Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Power to the People

Harry Hutchins, during KAXE's A Talk on the Wild Side, asked when computers should be turned off... For home users, the answer is pretty straightforward-- as often as you can! Contrary to advice given years ago when PCs first came out, computers just don't wear out quicker when they are turned off and on. But what is annoying is the long boot up time. So here's what you do: during the day, when you are likely to be using the computer several times, make your computer go to STANDBY instead of turning it off. It will startup in the state you left it, along with the applications as you left them if they were open, in just a few seconds. At night, when you are truly done, turn off your whole system by selecting SHUTDOWN and if you have put all your devices (monitor, printer, PC, internet modem, etc.) on a single power strip, turn that power strip off to save the parasitic energy those devices still consume.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Micro Mosquito for Dan?

Dan told us about the new toy on his wish list...the Micro Mosquito. A picture and youtube video are worth a million words...

See it in action here...

Embed Sound and pictures in PowerPoint

Sandy, from Canyon, called with a question about a Powerpoint that does not play the sound in the presentation. Someone else made the powerpoint, and sent it to her on a CD ROM disk.

The problem is that the sound files are not actually "embedded" into the presentation, instead, Powerpoint uses a hyperlink to the sound file. The link in the presentation may be referring to a location other than the CD ROM disk.

So, here's the Microsoft way to fix this: Change the setting that determines whether or not the sound file is embedded (made part of the powerpoint file itself). Sound (or image) files under the specified threshhold size will be embedded, and those larger than the threshhold will be hyperlinked.

Go to for detailed information on how to do this.

Google Docs Option

Carl, from Bemidji, called to suggest Google Docs for presentations. Google Docs lets you compose the presentation right in your web browser, and then you can play it anywhere you have access to the web. You can even use Google Docs to share/collaborate with other users on the creation of the presentation.

Learn more about Google Docs on the Google website.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Google Maps has wrong location marker

So, you searched google maps for the location of your home/business, but the marker shows the wrong spot. Well, you can edit the marker location by following these steps.

I followed the instructions to update the location marker for Itasca Community College. Google says it may take up to 6 weeks for the change to take place. I check and post the results later.

If you have a Zip+4 zipcode, you can get a much better location pin in google maps.

Thunderbird Fix for Outlook Mail

Outlook sometimes send mail in a format that other email programs cannot read. Thunderbird users can get a plugin that will enable Thunderbird to read those emails.

You can read more about the problem here.
Download the plugin here.

Need help installing the plugin? Read this article.
Let us know if it works for you.

(removed referernce to Outlook Express)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Use CCleaner to manage Windows Startup programs

Dan mentioned one of his favorite utilities for cleaning up junk on your computer, and told us that it can also be used to monitor what programs are running at startup.

Check it out a

The program is free, and according to the authors, is spyware and virus free as well.

Move iTunes to a new location

I found this good article that explains the right way to move your iTunes collection to a new location. This location can be a new folder on your hard drive, an external drive (USB, Firewire or eSATA).

Go to for instructions. Read them carefully, as they show you how to let iTunes do the move for you. Don't be tempted to try this without following the instructions carefully.

Special Note if you move your iTunes to an external drive: make sure this drive is connected before you try to access iTunes. If iTunes cannot see the external drive when it starts, it will not find the library, and make up a new one.Link

Use "ipconfig" to check you network address.

All computers need an IP (Internet Protocol) address to communicate with other computers on the Internet. Most home/small business computers computers get a dynamic (changing) address directly from their Internet Service provider.

The process of acquiring a dynamic address is called DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). This means that the ISP has a device that hands out an address to your computer when you connect to the ISP's network. This address may change from time to time, but your computer does not care what address it has, as long as it has a valid one for communication. You can learn more about how DHCP works at

Okay, so now lets see how we can tell if your computer is getting an address. Windows users need to Click Start, then Run. When the run dialog box appears, type "cmd" (no quotes) and hit the enter key. In the black command window that appears, type (no quotes) "ipconfig" and hit the enter key.

