Posted May 20th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments
With all of the new smartphones and tablets available, I get this question a lot. Personally, I don’t think that computers (desktops OR laptops) are going away anytime soon. It’s true that tablets and phone have some amazing functionality – if you can think of it, someone has probably written an app to do it. For example, I use a free app on my smartphone to measure wireless signal strength and detect wireless networks. This app has replaced the need to use a laptop for this purpose, and previous handheld devices to do the same were very expensive. Now, I have a free app with more functionality. Amazing.
Tablets are also impressive pieces of technology. They have pretty much all of the functionality of a laptop in a pound-and-a-half package that you can toss in your purse or briefcase, with double-digit battery life and amazing screen resolution. Impressive.
Tablets and smartphones have one thing in common – they are great content browsers. You can surf the internet, read a book, play a game, watch a movie, listen to music, get directions, view a map, etc. They are not good content creators. If you want to create a spreadsheet, or write a letter, or edit a picture, or layout a newsletter, you will be most comfortable on a laptop or desktop with a real keyboard, real mouse and a big screen. No one is going to write the next great American novel on an iPad (ok, cue the universe – someone prove me wrong!)
Because of this simple fact – laptops and desktops are best for creating content, phones and tablets are best for browsing what others have created – I believe laptops and desktops will be with us for a long time to come. They may look different than they do today, the programs we run on them will undoubtedly look different, but they are not going away.
Posted May 20th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments
Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you’ve probably heard someone complain about Windows 8. “The new screens are UGLY!,” or “I can’t use a computer without a ‘Start’ button!”
The truth is the screens are different and the Start button is indeed gone. But the bottom line is that these two changes take about 10 minutes to get used to. There are lots of improvements that come with Windows 8 – and they far outweigh the minor change in the interface. Windows 8 is just an improved Windows 7 with a new wrapper.
Windows 8 is also the operating system you will get if you buy a new computer today (unless you buy a Mac.) The real problem here is that people (me included) don’t like change.
Do you remember when Office 2007 came out? Microsoft replaced the toolbars and menus we spent years committing to memory with the “Ribbon” – a context-sensitive system that offered different choices depending on what you happened to be doing at the time. In the end, this was a much more workable system that required fewer steps to get to what you wanted – it made our lives easier. The real reason that we all memorized the previous menu system in the first place was to make our lives easier! You want to print an envelope? That’s Tools, Letters and Mailing, Envelope. I was able to rattle off most any combination over the phone without even looking at the menus after a while.
When the Ribbon came out, it made our knowledge of the menu system useless and we had to start all over again learning the new system. This was frustrating to be sure – but we did figure it out. And…after all was said and done, we were able to get all of our work done on the new system, usually with fewer trips through the labyrinthian menu system.
Windows 8 is no different. We are in the difficult “my old knowledge has been devalued!” phase of the transition. In a couple of years I’m sure we’ll all have forgotten that there used to be another way of doing things. Well, all except the small percentage of folks that for some reason get stuck in the past. I know someone who is still using Windows 98 and Lotus 123 on an ancient computer – there’s just no hope for him. :-)
Posted April 29th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments
This is a synopsis of a great TED talk by David Pogue, which you can see HERE. It’s a quick list of time savers, at least one of which should make you say “I didn’t know you could do that!” Enjoy!
1. When you are reading a long article on the internet, hit the space bar to scroll down one page in the browser. Shift plus space to scroll up one page. This is much faster than other methods.
2. When you are filling out address forms on the web, don’t drop down the state list, just type the first letter of your state, and keep hitting it until your state comes up.
3. When reading a page on the internet, if the text is too small, just hold the Ctrl key down and hit the “+” key to zoom in a little. You can keep hitting “+” to zoom more. Hitting Ctrl and the minus key “-” makes the text smaller. You can also use your mouse wheel for this function. Just hold Ctrl and roll the wheel away from you to zoom in, roll it towards you to zoom out.
4. When texting on your smartphone, don’t hit a period at the end of a sentence, just hit the space bar twice. The phone will insert a period and automatically capitalize the first letter of the next word.
5. To Redial someone on your cell phone, just hit the call button, it will put the last phone number you used in the box, hit the call button again and it will dial it.
