Archive for June, 2011

What to do with that old computer

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

You’ve made the decision to replace your computer with a newer, better, faster, cooler computer. What do you do with the old one?

Back in the day when upgrading was option, it was a simple matter to upgrade one component this month and a different component the next. Eventually, you had a new computer, but it was as if nothing changed. This couldn’t be kept up as the industry found better ways of doing things which required new hardware which was not compatible with the old. Basically, it got to the point where to upgrade one thing required a whole new computer around it.

What are your choices for dealing with the old computer? If it’s old enough or abused enough, you may just want to discard it. Check your local dump for details (thankfully my local dump allows e-waste to be dropped off at no charge; they have a specific location at the dump site just for e-waste).

What if it’s not too old? Options include erasing everything on it and reinstalling just as it was when you got it so you could sell it or give it away. The potential problems are two-fold. First, you need to make sure you have another copy of your data and you need to make sure you’ve completely erased everything so the next person doesn’t have access to your personal files. Secondly, do you have the original install discs? On many computers (HP and Compaq in particular, but other brands as well) you hit a particular key on the keyboard when you first power up the computer and it takes you to a special setup routine which can do the erase and reinstall procedure for you (note that the erase done here isn’t a secure one, but should be good enough for most people).

Another common option (and one I’ve done myself a few times) is to repurpose the computer for some other task. How about a central calendar? If your old computer is a Mac, you have one built in. For a PC, you could use Mozilla Thunderbird with the Lightning plugin. Alternatively you could set up a web browser to point to a Google Calendar that you’ve created.

If the computer is small enough, you could put it in your kitchen to run a recipe database. You can run a software title on your computer or, my favorite, just look up recipes on the internet.

Many more options are available to get the most out of your old computer. Experiment with Linux, make a personal file and print server, build your own Digital Video Recorder (DVR). The possibilities are nearly endless.

Should I get a new computer?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

I get this question often enough from people who have computers they consider old or slow. The question then becomes where should you put your money?

Many times, the older and slower equipment is fine and just needs a bit of software tweaking. I’ve had amazing performance increases from just changing the anti-malware software that’s on the computer. Some computers, however, need to have everything wiped and reinstalled from scratch to bring them back to their original glory and speed. Part of the problem is finding all the software that was originally installed so it can be put back. Then there’s the time to do it (it typically takes me between two and four hours to backup, erase, and reinstall a computer running Windows, depending upon what needs to be put back when I’m done). This is usually where the money question usually ends up.

Because of how long it takes me to do the job (believe me, I’m not lollygagging around either, I’m just focused on YOUR computer while I do it), if the computer is five years-old, it may be your money is better spent on a new computer instead. New PCs running Windows can be had for $400 or so for something half-way decent. The last couple I customized through Dell were around $700, but had some extras the clients needed as well as some additional software.

What do you do with the old when you’re done? I think I’ll wait until my next blog entry to answer that one. So many possibilities.

The smartphone I chose and why

Friday, June 24th, 2011

I recently upgraded to a smartphone a couple of months ago. You’re probably asking yourself why a geek such as myself only recently got on the smartphone bandwagon. The answer was a simple one of cost. Most of the carriers have smartphones which are expensive and plans to match. Since I’d been used to paying roughly $15 per month for cell service, I was reluctant to increase my cost dramatically. For example, if you were to get yourself an iPhone from AT&T you’d see a bill around $55 per month for 450 minutes and a whopping 200MB of data and no text messages. The price goes up for more minutes, data, and $20 for unlimited texts. Then there are the taxes and fees they don’t mention on the order page.

How am I able to have a smartphone for only $25 per month? First off, I’ve practically sworn against the contract players (the big four are AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint; smaller regional companies exist as well). Secondly, I’ve taken the time to shop the market and see what’s available. As such, I’ve selected a phone and plan from Virgin Mobile, a pre-paid cell company.

One of the gripes many people have had about the prepaid phone companies is a tendency to use last decade’s phones. This gripe isn’t unfounded, either. The phone I’d been using previously from Net10 was a “generation or two” old, but it was inexpensive and so was the service. Customer service may have been lacking, but thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with them except on rare occasions.

Now, however, some of the prepaid companies are getting into the smartphone business. Boost was one of the first companies to do so with a Blackberry offering. Last year they began offering a phone running Android, but the phone was quite costly (I’d heard it was in the $300-400 range, but it was only available in store and it wasn’t important enough for me to examine it further). Roughly six months later, Virgin offered one for about $250. Wait another six months and the Virgin phone is down to $200 and they have another model to offer (which got better reviews than the first). Now I’m able to buy and Boost brings a new Android phone out for about $180.

Both Boost and Virgin offer the same Sprint 3G network for coverage. The difference then comes in the exact phone and plan offerings. Boost is nice as it has an unlimited talk, text, and data plan for $50 per month which goes down in price with regular on-time payments (currently you get down to $35 per month after 18 months of on-time payments). Very attractive. Virgin offers 300 minutes of talk with unlimited text and data for $25 ($45 increases talk to 1200 minutes, $60 for unlimited everything). Amazingly enough, I don’t use my cell phone for talking much so I went with Virgin using the $25 plan.

For some bizarre reason, people think I’m crazy and they stick with their significantly more expensive contract plan because the company is somehow better. Better coverage? In a major metropolitan area, there’s no issue. Out in the country, it’s a gamble as to which carrier works. Customer service? How often do you need to contact your wireless carrier for customer service? Seriously.

The best part about the pricing from the pre-paid carriers is it includes taxes and fees the contract companies add on later.

So, $25 for 300 minutes, unlimited data, and unlimited texting per month from Virgin. AT&T charges $105 for 450 minutes (with Rollover®!), 4GB of data, and unlimited texting per month. What would I getting from AT&T worth the additional $80? It certainly doesn’t look like it’s worth $80 per month or $960 per year (and I haven’t even added on the taxes and fees, yet).

How will you know your credentials have been compromised?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

While there are many news reports on companies being hacked and customer information being released into the wild, how will you know you’re one of them? It seems enough people have asked the same question that one of them decided to do something about it.

According to this New York Times blog entry, one man created a tool for family and friends to check to see if their information is out in the wild and he’s opened it up to the public. Check out his Should I Change My Password site to see for yourself.

Some caveats: It’s a little new so there could be some trust issues with the guy who created the site. Also, it doesn’t check every known data breach, only those where he was able to get access to the data to create his database. While he does plan on adding new information to his database as it comes along, we’ll have to wait and see how well he does that.

Right now, I think it’s better than nothing and worth a shot. I checked several of my e-mail addresses and came up with nothing found so I can’t review what happens if something was.

A reminder: Make sure you use different passwords for each site you are on. Especially use different passwords for financial institutions. Don’t use the same password for a site as the e-mail address used to login.

Want more updates? Send me an e-mail and I’ll put you on my mailing list.

Protect your Facebook

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

I’ve seen many friends on Facebook posting supposed links to crazy videos or “rare” items in Facebook games which just aren’t what they say they are. I’ve been bitten myself, but it’s usually curiosity of the “how does this scam work” variety more than “I want to look at this crazy video.”

Most of the time, when you click on the link, it takes you to some web site with what looks like a video player on it. When you click on the player, you’re “invited” to take a survey or something so you’ll get access to the video. I’ve never gone through the survey process myself so I don’t know how it plays out from there, but I have had posts from my Facebook account just from clicking on the supposed video player. You can see it doesn’t take much to get hit by one of these.

What can you do?

The first place I go to satisfy my curiosity is the Bypass Fan Pages site. You can search for the video or list or whatever there to see what the content really is. I’ve yet to see what which held up to the extreme of the headline. I’ve also seen many with a review indicating no actual content after you complete the task.

Another thing you can do is to install MyPageKeeper on your Facebook profile. This was developed by a team of students at the University of California at Riverside. An article about the app is here. I’ve installed it on my profile so I can see how well it works. I could use some additional feedback from my readers as well.

CNet has another article here on Facebook malware here.

While we’re on the subject of Facebook, please like my Facebook page here.