You should get a listing of info that looks like this:

Windows IP Configuration
Ethernet adapter local area connection:
Description . . . . . . . . . . . : Broadcom 570x Gigabit Integrated Controller
Physical address . . . . . . . . .: 0F-0F-1F-CB-99-87
DHCP enabled. . . . . . . . . . . : Yes
IP address. . . . . . . . . . . . :
Subnet mask . . . . . . . . . . . :
Default gateway . . . . . . . . . :
DNS servers . . . . . . . . . . . :

Lets look at what this is telling us...
DHCP enabled means that the computer is configured to request an IP address. The next line shows the IP address that was assigned to the computer. You can ignore the subnet mask.

The Default Gateway is important. It tells you the next "hop" to the Internet. If you have a router between your computer and the ISP, then your router is your Default Gateway, and the value listed here will be your router's IP address.

The DNS server shows the address of the computer that helps convert computer names into IP addresses so they can be located. You need one or more of these entries in order to go to websites by name, such as You can learn more about DNS at

Looking for Errors
If the "ipconfig" output shows:
Media status . . . . . . . . . : Media disconnected
It means that the computer is not plugged into the network (or the wireless card is not connecting to the Wireless Access Point). Correct this before trying to go any further.

If the IP address starts with "169.254" this means that the computer did not get a response back from its DHCP request, so the computer made up its own IP address. This IP address is worthless, and will not allow you to connect to the Internet.

How to Force Windows to Renew the Computer's IP Address
The ipconfig command has a couple of parameters that can be added to do additional tasks.
  • ipconfig /all (shows a lot of additional info about your IP connection)
  • ipconfig /release (drops your IP address)
  • ipconfig /renew (requests a new IP address)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Get the right AVAST

When you "Google" AVAST, you will get a lot of links to pages that look like avast, and perhaps some of them are varients of it. But most of them want you to pay for it. They are not the real AVAST site.

Here is the link to the real one...
Avast! Antivirus Protection (

Thursday, August 7, 2008

August 7, 2008 Listener Calls

AVG Update Requires Restart

If the message appears even though you rebooted, please perform following procedure:

  • Please run AVG Control Center->Update Manager->Settings->Advanced tab-> use "Delete update temporary files" button.
  • Reboot your PC.
  • Try to update again.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

HP MiniNote 2133

I recently acquired a HP MiniNote 2133 laptop for use on the road while performing work duties. I chose this tiny laptop for a number of reasons:
  • It is extremely small and light
  • It has a great display (1024 X 768)
  • The keyboard is nearly full size (92% of normal)
  • It is fast enough to do what I need to do with it
  • The case is quite solid, and the screen has a hard protective coating
  • It has built in wireless
  • It has an external monitor port to hook up to a projector
  • The price is very reasonable (about $550)
Okay, now for the skinny on this little bugger. You can see full specs on the unit at HP's webiste.
The one I ordered came preconfigured with Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop. Whiloe it pains me to say this, it was a big mistake to order the Linux version of the laptop. There was one drawback that was a deal killer for the Linux version: the integrated Broadcom wireless card. The folks at Broadcom have not released their driver and firmware code to the OpenSource community, so difficult at best to get their hardware working in Linux.

My wireless worked great under linux, until I ran a system update. The new linux kernel did not have broadcom support, and wireless quit working. I was not able to restore the wireless, and HP's tech support could not resolve the problem. So, I blew away linux from the hard drive, and installed Windows XP.

This machine works great running XP.

So, you might be wondering how big this unit is. Here is a photo of the laptop with my blackberry phone on top of it. This other photo shows my hand on the keyboard. Finally I have a screenshot of the KAXE homepage as it appears on the MiniNote.

There are only a few drawbacks (minor for me, but they could be deal breakers for some folks):
  1. There is no optical media (CD / DVD) This means I hve to install software from a USB drive.
  2. The screen is small (physically) so even though it has a high resolution, everything looks small.
  3. Sometimes it runs a little hot, so it might be uncomforta ble on yoru lap without something underneath it.
Would I Recommend It?
This is a great little portable device. Perfect for use on the road, at meetings, or just to show off a new gadget. The display is great for surfing the web, reading email, and making presentations. The keyboard is large enough even for man sized hands. So, it this is what you are looking for, I highly recommend it.

It is NOT a replacement for your desktop computer. The display is too small for prolonged use. I get a little eye strain after using it for an hour straight.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Computer Cable Scam

Here's the scenario, you have a need to purchase a usb cable for one of your computer accessories. You go to the big box store, and see prices ranging from $5 - $35. The more expensive one claims to be "24K gold-plated and corrosion-proof connectors for maximum conductivity and error-free transmission of up to 480 Mbps".

