Got a new computer? Don’t forget to trash it

It’s almost the new year and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa have passed. The gifts are all open, new toys have been broken in and a few lucky people got a new computer for Christmas. If you’re one of those people, congratulations.

Now wipe the thing clean and reinstall the operating system.

If you get a computer somewhat on the cheap from some amazing deal Best Buy or Circuit City or Wal-Mart had, chances are you’re also the proud owner of bloatware.

What’s bloatware? Glad you asked. It’s that free trial software that comes with a computer and causes me more tech support headaches than anything in January. People get this amazing software they think is free, get really attached to it and after 30 days have passed, WHAM, it doesn’t work anymore.

The reason why those computers are so cheap is because software companies pay a fee to put their software on the machine so people have a chance to try it out. It’s like how newspapers and magazines put ads in their papers to cut back on the cost to their readers. As a result, the computer is significantly cheaper. This is even more true around the holidays. The lower the prices, the more bloatware. The exception is the smaller ultra-portable laptops.

If you pop in your Windows install CD, there should be an option to start it up and reinstall your operating system. That way you start with a clean slate and you can enjoy that new computer a little bit more.

A-head in the cloud?

On today’s A5 there was a story about a company making it’s way into the cloud for their computer needs.

Before we begin, I want to make sure to clarify that Lando Calrissian is not involved in this. The cloud doesn’t involve Cloud City, rather it’s a metaphor for a different way for how data and applications are stored.

Right now, if you want to use Microsoft Word, you need to buy Microsoft Office, install it on your computer, save everything you create on your computer, as well as remembering to check for more updates to install. For most users this can be a hassle.

Now take that one computer and multiply it by a few hundred employees and you can see what kind of a hassle it can be. The cost in money, time and manpower can be a headache, even if something doesn’t go wrong.

Enter the cloud.

The system the story discussed involved Google’s many applications, including Google Docs and Gmail. The big benefits are the ability to collaborate on documents easier, and not having a mass of programs to maintain on your computers. Amazon is taking this a step further by offering people remote storage on their S3 servers. Think of it like a backup hard drive stored somewhere else that you can access anywhere.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? There’s just one small flaw:

They all rely on the Internet, which is bad for three reasons

1. Is it working? – Ideally when you’re trying to get work done, it’s best to rely on as few people as possible. In this case, rather than relying on people who are in house or in your company’s phone directory, you’re relying on a whole lot more to get to your data. First there’s your Internet Service Provider (or ISP) who will hopefully have a working connection. Then there’s the company who’s hosing your information. As long as everything is OK on their end everything is fine. But if one thing slips up on deadline, well, who ya gonna call?

2. Feeling swift today? – As is the case with most companies, the speed of an Internet connection probably isn’t lightning quick. It’s enough to take care of Googling something or checking your e-mail, but if a couple of people are downloading something at the same time, the Internet…grinds…to…a………halt.

Let’s add onto that a little bit. How often does your office use Microsoft Word? How much more traffic would that add to put your documents on the Web or to download them? If a network can handle that, then Google Docs would be a good alternative.

But what about backups? One of the little secrets ISPs have is a capped upstream. When Comcast tells you  that they offer speeds up to 6 megabits (not megabytes mind you. I’ll hit on that in a future post), they’re often referring to download speeds, or the speed something can be sent to your computer. When it comes to uploading, speeds are often drastically lower than downloading.

Let’s take a quick speed sample. I decided to find something near a gigabyte (or 1,000 megabytes) in size. I found this server software download from Apple and the download on my connection at the Appeal-Democrat will take roughly an hour. Now let’s take that and think in terms of an upload speed that’s half as fast as that download speed. Most upload speeds are even slower, but I’m a fan of easy math. Twice as long would take two hours to upload

Now take a look at your hard drive. Personally I have a 60 gigabyte music collection that I might want to back up online. If it takes a gigabyte an hour, that’s roughly 120 hours in a perfect scenario, or roughly five days. I typically don’t go a week without using my computer and most businesses don’t go dark for five days very often.

3. Do you have the bandwidth? – ISPs like Comcast are starting to tinker with the idea of bandwidth caps (another topic i’ll hit on in a future post). Basically it’s saying you can only upload and download so much data each month or they’ll cut you off. Right now Comcast is working with a 250 gigabyte cap, which is fairly reasonable for the average user. But now let’s factor in the idea of making a nightly backup where each night you send up a new backup of your hard drive to store somewhere in the cloud. A few gigabytes here, a few gigabytes there and suddenly you’re getting really close to that 250 gigabyte limit.

Now all of this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use the cloud. People use it all the time with their e-mail whether it’s through Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail. The key is to not always rely on it. If you’re going to use it for e-mail, make sure you either download or print the important ones. If you’re going to use something like Google Docs, make sure to have a copy handy on your desktop of your important documents. Google Docs also offers an offline mode which means you don’t always have to be connected to the Internet.

The cloud can be very handy. In fact, I’m even going to make a software recommendation that’s based on the cloud called Evernote. It’s free for the average user, give it a shot. It’s usable in a Web browser, on your desktop and even on your phone. It’s both Windows and Mac compatible and I wish I could use it in the office more. Alas, my computer’s operating system is a few versions behind what’s needed.

Macworld coverage coming soon

Can’t make it to San Francisco for Macworld next month? Don’t worry, Pen & Links will have you covered on the first two days of the expo with news and product information from the Moscone Center. Stay tuned for more information.

Why won’t my TV work?

As most people are aware by now, the digital TV transition is at hand. Some of you may be spending this day after Christmas hooking up your new TVs you bought specifically for this transition. Congratulations on being richer than I am.

Sure, you could rationalize buying your giant new flat screen TV because in two months your TV won’t work, but you can be ready for much cheaper than a $1,000 set.

First off let’s clear up some confusion

1. This is not the HD transition – There is no such thing as a high definition TV transition. You don’t even need an HD TV to get the signal. The only thing that’s changing is the way TV stations are sending the signal. If you’re getting your TV through your cable or satellite provider, you should be just fine.

2. You do not need to go to digital cable – Comcast is not sucking up basic cable channels to the digital tier for this transition. That’s a whole other can of worms I’m sure they couldn’t explain with a straight face (although the good news is you won’t be losing anymore channels to digital cable for a little while). Between misinformed employees and using the common word “digital,” these two events have been confused. If you have cable, you do not need to upgrade to digital cable unless Comcast snatched away a channel you like and you don’t want to go satellite.

3. Not everything is happening on Feb, 17 – Some stations have already swapped their signals, which is sort of a blessing in disguise. An easy way to find out if you’re ready for the transition is if you get KCVU from Chico. As of Dec. 22, it ended its analog transmissions. So if you get KCVU right now, that’s a sure sign you’re ready.

I mentioned something earlier about doing the switch cheaper than buying a new TV. You can buy a converter box at most retail stores. It’ll take the digital signal and make it compatible with an analog TV. Some boxes can push $80 easily, but it shouldn’t be hard to find one around $40 and you can get a coupon from the government to help defray the cost.

If you bought your TV within the last year and a half, you should definitely be fine.

And, hey, if you screw up and don’t have anything to watch on your TV come Feb. 17, why not try our video section?

Jobs-less numbers rise at Macworld pt 1

The tech world was caught off guard by Apple, Inc. CEO Steve Jobs pulling out of a keynote speech at the annual Macworld conference. As it was put in so many articles, the speech tends to be something huge that the technology world looks to. Even the networks slip in the latest announcements from the keynote into the evening news.

The question on everyone’s lips has been, “Why?”

Well, first off, he didn’t pull out of the keynote, per say. One of the hallmarks of Jobs’ keynotes the past few years has been the slew of stories around this time of the year saying he hasn’t confirmed he’s giving a presentation, even though it’s virtually assumed by anyone attached to the event.

