Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

A Busy Time Of Year

Folks, this has become a busy time of year for yours truly (and, maybe, for you too?) and so I am not at all certain that I will be able to publish my normal, daily, articles.

I will try to get a little something posted, here and there.. and my shop will be open for business for several more days before my official holiday starts.

But for now, I am just going to re-post a photo, from this time last year, that people seemed to like, and that I think helps (me) feel the ‘spirit’ of the season.

Little White Xmas Tree

Reminder: Those of you doing shopping online may want to review, Shopping Online? Read This.* for some safety pointers.

Today’s quote:I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” ~ William Penn

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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December 17, 2011 Posted by | add device, Internet, shopping for | Leave a comment

Best High-speed Internet Provider Where You Live

To locate and identify what types of Internet services are available where you live, what they cost, and what people are saying about them (user reviews) — a service locator is a good place to start: such as the one at the very useful website, Broadband/DSL Reports. (No. It is not just for DSL.) Simply click on the “find service” tab, and enter your ZIP code.

If upgrading to a faster type of connection simply is not possible where you live, you may be able to “tweak” your TCP/IP Settings for slightly better performance. This involves changing things in the Windows Registry, and so I recommend that you use a safe tool to try this (if you try it at all), and one of the best of these can be found on the “Tools” page at DSL Reports. Use the tools there to determine if there are any problems with your settings, and follow the recommendations (particularly, “Tweak Test”). Then download Dr. TCP and make the adjustments recommended by the Tweak Test tool to “optimize” your connection. Run another speed test or two (or three). If there’s no improvement, use Dr. TCP to revert to your previous settings.

Of Interest: Get It While You Can – Microsoft Office Starter 2010

Typically when you buy a computer these days, you will see Microsoft Office Starter 2010 included in the deal. Microsoft Office Starter 2010 includes Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, with limited functionality and is ad supported. Recently, on the blogging circuit, I noticed that it was discovered that Microsoft Office Starter 2010 could in fact […]” Read more..

Today’s quote:A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” ~ Dave Barry

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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December 16, 2011 Posted by | advice, Internet, shopping for | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What to Look for When Buying a New Computer

My Computer Shopping Guidelines

Some of you will be shopping for a computer this holiday gift-giving season, so today I will re-post some advice on what to look for in a new machine. I’m not going to get into a Mac versus PC debate. I am going to focus solely on hardware (the ‘capabilities’) options of a non-Apple desktop or laptop PC — though I understand that all anyone wants this year is an iPad.

Tip(s) of the day: What to look for..
* Laptop computers. Most of what I am going to recommend today applies equally to laptops and desktops with very few exceptions. Today’s portable machines (notebook and tablet PC’s) very nearly rival the hardware capabilities of a desktop (or “tower”), and some models market themselves as a “desktop replacement”. They have large hard drives for storage, can ‘burn’ dual-layer DVD’s, have nice large screens, can access the Internet wirelessly, and are fast. Some have high-end graphics adapters that can keep up with the latest games.

Where laptops are different is: they are comparatively more expensive, they (often) depend on a battery, and they’re limited in terms of “expansion”. Expansion, quite literally, is room to “add stuff”, commonly referred to as “upgrading”. For this reason, I advise (when purchasing a notebook/laptop/tablet) differently than when buying a tower/”box”/”desktop” – buy the most machine you can afford. (that means, faster CPU, bigger “Gigabyte” numbers..)
Also, I advise buying the battery “upgrade”.

If you have to penny-pinch, reduce the RAM and/or go with a smaller hard drive… because these are the two components on a laptop that it is relatively easy to “upgrade” at a later date, when your finances have recovered. The other things – CPU, graphics, motherboard, sound, etc. — are not so easy to swap out/upgrade. In a Desktop PC (“tower”) there is practically nothing you cannot replace: in a laptop you’re kind of stuck, so buy as high up the scale as you can. Not just what you think you’ll need today, but buy for tomorrow as well. Because that’s the way the machine will be for its lifetime. I would look for an i3/i5/i7 CPU.

When deciding which model laptop, do not forget to compare battery life (these stats are published). Also, and I can’t stress this enough, if buying for yourself, do not buy a laptop that you haven’t typed on. Yes, you can make your purchase online or out of a catalog, but go into a store and touch it first (sorry, all you Best Buy salespersons out there). Each keyboard and touchpad is different. Make sure you like the layout and “feel” of typing on the keyboard. There’s nothing worse (in laptop computing) than trying to work on a keyboard that just isn’t “you”–IMHO.

