Netgear USB Mini Print Server PS121

Well, I'm not sure this falls under the category of products that I'm passionate about. But it is something I've just added to my network, and so far seems to work.

Netgear PS121 USB Mini Print Server

Now that Heather and I both use notebooks as our primary workstations, and we use a Linksys NSLU2 for network storage, the only purpose that my old Dell workstation was being put to was as a print server for my usb attached HP PSC 1210 printer/scanner/copier.

So I've been looking around for an inexpensive print server. The cheapest I found was a refurbished Netgear PS121 from for $24.95, which came to $27.90 with shipping. It arrived today, and I've spent the last few hours installing it.

Not because of any problem with the print server itself. Setting that up was very straightforward. Connect to Printer; Connect to Power; Connect to Network; Install Software from CD; Follow instructions. That was easy. The problem came when it prompted me to select the printer driver. No sign of a printer driver for the HP PSC 1210.

I'm doing this from my new notebook, so I figured Windows XP doesn't include the driver by default, and I'd just need to download and install it from the HP site. But come to find out that the driver installation for the HP PSC 1210 doesn't add an entry into the Add Printer Wizard like standard printer drivers. Instead the driver only gets enabled when the printer is physically connected to the computer's USB port.

This meant I couldn't select it when using the PS121 Add Printer Port wizard, because there was no driver available to select. I tried a few other HP printer selections in the hope that one of them was compatible. But no luck. I went in search of an alternative driver that I could install and select, but no luck there.

Eventually I came across this article on the HP site: HP All-in-One Products - Print Sharing Setup or Connection Using an HP Jetdirect Print Server in Windows. It gave me the hint that the HP DeskJet 3420 was compatible with the HP PSC 1200 Series. So I searched and downloaded the HP DeskJet 3420 from this site (I'm sure it's available on the HP site too, and that's probably a better place to get it).

That self-extracting zip gave me the following folder .\win2k_xp\enu\drivers\win2k_xp which contained the hpf3420k.inf which I could select from the Add Printer Wizard when I clicked on "Have Disk". After that installation went smoothly. I was able to print a test page (I did have to power off and on the printer and the print server once - I think prior attempts with other incompatible HP printer drivers had caused something to get locked up).

Now I just need to repeat these steps on Heather's notebook.

Online Backup for the Home

I know several people with home networks hosting gigs of movies, photos and mp3s, only a few of whom have any kind of backup strategy, and only one of whom (that I can think of) has an offsite backup strategy.

I've been familiar with the concept of offsite backups since I started working in the software industry. I suppose companies developing open source software don't have the same problem, but companies writing commercial software have to keep their source code secure from prying eyes, but at the same time safe in the event of a disaster such as fire or flood.

But despite this familiarity, a personal experience losing data, and a growing number of important files on my home network, until 1998 I still had no backup strategy at home. I thought about it from time to time, but I knew that if I just got a tape drive and tapes, and relied upon myself to do it manually on a regular schedule, I would start forgetting, and eventually give up altogether (I'm the same way about exercise). And at the back of my mind was the thought that it would be just my luck if the disaster I experienced was a house fire, rather than a hardware failure - thus ruining any tapes.

So when a colleague (the same one above who is the only person I know with an offsite backup) turned me on to Connected Online Backup I was immediately sold. Here was a solution that ran automatically, totally unattended and offsite. I happily paid the $14/mo for unlimited storage (at the time) and continued to run that for about 5 years. But then they changed their policy, and wanted to start charging more for a limited amount of storage. For the amount I had stored, the price was prohibitive to me, so I reluctantly cancelled my service.

I did so a little rashly, since I had no alternative strategy in place at the time. But I thought it wouldn't take me long to find an alternative more cost effective approach. I'm ashamed to say it took a few years before I had something setup - and in part only then because Heather would casually inquire from time to time into what kind of backups we had of all the digital photos we were taking. I did burn a few CDROMs but these were not offsite, were only partial, and I think I only did it twice during this time.

During this time I did research from time to time on what online backup services were out there, but they all basically wanted to charge me $20/month for a limited amount of storage. The ones charging less had even smaller storage limits.

Until in April 2005 I discovered Melody-Soft's Backup to Neighbor. It looked like for a very small one time cost I could setup an arrangement very similar to Connected with a friend or family member who, like me, had an always-on internet connection and a computer they kept on all the time. I bought it, and proceeded to use it with my Dad.

