April 20, 2010
Aluratek USB Cellular Router review
It's the end of the day and I thought it would be nice to work on the picnic table outside of our office. It's just far enough away that our Wifi doesn't quite get there, so I'm using a neat little device that arrived in the mail last month. A PR person had (I guess) seen my blog posts about the FJ Car Computer project and the wireless access point I had in the back and offered to send me a new device to play with. (Disclaimer - it was a freebe but if I didn't like it, I wouldn't be mentioning it here.) The device I'm using is a CDM530AM and it sells for $100.
The device is a 3G Portable Wireless USB Cellular Router from Aluratek. To use it you need a USB wireless modem from Verizon or other carrier.
As you can see in the picture, it really is wireless. It has a rechargeable battery in it which is enough to power the device and the Verizon modem for a couple of hours. You can also plug in the power cord and run indefinitely.
There are a couple of things that are nice about this device. One is that it looks like a Wifi hotspot, and more than one person can use it at a time so you can share your wireless modem. The bottleneck will be with the wireless modem, so you won't be able to put lots of users on it, but it is a nice feature.
It also bypasses the need to start up the modem software, dial up and connect. I just turn it on and 30 seconds later my laptop and mobile phone has a wifi connection. Because they both think they are on the same network, I can transfer files and sync between the two devices which I couldn't do as easily otherwise.
Setup was pretty easy, and it is a one-time thing involving hooking up the device to the laptop with an included network cable and running a setup wizard. I had a glitch in setup (it was pre-release firmware) but tech support figured it out quickly and the new firmware release worked just fine.
One thing to be aware - it's only going to be as good as your cellular modem connection. If it isn't reliable, then you may experience drops in the connection. If that happens though, the device handles reconnecting without you doing anything. I've been able to write this, while keeping up with email and having a couple of IM sessions with no trouble at all, and no drops.
This device is a lot cheaper and easier to set up than the Kyocera that I wrote about here. And not everybody has 120v AC in their car, which this device doesn't need if you're only going to be on line for a couple of hours. It doesn't have the Ethernet ports that the Kyocera has, but I found most people riding in the FJ were content to connect to my hotspot wirelessly, so I won't miss the Ethernet connections. :-)
I was just about to wrap this post up when it occured to me to do another test. We're now live on Microsoft Communications Server 2010 at Gold Systems. The product won't be available until later this year, but it's been announced and some partners are using it. I just IM'd someone inside the building and it all worked as expected. What was unexpected was that we were able to elevate to voice and we had a 20 minute conversation with perfect voice quality and NO glitches. Let's let that sink in a bit - Voip from my laptop, to the Aluratek wireless router, out the Verizon USB modem, onto the internet, back across our SIP trunks in the public phone network, to a desktop computer with a USB phone connected to it. It. Just. Worked. We decided to get a little crazy and did a whiteboard share - it worked. We transfered some files back and forth. It worked. We even went to video and - it worked as designed. We were able to do video but the connection just wasn't fast enough so we saw frames being dropped but the picture quality was great and the voice quality was rock solid throughout.
Next I did an internet speedtest, while still talking over OCS. Here's what I got:
Next I dropped the voice call and did the test again.
We were talking during the first test, but it doesn't show any difference. It's also interesting that I'm here in Boulder, Colorado and Speedtest thinks Denver is 1,000 miles away. Who knows how that call actually routed, which makes it all the more amazing that it worked so well.
I first played with VoIP in 1997. I'm stunned at how well this worked, and how far the technology has advanced. Wow. Over a slower wireless connection no less.
One last photo - while we were talking and playing with the whiteboard feature, Ned drew this picture of the mountains. Notice how some of the trees even have some beatle kill damage.
Ned could actually hear the birds around me and the airplane that flew over. Cool!
August 12, 2009
Windows 7 RTM Installed via upgrade
Microsoft released the final RTM version of Windows 7 to partners via MSDN last week. I have four computers, and I just finished upgrading all of them to RTM. Microsoft recommends a clean install from the test version, but that is a LOT of work and I decided I would risk it and do the unsupported upgrade. I've had a great experience with Windows 7 and I would recommend upgrading to at as soon as you can. My experience, and benchmarks that I've seen, seem to indicate that it is even faster that Windows XP. I have had very few issues and have been off of Vista and XP since the day the first Beta version of Windows 7 was available.
After finishing the last machine tonight, I wrote these notes up for a few people at Gold Systems who are also early adopters. Remember, Microsoft recommends a clean install, and I recommend backing up your systems in case anything goes wrong.
I decided to upgrade all my computers to Windows 7 RTM, rather than do a clean install. I found this website telling how to do it, and it really was easy. Basically,
1. Copy the DVD to your hard drive
2. Edit an ini file to set the minimum version required to upgrade. The file is 3 lines long and you just change a number
3. Run setup from the hard drive
Here’s the link:
It seems to be working just fine, but here are the gotchas.
Because of patch Tuesday I think, my machines needed a reboot before I could install RTM. The installer doesn’t check that until 5 or 10 minutes in, so you should start with a reboot of your machines to make sure your patches are installed before starting the install.
RTM won’t install with McAffe virus software (my version) installed, so uninstall it and reboot before starting.
On one machine I had an old SoundBlaster card that was listed as incompatible, but I went ahead with the install, and Windows update was able to find a good driver after the install was done, and it seems to be working now.
Once the installation gets going, you don’t have to do anything so you can just let it run. I think it took 2 or 3 hours per machine.
The background wallpaper is new, and the stock tracker gadget has disappeared which is strange. Other than that, I don’t see any difference. Oops, I just noticed my printers on my laptop are gone. And my homegroup is gone, which I’ve found to be useful, but it will be easy to set that back up. Outlook, Communicator, etc. all seem to be working fine.
I hope this helps and saves you a few false starts. Ned and Steve – THANK YOU for being so tolerant of me insisting on being on the bleeding edge! J
P.S. - one of the computers is the FJ Car Computer, a strange piece of equipment if there ever was one. The initial install and upgrade of Windows 7 worked flawlessly.
P.S. - one of the computers is the FJ Car Computer, a strange piece of equipment if there ever was one. The initial install and upgrade of Windows 7 worked flawlessly.
January 11, 2009
Win 7 to Win 7 via Live Mesh to Windows Home Server
This just blows my mind, or maybe I'm just sleep deprived.
It was cold in the garage, so I came inside and used my desktop machine which is now running Windows 7, to open up a Live Mesh remote desktop connection to the FJ Cruiser sitting in the garage. (The computer is powered up but the FJ is dark.) While checking out the Windows 7 install on the FJ Cruiser Car Computer, I opened up the Windows Home Server Console to make sure the FJ will get automatically backed up tonight. In the snip above I'm interacting with three different computers - 2 in my office, and one in the garage.
I used the snipping tool to grab the screen capture and saved it as a jpg in a folder that is sync'd between all my machines via Live Mesh. A moment later the jpg was sitting on my main desktop that is running Vista, and was ready to be popped into this post.
OK, I need sleep.
Windows 7 in the FJ Car Computer
On Friday Microsoft briefly opened up Windows 7 to Gold Certified Partners, and our awesome IT guy grabbed me a copy. I've upgraded a very old desktop (works fine) and I just finished upgrading the FJ Car Computer too.
As you can see it seems to run Office Communicator just fine. Too bad no one is up at this hour to try a video conference!
Very cool, I can't wait to play with it.
January 08, 2009
Unified Communications in the Car
OK, I don't really think that most people are going to be having video conferences in their car in the near term, but just to prove how well Microsoft's Unified Communications platform works for remote workers, I decided to try it out in the FJ Car Computer. I'm running Office Communicator R2 on a pretty low-powered Vista machine in my car. The camera is an off-the-shelf webcam, and I'm connected to a nearby WiFi network. As you can see the video frame rate and quality is great and it worked just fine.
You can see at the beginning of the video that I had started the conference as an IM session using Office Communicator. I could see Angela's presence information and that she was available, so I IM'd her and asked if she had a minute to talk, and then I asked if we could go to video. I clicked on the video icon and within a few seconds we were having a video conference. (It's good manners to ask, but Angela could have denied the video request if she wanted to.)
I was using one hand to take the video and I was balancing the wireless keyboard on my lap - that explains the fumbling at 1:05 and the inadvertent video of myself!
Deploying Unified Communications is an important part of what my company does, and I believe we'll be creating all sorts of new applications in the future. It's already changed how I work, which reminds me, it's time to revisit my Office of the Future post and give an update. We're making some progress. One person suggested we not even have offices, which lead to my Wireless in the Wilderness post.
November 02, 2008
FJ Computer Update
A reader of my blog asked for an update on the installation of my Xenarc MDT-X7000 display in the FJ. My good friend Marty came over to the house and we reinstalled the display. I wrote in a previous update that I had to send the Xenarc back to the factory for a firmware update. I can still hardly believe that I couldn’t update the firmware using the CD/DVD or USB ports, but that’s the way it is with this display. After about six weeks, I received a new display. Getting it back into the dash was pretty easy since I had kept the wiring harness that I had made to work with the harness Woody made for me.
But of course, it wasn’t going to be that easy. After getting it installed I discovered that the power adaptor that mp3car.com had sent me was the wrong size. I’m not even going to try to get them to send me the right one at this point, so it was off to Radio Shack. They didn’t have it either, but I’ll just replace the power supply and start over if my local electronics source doesn’t stock it. It was pretty frustrating to realize that after all this time I still didn’t have all the right parts. Once again I started thinking that I should have just bought a Ford with Sync factory installed.
