Friday, March 29, 2013

Buying A New PC?

One question that I get asked often is something close to "What should I look for in a new computer?" I figure it wouldn't be a bad idea to share my opinion on it.

It is a fair question and the answer is going to vary depending on what you intend to do with the device. For instance, if you are just a casual web surfer who wants to check e-mail, use Facebook to stay connected to family and friends, and have fun watching some YouTube videos once in a while - you won't need as nice of a rig as the one who wants to do lots of photo and video editing or play graphics intense games.

Nonetheless, there are two components that will need to be looked at. Hard drive storage and  memory. After that, you can look at the other bells and whistles. Let's take a look at each one of them from the viewpoint of both laptop and desktop.

Hard Drive Storage

Certainly, how much you actually need might be subject to debate depending on who you ask.

Laptops will traditionally have a little less storage than a desktop. Lower end laptops will likely have 320GB or 500GB of storage. Really cheap ones might even be found with 250GB. Higher end Laptops will have 750GB or 1TB of space.

Desktop units will very likely have 1TB or more with cheaper units having less.

Your operating system and some programs will probably not make much of a dent in this if you don't plan to use this for much more than browsing, e-mail, and Facebook. In this case 500GB should be plenty and if you get more that is fine too.

If, however, you plan to do some serious picture collecting and archiving, you should beef this up considerably. Also if you are a major gamer - you know that some games can consume several gigs of storage. If you have lots of games, with expansion packs, etc - you will want storage. Shoot for at a minimum, 1 TB of storage and I would even recommend an external hard drive for you picture hoarding types so that you can have them backed up in case of a computer failure.

Cheaper units will have hard drives in them that operate at 5400 RPM. If you can, try to get one that runs at 7200 RPM. This will give you some better speeds out of the machine. As you move towards the higher end computers you will notice that some will have a Solid State Drive or SSD. These are much faster but more expensive and usually have less storage. Many computers will have an SSD for booting the operating system and a standard hard drive for the rest of your data.

Memory

While you can find some cheap computers with less than 4GB of RAM still out there, I wouldn't want one with anything less than that, even for the casual user. I don't think memory is something you should skimp on so go for 6GB or 8GB if you can. High end users - shoot for 12GB or 16GB - though this might be challenging to find at retail stores. If so, get one with 8GB and room to expand to 16GB and then add the extra memory on your own. Four years ago, I built a desktop with 12GB of RAM and am really glad I did. It is still hanging in there with the best of them.

A desktop will be much more likely to have room for more memory than a laptop. A laptop will generally have two slots for memory and desktops can have many more but anything you pick up at Wal-Mart is not likely to have more than that. You might have to do some research online before purchasing that desktop from a place like Wal-Mart in order to find out if you can simply add extra memory in without replacing what is in there to begin with.

Other Bells and Whistles

Graphics Card

For the casual user - whatever the system comes with should suffice but for the heavy editor or gamer, you should have a discrete graphics processor with at least a gig of dedicated memory.

USB

Other things you might want to look for would be the number of USB ports on the unit. On a laptop, you likely find two or three but snag four if possible. On a desktop I would shoot for eight of them with four in the front for easy access. I would also expect half of them to be USB 3.0 compatible.

Processor

In my opinion, the small differences in speed won't be noticeable for most people but if you are looking for quality and speed, you'll need to keep an eye out for a couple things. First, there are two main processor brands out there with many different models among them - AMD and Intel.

Now, I have run plenty of AMD processors in my time and have not had any issues with them - same for Intel processors. Computers with an AMD processor in them will often cost a bit less. Many at the stores will be dual or quad core but some real cheap ones might have a single core in them. I would avoid the single cores - dual core is gonna be OK for the casual user but high end-users will want at least a quad core but I'd go for eight.

Card Reader

Yeah, you pretty much gotta have one of these if you use them in your camera.

Optical Drive

Be sure to look for one of these if you need one. It is pretty standard now for an optical drive to be able to read and write DVD but some of the newer devices you can find out there like the netbooks and ultrabooks don't have one at all. Getting it out of the box and realizing you can't install something would not be cool. If you want to use your device to watch movies, I would suggest getting one that was Blu-Ray compatible.

