Google+ April 2011 ~ High Tech House Calls

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Friday, April 22, 2011

Helpful Features of Windows Live Essentials

Reprinted from The Costco Connection  APRIL 2011 page17
By Marc Saltzman
CHANCES ARE, YOU’RE a PC user who relies on Windows 7—the best-selling operating system in history—and takes advantage of its intuitive user interface, fast and reliable performance and many built-in features that help you in so many activities. But guess what? This is only half the picture. If you’re using Windows 7, you can take advantage of Windows Live Essentials, a collection of free programs and services that help you take full advantage of the power of your PC. Here’s a look.

Making the most of your photos and video
You probably have hundreds—if not thousands—of digital photos and videos stored on your hard drive. Windows Live Photo Gallery can help you organize, edit, view and share these memories. For example, you can easily “tag” a photo with someone’s name, and Windows Live Photo Gallery will scan the rest of your photos and look for that person’s face. To find all photos of that person, just type in his or her name. You can also edit photos with simple tools, create a slide show or home movie, or quickly upload to sites such as Facebook. A fun and powerful feature, Photo Fuse, lets you replace one part of a photo with a better one—such as a picture of your child smiling nicely instead of looking down—so the family portrait will show everyone looking at the camera at the same time. With Windows Live Movie Maker, you can assemble your videos and photos onto a timeline, add transition effects and captions, music and narration, and then share your masterpiece.

Keeping in touch
Windows Live Messenger is an instant messaging tool that lets you type, talk or video-chat with friends, family and co-workers over the Internet. Imagine holding up a newborn to your Web camera so your overseas relatives can see the baby— in high-definition clarity. Teens can do homework together by collaborating on a document, all the while chatting, sharing photos and perhaps playing a game when it’s time for a break. Windows Live Messenger also lets you easily access social networks, such as Facebook or LinkedIn. You can also pick up your e-mail here, as well as review calendar entries and contacts. And you can share whatever is on your desktop with others.

Storing in the cloud
You can protect your important files, such as documents and photos, by uploading them to Windows Live SkyDrive, a password-
protected service that lets you store up to 25 GB of data, free. Storing your files in “the cloud” (online) offers three key benefits: You can access them from virtually any online computer in the world, your files are safe from local risks (such as fire or theft) and you can easily share specific folders with others online.

Logging in remotely
Another tool is Windows Live Mesh, which gives you the ability to log in to your PC remotely to access your
Windows 7 desktop. For example, you could access all of your media, such as music, photos and videos, on another PC while away from home. Or log in to your home PC while on a business trip to grab a PowerPoint presentation you forgot to take along.
You can also synchronize folders between multiple computers. Update a Word document on your laptop, for example, and it’ll automatically synchronize with your desktop PC. Finally, while it’s not part of Windows Live Essentials, I would be remiss not to mention Microsoft Security Essentials, a free suite of Internet security software that can safeguard your PC and help protect your personal identity. You can get details at These are all helpful everyday tools that are part of the Windows 7 environment. They’re worth checking out to see if they meet your computing needs.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pay Attention to Details Regarding Your Backup Procedure

Here are some questions to consider, when determining if your backup procedure still works:

  • Do  you check the backup log to see if the backup worked?  
  • Do you have enough free space on your external hard drive to put the backup file? Most backup procedures do not delete or overwrite the last backup. Therefore, unless you delete old backups, you will not have room for new backups. To check how much free space is left on your external hard drive, right mouse click on the hard drive icon listed in My Computer, and select properties. The pie chart will show you how you are doing on free space.
  • When is you backup scheduled? Is your computer on, when  the backup is scheduled to occur? If not,  the next time the backup is attempted is when the schedule indicates. A missed scheduled backup will not happened immediately when you computer is booted.
  • Do you use a free service like Drop Box? If there is a red "x" over the Drop Box icon, you are over your 2GB allowance and backups have stopped. You will either need to change what you backup to bring you under the 2GB limit or for pay for extra storage.
Pay attention to the details and your backup will be available when you need it.

Traveling in Europe with your Computer

Is a trip to Europe in your future? How are you going to stay connected?

  • Laptop computer: In your home neighborhood there are many businesses you can visit with your laptop to connect to the Internet and access your email for free (Borders, Krystal, McDonald's, etc.) This is not true in Europe. Most businesses will charge you to connect to their Internet connection.
  • Smartphone: Verizon requires you to activate a service in order to use your cellphone in Europe. Besides the activation fee, you will need to consider selecting a calling plan to make calls in Europe. Your smartphone, when connected to a WiFi network, will allow you to send and receive email, but without a calling plan, you will not be able to send and receive "text".
  • Internet Cafe: Most cafes, for a charge, will allow you to use their computer or your laptop to access the Internet. Unfortunately, before you sit down and use the cafe's computer, consider that you may not be able to access your Internet service provider's webmail because that site has been blocked by the Internet  Cafe. This was the case at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
I found that during my 9 days in Europe (London, Paris, Rome and Florence), that is was quite a chore to find an affordable connection to the Internet to read my email. Surprisingly, I found an oasis in Paris that had access for free using their computers and allowed my smartphone to connect to their WiFi for free. Under the Louvre Museum, is a shopping mall with an Apple Store. I waltzed into the Apple Store and sat down in front of an iMac 24" computer for 45 minutes undisturbed. I am sure that other Apple Stores in Europe would also be a place to seek out for Internet access.

