Friday, January 13, 2006


A little inside Windows humor.

From the archives:


Nintendo sings

And, since we're on a humorous technology slant today:

Who can forget the Songs of Nintendo...


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It's just that easy

Running out of storage space on my PowerMac G5 recently, I had to take the plung and perform my first ever upgrade on this system: a new hard drive.

The G5 tower has two drive bays, so I knew I would at least be able to add a second drive and not have to replace my existing drive. Of course every PC tower I've owned has had several bays also and that still didn't make the process of adding a second drive easier.

The G5 takes SATA (serial ATA) drives, and all I had ever done before on PC was IDE and SCSI drives. So, this would be another first.

For my new drive selection I chose another Seagate Baracuda - same as my "A" drive. The Seagate's have better reliability - and a 5 year warranty, while the "better-priced" Hitachis only have a 1 year warranty and inconsistent reliability. A little luck produced a 160GB Barracuda for only $50 after rebates. Pocket change...

Once I had received the drive I looked for Seagate's instructions for installation on the Mac. In the 20 page install guide I could find none - till I looked a little harder. There was one single paragraph on about page 5. That's it. All the rest was for PC installation.

Opening the G5 case and viewing the interior is a scene to behold. Never have I seen the inside of a computer case look so clean and beautiful. If you haven't seen one, you won't appreciate it until you have.

The hardware installation on a G5 requires no removal of the entire case, no limited area screw locations (no screws at all in fact), no removal of power supplies or bezels, etc. Simply screw in the four little guides and slide the drive in the open, and easily accessible bay. Oh, and did I mention the self contained connectors taht are sitting there waiting to be plugged in? No cable installation or routing required.

And no jumpers or master/slave drive settings required.

Once the drive was installed, case closed, and external cables all connected I powered on. At boot I received a message saying the drive I inserted was not recognized - would I like to initialize it? I selected "initialize" and waited about 10 seconds for disk utility to open. Then I had to Partition the drive so it would appear.

This took two mouse clicks, and I had to enter the name I wanted the drive to be called. Partitioning then took about 30 seconds.

That was it. Done. No hassles.

My total installation time, including disconnecting and reconnecting all my cables took about 15 minutes. That's probably 5 minutes more than it could have taken.

On any PC this would be no less than an hour's work.

Color me impressed.

Friday, October 07, 2005

No more free access for you...

What if I told you that your neighbors were all accessing your cable TV and using it for free? How about your telephone service? Or your cell-phone service. Would you care?

What about if it wasn't limited to your neighbors - and anyone driving down your street could use your services.

Would you spend the ten minutes, if that's all it took, to fix your problem and stop the freeloaders, or would you just let them all use your services - and assume they'd all use it legally?

My guess is that the overwhelming response would be "Of course I'd stop them. What are you, some kind of idiot?"

But many people, probably a good 20% of all households with wireless internet access (based on the networks I see wherever I go), are sitting there today with wide open networks, available to the world when all it takes is a few easy steps to lock it down.

Don't feel bad though, the hardware providers leave a lot to be desired when it comes to informing you about security. All security features are listed as "options", and for many home users, that means it's something hard to do that I don't really need.

Well, it's not that hard to at least get a modicum of security. Below we'll focus on the three easiest things to do, in order, to at least get you off the "free and easy" list.

Stop broadcasting your SSID

Your wireless router has what's called an SSID (Service Set IDentifier). This is the unique name that your router will be called when it appears on a list of available networks in your network listing. Unfortunately, most people make two mistakes regarding the SSID. First, they don't rename it and second, they broadcast it.

Naming your SSID is important. If you don't, then instead of being "unique" to you, it appears, for example, as "linksys" in your list - and you may also have 5 other neighbors whose networks are called "linksys". So, rename yours. Then, once you've renamed it, turn of the SSID broadcasting. What that means is that someone needs to already know the SSID in order to connect, it will not show up in the available networks listing.

For you, that shouldn't matter - it's your router and you can remember the name (and you only need to know it the first time you connect, at which point it's stored for you). For everyone else, they don't see it - so they can't select it for use. You may think that's enough security, but in reality this only protects you from the most novice of users (which may in fact describe your neighbors), and it doesn't really secure your network. If someone guesses your SSID (for example if you made it your last name), then they can still get right in. But, it's still your first line of defense, and much better than nothing at all.

Get WEP'ed

The next level of protection is adding encryption to the wireless connection. There are several types of encryption available, depending on your router, but the most common is still WEP - which comes in two versions: 64-bit and 128-bit encryption. But what does this mean?

Basically, it's very simple. You set up a passphrase on the router, and then you store the same passphrase in the network connection settings on your wireless connecting computer (laptop or desktop). When any computer then tries to connect to your network, the router verifies this encrypted WEP passphrase. If it's correct - as your computer will be - then the router lets you connect. If it's not - like your freeloading neighbors - then they're not allowed to play. Easy, but effective.

Again, this is not foolproof, and a good hacker can get around this - but for the vast majority of users, this is plenty of protection. But if you want to go one step further...

