Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tech Tip: Label Your Power Adapters

If you’re anything like me… wait, I’m sure you’re nothing like me, fortunately for you…

Most people have many electronic devices laying around the house that are powered by big rectangular power adapters (affectionately known as “Wall Warts”).  But they tend to look alike, and if a device gets separated from its power adapter it’s hard to know what belongs to what.  So recently I started labeling my power adapter so I know which adapter goes with which device.

In addition to making it easier to mate an adapter with its owner, labeling also makes it easier to know which adapter plugged into a power strip to unplug.  When a power strip has 3 adapters in it, it’s usually impossible to know what device each one goes with if they aren’t labeled.

I use my electronic label maker to print labels.  (You do have a label maker, don’t you?  No?  Get one!) I usually include the manufacturer and name of a device on the label.  “Cell phone” or “Camera” isn’t descriptive enough, as surely someday you’ll wonder what cell phone or camera it was for.

Bonus Tips…

Once Separated, Now Reconciled

If you have separated a device from its power adapter, fret not… there are a few things you can do to match them back up again.  Or to find a suitable adapter that will work instead.

There are 4 things that need to match for a power adapter to work with an electronic gadget.  They are voltage, current, polarity, and connector. 

dcv logo 2

Most power supplies and devices will have information that looks something like the image above.  If both the adapter and device have all of this information, you’re in luck… you have enough information to know if it will work.

The above power adapter outputs 12 volts, can supply 500 milliamps of current, and has a positive tip (polarity).  To work with a device, the voltage and polarity of the adapter and device must match exactly.  If an adapter supplies too little voltage a device won’t work at all, or will behave erratically.  If the voltage is too high you’ll fry something.  Both the number and type of voltage must match (AC or DC). 

Tip: If a power adapter outputs AC voltage, there is no polarity so you won’t see the above symbol.  Just make sure the device requires AC voltage and that the numbers match up.

While AC adapters don’t have polarity, DC adapters do.  And you absolutely have to have the same polarity, or you’ll fry a device.  So look and make sure the location of the (-) and (+) are the same for the adapter and device.  Positive tips are more common than negative tips, but double check that polarity matches.

While voltage and polarity MUST match, the current rating is a little more forgiving.  If a device requires 300 milliamps (mA) of current, any power adapter that supplies a minimum of 300mA will work as long as the voltage and polarity match.  So if you find one that supplies 500mA and the voltage and polarity are correct, the adapter is a good candidate.

Once you find a power adapter that has the correct voltage, polarity, and can supply sufficient current, it’s time to check to see if the connector fits.  Try to plug it in.  If it fits, the adapter should work. 

Device Requirements Candidate Adapter #1 Candidate Adapter #2 Candidate Adapter #3 Candidate Adapter #4


12 V DC 12 V DC 9 V DC 12V AC 12V DC


300mA 500mA 250mA 300mA 200mA


(+) Tip (+) Tip (+) Tip (-) Tip (+) Tip



Don’t Throw Them Out!

I actually keep the power adapters when I have to dispose of a broken device; they quite often come in handy later on for something else.  Just yesterday I purchased a new radio scanner that didn’t come with any power adapter at all.  Fortunately, I had one from a cordless phone that died a few years ago that matched perfectly.  I saved $25 by not having to buy a new one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple iPad: The Aftermath

Just as predicted, Apple announced the iPad today.  If you weren’t following the announcements, it is a thin device with a 9.7” screen that is more-or-less a big iPod Touch with some new software added to it. 

Things I Like

  • The web browser on the iPad is going to be its killer app.  With a large high resolution screen and true tabbed browsing, this is the device’s best potential use. 
  • The email app looks nice too.
  • The book reader is going to be nice for casual lookup of short passages of text.
  • The device can run existing iPhone software at either native or double resolution.
  • The photo viewer is nice.
  • The IPS LCD panel is going to have a great picture (for an LCD).
  • If it can really achieve 10 hours of battery life, this is impressive.
  • Apps written in the future can take advantage of the larger screen.