Considering a netbook? The portability of the compact netbook computers would certainly appeal to the student. For those who go this route, I would suggest the addition of an “external” hard drive (for more storage) as well as a DVD reader.

* Desktops: When considering which tower/desktop to buy, there’s basically three categories of machines; budget/student, workstation, and “performance”/gaming. Low, middle, and top-end. You can spend as little as $300 $250, or as much as $8,500. (Yes. $8,500. But, those systems are cool!) I have mentioned before that to do it right, you can get everything you want/need for $700 – $1,100 $399 – $899, and that even the budget machines have the “good stuff”.

My advice for what to look for in a desktop, is a little more flexible. First, decide roughly what you’d like to spend. If you really are in the $300 -500 $250-400 range, do not rule out “refurbished” machines. Factory rebuilt/refurbished machines are an excellent value. Any negative stigma they may have is largely unjustified.

Get the most RAM you can.I would not buy a PC today that had less than 4 GB’s.

If your machine is coming with Windows 7 (and most all of them are), you should look for 64-bit.

Go with a mid-to-high end CPU. The quad-core CPU’s from Intel are very good, and are my current preference. But you can save some dinero by choosing an AMD equipped machine. If it is in your budget, go quad-core.

Optical drives. Unless you really need a ‘high def’ burner and you want it right now, hold off on going for a “Blu Ray” burner just yet. Blu-Ray readers are available and should suffice. Two optical drives, while nice, is not a necessity. Do, however, make sure your “combo drive” can burn (”write”) to a dual-layer DVD.

Graphics. Most people do not need a $800 graphics card (only us hard-core gamers, and other boys-of-all-ages, do) nor do they need an “SLI” set up. However, whenever your budget allows, it is almost always better to have a “graphics card” than “onboard graphics”. Onboard graphics chipsets are built into the motherboard, and while they do a quite adequate job, they “share” your RAM … and by that I mean “steal” your RAM.
Please note, you can buy, and install a graphics card at any time..

Power Supply. Do not forget to check the Wattage of the machine’s power supply. Here is another area where more is definitely better. It constantly surprises me how many seemingly unrelated computer ‘glitches’ and quirks turn out to be caused by an inadequate or failing power supply. Shoot for one that’s rated in the neighborhood of 350W, unless you’re going for a more “loaded”, high-end performance machine — in which case 500W, or higher, is not unreasonable.

* Is space an issue? Consider a “small form factor” (aka “mini tower”) size. These smaller boxes fit on (or under) a desk much easier than a normal size. You can find some “bundled” with a 17″ LCD monitor.. perfect for the dorm.

Well, that should get you started. Buying a new PC should not be a stressful thing. It should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Just remember to test drive before you buy, and do a little comparison. It really doesn’t matter if you decide upon a no-name, a HP, a Sony, Dell, or whatever (see, Which is Better, HP or Dell? and/or Tech’s Most (and Least) Reliable Brands).

Today’s free download: For those of you lucky folks who will receive a brand new PC… Whenever you buy a new computer, it will come preloaded with all sorts of trialware (as it’s called) that most of us don’t want. If you have just purchased a new PC, download and run the wonderful PC Decrapifier and clean off that *stuff*.

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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December 15, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, shopping for | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reader Question (and More)

Well, for the first time in a while, there was a new one on me..

A reader wrote in..
Q:My archived bank statements download as .daa files.  What’s that and how do I open?  Do I need to convert them to something else to be sure to be able to view them in the future?


A: I have never met a .daa file, nor heard of it (I confess) and had to look it up (I understand it is common in the world of Torrents, which I do not do).

Direct Access Archive, or DAA, is a proprietary file format developed by PowerISO Computing for disk image files. The format supports features such as compression, password protection, and splitting to multiple volumes. Popular disk image mounting programs such as Alcohol 120% and Daemon Tools currently do not support the mounting of DAA images.

Currently there is no published information about the format. Among mainstream applications, it can be opened or converted with PowerISO, MagicISO, AnyToISO and UltraISO. Various free open source packages are also available to convert DAA to ISO images.”

I believe the programs mentioned retail for $30, so I would be inclined to research that last sentence were I required to deal with .daa’s (you might try daa2iso, but I cannot vouch for that). But more likely, I would be having a word with my bank, and looking on their website for another format to download (such as PDF). It is my humble opinion that your bank is doing you no favors by choosing to use this format.

