Friday, December 28, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hello, I Must Be Going

If you appreciate and like Marx Brothers movies, you will  understand the title and grasp the full meaning of this movie. But even if you've never seen Groucho, the mirror scene, the titular scene, or the sanity-clause scene, unless you have a heart of stone, you will like this movie. The key acting roles, especially the star role, are exceptionally well done. The dialogue misses a few times but, overall, is realistic and smart. The story is poignant and it didn't surrender to predictability. And many who like me have found it annoying that movies about modern times seem to feel some need to always include a urination scene will be delighted there are none is this movie. Unfortunately, there are a couple of scenes that could have been cut with no loss for the integrity of the movie or for the enjoyment of the audience. Lastly, but most importantly, it weaves real stuff about real people in a way that entertains, amuses, and even enlightens.


GmailWiz is a Chrome extension that adds up to four buttons to Gmail that lets you with one click send automated responses. After installing GmailWiz, a thumbs-up Like button gets added to the right of Gmail's reply button. You won't see this button when viewing your inbox; it shows up only when you are reading an e-mail message. You'll also see that wand icon gets added just above, in the row with the print and open in new window buttons. Click on the wand to go to GmailWiz's settings. In settings, you can choose to enable any of the four available instant-reply buttons. They are: Like, TL;DR (too long; didn't read), Got it, and Let's Discuss. Each of the buttons comes with a default response, but you can change it if you'd like. Also in settings, you can choose whether these instant replies will go to only the sender or everyone on the thread.

Extended Warranties

I've never bought an extended warranty on any product. However, the one exception to this would be large televisions where taking them into a repair place would be undue burden. I cannot say there is a better warranty extender or even that this one is any good, but SquareTrade is the one recommended and used by Costco and reviews from all over the place are quite high. The cost for a 3-4 year warranty which includes in-home service and no deductible is $170 or less for the large televisions. They do all kinds of products including smartphones and tablets, but I didn't even look at them for a warranty. The warranty must be purchased within 30 days of purchase. Here is the link:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pitch Perfect

If you liked Bring It On (the first one), Glee (the early episodes), and Best 'N Show, you most definitely will like Pitch Perfect. If you haven't seen any of those predecessors, they are must-sees. And if given that Bring It On 2 was one of the few sequels to make it, then Pitch More Perfect, when made, might make it as well.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Camera for Android Tablets

If you bought an Android tablet (such as the Google Nexus 7), you might be disappointed when you see that there is no camera application. Fret not. Just go to Play (the Android app store) and download/install any of a number of camera apps, both free ones and very sophisticated ones that cost a couple of dollars.

Friday, December 21, 2012

LDM Redux

The earlier review of LDM (which is what those of us who eschew LGO call Los Dos Molinos) was based on a Saturday lunch dining experience. While that review remains accurate, and everything noted about the wonderful food that is like an exploding taste extravaganza in one's mouth is as true as ever, a few cautionary words are in order for weekday luncheon dining which likely apply with equal force to dinner dining. The place gets crowded and can fill up early. More distressing, while the parking lot remains adequate space-wise, the ingress and egress can be a horrible nightmare. And matters likely will get worse when AAA blocks off the only existing escape route. Also, you are well advised if you are able to get out onto Camelback, to take the first street North instead of spending an inordinate time even to get to 7th Street.

Online Radio Player

I have been asked to recommend the best internet radio, which are stand-alone gadgets look and function like a conventional portable radio, but instead of picking up FM or AM broadcasts, they connect to your own wi-fi network and stream a huge selection of web-based stations. Do not buy any such thing. Instead, download Radio Tuna, which is a free program that installs quickly and easily, and lets you choose your music genre and, if you don't like the station that it selects for you, you can choose from hundreds of others.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Returning Orders Before Delivery

Let's say you order something (call it a microwave) from someone (call them BestBuy) and you decide that their customer service is so bad (because they misrepresented to you that they would take away and recycle your old microwave which wasn't true) which you discovered when you learned the product was being delivered by UPS (you figured out UPS was not going to take away your old microwave) and you told BestBuy you wanted to cancel the order and the only option BestBuy gave you was to refuse delivery or return the item, you might be interested to know that there was a third option where the sender (BestBuy) would contact UPS and request the order be re-routed back to BestBuy, but they will never tell you that because UPS charges more for that to the sender (say BestBuy) than if the customer (say me) refuses delivery. So, the lesson is: If you are in the same spot as I was, demand the merchant contact the carrier re-direct the product back to it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Tip re Postal Gratuities

You can, and if you've gotten decent service should, consider a holiday gratuity for your postal carrier. They can accept up to $20 (over that you and the carrier can face doing hard time up the river). Here's the only problem: The carrier might be so overwhelmed that he or she not only will bring your mail to your door when it's raining explaining that he did not want you to get wet walking to the mailbox in the rain, he or she might just start bringing your mail to your door and ringing the bell every delivery day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

From Webpage to PDF

If you want to keep a secure, tamper-proof copy of a web page, then PDF is a good format to choose. Unlike HTML, you don't end up with dozens of constituent files (text, images, style sheets etc), which makes it easy to view, print or archive. Or to send to someone else by email. The easiest way to convert a web page to Acrobat PDF is via a web service. There are several, but here is a link to my favorite one:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Word of Note to High-End Snooty Appliance Owners

If you are looking at buying Viking or Dacor appliances, you might consider Sharp. As it turns out, Viking and Dacor and perhaps others do not manufacture their own stuff. Sharp does.

Ringtone Volume

At least on new Android phones (and perhaps on older ones and iPhones as well), not only can you change the ringer volume, but if you go into the phone settings, you will see where you also can have the phone ring especially loud if it is in your pocket or handbag.