My first disappointment was that it could not be scheduled. This was really important to me, but since it was easy to launch, I decided to live with it and just develop a nightly habit. But then I ran into a few snags, and in particular one circumstance where a seemingly innocent thing could render an entire backup inaccessible. I posted these to the Melody-Soft forum for Backup to Neighbor and received prompt and friendly support. But I noticed that no-one else had posted to these forums - and as of this date mine are still the only posts there. This was just another thing that hurt my confidence in the product.

This time it only took a couple of weeks to come up with another solution. It was one my Dad had previously suggested, but at the time had seemed to complicated. He has a Windows Small Business Server which he can VPN into while travelling. I would just connect to this server, and copy files across too it. When I decided to bite the bullet and set this up, it was easy. I had for sometime been using Centered System's Second Copy for synchronizing folders on my local network. I added a few new profiles to this, and I was done. There were one or two things that I had to work around, and to get everything straight I ended up diagramming my backup strategy, which has proven useful.

About the only way I could improve upon my current setup, is if I could backup directly from my Linksys NSLU2 device to a device hosted on my Dad's network, without having to do this through another computer that must consequently remain up and running overnight. I think I could do this with SSH and FTP if I hacked my NSLU2 and put a similarly hacked one on my Dad's network. Anyone heard of anyone doing this that could post links?

Here's a recent good article on Online Backup with suggestions of other strategies and solutions that I'll explore.

Dell XPS M140 Laptop - First Impressions

My new Dell XPS M140 Laptop arrived a little under 48 hours ago, and so far I love it. I've used several Dell Laptops in the past for work, but this is the first one that I've owned. In fact, it's the first Laptop period that I've owned. Heather has had a Gateway 200-ARC Laptop for a couple of years, and I've increasingly found myself using it so that I don't have to disappear upstairs to my office when I want to be online. And my Dell PC was beginning to show its age, so I've gone for a desktop replacement.

Actually the Dell XPS M140 is classified a Thin & Light, although as the Dell XPS M140 CNET Review points out it's pushing it on weight. Especially with the nine-cell battery which I chose. This was a concern for me, because I've become accustomed to easily grabbing a laptop in one hand as I move from room to room following my daughter. Heather's Gateway weighs in at 4lbs and my current work Laptop, a Dell Latitude D600, at 5lbs. The XPS M140 is closer to 6lbs, but I'm happy to report I've not found that an issue.

One of my pet peeves with the Gateway 200 ARC is that the keyboard has the special function key in the lower left of the keyboard, with the control key one in from that. This is the reverse of the Dell I use for work - and I think of most keyboards on the market. This would be a mild annoyance if holding the Fn key down and hitting left arrow twice in quick succession didn't cause the laptop to freeze and require a hard reset. On a more normal keyboard layout those keys would be Ctrl+Left, of course, to skip back a word (something I do frequently to correct my typing errors). It might seem ridiculous, but that single thing ruled out Gateway laptops for me.

A concern I had going with a laptop sight unseen was that there would be some other form factor issue that became an irritant. So far I'm happy to report no such problem. A couple of things are still tripping me up a little, but I expect to get used to them. The buttons below the touchpad are a little more sunken than on my D600, and the button to eject the DVD drive is a little tricky to hit. The latter is probably a good thing in general. The former I'm already pretty much used too.

Another worry was that the XPS M140 would exhibit the same heating issue that the D600 does. By midday the left hand palm rest on the D600 is so hot as to be uncomfortable. The XPS M140 doesn't seem to have this problem. The palm rests get warm, and the fan on the left hand side ejects a pretty intense heat at times, but in general I've found it very comfortable, and I spent more than 8 hours on it pretty consistently yesterday.

All the reviews out there mention the big stuff. Good quality WXGA screen. Fast. Incredibly good battery life. I was a little worried on that front when I first used it unplugged yesterday. Windows XP reported that I only had about 2 hours of battery life. But 2 hours later I looked again, and now it thought I had about 3 hours. I guess it took a while to adjust.

The multimedia slot is great. Plenty of USB ports. I haven't tried the DVD writer yet, but it's dual layer. I haven't experimented with much of the Windows XP Media Center features either, although having volume and mute buttons exposed on the case is convenient. The D600 has this too, but not the Gateway 200 ARC.

In summary, I'm extremely happy with it, and highly recommend it (5 stars). We'll see in a couple of months if I've found anything that irritates me.