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Some reading 4 u:

Feds Want To Take Your Phone Out of Your Car

The National Transportation Board doesn’t want you calling or texting behind the wheel and has called on states to ban the use of cellphones and other gadgets while driving.” Read more..

SMS Fraud Is Not Unique to Android

Google is yanking a number of apps from the Android Market after discovering that they are fraudulent. Although such apps are more likely to be found with Android than on rival platforms, the concept of fraud is an equal …Read more..

Liberate Your Flash Drive with LiberKey

Managing apps on a flash drive can be a real challenge even for the polished IT professional. Flash Drives have given us the liberty to transport files from PC to PC and the ability to run apps (software applications) directly from these little buggers. .” Read more..

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Today’s quote:Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances.” ~ Saint Vincent de Paul

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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December 14, 2011 Posted by | advice, Android, computers, Internet, tech | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fix Windows Media Player

If you try playing a song or video clip with Windows Media Player, and encounter an “unknown error” or “file corrupted” error on a file you know should play (because you have played it before),  a file WMP needs to function may have been inadvertently damaged. These steps can cure the ‘glitch’, and get your music playing again.

1) Reboot (aka “restart”) your computer.
Folks, this is almost always your first troubleshooting step. Rebooting your machine “clears” it’s memory and refreshes its settings — which is why a ‘reboot’ cures 9 out of 10 computer “problems”.

Didn’t work? Let’s tell Windows to repair itself.

2) Use the System File Checker tool to repair missing or corrupted system files on Windows Vista or on Windows 7. Follow these steps:

  1. Open an elevated command prompt. To do this, click Start, click All Programs, click Accessories, right-click Command Prompt, and then click Run as administrator. If you are prompted for an administrator password or for a confirmation, type the password, or click Allow.
  2. Type the following command, and then press ENTER: sfc /scannow. (Yes, there is a space between the “c” and the “/”.)
  3. You will (probably) see a message stating that you need to restart your computer for the tool to run. Save and Close any work, and then reboot.

When the file checker is running, you will see a black screen with white lettering telling you the progress. The sfc tool can take a while to complete, a half hour or more.

The sfc /scannow command scans all protected system files and replaces incorrect versions with correct Microsoft versions. This should restore your ability to play your media files.
If not, you may next want to run a special “Fix It” script from Microsoft. (Click on the image below).

If those two do not get you going again, you probably have more serious issues going on, and may need to consult a pro, like me (shameless plug).

Today’s reco: The Simplest Way to Print A List of Filenames In A Folder

Have a large listing of music files, movie files, picture files, etc…?  I bet there has been the occasion that you wished there was a simple way to get a printout of those listings. There is and..” Read more..

Today’s quote:Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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December 12, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, digital music, digital Video, how to, Microsoft, PC, performance, software, tech, troubleshooting | , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Day Early

I am posting tomorrow’s Sunday Beauty today, as emergency computer back-from-the-dead surgery, and virus removal surgeries have me scheduled in the O.R. through to Monday. (They tell me I will be allowed a few hours sleep..)

Anywho.. here you go: Sunday Beauty #70

Click on image to see more by this artist

“P1020101” by Johan615, courtesy of Flickr Commons

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.. dang, but I am getting a lot of spam recently.. anyone else noticed an uptick?

Today’s quote:By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach.”  ~ Winston Churchill

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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December 10, 2011 Posted by | computers | , , , | 2 Comments

It’s Friday!

Some food for your brain .. and some fun too. ‘Cuz it’s Friday!

New Open-Source Technology Locks Down User’s DNS Connection
OpenCrypt secures connection between end users and their DNS services.

The Most Notorious Cybercrooks Of 2011 — And How They Got Caught
A torrent of attacks from groups like Anonymous, LulzSec, Goatse Security, and Antisec has made it a busy year for cybercrime investigators.

Clean & Improve Your Computer for only $5.
I recently read yet another article on how brand new computers arrive loaded with so much unneeded software it that it takes twice the time to turn on and run…

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I understand that there is a certain percentage of humans who find the white stuff that falls from the sky this time of year (aka “snow”) something other than the detestable, vile substance I intend to outlaw just as soon as you folks elect me Supreme Omnipotent Benevolent Dictator Of All Things.

The weekend is almost here!

Today’s quote:How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” ~ George Washington Carver

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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December 9, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, Internet, News | 7 Comments