Archive for December, 2011

Gadget of the year

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis December 30th, 2011

Ok, so a lot of you are on Windows 7 now, so you’re familiar with Gadgets.  They are little add-on programs that stay on your desktop and do things like weather, pictures, news, etc.  I’m surprised at the lack of cool apps for this, but Microsoft doesn’t seem to be pushing (or enticing) developers for it.  If you look at the add-on site, the choices are pretty weak.  I tried and tried to find a weather gadget that I liked, for example, but they were just mediocre.  Then one day I was installing a new Dell for a client and WOW, they had the AccuWeather Dell gadget, and it ROCKS!  It displays a translucent clock that looks like part of your desktop, complete with date and moon phase.  If you hover over it, you get today’s weather, and if you click the drop-down it will show the 5 day forecast.  PERFECT!  The weird part is that if you go to the site, they have some gadgets BUT NOT THIS ONE.  The problem is that it’s a Dell exclusive, but I managed to find it here for your downloading pleasure:-)  Note that you have to install Dell Stage to get it, but then you can turn off the stage part by going to the settings and unchecking “Start With Windows”.

Happy Holidays

Uncategorized | Posted by Dennis December 24th, 2011

I was wondering:  Does our high tech world make it a better place?  Most of the time I’d say YES.  But there’s something beautiful about simplicity.  Back to basics, with family gathered ’round.  Although I couldn’t live like the Amish, I can certainly see the appeal sometimes.  On the other hand, this season shows us a much smaller world than it has ever been.  There are people around the globe communicaring with video chat, email, facebook, etc. Folks who would otherwise not get to see their families can feel ALMOST HOME.  May all of you have a warm, safe and Merry Christmas with the special people of your lives… no matter how far.

More on McAfee

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 22nd, 2011

Did I say Moron?  :-)  I’ve been trying to figure out WHY IN THE WORLD that Intel, one of the most respected companies on the planet, would buy McAfee for $7.7 billion.  It’s really a mind-blower if you know how cruddy McAfee’s PC protection has become.  But I think I figured it out:  they have been leveraging into the FIREWALL and INTERNET SERVER industry.  If you watch closely, a LOT of the sites that you visit will have little logos at the bottom that say they are McAfee Secured.  (Keep in mind they charge MEGA BUCKS for this)  When I figured this out, it made me giggle.  I mean, really?  No, REALLY!?  They expect people whose PC’s have been totally hosed from viruses or malware to trust this logo?  Do they think this will inspire confidence?  I’ve learned a lot about the computer industry over the years, and one thing that’s REALLY important is that you gotta start from the bottom.  If you don’t know much about the computers, how can you protect or deal with a network?  You need a solid foundation to build on, and I think Intel made a HUGE mistake here.  AMD (the other big processor, or CPU, company) should pay attention, because this is the kind of slip-up they could really take advantage of. 

Twitter Spam

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 21st, 2011

If you use Twitter, you might have noticed a recent increase in spam activity.  If not, you should check any recent Followers for their links.  It’s probably gonna pipe you out to some Adult Dating site that looks more like porn than anything legitimate.  Hopefully Twitter will put a stop to it soon, but in the meanwhile you can help; in the notification that you get there is a link to Report as Abuse.  It will block the user from your account and send the Twitter folks a notification.  Here’s a link  to the Twitter abuse policies page that describes other abuses as well.  It’s sad that no matter what, cool technology gets ruined by crap like this. 

Laptop Brands

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 16th, 2011

If you’re still shopping for Christmas, or looking to grab some after-Christmas deals on laptops, you might be wondering:  What’s the best brand?  It used to be much easier to tell.  There weren’t that many choices, and only a few sources of information.  Now there are a MIND BOGGLING number and types of laptops/portable PC’s available.  I want to focus on standard laptops, not Netbooks or Tablets.    The most important thing, in my mind, is consumer satisfaction.  Reviews that are out there rarely consider things like this, plus BLOATWARE or repair statistics.  So I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth.  I still like Toshiba and Dell.  I’m also impressed by the new offerings from ASUS.  I really WANTED to like Lenovo, mostly because IBM Thinkpads used to be so good.  BUT they’ve slipped, and they and Toshiba are guilty of over-loading their new laptops with garbage software commonly called bloatware.  In fact, I just had a customer whose Thinkpad keeps crashing because of this kind of factory installed software.  Another thing to consider is the TYPE.  Every laptop maker has different models.  If you want to buy a Dell, for example, STAY AWAY FROM VOSTRO.  It’s Dell’s cheapo line of products, and the failure stats show it.  HP is another example.  Most of their low-end stuff is simply crap (up to 25% failure rate!), but if you’re willing to shell out big bucks for their high-end laptops, some are fairly impressive.  Given all the factors, I still pick Dell (non-Vostro).  And by the way, they learned their lesson:  Dell ships their stuff with VERY LITTLE bloatware. 


Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 14th, 2011

For the third time in less than a week I just cleaned up a TERRIBLE infection on a PC with McAfee protection.  My advice?  GET RID OF IT.  In my opinion you’re better off with no protection at all than to go along thinking that your PC is safe, when it’s NOT.  I realize a lot of you get McAfee free from your cable provider or AOL.  But seriously, you’re better off with AVG free or some other product.  For a pay product I like Norton Internet Security, but watch out for price gouging.  The Symantec (Norton) site will try to stab you for $60-$80 per license.  You’ll get get MUCH better deals from resellers, office stores, or even Wal-mart.