Things I See as Problems

  • The on-screen keyboard is going to be tedious to use.  Primarily because (1) your fingers can’t feel the keys to know where they are, and (2) because the keys are touch sensitive you can’t rest them on the screen, meaning you’ll have to hover your hands over the device.  This makes writing emails and documents something you’d prefer to have a real computer for.
  • The new iWork applications are going to be next to useless if you don’t have the optional dock and keyboard.  Nobody is going to write papers, or create spreadsheets or presentations without a real keyboard.
  • The fact that Apple did not add multitasking (running two apps at the same time) really reduces the possible functionality of this device.  You can’t listen to Pandora and write an email at the same time, for example.  They REALLY need to fix this for both the iPad and iPhone.
  • The Maps app is a good idea, but this doesn’t have a real GPS, so its kind of useless for navigation.
  • Getting your own photos and videos onto the device requires going through a computer.  Or in the case of photos, with an optional connecting cable to connect to a limited selection of cameras. 
  • The device is too large to carry around with me.  It’s going to get left on the couch all of the time, because that’s the only place a device like this makes much sense.  If I’m out and about I’m going to need the full capabilities of a notebook computer.  So the iPad stays home.
  • Reading long books isn’t really going to be a great experience.  Our eyes prefer the non-backlit look of paper over backlit screens when staring at a device for long periods of time. Reading of newspapers and (someday) magazine articles should be fine.
  • The device requires a computer for setup and maintenance, as well as more permanent storage.  If Apple is trying to replace a computer (which seems to be their aim) they shouldn’t require a computer.
  • The device seems a little bit expensive for being just a large iPod Touch.  I’m glad to see the entry price at just $499, but its 16GB storage isn’t enough if people expect to store much video content on it, especially if it is high definition.
  • This is not a device suited to the educational market.  Nobody is going to take notes on an on-screen keyboard (nor does the book reader seem to support that anyway), and I doubt that many people will carry the dock and keyboard with them.  A notebook computer makes so much more sense in that application.  Since it is going to require a computer anyway, this isn’t a good educational solution.
  • While the device is not locked to AT&T, AT&T’s network is the only one that really lets you take advantage of the 3G radio in the 3G-equipped models.  They should have offered Verizon and T-Mobile as options as well.  At least the data plans aren’t too expensive.
  • I’m going to list multitasking a second time.  A device with a screen this big shouldn’t be limited to running one app at a time.  This is a major failing on Apple’s part.  I really hope they fix this.

Prediction Results

So, how did I do on my predictions from last night?

Tablet (iPad)

  • Large iPod Touch, with emphasis on electronic book and multimedia.  Pretty much correct.  I didn’t predict that they would have iWork available for it (their Office-like product), but I guess they need to have some sort of justification for some business use of the device.
  • No e-Ink screen, uses conventional LCD.  Check.
  • Tool for students and readers: They didn’t really focus on the educational use of the device other than to mention that textbooks will be available on it.  They did make a big deal of the new iBooks software for it, making it a reader.  Half credit.
  • WiFi & 3G connectivity. WiFi was right, 3G is available, but AT&T only.  I predicted we’d see Verizon as an option, which we don’t.  No carrier subsidies (or even contract).  40% right.
  • Priced $700-900.  Actual pricing is $499 to $829 depending on storage and whether you get it with the 3G radio.  So I was $200 too high on the low end, $70 too high on the high end.
  • Available March-April.  Wi-Fi only version coming end of March, 3G version coming end of April.  Bingo.
  • Name won’t include “i.”  Wrong.  I was hoping they’d abandon that.  iPad is a terrible name, though, especially if you’ve seen the MadTV skit.
  • No stylus.  Yep.


  • No significant changes for the iPhone.  Check.
  • New 3.2 version announced.  Yes, but for the iPad only for now.
  • No 4.0 announcement.  Check.
  • No new hardware.  Check.
  • No announcement of coming to new carriers.  Check.


  • No new iMacs or Mac Mini.  Check.
  • Refresh of 17” MacBook Pro.  Nope.  Wrong.
  • Solid State Disks option for all models.  Nope.


  • No iPod announcements.  Check.


  • iLife suite upgraded to 2010.  Nope.
  • iWork suite upgraded to 2010.  No.  But announced for iPad.
  • MobileMe updated for tablet.  No announcements made.  But I still see this coming before long to allow iWork to synchronize over the air.
  • iTunes updated to 9.1.  Nope.  Or at least no announcement.  I bet it will be for when the iPad is actually released.
  • Streaming content announcement.  I predicted it wouldn’t be made now, but will be made before long.  Correct on no announcement, but no score.

I told you so…

If you go back and read my July 26th post, I was pretty much dead on on what the Apple tablet device was going to be.  I should have stuck with that post as my official predictions; I was closer in that post 6 months ago than I was in last night’s.  I gotta quit listening to the media.

Apple announcements

With all of the press and hype of tomorrow’s event, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and make my own predictions. Here’s my official prediction of what is happening at Wednesday’s Apple announcement.


It seems inevitable that the tablet is coming. My guess is that it is going to be essentially a large iPod Touch, with an emphasis on being an electronic book reader and multimedia device. But it won’t have an e-Ink screen; it will be a conventional LCD with multi-touch. Apple puts too much emphasis on color for e-Ink to be an option right now. And OLED is too expensive to be an option on a device this size. (We’ll see an iPhone with OLED first.)

The focus will be as a tool for students and avid readers, with contracts being announced with major book publishers, newspapers, and magazines. Some emphasis will be on it being a business tool, but it won’t really be very well focused for that. This is going to be Apple’s answer to Amazon’s Kindle.

It will have WiFi connectivity, and an optional radio for connecting to either Verizon’s or AT&T’s 3G network. It will even be offered at a discount with carrier subsidies for anyone willing to sign a contract for data services. It will run existing iPhone applications, but only at small size until developers make the necessary upgrades to run on the larger screen.

It will be priced between $700-900 (without subsidy), and will be available in the March-April timeframe. The name won’t include the “i” we’re so used to seeing from Apple at all (they have been using that for a decade; time to move on). Any name with the word Tablet is out, as that term has a negative connotation in the computer world. Something with “Slate” is a possibility, but I’d like to think that they’re more creative than that. (Though there is some doubt in my mind based on the names of the wholly uninventive iPod “Touch” or ludicrously-named MacBook “Air.”) But the most likely candidates are ones that imply creativity, color, or artwork of some sort.

I’m about 30% confident Apple will be forced to include a stylus. If it is pushed as an artist’s tool or a notetaking device a pen of some sort is going to be required (drawing or writing with just fingers is just too inefficient and clumsy). But Steve Jobs has made it pretty clear in the past that he hates styli. So I’m leaning toward it not being an artist’s tool with no pen/stylus. He’ll tout an amazing new touch keyboard, but people who use it will find that it doesn’t work very well without tactile feedback.


No significant changes for the iPhone here. We’ll see an announcement of a 3.2 version of its software to bring software compatibility with the tablet, but no real new significant functionality. No version 4.0 for another few months (we’ll see that announcement quietly in April/May, without a large press event).

The hardware itself will remain unchanged. And we won’t be seeing any announcement of it coming to any other carriers. That won’t come until June or July, when we’ll receive an announcement that AT&T exclusivity is ending, and the phone will be opened up to the T-Mobile network at a minimum, but probably also Verizon, though that might take a little more time to become available. Sprint won’t come until much later.


No new iMacs, or Mac Mini. But we’ll hear about a small refresh on the 17” MacBook Pro, where the Core i5 and i7 processors will become available as options soon. The 15” will be eventually offered with an i5, but not yet. All MacBook Pro models will soon be offered with Solid State Disks. Other than that, the only changes will be minor bumps in processor speed.