This year was no different. Apple announced in a press release that “Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, will deliver the opening keynote for this year’s Macworld Conference & Expo, and it will be Apple’s last keynote at the show.” At no point in the press release is Jobs or his assumed absence mentioned.

Call me crazy, but I think this was the plan all along.

Back at the Worldwide Developers Conference (or WWDC for short), Apple made a brief mention of Snow Leopard, its next major operating system release. For those who haven’t been keeping track in the past seven years, each release of Mac OS X has a codename which is feline-related (Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard).

Each release has involved a few radical changes and additions to draw people into upgrading from their current system. Tiger had a powerful new search method called Spotlight and a place to run small applications called widgets on Dashboard. Leopard brought a revolutionary backup system called Time Machine which allows for hourly backups to be made and easily sifted through if a hard drive crashes.

Snow Leopard though was different. The only major change will be something called Grand Central which changes the way processes are handled by the operating system and I could go on about, but I want you to stay awake instead. The entire idea behind this upgrade is to tighten up the code in the operating system (i.e. trim the fat)

Let’s backtrack just a little bit away from Apple. For the past couple of years, housing prices had been going through the roof and everybody was getting easy credit. There were all sorts of prognostications of doom and gloom, especially with the addition of skyrocketing gas prices.

And then the bottom fell out. Panic swept the markets and companies left and right saw their stocks tank overnight while the Dow gave back hundreds of points of gains a day.

But Apple had announced back in February that it was packing $18 billion in cash to ride out any tough times on the horizon.

Now look at Snow Leopard. There aren’t any massive changes happening, it’s a perfecting of what already exists. A retooling in a bad economy to make sure everything is humming properly.

An operating system upgrade can bring all sorts of improvements and breathe life into the software, but it can also drive hardware sales. After all, those new software toys are going to need a better computer to run on than the last one. The problem is, people are hurting for cash right now and getting buried under debt. The last time I checked, priorities don’t do in the order of computer, food, clothes.

Apple has been ready for this downturn and this is a part of their strategy. So what about Macworld? Tune in for part 2 (hopefully) tomorrow.

Good morning

Or good afternoon, or good evening or good midnight snack. Such is the joy of blogging that I have no idea when you’re reading this. All I know is you’re reading this.

Welcome to Pen & Links, your guide to the Internet and the unclogger of the tubes. My goal is to bring you news and information in a way you can actually understand. Think of it as my Christmas present to you. Or New Year’s. Or Easter. Or Halloween.

I don’t think my name or photo is actually that visible anywhere, which means you have no idea who I am so it would be rude of me not to introduce myself.

My name is Kyle Buis. I’m a copy editor for the Appeal-Democrat, but that sounds limiting. I also am in charge of our wondrous Gallery page which runs every Saturday on C1 (submit your photos here), I lay out the monthly Plumas Lake Life tabloid and I have M & M’s on my desk.

I also dabble in photography on the side. I’ll touch more on that in a later post – if I remember it – but it does bring me to answering a question that’s probably on the tip of your tongue.

What on god’s green earth is a freaking blog?

There are about 8 million definitions of what a blog is on the Internet, but the easiest thing to remember that it is short for Weblog. It’s a log (some way of keeping track of information) on the Web (the internet). In that log, you can keep track of events, make comments, bring information, or for pro football players to reveal more of themselves than they planned on.

How does discussing your playbook in the nude have anything to do with my photography? For your sake, not the way you’re thinking.

As I said, a blog can be used in many ways. Here, I give you words and links to stories and relatively current events. Over here is my photography where I post a new photo every day from my collection. Over here is an archive of my writings from college (proud graduate of Chico State, one of many on staff at the Appeal-Democrat).

All three are different ways and designs of presenting some kind of information, but they’re all built on the same blogging software.

Now how can you start blogging?

There are services—Blogger, WordPress and TypePad to name a few. Not all of them are free, some of them can be installed on your own Web site. The possibilities are out there so get out and try at least one of them.


December 2008 Appeal-Democrat pages

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