A MAC is not a Mac

The next level of security, which can truly lock down your network, is to use what's called MAC Addressing. No this has nothing to do with an Apple computer. A MAC address (Media Access Control address) is a unique identification number that is assigned to every wireless device. Your router has a MAC address, as does the wireless card in your computer - it's like the serial number for that specific piece of hardware.

To greatly improve your wireless network security you can set your wireless router to talk only to computers with specific MAC addresses. To do that, you will need to go into your router's configuration program and enable MAC Addressing. Then you enter the MAC addresses of the computers you wish to allow to connect to the network.

The MAC addresses of your computers are easily found, for both Mac or PC. For a PC, open a Command Prompt window and type "ipconfig /all" and then look for the "Physical Address" of your wireless card. For a Mac, open System Preferences and go into Network preferences. Make sure your Airport card is selected in the "Configure" pulldown and then select the TCP/IP tab. Your MAC address is listed as the "Ethernet Address."

You must add en entry in your router's configuration for each wireless device you want to allow to access your network.

That's it. Oh yeah, and don't forget to change the default username and password for your router's admin/configuration login. Otherwise, if a hacker was able to get onto your network, they could very easily take control of the router and lock You out!

So, take a few minutes and make your wireless network safe. Otherwise, you have no one to blame but yourself for the consequences.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Calendar sharing - for free

So, you have a PC or Mac and would love to either sync your calendar between multiple machines, or share your calendar with multiple users. And, you want to have access to your calendar online through a browser when you're out of the office.

And, of course, you want to do it easily, for free, and without having to upload or edit html files.

Are you wishing upon a star?

Actually, no - there are ways to do this for both PC and Mac. I'll talk about two of them here.

PCs and Yahoo!

One of the easiest ways on a PC to sync your calendar and have it available online is to utilize Yahoo! Calendar and the Yahoo! Intellisync utility. Using Intellisync, a free download, you can sync data between Yahoo! Calendar (and address book) and any of the following: Outlook, Outlook Express, Palm OS Handhelds, Pocket PC Handhelds, Lotus Organizer, and ACT!

And of course, since it's Yahoo! Calendar, it's always available online through your Yahoo! account. The only manual intervention is that you must launch intellisync manually to perform a sync.

To sync two machines, you need to have Intellisync installed on each system, and you'll want to configure the syncing on each to determine what should take precedence when a conflict arises. For example, I tested this on two separate desktop machines, in two different offices, and set it such that Yahoo! Calendar always took precedence. But I could also simply have it ignore the conflict or make a note of it and let me choose.

All in all this system works very well and is entirely free. But alas, it's not Mac compatible, so...

All good things end in "x"

On the Mac side, first looks make it appear you must pay $99/year for a .Mac account in order to get calendar syncing abilities. Well, either that or pay for a WebDAV server hosting account, or your own server. But none of these options meet the main criteria - Free.

Along comes a wonderful site/service called the iCal Exchange at iCal Exchange allows you to publish your iCal .ics files to their WebDAV server and then other people/machines can subscribe to your calendar. The great bonus of iCalx is that the site also provides a slick HTML interface to let you view your calendars online, as well as simply using the publish/subscribe feature.

In my tests, my wife has her iCal calendar set to "Publish" and she subscribes to my calendar. My iCal is set to publish mine and subscribe to my wife's. So, in essence, we always see one unified synchronized calendar in iCal.

The only downfall to this approach (as opposed to the .Sync approach on .Mac) is that you cannot physically change entries on "subscribed" calendars (ie. I can't change my wife's calendar items and she can't change mine) and when viewing the HTML version online at iCalx, we actually see two separate calendars.

But, hey... for free I'll take it!

Note that this approach should, in theory, also work across platforms (syncing a PC to a Mac) if you're using either Calendar or Sunbird from as your primary calendar software on the PC - since they are both based on publishing and subscribing to .ics files, just like iCal. However, I had mixed results in my initial tests. But these products are still in Beta, and will no doubt evolve over time.

Enjoy your scheduling!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Mac or PC? Tackling some myths...

You've heard the debate for years. Much of it goes:
PCs are cheaper to own than Macs
Macs are only for graphic designers
PCs have more software
Macs aren't compatible
PCs are fast - Macs are slow

Since I seem to be the go-to-guy for computer advice around here, I thought I'd use my first post to address the most oft-asked question I receive: What should I buy? Along with that, it seems more and more people are also asking: Is a Mac really an option? We'll see.

Truth, propaganda and hooey

First let's get one thing out of the way, the answer to another critical question: Which one will do what I want it to? The answer: both - there's not one thing that can't be done on either computer. The catch is that it's all a matter of trade-offs.

The only places these trade-offs are critical are in a few key niche areas (and you'll know who you are). For example, if you are a power-gamer and always want to run the latest 3D games you are pretty much limited to a Windows PC for two reasons: 1) most new-releases are available on Windows first, 2) most new video card hardware (needed for the new games) is available for Windows well before Mac. On the other hand, if you are a video professional using Final Cut Pro or Avid, well, then you're stuck on Mac. Most else is fair game.

With that key piece of information out of the way, let's look at busting some myths.

PCs are cheaper than Macs

If we are looking strictly at initial cost of hardware alone... yes, you're right. It's amazing how cheaply you can purchase a Windows PC for these days. But beware, many of these cheap machines are just that - cheap machines. And, you're never sure of compatibility with any of these.

Apple did one big thing right - they control the hardware as well as the operating system. Because of this, you can usually be assured that things will just work. With a Windows PC, since there are thousands of mix and match components and peripherals, you are more than likely to have some problem or conflict at some point. That's not to say this is Microsoft's fault - it's just the nature of the beast with so much variation.

But back to cost. If your goal is simply to write simple text letters and send an email or two, then the built in WordPad and Outlook Express will work fine for you on a PC. But above that, everything on that new super-cheap PC of yours will cost you money. Sure there may be a few free applications included on the PC, but for the most part they are worth only what you paid for them - nothing.

In contrast, every Mac comes with a suite of applications that are worth quite a bit when compared to equivalent programs on the PC. The iLife suite of iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie, iTunes and Garage Band is a significant suite of applications. Additional built-in applications like QuickTime, iChat, Mail, Address Book, Font Book, Preview and iCal are also exremely polished.

And, all Macs have the ability to create PDF files straight from any application - built-in - for free. Compare that to needing to purchase Adobe Acrobat for the PC at a cost of $299 and that $500 cheap PC gets costlier and costlier.

Note: since first writing this article, I have found the open-source PDF-Creator software for Windows, which is free and performs similar functionality to the built-in Mac pdf creation.

The bottom line on cost is knowing, or figuring out, what it is you want to do on your computer. And then finding out what the real cost to be able to do those things will be.

Macs aren't compatible in a Windows world

If this were 1990 you'd be right. But it's not 1990 and that's not the case at all. If you use a Mac today, it's doubtful your friends or associates will ever know you're not working on a Windows PC. The compatibility issue is a dead one.

There's not much software for Macs

Hooey - pure and simple. There's plenty of software for the Mac. Commercial applications (like Office), shareware and freeware all exist in abundance. The only problem, as previously stated, can be in newest release gaming.

However, you should note that finding Mac software can be a little more difficult. Big retailers like WalMart, Target, SamsClub, and Costco generally carry Windows-only software on their shelves. Unless it's a hybrid disc that has software for both PC & Mac, you're out of luck at these stores. As a Mac owner, you'll learn to grow fond of and the Apple Store.

Macs are slow

Again, in days gone by this may have been the case, but not any more. In raw speed tests it depends on the application and the machine configuration as to which platform performs better. It's not a "one is better than the other" across the board result.

The bottom line with speed is this: no matter what you get, in 12 months you'll always want a faster one!

It's the OS

And now we get to the biggest difference of all between the two types of machines: the OS.

Windows has come a long way in the last few years towards becoming a stable and usable operating system. Even with the crashes, Windows XP is a far better operating system than almost every other variant - with the exception of maybe Windows 2000. But Windows downfall has been security (viruses and malware), added to a confusing choice of products. Windows XP Home or Professional anyone?

And the confusion is only going to get worse. It has been reported that the next version of Windows (code-named Vista) will have a mind-numbing seven variants (yes, I said "7") to choose from. On the flip side of that is Apple OSX - with one single OS for everyone from home users to corporate professionals. Yes, there is a Server OS as well, but I'm not counting that because Microsoft also has a separate server OS.

And where these OS's really differ are in two places that should be near and dear to your heart: your time and your money. Put bluntly: Windows PCs take a lot of time to protect against viruses and malware - Macs take, well... none. Period.

I recently read a three-page article in PC World describing protecting yourself from malware, and yet they still said that "eventually you will be effected". A second article the following month discussed how to reinstall the OS because, as they stated: "when your system gets bogged down with spyware, as it will..." you'll need to know how to start from scratch again. As a computer geek, I can attest to that. I used to spend hours cleaning, fixing and protecting my PCs from spam and viruses - or reinstalling Windows and all my applications. Last December I spent the better part of a week (40+ hours) digging out from a virus on one computer, spyware on another, and a corrupted registry on the third. I was, in a word, done.

Since that day, when I put all three for sale on eBay and went on and bought Macs, I haven't spent one minute doing anything about viruses or malware (really - not 1 minute) and my systems have never been at risk, The peace of mind, not to mention the actual time saved by not having these problems, is priceless.

So, where do I lean? Without regard to security, I think both platforms have things to offer and can meet most people's needs. But in general, until the virus and malware problems are removed from the Windows platform, I'd recommend Macs in a heartbeat.

And until Microsoft starts losing a lot of market share, that may be a while.


Snips of... blogs proudly presents: Technology.

You've heard the hype - Technology is here to make life easier, right? Does it live up to its hype? You be the judge.

From PCs and Macs to digital imaging and peripherals, the world of consumer technology keeps getting harder and harder to keep up with. We can't cover it all here, but hopefully we'll be able to shed light on a few topics from time to time.

Welcome to the information superhighway - it's time to drive!