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Microsoft SyncToy, best damn Backup app for home users I've ever used


This is sort of another "You Should Do That" style post.  If you use Windows and are looking for a great back-up solution, you should try Microsoft SyncToy.  Before I got SyncToy backing up my work, photos and music was such a chore I just didn't bother.  But since SyncToy it's actually fun.  The interface is simple and even fun to use, and it provides a lot of functionality without being overcomplicated or confusing.  To understand why I love it so much, please read on, but if you're the "I'll believe it when I see it" type just go download it.

Microsoft SyncToy 1.4

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Microsoft Week!


Given that the last two entries are about Microsoft, I've decided to do a bunch more. Admittedly, I can be pretty rough on Microsoft at times. But I assure you, it's out of love. For all my Apple coverage and admiration, my primary computer runs Windows XP and despite being almost 4 years old, it still runs like a champ (knock wood). Also, I know brilliant people work at Microsoft, and I sometimes find it frustrating when they seem to miss the obvious.

Microsoft Gets on their Multi-Touch Love with Surface


Microsoft has just announced their new product Surface.  Surface is 30" multi-touch display on the surface of a table which can not only react to multiple fingers (and users), gestures, but even devices placed on the surface.  There's a  great video where the user places a wifi digital camera on the table and the photos appear to spill out of the camera.  The user then places a cell phone on the table and begins dragging photos onto the phone.  The demonstration videos are really incredibly impressive, and the technology holds incredible promise.  However, these devices are going to cost between $5,000 and $10,000 and are currently only being marketed for places like hotel lobbies and in-store displays.  The other significant downside is that, like the Microsoft TouchLight and Perceptive Pixel Displays, Surface uses cameras and rear projection to sense finger contact and display the image.  That means the space under the table top is used for the display components, not your legs.  This makes Surface look more like a conventional CRT TV turned on it's back than a table.  As always this is really great research from Microsoft that will help bring this new interface mainstream.  But until these multi-touch displays can be built around an LCD or even Plasma display, don't expect the technology to spread too quickly.  Also, given that Apple has lots of multi-touch related patents filed, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Apple releases a multi-touch LCD display or tablet computer at some point this year.

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface: Behind-the-Scenes First Look (PopularMechanics.com)

Windows Home Servers


Microsoft recently announced a new platform called Windows Home Server.  This will enable a new breed of NAS devices (home servers, you might call them) to collect and store music, movies, photos in one place from all the computers on the network.  That means families will have an easier time consolidating photos and music into one source.  Windows Home Server can even enable users to access their content securely over the web (wow, I didn't realize what a security nightmare this is going to be until I just wrote it).  The devices will also be able to preform automated backups, something most people should do, but don't.  Currently there are no devices available using Windows Home Server, the image above is a concept product by Carbon Design that will never be released (more pics here).  I'm personally really psyched about these devices, I use Microsoft's SyncToy to backup my PC and absolutely love it.  Also if these devices can consolidate my and my girlfriends music library into one source I'd be happy dude.  However, this is Microsoft we're talking about, so I'm just a tad skeptical...

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1 Year/100th Entry Best of Posting

Back in March TheyShouldDoThat.com turned 1 year old. And just a few weeks ago I posted my 100th entry on the blog. So, to celebrate these meaningless milestones, I've prepared a little "Best of" posting of some of my favorite entries. I've had a blast writing the blog, and am looking forward to keeping it up. Enjoy.

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MTV's The State Now Available on iTunes


The first season of The State is now available on iTunes! Hopefully this will pave the way for Mr. Show, Upright Citizens Brigade, and other great sketch comedy from back in the day being added to iTunes as I proposed in one of my first posts. I've already downloaded the episodes and can't wait for more to be added.

HP TouchSmart, the Touchscreen PC You Don't Have to Wait For


In case you haven't figured it out I'm looking forward to all screens becoming touchscreens.  So I was totally shocked when the HP TouchSmart PC totally snuck under my radar.  The HP TouchSmart IQ770 is an all in one computer with a 19" touchscreen, built-in web cam, memory card reader, and wireless keyboard and mouse.  It even has a built-in TV tuner, DVR functionality and a remote control.  You can also you can dock an HP Photosmart printer on the TouchSmart for a real all-in-one experience.  The TouchSmart is being marketed as the perfect family computer for the kitchen or living room.  It has a cool customizable home screen that can deliver weather, traffic, notes, a family scheduler, and photo organizer, all of which can be driven with the touch of the finger or the included stylus.  The touchscreen interface is really perfect for a family computer to keep organizational drudgery easy and even fun.  Most people probably just accept using a mouse as part of the experience of using a computer, but it's easy to imagine how eliminating it could make using a computer more immediate and direct.  After all, with the the TouchSmart it would be much easier to use the computer while standing up or doing other things.  And the elimination of the mouse, reduces the amount of space needed for the device.  In fact, I'm a little surprised the keyboard doesn't also have built-in trackpad for the same reason.  I'm totally blown away by the TouchSmart, in many ways it's what the iMac should be by now, however I do wish it were a tad smaller and could be VESA mounted. Overall, Bravo HP!  You can be my PC anytime :)

HP TouchSmart IQ770 PC

Wall-Mountable Wireless Printer


I just got back from ICFF, where I saw some amazing things.  But one of the products I found myself thinking the most about wasn't at ICFF, it was this wall mountable printer at the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial designed by Ransmeier & Floyd.  I have to admit, I've totally come to accept the predictable form and large footprint of most printers, but this concept design has totally changed how I think about printers.  In the days of flat screens, and wireless laptops, there's just no reason why printers shouldn't follow suit.  That said, one of the big printer manufactures should totally make this thing!  I'll buy two!  Also, the way it displays the printouts like a picture in a frame, it could be a great way to share photos with friends and family if you could remotely print directly to the printer.  My only minor critiques of the product are that it looks a little tricky to get your prints out of that little slot.  Seems like if the front were a door, or if it didn't have those side edges it would be much easier to extract the pages.  Also, while the concept for the product is that it prints wirelessly, they didn't really address how it's powered.  Personally, I don't really like the idea of a battery powered printer, but I'm not wild about having a power cord hanging off the printer when mounted to the wall either.  But if forced to choose I think I'd prefer the latter.

Ransmeier & Floyd at Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial
Ransmeier & Floyd

Automatic PC Self Diagnostics


A few weeks ago my laptop started running extremely slowly, and I began bracing myself for the worst.  I ran a virus check, and made sure my affairs backups were in order.  I thought this was the end for my almost 4 year old laptop, until I noticed that my computer was unusually quiet.  I next noticed that my CPU was running really hot (I have this handy app that displays my CPU temperature in my system tray).  Sure enough the fan wasn't spinning.  A few minutes with a compressed air canister and I had successfully blown out the dust that was gumming it up.  Disaster averted.  And probably just in time too, had I continued to run my computer without the fan it could have been permanently damaged.  While I'm really relieved the problem was so minor, I'm also a little annoyed that my computer (or any computer that I know of) doesn't notify the user if things at the hardware level are running sub-optimally or not at all.  Most new computers provide ways to run tests on almost every part of the system (including the fan), yet to run them it often involves booting the computer into some archaic looking "diagnostic" mode.  But really the operating system should periodically run hardware level tests and notify the user if something fails or is preforming way worse than it should.  In fact it doesn't even have to notify the user, there just needs to be a quick way for the user to check the results of the test when something seems off.

iTunes should Play DVDs


Title pretty much says it all. I don't understand why iTunes doesn't play DVDs. I loath having to launch another program just to watch a DVD, I should be able to do it from iTunes. I'm not saying Apple should ditch the standalone DVD player app in OS X, but iTunes should be able to handle DVDs as easily as it does CDs.

Will the iPod remote make a comeback?


I love my iPod, but my one gripe is that it's very hard to do things like change the volume with the iPod in my pocket. Oh how I've longed for a little volume dial on the top of my iPod like on my old Walkmans. It's only really a problem when you're walking on the street at a good clip and don't want to risk pulling that ever so smooth and slippery iPod out of your pocket to change the volume or skip a track. This problem may only get worse if the next iPod's whole front surface is a touchscreen, similar to the iPhone, which will offer no tactile feedback. Hopefully they'll be able to offer simple controls that can be used without looking at the screen, perhaps using simple gestures. For instance, changing the volume could be done by sliding two fingers up or down the screen. But that could be hard to do from your pocket, and for those of us that like to keep our iPods in protective sleeves. Also, I can't imagine Apple will disrupt the design of the new iPod for a few buttons on an edge or front. But they may bring back the iPod remote as freebie with some model iPods, perhaps even one using Bluetooth. Back when I purchased my 15GB 3rd generation iPod it came with this great little remote pictured above. If Apple doesn't bundle a remote with the touchscreen iPod, I could see a huge market for attractive iPod remotes.

Wal-Mart Embraces Solar Power


It's official Wal-Mart will install solar panel systems on 22 sites in California and Hawaii.  The solar panels will be provided by BP Solar, SunEdison LLC, and PowerLight, a subsidiary of SunPower Corporation.  Here are some highlights from the press release:

The solar power pilot project is a major step toward Wal-Mart’s goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.  Each solar power generating system installed can provide up to 30 percent of the power for the store on which it is installed.  By Wal-Mart’s estimates, installing the solar power systems will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6,500-10,000 metric tons per year.

Also, as the recent CNET article points out:

Because of Wal-Mart's size, its investments in solar power could have a significant financial impact for solar providers.

So if Wal-Mart eventually goes all out with solar installations across all their stores, they could drive the price of solar panels way down.  Gotta love those economies of scale...

Multiple Signatures in Gmail

I love Gmail's ability to send from and check multiple e-mail addresses, it lets me keep all my e-mails at my fingertips in the Gmail interface I've love so much. However, Gmail only allows users to have one signature which gets appended to all outgoing e-mails. Gmail really should have the ability to set up different signatures for each outgoing e-mail address. That way folks like me, who use Gmail to check several e-mail addresses (including a few for various jobs), won't be stuck with the same signature on everything.

Fantasy Flim-making Camp for Kids


In the summer of 1982, Eric Zala (13), Jayson Lamb (13), and Chris Strompolos (12) began their 7 year quest to create a shot-for-shot remake of the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I had the pleasure of watching "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" and was amazed by the production and inspired by their dedication.  The remake is incredibly faithful and an absolute pleasure to watch.  Even through the grainy betamax recording and sometimes garbled audio, the cast and crew's enthusiasm shines off the screen.  The scenery, props and stunts are particularly impressive: from the giant boulder that chases Indy in the opening scenes to the bar-fight complete with the set and cast members on fire.  During the Q and A Eric Zala (Director) and Chris Strompolos (Indiana Jones) talked about making on summer vacation, and it occurred to me that they should start a summer film-making camp for kids (maybe between 8 and 14).  Each summer the camp directors could choose a classic to remake, like Back to the Future or Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and the campers would do everything from making props and scenery, to directing and acting.  The camp could introduce kids to the process of making a film, and even give kids an opportunity to focus on individual skills or facets of the production.

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