6. To skip those annoying and time-wasting voicemail instructions when you call someone’s cell phone, you have to know what the vendor used by the person you are calling. If it is Verizon, hit the asterisk and it will skip to the beep. If it is AT&T/TMobile, hit the pound key, if it is Sprint, hit the “1″ key.
7. Use Google as a dictionary – type Define and then the word you want to know. Use it to find out about a flight, just type the name of the airline and then the flight number – it will show you where it’s going, the scheduled landing time & gate, etc. Use it as a unit converter – just type the conversion you want, like: “36 inches in centimeters”, or “3.2 gallons in liters”, or “.75 cups in tablespoons.”
8. When you want to highlight a word in almost any program, just double-click the word to select it. Once selected, you can just start typing and it will replace it – no need to delete first. Also, if you double-click and drag the mouse, it will highlight in one-word increments as you drag.
9. When you press the shutter button on your digital camera, there is a lag time until it takes the picture. This time is necessary for the camera to calculate focus and exposure. You can force the camera to make these calculations ahead of time by holding the shutter button half way down. Then, when it is done, you can push it the rest of the way and it will take the picture immediately. No more missed shots!
10. During a powerpoint or keynote presentation, you can blank out the slide by hitting the “B” key (for blackout) or “W” key (for whiteout). Hit the key again to bring the slide back so you can continue.
Posted April 29th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments
So now that the newest iPad (officially called “iPad with Retina,” but almost everyone refers to it as “iPad 4″) has been out for a while, a lot of people are wondering: “Should I get the new iPad?”
Based on features, the new iPad 4 has 3 major advantages over the previous iPad: iOS 6 (their latest operating system, which includes “Siri,” their voice-controlled assistant), the A6X processor (faster than the last one), and the connectivity port (all digital, so “better” than the previous one, although any existing peripherals you have won’t work with the new connector).
The display is 2048×1536 pixels in a 9.7 inch screen. That’s more pixels than a 55inch HDTV! This makes pictures more vivid; fonts clearer; and watching HD videos much better. This is the main “technological leap” – no other tablet has a resolution even approaching this. This feature was actually introduced with the iPad 3, though it is a major improvement from iPad2 or the original iPad.
The new iOS 6 offers major upgrades and improvements compared to older iOS 5 and iOS 4. Mainly Passbook, Maps, Siri, Facebook, Photos, Facetime and Phone features. The iPad 3 is upgradeable to iOS 6, the iPad 2 is also upgradable but without the Siri option.
The dual-core A6X processor makes the iPad 4 snazzier and more responsive. If you’re into games, this will be a noticeable upgrade over older iPads and some games are already reported to be loading and running faster.
So, to answer the question, whether or not you should get an iPad 4: it depends. If you own the iPad 3 or iPad 2 and you’re not into gaming, there isn’t enough improvement to justify the cost of the upgrade, plus you would have to replace any peripherals you have, which only adds to the cost.
However, if you have the original iPad or don’t have an iPad (or tablet for that matter), then you should seriously consider the iPad 4 as it still remains the top tablet on the market.
Posted December 5th, 2012 by Mark with No Comments
Do you have an annoying printer? Hint: The answer is YES – but first some background. I love printers – really I do. The technology is just amazing, it’s a little miracle of science going on right there on your desk. What I don’t particularly like is printer COMPANIES. Look, I know they have to stay in business and that market forces are driving the profit margins on printers to razor-thin proportions. But how is it that they get away with charging SO much for ink?
I have always liked HP printers – I’ve been at this long enough that I remember when they were built like tanks – I swear you could run over them with your car and they would still work. They are built quite a bit more cheaply these days, but they are faster, the print quality is amazing, and in the grand scheme of things, they’re cheap!
My workhorse printer these days is an Officejet 6500. I think I paid $149 for it about a year ago. It copies, it scans, it has a great sheet feeder, and in general, I’m very happy with it. In fact, I recommend this model to a lot of my customers.
Annoying Printer Rant #1 – The last time I bought ink cartridges for this printer, I paid about $30 for a set of 3 color cartridges, and $22 for a black cartridge. I’ve looked pretty carefully, and there is no disclosure that I can find that lists the volume of ink you get in a cartridge. I do know they are rated for 450 pages assuming an average 5% coverage (letters & such). Ok, so $52 / 450 = $0.11 per page. In reality, it is something less than that because the ink doesn’t all run out at the same time. Mostly, I use black and red ink (the main colors in my logo). So, for me, maybe it’s $32/450 = $0.07 per page.
This doesn’t sound like much, but let’s look at it another way. A little Googling tells us that the average printer cartridge in fact holds between 10 and 20 milliliters of ink. Let’s be generous and assume 20 milliliters for my cartridges. All four cartridges cost a total of $52 and would hold a total of 80 milliliters of ink. Some math yields a cost, then, of $2,460.51 per gallon.
I’ll let that sink in for a minute…..two thousand, four hundred sixty dollars and fifty one cents per gallon. If we were less generous and assumed that we only got 10 milliliters per cartridge, it’s double….$4,921.02 per gallon. Gives you a new perspective at the gas pump, doesn’t it?
Yes, they spend a lot of effort and money developing ink (HP spends 1 billion per year by one source I found). Lest you feel sorry for them though, you should know that in 2008, this represented about 4% of their 24 billion in ink sales.
Well, that was fun – now, on to Annoying Printer Rant #2. For several years now, when you buy a new printer, you get what are known as “Setup” or “Starter” cartridges of ink. This is marketing-speak for “half full”. Basically, they give you just enough ink so that you can print for a couple of weeks before you have to buy regular cartridges. After all, the quicker they get you on the ink train, the more they make.
Ok, let’s bring it home with Annoying Printer Rant #3. Just today, I ran into the latest chapter in the Printer Company Revenue Enhancement Plan. I was diagnosing a 4-week old printer that wouldn’t print. The black “starter” cartridge had run out, and my customer had replaced it with a new cartridge. After this, the printer wouldn’t work. It turns out that (at least for HP), when ANY of the starter cartridges run out of ink, the printer is programmed to stop printing until ALL of the starter cartridges are replaced with new cartridges, regardless of their current level of ink! So, not only do you get half-full cartridges when you purchase a printer, but you can’t even use all of that!
To make matters worse, the error message you get doesn’t even mention the actual problem. Instead, it says “Ink System Failure – Please Contact Service” – which is why my customer called me, and why I ended up calling HP – expecting to arrange a warranty replacement.
I’m not sure why I’m telling you all of this – this really isn’t a useful tip, it’s just a venting of frustration. Phew! I feel better now! Maybe next time we’ll talk about why printers tell you they are low on ink about a month before they actually need ink, or why some manufacturers put electronic expiration chips in the cartridges so that if you don’t use them within a year, you have to throw them away…
Posted December 3rd, 2012 by Mark with No Comments
If you have a new computer with Windows 8, you are probably knee-deep in the learning curve, trying to get used to the new interface. I’ve said before that it’s one giant game of “Go Fish”. Here are 6 Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts to help you along the path. They all use the “Windows Key” – usually left of the spacebar, with the Windows logo on it.
1. Windows Key + E This bring up the familiar “My Computer” window when you in Desktop mode.
2. Windows Key + C Immediately brings up the Charms bar, for quick access to things like Search, Share, and Settings.
3. Windows Key + D Switches you to Desktop mode
4. Windows Key + I Opens the Settings window, where they hid the Power icon, for example.
5. Windows Key + X Opens the Tools window
6. Windows Key + PrtScrn Key Saves an image of the current screen to the Screenshots folder in your Pictures folder.
One more – the easiest way to find something is to just search for it. If you are in the start screen, just start typing the name of what you are looking for. You can also bring up the Charms bar and click on Search there. Happy Hunting!
Posted November 29th, 2012 by Mark with No Comments
If your computer is slower than it should be, it might not have enough RAM.
Folks often confuse RAM (working memory) with Hard Disk (storage). I like to use this analogy: Your Hard Disk is like your desk drawers. The bigger your disk, the more things you can store. RAM, on the other hand is like the top of your desk. The more RAM you have (the bigger your desk top), the more files you can have open at the same time, and the bigger the file you can work on comfortably.
To check how much RAM you have, and how much your computer “wants,” do the following:
1. Open the programs you use most often. This might include your email, the internet browser, and Word or Excel with a typical file open in each.
2. Open Task Manager. To do this, right-click on the task bar at the bottom of the screen and choose Start Task Manager from the menu that pops up.
3. Once in Task Manager, click on the Performance tab at the top.
4. On the Performance tab, take note of two figures.
a) The first one is listed on the left side of the page in the second graph, titled “Memory.” This graph shows how much RAM your computer is currently using for the programs that are running. This figure is quoted in Gigabytes, and represents how much RAM your computer “wants” to run your programs.
b) The second figure that is important is the at the bottom of the window, in a section titled “Physical Memory.” Look for the figure labeled “Total.” This is the total amount of RAM Memory your computer has. This figure is unfortunately quoted in Megabytes, so you have to divide by 1,000 to convert it to Gigabytes for comparison purposes.
5. Next, compare these two figures (how much your computer “wants” vs. how much is “has.” If your computer is using most or all of its available memory to run your programs, then you need more RAM to get better performance.
For example, on the computer I’m using to write this article, I’m running my internet browser, my email program, and Microsoft Word. My computer is using 1.78GB of RAM, and I have a total of 8,191 Megabytes (or 8.1 Gigabytes). So, I’m using about 21% of the available RAM. This is a good level, leaving lots of “spare” RAM.
If, on the other hand, my computer only had 2 Gigabytes of RAM, and running a common combination of programs used that same 1.78 Gigabytes, then I would be using about 90% of my available memory and should definitely consider getting more RAM. In this situation, my computer would probably be operating exceptionally slowly because it would be starved for working memory.
RAM is relatively inexpensive, and can be one of the easiest things you can add to make your computer run better (good “bang for your buck”). Call us if you’d like to add more RAM. This is an easy single-hour appointment – we’d be glad to help!
Posted November 25th, 2012 by Mark with No Comments
I get this question all the time – “Should I load Updates?” It seems that every time you use your computer, there is some update or other waiting to be installed. Windows (or OSX, if you’re an Apple user) updates, Java updates, Flash updates, Adobe Reader updates, iTunes updates, Quicktime updates – it’s endless. Even if you are studious and install each and every update, there is always another one right around the corner – how did we get into this mess?
Sadly, these updates almost never add new and wonderful features to our software. They are all security related. Patching hole after newly-discovered hole in the defenses in a seemingly-futile attempt to keep the bad guys out. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. Every company that makes software that is widely used (Like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Oracle, etc.) takes on a never-ending battle against the internet baddies that are constantly looking for ways to use their software as a way to get to you, the end-user – and your wallet.
Now, you might argue (and some have) that these companies are doing a bad job, and losing this war. That may or may not be so, but I can tell you no small amount of effort goes into this whole process.
So…what do to? Well, not to overstate the obvious, but you should install the updates when they are available. Seriously. Ignoring updates is one of the quickest ways to become the victim of the latest spyware scourge.
What’s the double-edged sword, you ask? Well, there are at least two downsides to this process. The first is that sometimes, in their haste to deal with a new security problem, companies don’t adequately test their updates and they end up breaking something. On no less than 3 separate occasions this year, the anti-virus maker McAfee released an update to its software that broke the internet connections of its users. No warning…it just didn’t work after the update was downloaded. Unfortunately, once the update was loaded and the connection broken, the company had no way to contact its users to tell them about the problem. Generally, this risk is small, though, and the additional protection you get is more important than your risk of something like this happening. Plus, you’re backing up regularly anyway, right? …right?
The second downside is that the updates for third party software (I’m looking at YOU, Adobe & Java) almost always have a sneaky little checkbox on one of the dialogs they present:
___ Please install Google Chrome
or ___ Please install the Ask toolbar
or ___ Please install theBabylontoolbar
or dozens of similar offers. The basic translation of all of these is “Please update my software, and also, please install this other crap I don’t want and didn’t ask for.”
Before we vilify these companies too much, remember that the softwares in question are free (Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Java), so these “extras” are really the only way they have to get paid. Additionally, most of the extras aren’t necessarily bad. I’ll bet though, that if you research each one to find out exactly what it does and why it might or might not be useful to you, you would choose to NOT install them.
My advice – ALWAYS look for the sneaky little checkbox (that will always be CHECKED by default) that offers whatever the add-on of the week is, and UNCHECK it before proceeding.
So remember, install your updates – you don’t have to drop what you’re doing, but don’t put them off. As always, call us if you need help, that’s what we’re here for.
Posted November 23rd, 2012 by Mark with No Comments
Unlike desktop computers, laptops come in many different shapes and sizes. In addition, different people like different things. Before you commit to a particular model, go somewhere that has a good selection and try them out individually. Keyboards in particular can vary widely between models. Here is a laptop buying checklist with some other points to keep in mind:
Portability. Laptops are all about tradeoffs. A larger, easier-to-read screen, means a heavier laptop. A faster processor means lower battery life. A lightweight machine means a smaller keyboard, and generally a lower-power processor. Depending on your needs, the choices include basic, yet ultra-portable small laptops that are great when traveling, mainstream laptops for everyday use, or a desktop replacement with bigger screen sizes and features. You have to decide which combination of features works best for you.
Screen Size & Finish. There are two aspect ratios to choose from – the wide 16:9 and the standard 4:3. The wide-screen is great for surfing the Internet and opening documents side by side. Screens also come in “glossy” and “matte” finishes. A glossy screen has very sharp and easy-to-read characters, but can reflect like a mirror. Not good if your office has a window behind you. Matte screens don’t reflect nearly as much, but the characters are a bit harder to read.
Keyboard. Small laptops have small keypads; so try typing on the laptop that you want to buy to make sure that you’re comfortable with it before closing the purchase.
Touch Pad or Pointing Stick. As with the keyboard, make sure that you’re comfortable with the touch pad or pointing stick that comes with your laptop model. Some have distinct mouse buttons, while some just have “areas” of the pad that act like buttons when you press them. Buttons are give a better response. Note that you always have the option to use an external mouse.
Memory. The more RAM it has, the faster your laptop will work for you. Look for at least 4 Gigabytes of RAM – more is better.
Processor. There are so many different processors, it’s difficult to recommend a particular one. In general, though, faster is better.
Ports. Most all peripherals use USB ports, so if you have a lot of things that need connected at the same time, make sure the laptop you get has enough ports. If you want to connect the machine to your HD TV, make sure it has an HDMI port.
Battery. The two things that you need to look out for are the lithium-ion type (which means lightweight) and a higher number of cells in the battery (which means a higher capacity). Both conditions ensure a longer battery life. A bigger battery means a heavier machine, though.
Lastly, if all of this has your head swimming, you can always use price as a guideline. In general, if you’re spending at least $650, you’ll probably be happy with the specs. While the target price may change over time, I always recommend avoiding both the low and the high end of the market. Take a look at all the different models that are offered. Find the middle of the price range and buy there. Good Luck!
Posted September 3rd, 2012 by Mark with No Comments
Q: Do you have data on your computer that you wouldn’t want to lose?
A: Ok, that was a trick question – the answer, is of course, “Yes.”
So let’s move on.
Q: What sort of things can happen that would cause you to lose your data?
A: The hard disk on which your data lives can fail…sometimes without warning. It’s a mechanical device that is very sensitive, and it can be damaged by heat, vibration, electrical surges, or it can just plain wear out.
A: Power outages common at this time of year, can damage your computer – especially if it is getting old.
A: A lightning strike on your house or close to you can cause a power surge that can take out your computer (and lots of other devices) in the blink of an eye.
A: If you have a laptop, you might drop your computer. A good hit in the right orientation can destroy a hard drive.
A: You could get a virus that erases your data or encrypts all your files and then offers to sell you the decryption key at an exorbitant price.
A: You can delete something important accidentally – I see this all the time.
A: Someone you know and love can delete something important accidentally.
A: Someone you used to know and love can delete something important not-so-accidentally.
You get the picture. There are many, many ways to lose important data, but only one to save it. BACKUP. Then, BACKUP AGAIN. Then, KEEP BACKING UP.
Q: Why don’t most people backup their data?
A: This is an easy one. It’s too hard, and it takes too much time.
It’s human nature – even if you know a task is important, if it takes too much effort or is too time consuming, then you just never manage to find time for it. Life intervenes and the task never seems to rise to the top of the priority list.
Q: So – how do we fix that?
A: Another easy one. You make it EASY. Even better, you AUTOMATE it so that you don’t have to do anything at all except check to make sure it’s working once in a while.
There are two main schools of backup – Online and Local. Both have pros and cons but it is better to backup using any method than hold off because you are debating the relative merits of the available choices.
We can help you decide which method is best for you, based on your particular circumstance, then we can help you get set up so that your data is safeguarded. The end result is that your data will be safe and you can sleep better at night. Call us today to make an appointment!