Horse Sense #53

Toys for Techs 2004

The subject of this message sounds silly, but it isn't.  Sometimes simple things can make a big difference.  Many studies have shown that company holiday parties are an enormous productivity tool.  They introduce people to each other in a relaxed atmosphere and allow them to talk about themselves and their jobs.  Often, very significant discoveries are made ("We're doing WHAT?").  Similarly, studies have shown that more technically oriented people like to "play" with new toys.  If they can do so, it improves their productivity and job satisfaction.  It also can benefit the organization because the toys the tech are playing with today may become critical tomorrow.  If someone would have told you ten years ago that web sites and e mail addresses would be ubiquitous, you would have probably laughed them out of the room.

So, it can really make sense to buy "toys" for your people.  And, you can make it tax deductible.  Using the Section 179 tax deduction, you can expense up $100,000 of qualifying property rather than depreciate it over several years.  The tax savings can be substantial.

To make this game productive and fun, you must have rules.  So, here they are:

(1) The toys must have a business use.

(2) The toys must cost less than $X.  More than one person can get together and pool their money.  You can beg for more from Scrooge if you think it's a real business need (good luck) or he will play with the toy too (now you are talking!).

(3) Toys must have a "cool" factor.  Someone else has to think it is cool, too.  What's the good of a toy no one wants to borrow or use?  e.g., it probably isn't a good idea to give your wife a vacuum cleaner as a holiday present.

(4) You can't ask for anything you know you're going to get anyway, like a vacuum cleaner.

(5) Toys can't take you away from your "real" job too long.  In fact, it's best if you can "open" it right away and be playing with it before the year comes to an end.  Remember, the holidays are a great time of year for doing things that you otherwise couldn't do because vacations, parties, and the holidays themselves can allow you to do things, like rebooting a server during the day, that you would never get to do at another time of the year.

Here are some ideas we've come across that might be an interesting "toy" for a tech:

Under $200
- Safeguard your laptop and save your back with a better carrying case.  Other neat options can be found at,, and
- Get a point and shoot digital camera.  A digital camera is great for taking and sharing pictures with others.  You also don't have to pay for the bad pictures you take.
- Get some backup software for your individual PC.  Symantec's Ghost and Dantz's Retrospect are both inexpensive and capable.  It's even possible to get external DVD writers, hard drives, and other devices with licenses for backup software included.
- Tired of not knowing the answer?  Consider a technical support subscription for your favorite software.  It is cheap insurance.
- A DVD burner is a great way to archive data onto both CDs and DVDs.  Take old files off your valuable storage and keep them safe forever.
- Floppy disks can't hold enough data.  CD and DVD disks can, but they are bulky and fragile.  How about a keychain drive?  They come in sizes up to 8 gigabytes!  We carry many different brands of keychain drives, but one of the most interesting is the MIGO.  With the MIGO, you can take a password protected memory stick about the size of your thumb, plug it into a Windows 2000 or better workstation and have your desktop and Outlook e mail messages and calendar appear!  Work on any machine and synchronize what you've done with your "home" machine.

Over $200

- Get a camera with a lot more features.

- Get some graphics editing software for your camera.

- Network disk defragmentation, antivirus, or firewall software can improve performance and safeguard your information.  Many people buy PCs with software preinstalled.  Unfortunately, it's normally limited in scope, can time out after a short period, or works only in a standalone mode.  You don't have to install it for the whole network.  Try a pilot project and see how it goes.  Having a consolidated view of the health and performance of your network can be a very good thing.  I like Symantec Client Security and Executive Software Diskeeper.  If you use laptops and don't have antivirus software and firewall software on them, you are running an enormous risk of infection of your entire network.

- Laptops are much more likely to be stolen, damaged, or hacked than desktops, but valuable data often isn't backed up.  Consider a backup program like Symantec's LiveState Data Recovery.  They also have a version for servers.  The software works below the Windows operating system and copies all areas of a physical disk that contain data to a file.  You can put this file on anything that has a drive letter.  Further backups are made by only copying changed portions of the disk.  This backup is very quick and comprehensive.  You can completely recover a failed machine in a matter of minutes rather than hours or view backed up files from a particular point in time and simply copy accidentally deleted files back to the drive where they belong.

- Disk imaging software can save you lots of time.  Perhaps you want to use this time to roll out some new servers or workstations.  Symantec's Ghost will allow you to create images of a reference box and replicate that box many times.

- Get an antivirus and/or antispam solution.  Or get your own e mail server.  We have the Iron Maiden, Symantec's Brightmail, Barracuda Networks Spam Firewall and products from many other companies.

- Get a better firewall, maybe one that can do antivirus filtering as well.  For larger customers, the Symantec Gateway Security appliance is hard to beat.

- Get a new backup device.  We like the new VXA-2 autoloaders from Exabyte.  The small tapes are 80G uncompressed and 160G compressed.  They are blazingly fast, but can also slow down so that they can match the speed at which your backup server can deliver data.  Because of this, they can end up backing up faster than drives that cannot adjust their speed and have to reposition frequently. Since they write to tape using packets and use other innovative technologies, you are much more likely to be able to restore your data than with any other type of tape backup.  Best of all, the drive and tape costs are better than that of competing technologies.  We also like disk to disk backups and the new Iomega Rev drive for backups.

- Get a keyboard, video, monitor switch that you can control via dialup or across the Internet via a web browser.  Without loading any software onto a server, you will be able to work with it as if you were sitting in front of it.  You'll even be able to see the entire boot process or power the equipment up and down.  We think the units from Digital V6 are worth a hard look.

- Get rid of all the junk that's cluttering up your server.  Storage Resource Manager from Veritas can help you identify which files are needed and which aren't.  It can also enforce policies on your scarce resources, like "No music on the server, please."

- Wouldn't being able to print in color be nice?  A network capable color printer is less than you might imagine.  We really like the ones from Xerox.  Our 8400 ink stick printer gives remarkable photographic quality prints in mere seconds.

- Wouldn't it be nice to know how your bandwidth out to the Internet is being used?  Want to limit the speed of downloads so that more critical operations like web surfing, mail, and phone conversations aren't impacted?  Want to be able to easily see if a computer on your network has caught an infection and shut off its access to the outside world until you have time to fix it?  Want to see who is using the bandwidth and what they are using it for?  Cymphonix can help you do all of these things.

We'll just mention some other things people like to get as toys or stocking stuffers....

- Carrying Cases
- Network Analysis Tools                                    
- Server Management Tools
- Color Printers                                    
- Network Attached Storage                                
- Speakers & Sound Cards
- Digital Cameras & Accessories          
- Network Diagramming Software                         
- Support Subscriptions
- Graphics Production Software            
- Network Equipment Racks                                
- Tape Drives
- Improved Firewall Protection               
- Notebook & Tablet PCs                                    
- Toners and Inks
- Intrusion Detection Software               
- Office Productivity Software                               
- Training Classes
- KVM Switches/Extenders                  
- Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)                    
- Troubleshooting Tools
- Larger Hard Drives                             
- Portable Hard Drives                                         
- USB Hubs
- LCD & Plasma Displays                     
- Power Management Tools                                 
- USB Keychain Drives
- Linux                                                
- Power Protection                                              
- Web/Network Cameras
- Memory Cards & Upgrades                 
- Security Auditing Software                                
- Writable CD and DVD Drives

©2004 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse