Tech – for Everyone

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

Oops | Internet TV | Etc.

First and foremost, I need to apologize to my shamrock-influenced friends for failing to wish them a safe and happy St. Patrick’s Day. Sorry guys.

Next up, a short “Friday Fun” video.

Almost a year ago I wrote an article How To Watch TV On Your Computer, which mentioned Hulu, a “streaming media” portal. For those who make use of Hulu on a fairly regular basis, you may (if you haven’t already) want to download and install the Hulu Desktop app.
Hulu Desktop gives you a 10′, remote-controllable interface (for your TV).

And, for those of you who make use of Hulu on a fairly regular basis and also are using Windows Media Center on your Windows 7 PC, you can download and install Hulu Desktop Windows 7 Media Center Integration 2.0.

Hulu Desktop Integration 2.0 provides an easy way for users to go back and forth between Windows Media Center and Hulu Desktop. When clicking on HULU in Windows 7 Media Center, the software automatically closes Windows Media Center, Starts HULU Desktop Maximized in full screen. When you are done with HULU Desktop, click on Exit in the main menu, the software will automatically start Windows Media Center back up in full screen mode.

This software is aimed at people who want to have a easy way of switching with just their remote controls while sitting on the couch.

Please note.. while I did fiddle around with Hulu Desktop, I do not have a media center PC & TV hookup running, so I – personally – have not tested the integrator. However, I have seen it recommended in such reputable places as PC World magazine (so I am comfortable recommending it).
I would appreciate reader feedback on this one.

… rainstorm blowin’ in. Think I’ll stay indoors..

[related update: Wow. We just got a tornado warning.. We don’t get those. http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/San-Mateo-Co-Under-Tornado-Warning–118253114.html. I cannot remember ever hearing of one.. and I grew up here. They say the safest place is in your basement. Um.. basement? This is Kallyfornyah. Who has a basement?]

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


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March 18, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, digital Video, dtv, how to, Internet, PC, software, tech, Windows, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick Tip: Movies on the plane

Make Your Movies Truly Laptop Friendly

DukesOfHazzard_JessicaSimpsonIf you know you are going to be traveling, and you want to bring some entertainment with you (namely, movies), such as the best film ever made — The Dukes of Hazzard, today’s quick tip is for you.

Tip of the day: The energy required to spin the disc, and power the laser beam inside your DVD (or Blu Ray) drive is hard on your laptop’s battery, and can drain the charge rather quickly… maybe before the movie ends.

The trick is to “rip” (geekspeak for “copy”) the DVD to a file, and keep the file on your hard drive, or a thumb drive. Playing the file (watching the movie) this way is less work for your computer and your battery will last longer. Kind of a “must” for those long flights!

Today’s free download(s):
For simple, one-click “rips” of your DVD movies, bitRipper is hard to beat. It was a for-pay utility, and now is available for free.

And for those of you who want to watch your movies on an iDevice, HandBrake is a highly recommended Open Source tool to consider. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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July 10, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, performance, Portable Computing, tech, thumb drives | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How To Watch TV On Your Computer

Q: Paul, I got an e-mail selling a program that it says will let me watch “thousands of channels” of television on my computer for a one-time fee. Seems like a good deal, but I thought I would ask you, do I need this program to watch TV shows, or is there a free one?

A: While your idea is singular – watching TV on the puter – the answer is multifaceted and complex.. I’ll do my best to break it into it’s logical chunks. When I’m done, I hope you’ll see why you don’t want to buy this program you refer to.

1) You’re thinking of two separate things by “TV”.. at least; because as you know, TV starts with a source (“feed” or “signal” or “transmission”).

For computers there’s two main sources:
a: the Internet via a “feed” called IPTV (the TV signals are sent as Internet “packets”, basically the same as any other Internet “packet”. {e-mail, VoIP (telephony), file transfers, datagrams, HTML webpages, etc.})

b: “normal” sources — Satellite, over-the air transmissions, and cable.
I assume that you know the difference between Adobe Flash-based ‘movies’ (and also WMV video files) that play on sites such as YouTube (frequently referred to as “videos”) and “TV” — and  I am assuming you’re talking about the latter. You are talking about NBC, CBS, CNN, TNT, etc., but using the computer as your “screen” instead of a television set. Right? Let’s proceed.tractor

The “thousands of channels”…
Spanish, Ruskie, Japanese, and Swedish language channels, French, Canadian, British, German, and Italian channels, the Upper Silesian Used Tractor Auction Channel (I hear it can get lively there, and sometimes fights break out), the South Korean version of C-Span (I hear it can get lively there, and sometimes fights break out).
The Internet doesn’t filter. If I typed in http://www.ustac.com (home of the used tractors).. AND the Upper Silesian Used Tractor Auction Channel website provides a “live feed”.. I can click the link and start watching the auction.
Here in the US, I would be much more likely to type in http://www.cbs.com

Go ahead and click that link now.. you will see a selection of “live feeds”, live feeds in HD, watch-TV-with-others-and-chat ‘rooms’, and pre-recorded episodes, to choose from.
No special magic. No special program to download. Usually, you get the commercials too (as an added bonus!)

So.. on the Internet.. how do you see what’s available? Unfortunately, there isn’t a TV Guide Internet Version per say. There are however, “feed aggregator” sites.. the most popular are Hulu and Joost.Typically, what people do is use a search engine to find a “feed” for something they know they want to watch

Now.. a separate question is taking your current “feed” (cable, satellite, etc.) and plugging it into a PC instead of TV. Well, the distinction between “TV’s” and “monitors” is .. well, there is none now. Modern TV’s are basically just great big monitors, and can be used as such quite easily. But they usually have two things the typical PC doesn’t, though:
a) a “tuner”
b) a coaxial cable port
This is solved by the use of a specialized graphics card.. or “TV Tuner card” (not much distinction) which will give you both a “tuner” and a coaxial “in” (the source feed). The most popular of these is the ATI “All-in-Wonder” series of cards.

In conclusion —
This program doesn’t do anything the Internet doesn’t already do, but, hey, it will make it easy to find Portuguese weather reports.. in Portuguese. (But then.. so will Google.)
If your PC doesn’t have a coax “In”, you have to buy an “adapter” (like the ATI card). As soon as you do, hook up one of your spare coax cables, and you’ll get the same “feed” your TV sets get.

Hope that helped… And I hope you know to always think twice about unsolicited e-mail. It’s called “spam” for a reason.

Today’s free link: Demo: Tune in to movies and TV shows on the web. Watch this demo to learn how to use your computer to watch entire TV shows and movies over the Internet.

Folks, what’s your favorite “web TV” site? Let us know with a comment.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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April 21, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, digital Video, dtv, how to, Internet, PC | , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

What your car is saying about you*

The auto manufactures are competing to put the most computer into your car. The merging of digital devices and personal transportation is progressing with alacrity. We know this. The fact that there has been “chips” in our cars for a decade or so is also well known. OnStar™ GPS tracking of our movements has been successfully marketed as a benefit to us, and we pay extra for the privilege. And our car has a microphone, to listen for ‘our calls for help’ (but, only when we push the button… Right??).

I read that the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium, a government “safety and efficiency” program, (there is a detailed description on Wikipedia, I suggest you scroll down to the paragraph titled “public concerns”) has developed a prototype for an on-board vehicle computer designed to interact with the Internet that will use Linux. (These are the folks who want to put radars in cars, “to detect proximity to the vehicle ahead and automatically apply the brakes to avoid rear-end collisions”) And they want to use the Web so the cars can, “provide a direct link between a vehicle on the road and all vehicles within a defined vicinity. The vehicles would be able to communicate with each other (and the cops), exchanging data on speed, orientation, perhaps even on driver awareness and intent.” This, to “improve traffic flow.”
Hmmm…. Driver intent?!?

Of course, this is being touted as a boon to us dumb citizens. We are told, “this will improve the driving experience” (not to mention, make us safer). How could our car accessing the Web be a benefit? The VII-C says, “by alerting cars about approaching emergency vehicles, collecting data to map weather patterns with high precision, and allowing for ‘over the air’ upgrades of vehicle firmware.”

Hmmm… Let me think about that…
1) Don’t approaching emergency vehicles have flashing lights and loud sirens?
2) Weather??? Like, I’m not going to go where I need to go because there’s a cold front developing..?
3) Automatic updates (aka “patches”)? What does this imply? That there’s concern about viruses and hackers, maybe? (You bet there’s concern!)

Of course the key words here are ‘traffic flow’, and ‘transmit its location’. By publishing its onboard data via the Web, some person in some government office will be able to see where every car is, its speed and direction of travel, and by activating the microphone, will be able to listen to the conversations taking place inside.
Think about that. Frankly, it scares the pants off of me.

I want you readers to know that the government already has this ability to some extent. We are rapidly approaching the point where every car being produced has some type of GPS built into it. They track us through the cellular phone signals (but these are “unreliable”). To “get better gas mileage”, we have all kinds of mini-computers on board that record our speed and braking, and store that info for later perusal — this aids in “accident reconstruction”. But these are not enough. They want more and better tracking technology installed. They don’t want “recorded”, they want “reported”.

Do NOT violate the speed limit in a rental car. The onboard computers will snitch, and when you go to return it, you will be hit with a stiff fine. I kid you not. Joyriding is out, too: excessive acceleration, hard braking, and high lateral G’s are recorded and reported too, even if you never top out above 65. Yes, your car is a snitch. Divorce attorneys and Law Enforcement love the GPS recorder.

Let’s tout the boon to mankind: parents can benefit from these automatic recorders too. Want to know how your kid treated the family car? Where they went? If they braked too hard or accelerated too hard? If they parked at Lover’s Lookout? Just buy an adapter and plug in your laptop. You can play Big Brother and see everything the car did. (I’m still working on how you can send the signal that activates the car’s microphone, and listen in on your kid… That will be a money-maker!)

The miracle of technology is in our cars. We are being told it’s for our benefit and we believe it. OnStar is something we all think is great, and we’re convinced it’s a status symbol (remember when only top-end cars offered it?). Sometimes, I think our desire for security makes us kinda dumb, and I think dummies get what  dummies deserve.

I, for one, don’t want a single recorder, chip, microphone, GPS locator, or transmitter on my person or on my car. It’s nobody’s business where I am, where I’ve been, or… my speed and direction of travel. (Did you miss my article, “It’s time to write your Representative”? Click here.)
They are going to do this, folks, and they’re not giving us citizens much say (“not much” = none).

Tip of the day: Use a soft, lint-free cloth, very slightly dampened with plain water to clean your monitor screen. You do not really need fancy, or expensive products to do this.

Today’s free link: Today I’m putting out the call for your input in this section. Is there a free program or tool that you think is fantastic, but you haven’t seen me post it here? Send me your recommendation — the name, not the link — and I’ll run it through my testing. Those that pass will appear here, with accreditation.

For those of you who aren’t at all bothered by this, and have quite the opposite view; in that you want access to this info (perhaps you are the parents of a beginning driver), devices are available now. If your vehicle is newer and GPS equipped, all you need is a special plug (adapter), if your vehicle [or, the one you’re letting the kid drive] is older, you may want to take a look at this Wall Street Journal article: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB110911718132361463.html

Folks– there’s only a few days left. Tell me if you prefer this site’s new look by taking this 1-question survey Click Here to take survey

* Original posting– 8/17/07

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

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May 14, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, privacy, security, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments