Save time with RSS

Do you find yourself spending a lot of time reading web sites? I’m talking about the same sites that you check out on a regular basis. Maybe its financial news, or maybe its some guilty pleasure like the Perez Hilton celebrity gossip blog. Either way, we all have web sites that we regularly read and have to sort through to find the items we want to read more about. I see my own family members do this every day.

So what the heck am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about saving you time and giving your eyes a break from staring at a computer screen. Who knows, your family might even appreciate either the use of the computer or you being able to do something with them.

How do you do it? The easiest tool for this is the Google Reader. You need a google account, and then you can sign in at reader.google.com. Many of your regular sites will already have an RSS link. You just need to get that address and plug it in to the “Add a subscription” tool. Alternatively, they have a search feature that you can use to find what you are looking for.

Once you have your feeds setup, you can login to reader from any location and get updates on your most read items!

Stop relying on your computer

I have talks all the time with people about the issue of data security. For some it is a matter of having their files safe from prying eyes. For others its a matter of protecting from loss. I have addressed part of this before, but I’ll be diving in deep on the subject of cloud storage.

What is the cloud? “The cloud” , as it’s known, is a place outside of your home or office where data can live. Normally this place that is out there somewhere actually exists in multiple places. Google and Amazon are the current leaders in cloud storage and have data centers dotted around the world that safely and redundantly store data. This insures that if one or many locations would go offline, your data remains available.

The average computer user stores all of their data on their computer and has no backups. The next most sophisticated method of data security is to have an external storage device: disk, flash memory, removable hard drive, or even another PC on the same network. In 2009, online storage boomed with lower cost high speed internet connections. These advents have allowed for backing up to the cloud. Services like Mozy, Carbonite, Amazon S3 and others allow for offsite backups. I get asked a lot about why this would be better than just using some kind of media and taking it home (still a very good practice in addition to using the cloud). The reality is that DVDs don’t get burned, files don’t get copied, or media sits in someone’s trunk and is ruined by exposure to extreme temperatures. Cloud based backups are usually automated. They happen at a set interval and you get a report e-mailed to you.

Is it secure? Nothing is 100% secure, but sending encrypted data to a server is pretty close. In this day of corporate espionage and crooked employees the action of sending this data of a secured line is probably safer than letting an employee even do their daily work.

What are the drawbacks? You need a relatively fast internet connection with a fast upload speed.  You also need to make sure that someone is checking the confirmation messages to insure that files are being uploaded. The biggest drawback though is that it can sometimes take a very long time to download all of your data. Typical users can do a full restore in a matter of hours, but larger datasets can take longer.

The best solution: go completely mobile. It is a big step for many, but stop using MS Office (on your computer). Google and Microsoft have both rolled out online services that eliminate the majority of your needs of an online productivity pack. Other vendors have come up with online solutions as well. Intuit even has an online version of Quickbooks! Imagine being able to log into an account from any computer in the world and have access to your data. No more worries about that stolen laptop, downloading viruses in outlook, malicious macros in excel, or just the neighbor kid accidentally deleting your files. Most services have a free version that works for most and a premium version for those with greater needs.

If you think you could benefit from this simplification in your life, call me!

Linksys WUSB54Gv4 Blue Screen Fix

I had a PC that had run fine with this wireless adapter (WUSB54G v4)for more than a year. One day though, Windows ran an update and it stopped working. I figured the issue was with the adapter and replaced it with something that I got from newegg on sale for $10. A few months later though, I decided to try the WUSB54G on another computer. This time, an HP D530. It worked fine for months and again one day blue screened. I finally decided to do some reading and found that the problem was in the RAlink drivers. The problem is this file: RT2500USB.INF. It is located in %windows root%system32drivers. The one installed with the linksys download is no good. You need to go over to RAlink’s site and find the RT2500USB driver file for your OS and version. You then need to download that file and extract it with something like winrar and find rt2500usb.sys. Copy that file into the directory mentioned before (overwriting the old file) and you should be in business.

Why linksys would have allowed this to happen without a patch since 2005 is beyond me, but I’m guessing its just to get you to go buy a new Wireless-N adapter.

Sending holiday e-mails to your customers

In 2009 I have seen something of years past become popular again: the holiday e-mail. I’m not bashing the idea of sending a nice note out or even the concept of sending real cards through the postal service. What gets me is the e-mail that was clearly crafted in about 2 hours of the work day before a holiday. It should have taken no longer to create than the call for help they sent out right before drafting up this holiday masterpiece. An e-mail sent from your computer telling me that your computer isn’t working doesn’t tell me much, since it clearly is working.

Lots of people and companies actually go out of their way to put together a good e-card and send it out a few days before the holiday. It usually has a sale announcement or is saying that their offices will be closed. Its nice, and its clearly something they sent to an entire mailing list. Great.

These craftily drafted letters though have a subject like “Happy Holidays” and only come from people trying to sell you something, but that are too lazy to actually make a pitch to you. There is always an attachment. You open the message to find a piece of clip art (from the clip art disk that came with their copy of MS Office 1997) followed by a message. Most holidays are actually mentioned, but around Christmas the political correctness of these people has them only referring to “Holidays”.  The rest of the  message is their signature file which has 6 phone numbers, an address, maybe a website URL, their title, a picture of their dog, their kids birthdates, and some crafty quote from their favorite movie of 1988. I’m kidding about some of that.

So what is the proper way of doing this without sending spam? There are 2 answers: a.) don’t do it; and b.) use a real mailing service to get it done. There are a few reasons why these should be sent out. The first is obvious: you’re not going to be working, but by sending the e-mail you might still be making money. The second: you actually care to wish someone a nice holiday. The third: because they call you a lot and you want them to know you won’t be there, and subconsciously tell them that if they need to get ahold of you to try their cell phone or home phone.

