Quick Hit Links

October 31, 2008

I have a few different cool links I want to share with you, but I don’t have a lot to say about each, so here’s what I’ve got for you today.

This is a great link if you are trying to figure out exactly what street numbers are in the area for a particular part of town. It basically takes Google Maps and will create a bubble where you click and tell you the street address for that area.

This site lets you check a variety of services to see if your username is still available. You can use this for a variety of things. The first is that if you have a pretty obscure username, this can help you remember if you’ve created an account at a particular site. If your name might have been used by somebody else, this will tell you what sites you can still subscribe to with your preferred name. You can also use it to check out somebody else’s digital life, if you know their username, which can lead to interesting info about whomever you are checking on.

Finally, Techcrunch has something that can work with my last post about backing things up. Docstoc is a service where you can up load documents and then embed them as a Flash element into your page or blog. As they point out, this isn’t a new service by any stretch, but it is a very cool technique that I will keep in mind if the opportunity comes up to post something here. Docstoc will also store your document, so it will be available for you very easily off site.

Drop the Remote, Pick Up the Mouse

October 26, 2008

I’ve talked previously about the large amount of great online video on the web, but I have found a couple of other great places to fine network and cable quality content (whatever you think that might be) on the web.

The first is Gizmodo‘s great summary of this season’s network content online. Each network is listed with a series of links to where you can watch each show. Most of the networks are hosting their own content with Hulu providing coverage for a couple of them. I’ve seen a few summaries that try to duplicate this sort of line-up, but I like the simplicity in how it is organized.

Now these sites are all obviously sponsored by the networks and will show ads at various times during the program. I would call these clearly legal.

However, the networks do not offer all of their programs online, and some of the shows that are offered only have the current season, or worse the current episode available. What’s a TV addict to do?

Well, there are alternatives out there for when you have to see the first season of Battlestar Galactica. Project Free TV links to a wide variety of shows and back episodes that are hosted on a number of free video sites throughout the Internet, like Veoh or Megavideo. While the legality of this is certainly in question for the sites that host the content, I would be hard-pressed to believe anyone would prosecute a viewer of this material online. Although, anything is possible in this litigious age. One thing to keep in mind when using these services is that there will sometimes be some pop-up ads for things that are not safe for work, so that’s something to keep in mind.

One other possibility on firmer legal ground is Streamick, which is a service that streams of variety of channels over the Internet. While I hit a number of streams that didn’t work, or that were audio only, it was impressive to see the variety of material that was available. This should be on pretty solid legal ground, since all the content along with the ads is being streamed, but I’m not a lawyer so proceed with caution.

With all this content, there’s no reason to bored on the internet again, that is, as long as you have a connection and enough bandwidth to handle it.

Back It Up, Back It Up, Back It Up!

October 21, 2008

You know you need to do it. I urge you to do it now. Don’t wait. (Well, you can wait to you finish the article to see good ways to do it.)

Backup your data!

If your hard drive failed right now, what would you do? I want your answer to be to calmly go to your collection of backups and be thankful that you do frequent backups. There are a variety of ways to do this. Most likely the simplest and cheapest method for you is to burn your data on to DVDs or onto an external hard drive.

However, this does not protect you from the most serious of tragedies where your residence is destroyed. As the past few years have shown, nowhere is completely immune from a devastating natural disaster that can destroy everything you own. For that reason, it is important to have some sort of “off-site backup.” One solution that I use is to have one of your backups at another location. I keep one at my parent’s house in another state, but since I can’t update that all the time, it is important to have another solution.

Another good answer is to store your data online. As this blog entry shows, there are a variety of free online places to store data, however, many of these places have public accessibility, so that may not be the best possible solution for you.

One tool that I have been using is a Firefox plug-in called GSpace. It also has a desktop version, but I find the Firefox plug-in is adequate to my needs. One drawback to this method is that you will get an e-mail message for each file you upload, but it is pretty easy to archive bulk amounts of mail. Now, your data is in a relatively-secure password protected area that you have pretty easy access to, if the worst should happen.

So be prepared and backup today!

UPDATE: I did forget to mention when using GSpace, you will need to do this process over a length of time. Gmail will freeze up if you receive too many messages in a short period of time. I tend to do it this one folder at a time, but you can experiment and see what works best for you.

New Computer ≠ Trialware

October 15, 2008

With basically any new computer, (I’ll talk about the exceptions later on) you have to deal with trialware. Programs and demos you did not ask for pre-installed on your brand new computer. Not only do they take up hard disk space, some of these are “Start-Up” programs that boot when ever you start your PC. They take up valuable RAM and make your whole system run more slowly.

Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do. My first recommendation when you buy a new computer is to seriously consider a full formatting and re-installation of your operating system. While this is something every person may not be able or want to take the time to do, you get a lot of benefits out of electing to take this route. One, you’ll create a system restore point that is absolutely pure of any errors. You simply have your operating system and nothing else. Now, you can add elements one at a time and figure out which ones are causing problems as you install them. A second advantage is that you know you have gotten everything off your machine. Unfortunately, this is the most time consuming method and requires the most technical knowledge.

Assuming you are using a Windows machine, you can manually select items that you want to eliminate. Just go into you Start menu and use your control panels. Depending on which version of Windows you are running you’ll want to pick “Add or Remove Programs” or “Uninstall Programs.” Once you have done that you’ll see a list of items from which you can pick and choose what you want to remove. I would then suggest you go into your Start Menu again and go to the “Startup” programs folder. Make sure there is nothing in there that you do not want to open automatically when you boot your computer. Finally, check your System Icons in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Make sure each one is an element that you want to have. If you find one you don’t want, you can right-click the item, and usually through the properties menu, you can find a way to remove it from your “System Tray.” This method does give save you some time over installing everything from scratch, but you do have to know what programs you want and can require a bit of savvy.

