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OCTOBER 1, 2007

Folks, I am struggling with that Keep It Simple Stupid concept.  This is actually my third attempt at making this blog entry.  What I've been wanting to share with you is how to back up your data and reinstall Windows.  Those two things would probably result in fairly long entries and lately I haven't found the time.  So today there's a couple of other things I'd like to tell you about instead.

GRAND CENTRAL

As an AT&T employee I speak to many people who move and are faced with having to start over with a new phone number.  For many of them this is quite distressing.  It's a real pain having to notify people.  And of course, there's always people you end up missing.   My stepdad also mentioned to me that as a minimal cell phone user he'd like for there to be a way to have he and my mom have one number that rings both of their cells.  The way cell phone service is set up this simply isn't possible.  But now, the 900-lb. gorilla of the internet, Google, has a solution that should make everyone happy.

GrandCentral.com is a brand new service owned by Google.  This service will provide you with the last phone number you will ever need to give out.  Forever.  As in the rest of your life.  Once you're registered you'll have a new phone number that will forward your calls to your cell phone, home phone, office, or wherever you tell it to.  And it won't matter where you live.  The service will forward calls to that number to wherever your land line is located.  So now people can call me on the local Oakland phone number that I got from GrandCentral (which, by the way, is 510-992-6304) and it'll ring my home phone in Martinez and it also rings my cell phone.  You'll never need to know what my home phone number or cell number is.  I can take whatever number my phone company and/or cell provider gives me and link it to my GrandCentral number.  This solves the problem of the person that moves and is forced to take a new home phone number.  This is also the solution to my stepdad's problem. 

The service offers a wealth of user options including voice mail, call screening, customized ring tones, call recording, and even not to ring certain numbers during certain hours (like not ringing the home phone during work hours, for example).  It's a terrific solution for people on the go the need to stay connected.  Best of all, it's free. 

But there is one drawback.  It's in beta right now, so there's a waiting list.  I probably waited a good two months before I was allowed to register and start using it but I have good news for you.  I have been given a limited number of invitations.   If you'd like to sign up just shoot me an e-mail.  The invitation will get you in right away.

MINT

Another great new online service is Mint.  Mint is a personal finance manager.  It monitors your bank accounts and credit cards, will analyze your purchases and bills, and make suggestions on how to save money.  It will show your how you're spending.  Sometimes the results can quite eye-opening.  For example, I had no idea I was spending so much at 7-11.  I guess I need to lay off those Big Gulps more than I thought.  They lay out a nice little pie chart that displays where all your money is going.  I'd love to show you but part of the member agreement is that I can't publish a screen shot.

One suggestion it made for me is that it analyzed how much I spend at Blockbuster video and suggested I enroll in their online rental program and that it would save me $210 over the course of a year and provided me with a link to Blockbuster's website.  That's a good start, but it isn't always accurate.  It's analysis of my cell phone expenses led it to suggest I not only switch carriers to Verizon, but to sign up for their telephone and internet as well.  That ain't gonna happen, folks, even if I wanted to I couldn't.  I don't live in an area serviced by Verizon telecom.

This is another site that had me on a waiting list, but the wait was much shorter for this one.  Unfortunately, they don't offer invitations like GrandCentral does but it's worth the short wait.

YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Here's one of my favorite comedians, Earthquake.  A little racial humor never hurt anyone.  We can all laugh at ourselves, can't we?

SEPTEMBER 17, 2007

I'm glad to be back from my hiatus.  Thanks for coming back to my website.  I found myself feeling a little overwhelmed again figuring out what to write every week.  I'm going to keep that old KISS saying in mind, Keep It Simple Stupid.

I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of my great uncle Milton Ching.  My mom spent a lot of time at Uncle Milton's when she was a little girl.  Uncle Milton was 87(!) years old.  Look at him in this picture from a couple of years ago.  Uncle Milton was a Chinese O.G.!

I'd also like to let you know that my daughters now also have their own website, Celeb Talk.  They have also uploaded a few videos on YouTube.  Check them out if you have a chance.

EXTRA SECURITY IN WINDOWS XP

A very basic but effective form of security in Windows XP is the limited user account.  Most people run as "Administrator" by default, and that's where the door opens to things like spyware and malware.  As long as you're logged in as a user with administrative rights you have the ability to install programs.   Malicious program won't ask you for permission to install, they just do it under your nose.  Before you know it you've spyware or adware infecting your computer, taking up system resources, slowing your computer down, maybe worse.

You can combat this by simply running as a limited user.  Under Windows XP limited users don't have any rights to install software, and as such this effectively heads malware off at the pass.  If you need to install something simply log off of the limited account, log in as the administrator, install your software, then log back in under the limited account. 

You can create a limited account by going into the Control Panel and selecting User Accounts.  From there click on 'Create a new account', type an account name, and choose 'limited account' on the next screen.  And that's it.

I want you to be aware of something.  Your best line of defense against infections and other bad things happening to you online is your own behavior.  Don't click on pop-ups other than to close them.  You can also close them by hitting [alt]+f4.  Don't open e-mails from unknown senders.  And don't click on links within e-mails unless you absolutely trust the web address.  If you deem it necessary to go to a particular site you  can instead copy the address and paste it into your address bar.  This is a much safer method.

I also want to re-emphasize don't ever respond to an e-mail claiming to be from your bank that asks you to 'verify' a passcode or some other personal information.  I've gotten a few that claimed to be from Bank of America.  Out of curiosity I clicked on the links of a couple of them.  The bogus B of A websites they took me to looked absolutely genuine but I knew they were bogus, but I swear they'd fool anyone less aware.  Don't be amongst the 'less aware'.  Please.

YAHOO E-MAIL

I have a friend that uses Yahoo! mail as her primary e-mail.  Now, personally, I think Gmail is a much better choice.  It's a much more feature rich service and it will forward to an e-mail client such as Microsoft Outlook, but that's neither here nor there. 

She had made a couple of changes and discovered that Windows had changed her default e-mail to Hotmail.  She wanted to know how to change it back to Yahoo.  Here's how it's done.

Begin by opening up Internet Explorer and log in to your Yahoo! Mail account.  Click on Tools at the top and choose 'Internet Options'.  Click on the 'Programs' tab and then select 'Yahoo Mail' in the e-mail section.  Click 'Apply'.  From this point forward clicking on an e-mail link in a website should launch Yahoo! Mail.

YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Ever since I was a little kid I've loved magic.  Even as an adult a good magic trick never fails to bring a smile to my face.  Check out my favorite magician David Blaine as he performs a little 'street magic' .

 

 


AUGUST 7, 2007

The first thing I want to share are my new purchases.  See the glasses and the green iPod shuffle?  They are, of course, prescription.  I got them for $29 from goggles4u.com.  For those who have to wear glasses, when was the last time you paid less than $100 for a pair of new glasses, let alone less $30?  And what a bargain for the iPod shuffle.  They will typically retail for $79, but went online to the Apple store and bought this nifty refurbished unit for only $49!  The unit came packaged like it was a new iPod complete with a brand new dock and headphones.  I absolutely love this thing.  It will hold 200+ songs, has a convenient clip on the back, is light enough to clip onto a shirt collar, and has controls that are logically placed and is easy to operate.  If you're in the market for a small, light portable MP3 player this is what you're looking for.


JOTT


If you don't already have a reason to check your email account often here's the last reason you'll need.  Jott is a free service that transcribes voice messages into emails.  It works with text messaging, too.

You simply call Jott's toll-free number, say who you want to Jott, then begin speaking.  It will transcribe your message and send that person an email. 

It's great to use as a reminder tool.  I Jott myself quite often.  I call Jott's toll-free number, and I'm asked, "Who do you wish to Jott?"  I say, "Me".  Then, as an example, I say, "Remember to talk about Jott on your next blog".  Within a few minutes I get an email that has fully transcribed my voice message.  It also sends an audio file of the message as well.  It's great recording expenses, making to do lists, and work and/or school assignments.  I've only had the service for a few days and I'm finding myself using it several times a day.

You can also use it to set reminders.  You can set it to send you a text message to your cell phone at a specific date and time.  It can be used for group messaging as well.

SIMPSONIZATION

Look at me as a Simpsons character! 

You can make a Simpsons character of yourself by going to www.simpsonizeme.com and uploading a picture of yourself.  Simple and fun.

REMOVE SCRATCHES FROM YOUR CDs and DVDs

For quite a while now I've been using toothpaste as my solution.  It now appears that using Brasso is a better choice.  Check out this instructional video from YouTube.

GEEK FUN

For years AT&T Labs have been perfecting the reverse of what Jott does.  They turn text into the spoken word.  Click here for a demo of it.  It's fun.  I just can't get enough of my computer telling me, "Jon, you are my daddy.  You are also the most handsome man on the planet."

JON'S YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE WEEK

I am a big fan of Hawaiian music.  It takes me back to my summers as a teen visiting my grandparents in Hawaii.  While searching for some Hawaiian music videos on YouTube I stumbled upon this dude Jake Shimabukuro.  What he does on the ukulele is nothing short of amazing.  I had no idea it could be played that way.  Check him out as he performs the Beatles' classis, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".

Hey everybody.  I would have had an update a couple of days ago but my DSL was down.  I must tell you that I called AT&T tech support I did get a guy in India and he was very helpful and he did get me back up and running again.  Folks, I can't stress this point enough to you all.  Please, please, please...be kind to these people.  They are human beings just like you and me.

I wanted to give a shout out to my homegirl Revelina.  Last Friday she won an office raffle and got herself an iPhone (!!!).  Man, am I jealous.  Initial impressions are that this nifty little cell phone/iPod/camera/web browser really is all that and a bag of chips.  It really did live up to the hype.  Congradulations, Rev.

BAIL MONEY

Folks, my cousin Kristi needs your help.  She's in "MDA jail" and needs to raise $2,000 bail money to get out.  Actually, the "MDA" is the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the 2 Gs go towards "Jerry's kids".  Please check out her website.
 
CAMEROID
 

If you've ever gotten the opportunity to play around with a newer Mac laptop there's chances are you probably discovered the iSight, the built in camera.  Along with it is their Photo Booth program.  Guys, it's hella fun to play with.  There are all kinds of neat effect.  It can take your image and do all kinds of special effects with it - Sepia, Black & White, Glow, Comic Book, X-Ray, Colored Pencil, Thermal Camera, Spotlight, Bulge, Dent, Twirl, Squeeze, Mirror, Light Tunnel, Stretch, Fish Eye, it just so cool. 
 
I got kind of jealous when I first tried it out.  I thought to myself, "Man, why can't my PC do all these fun things?"
 
Well, I discovered a website that does something very similar. 
Cameriod is a website that can take your webcam image and do many similar special effects.  There's even a button you can click to save your goofy image and share it with others if you like.  Now, this image you see here isn't very clear, but that's because I have a cheap webcam.  But much better webcams can be gotten for as cheap as $50.    Splurge on one if you've got the extra bucks to spare (after helping Kristi with her "bail money", that is).
 