Or perhaps you got one of those new High Definition TV sets, complete with a new HD receiver and DVD player. These new devices have the new high tech HDMI interface. You need to get cables to connect it all up, and the folks in the store have these great HDMI cables with superior quality for $100. Sure, they have a cable for $20, but warn you not want to compromise your video and sound quality with a $20 cable on your $1,500 system!

Well, guess what. There is NO DIFFERENCE between the cheap cable and the expensive cable except for price. It's true. Here's why, HDMI, USB and network cables transmit data in digital format, That means they send data in a signal that is either on or off. There are no wave forms as you have in analog data. So, in digital transmission, the data either gets delivered or it doesn't. Here's a fun read on the practical reality of the matter...

All HDMI, USB and network cables are certified to meet certain standards, and will perform exactly the same, regardless of how much you pay for them.

So, next time you go to the store to buy one of these, look for the inexpensive one. When the sales person tries to persuade you to break the bank on hyped up performance, respectfully suggest that they educate themself on how digital data transmission works.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Windows Recycle Bin Missing

So, the recycle bin is missing from your Windows Desktop. Where did it go? As you probably know, you cannot delete it from the desktop, so a setting must be screwed up in Windows that caused it to disappear. here's how to restore it.

Try right-clicking your desktop and selecting "properties." On the window that comes up, select the "desktop" tab, then click "customize desktop." On the next window, select "recycle bin (full)" and click "restore default," then repeat with "recycle bin (empty)."

if that does not work, download TweakUI (from Microsoft), install it. Run TweakUI from your Start Menu, In Tweak UI, just left-click "desktop" (not the + sign) and you'll see a list of desktop options. Make sure that Recycle Bin is checked.

Microsoft Extend Availability of XP for Nettops

The comptuter industry is seeing a huger growth in demand for ultra low cost computers, which some folks have dubbed "Nettops", as their primary function is to access Internet applications. These Nettops are generally built around alternative CPU designs that are not as powerful as the new high power processors from Intel and AMD, and they have less RAM than more traditional desktop machines.

But they do not need the horsepower, RAM and disk storage space, because they have a more casual use - browsing the web, listening to media, and using web applications. These devices are not capable of running the new Windows Vista, so their manufacturers have urged Microsoft to extend the availability of XP for these devices.

Microsoft had been resisting these requests, but has finally recognized that this trend towards Nettops is real, and that if they ignore the requests for XP, the vendors will switch to Linux. Many of the vendors already offer Linux versions of these devices,

Supposedly, Microsoft will limit the use of XP to these Nettop devices, and will not allow vendors to install XP on traditional desktops after the mid June 2008 cut-off date for sale of XP. It will be available on the Nettop until late 2010.

Low Cost Computer for Web Browsing

Looking for a simple device for browsing the Internet? Want one that consumes very little power? Check out the new trend in devices made just for web surfing and email. There are a few categories of products here:

  • thin client devices attached to your network
  • Net-top devices (ultra low-cost desktops)
  • low cost laptops
Thin Clients: A thin client is a special kind of computer that gets its resources from another computer. It has no hard drive, or other moving parts, consumes very little power, but works just like a full powered computer. Sound too good to be true? Well, it is true. What a thin client does, it talk to a terminal server and requests a desktop from the server. The server sends the desktop to the thin client, and the user on the thin client has the same desktop interface as one sitting at a regular computer. The thin client does need a monitor, mouse and keyboard attached to it.

Many thin client devices have enough of an operating system to work with printers, USB devices, and they can also load a web browser. I have a Compac EVO T30 that has Windows XP Embedded (a light version of Windows XP) running on it. If I connect it to my network via its built in network interface, it boots up, gets an IP address, and displays a Windows XP desktop. From there I can open up Internet Explorer and browse the web.

New thin clients run about $200-300 dollars (sans a monitor), but you can pick them up used for a fraction of the price. For example, there are several Wyse thin clients with (Windows CE embedded) on eBay for less than $100. Here is a spec sheet on the Wyse device.

The thin clients do not have other software installed, so you can't use it for word processing, spreadsheets, etc. I take that back--you can do all of those online using Google Docs, and save them in your Google file storage.