Display

Personal preference here, really. Are you OK with a small monitor or display - or would you prefer a larger 22" or 24" display? Laptops can offer a nice 17" display and full keyboard but it is about what you like on this one.

Wireless

This is pretty standard now on any laptop style device. Just be sure that it is compatible with N at a minimum.

For desktops, some are coming with Wi-Fi capabilities. This is especially handy if you want to place the desktop away from where the router sits.

Conclusion

Certainly, the casual user could get by on less than what I would suggest here but even the casual user will experience some frustration in short order as software and Internet requirements start placing heavy demands on the system. Always good to pad a little for the future. With technology, you often get what you pay for and there is a reason that the $250 laptop at Wal-Mart only costs $250. Again, these are just some suggestions based on my opinion and I know there are other things that can be included but I hope this is at least a little helpful as you go shopping.

Don't forget to install anti-virus and malware protection on your machine. Avast! and Malwarebytes are excellent choices for free.

Have an awesome day!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Restrict WiFi Access For Certain Devices

The Internet and Your Kids

Are you concerned about what your children are doing online? Do you worry about them getting online while they are supposed to be asleep? An Internet connection is required  for many apps in order to function properly so even if your child is not accessing the Internet directly using Safari or Google Chrome for example, they would need that connection in order to SnapChat, text, or use Facetime. I know it would cause me some concern if my kids were SnapChatting in the wee hours of the morning. Here is a link to a recent blog entry on why we should be concerned about that.

SnapChat Not As Private As You Think

Did you know that you might be able to restrict their access to the Internet by making some configuration changes on your WiFi router? All you need is the MAC address of the device or computer and access to your WiFi router. I am going to provide a very broad explanation for this because I realize that not all the WiFi devices out there are going to look the same. I hope that the context and ideas can at least help you as a partial guide. This process is not for the faint at heart so continue at your own risk. LOL

Finding the MAC Address

Here are some steps to finding the MAC address on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad. The images are taken from an iPhone but the steps should be similar on another Apple iDevice.


1.  Start by finding the Settings icon. I have this one isolated and highlighted but it may not be in the same location on your device.


2.  Once you get to the Settings page, go to the General settings menu.


3.  Once you are on the General page - go to the About page.


4.  On the About page, scroll down a little until you find the Wi-Fi Address. This is also known as the MAC address (Media Access Control). It should be composed of 12 characters and can take on a few different formats. A common format is the one found on an Apple device - (XX : XX : XX : XX : XX : XX) - using a colon separating every group of two characters. These addresses are unique.

Jot this MAC address down because we will need it once we access the WiFi router.

Access Your WiFi Router

Okay - this is where things can get kinda tricky. The first thing we need to do is attempt to log into the router itself - that means finding it on the network. We do this through your favorite web browser such as Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, or whatever you are using so you will need a network connected device to do this. It can be tricky because not all devices are going to look the same, have the same default settings, or have the same configuration options.

A popular method of accessing the device is by typing the IP Address into your browsers address bar. By default, many routers have an IP Address of 192.168.1.1 but I have encountered a few that have something slightly different.


1.  So... this is a great place to start. Go ahead and type the IP Address in the browser after it comes up. If this is the correct address you should get some sort of login prompt similar to the one shown below.


2.  At this point - go ahead and enter your Username and Password if you changed them or know what they are. Chances are good that this has never been changed so it will need the default credentials. This might require a little trial and error but here are a few options to try. The first word is the username and the second word is the password.

  • admin admin
  • admin password
  • administrator password
  • administrator admin
  • admin - (leave password blank)
  • administrator - (leave password blank)
  • You might also check the underside of your device as it might be listed there.
A word of caution - you might consider changing the password so that others cannot easily hack the device and mess with your settings or "borrow" your connection.

3.  Once you have successfully logged in. you should be taken to the home screen of your device user interface. Again, this is a tricky piece since they will all look different. It will be necessary to look for some visual clues here. We need to find the place where we can restrict access for devices. You may need to hunt around depending on your device. It could be under generic headings such as Settings or Administration. It is also possible that with a lower end device the functionality may not be there. In my case, I actually have a tab called Access Restrictions so I went there.


On this page, you see highlighted an area where I am allowing a device to have WiFi access only for the time frame of 8AM to 9PM. Outside of those times - the device will not be able to connect. I also have the ability to pick certain days so that I might create a different access schedule on the weekends for example or for when school is in session or we are on summer vacation. Go ahead and set the schedule that works for you.

You also see the Edit List button for applied PCs. Here is where you will indicate all the devices that this access schedule should be applied to using that MAC address we wrote down. Let's click on that.

4.  This brings us to the page for editing that list of PCs.


I can also use the IP Address of the device but there is a chance that the IP address could change so I prefer to use MAC addresses when I can because they do not change and are unique for every device. Go ahead and enter the MAC addresses you want in this list. Don't forget to save the settings.

Other Notes
  • Again, I would recommend changing your router password - otherwise your kids could read this post and undo the work you did setting it up. Or someone else could hack it and mess things up.
  • If you are not comfortable poking around on your equipment, I suggest getting some expert help with the process.
  • You might consider creating multiple schedules for all your devices for additional peace of mind.
  • Don't forget that there are some filtering options out there as well such as OpenDNS to protect your family from inappropriate websites.
I hope this was helpful. Please share your comments or questions - I would love to hear them.
Have an awesome day and stay safe online!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Using JoinMe to Share Your Screen

Whether you are an online facilitator of learning, a member of an IT support team, or someone interested in simple sharing and collaboration - JoinMe would be a great asset to your toolbox of tricks! Let me give you an example of using the free version and one of using the pro version as well.

The Family Tech Guy - Free Version Use

OK - so I was on Facebook last night getting my fix of Candy Crush Saga (ugh) and my sister-in-law messaged me with a question. They recently got a new modem/wireless router from their Internet provider but as luck would have it - there were some issues with wireless devices connecting to it. After providing a few quick ideas and questions, I decided it was time to look around. At least the desktop was wired to the box so we had a connection to work with.

I directed her to go to join.me and share the screen and then provide me with the number she would be given. I was then able to see her screen. From my control panel, I requested control of her PC which she granted. After poking around for a while and making a couple configuration changes, we magically had access on her wireless devices. WooHoo!! Best part about that is that the remote support was absolutely free!

Online Facilitator - Pro Version Use

I also teach an online course designed to train teachers to be effective online facilitators. Part of the experience will be to engage in some synchronous discussions. For this activity, each week, I use the pro version of join.me to bring us all together. Using the pro version allows me to schedule the meetings and to maintain a static room address rather than having to share a new 9-digit number every time we want to get together. I can also extend presenting rights to the participants and annotate on the screen to bring important concepts into light. I can also have up to 250 participants rather than just ten.

The idea is to use join.me for real-time collaboration and sharing of documents. The pro version is only $149 per year which I think is a phenomenal deal but you would have to weigh out if you would get that much usage out of it to warrant the cost. I know I do.

Mobile Support - Just Because...

There is also a free app for the iPad that will allow to to join a sharing session on the go. If you have purchased the pro version you can also present from the iPad.

At the time of this post - there is a viewer app for Android devices but presentation capabilities with the pro version are limited to the iPad.

See How Easy

Here is a short video walkthru to show you just how easy it can be.



Are you a join.me user? I would love to hear some feedback on your experiences using it.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ten iPad Apps I Am Glad I Have - Redux

Well, my iPad 2 is now (as of this writing) about two years old. After having it for about five months, I created a blog entry about the ten apps that I was glad I had. Now that I have had the device for a couple years, I wanted to create another one for comparison - especially since there are new apps out there all the time.

First - let me say that I use the iPad daily. Literally. Daily. The same cannot be said, however, about all of the apps that I have installed. The iPad I am using is the 64 GB WiFi only version. I have 1,862 songs, 24 videos, and 211 apps and just under 20 GB of free space available.


For this post, I am choosing ten apps that I use daily - or almost daily as well as some that while I don't use them daily - I am really glad to have for the times when they have come in real handy. So, without further ado, here they are - in no particular order.

1. You Version Bible App - FREE

What can I say? This is an awesome app to have for those who read the Bible. I prefer this over a Bible purchased through the Kindle Store. This has a verse of the day, several devotionals, and the ability to take notes and highlight passages. Even more impressive is the ability to have multiple translations at your fingertips.


2. Keeper - Password and Data Vault - FREE

With so many different websites and accounts to manage, this app is a life saver at times. Of course, I recommend having a different password for each of your accounts. This app makes it much easier to keep track of them. I try my best to remember them all but if I forget, I know I can always go back to this app and look it up. (As long as I remember the password to get into the app) That is right. The app itself is password protected so that if someone were to grab my iPad - they would still be locked out of the app with all my passwords. Way better than keeping a Post-it Note on the monitor...  :) There is a $9.99 option for backup protection.


3. UPAD - FREE for Lite or $4.99 for Full

This is my "go to" app for taking notes at meetings or just jotting down something I don't want to forget. I particularly enjoy the magnified space for writing so that your finger or stylus does not create writing for the 'paper' that is way too big.

The full version - which I am using - will allow you to have more than five "pads" and allow you to export as a PDF. These were two features that I use often enough to warrant the five bucks for the full version.

Here is a video on it.


4. Clock Pro HD - FREE or $2.99

I went ahead and made the purchase for the full version. This app has replaced my alarm clock. I really enjoy having multiple alarm clock settings that you just don't get with a traditional alarm clock. For three bucks you are able to get rid of the ads which, at the time I purchased it, were blocking my button to go full screen with the digital display. The brightness, backgrounds, and colors are adjustable which is nice. Of course, with the release of iOS 6 - you now have a native clock app but it still is not anywhere near the nightstand alarm clock replacement that this one is.

Icons for numbers 1 thru 6


5. PCalc Lite - FREE

Here is a free app without ads! Since iPad doesn't come with a calculator app, this one is my choice. There are some paid options for some functions that are specific to certain job related needs but the free one does perfectly for what I need.


6. TuneIn Radio - FREE or $4.99

If I want to listen to the radio, I don't bother with that old box in the house anymore - it only picks up local stations. With the TuneIn Radio app I can pick the genre I want and have my choice of stations from literally around the world. I can set my favorites and access radio stations that I would never otherwise be able to listen to.

For $4.99 you can get the full version which will remove the ads and I believe you can also do some recordings. In this app, I don't think the ads are too obnoxious but I also don't sit and watch the display as I listen to the radio with it so they go completely unnoticed, really. The free version does perfectly fine for me.


7. Ignition - $129.99 or LogMeIn - FREE

OK - before you have sticker shock - Ignition used to cost $30. I actually was lucky enough to purchase it for $15 on sale over Labor day weekend back in 2011 before the free one was introduced and the cost of Ignition went up. The nice part is that I am able to get the benefit of a pro license on all my computers even though they are running the free version of LogMeIn on them. With the free version you can access the free stuff but with Ignition you get all the pro stuff. The free app offers an in-app purchase (IAP) to grant access to the pro stuff on a free client machine but is limited to a single machine. I believe the cost is $39.99 per year. Also if you have a pro client license, the free app will allow access to the pro stuff but a pro license is $70 per year. In the end, for multiple computers, Ignition for a one-time purchase of $129.99 for the free stuff on all computers you access is really not a bad deal at all.

At any rate - I really love this app as it allows me to access my home and work computers remotely and swap files or control it for help to family and friends as well.

Icon for number 7 - Ignition

8. Dropbox - FREE

I use a number of online storage solutions including SugarSync, SkyDrive, Cubby, Google Drive, Box.Net, and Dropbox. Of all of them, I am currently using Dropbox the most and find it to be a very easy way to get files on and off of the iPad. When iPad first came out, there was a lot of grumbling about the lack of an SD card reader or USB port for a flash drive. With Dropbox, this is a non-issue. Really.


9. Kindle - FREE

I like books just like the next guy and I love that I can have my books on the iPad.

Icons for numbers 8 and 9

10. Explain Everything - $2.99

I enjoy creating video tutorials for various tasks. This app, in my opinion, is the best one out there for accomplishing this. You can use multiple pictures, all sorts of annotations, and export directly to your photo gallery. There is no need to have another account with an online service in order to share them - just create and save then upload directly to YouTube or FTP to your own server if you want. Way more flexibility and well worth the three dollars. Here is a video about it.

Icon for number 10 - Explain Everything

Please tell me about some of your favorite apps. Why do you like them? What makes them valuable to you?