Tech – for Everyone

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

Choosing the right computer for your student

This is the time of year when I am asked for advice on what computer “tech” to buy for students.

It can be daunting – shopping for a new laptop or PC – as the number of choices is immense. (And shopping for someone else isn’t as easy, either.) But the good news is that it is hard to find a laptop or PC that is not capable of (powerful enough for) ‘general use’; even the cheapest ones. And the other good news is that, because computers are just an assembly of parts, it really isn’t all that important to choose one brand over another. Better yet, almost everyone selling tech has super discounts this time of year.

parents/teachers may want to click this image

However, if your student is older, and their coursework requires taking (doing) processor-heavy stuff – such as Animation/Film, Music editing/Broadcasting, Video Game Design, Drafting/Architecture, etc. – you’ll want to look at mid-to high-end units; which have faster processors (with more “cores”), plenty of RAM (4 – 6 GB’s), bigger screens with a “graphics card” (or in the case of laptops/notebooks, what is called “discrete graphics”) of at least 1GB.

Laptop or Desktop?

For home (or the dorm) the Desktop PC is still the workhorse, and my first choice; but for students who need mobility to study in the library, take notes in the classroom, join collaborative “study sessions” at the Quad, and whatnot, it’s hard to beat a laptop. (Sorry, but no, an iPad or tablet is not really a productivity device.)

If you decide on a laptop/notebook, there are a few factors to consider – most do not come with a 10-key “numberpad”, so if your student is a math, or business major, you might want to choose a model that does. Also, you might also want to buy a (larger) monitor that can be plugged into the laptop when back in the dorm.

More essential accessories:

* I always add a wireless mouse to my laptops. If the laptop you select has Bluetooth, a Bluetooth mouse is a “must have” addition (IMHO). If it doesn’t have Bluetooth, I would recommend a small (aka “travel”) wireless mouse from Kensington.

* External backup (“storage”). Whether you opt for a 1TB “portable” USB drive, or signing your student up with a subscription to a “cloud” file storage/sync service like Dropbox or SOS, a place to store copies of their homework is essential (you wouldn’t want to have to write that essay twice, would you?) and can help prevent “the hard drive ate my homework” nightmares.

* A pair of decent speakers. Today’s world really is “multimedia”, and speakers are must-have’s. It’s just that simple. And I said “decent”, as in don’t buy the cheapest you can find. (Yes, laptops do [usually] come with some kind of ‘built-in’ speaker, but even the best of those are wimpy.) I consider headphones to be a supplement to a speaker set, but in environments with nearby roommates (such as a dorm room), headphones might be a better first choice than speakers.. (if you’re planning to use Skype to visit with your student [and/or they’re online gamers] a headset with a ‘built-in’ microphone would be a good choice.)

* Anti-theft/find-if-lost software (optional). I personally would feel better if my student’s new laptop were protected – and (possibly) recoverable – if misplaced or stolen, and software like Laptop Cop is a great addition, well-worth the added investment. (See, 6 Ways to Find Your Stolen Laptop, If your laptop is ever lost or stolen, this security software will work hard to protect your precious data and help you recover the device.)

I hope these thoughts will help you choose a unit that your student will like and get good use from. But if you were hoping for more info (such as, “what do those Giga-numbers mean to humans?” [aka “specs”]) you may also be interested in this article: What to Look for When Buying a New Computer, My Computer Shopping Guidelines (it’s older, but still pertinent and more detailed).

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Are we ready to pay attention now? $1.5 million Cyberheist Ruins Escrow Firm

A $1.5 million cyberheist against a California escrow firm earlier this year has forced the company to close and lay off its entire staff. Meanwhile, the firm’s remaining money is in the hands of a court-appointed state receiver who is preparing for a lawsuit against the victim’s bank to recover the stolen funds.Read more

Today’s quote:I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” ~ Mark Twain

Today’s fun video (because it’s summer):

Copyright 2007-2013 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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All we really have, in the end, are our stories.
Make yours great ones. Ones to be proud of.

August 14, 2013 Posted by | advice, computers, consumer electronics, hardware, PC, Portable Computing, shopping for, tech | , , , , | 2 Comments

Pen Scanners– A Back-to-School Must

There are some technologies that really do make me say, “gee, I wish they had that when I was a kid”, and one of them is the hand-held document scanner.

A hand-held document scanner is pretty much exactly what it sounds like it is; a portable device that allows you to “scan” text and images into digital form so you can store them on your computer… and thus access them for later study.
It’s kind of like having your very own pocket Xerox machine.

pen scanner

This is simply a “must have” if you are a researcher, or a student, as it replaces hand-writing out your notes, or carrying pockets full of coins to feed into the library’s copy machine.

When you find a relevant passage in a book, or other document, you simply pass the device over the text, much like you would use a highlighter. Later, you attach the device to your PC via a USB cord, and thanks to OCR, you can open your scanned passages in a text editor, like Word.

Hand-held document scanners (generally) come in two flavors; a true “pen” style — as pictured above — and a “wand” style.

The “pen” style makes it easier to capture just the lines of text that you are interested in. However, you must pass it in a fairly straight line, and wobbling it high or low may cause you to have to rescan the sentence (most have a preview window).. and some people use a plastic ruler as a guide.

I prefer the “wand” style, even though it (usually) means capturing a whole page. The color versions of these devices are pretty good at scanning images. Another advantage of the wand is if you are scanning tables and charts– the included software allows you to open the scanned tables in Excel.

Tip of the day: A simply fantastic Back To School gift (either for yourself, or someone you love) is a hand-held digital note taker. They’re quite reasonably priced.
My personal reco is to go with the slightly pricier wand scanner, and to go with the pricier-yet color model.

I won’t say which one’s “best”, but I will say that I agree with this PC Magazine review (read it here).

Today’s free link: SyncBack is a backup program that also functions as a file synchronizer, such as keeping your thumbdrive files and desktop files updated. From ZDNet:”Easily backup, synchronize, or restore your files to another drive, FTP server, ZIP file, networked drive, or removable media.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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July 26, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, Digital Images, gadgets, hardware, Portable Computing, shopping for, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments