Archive for January, 2011

The Android Saga

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis January 31st, 2011

Well, it’s been 2 months now since I made the shift to Virgin Mobil.  None of the nightmare stories I read about the Samsung Intercept have happened to me, although I have had a couple of minor glitches.  About three times now, the phone refuses to turn on.  I have to pull the battery to get it back.  Other than that, the only other incident was because of the LauncherPro App (see My Android Brick post).  All in all, I’m still thrilled with android 2.1, as long as I remember to kill apps regularly. I’m hoping that there will be an upgrade to 2.2 available soon.  The best part is the cost.  At $40/month I have 1200 anytime minutes, and unlimited text/internet.  So far service has been as good or better than my last phone.  I think it’s funny how all the i-phone users are so excited about Verizon being offered for their phones soon.  The pricing at Verizon is even worse than AT&T!  But at least there will be some healthy competition, something Apple usually seems to avoid. 

WIN7 Media Center (WMC) IV

Helpful Hints | Posted by Dennis January 30th, 2011

Since I’m still waiting on my 4-tuner card to ship, let’s talk about input.  Obviously, you’ll want a good remote for your new media player/home theatre.  But remember this is still a computer, so there may be times when you want to surf, play games, etc on the big screen. So you’ll still need to keep a mouse and keyboard handy.  Your best bet is wireless, but realize that the standard (old style) wireless is infra-red.  It requires line of sight and has very limited range (10 feet or less).  A good solution is a bluetooth mouse and keyboard.  These give ranges of 30-50 feet, even in the next room or two.  For whole-house solutions you’ll want radio controlled panels.

File Sharing

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis January 29th, 2011

Internet file sharing has been common since the onset of the web.  It started with simple tools like FTP, and Universities (or government) sharing research data.  Since then it’s blossomed into a copyright nightmare.  If you are an artist, writer,  musician, etc. there’s a possibility of having your work suddenly go “viral” across the Internet.  This can be good for fame, but not necessarily fortune.  Unfortunately I think it’s here to stay.  CAUTION:  users wanting free downloads BEWARE.  HACKERS (or maybe Music/Movie Companies?!) LOVE to plant viruses and trojans on file sharing sites.  There’s a new way to do it called Torrents that is a little safer, because it downloads from multiple locations, so the file can’t be changed or tampered with.  BUT that doesn’t guarantee it’s safe.  AND it’s trackable to the source.  There are some new Torrent apps that may change this, though.

Databases

Helpful Hints | Posted by Dennis January 28th, 2011

What’s a database (DB)?  It’s a way to organize information so that it can easily be viewed, organized, and accessed.  It allows you to keep track of all the relationships between each piece of data (so they’re sometimes called RELATIONAL databases).  Most PC users are already using a “canned” DB of some type or another.  Financial software for your books or taxes are a common example.  But did you know you can create your own?  MS Access or OpenOffice Base are two database programs that allow you to create ANY kind of database you want, from Movie Collections to Recipes.  A lot of small businesses start by building Excel spreadsheets or Word templates for all their common documents (invoices, etc.) but this can quickly get out of hand once they have a lot of customers.  That’s a good time to change to a database.  They’re designed to handle HUGE amounts of data with minimum clutter and maximum tracking.  There are almost ALWAYS a pre-made, or canned, version of DB’s for any type of business or activity you can imagine, but if you have the time, or know a good tech, it’s better to build your own.  Then you get EXACTLY what you want/need instead of conforming to some programmer’s ideas.

Virus Warning

Helpful Hints, News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis January 27th, 2011

You may receive an  apparently harmless e-mail   titled  “Here  you have  it”  If  you open the file, a  message will appear  on your screen saying: ‘It is too late  now,  your life is no longer   beautiful….’  Subsequently  you will LOSE  EVERYTHING IN YOUR PC, And  the person who sent it to you will  gain  access to your Name, e-mail and password. This  is a new  virus which started to circulate  on Saturday afternoon. AOL has  already  confirmed the severity, and the anti virus  software’s  are not capable of destroying  it.
THIS  HAS BEEN CONFIRMED BY SNOPES. 
http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/hereyouhave.asp
 

HP

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis January 25th, 2011

Once upon a time there was a technical equipment company that made printers, plotters, and all kinds of high tech gadgets that geeks in labs and universities LOVED.  They were ROCK SOLID, never broke, and would usually last 20 years. (In fact, my dad is STILL using an HP Laserjet III!)  THOSE DAYS ARE GONE in my opinion.  I’m astounded at how far down the tech food chain this company has slipped.  Their equipment is so cheaply made these days it’s almost guaranteed to not last more than 5 years.  The software that ships with it all is BLOATWARE at best, a nightmare at worst.  I gave up on HP when they purchased Compaq, one of the worst PC makers EVER.  It’s a sad story. 

Wired vs wi-fi

Helpful Hints | Posted by Dennis January 22nd, 2011

Since I’ve been blogging about Win 7 Media Center (WMC), now is a good time to discuss your home network.  There are a lot of options out there, but if you want to pipe video around your house on a network, BANDWIDTH is key.  Most routers these days can do at least  g, if not n, wi-fi.  Reliability has increased (n) and you can go as fast as 300 Mbps.  But the fastest wired connection still goes 3 times that fast, and is STLL more reliable, no matter what (even faster with fiber optic!).  If the device isn’t going to be moved, you should seriously consider running ethernet cable, if possible, for the best experience.  If there’s no way to get new wires into the wall, a great solution is Powerline Ethernet.  I’ve been using MegaPlug products for more than two years now with excellent results.  They rarely drop, and are now sold with speed/bandwidths > 100 Mbps.  They’re simple to install, too.  Just plug them in to an outlet!  Next time: WMC Part IV – Networking.

Asus. New kid on the block?

News | Posted by Dennis January 20th, 2011

Well, not exactly.  Asus has hit high on the charts in the most recent PC satisfaction polls, but they certainly aren’t newcomers.  Back when we started TPCD about 13 years ago, we used to build our own for in-house and some of our clients.  Back then it was much cheaper to do it that way, and we carefully chose our motherboards for reliability and stability.  Guess what we used?!  Yep, you got it:  ASUS.  So it’s no surprise to us that this company is producing a very solid line of desktops and laptops.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of choice in their product line, but we expect that to change as their market share grows.

The Rise and Fall of Dell

Helpful Hints, News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis January 18th, 2011

For the last ten years, we have been recommending Dell to our clients, with great success.  After all, the failure rate is low, and the machines are engineered with great design and forethought.  This has kept Dell’s customer satisfaction ratings at the top of the charts for many years, until now.  Suddenly they’ve slipped lower in the ratings, and we’re trying to understand why.   My opinion?  In a word: VOSTRO.  A couple of years ago Dell came out with a cheap line of PC’s (both desktops and laptops) dubbed Vostro, that was their attempt to compete in the low-end market.  Bad Move, Dell.  They are cheaply made, substandard units that have a much higher failure rate than any of their other lines.  I’m guessing that this is the reason that customer satisfaction has slipped, but by no means a reason for us to abandon ship.  We just won’t buy/recommend Vostro’s!

WIN7 Media Center (WMC) III

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis January 17th, 2011

Until about a year ago, WMC was hamstrung by one major omission:  you couldn’t record HD pay channels.  These are encrypted by your provider, and if you wanted to be able to get all your HD channels, you had to buy a Media Center PC that was certified by Cable Labs (for cable HD).  These were very expensive, but allowed the use of a cable card, much like TiVo.  Finally, in 2010, a do-it-yourself solution emerged (a couple, actually).  Cable Labs finally eased the restrictions so that you can now buy tuners to add to your PC.  Some are external, like those made by ATI and SiliconDust, and would be recommended for the easiest setup.  But if you’re brave, you can order the Ceton InfiniTv 4 card.  It’s internal, but has 4 tuners!  So you can record up to THREE OTHER SHOWS while watching one.  The demand for these is so high that the factory can’t keep up.  I’ve had mine ordered for two months now.  All these solutions require a cable card, so be prepared to hassle/haggle with your local cable company.  But they are REQUIRED BY LAW to provide the cards, so don’t let them bully you.