Tech – for Everyone

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

200

Today marks the 200th original posting of Tech–for Everyone. I have posted links to over 200 free downloads, and brought you tips, advice, and computing answers six days per week. I hope to continue being of service well into the future.

I invite you to click on the “About Tech Paul” link, in the upper right-hand corner, if you have not already done so. This series is available as an RSS feed. If you’re not sure what that is, or why that’s “cool”, click here.

I would like to remind readers that you can submit questions to me (the email address here at T4E Headquarters is tech4everyone (at) gmail.com), and if I think it is the type of question whose answer will benefit everyone, I will post it in a “Reader questions answered” article.

I would also like to point out that this site is completely search-able, and the advice, tips, tricks, and answers — as well as the downloads — from past articles can be found with a couple of different tools. One method is the Search box. Say you have questions about a Norton product: type “Norton” into the search box, and every article that contains the word ‘Norton’ will be displayed (by date).
The second main tool is the Tag Cloud. “Tags” are topic categories. Some of my tags are quite broad — such as “Windows” — and a click here will produce a (very) long series of articles, as almost all my postings contain this tag. But others are much more specific, such as “removing updates”. You will see the tags I have added to each article at the bottom of each post. If you click on one of these tags, you will see a list of other blogs and what they’ve written in this category. This is a good way to find more information on your topic.
Past article titles can also be found in the Archives.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading Tech–for Everyone so far, and that you have either bookmarked (or “Add to Favorites”) me, or subscribed to my feed. With God’s help, I will be here for a very long while to come.

Today’s free link: Sometimes our media players need a little help to play certain file types. This is done by adding “codecs“. A good package of codecs for Vista can be found here.
***Please note:If you are visiting a website, and want to see a video there, and the site tells you that you download a “special codec”, or ActiveX control, or “the latest version of Windows Media Player” to view the video, and the site you’re on is an “adult” site, do not click the link, and navigate away from that page as quickly as possible. Then start a vigorous program of antivirus and anti-spyware scanning. You have stumbled across (or been lured to) a malicious website.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

February 21, 2008 Posted by | computers, RSS, tech, Windows | 1 Comment

Why I use Avant (updated)

I have mentioned “alternative” web browsers in prior Tech–for Everyone articles and described some of the advantages to you that they offer. And I’ve included some in the “Today’s free link” segment. I also wrote an article, titled “How to block ads” which discussed ad blocking in general and ad blocking in Hotmail* in particular (due to my aversion to a particularly prevalent laser hair removal ad).
There’s a new kind of animated banner ad now. They have little You Tube-like movie screens in them and thus we now have miniature TV commercials on our web-pages. Yuck!

Tip of the day: consider switching to an alternative browser to surf the web ad free. I should iterate, “alternative” meaning “other than Internet Explorer”, which comes as part of Windows. The most popular alternative browser is Firefox. I have discussed this in prior articles, but it’s worth repeating: the trick to getting the most out of Firefox is to use what is called “Add-ons”, which makes sense because they are little programs you ‘add on’ to Firefox.

My focus today is blocking the advertisements, and one kind of advertisement in particular — which is the hardest to block — imbedded flash ads. When you have Firefox installed, you want to add the Add Ons AdBlock Plus and Flashblock… and possibly NoScript.
To install these, go to the Tools menu and click on (select) Add-ons. add-ons.jpg
Now click on “Get Extensions. This will take you to Mozilla’s Add-on website; here you will find a vast array of tools, extension, and plugins to choose from. You will find Adblock Plus under the “Recommended Add-ons” category, and No Script and Flashblock under “Extensions” then “Privacy and security”.
Install this combination and instead of ads, you’ll see clean, blank spaces. If you still see an ad, you should be able to right-click the ad and there will be an option to blacklist the ad’s source. You will also have the option to unblock.

Blocking imbedded Flash ads in IE is possible, but I haven’t found a free way to do this.** That’s why I use the browser from Avant. It has the ability to block Flash ads built into it. When an ad does slip through its filters, a right-click/add to blacklist eliminates the offender. In Avant, my Hotmail looks like this.
avnthtml.jpg
Avant claims to be “the fastest browser on earth”, and I am not so sure that’s absolutely true. It is not slow, I can tell you that — it’s faster than IE. It has the features you’ve come to expect from your browser — tabbed browsing, autofill, pop-up blocking, privacy tools — and others that you might find useful; like, online storage for a backup of your Favorites/Bookmarks/etc and important files, and a built-in RSS feed reader.
But for me, the clincher was shown to you in the picture above — the clean Hotmail page. I don’t want, need, or like animated banner ads blinking and flashing at me, and I certainly don’t need miniature TV commercials. Sorry advertisers, but you’ve gone too far for me.

*Please don’t get me wrong. I think Hotmail is a great service. I’m even reasonably willing to see limited advertising there. And I should also point out that all the free emails are supported by advertising.

Today’s free link(s): Don’t tell me you’re expecting another free link here! Scroll up. BTW: there’s a USB thumbdrive version of Avant browser available on the Download page.. just scroll down a little.
** update at the time I wrote this, I wasn’t familiar with SelectView, which is a  free plug-in for IE that simply performs ad-blocking miracles. If you prefer to stick with IE, this tool is for you. It is configurable, and can enable/disable on either a page, or Site basis.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul, All Rights Reserved

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September 19, 2007 Posted by | advice, Backups, computers, how to, IE 7, PC, RSS, searching, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | 2 Comments

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, part 1

There is something wonderful in this simple philosophy. It certainly is an aggravation saver, and I believe it is a good, honest, tip for a happier life. It is applicable in all aspects of our daily lives — including our tech gadgets.
Some people (me), though, have some malformed gene, or mis-wired section in their brain which renders them constitutionally incapable of keeping their mischievous little fingers off of a perfectly functioning device. These people have a strange compulsion to try to “make it better”. They just have to open it up and look at what’s inside…
A highly Scientific Study (that I just made up) has proven that a full 9-out-of-10 of these personality-types not only fail to “improve” the device, they fail to get all the pieces back inside, much less in their proper places.

The modern name for these people is “tweaker” (which, unfortunately, also has a drug-culture connotation). The most ‘famous’ tweaker was probably Tim [“the tool man”] Taylor, a character made famous by Tim Allen on Home Improvement. (I loved it when he “improved” the kitchen garbage disposal by powering it with a chainsaw engine.) His motto: more power!

Yes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a very good Rule. For that 90% of tweakers who only succeed in disassembling the object of their interest, it ought to be a Law. However (you, Dear Reader, were expecting a “however”, right?), tweaking can be a good thing. Tweaking sometimes leads to Invention. Successful and repeatable tweaks are called “optimizing”. And who can argue against optimizing? Not me. A great deal of Tech–for Everyone is about optimizing your PC,.. such as today’s tip.

Tip of the day: Optimize your computer with the latest device drivers. Most of my readers should be aware of the existence of the small programs that allow the software on our machines (primarily the OS) to interact with the hardware, which are called “device drivers”. If you’ve ever added a new device, you (typically) had to put in a CD and install the “driver” to get it operational. My readers probably also know that, like other programs, drivers get “updated”, and improved, occasionally. Did you also know that by seeking out, and installing the latest drivers, you can have a faster machine? Or, that your device may suddenly have more “features” and capabilities? Today I’m going to show you a method to use that I consider the first step, and tomorrow I’ll describe the more aggressive and effective approach, as well as how to “undo” a driver update if things should go wrong.

The first step is to create a System Restore point, to give yourself a fallback position. I reco doing this whenever you make significant changes to your machine. To see my series on the System Restore tool, click here. Then you need to access your Device Manager tool. There are a couple of ways to do this, but I use Start >right-click My Computer >Properties >Hardware tab >Device Manager. Now you will see a list of the components on your machine, as shown in the example below.
devmgr.jpgSome, in fact most, of these items you do not need to worry about updating. The items that typically will give you the most improvement are: graphics, sound, printer, network (or modem) adapter, and (sometimes) monitor.

Begin by selecting the device you want to update the driver for — I am going to use for demonstration the sound on a laptop computer — and ‘expand’ the hardware list by clicking on the “+” sign next to the proper category, in my example that will be the “Sound, video, and game controllers” category. Next, double-click on the device name to open its Properties dialogue window. In my case that’s “ESS Maestro PCI Audio”, and then click on the Drivers tab, which will now open a window that looks like this.
snddrvr.jpg
Now click on the Update driver button, which launches an automated process called the “Hardware Update Wizard”. Accept the default radio button setting (“Automatically”) and click “next”.