Ultra Low Cost PCs Manufacturers will be debuting low cost / low profile computers that resemble thin clients, but offer full blown operating systems that act like a regular PC. One such unit is the Eee Box. This little bugger is expected to cost about $300. It has a regular (albeit small) hard drive in it, so it will not be as quiet or power efficient as a thin client, but i will still have a pretty small load on the coal driven power plant.

Low Cost Laptops While Ultra Low Cost PCs are just beginning to be developed, the low cost notebook market is exploding. Asus started it out with the Eee PC, a small laptop with a 7" screen, running either Linux or XP, and has no moving parts. This little guy is available for $400 -$600. A version with a 9" display is also available. HP has a competitor to the Asus Eee PC called the HP MiniNote. It costs in the neighborhood of $750, but again, offers a small, power efficient design. Dell is getting into the ball game with its new Mini Inspiron. MSI (a prominent PC motherboard and component maker) is also releasing a small laptop called the MSI Wind.

Compare these low cost notebooks to the Mac Air which costs nearly $2,000. They all do the same basic functions, but the ones listed above cost from 1/4 to 1/3 the price of the Air.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Microsoft Chooses ODF Format

The sun shines this week on the OpenSource community. The huge corporate behemoth Micro$oft has finally recognized that truly free products like OpenOffice are legitimate contenders in the office productivity tools environment.

Okay, Steve Balmer (CEO Micro$oft) did not exactly come out and say it, but their recent announcement that they will bake into Office2007 full support for the ODF file format is good enough endorsement for me.

Time for a brief, but important history lesson...
ODF stands for OpenDocument Format. It is a free and open file format for electronic office documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents. It is an ISO/IEC International Standard, which means that its specifications are freely available and free to use. Most of the opensource office tools have implemented the ODF means for saving file data.

Up unitl Micro$oft Office 2007, Micro$oft's files were stored in a propriety format, that made it difficult for other software packages to read. Micro$oft started to get pressure from large customers (especially governments) about the fact that documents created by M$ Office 2000 or 2003 may be difficult to use years after those suites were no longer available. So, not to be outdone, Micro$oft developed its own "standard". Their standard, known as Office Open XML. M$ was able to bully its way into getting ISO certification so it could say it now had an open format.

Here and Now

More and more people are discovering the power and ease of use of, though corporate IT and governments in the United States have been reluctant to switch to it. Much of the reluctance has been due to "concerns" about compatibility with the M$ product. With the release of Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, that should no longer be a concern.

Back to the Future

The suite has developed to a very mature offering of word processor, spreadsheet, drawing and presentation tools. I would venture to say that it would meet virtually ALL the needs of 95 percent of people who currently use Microsoft Office. Only an extreme power user (most Access) would find a few features missing. So now that Microsoft will soon be offering full support for documents, we shoud start insisting that our government entities stop spending millions of dollars on commercial software when they could get just as effective tools for absolutely free.

They'll come back with the argument that support is lacking, and that the training costs of switching will be high. I don't buy it, and they hope you won't think with an open mind. They jump like lemmings at each new version of Microsoft Office that comes out, even though most of their users don't take advantage of even 5 percent of the features of the old one they abandoned. Users switching from any version of Microsoft Office to Office 2007 are in for a big surprise, and will require a lot of training.

have you ever called Microsoft for support on an MS Office product? It does not happen even in big IT environments. There is tons of free online support for, and it's much easier to learn.

Give it a whirl. Or at least take a look.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New Anti-virus Recommendation

Problems with AVG?

Dan brought it to our attention that updates for AVG Antivirus version 7.5 are going away at the end of May, so users of this software will have to update to version 8.0. Dan mentioned that he did this, and the new version really slowed his computer down.

Other Good Choices Available
Our discussion about AVG prompted us to see if we could find other free Anti-virus software that we could recommend to listeners. The folks at did a review of three free antivirus software packages for Windows. They included Avast, AVG, and AntiVir. I was surprised to read that AVG rated lowest of the three offerings. While AntiVir rated the best overall, Avast rated best as a general purpose antivirus product. Read the article from for more details. (unfortunately, there is no date on this article, so I cannot tell how current it is.)

Having Difficulties with AVG, or need protection for Windows 98/ME? Chad recommends Avast
You can find the Avast website here. Windows 98 Users Only Avast supports the Windows 98 and ME operating systems. AVG and AntiVir do not.