Charging Your Laptop, Digital Camera and Smartphone

Most computer power adapters have a switch that will handle the 220 volts European standard. The U.S. standard is 120 volts. You will need a adapter for the plugged end because different countries have different wall plug standards.

If your laptop computer power adapter does not have a 120/220 volt switch, you will need to purchase a European voltage converter from Radio Shack or Mori Luggage. The European voltage converter plugs into the wall outlet and the power supply for your laptop plugs into the voltage converter. You will still need to invest in a adapter for the plugged end for the voltage converter to plug into the wall outlet with.

Digital Camera
If  your digital camera has a rechargeable battery, the battery charger will need to plug into an European voltage converter.

Normally, you can charge a smartphone using your usb sync cable plugged into a laptop usb port. This did not work. The smartphone indicated the voltage was not right to charge the smartphone. Plugging the smartphone charger in an European voltage converter will be necessary.

"Cleaning" the Electricity that Powers Your Computer

Electrical storms, ice storms or neighborhood construction can impact the voltage coming out of your electrical outlet. Your computer gear is more likely to fail if the voltage to your gear dips below 120 volts or spikes above 120 volts. Computer gear is likely to fail during quick spikes or dips in voltage.

Using a battery backup/UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) to "clean" the electrical power to your computer gear can make your computer gear last longer. A battery backup/UPS monitors the power coming out the electrical outlet. If the power dips or spikes, the power going into your computer gear is from the battery until the power from the outlet stabilizes. 

If you lose all power to your home or business, the battery supplies power to your computer gear to shut it off in a standard manner. This allows you to shut your computer down after files or photos you have been working on, have been saved.

How big a battery backup/UPS do you need to buy?
  • The longer the battery backup/UPS will power your computer gear on battery, the more expensive the battery backup/UPS. Five minutes of running on battery should be enough. If the power to your computer does not stabilizes in five minutes, it will probably take hours to re-establish electrical power to your home or office.
  • An 390 Watt/650 Volt Amps battery backup/UPS should be adequate for most home and small business needs. Remember, each computer will need a separate battery backup/UPS.

The Importance of Removing Dust From Your Computer Case

Does your computer freeze or shutdown unexpectedly?

Most computers have a safety feature that causes them to shutdown if the temperature inside of the computer case reaches a critical level. Sometimes the computer does not shutdown, but freezes.

Two Main Causes of Overheating Are:

  • Dust accumulates quickly inside of a computer. If the dust blocks airflow to your computer chip, that chip can overheat.
  • The cooling fans of your computer may have failed.

"Dusting" Your Computer

To remove the dust from inside your workstation, your must open the case. Please refer to your owner's manual for information. Owner's manuals are usually available from the vendor's website. To  minimize dust being blown from the computer case into your home, it is recommended that you open the case outside and remove the dust there. Your computer must be unplugged when doing this procedure or you are your computer may suffer damage.

Purchase a "canned" air product such as Dust Off at an office supply or computer store. Spray the compressed air inside the case and blow out all the dust you can see. Make sure to dust all cooling fans and the computer circuit boards. Reassemble the case.

Opening a laptop computer case is difficult and should not be attempted by a non-professional. To remove dust from a laptop computer, shutdown and unplugged it. Again, because of the mess, this procedure is best done outside. Point the "canned" air into the ventilation slots in the case to blow the dust out.

Checking the Cooling Fans on Your Computer

Workstations have at least two cooling fans. With the computer running, see if you can detect airflow where the electrical cord plugs into the back of the workstation. This fan is part of the power supply. There should be another fan that vents the heat inside the case. The case fan is below the power supply fan. A flashlight pointed at the fans will allow you to detect if the fan is moving or not.

If the fan for the power supply is not working, the power supply needs to be replaced. This is a job for a professional computer technician. If the computer is an older one, the failure of the power supply may be the start of an older computer starting to fail. Consider replacing the computer instead of replacing the power supply.

If the case fan has failed, this fan is easier and cheaper to replace than the power supply. If you are handy with a screw driver, you may be able to replace this fan yourself. Remove the fan, noting where the electrical connection was plugged into the motherboard. There are many different fan sizes. Take the fan to a computer store to match the size of the fan. You must replace the fan with an identical sized fan.

Newer laptop computers do not have fans and vent air via convection. Never leave a laptop computer running on top of a bedspread. It is possible for a soft surface such as a bedspread to block the cooling vents causing your computer to over heat.