An Increasing Priority: Fuel-Efficient Automobiles

May 23rd, 2008

It’s been roughly nine months since I addressed the subject of alternative automobile fuels and fuel-efficient automotive technologies. I last wrote on the topic in these two stories late last summer:

Since then, average U.S. gasoline prices have risen from $2.74 per gallon to $3.88 per gallon (source: In recent weeks, the average U.S. retail price of diesel has also risen dramatically (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration); it’s currently up $4.49 per gallon. When I wrote very favorably about Clean Diesel last year, diesel prices were in something of a free fall and were almost $2.00 less per gallon on average than they are today.

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30 Days of Apple’s MacBook Air

May 17th, 2008

Living with the MacBook Air is not only possible, even for a power user, it changes the way you work and play in a positive way.

For the last month I’ve been living with Apple’s diminutive MacBook Air as my sole production computer for all professional and personal use. My previous main Mac was a 2007 2.4GHz 4GB RAM MacBook Pro 17 with the highest resolution Apple offers in a notebook. So I went from one Apple portable extreme (highest resolution, most power, heaviest) to the other (smallest, lightest, least powerful, least memory, weakest video). There are a number of trade-offs, but the positive outweighs the negative.

It happened that late April through May is a slow travel period for me, so while I’ve attended local events offsite, I haven’t hit the road yet. But in a couple of weeks, I’ll be on a tour that includes D.C., NYC, Boston, and Miami. The east coast thang. I’ll give the MacBook Air a thorough travel test then. Once that’s complete, I’ll write a full long-term review of the MacBook Air on

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MacBook Air: Using Is Believing

April 21st, 2008

I finally got around to requesting a MacBook Air, and received one last week sporting the solid-state drive and the 1.8-GHz CPU. The hardware that matters, though, is the super-thin case design.

At my Computerworld blog, I wrote recently that I’m changing my mind about the MacBook Air and embracing it for its elegance and usability as a travel computer. This contrasts with my three-month-old post in the days just before the MBA shipped in which, after a brief period of time with the early review unit Apple sent Computerworld, I took a harder line on the design compromises Apple made in creating the Air.

Check out my Computerworld blog for the details and my reasoning on the about-face. But if you want the bottom line, it boils down to this. I hope to acquire a MacBook Air as my “second” Mac for business use later this year.

USB Drive Wrap-Up: The IronKey Rocks for Security

April 21st, 2008

Back in November I named Lexar’s 4GB JumpDrive Lightning a Scot’s Newsletter Blog Top Product! and I’ve been using it ever since. To give you a sense of how valuable a tool this is for me, I spent a day recently believing I had lost it (the biggest problem with USB memory devices), and just the thought made me feel clammy.

In the same article (scroll down to find it), I also presented the results of my performance testing of four USB devices, including the 4GB IronKey Secure Flash Drive. In my tests, the IronKey was not very fast. In a March 2008 secure USB drive comparison review in Computerworld, the same model IronKey (although, about six months newer than the evaluation unit that I tested), turned in excellent performance.

The Computerworld review tested a much slower Lexar device than the one I’ve recommended. It didn’t compare the JumpDrive Lightning, which has decent software-encryption security. Instead it compared the results of Lexar’s JumpDrive Secure II, a model I rejected because it was much slower and I didn’t believe the security it added was critical to my needs. As the Computerworld article states, “The Lexar JumpDrive Secure II offers three ways to protect data, but two of its methods [are] so awkward that the reviewer found them to be being more trouble than they were worth.”

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The Best Firewall Software of 2008: Online Armor

March 24th, 2008

The decision is in. After a year and a half of testing, and with the help of more than a thousand Scot’s Newsletter readers who’ve written detailed descriptions of their software firewall experiences, I’m happy to announce that Tall Emu’s Online Armor 2.1 is The Scot’s Newsletter Blog Best Firewall Software of 2008.

There are many reasons why I’ve selected Online Armor (OA) as the best software firewall for Windows users; the rest of this story delivers the details. But boiled down to a single thought, the most important reason is this: Online Armor offers the best blend of a high degree of protection with a high level of usability.

That may sound simplistic, but in this software category such a balance is the toughest thing for a software development company to achieve. It’s very easy to throw up a blizzard of pop-up user-prompts. You can make your system so secure that you’ll never want to use it again. It’s also easy to dumb down the security so much that you’ll rarely, if ever, see a pop up — and in the process, render the firewall ineffective. The trick is to offer solid protection with minimal user interruptions. OA 2.1 is the only firewall software I’ve tested that delivers a near-perfect balance.

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What to Do About Vista Service Pack 1

March 22nd, 2008

Vista SP1 has been running on a couple of my test machines for the past month and a half or so. I’ve encountered nothing remarkable in that time, other than some initial driver configuration issues. I wrote about my initial experiences last month.

Now that Vista SP1 is on its way to you, and some people may have been offered it via Windows Update, here are my recommendations:

1. You don’t need this thing right away. If you’ve kept up with Vista security patches, then you’re fine. There’s no need to rush into it.

2. On the other hand, the biggest pain you’re likely to encounter with SP1 is driver issues during or after installation. The driver problem is so acute, though, that Microsoft has taken the unusual step of preventing machines whose hardware profiles include components for which Vista SP1 doesn’t have an adequate driver from offering SP1 via Windows Update or via Automatic Updates. For more detail on this, and a specific example of the kind of driver problem you might encounter, check this Preston Gralla blog entry: My Nightmare Trying to Upgrade to Vista SP1.

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In Search of a New Webhost

March 1st, 2008

Recent issues with my current webhost, IX Webhosting, have spurred me to initiate yet another search for a new host that offers more robust MySQL support. In a nutshell, I woke up one day early this week to discover that Scot’s Newsletter Forums was down and all its MySQL database files were deleted. I filed an immediate trouble ticket to tech support. Some 26 hours after the problem with the forums began, it miraculously reappeared with all data perfectly intact. But it wasn’t for another three days that IX actually answered my trouble ticket with a vague and wimpy note lacking any real explanation.

All in all, my IX experience has been much better than that with my last webhost, Invision Power Services (IPS), the company that makes Invision Power Board, the software that powers Scot’s Newsletter Forums. IPS was the worst webhost I’ve ever used. Other hosts I’ve used in past have included (reliable, surly tech support, not a great value) and SectorLink (bad reliability and support but I stopped using its services almost 5 years ago).

I have very specific needs, all of which need to be met, for me to move to any new webhost. They include:

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Online Armor Released

February 19th, 2008

Online Armor was quietly released on the Tall Emu website earlier today. The company posted information about the software firewall’s new features on its forums. I’ve tested several betas of this release, but many of the what’s-new items are server-dependent, and so I’m just exploring those nuances right now.

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Performance Issues

February 18th, 2008

At 10:15AM Eastern Time on Monday, we are experiencing both Scot’s Newsletter Blog and Forums performance issues due to too many simultaneous connections on their databases. I have no way of knowing whether there continues to be a shared concurrent connection limit between the two databases (something that I thought I fixed) or whether this is simply a coincidence that the newsletter’s appearance last evening has created a big surge this AM on both sites, since it contains links to both.

I have temporarily turned off the forums while I check its database for corruption. Perhaps that will improve performance here at the blog. We’ll see.

— Scot

Testing Windows Vista SP1 RTM Code

February 10th, 2008

Although I don’t currently recommend Vista, I will continue to cover new versions of Microsoft’s operating system. I can’t very well recommend against a version of Windows without testing its latest service pack. You never know, perhaps some future version of Vista might win me over.

But not this one. While I need more time with the SP1 code, my first few days with the final version of Vista’s first service pack were, well, underwhelming. The one thing that I can definitively say at this point is that if you secretly installed Vista SP1 on a friend’s PC while he or she was out to lunch, 9 out of 10 friends wouldn’t have a clue when they came back.

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