Here’s my review of the Xenarc MDT-X7000 for anyone that is thinking of getting one. The short answer is, it’s a great concept but it has a lot of flaws. I’m going to stick with it until I find something better. Once I get the right power adaptor for the computer, my next quest will be to install Windows 7. If I’m going to be bleeding edge on the hardware, I might as well go all out on the software. I’ve had Vista on the FJ Computer since it was an early Beta, and I haven’t had any problems with it.
I love my FJ, but I can't say the same for the Xenarc MDT-X7000. My first one had an issue that could only be corrected with a firmware update. Problem is though that to update the firmware, you have to take it out of the dash and send it back to the factory. After getting an RMA, packing it up and sending it back, and then waiting for it to return, I probably wasted about six weeks. Lesson learned - don't eBay your factory radio, you'll probably need to reinstall it at times. Mine's been in and out of the dash at least three times. Woody, the guy who helped me with the initial installation made a harness that makes it easy for me to connect new devices while leaving the connectors for the OEM radio when I need it.
The new Xenarc seems to have a couple of problems. I can get VGA to work, but not DVI. I'm pretty sure it is a problem with the X7000 as my computer works fine with other DVI monitors, including a Lilliput touch screen.
Also I'm hearing a sound like plastic gears grinding with the new unit when it retracts. This will be my second installation with a retractable screen and I'm beginning to think they are just more trouble than they are worth.
Even with the firmware update, the screen is pretty ugly. I said in a blog post that it looks like the screen from a Commodore 64 computer. That might be overstating how bad the Commodore looks. The user interface isn't very intuitive either.
As for sound, I don't know. I'm not an audiophile and I'm just using the stock speakers with no amp. I'd say it is no better than the factory radio and probably no worse either. I get a bit of a whine at times.
I'm sorry I don't have better news. When I first found the Xenarc, I thought it would be perfect for the same reasons you did. I'm not using the extra space except for storage, but I liked the idea of it being only 1-DIN. If you do decide to use it, I can send you a link to a nice adaptor for single DIN devices that fit the FJ perfectly and only cost about $30.
June 02, 2008
FJ Cruiser Car Computer V4 Install Begins . . .
I began the install of V4 of the car computer this weekend.
First the old radio is removed. Because of the great job Woody did installing V1, everything unplugs and I have a wiring harness ready to plug in for the most part. I had to add a few connectors.
Here I have the old harness connected to the new harness that came with the Xenarc display and radio combo. I labeled several wires that weren't labeled before - I know I'm going to be in there again soon and I want to make it as easy as possible.
I've learned to test before bolting everything back into the dash. I always put a fire extinguisher and a telephone next to the FJ before reconnecting the battery. I'm not THAT confident in my wiring ability.
It will be nice to have a backup camera again.
This is not really a computer - it's a combination radio/CD player, with a motorized touchscreen that will connect to the computer, which is going to be installed elsewhere.
I have to say that the Xenarc MDT-X7000 display for radio is pretty ugly. It looks more like a Commodore 64. Hopefully Xenarc will update the firmware and improve it.
I made good progress this weekend, but I didn't get the actual computer installed yet. I went to wire in the power supply for the computer and I realized that mp3car.com had sent me two of one harness and none of the other harness that was supposed to ship with the power supply. Now I'm going to be delayed another week at least as I try to get the harness. Of course it isn't a standard plug . . .
May 19, 2008
Car Computer V4
Can you believe the FJ Cruiser is over two years old? It seems like only yesterday that people were following me around to get a better look at it, and now they seem to be on every corner, at least here in Boulder.
If you've been following the Car Computer Project, you know that V3 of the project never really left the work bench in my office. V3 was a replacement for V2, which died back in June somewhere in Kansas. V2 was an Infill T3 that I bought from mp3car.com. When it died I found out that they could either send the unit back to Korea for repairs, or they could replace it with a new Vista-ready machine. I chose the later, but it turns out it would have been quicker to wait for the boat from Korea. As of last week, I still didn't have the radio module for the new unit and I decided to stop waiting and cut my losses. I wasn't really looking forward to taking a hacksaw to the dash of the FJ to make the new touchscreen fit, and I still think an AM/FM radio is a requirement, so I'm salvaging the computer that MP3car.com sent me and matching it up with a new combination radio/touchscreen unit that is getting great reviews.
That's it on the left, a Xenarc MDT-X7000. The touchscreen is motorized, and with it retracted the unit looks like any after-market radio. My hope is that when I don't want to fool with the computer, I'll have a very functional AM/FM CD player with real knobs and preset buttons. Then when I push a button, it will transform into a car computer. Here's a photo from the Xenarc website.
This will even leave some space in the dash for something else, and the actual computer will be hidden out of sight in the back of the vehicle. There is an intimidating amount of wires in the harness, but I'm going to try to install it myself when I get a free weekend. Unlike the Infill, this unit came with documentation and the wiring harness is labeled in English so how hard can it be?
Let me give two quick disclaimers. If you want a car computer of your own, buy a Ford with the Sync option. The kind of system I've built is pretty far from being prime time. Second, don't type and drive. We don't need people surfing the web while they are driving!
March 15, 2008
Kyocera KR2 EVDO Router & FJ Car Computer Update
The good guys at evdoinfo.com just left a comment on my blog about the availability of the new Kyocera KR2 EVDO Router. I've used the Kyocera KR1 in my FJ Cruiser to provide high-speed wireless Internet access to the car computer and anyone else who happens to be in or around the FJ when it's running. I even used it to take a Microsoft Tanjay VoIP telephone up into the mountains of Colorado to prove that it would work wirelessly. If you need wireless Internet access where it isn't practical to connect to DSL or Cable, this is a pretty good solution. I use a Verizon EVDO card, so when I'm traveling I pop the card out of the KR1 and drop it in my backpack so I can have EVDO anywhere. I usually don't bother connecting to WiFi anymore unless it is free, and even then EVDO is just easier for a quick connection between planes.
So you wonder, how's the FJ Car Computer project going? Not so good I'm afraid. I reported back in June that the Infill T3 that I bought from mp3car.com had died on the road. Since it was in warranty, we called MP3car.com and after a little back and forth, they agreed to replace it with a brand new dual core machine with a transflective screen. The Infill T3 wasn't in stock, plus I liked the idea of a faster machine even though it meant I was going to have to modify the FJ's dash to install the new screen.
After months of waiting, I got the new computer, screen and a box of parts. After unpacking everything and setting it up in my office, I realized that there was no radio module. I'm not quite ready to have a car computer that replaces my radio, but doesn't actually have to ability to BE a radio. Usually I listen to music via my Zune software, but I'm not ready to give up on local AM/FM radio. I was supposed to get a new product that mp3car was working on that would provide AM/FM plus HD radio, but I keep hearing that the product has been delayed.
Now it seems from the forums at mp3car.com that the product won't be available until late summer. (Update - I didn't read it right - they were reporting that it would be available LAST summer. Now they report it is "in certification" where it has been since at least January.) If that's true, I might have the car computer back in the dash a YEAR after the Infill T3 from mp3car.com died. Everyone from mp3car.com has been nice to talk to, from the CEO on down, and they did ship me a computer that may even be worth more than the original Infill T3, but here I am nine months later, and the car computer is still sitting on a desk in my office.
I'm bummed out about it and tired of waiting. Any suggestions?
November 19, 2007
Tech and Car Computer Update
I've been really busy - Gold Systems is having a record year and I'm just not getting as much time to play as I'd like! Still, I get a lot of questions about the car computer project and other various gadgets that show up from time to time at my house, so I thought I would do a quick update.
- Car Computer - I'm still stuck waiting for the touchscreen to ship. It was mid-June when the Infill T3 died and I still haven't got the new machine ready to go. I've got the computer (thanks Mp3car.com!) and it's hot - Dual Core, 4 gig of ram - but I'm still waiting for the touchscreen. It's a new transflective device that is readable even in direct sunlight so I'm hoping it's worth the wait and the fabrication that Team FJ is signing up for to get it installed. It should be here the first week of December.
- Zune 2 - I ordered the new Zune months ago from amazon.com, and after a last minute delay, they emailed on Saturday to say it has shipped.
- Chumby - What's a Chumby? Find out at Chumby.com It's on my kitchen counter right now but it could end up anywhere. This is part of my quest to find an inexpensive, programmable, wireless-internet-connected device that I can use around the house. This one might even have a place on my desk at work if I can hack it a bit.
- Amazon Kindle - Brad Feld reminded me this morning in his blog that the Kindle was just released. Twenty minutes later, mine was on the way, scheduled to arrive on Wednesday. The Kindle is an electronic book, with some great inovations that just might make the idea work this time. I read my first eBook on my Palm VII years ago, but the screen left a lot to be desired. The Kindle is getting great reviews by people who've played with it, and people who haven't tried it seem to hate it. I love my books, but I'd be happy to trade a few bookcases worth for a device that really works. My favorite quote comes from Zoot, commenting at Gizmodo, who said, "Any nerd who, on seeing one of these for the first time doesn't just stand there playing with it and giggling uncontrollably for ten minutes has no soul."
That pretty much blows the gadget budget for awhile. I'll do an update after Kindle determines whether I have a soul or not.