Microsoft Office 2010 2-for-1 Sale

I do not mean to sound like I'm pushing any Microsoft software, nor do I get anything for this plug. If you buy Microsoft Office 2010 now, you will be entitled to get the next version free.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ordering Chinese Food To-Go

With winter gripping ever tighter, many people now are including hot soup in their traditional Sunday night Chinese to-go orders. A word of caution: Be sure to ask that the soup be separately wrapped in its own plastic bag. Otherwise, you just might discovery upon getting home that the plastic lid cracked and the soup was everywhere. And should that happen, please phone the restaurant not to complain or ask for anything, but just to alert them to the issue and to suggest the prophylactic step they can take. They likely will be quite appreciative.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Decoy Bride

It's not another Local Hero (which is one of the five best movies of all time so that's not surprising), the photography is not as good, the story is predictable and certainly not unique, it does not share the richness of characters or dialogue, and it's not as memorable, but the music is good and, if you love Scotland and the Scottish coast line, you can do a lot worse than Decoy Bride.

Better Than iTunes

If you use iTunes, you know it doesn't exactly play well with others. It works great if you use Apple products such as the iPod or iPhone, but if you use other brands of mobile devices, you're likely out of luck. Try switching to doubleTwist. It uses an interface that looks almost exactly like iTunes, so you won't have to try hard to learn a new program.
doubleTwist recognizes nearly any media device as you plug it in to your computer. It even works with iPods and iPhones. Then, you can simply drag that media to the doubleTwist icon. There is also an option to sync your music with any device via Wi-Fi. And, what's more, you can share what you are listening to with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Keep your music, movies, playlists and photos organized using one program. No more managing separate applications for separate devices.

Friday, December 14, 2012

If Anyone Tells You They Are Not Listening, Do Not Believe Them

As many people know, the NYTimes and other sources long ago planted a device in me that transmits to them things I've said or wrote or even thought, which are then fed to their editors and shamelessly reprinted as if they had the thought in the first place. This has just reached a new level: The New Yorker is in on the transmissions and feeding them to its cartoonists. Compare my blog posting of December 13 entitled "Reducing the Risk of the Mistaken 'Reply All'" with the following from the December 17 issue of New Yorker:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cable TV Remote Controls

Many have asked whether a programmable remote control (which will list for $250 or more, although they can be found new on eBay or for $125) is worth it or should one just stick with the standard remote that comes bundled with the cable box (btw, the cable company will give you an extra free one so you can have one both at the end of the sofa where you read your paper and the other end of the sofa where you eat your dinner). The answer is that it depends. If you want total flexibility as to programming, the answer is yes. For example, you can program a programmable remote to turn on with one click one, or some, or all of your devices at once, while the standard can turn on one or all the devices you have set it to control but not just some with one click. If you want ease of operation, however, the answer is no. For example, the A-B-C-D functions and the DVR list function appear as buttons on the standard remote that are easy to push, while they appear as on-screen items with the programmable remote that are more difficult to navigate. My personal research and study of the matter says the programmable remotes are not worth the cost. If anyone would like to buy mine, let me know.

Reducing the Risk of the Mistaken "Reply All"

The Reply All button is considered by many to be the most dangerous email button ever devised. You can disable it or hide it, but that makes using it, when you want to, quite cumbersome. If you are using Outlook 2010 for your email, and if you're not you should be, consider the free add-in called TuneReplyAll.
  • It can show a warning message when a user is going to reply to everyone. The user has to confirm his or herchoice to reply to all. This will help to prevent sending out confidential information.
  • If Outlook includes the user's own address in Reply all, TuneReplyAll can remove it from the message.
  • Alternatively, if the user wants to include his or address in the To, CC, or BCC address field in new, replied or forwarded messages, TuneReplyAll will add it.

Here is the link:

Turning Icons Into Personal Pictures

Do you have some favorite pictures that you have been wishing could be used to create icons for your PC? Well, wait no longer. There is a very simple way to create a whole album of icons.  Why should your desktop look just like all the other desktops? This tip will show how to convert your favorite JPG, PNG, and GIF files into your own personalized icons. The beauty of the method is that there is nothing to install and no program to learn how to use. It is an online Flash app that converts picture files into the special sizes and format necessary for icons.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Free Alternative to PowerPoint

If you want to create a presentation to illustrate, say, a new idea or project, then you'd probably consider using a presentation package such as PowerPoint first. But there are actually some great products available on the web which are even more powerful and, for the most part, totally free. Like this site for example.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Comments on the Garmin GPS

Portable GPS systems are far superior alternatives to in-dash GPS systems. First, they cost at least $1,000 less. Second, they generally are more advanced and easier to use. Third, those that come with lifetime maps cost nothing to keep up-to-date. Fourth, they can be used for walking. Fifth, they have more apps.

Here is one word of caution re the lifetime map feature. Some GPS units come with micro SD cards and others do not. The map updates often are too large for a GPS unit to handle without a micro SD card. So, whatever model you buy, be sure it has a micro SD slot. micro SD cards are very inexpensive.

Here is one feature to take note of: bluetooth capability so that your cellphone will play through the GPS unit. Some GPS units have it and others not. It is a very handy feature to have especially if you use your GPS in rental cars. You can also use it to avoid paying to have your new car bluetooth capable, but any car can be made bluetooth capable for a couple of hundred dollars.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

How Do You Know?

Can a movie with Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson, with an over-done performance by Jack Nicholson, a ridiculous story, poor script, total predictability, and bad dialogue miss? Amazingly, perhaps, the answer is, unfortunately, Yes!

