Open-sourcing and Rooting

Router:  The past week was an exciting one – last week, I open-sourced my router with DD-RT.  DD-RT is a linux based, open-sourced firmware for routers.  My old Linksys router kept losing its wifi abilities.  The only way to fix it was via a hard reset.  This became extremely annoying.  Hence, I purchased a new router, the Netgear RangeMax Wireless N-300/WNR3500L, which is pretty powerful and easy to “upgrade.”  The DD-RT process took a bit longer than expected (~45 minutes) but, since I completed it, everything runs quickly and well — no complains plus, I have a lot more control over my router.  I’m the sort of guy who notices the fastest drop off in speed (I constantly check Speedtest), so having a router that I can fully control is nice.

Android Rooting: While working on the router was fun, rooting my Android phone was way more fun and interesting.  I recently returned from a trip to Mexico.  Prior to the trip, I had resolved to root my Droid 2 Global – it was slow and not what I believed the Android experience should be (I was starting to have dreams of going back to Blackberry so you know it was bad).  Immediately prior to the trip, I spoke with Verizon about adding international calling.  Long story short – the Droid 2 Global was not able to accept the service change.  After nearly two hours on the phone, Verizon resolved to send me a “new” phone.  However, since I was leaving the next day, I was lucky in that my company has extra Blackberries sitting around and we set one up quickly.  Given my previous dreams, using the Blackberry for the week was a nice reminder of why I left RIM.

The moment I returned from my trip, I decided to instead root an older HTC Incredible my brother gave me and keep the “new” Droid 2 Global in as new a condition as possible since I wanted to sell it (I don’t use the keyboard as much as I thought and my international travel is minimal right now).  I rooted it – going from Android 2.1 to 2.3 and then down to 2.2 since I wanted to use some of the HTC Sense UI/programs.

So far – major improvement although I think a lot has to do with the phone and not the rooting.  The initial rooting was incredibly simple (basically one step using Unrevoked).  Adding ROMS was a bit more challenging – not because it is hard to find them but mainly because there were weird boot looping issues that cropped up.  Nevertheless, I was able to run Cyanogen’s Gingerbread ROM (7.0) although, for the moment, I am trying out Skyraider’s Sense 4.0 ROM (just released a few days ago) even though it is Android 2.2.  The process took a while but it was a great experience.

Time to step away from the computer and head outside (with my “new” phone)!

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TEDx San Jose 2011

Two weeks ago, I attended TEDx San Jose.  I have always wanted to attend a TED event.  It was amazing.

For those who do not know, TED stands for Technology, Education, and Design.  It is one of, if not, the, pre-eminent conference in the world.  They bring in a large assortment of the most interesting, important, and influencing people in just about any field (of course with a focus on the TED areas of expertise).  A few years ago, they starting putting their TED talks online.  I saw a few and was hooked.  TED Talks are short (under 18 minutes) and people sometimes practice months before giving them — how else to talk about your most passionate area of interest and convey its wonder in such a short period?  I would love to attend a TED conference.  Sadly, it is out of my price range (~$6,000) plus I believe you need an invitation.

Luckily, TED went open source two years ago and started their TEDx program.  TEDx allows anyone to start their own TED conference on just about any topic.  I found out about one in the DC area last year but could not attend.  However, I was reading Robert Scoble’s blog and he mentioned he was speaking at TEDx San Jose.  Since I sort of view Scoble as somewhat of a Silicon Valley legend (in fact, someone I very much just wanted to meet), I thought going to the conference was perfect.  I moved out to Cali to meet interesting, smart people who wanted to change the world.  What better place than a TED conference right in the middle of Silicon Valley?!  I signed up and the cost was a very reasonable $100.

The conference, which was an entire Saturday (from ~8am-9pm including the after-party), was incredibly well-done (kudos to the organizers).  The speakers were amazing.  Everyone from Salman Khan (Khan Academy and recent TED speaker) to Dr. Kim Silverman (a major guy at Apple but who wowed the crowd with amazing magic), Kevin Surace (Inc’s entrepreneur of the year), Jonathan Trent (“Green” ideas and Nasa PhD scientist), Karen Trivelsky (started an amazing company from literally the ground up and is now helping out hundreds of underprivileged kids with college and a People Magazine “Hero Among Us”), to Margo McAuliffe (started an amazing girl’s school in Kenya and you can’t help but want to donate to her cause) were great .  The organizers suggested that everyone sit somewhere different after each session – I did and met great folks.  Plus, at lunch, I strategically sat at Scoble’s table and had a pretty interesting conversation with him!

