Easy Tech Talk

Technology, Games, Gadgets, and Geekery

DTV 2009

So it’s coming close to the DTV switch occurring on February 17th 2009 at midnight and I wanted to take a minute and explain exactly what’s going to happen.

As of right now, all full power television stations are providing their service over the air as an analog signal and through cable companies as a digital signal.  The analog signal can be received by any TV using an antenna (rabbit ears) similar to how your radio works in your car, while the digital signal can only be received by a TV with a digital tuner or through cable / satellite service.   The DTV 2009 switch will require all analog signals to be stopped and only digital signals will be provided. This means if you only use an antenna to receive your TV stations, you will lose this service unless you sign up for cable / satellite or get a DTV converter box.

Now the government is providing 2 coupons each worth $40 towards the purchase of certified DTV converter boxes.  These boxes will simply convert a television signal coming into your house into a digital television or DTV signal.

The reason the government is requiring all stations to switch over to an all digital signal is to clear the airwaves for emergency services and provide television viewers a clearer picture on their TVs.  This will ensure that emergency responders have a clear signal to use in case of a disaster.

The DTV switch is causing a lot of confusion and hopefully this will clear that up.  You do not need to buy a new TV or even sign up for cable as long as you get a DTV converter box from your local retail store.  Make sure you check out the government’s web page on DTV 2009 and make sure you get the correct DTV converter box.  You can visit the DTV 2009 site here.

Do you still use an antenna to receive your TV stations? Leave a comment and tell us what you think of the DTV switch.

Stop using Limewire

In my spare time (which I have a lot of thanks to my recent lay off) I fix computers for regular users.  Every now and then I come across someone’s PC that has decent virus and spyware protection on it and I let out a little sigh of relief.  But for every computer I see with good protection, I see many others with little or no protection, and even worse, I see Limewire.

Limewire is a program that allows users to download music and other files and it is probably one of the most virus infected programs I’ve ever come across.  The viruses aren’t in the Limewire program itself but rather the files that are downloaded from other users of the program.  Limewire is what’s known as a P2P or peer to peer program.  This means that people upload and share their files for other people to download.  This is what makes the RIAA very angry because usually this means someone is pirating music or software.

Now I don’t condone piracy in any way. I’ve worked in the software industry and seen the sweat and tears that get put into a good product and when someone pirates it, the people that worked on it don’t get paid properly.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way there is a program that you can use to download music and files so that you can SAMPLE them.  If you like what you hear then you can go out and buy the program or cd or even download the song on iTunes.  Having a P2P program can be a great help when you’re in college or just looking for a specific file that you may be missing.  You can find anything you want with these programs and sometimes it works out that you find something so great that you wouldn’t have found in your normal daily routine.

Frsotwire LogoThe program in question is Frostwire.  Now I know it sounds like Limewire and I think that’s what they were going for when they names this program.  Frostwire is an open source program which means it is developed by the community, which 99% of the time means the program itself doesn’t contain spyware, adware, or viruses of any kind.

The good thing about Frostwire is that it is free to use and sets up within minutes.  The thing to beware of, as with any P2P program is what files you are actually downloading.  Make sure you check the file type of what you’re downloading and that it matches the type you’re looking for.  For example, if you are going to download a new song in mp3 format, make sure the file type is mp3 and not wma or any other type.

As I said before I DO NOT promote piracy in any way, but if you are going to download a song to hear if you like it or try a program out before you buy it, make sure you’re using a P2P program that isn’t loaded with virus infected files like Limwire.

The Problem with Windows System Restore

When you get a new computer that has Microsoft Windows installed you can safely assume that previous features will be included with your current system. If you get a computer that has a newer version of the operating system on it such as Windows Vista you might wonder what has changed and what is still familiar to you.

Well I recently helped a client fix a problem with their computer that had nothing to do with Windows but we did try something that most people hear about but don’t know a lot about, and that is System Restore.

System Restore, for those of you who don’t know (or for you Mac users out there) is a system utility that Microsoft Windows comes with that can essentially take your computer back in time to fix certain problems that come up. Most people will tell you that if you have a problem that you can just use system restore to fix it but this isn’t the case.

You see when Windows performs an automatic update or you install a new program, Windows will make a System Restore point and save it to your hard drive, so long as System Restore is enabled. This can come in really handy if you install a new piece of hardware and the drivers cause your system to mess up. And if for some reason a Microsoft Windows update ruins your settings you can use System Restore to go back before the update and wait for a proper fix to come through.

But as great as System Restore sounds the problem lies in the actual programs you use on a daily basis. Windows System Restore only affects system files which means anything that Windows installs and uses can be turned back but if your resume or Quickbooks account files get messed up and corrupted, System Restore won’t fix them.

So let this be a warning to those of you who don’t back up your data. Windows System Restore will go back in time and make your computer work like it did a week ago but it won’t fix your personal files, so get yourself an external hard drives and back up your data yourself. This way if your file is corrupt you can grab the backup copy and only lose a few days of work instead of a years worth.

External Hard Drives are pretty cheap now-a-days and you can get them at any computer retailer or save yourself some money and buy one from Amazon.com

Remember backup early, backup often.

Overpriced Printer Cables

After being laid off a few weeks ago I found a good reason to go out and get a printer so I can finally print out my resume and give it out at interviews ( should there be any) and I was absolutely taken back by the outright blasphemy of the prices of printer cables.  Now it should be noted that most new printers do NOT come with the USB A/B cable that is needed to connect them to the computer, and the way retail stores are making money is by charging a horrendous markup on printer cables.  But fear not because there is a way around the $30 – $40 outrage you see at stores like Best Buy and Circuit City.

See we live in an age where internet shopping is easily the best alternative to shopping in a retail store and it’s surprising that so many people get suckered into buying at the store instead of shopping online for a better price. As you can see this cable from amazon is $25 cheaper than the store brand cable that you can buy at Best Buy (Dynex is best buy’s own brand in case you didn’t know) and it’s the same quality.

I’ve been trying to figure out how these companies get away with charging such a high price for items that can be bought for significantly cheaper online. You’d figure that they would be forced to change their prices but they don’t.

I just wanted to help you all save some money the next time you buy a new printer by avoiding the cables at the retail stores and instead buy them online.

On a side note J.K Rowling’s new book is ready for pre-order so get yourselves over to your nearest bookstore or pre-order it through amazon to guarantee your copy

The secret behind Michael Phelps’ speed

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week or so, you’ve probably seen Michael Phelps set an Olympic record for 8 consecutive Gold medals won by a single Olympian.  Phelps is one of the greatest Olympic swimmers of all time and he recently modeled Speedo’s new LZR Racer swimsuit and I wanted to talk a little about the technology behind it.  The following is a list of the features of the suit:

Michael Phelps modeling the new Speedo LZR racer swimsuit

Michael Phelps modeling the new Speedo LZR racer swimsuit

  • The suit is constructed from LZR pulse fabric, an ultra lightweight water repellent fabric which also reduces muscle oscillation and skin vibration through powerful compression.  It is also fast drying which results in low skin friction drag in the water.
  • Specially constructed thin and low drag panels are placed at strategic points all over the suit for streamlined and optimized drag reduction.
  • A core stabilizer holds the midsection of the swimmer in a corset like grip to help maintain better body position.
  • Ultrasound bonded seams result in a smooth and flexible surface on the bodysuit.
  • A low profile zipper further adds to the streamlining of the suit.

Now Michael Phelps didn’t actually wear the suit when he set the Olympic record for most consecutive gold medals, but there are several other swimmers that wear this suit.  Training in the suit can also help you learn how to control your body and perfect your form as well.

Aside from specially designed fabric and ultra slim design, the one thing about this suit that amazes me is the reduction of muscle vibration.  You wouldn’t usually consider your muscle vibrating every time you put your arm into the water for that next stroke but it can actually slow you down quite a bit.

Now although the suit has a lot of features that make it one of the best swimsuits for anyone who wants to swim as fast as they can and one day maybe top Phelps’ records, but there’s one more feature that wasn’t mentioned michael phelps leghere.  If we zoom in to the picture near the middle of Michael Phelps’ right leg, near the white logo we can see what actually gives the suit its speed:

Miniature Michael Phelps are woven throughout the suit, giving it its unparalleled speed! Now when someone asks how Michael Phelps swims so fast you can tell them.:)

All kidding aside Michael Phelps is without a doubt the greatest Olympic swimmer that anyone has ever seen.

You can read more about Michael Phelps by visiting his homepage.

The most important keyboard shortcut that you should know

There are many things that can ruin something you are working on while sitting at your computer.  Maybe it’s a presentation that you are creating for your boss at work, or the new website layout you’re designing in photoshop, or even just a letter that you are writing to someone and if any one of these things goes wrong it can be devastating to your work.

Mistyping words, deleting the wrong line of text, drawing on the wrong layer, any of these things can make you go back and redo a lot of work that could have been saved if you remembered the one keyboard shortcut that everyone should know.  Ctrl+Z.

This amazing shortcut is nearly universal in all computer programs and it is the keyboard shortcut for undo.  If you can remember to stop the second you think you’ve done something you shouldn’t have and hit ctrl+z you’ll save yourself a ton of work in the end. Just make sure you don’t try to abuse the power of this shortcut because certain programs will allow you multiple levels of undo so you can go back too far and then you’ve got to redo some of the work that was already completed and correct.

Now just for those of you who have never used keyboard shortcuts before, when I say ctrl+z, I mean to hold the ctrl button and press the z key. If you want to know other keyboard shortcuts that you can use in whatever program you are using, all you need to do is click through the menu at the top of the screen where you see File and Edit and so on.  There you will see any keyboard shortcut linked to something in the menu if it exists.  For example, if you are using Word, click on the File menu and look at the Save option.  It will have a ctrl+s next it, meaning that if you hold ctrl and press s, it will save your current document.  And although that is a helpful shortcut, ctrl+z stands as the best shortcut because it can save you from deleting that last paragraph you wrote by accident.  If you would have saved first, then you would have to rewrite that paragraph.

Use this keyboard shortcut wisely, as I’ve said before, you might go back too far, and then you’ll wish you had payed more attention to how many times you pressed it as you retype or redraw what you once had on your screen.

So what do you think?  Is there a better shortcut?  Let Easy Tech Talk’s readers know by leaving a comment.

Make your computer start faster!

After owning a computer for a certain amount of time, you’ll start to acquire quite a list of programs that feel the need to wedge themselves into your startup folder, which in turn can make your computer’s start time slower.  There are a few ways of stopping programs from running immediately when windows starts up.  This post will cover the simple methods that don’t involve tweaking some powerful settings.

First off, check your system tray, the area near your clock on the bottom right of your screen.  There are several programs that, once they’re installed, put an icon in the system tray so that they can start faster when you need them.  But honestly, how often do you actually open Quicktime?  If you right click the Q icon that Quicktime puts down there and select preferences, then click on the advanced tab, you’ll notice at the bottom there is a box that says Tray Icon.  Make sure that check box is unchecked and hit ok, and that will stop Quicktime from starting every time you boot your computer.

Now what about programs that start but don’t have an obvious icon or setting like this you ask?  Simple, all you need to do is click on the Start bar, go to All Programs, and move your mouse cursor to Startup.  Once you’ve got your mouse there you’ll see a number of programs.  Just move your mouse over the program and right click, then hit delete.  This will remove that program from the star up routine of your computer and you’ll see your desktop a little faster next time you boot up.

A word of caution though, be sure to check what program you are removing before you do.  Certain programs like your anti virus or some peripheral software needs to start when your computer does.  Logitech is one of these programs that need to start when windows does, that way your mouse and keyboard settings are loaded before you use them.  Finding out what program definitely need to run is as simple as asking your local IT guy at work or a tech savvy friend.

After you’ve removed the offending software from your startup folder, it might be a good idea to run a registry cleaner / optimizer to make sure any left over registry entries are cleaned.

Stay tuned for a follow up post that will go more in depth and help you remove startup processes that can cause windows to run slowly during its startup process.

Update: Michael from Pro Blog Design recently informed me of an excellent Windows application known as Autoruns that will allow you to see everything that is set for startup in your computer.  Now although it is advanced, it is easy to use to remove certain start up programs.  I wouldn’t suggest using it to remove registry key entries unless you are an advanced user.  Here is a direct download link for Autoruns.

Speed up your PC

Have you noticed that your PC isn’t running as fast as it used to?  There are many reasons as to why it might be running slow and the one that goes unnoticed the most is your registry.  The registry is a section of your pc where certain program settings are stored and it should only be modified or touched by someone who knows what they are doing.  Luckily for most of us, there are companies that make software that cleans the registry for us automatically.

The problem with your registry is that over the course of your computers life you will install and uninstall software several times.  When you install new software, new entries are made into your registry, but when you uninstall, those entries do not get removed.  Over time these registry entries will build up and bog down your system.  After you remove your software you PC should ignore any entries that are no longer in use but that’s not how it works.  You PC will still read over those registry entries and once you’ve amassed enough it will cause your system to slow down.

Another problem with your registry is that as programs are installed they leave their mark, but they aren’t done in an efficient way.  If you were to organize your registry, then your programs would load a little faster and your overall system performance would be better.

Now I’ve gone through several different programs to try and solve this and one of them performed better than the rest.  Advanced Registry Optimizer stood out from the rest as one of the top registry cleaners out there.   After running the optimizer I saw a pretty nice increase in overall system speed, and I’m using a PC that has a few years on it.

I highly recommend Advanced Registry Optimizer to rid your PC of pesky registry entries that were left behind from software that has been uninstalled, and to optimize your registry so your PC knows where to look within the registry for specific entries.

If anyone else has used Advanced Registry Optimizer feel free to leave your impressions in the comments section.  Have you found it to work out to your expectations?  Is there a better product out there?  Let me and all the other Easy Tech Talk readers know!