Android Jelly Bean

If you are using Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), it turns out to be easy and worthwhile to upgrade to Jelly Bean (Android 4.1). Just do not count on your carrier or Samsung to help in any way or understand anything. In fact, when it comes to manufacturer support, it's becoming a joke, e.g., LG will assure you that its soundbar's volume does not come on automatically, which is flat wrong. If you have any issue upgrading to Jelly Bean, feel free to contact me, but just remember, if you phone, to listen carefully because my menu options have changed.

Account Killer

Account Killer is a free website that tells you how to delete your account and profile information from over 500 websites. It will also tell you for any site if your account and profile information cannot be deleted.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Fifty percent will think this movie is poignant, heart-warming, and creative. The other fifty percent will think this movie is insipid, sappy, and inane. All will agree that, while it's not a big movie, it is not boring. All also will agree that the scenery does not match the attempted majestic musical moments, but that is only because Yemen does not have the kind of majestical scenery needed for such moments. All also will agree that the characters are fun to watch. And all also will agree that it does a nice job of poking fun a governmental attempts at image-making and spin control.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

If you are unlucky to have not grown up in Philadelphia, or be an Eagles fan, or if you are too old to remember David & Lisa or too young to have never heard of it or seen it, and you like a wonderful (even if predictable and on occasion a bit slow) story with terrific acting (even if Robert DeNiro does over-do it a bit as many actors formerly great actors do), and you want to see what Marty Funkhauser (from Curb Your Enthusiasm) will look like when he gets older, you will find Silver Linings Playbook heart-warming, enjoyable, and definitely worth your time and the price of an Early-Bird ticket.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Movies and The Google

If you type the name of a movie currently showing at theatres in your area into the search box of The Google, The Google will list out all theatres in your area and show times for that movie.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Removing Unwanted Toolbars and Add-Ons

If you do accidentally install toolbars, add-ons or other software you can't get rid of, try using this free download. It can remove many common unwanted toolbars and add-ons from your browser.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Anatomy for Everyone With Fabulous Graphics

In the old days, learning about the components of the human body meant poring over a copy of Grey's Anatomy.  Or, if you were studying medicine, you could take a scalpel to a real cadavre of course.  Now, thanks to a fabulous web site (Biodigital Human), you can learn about the makings of the human body without having to resort to textbooks or a lab.  
With nothing more than a web browser and a decent internet connection you can browse the virtual skeleton.  You can choose between male and female, zoom and rotate the skeleton, and turn on/off the display of specific bodily systems such as reproductive, cardiovascular and so on. You can also view the location and symptoms of hundreds of common diseases.
Whether you're a wannabe surgeon or would like to play one on television or merely an interested bystander, this site really is something special.  A truly excellent educational resource.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Finding Wi-Fi Spots

See what's broadcasting with NetStumbler. It's a free download that lets you see each network name, signal strength, frequency and more. You can use it to find public Wi-Fi, assess the speed and security of your own wireless network or see if you need to tweak your network channel.
To download, click "netstumbler 0.4.0" on the right-hand of your screen beneath the "downloads" heading.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New Service of UPS

If you register at UPS for UPS My Choice (which is free), when a UPS package is shipped to you, you will get an email or text from UPS when the package is on its way, and then if you want to change the delivery day or place of delivery, you can do so online.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

While predictable, the script/dialogue is so good and the people are so likeable that it makes for a quite enjoyable movie.

Los Dos Molinos

LDM recently opened its latest place at 10th Street & East Camelback. Many restaurants have tried and failed in that spot. LDM will make it. The food is delicious, the service is excellent, and the parking is to die for.

Location Sensors in Your Laptop

It’s not just your phone that can know where you are. Many laptops and desktops have location sensing built into the hardware. There is also software to allow location sensing. Windows 7 and 8 support location sensing but it is disabled by default. These days many applications like to use your location. Here is how to enable or disable location sensing:
  1. Open the Start menu
  2. In the Search box, enter “sensor” (without quotes)
  3. In the Control Panel list, select "Enable location and other sensors"
  4. A list of installed sensors will be given. 
  5. Enable or disable them as preferred by using the checkbox next to a sensor. An example is shown in the figure below.
  6. Click “Apply”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Aggregator Site

When you want to keep track of multiple web sites (news, email, social media and more), the easiest way to do so is via an aggregator site that presents all of your information on just one screen. One such system that's recently taken my fancy is Backstitch.  Once you've signed up (it's free), and selected the services that you want to include, you'll need to authorize each of them.  However, the whole process takes just a couple of minutes and needs to be done only once.  After that, you can browse all your key sites from a single location.

Launching Multiple Programs and Files

Instead of starting up your Web browser, your favorite playlist, your email utility and your word processor separately, you can trigger them all to start with one click. AutoStarter X3 is a free download that will let you do this. Just add programs, documents, websites, directories, music and more. Then set the order you'd like them to start up.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sound Bar Caution

60" LED TVs with top-ratings are now available for under $1,000 and make great stocking stuffers. While their pictures are stunning, the audio is pretty weak. The good news is that there are sound bars with top ratings that are now available for $100. Unfortunately, unless you want to be using a separate remote for the sound bar than for the cable/tv, the sound bar has to have a compatible setup code with the remote. The new Vizio sound bar available from Costco, for example, is not compatible with the Cox remotes.