The Mac Pro is due for an i7 update, but I doubt this event will be where that is announced.


There will be no iPod announcements.


The iLife suite will be upgraded to version 2010. iPhoto will be given a few new tools for fixing photos. iMovie will be given a lot more functionality. The other applications will receive some minor tweaks, but nothing earthshattering.

iWork will also be updated to 2010, but we won’t hear much about it. The biggest change is going to be improved integration with MobileMe.

MobileMe, on the other hand, will receive significant upgrades to support the new tablet. As the tablet is going to be a primarily internet connected device, tight integration with MobileMe will be essential. MobileMe is going to be the primary means of accessing personal data on the tablet.

iTunes will receive a minor bump (9.1) to support some new features of the tablet. We’ll hear an announcement that soon we will be able to stream our iTunes content to any computer associated with our Apple IDs courtesy of the recent acquisition of LaLa. It won’t be a subscription service where you can play any music anywhere at any time (like Zune Pass), just a way to access your iTunes purchased music from any computer associated with your Apple account. This same capability, however, will be coming in iPhone OS 4.0 (but only when connected via WiFi; AT&T won’t allow real-time streaming of music over their 3G network).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Last minute peek at the Apple tablet

A leaked image of the Apple tablet device, being announced tomorrow…

You saw it here first.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

19 Years Ago…

Full article text available here. Click images to view larger.

Front Cover

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Back Cover

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Full Circle

My life as a professional programmer has officially come full circle.

The first contract programming job I ever did was when I was 12… some 24 years ago (ugh… was it really that long ago?). It was a project for a law firm in Omaha, NE (where my family was living at the time) that downloaded data from a piece of equipment that logged all phone calls in and out of their office to a computer, and present that information in a usable and meaningful way. The firm had approached my dad about writing this software for them and he decided to pass the software portion of it on to me, while he took care of connecting the hardware. It wasn’t a big project; we didn’t work on it long, and it didn’t pay a lot, but it was significant in that it was the first time that I was being paid for doing some programming.

Today I’m part owner of a company that creates, sells, and supports restaurant management software. We currently have 7 people working at the company, 3 of which are dedicated to taking telephone support calls. I am responsible for putting together the software that they use for supporting customers, and within the last couple of days one of the features I added was the ability to log data about incoming and outgoing phone calls. A box in the office records the caller ID information coming in, sends it out to the network where my software receives it and logs it in a database along with the duration of the call as well as which employee took the call.

This new feature of the software is very similar to the first project I worked on professionally. They both record phone call information into a database.

Many other aspects of my current employment mirror programming experiences I had when I was younger as well. Knowing what to do with phone call data was a natural fit, because I had done it before.

The money that my dad and I were paid for that project went toward purchasing a printer for the computer we had at home. That printer was an Epson dot matrix printer (those really loud, slow ones). Today we are using Epson dot matrix printers for printing customer receipts as part of the cash register portion of our software. Many of the commands to control the receipt printers today are the same as the commands I learned to control that first printer we got nearly a quarter century ago. Learning to talk to the printers today was easy because I learned how to do it 25 years ago.

With the Point-of-Sale system we also talk to various pieces of equipment using serial ports on the register computers. In 1987 I wrote a telecommunication program whose primary focus was talking to other computers over serial ports. In 1989 I worked on a project where a computer would record data coming off of an induction pipe bending machine over a serial port. The project for the law firm also used the computer’s serial port.

There are other ways that I have seen things cycle back on themselves with our current project. It’s kind of weird to see things happen like that, especially considering the rapid pace of technological development. But at the same time the things I was doing 25 years ago (or more) were in a lot of ways preparing me in a unique way for the things I am doing today.

Now if only I can find a good multimedia programming project to work on so I can relive the stuff I made in the early 1990s.

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