Google is the Only Search Engine

On June 9, 2012, in Computing, Software, by Anthony Lake

I’ve been asked to explain which is my favorite search engine, so I will use this post to explain that, barring any other parameters, there is only candidate: Google.

There are certain government backed credit reporting agencies such as Lexis Nexis who keep complete dossiers on each person in the United States, perhaps on Earth.  Perhaps in the case of human data-mining investigations, Lexis Nexis would be a more efficacious search. But not a free search. And it’s not a general purpose search.

There are very few other exceptions, for instance, we cannot apparently collect Wal-Mart transaction data from Google, or other proprietary or specialized data, but I would argue that even most of the specialized data is found more readily on Google than anywhere else. For instance, there are real estate database – but Google is still more encompassing, faster, and free.

All other spiders contain only a subset of the data Google has, which contains most of the data published to the web since 1998 or so. It is likely that Google has other data as well, such as newsgroup, BBS, and certain ftp listings floating around there somewhere.

Perhaps there is an argument for some that, given the same data-set, some other search engine produces more aesthetic results, such as Bing, which has been accused on more than one occasion of  simply using a refinement algorithm to process Google’s results.  This may or may not be true, but since I am not averse to writing a decent query for Google, I am sticking with the ocean from which all those rivers flow.

Google is the only contender for fast, free, and complete.

 

Be Certifiable! The Basics Of MCSE And MCP

On May 29, 2012, in Computing, Education, Money, by Anthony Lake

It is not always who you know, but what you know. That is why obtaining Microsoft certification can be a valuable asset to your career. Of course, it does depend on what career path you want to take as to whether you want to get either MCSE training or MCP training or anything else for that matter. So what do those abbreviations MCSE and MCP stand for anyway?

MCSE and MCP certifications can be useful!

MCP stands for Microsoft Certified Professional and MCSE is an abbreviation for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. What exactly does having a Microsoft certification mean anyway? We know that it looks good on a resume and opens new doors in your career. Did you know that being certifiable – in Microsoft anyway – sometimes will also boost your pay? Experience counts for a lot, but having a Microsoft certification or two does not hurt either!

So what does it take to be and MCP or MCSE? Lots of studying! The MCP courses and MCP exams are geared toward a more rounded technical professional. Candidates for MCP must pass one current certification test from Microsoft. Passing one of the exams demonstrates that the candidate has a consistent level of technical expertise.

With the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer path, there are MCSE boot camps that help prepare candidates for the MCSE exams. These MCSE boot camps are intense classes often packed into a full two week period instead of the traditional weekly MCSE training classes in preparation for the MCSE exams. This path is more involved. MCSE certification is standard in the IT field and prepares you for anything from the design of a system’s infrastructure to analyzing the company’s needs before implementing a design.

Unlike those individuals who take the MCP training to prepare for MCP exams, students of MCSE have a course of study that is more intense. Instead of one test to prepare for, they have seven tests that they are required to pass to get their Microsoft certification. Yikes! Seven! They have five main exams to take as well as two electives. The five required MCSE exams are broken down into four operating system exams and one design exam. The two electives typically deal with other issues in design and implementation not covered in the five core tests.

After learning a few basics, it is easy to see that the MCP or Microsoft Certified Professional is really just a stepping stone to bigger and greater things in the world of Microsoft certification. The individuals who go for the MCP have a leg up on those peers who have no technical experience. They will have a better grasp on technical issues and usually stay a step ahead of trends. The MCSE is more specialized and appeals to the techno geek with a penchant for design and implementation. They like knowing how stuff works. So market yourself and become certifiable!

How to Surf the Web Anonymously

On May 22, 2012, in Computing, Government, Hacks, Software, by Anthony Lake

If want to go on a site without anyone knowing what you’re doing, the simplest way to do it is by using a web proxy.  A proxy is another computer that is like a mask your computer puts on when it connects to the Internet.  It’s also a private gateway to blocked sites because the site you are actually surfing is hidden behind the proxy, which is unblocked.

If you’re trying to surf a site like Facebook, MySpace, Hotmail or yahoo mail from work or school and its blocked by your school, work or

Web proxies allow  web access from restricted areas

Web proxies allow web access from restricted areas

government – this is how it’s done. I don’t suggest it, I’m merely writing this for informational and educational purposes only.  With a web proxy, for example, if you go to a web proxy in London and surf the Web, every other computer in the world thinks you are from London.

There are plenty of free web proxy sites that you can use.  The problem is that many of the popular ones also get blocked by people at your school, company or government.  However, once you find one that is not blocked, all you do is go to the proxy site, enter the URL you want to browse and click go!  Its that easy.

You can then click on any links in the page you are browsing and you’re still anonymous to the outside world.  Just remember that if you go to a proxy and its blocked or no longer works, its no big deal, there are thousands of them.  Just try another one and eventually you will find a web proxy that lets you browse freely and privately.

You should know that this doesn’t mean that the IT Guy behind the desk doesn’t know what you’re doing, or that the web proxy itself isn’t a red herring. There are always ways you could be being had.  But have you ever noticed all those amateur  news reports getting out in real-time from every violent revolution?

There’s no guarantee… but knowledge of web proxies is another tool that should be in your kit.

-Tony

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ASP.net vs. PHP

On May 21, 2012, in Computing, Hacks, Software, by Anthony Lake

In the world of web development, the choice of which development language to use commonly comes down to two popular choices. Web applications, specifically those relying on back end databases, are typically being created using either Microsoft’s ASP.Net language, or the Open Source alternative language of PHP. Reasons why one might choose one over the other can include: The cost of development tools, or availability of such tools, or even ones comfort level with the Open Source initiative. The goal of this article is to provide some perspective on reasons why one might choose one over the other.

Microsoft's ASP.net

Microsoft's ASP.net

Active Server Pages or ASP has long been an option for creating dynamic web content. Active Server Pages facilitates the ability to use databases such as Access or SQL just to name a few, to create dynamic, feature rich websites. The work going on behind the scenes in serving up the dynamic content is being done at the server level by the Active Server Pages source code. Microsoft has spent a great deal of time and resources promoting their .Net family of programming languages of which ASP.Net is a member. In order to develop with ASP.Net one must obtain the extremely expensive Microsoft Visual Studio Programming Suite. While expensive, Visual Studio is an asset to any programmer due to its vast amount of features.

As with all of Microsoft’s products, support and updates are constantly made available for ASP.Net. The shear amount of features that Microsoft packs into Visual Studio, coupled with Microsoft’s extensive support make certainly make ASP.Net an attractive solution for any corporation’s web development needs, but the cost can be prohibitive, if not impossible to afford for the individual web developer.

PHP, which is in its 5th+ revision now, is an Open Source web development language that also facilitates the creation of feature rich, dynamic websites that can use

PHP - Open Source Web Development Software

PHP - Open Source Web Development Software

databases. Being Open Source means simply that PHP isn’t owned by anyone. Just as with Active Server Pages, the work going on behind the scenes of serving up the dynamic web content is being done by PHP at the server level. As with most Open Source products, the resources available to a PHP developer are free of charge. This makes PHP extremely attractive to the independent web developer.

There are some commercial quality development suites available from companies like Zend, but there is also wealth of free resources just a Google Search away. Because there is really no corporate entity behind PHP, support and development on PHP is done by the community of its users and developers themselves. Surprisingly this does not seem to adversely affect the ability to find support for PHP.

All in all, ASP.Net and PHP are both excellent options, offering basically the “same” functionality in the ultimate sense. Whether the decision comes down to the cost of initial investment, or the comfort level one has regarding Open Source, or something else entirely, the end result depends upon the mastery of whichever language is chosen.

-Tony

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Dedicated photo printers differ from all-purpose printers as they are designed to print photos only, as opposed to text or graphics documents in addition to photos. They are generally compact in size and lightweight, and some models even feature batteries that allow you to print without the need for an outlet. Most photo printers, including dye-sublimation (or dye-sub) printers, are built around a thermal dye engine, though there are a few that feature inkjet technology.

For many years, dye-sublimation printers were specialist devices used in demanding graphic arts and photographic applications. The advent of digital photography led to the entry of this technology into the mainstream, forming the basis of many of the standalone, portable photo printers that surfaced in the second half of the 1990s.

The term “dye” in the name refers to the solid dyes that were used in the process instead of inks or toner. “Sublimation” is the scientific term for a process where solids (in this case, dyes) are converted into their gaseous form without going through an intervening liquid phase. In my opinion, XEROX has been the leader in this field.

The printing process employed by true dye-sublimation printers differs from that of inkjets. Instead of spraying tiny jets of ink onto a page as inkjet printers do, dye-sublimation printers apply a dye from a plastic film.

A three-pass system (featuring solid dyes in tape form on either a ribbon or a roll) layers cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dyes on top of one another. The print head on a dye-sub printer uses tiny heaters to vaporize the dye, which permeates the glossy surface of the paper. A clear coat is added to protect the print against ultraviolet light. Although this method is capable of producing excellent results, it is far from economical. Even if a particular image does not need any one of the pigments, that ribbon segment is still consumed. This is the reason it is common for dye-sub printer compatible paper packs to contain a transfer film capable of producing the same number of prints. In addition, dye sublimation inks need a paper that allows the ink to remain on the surface of the paper.

These days, a number of inkjet printers on the market are capable of deploying dye-sublimation techniques. The cartridges in such printers spray the ink, covering the page one strip at a time.  The print head heats the inks to form a gas, controlled by a heating element that reaches temperatures of up to 500° C (higher than the average dye sublimation printer).  A big difference in the results with dye-sublimation technique is that because the dyes are applied to the paper in gas form, they do not form distinct dots with a hard edge like inkjet printers.  Instead, the edges are softer and blend into each other easily. Additionally, the infusion of the gaseous dye into the paper yields a more colour-fast picture.

Comparing Dye-Sublimation Printers and Inkjet Printers

Although it is difficult to point out every possible advantage and disadvantage when comparing inkjet and dye-sub printers, the following list mentions the major points that apply to most people printing photos at home.

Advantages of Inkjet Printers over Dye-Sub Printers:

  • Prints are very precise with sharp edges
  • Latest models offer incredible detail that exceeds most dye-sub printers
  • Variety of papers/surfaces available—including matte, luster, glossy.
  • Not locked in to one manufacturer’s paper
  • Some archival inkjets can produce prints that long-lasting
  • Most inkjets can print on many different surfaces that are designed to accept ink, including CDs, CD inserts, envelopes, etc.
  • Inkjets have a considerably larger colour gamut and usually produce more vivid photos than dye-subs
  • Easier to obtain large format inkjets that can print 11×14, 13×20 sizes, or larger
  • Inkjet printing is often cheaper than dye-sub printing

Inkjet Printer Disadvantages:

  • Often much slower than dye-sub printers
  • Most non-archival inkjets produce prints that fade a little (sometimes a lot) faster than dye-sub prints
  • Print heads sometimes clog and require cleaning, or even replacement

Advantages of Dye-Sub Printers over Inkjet Printers:

  • Very fast
  • Relatively maintenance-free
  • Smooth with no dot patterns visible, even under magnification
  • Produce excellent shadow detail in dark areas where some inkjets may be “blotchy”
  • Prints are usually more durable and more waterproof than inkjet prints
  • For many viewers, dye-sub printers produce photos that look and feel more like real photographs due to the smoothness of the prints and the absence of visible dot patterns

Dye-Sub Printer Disadvantages:

  • Consumer level models often smear high contrast edges (like a black square on a white background) to some degree, making charts, graphs, and line art look a little less “precise”
  • Dye-sub prints typically only last as long or slightly longer than a good non-archival inkjet printer and are generally not considered “archival”
  • Paper type selection is very limited and while dye-sub printers produce excellent glossy photos, most fall behind or do not even offer the option of matte prints
  • Dye-sub printers use an entire page and an entire page worth of ribbon even to print one small wallet size photo
  • Pages cannot be normally fed through the printer twice to fill more of the page as they can in inkjets
  • Dust can sometimes get inside and cause vertical scratches on prints
  • Dye sub printing and the cost of paper and toner (ribbon) is often higher than inkjet printing

Most of you who read my old blog know why I often buy used and refurbished. Here are a few of the popular models of dye-sublimation printers that have been “tried and true” and generally tested:

Canon SELPHY CP710 Compact Photo Printer
Dye-sub printer for 150x100mm photographs

Samsung SPP-2040 Digital Photo Printer ( Windows Macintosh )
Dye-sub printer with 300x300dpi resolution

Samsung SPP-2020 Photo Printer
Digital photo printer that produces 100x150mm snapshots

Sony DPP-FP30 Digital Photo Printer
A user-friendly dye-sub photo printer

Kodak Easyshare Printer Dock 6000 for CX/DX 6000, LS 600 and LS 700 Series Cameras
A dye-sublimation printer for compatible Kodak cameras

Olympus Camedia P-10 Digital Photo Printer
A dye-sublimation printer that prints straight from your Olympus digital camera

Olympus P-440 Photo Printer
Dye-sub printer capable of printing A4 photographs

Sony DPP-EX50 Digital Photo Printer
Dye-sublimation photo printer

 

Of course, there are also the laser printers. I have not included them in this discussion for one simple reason: heat. Dye sublimation and inkjet printers generate little or no heat, so you can use them to print things like iron-ons.  With Lasers, though, you can print solder (etching) patterns – so, of course, your useage will  determine which printer you need for the when comparing apples to oranges.

– Tony

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