Great Inexpensive Computer for Technophobes and Young Kids

There seem to be a trillion variations on tablet/laptops these days. There are laptops with keyboards that slide, with screens that flip, with hinges that bend backward. I have a strong feeling most of them will wind up in the junk drawers of history.
But one of them is eminently successful, and it's not getting enough attention: Google's new Chromebook.
The Chromebook laptop concept has been kicking around for years now - handed out as loaners on Virgin flights, sent to reviewers as prototypes - but the 2012 version should make a lot of sense to a lot of people. Simply put, it's a great second computer for $250.
The laptop's shell is plastic, but it performs an excellent impersonation of silver brushed aluminum. It feels really, really good. The Samsung logo is the only thing on the top. The Chromebook is very light - 2.4 pounds - and its extremely clean, satisfying keyboard is carefully modeled on the MacBook Air's. The keys are black with white lettering, and they poke up through holes in the "deck." The trackpad works perfectly.
There are HDMI, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 jacks - on the back, alas - and a memory-card slot on the side for transferring camera photos. And a headphone jack. (For $330, you can get a version that gets online over the cellular data networks.) The 11.6-inch screen isn't glossy, which is good, but it's a little washed out. It has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Google claims 6.5 hours for the battery, and that seems about right.
The Chromebook concept takes some getting used to: It's exclusively for online activities. Web, e-mail, YouTube, and apps like Google Drive (free, online word processor, spreadsheet and slide show programs). The laptop has no moving parts: no fan, no DVD drive, not even a hard drive. It's silent and fast, as long as you don't try to do two things at once (video playback and music playback, for example).
And it comes with very little storage; you're supposed to keep your files online. Google starts you off with 100 gigabytes of storage for two years; after that, you have to pay for more storage (although you get to keep whatever you've already used, no charge).
There are all kinds of payoffs to this approach. The laptop turns on instantly. The operating system is updated automatically every six weeks or so. It has "insane levels" of security, according to Google.
Google also gives you 12 free passes for Gogo, the service that gives you Wi-Fi on plane flights, so you can keep working in the air. If you use Chrome on your real computer, and you sign in with your Google account, your bookmarks and online files synchronize across all your machines.
The Chromebook runs something Google calls the Chrome OS - it's not the Mac, it's not Windows. It doesn't run "real" software like Photoshop, iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Skype, and so on. It's basically just a Web browser, although it does offer accounts to help keep family members' stuff separate.
Now, if this laptop cost $450 (like the last Chromebook), it would appear to be laughably limited. You'd mock the screen and the speed (it has an ARM chip inside, not Intel inside). You'd scoff at the lightweight plastic.
But $250 changes everything. A price of $250 means you don't spend hours online comparing models. A price of $250 means half the price of an iPad, even less than an iPad Mini or an iPod Touch. And you're getting a laptop.
(There's an even less expensive Chromebook from Acer - $200 - although reviewers seem to find it somewhat cheap-feeling.)
For so many things people do with their computers (and tablets) these days, the Chromebook makes eminent sense. Flash videos play. Netflix movies play. Office documents open. In other words, Google is correct when it asserts that the Chromebook is perfect for schools, second computers in homes and businesses who deploy hundreds of machines.
It's also a perfect computer for the technophobic. It's very hard to get lost in an operating system that basically has no features.
It's been a long, patient slot for Google to get here, but with year after year of careful tweaks and improvements - and a jaw-dropping $250 price - the Chromebook is finally ready for prime time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Save iPhone Contacts on Your PC

If you have an iPhone, your contacts list is probably your definitive phone book. All of your friends, family, colleagues and clients are in there. It's become an essential tool for most iPhone users.
That's why you should be able to access it and store it on your home computer. If you have a PC, it isn't so easy. That's why downloads like CopyTrans Contacts exist. It lets you save and edit your contacts list from your PC. You can import and export contacts, which means CopyTrans Contacts helps you to transfer them from your old iPhone to your new one. When you download the program, you're allowed a total of 50 actions. An action includes importing, exporting and editing. That should be enough for most users. If you need more than 50 actions, you'll need to pay a one-time $10 activation fee to get unlimited actions. 

Cookie Editor

Have you ever wondered about the cookies that web sites save on your computer?  What are they called?  What's in them?   A handy browser plug-in called Edit This Cookie lets you find out.  
Once installed, the add-in appears at the top of your browser screen, as shown in the screen shot below.  Click the icon and the program shows all of the cookies associated with the web site that you're currently looking at. You can view each cookie's contents, and you can even edit or delete specific cookies.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Checking Spam

ISPs (e.g., Cox) have their own spam filters. Each day, it is wise to check your ISP's server to see if it filtered out as spam an email that was not spam and which should have gone to your email inbox. Sometimes, this can happen with very important email. The other day, an email purportedly sent by Cox asking for me to answer some survey questions about a recent tech visit was designated by Cox as spam. I sent the email to Cox to alert it to the fact that, if this was a legitimate email, it is designating its own email as spam. I asked Cox to tell me if the email was spam or not. Although it was not spam, the response I got said that the email was passed on to the appropriate department for review and determination, and thanked me for bringing the matter to their attention.

Jelly Bean

If you have a relatively new Android device, Android OS 4.2, known as Jelly Bean, is now out. You can learn about some it's improvements here:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

An earlier post talked about a GE double-wall oven that fits in a single-wall oven space. It is a God-send when preparing multiple dishes needing oven time. If you have a standing range with a single oven, and would like the convenience of a double-oven in the same amount of space, it turns out that not only does GE make such a unit, so do LG, Kitchen-Aid, Whirlpool, Frigidaire, Thermador, and others, both in electric and gas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Speeding Up Channel Switching

If you have a cable box, you might experience an extremely annoying delay of a few seconds when switching channels. Although it is a problem undocumented by the cable providers, and a solution unknown to the cable email and telephone support teams and to The Google, there is a VERY EASY solution. Just go into your settings, and find the video source, and, no matter what the highest resolution of your television, change the setting to 1080. In that way, you will over-ride the cable box's looking for the "right" resolution which is what causes that maddening delay, and your channel- switching will be speeded up dramatically.