My friends tried to convince me to go skiing the weekend of TEDx San Jose.  I refused and I am glad that I did (although I did miss some amazing powder).  TEDx – thanks for a great experience.

Dishnetwork – how NOT to treat customers

As readers of this blog know, I recently moved from DC to San Francisco.  I am not a big TV watcher but in my old apartment, I had roommates who wanted TV.  Hence, I found what I thought was the best option, Dish Network satellite TV.  The price was right.  Of course, as with many digital services, I was required to sign a two year lease.  At my point in life, it is rare to stay somewhere for two years but the contract was fine since Dish offers “free” moves to a new location.  However, since my building in DC only allowed Dish (vs Dish and DirectTV) and you could not have your own satellite dish, prior to agreeing to a contract, I specifically asked whether they would charge me to cancel if I ever moved to a building that did not allow Dish Network.  I was explicitly told that, in that situation, I would be able to cancel free of charge.  I signed up.

What a mistake!  I had two days to find a new apartment when I moved.  I found a great one but, as it turns out, they do not allow Dish Network (only DirectTV).  No satellite dishes allowed.  I just called Dish to cancel the contract given the situation.  Michael, whose operator id is T7X, was mostly professional and straight to the point but not helpful or considerate given the situation.

Here is what I was told:

1. We only allow people out of their accounts if they move somewhere you cannot receive Dish Network.  I told him that made perfect sense.  I cannot receive Dish at my new condo (not allowed).  He said that is not what he meant but only where line of site for a satellite was impossible.  Interesting semantic difference and I feel like I was sold a lot of BS.  Michael reminded me that the FCC requires building to allow you to have access to all providers.  I think he is wrong on this since the board of my new building made the choice (which I bet is a loophole in the law).  Nevertheless, having Dishnetwork as a TV option is NOT possible in my building.

2. Michael, in his infinite wisdom, then said I should have thought about this fact when moving.  Given my two days to find a new place across the country, I said which satellite TV provider was allowed in my building was not at the top of my list of why to choose one building over the other.  However, the insult was helpful (nice training Dish).

3.  Michael explained that the only main option was to cancel the account – $260 cancellation fee!  Of course, another option is to continue to pay for service that I cannot use.  Helpful.  Really helpful.

4. He said I could also transfer the account the another person.  This meant that someone else could continue to use the account so at least it was being used.  People have moved into my old apartment and were using the account but now wanted something new.  This is a less than ideal situation.  Of course, if they want to set up a TV in a different room from how it was originally set up, they would be required to pay $50 fee.  If I moved the account to someone else in a different location, DishNetwork would not require me to pay that fee.  Odd since keeping the account in the same place will actually save Dish money.  Michael was zero help.  Nothing he could do for me on that.

5. Assigning the contract – Michael said that assigning the full contract to the new tenants is not possible despite the fact that legally, I am fairly certain you can assign any contract you want.  “Those are the company rules,” he said.  Interesting in that at one point, he quoted FCC rules (when it helped his point) and then quoted company rules when those made more sense.

Lessons learned: Dishnetwork has ZERO interest in me ever using them again.  That is fine.  It is a perfectly valid business decision albeit one I consider stupid.  As I told Micheal, I do not plan on living in my current building the rest of my life.  Beyond this terrible experience, I actually liked the service and would have bought it again when I had the option.  No more.

I realize I signed a contract and am obligated to it although my situation makes it near impossible to fulfill the terms (i.e. they provide me satellite TV that I can actually watch).  In essence, despite me nearly begging Michael to find some option that would work (or at least make me feel better about the situation), he assured me there was nothing he could do.  Two options: 1. Pay the $260 cancellation fee or 2. beg the new tenants, who I do not know, to join me on the account (since I cannot assign it to them), and then pay $50 to have a Dishnetwork technician come over and turn on an outlet.  Michael, maybe for next time, you could have at least offered that $50 for free (since it would have been free if they had a new address).  Flexibility and a little bit of kindness/understanding would have been appreciated.

UPDATE 4/16/11

The only way, barring legal means, to exit a contract with Dish is to live in a place where you cannot receive service.  Dish sent a technician last week to check on whether I could receive a signal in my new place.  After 5 minutes of looking at his compass and a few other gadgets, the technician said that there was no way I could receive a signal (I face NW into a large building – yea, it’s a wonderful view!).  I spoke to his manager on the phone to confirm.  They said I would be hearing from Dish to cancel my contract.  A week later, I did not hear from them so I called.  Turns out, they have a rule (that no one informed me about beforehand) that requires validation by a second technician.  I guess they don’t trust the first guy who goes – it is just a simple compass reading plus a bit more, right?  Weird that they would want to spend the money and time of their techs to send them twice to my place so that I could exit my contract (13 months remaining and I’m only paying them $16/mo).  Really, Dish, is this smart?

Plus, it is a huge waste of my time since I have to be around and then spend a ton of time with them on the phone arguing about why they are wasting my time and why they never called (since each day I have service when I can’t use it is another day that I must pay for it).  Stupid business and not one I will ever use again.  Looking forward to meeting your next tech tomorrow morning and hearing him say the same thing.

Blackberry vs Android

Android vs Blackberry

I used a Blackberry exclusively for two and a half years. It was my phone, my mobile office, and my mobile connection to the web.

As a person who loves mobile tech and pushing to see what it can do, I tried to push my blackberry (tour btw). Within the confines of its small app store and underpowered browser, it did well. As an email platform, it was terrific and its keyboard, to no one’s shock is the best out there. Auto text is still one of the best and simplest tools in the market. Why no one has copied it is beyond me but i miss it. Blackberry messenger is a great little app – so long as your friends also have blackberries (it is also a sticky social app). My old company required that, if we wanted mobile access to our email, we had to use a blackberry (and it was the only mobile system they would pay for their employees to use).

Despite all of the above, I couldn’t wait to start my new job where i could have a new mobile platform. Clearwell, in true silicon valley fashion (I.e. Where keeping your employees happy is considered a virtue and recruiting tool), said i could chose any phone or platform i wanted. Clearwell has a corporate account with verizon although i could have chosen any carrier (but then would have had to submit my bills each month).

On verizon, there are two smartphone operating systems – android and blackberry (and supposedly coming in 2011, iOs from apple). Unfortunately for rim (maker of blackberry), their os is brilliant at a few things (ie email) but cannot fully compete in any other smartphone manner (such as breadth of apps, interesting hardware, and functionality). Hence, my choice was easy – buy an android phone.

I chose the Droid 2, which has now been switched out for the Droid 2 Global (and I tested the Droid Pro – a potential “blackberry killer”) but stuck with the Droid 2 Global. After two months on android, generally I could not be happier. There are some major issues (such as battery life) but I can do so much more. I slightly miss blackberry messenger but threaded text messages do nearly the same thing. Touch screens are the future (or maybe now the present?). Rim, you should be embarrassed that it took you so long to launch the Blackberry Torch (on AT&T). Why was Palm the first one in the “modern” times to pul this off with the Pre (and Motorola following shortly thereafter with the Droid Pro)? What have you been developing with all those nearly free corporate dollars you pull in? Did you fail to see, years ago, how much people loved their treos (I.e. Touch screen plus keyboard  = great combo albeit one whose strength is fading.  Handspring figured this out before touchscreens were even in vogue)?

Anyways, rim, you are in a predicament. I think you know it. I hope you fix it. A quote from my very non-tech friend sums it up simply: “all of my bbm (blackberry messenger) friends are disappearing. I need a new phone. Should I buy one of those android things?” how do you think I answered?

P.s. Rim, your new tablet looks pretty sweet but the iPad is already well ensconced in corporate America. There is still a huge, untapped consumer market but they are no longer buying your phones so why would they buy your tablet?
P.p.s. Sorry for pouring more fuel on this fire. You guys have a great platform in some ways and i truly do hope that you can fix the issues before it is too late. Competition is good.

Moving to California

Apologies for the long absence from this blog but the past few months were a complete whirlwind.

As someone who loves technology and the change that it has the potential to bring to the world, I have always longed to move to Silicon Valley. It is the heart of technological innovation in America. The other major tech areas have their pluses and minuses (some I know from experience and others from what I have heard):
– NYC: “silicon alley” has a great alternative tech scene but it is a) small and b) ensconced in one of the largest and most dynamic cities in the country.
– Boston: Great scene but small. Focused on biotech.
– South Florida: very scattered tech scene (and I searched). There might be too many distractions in south beach. 🙂
– Northern Virginia tech corridor: I worked in “nova” for nearly three years in various positions – legal and Wimax strategy for Sprint/Nextel, corporate development (m&a) and project management for Neustar. I went to nearly all the major tech events hosted and, frankly, it is a small scene populated with companies mostly focused on government work, which is an absolutely great business plan but did not particularly interest me (and I don’t have a security clearance). Unless I went to highly focused events in dc proper, it was really difficult to meet young people looking to change the world. Instead, most events (especially in nova) are populated by more senior managers wearing suits. This is simply a very different mindset from what I knew happened in more dynamic tech cities. Maybe it is the government influence or simply the more conservative culture but I did not feel that it was super conducive to the mindset I was searching to find in tech. Sadly, the last great tech company to come out of nova is probably aol and that was over ten years ago. Heck, aol doesn’t even keep it’s headquarters in nova anymore. Note that livingsocial and opower are hopefully beginning to change the dynamics.

As part of any major life change, I believe it is important to gather as much information as possible. I spoke with numerous colleagues, friends, and mentors. The people I knew in San Francisco said: “if you want to do tech, move out here even if you do not have an offer. Companies in the bay area won’t want to hire you until you are out here since it highlights your commitment.” my mentors said, “you have a great job in nova, don’t make any drastic moves (like quitting) until you have secured a new job. It is much easier to be hired from a position of strength then if you are unemployed. Even if it was true that you quit, people will wonder about why you left and how you left. Plus, did you notice that unemployment is at nearly 10%?!” However, it was the words of an older and wiser technology startup CEO (based in dc) that stuck with me the most: “if you want to do banking, you go to NYC and those are the people you will spend time hanging out with. If you want to be in politics, you live in dc and those will be your friends. If you want to do tech, you move to San Francisco.” While this clearly oversimplifies the situation, it is generally true.

Despite trying pretty hard in dc, I had essentially no friends who worked directly in technology (except at my one company). While i absolutely love my friends in dc, they are either lawyers, working for NGOs, or in the government. As friends, they are amazing but as business colleagues, our worlds were different. I decided it was time try and make the move out West.

Note that I am the guy who, when i first visited silicon valley thought it was the coolest place on earth. My eyes were literally coming out of my head like a kid in a candy store. Or, put another way, silicon valley is like Disney world to me. Ive read and dreamed about it and now it was time to see what i could do to make it there.

I started looking for jobs and interviewing in earnest. I called everyone I knew who lived or knew people at companies in the valley. I was lucky and ended up having Google and Facebook fly me out to their headquarters for interviews. I had phone and all day in-person interviews with a number of other pretty awesome companies (they will remain nameless for now). However, the company that ended up as the best fit, which also happens to be a company that I now believe is one of the best companies in the valley that no one knows about is Clearwell Systems.

I’ll write more about Clearwell at a later date but suffice it to say that it quickky became apparent they were the best fit for me so I had to say no to a few other very interesting options. Clearwell moved fast and I appreciated that – from last phone interview to HQ visit and the CEO interview to offer, acceptance, giving notice to Neustar and moving to California to start in my new position was all of three weeks. Their speed was a breath of fresh air compared to my previous experiences.

Once i moved, almost everyone I have met is in tech. I know the CEOs of four awesome startups and meeting more all the time. None of them are over thirty (and note that, as nearly 30 myself, older and wiser executives are generally great.  But I also tend to find it pretty awesome that Silicon Valley financiers trust very very young people to run their own successful companies). Ive become friends with vcs at some major firms who are investing in game changing tech. I work at a company that is changing its field (e-discovery, btw).

In short, while leaving friends, family, and a great job is not easy, following a dream is what life is all about (versus doing what is comfortable). I am ecstatic with my decision and where i landed. With two months under my belt, I am slowly starting to have time for this blog and hope to update it more often. If you are ever in a similar life situaution or have questions about tech in sf, don’t hesitate to contact me.

P.s. Please forgive spelling errors and the lack of links – I am writing this on my iPad while in-flight! Google – thanks for the free wireless and delta, thanks for providing the wireless connection (and to gogo for building a business around wifi in the sky)!