So to those of you sending out e-mails hoping someone is going to call you: STOP, RE-EVALUATE what you are doing! To those of you maintaining real, legal mailing lists and using them to actually promote things: good work!

Your Family Photos (the digital ones)

With digital cameras, people are taking more photos than ever. A single memory card can hold thousands of photos and a common home PC can hold millions of photos. This was never an issue with film as a person was limited in the amount of film they could carry, number of pictures they could take, and by the cost of developing the pictures. Photos that people liked were put in frames or albums and the negatives were crammed into a shoebox somewhere. Fire, flood and time were the only things that would ruin the photos.

With photos being digital people are much more careless with them. Rather than taking one picture of their cat eating ice cream, they take 5 and a video. Albums of kids and grandkids now have thousands of photos for each year of a child’s life. Some people inadvertently backup their photos by posting them online, having them printed, or e-mailing them to friends. Usually the quality is degraded a bit, but the photos remain printable.

The worst thing that can happen is for your storage device holding the photos to break or get lost. The storage cards used in cameras are very reliable, and usually only break with extreme abuse. The hard drive in your computer though is a lot more dangerous. Failure rates are lower than ever, but it still happens. A complete drive failure would mean that the photos on the computer are gone forever. Likewise, a computer virus or malware can damage images or make them susceptible  to being deleted.

I recently came across a customer of mine who experienced a hard drive failure. It was dead and no data was able to be recovered. I somehow managed to find a previous backup of some older files, but their most recent photos taken with their new camera of their grandson and new puppy were gone! Imagine losing hundreds of family photos! Upon delivering a new computer to them, I asked to see their digital camera. I noticed a small pouch that they kept with the camera and found a stack of memory cards. As it turns out, this couple had not lost their photos! They still had the originals since they had not been deleting images from the cards as they were being copied to their PC. In another case, my sister had lost a digital camera with a 2GB card in it. Fortunately, she had copied photos to her computer only a few days before losing it. Lesson learned: don’t erase photos from your memory card unless you really don’t want them and make sure that you copy them to your computer at the very least.

For the really paranoid and others that  realize the need for a good backup strategy, there are a number of free or cheap online backup programs. I personally like Mozy but others like Carbonite and Amazon S3. Google also offers Picasa online for free for a certain amount of storage, with the ability to add on for a very reasonable fee. Google’s service is for photos only, while the others will do documents, video, and much much more.

So this weekend spend a little time looking at the safety of your pictures. The odds are in favor of you needing to use a backup copy at some point in the next year.

Where to start with SEO

After a long talk today with my superiors at work regarding a new service to help business owners get on the right track with their online presence, I have decided to give a few tips right now that anyone can do for any site.

1. Get a domain name. Your website shouldn’t be something like http://imakewidgetsforthat.wordpress.com or http://myunclemademedothisfor10bucks.blogspot.com. Get a real domain name with either your company name or something having to do with products you manufacture or sell. .com and .net are more ideal than other domain names, but you may actually have a reason for a .tv or .org or even .info.

2. Figure out what should be on your site. Product and service descriptions along with your phone number are the basics. Do you want it to do more? Would videos help your product?

3. Start on the right foot. It isn’t 1995 and your site shouldn’t look like it. Your site should have all of the basic code optimization from the start. This means having unique page titles, using META tags, and having friendly sounding file names. Your links should all work. You should have a defined sitemap. There are software packages out there to make this happen, but you may need to make sure that your “web guy” incorporates these features while using clean code.

4. Get on the major social networks and tell people about your business and about how they can find more information.

5. Make sure that it all makes sense! You won’t sell anything with your site if nobody understands it. Hard to read graphics and an over abundance of text send people running.

These are just some small basic tips. More will come in the future.

Google gives tips to users with hijacked search results

Recently there has been some malware that changes the way that search results show up. If you’ve seen it, you know what I am talking about.

In their guide, google explains how to use a boot cd to scan your PC for infected files. Its a little on the advanced side, but worth a try if you feel like trying to fix it on your own. You will need a working computer to do this though!

Check out what they have to say here

Windows 7 on a netbook

I have an acer aspire one. It is the 9″ model in white. The OS it was shipped with, a variant of XP home, is rather slow. It was actually slow enough that I didn’t like using the netbook. I tried the Ubuntu Netbook Remix and while I liked the speed, there are still too many issues with having a Linux computer. I thought about trying Mint or OSX but could never find a good guide for either.

Finally I was sick of a slow machine that didn’t do much. I wiped the 160GB hard drive and partitioned it to be useful: 40GB for XP Pro, 45GB for Windows 7, and the remainder to be used for something to be later determined. Installation was a breeze. The hardest part was reading the license key that I had written down a month ago. It found all of my drivers and even asked me if I wanted to connect to my home wireless network.

Immediately it updated some drivers and I assume installed updates. My first move was to disable the “pretty” graphics. I want performance, not beauty. So then I started installing the programs I use and trying the Google Apps that I use on a daily basis. I hate to admit it, but it seems faster than my XP machines: with an ATOM single core processor and 1GB of RAM.

Will it run Photoshop, MS Office 2007, and all of the stuff I use at work? Sure, but on the small screen its not very useful. I may try it with the intention of plugging into a big monitor. We’ll see.

Battery life seems to be slightly improved as well. I guess they really did intend on ‘7’ running on netbooks!

Forza2 Tuner Comp 944turbo

Ran this cool race with a 944 turbo and the following setup. Best time was a 1:32.393 at Sunset Peninsula. At the time of this post: 5th overall!

Lap time proof from the race with a 944 turbo

Lap time proof from the race with a 944 turbo