Monday, November 19, 2012

WinX DVD Ripper for Free

WinX DVD Ripper Platinum lets you copy your DVDs to your PC or a portable device, so you can now watch your movies on your iPad, phone, tablet, or PC. The program is currently on special offer for $35, but you can actually get it for free if you get it in the next 10 days.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Decoding Shortened URLs

URLs (web links) that have been shortened are very common these days. This is very convenient on services like Twitter. But there is always a chance that evil doers have hidden a malicious link this way. As a result, a host of different websites are available where you can paste a shortened URL and reveal its actual destination. Copying and pasting short URLs for testing can be a little tedious, however.
So if you are you worried that some shortened URL might actually lead to a malicious site, you might want to try this quick and easy way to find out where a shortened URL actually goes. It’s a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox called "Unshorten.It!" Once installed, it provides a right-click context menu entry "Unshorten this link" that will reveal the true identity of a suspicious URL. Unshorten.It! also provides safety ratings and information about the destination website as well as the actual URL. It displays a page with  the WOT safety rating, shows any blacklist mentions of the URL, and provides a screenshot of the web page that the URL opens.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Easy Computer Repairs Anyone Can Do

You can avoid paying hundreds of extra dollars trying to get your computer fixed by so-called “premium services” because you can do most of it yourself! In the end, I realize that there are some people that simply do not understand how to open a computer, for example, and would need someone else to do that for them. However, you can still avoid using a expensive service like GeekSquad or Data Doctors for that.

The Diagnosis

The first thing you get when you take a computer to GeekSquad or any other computer repair service is their diagnosis. I won’t say it’s always bad as it really depends on the technician looking at your machine. Some are really good and understand what’s going on and some will tell you the world is ending when everything is fine.
Before you just listen to whatever someone says and spend lots of money, take some time to figure out what they are saying is true. What’s great about computers is that even though they are complicated, they are not nearly as complicated as cars. When you take a car to get repaired and you know nothing about cars, there is really little you can do if they tell you your transmission is dead. You can get a second opinion, but you really can’t check the car to see if that’s true.
With computers, you can actually check. Failed hard drive? You can check that easily. Bad memory? You can check that too. Unbeatable virus that has corrupted your entire system? Yup, there are ways to check that! Luckily, that’s just about 90% of the issues that end up in the hands of the GeekSquad. What about recovering data from a drive that won’t boot up? You can spend $20 and do it yourself.
So you’re asking yourself now, “That’s great, but how do I do all of that?”. Before, I get into that, I want to go over the reasons I feel people end up going to a service like GeekSquad:
1. They simply don’t have the time to do it themselves
2. They don’t have the original DVD that came with the computer
3. The have the DVD, but don’t want to reinstall the OS because they’ll lose data they need
4. They need to replace a piece of hardware, but are apprehensive about doing it or don’t know what to replace
As far as I can tell, those are the most critical issues that force people to end up going to a repair service and paying lots of money. Luckily, there are some solutions before you shell out all that money. First off, just pay for the diagnosis and then take the computer back. I always tell people to never just accept the diagnosis and let them do the work. Instead, let them tell you what they think the problems are and what needs to be done, then go back home and check this guide!

The OTT Do-It-Yourself Guide

Even if you are unable to repair the computer yourself, you can at least figure out what’s really wrong with it. And in the cases where you don’t have to replace a hard drive or memory, you really can do it yourself. Let’s start with viruses, then hard drives, then memory. I’ll also talk about how to recover data along the way.


So the repair folks can tell you one of two things when it comes to viruses: either it can be removed for some crazy amount or it simply can’t be removed and you have to reinstall Windows. In the latter case, this requires transferring your data and then reinstalling the OS.
My suggestions for computer newbies is to try it yourself and then if you simply can’t do it and nothing is working, then pay the money. There is no harm in trying. Here’s what you need to do.
Step 1: You can try to remove the virus yourself. How so? Try to use an offline virus scanning tool. Obviously, if you are reading this post, you can’t do a real-time scan in Windows for some reason. Check out my post on performing an offline virus scan, which basically will scan for viruses before the operating system loads.
With viruses, some programs work better than others. If you can’t get rid of the virus using Window Defender Offline Tool, which I linked to above, then you can try others like BitDefender Rescue CD or Rescue USB. It’s got a full tutorial on how to download it, create the CD, etc. Of course, you’ll need to do this on a different computer first and then use the CD/USB drive on the infected PC.
Another good offline virus scanning tool is Kaspersky Rescue Disk. The site has full tutorials on how to create the disk and how to use it to remove viruses. If you can follow instructions, you can do this yourself, even if you’re not very familiar with computers.
Step 2: If you can’t get rid of the virus, then your only other option is to reinstall Windows. There are usually two problems with this scenario: one is you need to copy important data off and the second is that you may not have the original DVD that came with the computer.
However, both of these issues can be solved without much expense. The first is copying data off your hard drive. If you have a virus and it’s preventing you from loading Windows, the only way to get the data off is to use a hard drive dock.
Luckily, I’ve written a detailed article on what a hard drive dock is, which one to buy and how it works. It’s super easy and if you know how to plug a USB drive into your computer, you can use a hard drive dock. It will allow you to copy data off of the hard drive without loading Windows. This will require you to remove the hard drive, which may or may not be a deal breaker. In the end, I have seen that most manufacturer websites have completely guides that you can download that show you how to add or remove hardware components.
Secondly, what about the original DVD? That’s not a problem either. If you don’t have it, you can download the official and legal ISO images of the Windows OS to your computer and then burn it to a DVD. Note that these are not illegal or pirated copies, but legal copies that you have to activate with a valid product key. If you don’t have a product key, they are just 30-day trials.
Check out the two links above for the links to download Windows 7 ISO images from DigitalRiver, which is an official Microsoft partner that you can buy Windows from. In our case, you just need the version of Windows that your computer came with and then you’ll install Windows and use the product key that is on the back of your computer.
You can also read my previous posts on how to burn an ISO image on a Mac or how to burn an ISO image on a PC. In order to reinstall Windows, you have to boot from the DVD and then follow the installation prompts. Check out my previous post on 10 essential skills for Windows users and read #10. You may have to do a little Googling in order to reinstall Windows if you have never done it before, but it’s really not too bad if you spend a short amount of time.

Hard Drive & Memory

The other major issues are a failed hard drive or bad memory. If you get that diagnosis, then you can perform some tests on your own to validate their claims. First, let’s talk about hard drives. If your hard drive is failing or has crashed completely, then it’s bound to have errors.
You can check your hard drive for errors using a variety of free programs that I mention in the linked post. One of the tools mentioned in my article is SeaTools, which again can be downloaded as an ISO image, burned to a CD and then booted from. It may sound complicated, but if you follow the links above about burning ISO images and booting from CD/DVD, you’ll be just fine.
As for memory, you can also do the exact same thing as for checking hard drive. Check out my previous post on tools for checking for bad memory. I highly recommend Memtest86, which can be downloaded and burned to a CD. This method allows you to check your hard disk and memory without having to boot Windows, which is good in case Windows is not loading.
Lastly, if you do need to replace a hard drive or a memory chip, you need to buy the parts. Check out my post on the best places to buy computer parts online. I would highly recommend as it will allow you to pick your exact computer model and then tell you exactly what memory and hard drive is compatible with that system. You don’t have to worry about buying the wrong memory or the wrong hard drive.


The last part and probably the scariest part for anyone who is a newbie is installing a computer part like a hard drive or memory. If you have a laptop, I can say it’s a lot easier than a desktop. Sometimes desktops can be a little complicated because of the case and the location of the motherboard and ports, etc. If you’re having issues with a laptop though, you really can do it yourself because laptops are mostly designed to be easily upgradeable.
My main suggestion at this point is to do one of two things: either try it yourself if you feel you can possibly do it or simply hire someone local to do it. If you go to,, or whatever your manufacturers website is, you will be able to find a support page where you can enter your model number and download PDF guides for your PC. These will usually tell you how to open the computer and add/replace components.
If you just can’t do it yourself, I suggest posting an ad on Craigslist or just doing a Google Local or Yahoo Local search for a computer repair specialist in the area. Call them and tell them you just need to have them install a new piece of hardware. It really should cost nothing more than $50. It’s usually a very simple procedure, so don’t let someone try to charge you anything more than $50 max.


Hopefully, this guide can get you a little inspired and more confident about your ability to fix your own computer problem. It may sound and look scary, but with a little bit of time and effort, you can literally save yourself hundreds of dollars. Let us know what you think in the comments. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Internet Explorer 10

When Microsoft first announced Windows 8, it was widely reported that the new Internet Explorer 10 which was included in Win8 would not be made available for any other previous versions.  However, it seems that this is no longer the case. A year ago, Microsoft released an early alpha version of IE10 that ran on Windows 7, and today they updated it to a release preview which, by all accounts, is now pretty stable.
So if you're still using Windows 7, and want to try out the new version of IE that's part of Windows 8, head to for the download.

Finding Your Car With an Android Phone

Ever lost your car in a parking lot? Imagine no hassle with finding your car near a mall, a sporting or a concert event, in an unfamiliar city or remote outdoor activities’ areas!
Solve your parking problems in just two clicks with Park Me Right,

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cable Box TV Guide

As you might the TVGOS (TV Guide On Screen) that was built into certain TVs, and was far superior in many ways to the any cable box's TV guide, has gone dark (i.e., out of business), causing much distress to its devoted users. Those users have since converted to cable boxes and started to learn about their functions in general and their program guides in particular. As it turns out, the program guides are far more customizeable than originally thought. While there does not appear a way to change the order of the channels, one can easily change what channels appear and what channels do not appear. Thus, you can either: (i) have the guide display only channels you designate as Favorites; or (ii) have the display display only channels you have selected not to be hidden. Either of these ways will give you a manageable Guide.


If you see a product you might want to buy but think the price might drop soon, Price!Pinx will alert you if it does. Price!Pinx is free and easy to use and involves no software download.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Whether or Not to Upgrade to Windows 8

The decision to upgrade depends on a number of factors and is a function of individual preferences. My personal opinion is that most ordinary home PC users employing a point-and-click environment will find the benefits of a Windows 8 upgrade to be marginal. It is on touch screen devices where Windows 8 shines.
Those who have Windows XP or older Vista systems may very well find that their hardware is too old or inadequate to deal with an upgrade. The odds are that these systems are not good candidates for an upgrade to Windows 8. Microsoft has worked hard to provide driver compatibility but you may find that peripherals like printers that work just fine on these older systems may need new drivers or may not work at all. An older system that is currently serving your purposes should be left alone for now. Even Windows XP is still receiving security updates from Microsoft.
Those who upgrade Windows 7 systems will have an easier path but may still face software and hardware glitches. Hardware companies always seem to lag in providing drivers for new operating systems. I think a good general rule is to wait a few months before trying any new operating system. Microsoft has already issued a large update for Windows 8 and more fixes will probably be forthcoming as the inevitable bugs are uncovered.
That said, here are six things you should know about Windows 8:

1. What is the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT?

There are actually two distinct new versions of Windows. They are intended for different kinds of hardware and Microsoft marketing has not explained the difference very well. One version is called Windows 8; the other is sometimes called Windows 8 RT but, more often, just Windows RT.
Windows RT is designed to run on mobile platforms that use what are called ARM processors and it will not run on conventional PCs that use x86/64 processors.. It is oriented to a touch interface and will only run software that is specifically written for it. It also will not run many older peripherals. Note that RT is the operating system on the recently released tablet from Microsoft called Surface.
The system called Windows 8 is for conventional PCs that use x86/64 processors but with a lot of emphasis on using touch screens. However, it will run most legacy programs. This is the system to use for upgrading older Windows versions.  To break into the new era of touch screens, Microsoft has given Windows 8 a split personality. In many ways it is like two operating systems in one package. It has one interface that looks much like the Windows 7 desktop (but no Start menu) and it has another interface with colorful tiles that is intended mostly for systems with touch screens. This tile interface is the default and is called the “Start Screen”. Using Windows 8 tends to involve switching back and forth between the two interfaces.

