Archive for August, 2011

PDF vs Fax

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

As recently as 5 years ago, businesses did a LOT of their work via FAX.  Everybody had a fax machine, and most businesses had a dedicated phone line for it.  But times have changed.  In 2008 Adobe released the rights to the PDF format to the world.  This meant that you didn’t have to buy Adobe Acrobat in order to create this wildly popular document type.  Nowadays, a lot of programs can convert your paperwork to a PDF, including Microsoft Office.  This means that people don’t have to fax any more, they can just send information attached to an email.  This has helped a lot of offices ”go paperless” and save money in other ways, like dropping one of their phone lines.  One of the cool things that I miss from Adobe Acrobat was the PDF printer.  It would install a fake printer whose only job was to make ANYTHING printable turn into a PDF!  You can still have this wonderful feature – for free!  Here’s a link to the program called PDFCreator.  By the way, when you look for good, free software, watch for the “Open Source under the GNU Public License”.

Cell Cards

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis August 29th, 2011

Wi-fiMost laptops, and even some smartphones, have built in Wi-fi these days.  The problem is that it’s gotten harder and harder to find free wi-fi.  Back in the day, you could go to any hotel, coffee shop, or neighborhood and get free unsecured wi-fi (neighborhoods ‘cuz nobody knew enough to secure their net).  A lot of the restaurants and hotels have changed policies, deciding they should make customers pay for it instead.  I think everybody should complain, every time this happens.  Eventually they’ll change it back. In the meanwhile – what’s a road warrior to do for internet on the road?  It’s obviously not a problem on smartphones, but what about laptops?  The answer is the CELL CARD.  It’s a device nearly every mobile phone service offers, for a price.  For about $50/month you can get a gizmo that will plug in to your laptop and give you internet service via cell towers.  It’s better than wi-fi because you don’t have to reconnect to a network as you move around.  Just like a cell phone, it transfers your signal from tower to tower. BUT it’s typically not quite as fast as wi-fi.  There’s another solution that ‘s a little more difficult called TETHERING.  It uses your phone to ‘piggyback’ a computer to internet.  Some cell services frown on this, and you can easily overrun your data usage.

Rigging Searches

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis August 28th, 2011

OnlineYellowpages.comSince the  first HTML web page hit the Internet, people have been pushing ideas and products.  It’s gotten a LOT more commercial in the last decade, so competition to ‘be found’ on the web is fierce.  Everyone wants their page to pull up first if you search for them.    There are lots of ways to do this.  Some are legitimate, and the way the search engines were intended to be used.  Some are not.  They call these  White Hat vs Black Hat SEARCH OPTIMIZATIONS and it’s big business these days.  See, search engines like Google and Yahoo constantly troll the net for information.  They look for, and index, all the text, descriptions, keywords, etc. that are on each site and put it in a database.  From the start folks have tried to “trick” the search engines by adding one word 1,000 times in the invisible KEYWORD section, for example.  Because of this Black Hat activity, the search engines started changing the rules for how information was grabbed.  These rules have become VERY complex, so it’s difficult to fool them.  There are now services available to help companies optimize their search engine results, and most of them are White Hat.  But if you don’t want to pay someone the main thing to remember is that CONTENT IS KING.  In other words, the more you provide fresh writing to viewers, the more likely you will come up in a search for information.  If you just want a listing, like the yellow pages, be sure to register with all the services like,, etc.

Email Woes

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis August 27th, 2011

The biggest problem I see with people’s email are because they NEVER CLEAN IT UP.  They let all their folders keep filling and filling until BLAP! they hit a wall.  For web mail it’s because there’s a limit to the amount they let you store.  For Outlook, it’s a problem with the program.  Depending on the version, Outlook will only allow 2 Gb of email to be stored…. more for the later versions  (Outlook express is worse, and just crashes).  Tips to manage your storage:  1) EMPTY THE TRASH! (deleted items)  2) Clear out as many sent items as possible (do you REALLY need 7 years’ worth?)  3)  Don’t leave everything in the IN BOX!  Create folders to stay organized, and move stuff out to those after you read them.  4) Auto-archive in Outlook can help automate cleanup, but there’s a catch.  If you turn on this feature, IT WON’T WORK UNTIL YOU TELL IT the setting you want for each folder.  So it defaults to not touch it.  This is good, but people don’t realize that each folder has an archive setting that you should set.  For example, I want my Tech Newsletter folder to get dumped if it’s 6 months or older.  But my login/registration folder I NEVER want touched.

Speed up your PC

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis August 26th, 2011

A slow PCI see lots of ads and products that claim to speed up your PC.  A slow computer is one of the common complaints that I resolve for my clients.  I can tell you that THERE IS NO SINGLE, SIMPLE solution to this.  BUT there are lots of things you can do/check.  First, make sure it’s not just psychological.  Did you recently get a new PC at home or office that is really fast?  Otherwise, did it suddenly get slow?  You might have a ‘critter’ of some kind, so run virus and malware scans.  Check the Task manager (CTRL-ALT-DEL) performance tab to see if your CPU is working hard.  If so, it’s busy doing something in the background that you may not know about.  Click the process tab to see which program is so busy.  You can also run MSCONFIG to remove software that runs when windows starts.   Otherwise, if it’s hardware, you need to find the one thing that’s slowing it all down.  See, the slowest piece will limit the chain of events, kinda like the rate limiting reaction in chemistry.  The windows 7 performance index is a good place to nail this down.  The lowest scoring hardware is your rate limiter.  Be aware that anything internet related should also include your BANDWIDTH, or internet speed, in the analysis.  You can test your internet speed here.

Too Much Security

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

Internet SecurityIn the US we’ve experienced the pains of beefing up security since the 9/11 attacks in NYC.  More security nearly ALWAYS results in less convenience.  The point, in any setting, is to find the right balance.  The same is true on your PC.  For example, I use Kaspersky Internet Security to help clean up viruses and attacks, because I think the it’s the most aggressive tool on the market.  But I don’t install it on many of my client’s PC’s because it can be a real pain in the butt sometimes.  So I look for a solution that is easy to manage, but good at stopping most, or all, of the attacks.  But I have seen folks that were just TOO PARANOID, so much that they crashed their machines.  See, you can’t have more than one virus program or firewall (software) at the same time.  They compete for resources, and get tangled if there is a threat.  So if you want to install new security, BE SURE TO REMOVE YOUR OLD PRODUCT FIRST!

White, Black, and Gray Hat Hackers

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis August 23rd, 2011

Like Spy vs SpyThe world of hacking is anonymous and secretive, for good reason.  Although some do it for good, legitimate reasons, the world doesn’t understand that.  To most, hacking is just BAD.  There are some very talented hackers out there who simply love to do it, and try to just point out security flaws in web sites and programs.  These are considered WHITE hat hackers.  The ones who do malicious stuff are considered BLACK hat, and of course there are the ones in-between.  There’s a philosophical question here:  what is bad, and what is good?  Some hackers would argue that ANY hack is a good one, but they can get arrested for doing so.   The hacker community has grown leaps and bounds over the last decade, mostly because there are canned software packages that let anyone with a PC create their own viruses and trojans (commonly referred to as ‘Script Kiddies’).  But the truly skilled are still few and far between.  There are so-called neutral gatherings for all types to get together, like the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas.  And now there’s a new site called RankMyHack that awards points based on how tough the hack is.  You can read the full New York Times article here.

Facebook Pages

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis August 22nd, 2011

There are a couple of different types of pages that you can create on Facebook.  One type is called a GROUP, the other is called an OFFICIAL page (AKA Fan Page originally).  They are both pretty easy to set up.  The first type, or group page, is intended for non-commercial stuff like clubs, non-profits, and families.  All you have to do is click the group icon to do this.  Note that you can make it Open, Closed, or Secret.  If you change your mind, you can change this later.  An interesting note about groups:  Facebook can take it away!  If your group gets popular enough, they step in and take over.  Not so with the second type, or OFFICIAL page:  This one is a little harder to create, and is intended for companies and/or products.  These used to have a FAN button (so they were called Fan Pages) but that has changed.  If you have a business or product you want to create a page for, here are the instructions.  The article also gives some good reasons to do it this way, instead of creating a group.  If you get 25 likes on your Official page, you can request a unique URL (e.g.

Windows phone

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis August 20th, 2011

Windows Phone 7I’ve talked a lot about Android, but not much about the other phone OS’s.  My next favorite is Windows Phone, previously called Windows Mobile.  I used it on my first two smartphones, and I really liked it.  It had a few quirks, but just like Windows, I could usually reboot and fix it.  My favorite part was how seamlessly it worked with Office.  Outlook was a breeze, and EVERYTHING I wanted would sync with my desktop PC.  It did everything I needed for work with little effort.  The two things that made me switch to Android were 1) a lack of cool (cheap) apps and 2) expensive plans.  If Virgin Mobile comes out with a Windows Phone 7 (WP7), I’ll be there.  Version 7.5 (codename: Mango) is scheduled for release on October 1 of this year.  Windows phone has struggled against the GEE WHIZ factor of iphones and Android, but Microsoft continues to pump resources to that division, and it’s very much alive. Some changes may be in their future since the general manager, Charlie Kindel, has left the company.  He’s done it on good terms, and waited until WP7 was rock-n-rollin’ with good news and great apps before he walked. (See the full article here).  WP7.5 looks to be a contender, with 27,000 apps and a slick new interface.  Can’t wait to see it!

Data Usage

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis August 18th, 2011

Uh-oh.  I just got a notice from Cox Cable that they have a new tool available, called the Data Usage Meter.  You can access it here if you have a Cox account.  This was for my home internet connection.   I mean, it’s a nice thing to have so that I can see when and how much is flowing through my Data Pipeline, but it suggests that they might be moving towards more aggressive billing.  All ISP’s can see how much stuff you are moving up and down on the internet, but some will charge you IMMEDIATELY if you exceed the limit.  Cox doesn’t do that, YET.  I’m thinkin’ they would LIKE to do that, but right now they just SUGGEST you pay for the next level up.  I think that’s because, up until now, there was no way for customers to tell how much traffic they had on the line. Hmmmmm.