Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oh Microsoft, you crack me up...

While I understand the significant contributions Microsoft has made to technology over the years, there is no question they are the Wayne Szalinski (Google it) of the computer industry. Rather than simply putting toast into the toaster, Microsoft designs lengthy and time consuming devices to do the same thing. They write memory-hogging programs that require SQL Server running in the background (taking up nearly a gigabyte right there) to do something other programs can do with half the processing power and a quarter of the RAM.

Case in point was an email response I received from a Microsoft technician today regarding a software issue. Here is the text from the top of the response:

The following is an email for a support case from Microsoft Corp. DO NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE--your email will not be added to the case if you do.  Instead, FORWARD your response to the email address COMPMAIL@MICROSOFT.COM and place your text after the keyword 'MESSAGE:'.  Also, delete all other text above and below the keywords 'CASE_ID_NUM: SRnnn' and 'MESSAGE:' to ensure proper delivery of your email.  Thank you.

I think I need to contact a Microsoft technician to figure out how to properly respond to their email. At least it was good for a laugh.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Alfa AWUS036EH vs. Gsky 500mw USB adapter

And now begins our second round of Alfa vs. Gsky wireless testing. After we posted this comparison of the Alfa 500mw adapter vs. a Gsky 500mw adapter a few weeks ago, we have been getting a number of requests for more tests. Several readers asked how the Alfa 300mw adapter (model AWUS036EH) stacked up against the Gsky 500mw adapter (since the Gsky did not come out as well as the Alfa 500mw adapter). For full results in PDF format, including images, click here.

To summarize what's in the PDF file, the Alfa 300mw adapter performed slightly better in terms of range and signal strength. The difference was nowhere near as great as it was with the Alfa 500mw adapter in our previous test. This time the Gsky came fairly close. How is this possible considering the Gsky adapter has 500mw of output compared to 300mw for the Alfa AWUS036EH? The answer is two-fold. First, 300 and 500 are the respective numbers of the maximum output for each adapter. In most environments with most antennas, adapters will not be operating at their maximum output power. While the output power does make a difference, one thing often overlooked is chipset. The Alfa 300mw adapter has the same Realtek chipset as the Alfa 500mw adapter. The Gsky uses a less-sensitive version of a Realtek chipset.

Let's take a look at the sensitivity numbers. In this case, the Alfa 300mw adapter has the following receive sensitivity (the numbers recorded are negative, so in this case the lower the better, as such, -90 means greater sensitivity than -80):

11 mbps -86 dBm at 8% packet size
54 mbps -68 dBm at 10%

The numbers for the Gsky are:

11 mbps -82 dBm at 8%
54 mbps -65 dBm at 10%

The Alfa 300mw has the edge at both transmission rates, though the margin is not as great as it was between the Alfa 500mw and the Gsky. At the time of this writing, when factoring in shipping options the Alfa 300mw adapter is about $5.00 less than the Gsky.

Alfa AWUS036E vs. Alfa AWUS036EH vs. Alfa AWUS036S (Ralink) USB adapter

We completed a comparison test that offers a look at three adapters from Alfa, the 50mw AWUS036E (that number is fifty, not to be mistaken with the 500mw AWUS036H model), the 300mw AWUS036EH, and the 80mw AWUS036S which has a Ralink chipset. The full results of our test can be viewed in PDF format here.

There were no big surprises. The winner was the AWUS036EH 300mw model which has the same chipset as the AWUS036E 50mw model, but more output power. The AWUS036S has a different chipset, a chip from Ralink. The chip proved to be less sensitive, but the range was pretty good. At the time of this writing the 50mw AWUS036E model from Alfa is about $5.00 cheaper than the 300mw AWUS036EH model, which in turn is about the same price as the 80mw AWUS036S model. So if you are looking for the best range of the three and the best sensitivity, the AWUS036EH model is no doubt the way to go. If you are on a budget and need a good quality adapter with external antenna port and don't need piles of output power, the AWUS036E model is a great option. We would recommend the AWUS036SS model to those folks who specifically need a Ralink chipset.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Perseverance and the Apple Super Bowl commercial

There's no question times are tough out there for a lot of folks. When things are good, everyone thinks they know how to be prosperous. Bad times give many people a rude awakening. What you thought you knew doesn't apply anymore. Working your way up the corporate ladder to a comfortable retirement seemed to be a safe way to go through life, until layoffs and disappearing retirement funds came along. Working for yourself as an entrepreneur seemed to be another good way to succeed- until suppliers dried up, clients stopped paying, and bankruptcy loomed. The truth is there is no sure fire way to do well in life and avoid all pitfalls. But there are some things you can do to help you get through tough situations. Perseverance is key.

Case in point, I was reading an article not long ago that referenced Apple Computer's first Super Bowl ad. It came out in 1984 and helped launch Apple into a fight against IMB for computer industry dominance. Apple became a household name, the artistic anti-brand that stood out among boring PC clones. Leap forward 24 years and Apple is doing very well. Look to the person on the left of you, then to the person on the right- chances are they both have an iPod. They may both have iPhones too. It's easy to look at Apple as a revolutionary and successful company. But they also had a dark period. Any Apple fanboys reading this of course know that going into the 90's the company had fallen on tough times. They lost their fight against IBM, their market share was down,  and Steve Jobs, Apple's legendary founder, had been pushed out of the company. But Jobs wasn't done for, nor was Apple. Perseverance is such an easy thing to teach our kids, but it is much harder in practice. The purpose of this post isn't to write at length about the history of Apple or label Steve Jobs as some type of god. It is simply to remind us all that perseverance can pay off. If your an entrepreneur, keep doing what your doing. Find someone who has been through tough economic times before and learn about things you can do to help. If your working in a company fearful of being let go, don't sit around in panic mode, get your resume ready and freshen up some of your skill sets. If you're out of a job and don't see any work on the horizon, think about what you can do to make yourself stand out when companies are hiring again. Perhaps learn a second language, or go back to school for a little bit. I know reading a simple blog post isn't going to fix what's wrong, but doing nothing won't fix what's wrong either. I'll close with a post of the Apple Super Bowl ad- there is no better time than now to shake things up the same way the ad's lead character does.