2. Can you use Windows 8 on a system with a mouse and no touch screen?

Yes, it is possible to use Windows 8 in a purely point-and-click environment. But in my personal experience it takes some getting used to and it can be frustrating at first. For example, the absence of a Start button and Start Menu requires an adjustment in thinking. With or without a touch screen, Windows 8 requires learning new ways to do things.

3. What existing Windows systems can be upgraded to Windows 8?

You can use an upgrade edition of Windows 8 (not RT) on Windows XP, Vista, and 7. However, only Windows 7 systems will allow for the transfer of existing files, programs and settings. If your PC is running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you will need to reinstall your programs.
To check what legacy applications work on Windows 8, you can download the Upgrade Assistant from this Microsoft link. You can also check hardware compatibility at this Microsoft page. According to Microsoft, the minimum system requirements are as shown below (but personally I would double the RAM and the disk space):
  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2 (more info)
  • RAM: 1 GB (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
Note that these requirements are a minimum and probably do not allow for very much activity on the PC.

4. What are the new Metro or Windows Store apps?

As part of its growing emphasis on mobile platforms, Microsoft has begun its own collection of apps for its new operating systems with an online source called the Windows Store. Microsoft originally called these little programs Metro apps but a trademark dispute led to a name change and they are now called “Windows Store” apps. In emulation of Apple, all Windows Store apps have to be approved by Microsoft. There are currently far fewer of these apps for Windows 8/RT than there are for Apple IOS or Android platforms but developers are adding new ones as time goes by.
Only apps that are bought or downloaded from the Windows Store can be used on a platform that has RT as its operating system. Windows RT will not run any standard desktop Windows applications except the applications that are bundled with the operating system. However, Windows 8 will run Windows Store apps as well as older legacy programs.
For the technically minded, the Windows Store apps and the bundled apps on Windows 8/RT use new APIs that are different to the conventional WinAPI set. All the gory details about APIs can be read here

5. How do you dual-boot Windows 7 with Windows 8?

The procedure is quite straightforward. It is described at many places on the web. Here is a Microsoft link. According to another Microsoft link, you will need a full edition of Windows 8 in order to dual-boot. Personally, I have been using a virtual machine.

6. What editions of Windows 8 are there?

Wikipedia has a very large chart (link here) with all the information you are likely to want. Basically, however, there are two consumer versions of Windows 8, each with 32- and 64-bit varieties, plus a 32-bit Windows RT. For the time being, Microsoft is offering Windows 8 Pro upgrades for the same price as plain Windows 8 and should be your choice.
If you are a user of Windows Media Center, you should be aware that Microsoft is going to charge extra for this feature. However, until January 31, 2013 you can get Media Center as a free addition to Windows 8 Pro. Go to this Microsoft page.

Barcode App for Android

Most smartphones come with a built-in camera handy for taking pictures, but they have a rather small onscreen keyboard inconvenient for typing as fast as you can do with a hard keyboard.
The good news is there's a way to circumvent this inconvenience and make your life easier. In places where a barcode is given, you can use a phone camera to scan the barcode, and your Android mobile is able to capture its content without needing you to type anything.
To be able to do this with your mobile device, all you need is to install a scanner app, like Barcode Scanner, which is reliable and widely used.
Using this app is pretty easy and straightforward. After download, run this app, then aim your Android's camera to a barcode for a few seconds until you hear a beep sound signifying that the content has been captured.
The app auto detects the barcode type, content and is smart enough to react with the next buttons to press—If it's a contact, you'll see the "Add contact" button, or if it's a web link, you'll get the "Open browser" button, and so on.
How about getting a free app from Google Play (previously known as Android Market)? You don't need to type a single character either. Run Barcode Scanner, aim your device to capture a matrix barcode or QR code such as the ones provided in the list of Best Free Android Apps, then press the "Open browser" button, and complete action using the Google Play app. The app then turns up on your screen ready for install.
Using Barcode Scanner, you can also share data by displaying a barcode on your screen and scanning it with another phone, or even use this app to generate a barcode. This app is free, and probably is one of the apps that you must install first when you've just got a new device.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Do Not Track With Google Chrome

Google Chrome has added a Do Not Track Feature. It is not on by default. To turn it on, go to Settings/Advanced Settings/Privacy/Content Settings and check the box to turn it on.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nexus 7 Hardcase/Keyboard

If you have a Nexus 7, the next hardcase/keyboard is an absolute must. Very easy to set up. Total protection when traveling. And great convenience. If you do not have a Nexus 7, get one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Chrome Tab Scissors and Tab Glue

Here are two Chrome extensions that help you manage this tab overload. One --Tab Scissors -- lets you split a group of tabs into two windows, while the other -- Tab Glue -- glues all of your tabs back into one window.
(Credit: Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET)
Both extensions could not be more simple to use. Each places a button to the right of the address bar in Chrome. Click the Tab Scissors button (the one with the scissors icon, natch) to create a new window with your active tab and all of the tabs to its right. The tabs to left of your active tab remain. Tab Scissors treats pinned tabs as regular tabs. I found Tab Scissors helpful to create a separate group of tabs, which I could then easily bookmark.