Now Windows will go out and “search” for a “better” driver than the current version, and when it finds one, will help you install it via a couple of “Next” clicks. Do this for all the devices (device types) that I listed above.
Unfortunately, the  most common result of the search returns this window.
cannot.jpg
This is because Microsoft has built into the search parameters a complex formula of what constitutes “better”. To them, better does not just mean “newer” (ie, a more recent version number), but whether or not the driver has been tested — and approved — in the Microsoft labs (for a fee), and whether or not the driver’s author has shelled out the dough to buy a digital “certificate” (for another fee). Since this is a simple driver, and not a new miracle accounting program, or other retail piece of code, most authors skip these expensive steps… and so the Update search will disregard these drivers as if they didn’t exist. Tomorrows post will deal with this issue.

But doing this process can and does produce results, and it is the method I reco as the first step in a faster/better PC.

To read Part 2, click here.

Today’s free link: I have reco’d the popular Mozilla Firefox web browser here before, and I think it’s only fair to tell you of another — Avant uses the IE 7 rendering engine, but advertises itself as the “fastest browser on earth”. I like it for its built-in security features, such as tracks erasing, and its rss reader. Take a look at the Avant homepage, and then give it a try.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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August 22, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, PC, RSS, tech, Windows, XP | Leave a comment

A new week, new features, new Tip of the day

Shall we try this again? OK. Let’s do this. (The original was longer and more detailed…) In spite of a very busy weekend, I managed to add two new features to Tech–for Everyone, as you may have noticed. These are visible in the right-hand column on the main website; if you are viewing this as an RSS feed, I invite you to delete “/feed/” from your URL window and take a look.

At the top of this column is still the Search window, which you can use to search prior articles for topics, keywords, and answers.

Next is the familiar Archives, which lumps past articles by month. This is a good place to look at the titles of previously discussed topics, but as far as I can tell, nobody ever actually uses these links. Thus I added the two new features, which appear underneath.

Below Archives is a sort of strange-looking assortment of keyword links called a “Tag Cloud” which will be familiar to some of you. These keywords are Tech–for Everyone topic categories, and the larger the word the more articles you will find under that keyword. If you see a category you’re interested in (Backups, say), just click on that word in the cloud: a new page will load that shows all the articles posted with that keyword (and only those posts).
This is handy if, for example, you remember that I posted an article on clearing the private data that IE stores as you browse, but you cannot recall all the details. Click on IE7 in the tag cloud, and you will be able to review all the IE7 tips and tweaks articles I have posted.

Under the Tag Cloud is a “Top 10” list of past articles. This collection of links shows you the most popular articles I have published. Perhaps you will see a title here that you missed, or perhaps you will just find info interesting… This list is dynamically generated by actual page-view statistics, and not my opinion.

Tip of the day: This blog like so many other frequently updated blogs, news sites, forums, and newsletters, is “syndicated” as an RSS “feed”. Sites that feed-icon.jpgare syndicated will have this icon visible in various places, sometimes in the URL window. Clicking on the icon will allow you to subscribe. Subscribing allows you to be notified when new content is posted to the site.

IE 7’s tool is located next to the Home icon, and it works very much like bookmarking, so much so, that it is accessed in the same place. Click on the RSS icon and select “Subscribe to this feed”. Now your syndicated feed is “bookmarked” (“Favorites” in Microsoft-speak). feeds.jpgTo quickly access and open your feed, click on the gold star icon, and then the Feeds button, as shown.

By default, IE is set to poll for updated material once per day, but you can tweak this setting to a more frequent rate. However, most people use a “feed reader”, or “feed aggregator” to manage their feeds and receive instantaneous alerts when their favorite author posts new headlines. These are utilities that come in many types and flavors, and if you find that one is too complex, or too whatever, try another. I find mine as useful as I do my email alerter that I have “trapped” on my business email account. A rss reader is the best way to stay on top of rapidly changing events.

Today’s free link: A very popular online feed aggregator/reader is Bloglines, but I use a desktop program called Newzie. From site: “Free News Aggregator–monitor RSS&Atom formatted feeds as well as ordinary webpages; NewsBar and SystemTray Popup Notifier Support; Virtual Channels, Bulk Channels, and Word Watchdogs.”

I am still offering readers a chance to chime in with their opinions about this blog with a quick, 5-question survey — Click Here to take survey

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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August 20, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, PC, RSS, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | Leave a comment