Chad mentioned a product called ClamAV. It is an open source antivirus package that he uses on his Linux based computers. While there is a version of this software for Microsoft Windows, it lacks two important features:
  • on access scanning (on access scanning checks every file you open, and every disk/cd/usb flash drive that you attach to your computer)
  • email scanning (it only integrates with Outlook, not outlook express or other email clients)
Have you updated to AVG 8.0 or do you use Avast?
We'd like to hear from your if you have upgraded to AVG 8.0. Has it slowed down your computer, or have you not noticed much of a change. Post a comment, and give us your feedback. We'd like to know how it's working for you. Some folks have told me that they did not notice much change. Also let us know if you use Avast, and how you like it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May 1, 2008 Listener Questions

Okay--we had lots of calls this week, and some of these were stumpers...but we're working on answers. here's what we have found for you so far....

Helkern Worm
A user called indicating that he is getting a notice of Helkern worm attack. The Helkern worm (more popularly known as Slammer) attempts to gain access to your computer through Port 1434, but your firewall is probably blocking these attempts and notifying you. That is exactly why you have a firewall.

Even if Helkern / Slammer were to make it past your firewall, your computer could not be infected unless it was running Microsoft SQL Server 2000. The worm is designed to attack that special MS database server.

These attacks, which usually originate from China are so common that they are lumped-together with other common Internet crap under the term "internet noise". So, assuming you are getting the notice from your firewall, just relax, you have nothing to worry about and you are not being specifically singled out.

Landscape Software for the Mac
This one is turning out to be a real stumper! I can find landscape design software for the Mac OS X platform costing several hundreds of dollars, but literally nothing inexpensive. The closest I could find is EazyDraw ($95), and it does not look well adapted to landscape design.

I did discover a really cool free Google app called Google SketchUp. It is free, and allow you to design 3D objects, and has a library of objects that you can insert into a drawinng/model. It might work for you.

If you had a Windows box, there are lots of inexpensive yet very good landscape design software tools you could purchase or use for free. Most would run on Linux too, via wine, but I am not sure if you can get Windows apps to run on OS X. I'll defer that to the Mac Guy.

Windows Won't Keep Correct Time
Okay, this one turned out to be quite simple. I was making it harder than it really needed to be. To fix this problem, double click the clock in the system tray. This will open up the Date/Time settings dialog. If your time is off an hour, check your time zone, and see if it is set to Central America. if so, change it to "Central Time (US & Canada). Now you'll find a check box for adjusting for Daylight Savings Time. You can also set the dialog to keep Internet Time, and pick a time reference server, so your computer can update its time from an external source.


Here's what a facebook encounter would be like in real life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Releases for Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSuse

Linux users have a lot to look forward to in the next several weeks, as three of the biggest Linux Distributions (distros) will be releasing new versions.

Ubuntu is a great Linux distro for someone looking for a rock solid easy to use desktop computer. It's easy to add software, keep it updated, configure printers, works with cameras, etc. There are lots of online resources if you ever need help with Ubuntu. This is the most highly recommended distro for new Linux users. Give it a look.

Fedora is a distro based on RedHat Linux, and it has been around a bit longer than Ubuntu. It is geared to more intermediate or advanced users of Linux, though it too has a very easy to use desktop.

OpenSuse is Chad's preferred distro. It too is geared towards intermediate Linux users. It is really polished, has a great new menu interface, and is rock solid. OpenSuse has great support for adding software, an easy updater, and all the programs and tools you will ever need.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Call in Questions April 3, 2008

Outlook Email Problems
John called in with a question/problem regarding Outlook 2007 not finishing the download of emails. Chad found a link to a site that may have the answer... Round Trip Solutions Blog

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Windows XP and Vista Service Packs

Windows XP
Microsoft has released a "refresh" of Release Candidate 2 of Service Pack 3 for Windows XP. This is another way of saying it is still in Beta. The folks at Microsoft indicated that the final version of SP3 will be available by July, but have not yet set a firm date. They are waiting on customer feedback about the Beta versions.

You can download SP3-RC2 if you want to be a Beta-tester, but I would not recommend it on a computer that you need to depend on for everyday use. You can find it on the Microsoft download site.

Vista SP1 Released
Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for Vista for public download/installation last week. It is generally recommended that users apply this update, BUT, I recommend that you let it run in the wild for a month or so before installing it. Watch the news, and listen to feedback from other users who have installed it first. Microsoft has a track record of having "gotchas" in its first service packs for its new Operating Systems.

