ section recommends code obfuscation, with no methods for encryption or self-checking a distributed executable file for alteration. Code-signing is mentioned, but dismissed as too expensive. And the legal issues of copyright are just plain wrong–there’s a statement that “Nothing need be registered anywhere” and no mention of how to go about registering a program at www.copyright.gov. The marketing section matches the typical microISV pattern–it’s weak.

All that said, this is a very large topic for a book of any size. The gaps are best filled-in by a membership in the Association of Software Professionals and a trip to the ASP newsgroups and archives, and the book will provide a very good starting point on dozens of topics important for launching a software product online.

Jerry Stern is the editor of ASPects, the ASP’s Coordinator of Anti-Spyware Operations, and is online at www.pc410.com.