Video Tweaks

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis December 10th, 2011

It can be REALLY frustrating if you can’t get video to look right.  I just got a new ViewSonic VX2753MH 27″ display for my main PC, and it took me FOREVER (it seemed) to finally get it adjusted.  First of all, be sure to take a look at the controls for your display.  There will be a menu button on the screen that lets you change all sorts of things.  In my case, the new display had an Auto Brightness gizmo, and another that was for energy use.  Turns out if you didn’t adjust the energy controls to SAVE ENERGY, the display was WAY too bright. (like make you squint and want to grab sunglasses bright).  The auto brightness thing was TERRIBLE,  and made the screen go from too bright to much too dark every time I opened a menu or document.  Turning it off solved this.  Next I needed to adjust the way the computer sent information to the display.  This was tricky because my NVIDIA card has lots of options, from brightness/contrast to color hue controls.  But no matter what I did, the display looked kind of fuzzy and grainy, with bad contrast.  Turns out that the card thought I was setting up a TV, not a computer display (duh!) and when I selected one of the PC modes… WOW, it really popped!   I thought this was odd because I set the display to its “native” resolution in the HD set when I was getting poor results.  Finally, if you’re having trouble getting the display to completely fill the screen, try setting to a resolution you like FIRST, then use the monitor (or your video card’s desktop size adjuster) to expand the borders to the screen edge.  Now that I’ve gotten it adjusted, I like it much better.  The flashing and over-brightness were giving me a headache.      :-(

Airlines and Your Gizmos

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 9th, 2011

In a previous post I talked about the ridiculousness of airlines requiring you to “turn off all electronic devices” during takeoff and landing.  This week the #*$%  hit the fan when Alec Baldwin refused to turn off his iPhone and was promptly escorted off the plane.  I had to laugh when I saw the news clip, because the FAA had some old geek try to explain how dangerous it could be.  He pointed to some graphs and said something like “see there, it could happen!”.  I, for one, was less than convinced.  EM fields are VERY weak from most of the stuff we carry around, and will stay that way so they’re not BATTERY HOGS.  The further away you get, the weaker it is – dramatically so (goes like 1/r squared for all you math freaks out there).  Add to this the fact that all airplane electronics are CAREFULLY SHIELDED and you get, well, NOTHING.  NO SIGNIFICANT INTERFERENCE.  But don’t let ME be your proof.  I suspect it’s ALREADY OUT THERE.  See, I would bet big money that on EVERY SINGLE FLIGHT out there, right now, that at LEAST 10% of the passengers ignore the request.  That means every single plane flying is PROOF that there’s no problem.  I’ve seen it.  I know of at least two passengers on my last two flights that just slipped their phones in their pockets.  Not off, no “airplane mode”, just hidden.  Have we had ANY crashes related to this?  Nope.  Not one that’s been proven.  OH WAIT, but they’re citing the New Zealand crash as evidence!?  Ummm yes, because it was THE PILOT’S CELL PHONE CAUSING IT.    The cell phone was within INCHES of the equipment!  Another one is hearsay evidence that a pilot is claiming about a GPS.  Let’s face it folks, pilots ARE NOT physicists, and they shouldn’t try to be.  My final argument would be this:  if it’s so easy to interfere with the plane this way, why wouln’t a terrorist just use a super-souped-up smart phone to crash the plane?  If it was do-able, they would have, I’m fairly certain.   I say “Way to go Alec Baldwin!”  Glad you made a stand. 

HTML Email

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 8th, 2011

The format of email has been a rocky road for several years now.  On one hand, it’s nice to keep it simple (and avoid spam blockers) and leave everything in Plain Text or Rich Text Format (RTF).   It doesn’t give you many options, but relays information just fine.  The problem is that a lot of people want fancier options, or they are making ads or newsletters for their customers.  The solution is HTML.  This is the  formatting language of the web, and many programs these days understand it.  The problem is that different programs may interpret in different ways, despite all efforts to standardize.  A prime example is Outlook.  It uses MS Word to do HTML, and the results aren’t always pretty.  A big group tried to change this a few years back, but Microsoft wouldn’t budge.  MS basically said “It ain’t broke, so we won’t fix it”.  So the world gets a half-baked email formatting solution that relies on a program that was never truly intended to render Web content.  Way to go Microsoft!  Meanwhile, in the 2010 edition of Outlook, they’ve reduced the functionality of RTF, and there are some VERY WEIRD glitches in the HTML rendering.  I’ve had complaints from several customers already.  If you’re seeing strange characters pop up in emails, this is probably why.  Hopefully the MS programming team are working on a fix.  In the meanwhile, if you ARE having issues with Outlook formatting, here’s a great article  that tells you how it all works, and some things you can change to help it. (Thanks Slipstick!)

IMAP Blues

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 7th, 2011

If you’ve ever set up an email program you probably know about the types of email protocols.  The old-style one that most people have used is called POP3.  But there are some newer, more powerful ones called IMAP and MAPI.  Those of us who have small businesses (or support them) have always been jealous of big company EXCHANGE SERVERS.  These are very cool because they use the MAPI protocol, and do slick things like automatic sync with all devices, etc.  I had MAPI envy, so I wanted to try the alternative called IMAP.  Outlook can use it, and my mail server supports it, so why not?  LET ME TELL YOU WHY NOT!  Outlook does a TERRIBLE job with IMAP accounts.  Especially if you have a mixed bag.  There are a long list of issues, like not defaulting to IMAP sender, no rules applied to IMAP email, and on and on.  I DO NOT recommend using IMAP on Outlook.  Seems like Microsoft was trying to force the use of their (MAPI) protocol.  If you need the mail on multiple devices, try using POP3 and setting the mail to stay on the server for 1 day.  OR use web mail.  Or buy an Exchange service (Link2Exchange is a good example).