Moving to the “Cloud”

I recently wrote a post about my favorite programs for the Mac (here).  While writing it, I realized how outdated it sounded.

The reason: a very large percentage of the programs that I now use live in the “Cloud.”  The “Cloud” as described by Walt Mossberg in today’s Wall Street Journal (here), is a combination of nebulous server farms around the world that store your information and run your programs.  The programs that I run which do not live in the cloud, either could or soon will.

When using my personal computer, I spend 95% of my time on the internet and in the “Cloud.”  That means I am running everything via a browser (in my case, I prefer Firefox).  The “programs” I run via the “Cloud” include Gmail, Gtalk/AIM, Google Reader, GoogleMaps, Bing shopping, WordPress, NYTimes, WashingtonPost, Techmeme, and Pandora.  “Programs” is in quotes because these are not really programs as much as they are websites that run programs and provide relevant information.  When I am at work, I may spend ~30% of my time in the “Cloud” because I spending the rest of it using Microsoft Office.  However, my company could easily choose Google Apps and/or Zoho Office to replace Microsoft Office.  Except for Excel, I have found Google Apps to be as good as MS Office.  When it comes to collaboration and email, Google easily beats Microsoft.  For the price (i.e. free for personal use and $50/yr for enterprises), Google Apps is a no-brainer.

Microsoft is slowly and grudgingly moving in this direction.  They are in no rush as this could destroy their business model but competition is forcing their hand.

For a company (and personal use) the metrics/ROI for moving to the “Cloud” are too hard to pass up.  The programs are just as good.  They are more robust (due to automatic updates).  They are available anywhere in the world with an internet connection (and even offline).  They are priced right — 1. cost of use is negligible (i.e. free), 2. computing resources are minimal (i.e. only a computer that can run a browser), which lowers hardware expenditures, and 3. IT costs are minimized.  A personal example of the ease of the “Cloud” is when I coaxed my mother to move to Yahoo Mail (I had my reasons but it was a mistake but that is another story).  She used to have major issues with her email.  Now, no issues and no phone calls to me. The same goes for IT Help Desks in a company. The PC, as a truly personal computer, is slowly withering away (see Forbe article here).

With 2010 only a few hours away, here are a few predictions of what the “Cloud” means for the future of computing: 1. Everything becomes easier but slightly less secure, 2. computer prices will continue to drop because you will not need to buy a powerful new computer.  One of the most power-hungry applications, gaming, is heading to the “Cloud.”  In 12 months, so long as you have a fast broadband connection, you will be able to play even the most hardcore games via the “Cloud.”  3. Content rental/streaming continues its fast growth.  Netflix streaming, movie rental via Amazon and others is quickly becoming a major force.  Its growth will only continue.  Why buy a movie for $15 when you can rent it for $3.  You can watch it again every few months for another $3.  If you watch a DVD fewer than 5 times, then renting is the way to go.  You can also watch it on anything with a screen (who will continue to need a DVD player built into their computer?).  4. Music streaming overtakes music buying.  I have many gigs worth of music in my iTunes folder.  How often do I listen to it?  Maybe once a month.  How often do I listen to Pandora/AOL Music?  Daily.  How much do I pay?  Zero.  Louise Gray had an interesting article on this topic here.  5. Mobile — this is the biggie that stands over all of the other predictions (and is not so much a prediction as a statement of fact). See below…

Mobile is one of the main driving forces / enablers of the “Cloud” (plus, of course, cheap fiber/broadband, massive and low-cost server farms).  Why is mobile a driver?  Your phone is not powerful enough to truly be smart (even if it is a “smartphone”).  However, when plugged into the Internet, a cellphone/smartphone becomes nearly as powerful as my laptop.  On my phone, I can do 99% of the things I can do on my computer such as send, receive, and write emails or documents.  I can view just about any website, read books, and listen to streaming music.  My phone is my GPS device (even though my current, terrible BlackBerry 8800 has its GPS disabled by Verizon but triangulation thanks to Google works well enough).  I can make restaurant reservations via Opentable and so forth.  My next computer purchase may only be for a screen and a keyboard with a USB cable plug for my phone.  With everything in the “Cloud,” the phone becomes just another device to connect.  It enables the “Cloud.”

I am excited for the future…welcome to 2010!

Top Mac Programs

This post goes out to my long lost Indian friend Azeem “the dream” Zainulbhai.  Come back to the US sometime soon!

When I last saw Zeemer, he had finally taken my advice and bought a Mac.  He said, “Adam, now that I have a Mac, you have to tell me your top 10 programs that I need to download.”

Side note to my application choices: I don’t like to spend a lot of money on programs.  There is too much great free choice out there.  With that said, I never steal or download illegal programs.  If it can’t be had for free, then I either pay or do without.

Without further ado:

1. Firefox – I go back and forth on this.  My previous posts showed a newfound love of Safari.  Safari never saved my open webpages, didnt work well with Feedly, had an annoying bookmark manager, didnt work with all the sites I tried, and does not have many ad-0ns (come on, Apple, get with the program — isnt the iPhone App store one of the strongest points about the iPhone?  Couldn’t the same be true for Safari?).  With Firefox 3.0, the processor overuse extra heat (and subsequent) fan annoyances are drastically reduced.  Firefox 3.0 seems to be nearly on par with Safari for processor/memory use.  I dont care about speed so much as I care about heat and noisy fans (no desk means very hot legs with a computer on them).

2. 1Password – for a person who lives much of his computer life online (and cares about security), remembering all my passwords becomes a challenge.  1Password remembers my passwords and is secure.  A lot of other people have recommended this program.  I held back.  I finally “bought” it when there was a one week special to receive a copy for free (legit deal, don’t worry).  I jumped at the chance.  For anyone reading this (and who uses more than two passwords/log in names online), get this program.  If you are lucky, 1Pw will offer the program for free again sometime this holiday season.  If not, buy it.  Worth every penny.

3. AppDelete – this used to be free but then an upgrade forced me to choose — do I pay or do I do without.  I paid.  It is worth $5.  What it does: it really deletes programs.  In a Mac, you can drag an app to the trash and most of its associated files are deleted.  However, a few lingering pieces stick around.  Over time, your computer will become filled with old random programs.  On a Mac, this is not nearly as bad as on a windows PC.  However, it does happen.  AppDelete stops it from happening (mostly).  I want to keep my computer feeling fresh and ready to go.

4. iStatpro – great way to keep track of what is going on inside your Mac.  I personally enjoy a detailed view of what is going on with various programs (and why they are overheating my computer).

5. Perian – this is the “Swiss Army Knife” of Quicktime components.  It allows Quicktime to play just about any format out there.  Until I started this Snow Leopard cleaning, I forgot that it was installed.  Then again, I have not run into any video issues for a very long time so I guess this is working.

6. Mint.com – great way to track finances.

7. Feedly.com – Makes every webpage into something you can tag, track, and share.

8. Google Reader/Gmail/Google Maps/Bing – I use these more than anything else on this list.  If you don’t know what they are, then I can’t even begin to imagine how you find this page.

9. Desktoptopia – way to keep your desktop background fresh and interesting.  This program automatically switches between hundreds of different photos they keep in their system.

10. Rapidweaver – This is a super easy way to create great looking websites.  I have minimal html skills (or none…) but I needed to create a site for my charity (www.adoptacoral.org).  I tried iWeb but quickly ran into its limitations.  I received Rapidweaver via one of those package deals (can’t remember the name now).  It took a little bit of time to learn but once I did, I was up and running pretty well.  Of course, the powers that be at my charity decided to turn over the web design duties to a pro who has time (my main job plus my life things in the past year sort of got in the way).  However, while the site was up, it was awesome (in my mind).  If you aren’t a pro web designer but don’t want to pay someone, this is a good program to use.

11. BOINC Manager – this is a program that allows you to donate your idle computer time to charity.  It essentially cuts up major jobs that need supercomputers into small pieces that can be handled by your computer.  I sometimes let it run but I also have a thing about excess heat and fan noise so this is run much less often than it should be.  Donating computer power is one of the easiest things I could do.

Random ones that are great but that I rarely use:

1. Sitesucker – great for the road warriors out there and any programs that don’t run Google gears. explain…

2. Dropbox (and its cousin my Microsoft – Sync)

3. TimesRead – Okay, I never use this one but I saw it when I was cleaning out my computer.  It is actually good.  I may start using it.