POCKETMOD
 
The PocketMod is a new way to keep yourself organized. Lets face it, PDAs are too expensive and cumbersome, and organizers are bulky and hard to carry around. Nothing beats a folded up piece of paper. That is until now. With the PocketMod, you can carry around the days notes, keep them organized in any way you wish, then easily transfer the notes to your PDA, spreadsheet, or planner.

The PocketMod is a small book with guides on each page. These guides or templates, combined with a unique folding style, enable a normal piece of paper to become the ultimate note card. It is hard to describe just how incredibly useful the PocketMod is. It's best that you just dive in and create one.

Many things make this little personal organizer special, here is a list.

  1. It fits easily in your back pocket or purse.
  2. It's as cheap as one piece of paper (Because that's all it is!)
  3. It opens like a book. Leading to easier to find, more organized notes.
  4. The first page has a pouch, big enough to carry a business card!
  5. Customizable with "Mods" tailored to your needs.
  6. It's free and fun!
 
WALK SCORE
 
Moving anytime soon?  Is the walkability of your potential new neighborhood important to you?  It should be.  Walking is one of the best exercises there is.  And who knows when you'll be stuck without a car?  Being carless is almost always something that takes you by surprise.

Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc.  Apparently, my neighborhood ain't so hot.

JON'S YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Yes, you've heard much about this around the water cooler.  Now, here it is, "Crush on Obama".  What a lucky guy! 

July 23, 2007

I want to start off by letting you all know that Alex's Union City National All-Stars fell to Danville yesterday, 4-3, and were eliminated from the sectional tournament.  But Alex pitched a hell of a game.  And his team are still regional champs, so don't hang your head, Alex.  Your whole family's proud of you.

NEVER BE LOST AGAIN

Who doesn't know the frustration of being lost?  Being in a location you're unfamiliar with is often times uncomfortable and sometimes even scary.  Not everyone feels comfortable with approaching strangers to ask for directions.  And who's to say that you'll be given accurate directions even if someone gives them to you?  Well, if you're in the greater metro areas of the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, or New York City you're in luck.  You can save your money and avoid having to buy a GPS device or a GPS-enabled cell phone.

There's a new free service available that just launched on July 16 in the above mentioned areas.  All you need is an ordinary cell phone that has the ability to receive text messages.   Simply dial the word, 'DIRECTIONS' (that's 347-328-4667).  You'll be prompted to say where you are and what your destination is.  Within a matter of seconds you'll receive a text message telling you exactly where to go. 

Between this service and 800-FREE-411 you should always be able to find your destination.  Go to www.dialdirections.com for more details.

TURNING DVD AUDIO INTO MP3s

Some of my favorite songs come from movies.  Ever wanted a song from a movie but didn't want to buy the whole soundtrack?  Free DVD MP3 Ripper is your answer.

This freeware solution is available from Jodix.com.

Step 1: Open the source video file by clicking the "Source File" Button. The following video formats are supported,

  • DVD Movie Files (*.vob)
  • VCD/SVCD Movie Files(*.avi; *.divx);
  • MPEG Files (*.mpg; *.mpeg);

The video file will be opened and can be played in the left preview window.

Step 2: Slide the Start Point Cursor and End Point Cursor, you can fine tune the selection of the source video file to extract into MP3.

You can also click the spinner to change the Start Point or End Point slightly to meet your need.

Step 3: Click the "Change Settings..." link to modify the MP3 settings. To get more information in tweaking the MP3 settings, please read
MP3 Settings Explained

Step 4: Click the "Edit ID3..." link to edit the id3 tag for the output MP3.

Step 5: Click the "Rip!" button, and you can get your MP3 file immediately.

You can also use this program on any downloaded video in MPEG format as well.

GET MORE OUT OF YOUR CELL PHONE CAMERA

I know many people that only use their cell phone cameras every once in a great while and some who don't use it at all.  Here are some great everyday uses for it.

1. Handheld Scanner

Remember those old spy movies, where the secret agents captured documents with a tiny secret mini-camera? Now we all have one. Believe it or not, photographing documents works.

I don't recommend stealing information, but for random paper information, notes -- even white-board information, you can snap a picture to capture the data.

2. Screen-Capture Utility

The same trick for capturing paper documents works surprisingly well with a computer screen. The “normal” way to capture a screen -- pressing the PrntScrn key, the pasting into e-mail, Word or other applications (pressing Alt+PrntScrn captures only the selected window) -- sometimes that doesn't work. Some Web sites and some video formats don’t let you capture. In those cases, take a picture of the monitor! The resulting image won't be perfect, but it will be a lot better than nothing.

3. Photographic Memory

Business travel involves remembering small details, just to get yourself there and back. The more you travel, the more these details blur together.

After checking into your hotel, and dropping off your bags in the room, you decide to go grab dinner. You come back to the hotel, and make it up to your floor -- what was the room number 1021 or 1012? The next morning, you go downstairs to drive to your meeting -- which of the 50 rental cars in the lot is yours? You arrive at your home airport after a weeklong trip -- where in the five-story lot did you park?

Your camera phone can instantly record, then quickly recall, these and other minor but easy-to-forget details of business travel.

Whenever I travel, I always snap a picture of my hotel room number, rental car (with license plate) and airport parking garage location sign. If I forget, I can just call it up on my phone.

4. Contact Database Enhancer

Most camera phones let you add photos to each contact entry, which pop up on the screen when the person calls, or when you call them. Many also add the picture to Microsoft Outlook or other desktop contact applications when you synchronize the phone.

Snap a picture of important people you meet, and add that photo to your contacts. People don't mind, and it really helps you later connect faces to names.

5. String Around Your Finger

Sometimes you see something that jogs your memory. For example, you see a flower stand, which reminds you – “Oh, No!! My anniversary is next week!!” Rather than forgetting again, just take a picture of the flower stand, and e-mail it to yourself as a reminder.

6. Personal Security Device
Door-to-door con artists are more common than you think. Chances are, you’ve been scammed yourself. The next time someone comes to your home or office to raise money or for some other potentially illicit purpose, ask if you can take their picture. Legit people won’t mind, and criminals will leave immediately.

Women confronted by creepy stalker types on public transportation have successfully warded off unwanted attention by snapping camera phone pictures of their harassers.

Aggressive panhandlers, crooked sales-people, suspicious strangers in your office -- it never hurts to take a picture and e-mail it to yourself (in case they steal your phone). It gives you the upper hand, can deter crime, and provides evidence if a crime does occur.

7. Liability Reducer

Camera phones can help you prove your innocence. If you get into a car accident, photograph everything (the cars, the victims, etc.) in case anyone decides to get creative with the facts later on.

If you check into a hotel room, and something is conspicuously damaged or missing, take a picture immediately, then send it to your Gmail or other online e-mail account. The time and date will be captured, which might protect you from being charged for the damage by the hotel.

JON'S YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE WEEK

My daughters' YouTube debut.


 

July 17, 2007

Before I do anything else I want to give a shout to my cousin Alex being a baller in his Little League playoffs and getting his name in the headlines.  Look at this:

Maldonado pitches 3-hitter for UC National
By Tony Gonsalez, STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 07/10/2007 02:38:24 AM PDT

UNION CITY — One of the most anticipated matchups in the District 45 Majors All-Stars fizzled from the outset.

Alex Maldonado pitched a three-hitter and went 2-for-3 to help lead Union City National to a 14-1 shellacking of San Lorenzo American in a game that was called in the fourth inning due to the 10-run rule, at James Logan High.

Maldonado struck out five in the four innings and didn't walk any.

He also struck the first blow at the plate against San Lorenzo American ace Grant Lowe, roping a first-inning single to score Anthony Corrales with the first run of the game.

Go to http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_6339136 to see the article for yourself.

Alex's Union City National All-Stars are still alive in their playoff bracket with Alex pitching again today.  Watch for him in the Little League World Series!

Also, congradulations to my "cousin" Mike Black.  He just got hitched last Saturday.  And get well wishes for cousins Christopher Low and Jim Waldear.

There's a terrific documentary for techies like me called, 'Triumph of the Nerds'.  It gives a detailed history of the beloved personal home computer.  In one funny anecdote one of the first PC pioneers (I don't remember who this was) remembers being asked, "Why on earth would someone want to have a computer in their house?".  He went blank.  The only answer he could think of was, "Well, housewifes could use it to store and organize their recipes".

To me the real irony is that even today people don't realize what a powerful tool they have in their PCs.  The internet is highly underutilized for most people.  I just shake my head when people tell me that they only use the internet for checking email.  There are so many valuable gems of information available on the world wide web.  If people only knew about some of these great sites our PCs would truly fulfill their ultimate purpose:  Making our lives easier.

WACKY USES

Wackyuses.com lists dozens of alternate uses for everyday household products.  Here's a small sample of what I've discovered. 

  • Unclog a drain. Clear the sink drain by dropping three Alka-Seltzer tablets down the drain followed by a cup of Heinz White Vinegar. Wait a few minutes, then run the hot water.

  • Deodorize shoes or sneakers. Place a sheet of Bounce in your shoes or sneakers overnight so they'll smell great in the morning.

  • Lubricate a zipper. Rub ChapStick along the teeth of the zipper to make it zip smoothly.

  • Shave. Apply Cool Whip to wet skin as a substitute for shaving cream.

  • Hang pictures, sun catchers, or wind chimes. Oral-B Mint Waxed Floss is stronger and more durable than ordinary string.

  • Clean a microwave oven. Add four tablespoons ReaLemon to one cup water in a microwave-safe, four-cup bowl. Boil for five minutes in the microwave, allowing the steam to condense on the inside walls of the oven. Then wipe clean.

LIFEHACKER

Lifehacker.com offers useful, practical tips on how to use your computer and the internet to make your life easier to manage.

Some of today's headlines include:  How to Simplify Your Finances, Speed Up Dinner Preparation, Get In On Bargains By Watching the Calendar, and Simply Store Your Files Online.  You will find a fair number of articles that most would consider esoteric, like hacks for Linux and things of that nature, but there are some real gems that you'll find almost daily.

FREE LAPTOP UPDATE

I went to getmyfreelaptop.com and registered with my name, address, and email.  The next page informed me that all I had to do is sign up for these offers from various companies.  The offers included things like signing up for Netflix, applying for credit cards, enrolling in coffee clubs and necktie clubs.  I have to enroll in two on one page, two on another, and six on a third.  It looks like I have to stay enrolled in all of them for 60 days to get credit. 

You know what?  These are an awful lot of committments to make.  I'm going back to the terms and condtions page.  I need to go over it with a fine tooth comb.

Next week I'll have an overview of what exactly I have to do.

THE THINGS I DO FOR MY FRIENDS

Over the last few years a friend from work, Elton, has been working on putting an album together.  So far what he's recorded has been terrific.  He's been working very hard at being ready for the big time when his album gets released next year.  He's taking vocal lessons, dance classes, and has a strict workout regimen.

Along with having a profile on MySpace Elton also has a profile on DList, a gay-centric social networking site.  It's sort of a MySpace for gay men, and Elton's gay so why not? 