There is one slight glitch with Tab Glue. When it glues your tabs into one window, all of the tabs show up at their narrowest setting, even when there is space for them to be wider. Simply create a new tab or resize your Chrome window to allow the tabs to fill any empty space in your Chrome window.Going the other way, if you have Chrome tabs littered across numerous windows, click the Tab Glue button (with the orange Elmer's Glue top icon) to combine all of your open windows into one. This new window will have all of your tabs arranged in the same order as they were in their individual windows, and your active tab remains active. Go to Tab Glue's options (Window > Extensions) and you'll find but one setting, but it's useful. It lets you apply Tab Glue to minimized windows (or not). There are no settings for Tab Scissors.
There is one slight glitch with Tab Glue. When it glues your tabs into one window, all of the tabs show up at their narrowest setting, even when there is space for them to be wider. Simply create a new tab or resize your Chrome window to allow the tabs to fill any empty space in your Chrome window.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Political Insight Because It's Election Day

I have avoided anything political in this blog, and shall continue to do so. But given that today is election day, I did want to share one uplifting thought: Just because 99% politicians are rotten, don't let that spoil your view of the good ones.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Not a bad idea for a story, but  done in such a drudging way it is a miracle that only half the audience left well before it was over and that the remaining audience did not fall asleep before the end.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


When there's a can't-miss cast, combined with a can't-miss true story; combined with a can't-miss script, combined with a can't-miss director, combined with a can't-miss producer, combined with a can't-miss photography and cinematography, and you go to the earliest show on the second weekend so there's hardly no one else in the theater and the seats are discounted, you have a DO-NOT-MISS movie. Argo is terrific!

Unjamming Your Printer

You're trying to print an important document, but it just won't print! You know your printer is working, but it acts like it's not even attached to your computer. If you open up the print queue, you may find jobs that are stuck. You try and get rid of them, but they just won't delete! Those stuck documents could be what are preventing your new job from starting.

You could manually purge those documents by clearing the print spool by hand. That involves navigating the depths of the Windows system files. Or you could use Print Queue Cleaner.
It's a simple and fast download that can clear out those stuck documents in less than 30 seconds. This program can also print a test page to make sure your printer is working.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Safe Way to Respond to a Suspicious Email or Sign Up on a Website

I received an email that might have been genuine or might have been a scam, there was no way to know. It did not ask for any personal  information, but I did not want to respond from my principal email address or my Gmail address. I could have opened a separate Gmail account, but that creates other difficulties for me. So, instead I used Mailinator. It's free and easy. It's also useful to  use if you want to sign up on a website without revealing your actual email address.

Outstanding News Site

There are lots of web sites which claim to act as news aggregators.  Trouble is, many of the stories they feature are simply not interesting.  So here's a brilliant new site which seems to get everything just right.
It's called Spike, and you'll find it at  It's actually aimed at professional journalists and, as you can see from the screen shot below, allows you to choose a country and a topic with ease.  You can then choose to see stories from the past 1, 3, 12 or 24 hours that are trending on the world's major news and social networking sites.
Spike is in beta, and free to use, until November 7th.  It appears that it will continue to be free if you sign up for an account before then.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scaling the Universe

Here's a brilliant fun, educational site that can help you and your children to appreciate the sheer scale of our universe. The site is simple to operate, and takes the form of familiar images such as the Eiffel Tower, the Hoover Dam and the Washington Monument. Now imagine zooming out of the image so far that it shows entire planets. Or zooming in so far that it shows insects, molecules and atoms. And, in a set of beautifully created graphics and animations, everything in between. Not only can you zoom with the slider, you can also click on any object to find out more about it. The site, called The Scale Of The Universe, is web-based so you can access it from your browser with no need to install anything.

Comparison of Mini-Tablets

Walter Mossberg has provided a fairly detailed comparison of the iPad Mini, Nexus 7, and Kindle Fire (link appears below to today's WSJ). Walter (whom I've always found charming and gracious) and I have had our professional differences, but on this point we agree: The Kindle Fire is the worst of the three. If you haven't bought one, don't; and if you have, give it away to a deserving charity or person and get one of the others. As to the other two, it is meet to note in a related article (link appears below), that Apple has fallen behind in its mobile OS. It just fired its head of software because of the iPhone 5 problems and will be revamping its OS in the near future. It is the Android OS, which allows one's phone and tablet to look and act the same that leads me to conclude that the Nexus 7 is the better choice. Also, as Walter points out, if you have small hands, the iPad Mini is a bit large for holding to read a book. Finally, whatever advantages the iPad Mini might have, even Walter does not try to justify the huge price differential between the two devices ($199 for the Nexus 7 vs. $329 for the iPad mini).


Apple Changes:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Rootkits have gone from theoretical to everyday infections in a pretty short time. Tools like TDSSKiller, Sophos Antirootkit, Combofix, and others all help in the battle against these sophisticated infections but the best solution is to avoid getting one installed in the first place. To better understand the threat that rootkits pose, I recommend reading the threat report that the Microsoft Malware Protection Center just published today.
“The Microsoft Malware Protection Center (MMPC) has published a new threat report on Rootkits and how they work.  This threat report is recommended reading for those people looking to better understand how malware families use rootkits to avoid detection and how to protect themselves from this type of threat.”
The report covers the purpose of rootkits and their etymology, how attackers use rootkits, the scope of the rootkit problem, notable malware families that use rootkits, and protection against rootkits and malicious/potentially unwanted software.
A rootkit works by essentially inserting itself into a system to moderate – or filter – requests to the operating system. By moderating information requests, the rootkit can provide false data, or incomplete data, to utterly corrupt the integrity of the affected system. This is the key function of a rootkit and explains why rootkits are a serious threat – after a rootkit is installed, it is no longer possible to trust any information that is reported back from the affected computer