The final method is a program that I have never tried myself but have heard and seen recommended in a variety of places. That item is PCDecrapifier. What this program does is automatically go through your new system and remove a variety of unnecessary programs and trialware. While it does not get everything, I am told it does remove enough to make it a worthwhile application. You are allowed to download it for free, but the programmer does ask for a $5 donation to keep it updated.

Finally, I’ll mention a couple of companies that do not have this ugly habit of loading up our PCs. The first would be Apple. I have not heard or seen any complaints of trial software coming with a new Mac. Dell has also come on board with a number of computers that do not include these programs. I’ve seen offers from HP to ship computers without trialware for no additional cost, and I have seen a plan by Sony to remove them for a fee.

In any case, by hook or by crook, you want to get the programs off your computer and hopefully you’ll find a Techeap way among these to make that happen.

Text Messages a No-Go

October 11, 2008

One of the key tenants of the Techeap way is to take advantage of the value of what you are using. Now, I’ve always suspected that text messages were a bad deal, but I’ve found an interesting blog entry showing just how disgusting the mark up on text messages really is. Here the calculations are done showing that by using the same mark-up on data phone companies make on text messages on a song download, it would cost nearly $6,000 to download a 1-megabyte song.

Let me have that sink in… $6,000.

A blogger for the New York Times also tells the story of how it is cheaper to send data to space then through a text message. To Space!

Those 20 cents a message can add up very quickly, but not quickly enough for some companies. In today’s New York Times, is a story on how Verizon wants to charge marketers, alert service and social networks an extra three cents a message to send you text messages. While, you might think I would come down hard on Verizon on this, I’m actually glad to see someone else foot the bill for these messages. Now, I don’t realistically expect this to bring down costs to consumers, but if this means less text messages are sent, which the article suggests it will, I’m all for it.

I will mention a couple of sites that will let you send text messages for free from a computer, (Text2Day and TextReminders) but my real suggestion is to break your dependence on them entirely. If you have a smart phone with e-mail use that, if not, well, I suppose you could always call the other person. Your budget will thank you.

I Con Dial?

October 6, 2008

I like to think of my computer as a tool box. There are a lot of tools that I’ll go to frequently and those have to be of the highest quality. It is sometimes worth spending a little money to make sure that those are as good as they can possibly be. These are the hammer and screwdriver of your toolbox. On a computer this may be your office suite or your browser, if you do a lot of surfing. There are some tools though, that you don’t use very often, but you feel better knowing they are there if you are really stuck.

One of these for me is Icondial. This is a new start-up, but there always seems to be a new one of these cropping up, that lets you use your computer to make free telephone calls to regular phones. Each one of them has there quirks and this one does too, but sometimes this might be just the thing to get you out of a jam.

The interface on Icondial is delightfully simple. It’s just a dialpad a green call button and a red delete button. You simply click the number, click the green call button and Icondial will connect your call. If you don’t want to go through the interface you can just type the number in a text box above. After you enter your number, the program will play a short 3-5 second ad, and then connect your call.

This is pretty neat, but there are a few problems. First, for some reason I was not able to call any US number with a 212 area code. This may have to do with some local restriction or any number of reasons. I was able to call London, and actually had my best luck with those calls. The quality of the calls was not fantastic however, there was a fair amount of static and a not insignificant amount of delay. However, I was able to have a conversation.

In case you was to make your own comparison, I have a cable speed internet connection, but was using a cheap pair of headphones and a decent but not expensive microphone.

I think that it is probably worth a try, as I think everyone’s mileage will vary on it. The situation where you might need to use this are rare. For example, if the phone is out but your internet connection is working and you need to make a call, this may be the perfect temporary solution.

So, welcome to the awl of your toolbox, IconDial.

Just Stick Apple in Some Rice

October 1, 2008

My wife and I had a bit of a crisis over the weekend. It wasn’t quite as bad as this incident, but it is one of the worst things you can do to an electronic gadget. We ended up putting her precious iPod in the washing machine. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of the iPod and its proprietary infrastructure, so you may wonder why we have an iPod. My wife is a big Apple believer and loves the design of any Apple product, so she is in love with it.

Anyway, I remembered a tip I had heard on a podcast that said you should try putting a device in rice in order to try it out before you try powering it up again. After verifying on the web that it was a good idea, I dried it off and let the rice do its thing.

While it didn’t bring it completely back into perfect working condition, the rice trick did allow it to start up and power on. We are still having some flickering screen problems, but I’ll have to see what magic I can do to try and fix those problems.

Since we’re talking about Apple, I should also mention a very interesting battle going on between iTunes and music publishers. The Times of London has a great article describing the situation. Basically, Apple is threatening to shut down iTunes and the billions of dollars that it produces if a ruling forces them to pay music makers higher fees for each downloaded song.

If you haven’t been following this battle for a long time, the music industry really resents the amount of influence Apple has over the prices of songs. Apple maintains that market is not prepared to accept an increase in cost for downloaded music, since piracy is still rampant and very easy. Apple also says that it is paying out so much money per track that it may end up taking a loss for each track if this rate increase were to go through.

Surprisingly, I tend to agree with Apple on this issue, while I’ve been an advocate of Amazon’s MP3 music store, since they offer higher quality music without copy protection, I acknowledge that most people buy their music with iTunes. Apple is right that people do not value music at more than 99 cents a song. I find it hard to even justify that much most of the time, but I’m not a big music fan.

I hope song prices stay where they are and that the music industry wakes up to the apparent reality that they simply are not as important as they were in previous decades.