Recently Elton was having some problems uploading samples of his songs on his DList profile so he asked me for some help with that.  In order to gain access to the site I had to create a profile for myself.  It did allow me to solve the problem.

"So what's your point?", I hear you ask?  The bottom line is that while I am not gay I do have a profile on a gay website.  And apparently it's a good thing I'm not gay.  I'd be a very lonely gay man.  Not one hot guy has tried to hit on me yet.

Click here for Elton's (a.k.a. L10) profile on MySpace and hear a teaser of his music.

JON'S YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Nerd alert!  This is what happened to Darth Vader after Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star.

 

 

 

July 4, 2007

Hello friends and Happy Birthday, America! 

Normally I don't advocate spending money where it's not necessary but there's this song you just HAVE to get on iTunes.  It was written by Saturday Night Live's Jimmy Fallon.  You know, the guy that was in 'Fever Pitch'.  It's called 'Car Wash for Peace'. It's really funny, and proceeds to go to Fisher House – a charity that supports America’s military by providing “a home away from home” that enables family members to be close to a loved one during hospitalization for an illness, disease, or injury. For more information check out http://www.fisherhouse.org/.  Hey, it's only a buck, and you can show your patriotism and have a good laugh at the same time.  It's a buck well spent. 

I don't have anything to report on the free laptop yet.  I'm moving this week so I need to get that out of the way before I begin my journey.  I'll have my first account within the next two weeks.

HIGH TECH AUTO GADGET

This is just for the ladies.  It'll be obvious why in a moment. 

Did you know that you can unlock with a tennis ball?  I haven't actually tried it myself but it looks like a pretty good trick.  Here, check out the video.

See what I mean?  Guys, we can't go around with tennis balls in our pockets, but ladies, you can stick one in a big purse. 

ANTI-ROOT KITS

One type of virus I don't believe I've ever spoken to you about is a root kit.  Root kits are undetectable by anti-virus and anti-spyware software.  They allow things like trojans and worms to exist on your computer.  A common attack is one which essentially allows your computer to be taken over.  Luckily AVG offers a free anti-root kit.  Yes, I know it's a pain to need so many security measures, anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, spamguard (you are using all these, aren't you?).  Now this?  Yes.  But it's free, and that's worth having for a little peace of mind.

JON'S YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE WEEK

It's Jimmy Fallon performing 'Car Wash for Peace' on 'The View'. 


 

 

June 25, 2007

Welcome back to my humble abode on the worldwide web.  Special greetings to my cousins that may be seeing this site for the first time so hello to Lisa, Christy, Tracey, Isabel, Stacey, Lisa (yes, I know I listed 'Lisa' twice, I have two cousins named Lisa), and Kristi.  Also hello to extended family members Christine and Vince.

When I last left you I told you I'd talk more about Google's other features like web creation, bloggers, and such.  Well, I lied.  I'm so sorry.  I'm sure you were all on the edge of your seats waiting for me to tell you about it, right?  Yeah, right.  This time I think I actually have something interesting to talk about.

But first, let me apologize if the look of the page is a little off.  I'm toying around with some HTML (i.e., nerdy web creation programming language) and as you can see I still have quite a bit to learn still.
What you see above is something new I'm trying.  All my new entries will now include my 'You Tube Video Of The Week'.  Just click on that triangle to play the video.  It's pretty funny although there is some foul language in it so you may not want to play it around the kids.  The video is "Slap the Donald and Win a Free Laptop".

Have you ever run across those ads that claim they'll give you a laptop for FREE?  Doesn't that sound GREAT?  But it couldn't possibly be for real, could it?  No. Never.  Weren't we all taught that axiom that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is?  It's gotta be some kind of scam.  What kind of idiot would fall for an obvious scam like that?  Well, friends and loved ones, that idiot would be ME!  I'm going for it, baby.  Free laptop?  Count me in!  Woo hoo!

Now, don't get it twisted.  As people are fond of saying, "My momma didn't raise no fools".  I have two very good reasons for doing this. 

First, my blogs have always been about no-cost solutions so it's my duty to investigate and report back to you.  If there's any chance this could be true then why shouldn't all of us have free laptops?

And second, I need another laptop anyway.  I hate to admit this but my own laptop has been on the blink for a couple of months now and I'm absolutely pulling my hair out without it (metaphorically speaking, of course, I don't have any hair to pull out in reality).  I think it's some kind of hardware failure but my lack of experience with laptops is keeping me from determining exactly what the problem is.  I'm fairly confident that its repair is going to run into the hundreds, and I frankly can't afford it.  Feel free to contribute to my Laptop Repair Foundation if the mood strikes you.

What I plan on doing is keeping a detailed account of every step I take along the way and report it all back to you.  Hopefully, you'll find it interesting enough to want to hear about it.

GENI

Genealogy has become very popular over the last few years and why shouldn't it?  We all feel the need to connect, to know what our roots are.  But doing a family tree can be a daunting task.  Accumulating the names, birthdates, and other vitals of ALL your relatives can quickly become overwhelming.  I've tried to start family trees on a couple of occasions and never really got very far at all.  Geni.com is a family networking site I discovered just three days ago and it has changed EVERYTHING. 

You start out simply enough.  After entering your name and e-mail address you enter the name of your parents.  From there you click on arrows to add the names of your siblings, then aunts and uncles, then grandparents, and so on.  With every entry there's a field to enter an e-mail address for the person you are adding and that person gets sent an invitation to join and add to the family tree thus making it a truly collaborative effort. 

It's user friendliness is the key to this site.  I've read a review commenting that "it's easy enough for your mom use," but I'd go as far as saying it's easy enough for your grandmother!  In the 72 hours since I registered for this site my extended family tree has grown to nearly 300 (!) individual entries.  Pretty soon you'll find yourself getting invitation responses from second cousins you've never met before (hi, Kristi!).  It's extremely gratifying to see the tree once it starts to flesh out.

I was lucky enough to have discovered that my grandfather's brother, Uncle Wally, had been working on a family tree for some time.  His research was added to the tree and I ended up learning things about my family history I may not have ever thought to ask.  For example, the names of my grandfather's parents were added.  I never knew their names before yesterday and the thought of asking about them never occurred to me before.  But now that I have that information I'm very grateful.  Thanks, Uncle Wally and Lisa (my cousin & Uncle Wally's daughter).  You too, Tracey.

Another benefit comes about when the word begins to spread from family member to family member.  You start discovering contact information.  For example, for years, literally years, I've been trying to get the e-mail addresses for my cousins in Hawaii, but now thanks to the interaction with this website I have them.  This site has opened up a tremendous opportunity to reconnect with family.  I only wish I had discovered it sooner.

The site also allows you to upload photos as well so it's a great way to picture share, too.  Personally, I don't have a single photo of ANY of my grandparents, but now I have hope I'll get some sooner than later.
When you click on individual names their profile comes up and you're told how you're connected to them.  As you start branching further and further out you'll see interesting connections like '... is your second cousin once removed'.  One particular entry connects me to this person as 'Your partner's ex-husband's ex-wife's ex-husband'.  Funny stuff.

We're off to a great start.  Let's hope we can keep up the momentum.  If you haven't already received an invitation to join in please let me know.  And please feel totally free to add and make corrections to the tree.  I can't wait to see how this turns out.

FLICKR

Where in the hell do those flashing photos on the left come from?  They're my pictures from Flickr!  

Flickr is a photo sharing website now owned by Yahoo!  Anyone that has Yahoo! photos will be asked to transition their photos over to Flickr.  You don't have to do it if you don't want to but I'd highly recommend you do.  Why?  Because when you have a free Flickr account you have a 100MB upload limit per calendar month but when you are a Yahoo! Photos transitionee (is that a word?) you'll be temporarily upgraded to a Flickr Pro account which grants you unlimited uploads.

How is the service compared to Yahoo! Photos?  Really about the same.  You can tag photos and organize them into sets just like you could before.  The one thing I really like though is that 'thing' you see on the left.  It's a 'Flickr badge'.  Isn't it neat?  Click on one of the pictures and it'll take you to my Flickr account.  Cool huh?

Okay, now you know what it is.  If you have a Yahoo! Photos account go over there now and agree to have your account transferred to them. 

That's all for now.  I hope to have something to report soon about that free laptop thing.

BTW, who's down for some fantasy football?  Shoot me an email and I'll set something up.  Joe, Gary, Chris, Yolanda, Dad, Vince, Michael, I'm talking to you!

 

June 18, 2007

To all the fathers out there I hope you had a wonderful father's day.  Same to all the single moms who have to pull double duty as acting fathers as well.  I found some great online greetings at www.marlo.com and www.123greetings.com.  As always, they're free (you know I wouldn't recommend them otherwise).  I've always felt that e-cards have always been acceptable substitutes for those who don't have time to go to the Hallmark store.

GO WITH GOOGLE

Every week I am more and more convinced that getting yourself a free Google account is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Having a Google ID makes it quick and easy to set up accounts for e-mail, photo sharing, blogging, social networking, web page creation, maps, online word processing & spreadsheets, calendars, and photo & video search.  The benefit of having signed up for any or all of these services through Google is that you'll only ever need your one Google user ID login and password. 

Google's e-mail component, Gmail, is hands-down the best free e-mail service out there.  As far as accessibility and ease of use are concerned Gmail doesn't outshine free e-mail from Hotmail or Yahoo!  It's about the same.  What makes Gmail stand out is its compatibility with e-mail client software like Microsoft's Outlook and Mozilla's Thunderbird.  Hotmail and free Yahoo! accounts will not forward to any e-mail client without a for-pay upgrade.  Note:  AT&T Yahoo! subscribers do not have this limitation with their sbcglobal.net addresses (or att.net, pacbell.net, or prodigy.net domains).  The advantage of using an e-mail client is that one can manage their e-mail account while offline.  

Google's photo sharing component is through their partnership with Picasa.  Picasa Web Albums offers 1GB of online storage.  That's A LOT of photos.  I recently calculated I had about 900 photos I'm sharing online and am only using about 1/3 of the total available capacity. That's an awful lot more photos I can upload.  This site also works in conjunction with Picasa 2, the absolute BEST free photo management program anywhere. 

Google Docs & Spreadsheets as the name implies offers an online word processor and spreadsheet.  Why would you use this if you already have Word, Works and/or Excel?  The online accessibility allows you to share your document if you intend it to be a collaborative effort, allows you to access the document when you're away from home but are able to access the internet, AND your document is stored on Google's servers so if your computer crashes the document won't be lost.  It's not as advanced and feature-rich as Word or Excel but is more than sufficient for basic everyday documents.  What you're reading right now was entirely created on Google Docs & Spreadsheets. 

Google Calendars also gives you the ability to share your calendar with others.  It's great for work groups and busy families.

I'll get into the blogger, social networking, video, and web creation elements in my next entry.

FATHERHOOD

I was listening to an old Police song recently, 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying'.  The words really made me think.  The lyrics go like this,


Seven weeks have passed now since she left me
She shows her face to ask me how I am
She says the kids are fine and that they miss me
Maybe I could come and baby-sit sometime
She says, "Are you O.K.? I was worried about you
Can you forgive me? I hope that you'll be happy."
I'm so happy that I can't stop crying
I'm so happy I'm laughing through my tears

I saw a friend of mine
He said, "I was worried about you
I heard she had another man,
I wondered how you felt about it?"
I'm so happy that I can't stop crying
I'm so happy I'm laughing though my tears
Saw my lawyer, Mr Good News
He got me joint custody and legal separation
I'm so happy that I can't stop crying
I'm laughing through my tears
I'm laughing through my tears

I took a walk alone last night
I looked up at the stars
To try and find an answer in my life
I chose a star for me
I chose a star for him
I chose two stars for my kids and one star for my wife
Something made me smile
Something seemed to ease the pain
Something about the universe and how it's all connected

The park is full of Sunday fathers and melted ice cream
We try to do the best within the given time
A kid should be with his mother
Everybody knows that
What can a father do but baby-sit sometimes?
I saw that friend of mine, he said,
"You look different somehow"
I said, "Everybody's got to leave the darkness sometime"
I'm so happy that I can't stop crying
I'm laughing through my tears
I'm laughing through my tears
I'm so happy that I can't stop crying
I'm laughing through my tears
I'm laughing through my tears


The sad guy in that song isn't me but it could have been.  God, thank You for things working out that my girls are with me.

I was going to dedicate this entry to all the dads but instead I'm going to dedicate it to my daughters, Asha and Imani.  I yell at you guys too much and tell you I love you too little.  I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me one day.



A special Father's Day wish goes out to my cousins, Yolanda, Isabel, and Aaron.  You guys know why.  My thoughts and love are with you all.

The same goes for my girls' cousins, Little O'Dell, Lucretia, and Cashmere.

There is no greater tribute you can pay to a loved one that has passed than remembering to show your love to those that are still with you.

 

June 14, 2007

I'm back in the saddle again, in the famous words of Gene Autry or Aerosmith, whomever you're more familiar with.

I wanted to share a quick word about an internet danger called 'phishing'.  This is basically someone who sends you an official looking e-mail posing as your bank or some other financial institution trying to get you to give up some very confidential information like your password, Social Security Number, credit card number, etc.  They can use some pretty intimidating terms to get your attention, things like 'fraud', 'freezing your account', 'penalties', etc.  Look at what 'Bank of America' sent me the other day:

 

NOTIFICATION:Bank of America Account Expired, Reactivate NOW

From: Beverly@reactivation-bank-of-america.com

Sent:

Mon 6/11/07 6:01 AM

Reply-to:

Dennis1@reactivation-bank-of-america.com 

To:jonlow67@hotmail.com

Dear Bank of America member,

Because of numerous fraud attempts in our system, we are updating our billing information records.

It is very important to update your account information as soon as possible

Failure to do so will result is a permanent hold on your account due to risk of fraudulent activity.

Follow this link to update your account. http://reactivation-bank-of-america.org

Fill in the forms correctly, mistakes may put your account on hold until further investigation is provided.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Bank of America, Inc.

Sounds pretty official doesn't it? Doesn't it sound as if I better click on that link and fill out those forms or else? Well, it's a good thing I know about phishing because if I had gone ahead and done what that email was wanting me to do I would have ended up giving some very private information to some scam artist. You can protect yourself from such online scams by keeping a few things in mind.

First, understand that no financial institution would ever approach you in this manner. I know personally that Bank of America would never put a permanent hold on my account for such a reason.

Second, never click on a link sent to you in an e-mail unless you are absolutely certain that you know the sender.

Third, be aware that some people can actually spoof a website. Yes, these people actually set up websites that look like the legitimate website of a company you do business with and trick you into giving them your personal information. If you ever have a doubt about the validity of an e-mail from your bank make sure you contact them right away.

Don't let this discourage you from internet banking. This is the way your bank wants you to handle your transactions, over the internet. It's more cost efficient for them so they go to great lengths to make it secure. Staying informed and using plain old common sense will help keep you from being scammed.

By the way, I spoke with Bank of America about the fraudulent e-mail. I was encouraged to forward it to them at: abuse@bankofamerica.com.

MEEBO

Instant messaging is a great way to communicate over the internet. It's much more personal than an e-mail message. It allows you to have a live 'conversation' with someone online. Some messaging services offer voice chat, video chat, and even playing games while you're chatting. Many different messaging providers are available: AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo!, Google Talk, MSN, etc. I have no complaints about any of them individually. The problem is that over time I've signed up for four or five different messaging providers and I've found it to be a hassle to sign in to so many individual providers when I log on to my computer. But who do I choose to go with? Cousin Gary's on Yahoo! Tatanisha's on MSN. Bob's on AIM. How do you make this more workable? Meebo is the answer!

Meebo allows you to sign into all your favorite messaging services with just ONE login, no downloads or plug-ins. It's just great. But they don't do Skype yet, and it doesn't support video chat yet. But I use it faithfully anyway.

CUSTOMER SERVICE IN INDIA

It seems like a general fear of many people is calling customer service for any given company and reaching a call center in India.  I recently had to make a tech support call and clearly reached a representative in an Indian-based call center.  The rep spoke very understandable English, gave me very clear instructions, and was quite helpful.  It allayed some of my own fears and pre-conceived notions. 

I understand it's probably downright unamerican and anti-union to say this but we should all remember that these individuals are people, too. They're just trying to make a living like any of us. They deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect and dignity we would reserve for any other human being.

May 31, 2007

Hello friends.  I'm sorry to have been gone so long.  Before I begin I'd like to acknowledge my cousin Isabel who will be graduating from her basic training with the U.S. Navy very shortly.

 SAVE YOUR DVDs

 Have you ever had the experience of cleaning your child's room and finding under the bed or at the bottom of a pile of junk a store-bought DVD that you paid a good $15 for and is now scratched up so badly that it won't play?  Makes your day, doesn't it?  Let's face it, kids and optical disks just don't mix.  You knew that when bought that disk, don't kid yourself.   Somewhere in the back of your mind you knew that if you handed that movie over to the kids they weren't going to put it back in its case and it would end up just the way you found it. 

I shouldn't be harsh were children are concerned.  Most adults and optical disks don't mix either.  So why risk your hard-earned, store-bought originals?  Make backups!  If your computer has a DVD burner that's all the hardware you'll need.  All the software you'll need is available as freeware.

The three programs you'll need are DVD Shrink, DVD Decrypter, and RipIt4Me.  Just click on the links to download them.

Why can't you just put the movie in your DVD drive, select all the movie files, and copy them to your hard drive?  If you've ever tried that with a store-bought DVD you'll discover that that method doesn't work.  You'll end up getting some strange error messages and the process will abort.  There's nothing wrong with your burner.  That's the DVDs built in copyright protection doing its job.  For most people it's reason enough to stop them in their tracks.  I don't blame them.  It can be a tough nut to crack if you don't know about this terrific trio of treeware.

Most store-bought DVD movies are pressed on a dual layer DVD and typically hold 5-8 GB of data.  DVD Shrink will take that data and compress it down to the point to where it will fit on a single layer DVD.  Dual layer recordable DVDs are available commercially but quite a bit more expensive than their single layer counterparts.  The compression process can theoretically lead to a loss in picture quality but I have never noticed a difference.

DVD Decrypter 'rips' the data from the disk.  'Rip' is the techie term for 'copy to your hard drive'.

There was a time where DVD Decrypter and DVD Shrink all by themselves were all you needed to back up your DVDs but as copy protection methods got more and more complex, neither program was able to keep up, and it looked like all was lost (am I being overly dramatic or what!). 

Then RipIt4Me came riding in like the cavalry and saved the day.  RipIt4Me ties these two nearly obsolete programs together.  When you put your movie in your computer then launch the RipIt4Me program, simply click the "1-Click Mode" and let the program do the rest.  I'm not exactly sure what it does.  There are messages about re-writing VOB files and removing dummy cells that come up during the ripping process.  I have an idea about what these mean, but it really doesn't matter.  What matters is that I'm able to make a backup of my DVDs once again.  And now so can you.

I'm going to keep these entries shorter.  I think they're more readable that way, and I can punch them out faster.

P.S.  If you pray please include my Uncle Robert in them.  He recently had a stroke, but appears to be doing well.  Hang in there, Uncle Bob!


March 8, 2007

There are three websites that seem pretty popular with many kids, teens in particular, these day.  Just in case you didn't know about them I wanted to give you a quick education on them.  The three in question are MySpace, YouTube, and Limewire.   

Myspace.com is social networking website.  Individuals create their own personal profiles within the site and create a network of friends.  It's great for meeting new people who share your interests and reconnecting to those with whom you've lost touch.  An old high school buddy that I hadn't seen in literally decades was able to get in touch with me (what's up, Matt?) thanks to MySpace.  MySpace is so popular that many celebrities from all walks of life have their own profiles.  Many have discovered that having a presence on MySpace is an effective way to promote themselves or their projects as well as connecting with their fans.  MySpace give users the opportunity to share photos, video clips, and music files, as well has posting bulletins and blogs.  Former President Bill Clinton has a MySpace account.  As does LeBron James.  And Keifer Sutherland.  Madonna. Mark Cuban. Oprah. Hawaiian-born presidential hopeful Barak Obama (Obama in '08!).  And if your kids are on the internet it's a very real possibility that they have their own profiles, too.  

It's not necessarily a bad thing for your child to have their own MySpace account, but as a parent there are a few things you should be aware of.  First, they have a minimum age requirement of 14, but there's no stopping your child from lying about that.  Second, make sure your child is aware that not everyone is who they say they are.  Thirdly and most importantly, when it comes to posting blogs or personal videos to remember a general rule:  Don't reveal anything about yourself that you don't want the whole world to know.  Never EVER give your address or phone number.  As long as you take the proper precautions MySpace can be a lot of fun. 

YouTube is a video sharing site.  You can find video clips of almost anything you can think of, from highlights of various sports events to news clips, music videos, and movie trailers.  But the best things to find on this site are the homemade videos.  This is a terrific place for sharing your son's little league game, showing off your amateur homemade films, and video blogs.  If I'm trying to find a movie trailer YouTube is the first place I look.  My favorite things to look for are homemade Star Wars parodies (most are absolutely hilarious) and videos featuring praying mantises.  Have you ever seen one of those things in real life?  NOTHING scares these things.  They're the most fearless creatures on earth.  I found one video of a mantis taking on and killing a rat (!!!).  Okay, maybe I'm a little sick in the head, but regardless of what your personal tastes are I'm absolutely positive you'll find something enjoyable on YouTube. 

Finally, there's Limewire.  Limewire isn't actually a website.  It's a program used for peer-to-peer file sharing.  Basically, when you launch this program you join a network of users that have made available their music, picture, video, and/or program files.  In theory, it's a way of acquiring out-of-print or otherwise unavailable music and legacy media files, but the reality is that it's mainly used to get free music or PORN.  In fact, it's a very common way of acquiring porn without visiting porn websites.  I can almost 100% guarantee you that if you have a teen or pre-teen boy in your home that has Limewire on his computer then he's downloaded some porn.  Guarantee it.  One must be careful using any peer-to-peer file sharing program.  It's an easy way to pick up viruses.  If you use the program then make sure you scan any downloaded files for viruses before executing them.

"We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children".  -Native American Proverb

Some very alarming facts are revealed in the Oscar-winning documentary, 'An Inconvenient Truth'.   The film is the brainchild of former Vice President Al Gore and Gore is actually NOT BORING on screen.  We learn some very frightening things about the direction Earth's ecosystem is headed.  I gasped so many times watching this movie you'd have thought I was watching 'The Exorcist' or something.  But it's not all doom and gloom.  The film actually ends on a very positive and hopeful note.  No, it doesn't encourage you to go out and hug some trees, but it does encourage you to have all your friends and loved one watch it, so that means all of you!  It's not too late to save the Earth for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

Februrary 26, 2007 

This entry is dedicated to the memory of O'Dell Steen, my ex-wife's uncle, a father, brother, uncle, husband, friend, and a pretty good cook.  You will be missed tremendously.  The sadness in our hearts are eclipsed only by the smiles your memories bring.

I must be getting old because I find myself thinking and saying things like, 'I don't understand the way kids act these days', and 'Well, when I was a kid we didn't HAVE things like...'.  Somehow, I have slowly but surely evolved into my own father!  Aaaaaaaaa!  (just kidding, Dad)

One thing my parents never had to worry about was what I was doing on the internet.  Chat rooms didn't exist.  Nor did e-mail.  Nor did internet predators.
 

Sicko child molesters, unfortunately, have been a danger to children for a very long time, and at no time have children more vulnerable than now.  With the popularity of popular social networking sites like MySpace and home video sharing sites like YouTube our kids nowadays have a great outlet for the angst, stresses, and anxieties common to most teens.  And as helpful and therapeutic as these sites may seem, to the kid that isn't careful about who he/she allows to see their profiles, these sites can be an ideal place for predators to lurk. 

PC Magazine ran a story about a Deputy District Attorney in New York that would visit high schools and tell parents and students alike about how dangerous MySpace can be.  He would demonstrate by opening up his laptop, picking a live account, and then proceeding to demonstrate how easy it was to pick out an emotionally vulnerable teen girl.  The article described how a true creep could trick the girl into convincing her that he was a 'friend', a confidant, figure out where she went to school, where she lived, and then tricking her into meeting face-to-face.  A parent's nightmare by any measure.

This is not to say MySpace, in and of itself, is necessarily evil.  It's purpose is social networking.  But in the wrong hands it can be used for evil purposes.  I'll have more about MySpace in my next entry. 

The point is that it is quite easy for your children to get themselves into trouble either by sharing revealing things in an indiscriminate manner or by visiting websites that expose them to things that you, as a parent, deem harmful. 

But fear not my friend, there is hope.  There are a number of resources at your disposal.  One of the first places you can visit is http://GetNetWise.org.  There are a number of very informative articles parents will find useful.  Another is http://Wiredsafety.org.

There are two basic approaches to regulating your kids' activities online.  You can actively block the sites you don't want them to visit, or you can track them and see where they go without any restrictions or blocking.  There are many programs available that will also allow you to do one or the other, or a combination of both.  The ones I have experimented with all require passwords so be aware that if you should forget your password it can be a real nightmare accessing or uninstalling them.  The first two are ones you'll have to pay for. 

The first is Child Control 2006.  This is not one I'd recommend.  Learning to use it has a steep learning curve, and only restricts the total amount of time your child spends on the internet.  I never did quite figure out how to restrict for specific times of day.  Uninstalling the program also requires you to enter the password, and of course, I forgot it so I never was able to get it off my computer.  In this circumstance the only way to go forward is to contact their technical support, altogether an ordeal of its own.

A much better alternative is Real Spy Monitor.  This program weighs in at a modest $20.  In addition to being able to see every single website your child visits it also has a keylogger function.  What's a keylogger?  It records every single keystroke punched in.  This is useful for finding out your kids' account names and passwords.  It will also take screen shots at designated intervals.  It will actively block access to websites the you specifically want blocked, ones the program defines as potentially harmful, or a combination of both.  In short, you'll be able to see EVERYTHING your child is doing on your computer.  It will even email you a daily activity report if you'd like.  I'd highly recommend this if you're willing to pay the money.  One caveat about this program is that it is, by definition, spyware.  Your anti-spyware program will identify it as such. Be sure to tell your anti-spyware program to allow this.

But for those who know me you know I can't just talk about the stuff you have to pay for.  I'd rather talk about the FREE alternatives.  Right now I only have one program to recommend but I think it's pretty good one.  Hoopaa will track every website your child visits, block ones you don't want them to visit, take snapshots of specific websites at user request, and will restrict access at specific times.  Best of all, it's completely free of charge.  It's not perfect, however.  It has no keylogging function, and isn't fully compatible with Firefox yet.  All things considered, it's your best bet for a freeware child monitoring solution.

There is one other possible solution for those who are wise enough to subscribe to AT&T's High Speed Internet service (hint, hint).  Amongst the many things AT&T provides for you are PARENTAL CONTROLS.  The AT&T Yahoo! browser has a fully controllable browser when parental controls are turned on.  Your kids cannot add members to their Yahoo Messenger buddy lists nor visit websites the program considers inappropriate for your child's age unless you sign off on an electronic PERMISSION SLIP.  Is that cool or what!?  And it absolutely free!  Hooray for AT&T Yahoo High Speed Internet!  By the way, if you should order this service online be sure you use referral code JL6749.  That's your way of letting them know that Jon sent ya.  The lone drawback is that these contols only work on the AT&T Yahoo! browser, so  you'll have to make your Firefox and Internet Explorer programs unavailable to the kids.

There are moral implicatons that should be considered.  We are, after all, talking about spying on our kids.  Only you, as a parent, can ultimately determine what is truly right or wrong.  Where do you draw the line between your child's right to privacy and your duty as a parent to protect your kids?  That's your call to make.  Personally, I have chosen to let my kids know I use monitoring software and can see everything they do, not because I don't trust them, rather I cannot afford to blindly trust those around them.  They have always seemed to accept this fact without much resistance.   I don't scrutinize all of their activities.  I simply spot check them and look for red flags.  Generally speaking, this has been an issue that has not been a problem for me.

 

Have you ever noticed people wearing those yellow rubber bracelets?  They're probably 'LIVESTRONG' wristbands.  LIVESTRONG is the trademark of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  Founded in 1997 by cancer survivor and champion cyclist, Lance Armstrong, the LAF inspires and empowers people with cancer.  The LIVESTRONG wristbands cost only a dollar each.  The proceeds benefit the LAF.  I wear one to remind me of friends and loved ones I have lost to cancer:  friend and former co-worker Anwar Sultan, a kind and gentle soul who escaped the horrors of Soviet occupation in his home country of Afghanistan, yet never outwardly displayed any bitterness, and never had an unkind word to say about anyone; my aunt Evelyn Louie; my uncle Chuck Christensen, a man I loved like a father; Uncle Chuck's brother Tom Christensen; and now for O'Dell.  Please show your support by wearing one of your own, or by donating to the LAF.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Ryan and Isabel

Stacey and Calvin with daughter Samantha

 

I'd like to begin this entry by acknowledging and congratulating the recent marriages of two of my cousins.  On my dad's side congratulations to my cousin Isabel and her new husband Ryan.  On my mom's side congratulations to my cousin Stacey and her new husband Calvin.  To Ryan and Calvin I wish to extend a warm welcome as new family members.  May you all have the happiest lives together.

A recent family gathering served as a wake-up call to me that not everyone knows about tech at what I had previously considered a "basic" level.  You mean, there are people out there that don't know what MySpace is?  What new computer should I buy?  How do I use e-mail?  What internet provider should I choose?  Perhaps I have been a bit presumptuous.  Not everyone is as tech savvy as cousin Gary (ironically, I have a cousin named Gary on both sides of my family, both of whom would easily fit the definition of the term "tech savvy".)

WHAT COMPUTER SHOULD I BUY?

If you're in the market for a new computer the first thing you must consider your familiarity level.  Are you used to working on a Macintosh or a computer that uses Windows?  

If you're comfortable with Windows then, obviously for the sake of comfort level, a Windows machine is what you'll be considering.  Your next consideration is budget level.  If you want to get an inexpensive PC you'll probably find models from major manufacturers like Dell, HP, Compaq, and Gateway attractive.  I won't tell you not to purchase one of those if you find the right deal.  I would ask you to consider a few things.

First, name brand manufacturers load up their computers with a LOT of unnecessary programs.  My HP laptop, for example, already had trial versions of Microsoft Office and Norton Anti-Virus that I didn't need preloaded along with a plethora of game software that was nice but unnecessary bloat.  They're a pain to get rid of so consider how much you're willing to put up with, whether it's the trouble of uninstalling them or the trouble of keeping them around.

Second, is the issue of tech support.  I don't know about Gateway but Dell and HP/Compaq (Compaq is owned by HP) have offshore tech support, usually in India, and wait times tend to be long.  The aggravation you may experience may be more than it's worth.  But then again, that's why you have ME, don't you?

Third, is cost of upgrade/repair.  Typically, major manufacturers use proprietary parts in their machines.  This means that if your Dell's motherboard or CD drive needs to be replaced, for example, you will not be able to get a replacement off the shelf at Fry's.  You MUST acquire it through the manufacturer.  You MIGHT be able to find it used online.  If you end up getting it through the manufacturer you'll pay a lot more than an off the shelf equivalent.  Either way, it is a hair-pulling aggravation.

Consider buying your computer from a local dealer, a "Mom & Pop" type of operation.  They may not be able to match the prices of the name brands but you can bet your PC will be built with off the shelf, more easily replaceable parts.  Another consideration is support.  If you have a problem with a computer bought at a local shop you will probably have a better experience getting it fixed as you are likely to be talking to the same small group of employees that work there, rather than be a just one of the nameless, faceless customers amongst the millions that the name brands have.

There's no shame in having a computer built at "Bill's Computers" against a major brand.  In fact, I kinda chuckle when people say things to me like, "Oh, yeah, it's a good computer.  It's a Sony."  There are only four name brands I would consider impressive, and they're probably not even known to most:  Falcon Northwest, Alienware, Voodoo, and Dell's XPS line.

If it is intended as a primary computer and you have no special needs to be mobile I would steer away from laptops.  They are much more fragile, are quite expensive to repair, are far less upgradable than desktops, and are typically more expensive than a similarly featured desktop would be.

You should still be able to find excellent deals on desktops.  With the recent release of Windows Vista retailers will be looking to unload all of their Windows XP machines.  Don't worry too much about getting a machine with Vista just yet.  Windows XP still has plenty of life left in it.

If it's not important to have Windows you may want to consider a Mac.  While Macs are generally more expensive than PCs Mac users typically experience fewer problems than PC owners.  Why is that you ask?  Well, there are many reasons, but for me the most important reason is security.  Mac owners comprise roughly 10% of all computer users, and because that percentage is so small it's not really worth any hacker's time.  

An affordable Mac would be the Mac Mini.  Apple offers it for only $599, but it doesn't come with a mouse, keyboard, or monitor.  You'll have to buy those things separately, but none of those items are hard to find, and all are relatively inexpensive.  I'd say you could get away with spending as little as $125 for all three.

SHOULD I GET HIGH SPEED INTERNET FROM THE CABLE COMPANY OR THE PHONE COMPANY?

Well, as an AT&T employee my answer to that question may be considered a LITTLE biased, but my honest opinion is that whoever is offering you a better deal on price is the one to go with.  But make sure you know all the details before you make a decision.  I'll give you a real-life example.

I was researching internet services for someone in Las Vegas, for someone that did not have a home phone line or subscribed to cable TV.  At first glance it's an easy choice.  The cable company, Cox, had a 19.95 offer advertised while Embarq, the incumbent local telephone company, offered it at five dollars more.  For most people the argument ends there.  Cox is offering the better price so go with Cox right?  Hold on.  Not so fast.  In the small print it says something about 'for the first three months'.  Well, what happens after the first three months?

I visited the Cox website and found that the price they advertised was actually for those that already had Cox as their cable TV provider.  If you don't have Cox cable TV or only have their basic cable then that price jumps up ten dollars to 29.95.  After the first three months the price jumps another ten dollars.  Well, now that price has become 39.95 (!).  But wait, there's ONE MORE THING to factor into this equation.  There's a MODEM RENTAL monthly charge of what?  You guessed it.  ANOTHER ten dollars.  

So let's do some math here.  As a non-cable TV subscriber the promotional price is actually 29.95.  After three months it jumps up to 39.95.  And since most people don't own their own cable modems we'll have to add ten bucks per months to cover the cost to rent one from them so the actual price after the three months promotional period is 49.95.  Gee, that's quite a bit more than that 19.95 price they advertised on TV.  Perhaps we should take a look at what the phone company's offer is before we decide.

Embarq is advertising their high-speed service at 24.95, and guess what?  That's the ongoing price.  And no sign of a monthly modem rental charge, either!  So is 24.95 the actual price?  I believe it is.

So what's my point?  Look before you leap.  Educate yourself on price structuring and make sure you have a clear understanding on what your final costs will be.  Doing a little homework in advance will often save you time in the long run.

DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE

The newest, latest, greatest version of Microsoft Windows has finally arrived.  Windows Vista is just what everyone's been waiting for.  It's more secure.  It's slicker looking and is better adapted to fit the needs of the modern computer use.  You should rush out and buy yourself a copy RIGHT NOW!

About five years ago those exact same sentiments were made about the launch of Windows XP.  About ten years ago it was the same thing for the Windows 95 launch.  Microsoft hyped Win95 like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  PC enthusiasts camped out overnight in front of their local retailers on the eve of its release, much like what was seen last year for the Playstation 3 release.  Those early users would soon discover that Win95 was far from great.  It was riddled with bugs.  There were hardware compatibility problems.  Most software not made for Win95 wouldn't run under the new operating system.  It wouldn't have been unreasonable to say that the first Win95 users were little more than Microsoft's guinea pigs.   Eventually, most problems were worked out.  Those who waited were rewarded with a much more stable version.

History repeated itself about five years later at the launch of Windows XP.   Complaints from its early users sounded much like their Win95 forebears.  Compatibility problems, stability issues, software performance were all a common theme heard by most of its critics in the weeks following XP's release.  And just like it's Win95 ancestor XP was patched and re-patched by Microsoft and was, again, a much better product for those who chose to wait.

Which brings us up to the here and how.  At the time of this writing Windows Vista has been commercially available for about a week and a half.  The hype that preceded the newest iteration of Windows felt strangely familiar. Its first reviews have a similarly critical tone to them as well.    

If you were considering upgrading your computer to the Windows Vista platform my advice to you is to wait.  If you're in the market to buy a new computer you'll find many retailers that will brag about this PC or that PC they offer that are  'loaded with Windows Vista' as a selling point.  Don't let that influence you.  Follow the course of history.  Vista can wait.  And so can you.

JANUARY 11, 2007

Hello, my friends and loved ones.  It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me.  I hope I didn’t worry anyone.

One of the best Christmas cards I received was not actually a ‘card’ in the literal sense.  Every year my Auntie Jean sends out a newsletter of about 3-4 pages in length that gives a nice rundown of the past year for herself, my Uncle Bob, their two sons and their families, with several small photos sprinkled in.  It’s a very personal and pleasant way of integrating holiday wishes with family news.  My mother expressed her desire to do something similar but didn’t know how to wrap the text around the pictures like it is in the newsletter.  

She told me that the document was created using WordPerfect so Mom was considering purchasing herself a copy.  Like most people she only has Word available to her.  Well, guess what, Mom?  You can put away your checkbook.  Word can do it, too.  Here’s how.

First, insert your picture from your task bar.  Insert->Picture->From File (or whatever’s appropriate).  The picture will appear at wherever your cursor is on the document.  Left-click on the picture, then right-click and select ‘Format Picture’ from the pop-up menu.  Then click on the ‘Layout’ tab and select either ‘Square’ or ‘Tight’.  You can then click-and-drag the photo to the desired location on the document.  Voilá!  You’ve got you’re picture nicely word-wrapped.  


MP3 PLAYER BLUES

IPods and other types of music players were very hot items as Christmas gifts this season.  For those of you that have downloaded music from the iTunes music store you may have noticed that your songs won’t play on any other kinds of MP3 players.  Think you’re out of luck?  Stuck having to download those songs all over again even though you already paid for them through iTunes?  No way!

Free MP3 WMA Converter is just what you need.  This little gem of a freeware program will convert all of your iTunes songs into the handy MP3 format you need.  Once you’ve got the program up and running simply click on the songs you want (look for files that have an .M4A file extension) and click on the ‘Convert’ button.

For simplicity’s sake I recommend you convert all your audio files to MP3.  You needn’t worry about converting anything into AAC or M4A (Apple’s proprietary format for their iPods), rest assured that iPods play regular MP3’s, too. 

HOW ABOUT MY CD’S?

You can listen to CD’s on your MP3 player by ‘ripping’ the songs off the CD and onto your computer.  Now this is the best part.  There aren’t any new programs you have to install to do this.  You’ll be using the Windows Media Player already installed on your PC.  But before you begin you need to change a couple of options.  On the ‘Rip Music’ tab choose to have them ripped in MP3 format as the program will rip them in a Windows Media format by default.  Before long you’ll have your entire library of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to groove to while you’re at the gym (just kidding).

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Lately I’ve been working on computers where their owners were reporting problems, the root of which turned out to be that they were not running their anti-virus programs.  So please, please do yourself a favor and remember to use your anti-viruses!  You don’t have to pay big bucks for them.  In fact, you can get one from free either from AT&T Yahoo! or AVG.  There, I told you.  You no longer have an excuse.

Did you know that when taking a photo with a digital camera you should first press to trigger down half-way?  This enables the auto-focus function.  If this is news to you don’t feel bad, I just found out myself last month.

There are a couple of programs out there that allow you to control your PC at home from a remote location.  I have been using these programs to work on friends’ computers from the comfort of my computer at home.  In other words, it allows me to take control of their computer from wherever I am.  It’s a big help to me and to them.  If you think you could use my help directly, but live too far from me this is something I could use.  For that reason please don’t hesitate to ask for my help if you need it regardless of how far away you may live from me.

Lastly, I can’t leave you without showing off my ‘skin’ for my laptop.  I just got it in the mail yesterday.  Check out the before and after pictures.

Now is that tight or what?

                                                                                                                                
I promise not to take so long before making another long entry.  Until then, treat yourself     by seeing my new favorite movie, ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ starring Will Smith.  This is the real life story of Chris Gardner, a man who went from being homeless, staying in the men’s room at the MacArthur BART station to being a multi-millionaire.  Will Smith’s performance will bring tears to your eyes as it did mine.

 

  December 12, 2006

SEASON OF SHARING


While I have a fairly large collection of my own personal photos I sure wish I had more than my own personally taken photos.  I have no where near what I'd really like.  I have almost no photos of my aunts, uncles, and cousins and their families, and very few from my friends.  Props to Uncle Bob and Auntie Jean for doing their part, and props to Darlene Shirley for utilizing Yahoo! photos.


There's a remarkably easy way to share your photos with friends and family.  It's using the internet! (Surprise surprise!)  There are numerous websites out there that make this possible.  The ones I like are Snapfish, Yahoo! photos, and Picasa Web Albums.  You simply select the photos you wish to share and upload them to those respective websites.  From the site you can send e-mail invitations for others to view the photos and even download them if they wish.  You'll find this much much easier than trying to e-mail them yourself.
In fact, sharing photos via e-mail is not very efficient at all.  Many e-mail clients do not allow for selective downloading of individual picture files.  This means that if I sent you an e-mail with five photos attached your e-mail client (like Outlook or Thunderbird) may not allow you to download only one.  It's usually all or nothing.  Also, you are not usually given a chance to preview the photos.  You have to download them without the benefit of a preview so you may end up downloading a photo you're not even interested in.  A further complication is if you're faced with having to download multiple photos when you're on a dial-up connection.  It would simply take too long.


Come visit one of the sites I'm sharing pictures at.  The links are at the left.  Download a few pictures and you'll see what I mean.


Choosing between using Snapfish and Yahoo! photos is simply a matter of convienience vs. cost.  Yahoo! photos is easier to navigate and has more user-friendly features such as tagging and easy to use drag-and-drop uploading.  Sharing with friends that have Yahoo! accounts takes no more than a few simple mouse clicks.  


Snapfish is not as user friendly and the online albums require a bit more work to share, not to mention that Snapfish will only store your photos for one year if you don't order something from them.  But the ordering is the best part!  Any uploaded photos can be either sent to your home via snail mail or can be picked up at nearby Walgreens and Albertsons for only 12¢ per 4x6 photo.  Talk about cheap!  They also have a 'tell a friend' offer where if you can recruit someone into registering they'll give you and your friend 20 free photos. 

 Yahoo! photos also offers pickup at Target stores but their prints run 20¢ per 4x6, a big difference if you're ordering a lot of pictures.


Oh, by the way, for those who prefer the convenience of printing their own photos on their printers at home please consider that PC World (I think) did a cost analysis and came out to be quite a bit more.  Considering the cost of printer ink and photo quality paper the average photo printed at home costs about 46¢ per print.  Unless you need a photo quality picture RIGHT NOW it makes no sense to print at home.


The photo sharing site I like the best is Picasa Web Albums.  Although free storage is limited to only 250MB and there are no direct methods on the site for ordering photos its undeniable appeal is its link to one of my favorite programs of all time, Picasa.


PICASA, I LOVE YOU


I have always kept all my picture files in one folder on my hard drive.  Just about the only way I had them organized was by year.  I always wanted to have some sort of way to organize them all but thinking about all the different things I could sort them by just made my head hurt, 'brother', 'kids', 'work', 'Christmas party 2004', 'friends', 'A's game', etc.  Okay, fine, you could attempt to sort them that way but what about the photos that fit into multiple categories?  Sure, you could have multiple copies to satisfy that problem, but multiple copies take up space so that's really not the answer either.  What's a well-meaning geek to do.  Well just like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western Picasa comes riding in on a white horse to save the day.


This handy freeware program (that's right, free!  woo hoo!) solves this problem by allowing users to apply multiple tabs to individual photos and creating an individual folder for each tab, but the multiple copies only exist within the program and takes up no extra space on your hard drive, thus allowing you to organize with as many sort paramaters as you can think of.  Hallelujah!
But the dream doesn't end there.  There's a robust photo editor included as well that's so user friendly a beginner can easily spend hours (hi Karen) getting those overexposed pics from Grandma's surprise party juuuust right.  Any enhancements made exist only within the program so you're free to experiment with different hues and filters without making any permanent changes to the picture as it exists on the hard drive (unless you want to make those changes permanent).  There's also a slideshow maker, and a nifty screen saver program that looks so good you'll never want to use another.
Also included is a one-click method to upload to Picasa Web Albums, a feature that will identify redundant photos on your hard drive, publishing to a blog, and even ordering prints online with links to multiple photo processing sites (including Snapfish).


Even if you have no more than a few dozen photos I highly recommend you download this program today.


WINDOWS UPDATES


Over the past few weeks I have done a few cleanup jobs and have noticed that some folks are still running their Windows XP with Service Pack 1.  This is a bad thing, folks.  This means that those individuals have not been allowing their Windows Update feature to do its thing.  It's imperative that you make sure your Windows Update has been set up update automatically.  There are very real dangers out there on the internet.  Hackers find new Windows XP flaws all the time and WILL exploit those flaws in YOUR Windows XP.  Windows Update will automatically download patches for those flaws and is one of your best lines of defense.


How you can tell is by looking at your system tray (that row of icons in the lower right corner of your screen).  If you see a yellow shield with an exclamation point inside then your Windows is telling you that updates need to be applied.  Let them.  Go to Start->All Programs->Windows Update.  Click on the 'Express' option and let Windows do what it needs to.


Here's how to tell if you're still running with Service Pack 1.  Go Start->Control Panel->System.  If the window that pops up doesn't indicate 'Service Pack 2' then run the updater immediately.  Anyone running Service Pack 1 is at extreme risk from a virus or spyware/malware infection.


That's all I have for now, friends.  I again wish to remind you all that you need not be afraid of your computer.  Learn a little at a time and build upon what you have learned.  'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step' - Lao-Tzu.

 November 29, 2006

Hi everyone.

I hope you all were able to survive the Christmas season's first weekend with most of your sanity intact. I'm just barely able to say it about myself. And I hope most of you haven't gotten tired of Thanksgiving leftovers yet. Someone made a comment to me today about being sick of eating turkey sandwiches. I must tell you that as a turkey junkie I cannot relate. I love turkey! Please don't throw away that leftover turkey you've grown sick of. Stick it in a ziploc bag, throw it in the freezer, and save it for me!

From now until Christmas retailers will bombard you with the best sales they've had all year. It's a bargain hunter's dream. And in the spirit of the finding the best bargains I have some bargains of my own to share with you.

FREE PHONE CALLS

Before I begin let us never forget that your computer is like your dog. It is your friend, your companion. It will fetch the paper for you (in a manner of speaking). You interact with it, it gives you feedback. Treat it with the proper care and attention and will reward you.

If you live 17 miles away or more from someone you wish to call it will cost you a toll charge if you're calling from your land line. Using your cell phone may avoid the charge if you have unlimited long distance but unless you're calling after a certain hour you're probably using up your anytime minutes. Is there a way to save your anytime minutes and avoid toll charges? Absolutely there is. The answer is a service called Skype.

Skype is a service that's free to register for and use. Registered users can talk to each other for free regardless of where they are on the globe. You can also call any land line or cell phone in the U.S. for free. This services utilizes a 'voice over internet protocol', or VOIP for short. You will need buy a microphone, of course. Fry's Electronics has a very good Plantronics headset available for only $6.99. I highly recommend it.

Skype also supports web cams. This means that video phone calls are possible. Just like in every science fiction TV show you've ever seen. All for free.

Skype will even provide you with an actual telephone number for use as a call-in number for those not at their computers or non-Skype subscribers. This is the catch. It isn't free but the cost is nominal. I paid $12 for three months of service which includes voice mail. And because it's not a landline-based service you are not restricted to being given a local phone number.

'What in the hell are you talking about?' 'What does this mean, Jon,' I hear you ask? Here's an example. I can set up a Skype account for my girls here in the Bay Area and have Skype assign them a call-in number with a 904 area code. That way their relatives in Jacksonville, Florida can call them here in the Bay Area and it not cost them more than it would to call their next door neighbor. Now is that saving some money or what?

WHAT'S THE 411?

Have you ever noticed the directory assistance charges on your phone bill? (You do look at your phone bill don't you? I talk to a lot of customers that don't pay attention to their bills. Most of them would save themselves headaches if only they'd pay closer attention to their bills.) Most local telephone companies charge $1.25 to $1.50 for calls to information, or 411, if you prefer. This is a waste of your money. Don't EVER call 411 from your local telephone. There are much better and cheaper ways to get the phone number you're looking for.

Yellowpages.com is in a constant state of being updated and is therefore much more reliable than the Yellow Pages book. So if you ever need a phone number simply go to yellowpages.com. Additonally, if you have set up a Skype account there is a plug-in application that works with Firefox where any phone number appearing in your browser can be clicked upon and Skype will dial the number automatically. Now how convenient is that?

If you're not near your computer or you're on the go and need a phone number call 1-800-FREE-411.  And, yes, it is absolutely free.  The catch?  You have to listen to a short ad before the number is read off to you.  Not a bad trade-off to save a couple of bucks, huh?

JUST SAY 'NO' TO MICROSOFT OFFICE 

If you read my last posting I mentioned something about deleting the 90-day trial offer for Microsoft Office. I do this because I care. There is an alternative. It's free, too. It's called Open Office. You can download it from the internet. It is compatible with any Word, Excel, or Powerpoint documents you have to work on. It's not as feature rich as the Office suite but it's suitable for most people's needs.

The only thing it's missing is an e-mail client, in other words no replacement for Microsoft Outlook. That's okay, though. For that I return to those great guys at Mozilla, the same folks that are bringing you Firefox. They offer a free e-mail client called Thunderbird that's much more secure than Outlook and almost as easy to use.

There, I saved you at least a hundred bucks with that one.

BIG HUGS AND WARM FUZZIES

Finally, Cute Overload is a website that won't help save you any cash, but is a great source of stress relief. Chock full of photos the most adooorable baby kitties, puppies, ducklings, and ponies you just can't help but say 'awwww', and bring a smile to your face as well.

Until next time, my friends, I wish to leave you with a reminder about the need to believe in yourselves, and not being afraid to fail. 'Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure' - from Marianne Williamson's poem 'Our Greatest Fear'


Friday November 17, 2007

 Hello folks,
Sorry for taking so long between entries.  I've been working on getting a more permanent web address for you to go to.  I'm a beginner when it comes to web creation.
I also hit a mini-wall of writer's block.  A couple weeks ago I just bursting at the seams with all kinds of things to write about but they all escape me now.  This entry will deal with lots of little tidbits of information.


CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GOODLINESS


One of the biggest enemies of your computer is dust.  Dust build up ends up coating all over the insides of your computer including your power supplies, heat sinks and fans.  Some of those little parts inside your computer are subject to some pretty extreme heat build up and can shut down of their temperatures get too high.  Your computer was manufactured with ways to address those heat build up issues with cooling fans and heat sinks that are designed to diffuse that ever-dangerous heat.  And that's where those innocent little dust bunnies can spell death to your PC.  They won't let fans spin properly and keep those heat sinks from doing their jobs properly.  If you've got a bad case of the dust bunnies and you're lucky your computer will only behave strangely.  In worse cases the overheating can lead to premature shutdown and even permanent damage to your components.


Oh, no, not me, I hear you saying?  I keep a clean house.  I'm not a slob like you, Jon.  Okay, okay, you have a point.  I am a slob.  I am a bum.  I do live in a trailer with my mom.  (That's a little humor from the movie '8 Mile')  But seriously, dust bunnies will get the cleanest of you.  Both of my parents have very clean homes and both of their computers had dust build up (sorry, Dad, I'll remember the compressed air next time).


Another potential problem with dust is that dust can be electrostatically charged.  It is possible that a particle of dust, perhaps even too small to see can get into your computer and cause a short circuit and thereby cause your computer to act up or even keep it from running altogether.


Fortunately, fighting back against the dust bunnies is not hard.  Every so often take your vacuum cleaner hose to the vents in the back.  No only will it get rid of harmful dust but will also keep the flow of air optimized.  Once you've done that pop off one of the side panels to expose the inside of the computer.  Take a can of compressed air and blow out all the dust from the inside.  Get into all the nooks and crannies on the motherboard as much as you can, and especially blow out the heat sinks if you can identify them.  


Don't be afraid of opening the side panel.  You won't harm your computer.  Think of your computer like a dog.  That's right, a dog.  You must show your computer/dog who's boss, who's the leader of the pack.  If you do not take command of your computer/dog then it will.  He/she/it is there to serve YOU, and not vice versa. 

 
KEEP YOUR WINDOWS XP CLEAN, TOO

 
When you got your shiny new computer home and turned it on your desktop (the term 'desktop' refers to your computer screen behind any open windows) you may have seen icons for things like 'Free AOL Trial', 'Microsoft Office 60-Day Free Trial', 'Norton Anti-Virus Free 6-Month Protection', and so on.  For the most part they're CRAP.  You don't need them.  They are programs that are taking up space on your hard drive and creating clutter on your desktop.  Get rid of them.  


But you don't get rid of them by simply moving them to your recycle bin.  Get rid of them properly by uninstalling them.  Go Start-->Control Panel-->Add/Remove Programs.  Select the unwanted program and click 'Remove'.


After you've successfully uninstalled all your unwanted programs go to http://www.ccleaner.com and download the latest version of CCleaner.  Now you'll want to install the program and launch it.  Have it check for 'issues'.  This will clean up what is known is your 'registry'.  Basically, your registry tells your windows what to do.  It can get gummed up when you install and uninstall programs.  This results in a reduction of performance.  CCleaner (which is short for 'Crap Cleaner') will help keep your registry pared down and efficient.


MAKE A SPECTACLE OF YOURSELF

 

If you have been afflicted with the curse of having to wear eyeglasses then you know the pain and further humiliation of having to pay some ridiculous price for your nerdwear.  Well, at least, you can avoid the high prices with a gem of a website known as http://www.goggles4u.com.


These folks are the next best thing after sliced bread!  You can get a prescription pair of glasses, frames and lenses, shipping and tax included, all for under $30.  Yes, that's $30 as in THIRTY BUCKS, and shipped right to your door, too.  The last pair I ordered arrived just six days from the day I placed the order.  And the glasses turned out to be exactly what I expected.


On the other hand, if you just don't feel right unless you pay at least $130 then go ahead, place your order online for $30 and send me the remaining $100.


BIG BLUE MARBLE


A fun site to visit is Google Earth.  


This site offers a string of satellite photos from all over the earth.  Punch in an address and this program will find a top down satellite photo of the location.  I have been able to find the house I grew up in, my parents' houses, my old high school, and even my grandparents' old house in Hawaii.


There's also a feature that shows you driving directions for getting from point A to point B that will actually take you on a 3-d ride on your driving route.


PEDIDO ESPECIAL


A friend recently approached me and stated that he'd like to use the internet to help him in three specific areas:  learning more about computers, learning to speak Spanish, and being a better cook.  I have a site or two that may help.  This is for you, Robert.


For computers give Teacherclick a try.  For absolute beginners start with the Windows XP lessons.  This lesson assumes absolutely nothing and is the ideal place for beginners to start.  Other lessons go over essential programs like Excel and Access.


Para espanol, Spanish Unlimited is all about Spain and the queen's Spanish.  This is a terrific site for not only learning to speak the language, but also about the language's mother country and its culture.  


Finally, Cooking by Numbers is a recipe website with a twist.  Instead of using the traditional cookbook approach that presents you with a dish and it's up to you to get the ingredients if you don't already have them, this site asks you what you already have and will tell you can make based upon your answers.


I hope you find this helpful.  I'll post some more websites as I stumble accross them. 

That's all for now, friends.  Please e-mail me if you have any questions.  Friends and loved ones in the Bay Area I'm still available for house calls.  Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 6, 2007

Hello and welcome to my ever helpful website mark 2.o.  I hope you are all familiar with the keyboard shortcut for creating bookmarks in your web browser because I'm sure this website will go through a few more web address changes before I settle on a permanent one (that shortcut is CRTL-D by the way). 

I decided to change over to Google after my dad told me yesterday that some were finding it difficult to get to my site on Yahoo! 360. I didn't realize you had to register to be able to view my page.  I'm sorry if you ran into any problems.  I promise I won't do it again.  Bad Jon!  Bad Jon!

I wanted to take this opportunity to restate my goals here.  There are far too many people in this world who need help with their computers.  Look no further than the high visibility of organizations like the Geek Squad.  They were associated with Best Buy.  And now I've noticed that Circuit City had to come up with their own version of the Geek Squad, they're called Firedog!  But aren't they both clever names!

Now take a moment and click on the links to those two websites and take a look at how much they'll charge you to come to your house to install a program for you (both refer to it as 'software installation').  Don't forget to bookmark this page first! Go ahead.  I'll wait here.

Hey, you're back!  Did you see how both were charging over a hundred bucks (!!!).  That's appalling to me.  I think to myself, 'If only they knew how easy it is...'.  But the fact of the matter is that it's not that easy for most.  Many have a fear of their computers (see my previous entry for more about this).  And it's this fear of the unknown that drive them to doing things like turning to the Geek Squad or Firedog or just anyone other than themselves that are willing to take on their mysterious circuit boarded and silicon-chipped nightmare known as the PC.

And that's where I come in.  If you're having a problem with your Windows PC and don't know where to go to solve you're problem you can always come to me.  On this website I'll offer up a tip or two, perhaps a neat website to visit, or just something that might help you to look at your PC as exactly what it is, a tool. It's there to serve you, to make your life easier, to open up your world just a little bit wider.

If you have a tech question please feel free to send me an e-mail at jon.low67@yahoo.com. This is an address I have reserved solely for my techie stuff.  My personal e-mail address is jonlow67@gmail.com.

If you have an opportunity please let others know about this site. Also, let them  know that I'm available for on-site tech visits for PC setup and repair.  For now, all I have to go on is my reputation and  your word.  I guarantee my work and I'm cheaper than the Geek Squad.  

Links to previous log entries, my photo sharing sites, and links to some neat websites in general are at your left. My contact information is below.

Thanks for reading.

(Oh, by the way, I don't do Macs.  I don't know anything about Macs. And if I ever got one I'd have to call the Geek Squad for help.)

 

November 3, 2006

 

Hi everyone,

I hope you all had an enjoyable Halloween.  Personally, I'm glad it's over.   It's getting so hard to find a way to scare little kids these days.  They're all so jaded.  Have you noticed how gory they make some of those Halloween masks?  Masks with trickling blood, spikes through foreheads, etc.  Those would have scared the crap out of me when I was little.

One thing that doesn't seem to scare kids as much as they do adults is fear of their computers.  I have spoken to countless individuals that have told me they were afraid to install equipement or software for fear of doing something that would 'break' their computers.   If that generally describes the way you feel don't feel bad about it.  You aren't alone.  In fact, I felt that same kind of fear myself at one point.  

But fear no more.  Today I'm going to share with you a kind of safety net already built into your Windows XP Start Menu.  This wonderful little gem is known as System Restore.  This handy feature has actually been around since Windows ME.  This program effectively turns back the clock on your PC, restoring the settings to an earlier point in time.

Before you begin think back to the last date that your Windows XP was working correctly.  Then access System Restore by going to Start-->All Programs-->Accessories-->System Tools-->System Restore.  This will open up a new window, "Welcome to System Restore".  Select "Restore my computer to an earlier time" and click "next".

On the next screen select the most recent date that your PC was running properly and click "next".  At this point you'll want to close any other programs that are currently running.  Verify the restore point then click "next".  The computer will begin the restoration process and will soon reboot (turn off and restart).

Once the rebooting is done your computer should be back to normal.

Please note that performing a system restore will not delete any files so none of those MP3s you've downloaded nor any Word documents you've created will be erased with this process.

As a general rule of thumb you should create a restore point manually before installing or uninstalling any programs, or making any other major change to your computer. 

Hopefully, knowing this will leave you a little more confident about making changes on your computer.  Just remember that if you feel you've screwed something up you can always declare a 'do over'.

I will soon begin listing some more helpful websites that I have found useful.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading.

 

Entry for October 30, 2006
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Welcome to journal entry number two.  This is the fourth day following my 39th birthday, thank you very much.  I got some very nice swag, including the laptop  you see in the main picture (thanks Mom, Dad, Karen, Bob, & Betty).  In fact, I'm typing this on that very laptop right now.

I've never owned a laptop before and never much cared for them.  I saw them as vanity items, something to impress your friends with.  Generally speaking a desktop computer will cost hundreds of dollars less than a similarly powered laptop.  But, of course, that desktop will be hundreds of dollars less chic as well.  As far as I was concerned paying that much more for the sake of portability and fashion just wasn't worth it.  

But now that I'm a laptop owner I'm seeing the benefits of computing on the run.  I love being able to type a document wherever I am or being able to surf the internet at McDonalds or Barnes and Noble.  But I'm a very particular person when it comes to my computer so I had to make quite few adjustments to the settings when this came out of the box.  It got me thinking about new computers and how I would advise new computer owners.

If you are in the market for a new computer now is a terrific time to get one.  Most retailers are gearing up to get rid of existing stock of their lower end PCs because in anticipation of Microsoft's Windows Vista due early next year.  This is the 'new and improved' version of Windows.  Many lower end PCs fall short of Vista's anticipated minimum system requirements.  But don't concern yourself with that. ` Windows XP will be around for a long time.  Go ahead and get that 'priced to move' computer.

You’ll find many powerful computers complete with DVD burners for under $500, including the monitor.  The only things you may want to add if you are planning on graphics-intensive games like Doom 3 or Half-Life 2, or plan on authoring your own DVDs is a video card.  

My advice for beginners this week addresses a common problem.  

Adware/spyware and viruses are very common to encounter nowadays.  While most of these malicious programs do no real harm they do use valuable computing power and slow your computer down dramatically.  I recently did a cleanup for a friend, and in the process of doing a routine virus and spyware sweep I found over 3,000 infections.  Windows would barely boot, and when it did it was agonizingly slow.  I also noticed the friend had not been utilizing the Windows automated update tool, and as a result was still running a version of Windows that was almost asking for a virus.

Help yourself avoid aggravating infections by discounting the use of Microsoft Internet Explorer immediately.  Internet Explorer is used by some 90-odd percent of Windows users and is a virtual breeding ground for viruses and spyware.  Instead, use Mozilla Firefox for your internet browsing.  Download it here at http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox.  Not every website is designed to display correctly in Firefox so go ahead and open those websites in Internet Explorer, or even better yet, use a Firefox tool (or Add-on) known as IE Tab.  This is a much safer ship to sail the seas of the Internet.  

Another absolute must is the use of an anti-spyware and anti-virus program.  AT&T Yahoo High Speed Internet subscribers have this available to them free of charge.  Simply go to http://sbc.software.yahoo.com/getprotected, and let the on-screen instructions guide you from there.  Once the Online Protection Suite is installed and up and running make sure you Anti-Spy and Anti-Virus at least once a week.  But do your Anti-Virus sweep right before you go to bed as it can take a very long time to run.

Lastly, turning on Windows Update is a must.  If it isn’t already on just go Start-->All Programs-->Windows Update.  Once enabled the program will automatically download and update Windows for you, a must since many ‘patches’ are deemed ‘critical’ updates.

Many people ask me where I learn all this stuff.  The honest answer is through simple trial and error.  Don’t be afraid to learn.  You can’t break your computer.  The best part about fooling around with Windows XP is that even if you do really mess something up you can turn back the hands of time and bring your computer back to its old self through a Windows utility known as System Restore.

I’ll tell you all how to use it next time.  Thanks for reading.

 

Entry for October 24, 2006
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This is my first entry. I don't know much about 'blogging'. Frankly, I think that's an absolutely HORRIBLE term. But this isn't about blogging. This is about technology in general, and personal computing specifically.


For those who don't already know I am a service representative for AT&T. I'm one of those people you talk to when you call the phone company to complain about your bill after waiting on hold for 30 minutes (okay, I'm exaggerating). The number one product my employer has to offer is DSL-based high speed internet service, and I have sold my fair share of them, so I talk to a LOT of people. I've always been perplexed at the large percentage of people who don't know much about the computers they own and how INTIMIDATED they are by them.

I felt that same kind of intimidation at one point in time, but I began to learn things and now feel pretty comfortable and now somewhat knowledgeable about the subject. I have also come to know that this 'internet' thing we all have can be just as much of a learning ground as it is a minefield. I'd like to share some of those wonderful places on the world wide web.


At least once a week I'll update this forum with a tech tip or two, or a helpful website or the name of a computer program that would benefit beginners.  Hopefully, I'll be sharing more.

The first thing I'd like to share with everyone is www.ehow.com.

Ehow is a site that isn't just about computers by any means.  It's about everything.  Enter this site and you'll be able to find instructions on how to do literally thousands of things, from computing to automotive maintenance to cooking to the cheapest way to vacation in Italy.  You'd be hard pressed to find a subject eHow doesn't touch upon.  Give them a visit.

If you have any tech questions please send me an email at jon.low67@yahoo.com.  I'll do my best to be your computer answer guy if you don't have one of your own.  I'd also appreciate any feedback you have.

Thanks for reading.  Hope you come back again.