There are news reports that some Vista computers cannot successfully complete the SP1 update due to device driver problems. (There are several other causes of the SP1 update failure, but most of them seem unlikely.) Here is a link to Microsoft's site pertaining to the SP1 update failure.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Call in questions March 6, 2008

Apple Mail Problems
Eli called in with a problem in which he cannot make deleted messages disappear from his Apple Mail program. We found a post on the web about this. Hope it helps...
Let us know if it works.

Outlook Express Spell Checks in French
If you install Office 2007, spell checking in Outlook Express will not work as expected, unless you want spell check in French. :) This is because Office 2007 uses new proofing tools and OE can't use them because it's designed to use the older tools.

There are four fixes for this problem.
  1. Reclaim Your Inbox! Use Thunderbird email. It is free, easy to install, simple to use, and it has an automated wizard to import all of your mail, address books and settings from outlook express. (It's also more secure than Outlook Express.)
  2. If you are married to Outlook Express, one of the next three options might be for you...
    1. Install the English Proofing Tools from your Office 2003 CD (this is likely to cause problems with Office 2007--so you have been warned)
    2. Install a third party spell checker for Outlook Express. This seems arcane, as OE should be able to provide this tool on its own. Here's Microsoft's suggested fix...
    3. If your Office 2007 includes Outlook 2007, install it and migrate your mail to it. See this article for instructions.
Guess which one the IT Guys prefer...

Windows Updates Won't Stick
Several folks have called with this problem lately. Windows is set to download updates and install on shutdown. It appears to be doing it, but next time the computer is started, the updates are there again.
The most likely problem is that the windows update system is messed up (dope slap, that's obvious!!!). Here's a couple of links that describe this process happening because a windows repair process:
Both have instructions for fixing the problem. See if they fit your situation. Let us know if this resolved it for you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rip the Knob Off

Back in February, a called asked how to "rip the knob off" his digital radio so he could lock it into to 91.7FM KAXE. Since digital radio tuners do not have knobs per se', we may have to get creative.

Chad suggested programming all of the pre-set buttons to 91.7FM. This way, no matter which one you hit, you should get KAXE. This could be problematic if other people use your radio. They could reset the buttons.

Dan has a more creative approach. He uses pop bottle caps, and tapes them over the buttons so other folks cannot use the buttons to make changes. This photo shows the cap in place to prevent volunteers from screwing up the digital phone settings. On your radio, set the tuner buttons to 91.7FM KAXE, then cover them up with an attractive green cap.

It's not fool-proof, as prying fingers can remove the cap. But it will prevent accidental station changes. Give it a whirl, and send us a picture of your application of the "KAXE Station Lock".

Monday, February 18, 2008

Will the change to HDTV broadcastinng affect you?

The answer is quite simple.

If you have a TV without a HD tuner and you get your signal from an antenna, then on February 18, 2009, your TV will stop working unless you get a special "converter box". The converter box converts HD signals to an analog signal that your TV is capable of viewing.

Another thing for folks relying on antenna based TV reception to be concerned about is that the digital HD signals may not be as strong as the analog signal they are getting today. So, if you live on the fringe of reception, you may not be able to get the weaker signal.

If you have cable or satellite TV service, then you have nothing to worry about. Your TV signal provider will continue to provide a service that works with your current setup.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

HD DVD is Dead -- Blue Ray Wins

WallyWorld's recent announcement that that they have adopted the Blue-Ray format for high definition disks pretty much drives the last nail in the coffin for HD DVD. You can also bet that the plain old DVD format is going to disappear pretty soon. Now that the industry has a "standard" that they can count on, movie publishers will stop producing them on DVD, and will switch to Blue Ray.

So, what does this mean to you as a consumer?
  • more movies will soon be available in Blue Ray format
  • you will need to buy a Blue Ray player soon, as access to new movies in regular DVD format will be limited
  • you can expect to pay nearly twice as much when purchasing movies in Blue Ray format. I expect that prices will come down eventually, when the novelty wears off
  • you will not be able to experience any of the improvements of Blue Ray without an HD television and surround sound system
Backwards Compatibility
Don't worry about your old DVDs becoming obsolete. The Blue Ray players are backwards compatible, so you can play your DVD collection on them. You can also connect the player to a standard TV and it will work just fine.

Curious about the technology behind Blue Ray discs? Check out this article.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Q & A

We'll try to use this blog entry to keep you updated on listener/reader questions and our answers.

If you have an IT question, please post it here, and we'll see if we can help.

Don't Fall for Email Scams

We all get 'em. Those emails that warn us of a missing child, some new virus that will wipe out your hard drive, free giveaways, or foreign nationals needing assistance. They go on to describe some horror story, pleas for help, or promises of rich fortunes.

But guess what: Penny Brown and Evan Trembley are not missing. There is no Teddy Bear virus. Microsoft is not paying people to test email. Joseph A. Adisa did not get your email address from the Nigerian Export Promotions Council.

You got the message because someone fell for this hoax. Don't be a sucker, be smart and just delete the notice. Also let the person who sent it to you know that they fell for a hoax, and point them to information about how to identify such hoaxes.

General Rules of Thumb For Spotting Hoaxes
(compliments of Hoaxbusters)
  • The Hook First, there is a hook, to catch your interest and get you to read the rest of the letter. Hooks used to be "Make Money Fast" or "Get Rich" or similar statements related to making money for little or no work. Electronic chain letters also use the "free money" type of hooks, but have added hooks like "Danger!" and "Virus Alert" or "A Little Girl Is Dying". These tie into our fear for the survival of our computers or into our sympathy for some poor unfortunate person.

  • The Threat When you are hooked, you read on to the threat. Most threats used to warn you about the terrible things that will happen if you do not maintain the chain. However, others play on greed or sympathy to get you to pass the letter on. The threat often contains official or technical sounding language to get you to believe it is real.

  • The Request Finally, the request. Some older chain letters ask you to mail a dollar to the top ten names on the letter and then pass it on. The electronic ones simply admonish you to "Distribute this letter to as many people as possible." They never mention clogging the Internet or the fact that the message is a fake, they only want you to pass it on to others.
There are lots of good resources that you can read to learn how to spot hoaxes, such as:
I also recommend that you "Google" the key words or topics of the message. Chances are extremely high that you will find it is a hoax. Often times the hoaxes are "recycled" and given a second (or third) life after having been resurrected after years of dormancy.

Don't be gullible. Just delete it!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chad's BlackBerry Curve

I got a new phone for work--it's a BlackBerry Curve. At first I was not real keen on the closed architecture of the BlackBerry platform, but since Linux based phones are not yet ready for prime time, I had to do something. I work with several other folks that use BlackBerry devices, and am often called upon to provide tech support for them, so decided to go that route myself. I am glad I did, and I discovered that this little bugger has most of the features I need in a mobile device anyway.

Sure, the iPhone may look sexy and cool: but feature for feature, my BlackBerry has it beat hands down. Heck, it's not even close. Okay, both devices provide phone, text messaging, video playback, MP3 playback, maps, camera and a web browser. But then, any $99 phone can do this stuff.

The field separates when we start looking at it from a business user's perspective. You see, the iPhone is really targeted for the home user, not the business user. Sure it can connect to your email account, but that's about it. My BlackBerry connects directly to my email, corporate calendar, corporate address books, my to-do lists, etc, and keeps itself synchronized with these tools. My GroupWise details are sync'd between my server, desktop and phone. The iPhone© just cannot do that.

Document handling features are great on the BlackBerry, and lacking on the other. While I may not be writing reports or editing spreadsheets on the BB, it sure is easy to read them. File attachments such as PDF documents are a breeze too.

There are some definite technology advantages too. First is the user replaceable battery. When the iPhone battery dies, you get to visit the Apple Store (or mail it to someone) and have them replace the battery for you. It is not user replaceable, and it will go bad at some point --expect a $60+ bill for this service. My BB battery costs less than $25 and I can drop it in myself.

Second, my BB has removeable storage, via MicroSD cards. So, if the device is damaged or has to be returned for service, I can pull my MicroSD card, and my files stay with me. It's currently limited to 2GB, but that's plenty for the pod casts and other ways I use it.

The voice dialing is pretty cool too. I can just tell the pone to call a person, and it will look up their name in my address book, then confirm the correct number to call. I do not have to "train" it to recognize names either.

Oh, and last, it costs half of what you would pay for an iPhone.