Spring Cleaning

by Chris 18. April 2012 11:46

After working on computers for many years you start to recognize trends.  Each operating system has it's own quirks.  Every time there is a major release of Microsoft Windows you know it will bring with it an entire laundry list of issues.  Changes in hardware are no different, getting newer peripheral devices like printers and external hard drives aren't always simple as pie on older machines. Also, a decent percentage of these issues aren't even real bugs or problems.  The simple act of moving buttons in the user interface or replacing an old communication standard with a new one (for example, printers now connect to your USB port instead of the older parallel ports) can often confuse the average user enough to the point where they simple can't figure out how to make their computer do what they want it to do.  My point here is that these problems are usually cyclical in nature.

However, there are issues I see on a somewhat regular basis that are pretty consistent.  I get a call, their computer just shuts down in the middle of doing something, or it doesn't always boot up, or the screen is freezing and then it shuts down.  These issues are more times than not hardware related but in a slightly different way.  One thing that happens is that people move their computer, it could have been moved months ago but in the process something loosened up inside and this can prove disastrous. A loose RAM module might just cause your computer to freeze and shut down but a wiggly power connection from the power supply to the motherboard might do the same thing but could also damage the power supply or even the CPU.  

The other and far more common issue is dust. Yes. Dust.  While tucking your computer under the desk might seem like a brilliant idea because it's out of the way, there is also very little air circulation under there and there is far more dirt and dust down there as well.  I've worked on computers where the only problem was the fan on the power supply was dirty and needed to be cleaned.  I've also worked on computers where the entire inside of the case was filled with animal hair and dust (I haven't personally observed this but I've seen pictures of mice living in computer cases.)  What goes on here is that with all that dust, there isn't enough air flow inside the computer to keep the chips cooled properly, this causes something, usually the CPU to overheat and boink, your computer shuts down.  Another problem is that all that dust and dirt on the fan blades can cause them to wobble when they spin, which will eventually destroy the fan and cause overheating problems.

So, if you feel comfortable opening up your computer case, this is the time of year to do it.  For desktop and tower style computers, simply disconnect all the cables and take the computer either outside or into your garage.  Some cases are more tricky to open than others but you really need to open up the case to do this properly.  Once the case is opened you can use compressed air to blow all the dust out from the inside of the computer, be sure to clean the fan on the power supply.  Next you want to verify that all the connections feel snug.

Laptops are a little easier to clean.  Again, disconnect all the cables, remove the battery and take it outside.  Open the lid and use compressed air to clean out the keyboard.  You can also spray air into all the holes and port around the computer.  If you see a round grill that looks like a little fan you should be sure to clean that out as well.

This simple routine could dramatically increase the lifespan of your computer.

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Mac | PC

Should I get an iPad

by Chris 7. January 2012 11:26

I get asked this question a LOT, along with a related question; what kind of iPad should I get.  My official answer to the second question is 'whatever you can afford.'  My answer to the first question is a resounding NO.  Let me qualify my answer now.  Ever since the original iPad was released I couldn't think of a valid reason to buy one, then the 2nd generation model came out and I still couldn't think of a real valid reason to buy one.  They don't really replace any device you currently own so it would end up being something else you need to carry around with you.  Over the past year I've seen some pretty interesting uses for an iPad other than playing games or sitting in your living room reading your email or checking out IMDB to see when the movie your watching on cable was released.  Unfortunately, everything I see an iPad being used for can be done with either your phone or your computer.

I guess now would be the time to tell you that I broke down and bought an iPad over the summer, I was configuring a wireless router for somebody and was using my iPhone to log into the router and configure it and though that this would be a pretty good use for an iPad, so that was my justification and I actually have used it on several occasions while working at somebody's house to check their router or just look something up on the web, but I have in no way gotten my money's worth out of this thing.  So, here are a few more things I do with my iPad:

Playing Games - this is what my iPad is used for most of the time.  I play cribbage and scrabble mostly but on occasion I'll download something free just to break things up.  Over the holidays, Sarah download a couple of puzzle games that kept the iPad tied up for the better part of a week.

Movies - the Netflix client on the iPad isn't as good as their standard web interface but it's still pretty awesome.  I love watching movies and find that the iPad is a pretty good size for watching a movie in bed or when you're chilling out on the couch and don't want to turn on the TV.

Music - I don't use my iPad for listening to music.  I'm a musician and find the iPad along with GarageBand is pretty good as a scratchpad for getting some ideas recorded.  There are also some great tools that allow you to play your guitar through the iPad as a practice amp but the quality isn't that good so I just use my practice amp.  I read about musicians that use the iPad to keep track of charts for songs and to keep track of lyrics but I've never really been the type to read from charts so I've never considered this for myself.  There are also some third party hardware platforms that will let you use your iPad as a guitar multi effect unit but from what I've heard they don't sound as good as any of the dedicated multi effect units that are currently available.

Reader - I have a dedicated eReader that uses eInk technology.  I've tried reading on the iPad just to see if I could eliminate my eReader but I can't read for any extended time on the iPad.  There are people that have no problem using it as a reader but the back lit screen is just too tiring.  I believe that the people using an iPad as an eReader are not avid readers.

Information - I'm going to lump a lot into this category, things like web browsing, reading email, checking IMDB, even checking your Facebook page.  This is what I thought the iPad would end up being great at and I was right.  When I'm playing a video game and need to check a walkthrough to find where something is, having the iPad in the living room is pretty convenient.  We used to have a tablet PC (an older HP TC1100) that excelled at being the computer in the living room that you use for 'looking things up' and with very few exceptions the iPad has fit nicely into the hole left when we sold the tablet PC.

So, have you made up your mind yet about getting an iPad?  If you're OK with spending upward of $800 on a device that may take you a few months to find a valid use for then by all means go ahead and get one.  But don't tell me I didn't warn you.

Tags:

Mac | Review

PC or Mac

by Chris 6. December 2011 18:22

PC or Mac? 

Ask any Windows user and they will tell you to get a PC.  Ask any Mac user and they will tell you to get a Mac. Like most things, the answer to this question is very subjective. 

I’ve been working with computers for close to 25 years and while most of my experience has been working with PCs.  I write computer software and until recently have only used Microsoft development tools, having a computer that runs MS Windows is more or less a prerequisite for this type of development.  During the last year I’ve ventured into writing software for Apple devices including iPhones and this type of development requires a Mac.  For a very short period of time I had a laptop running Windows as well as a MacBook for my iOS development.  After doing some research I found some amazing software that allows me to run Windows applications (including all my Windows development tools) on my MacBook Pro.  So I’m once again down to one computer, a 15” MacBook Pro running a software package called Parallels which allows Windows programs to run on a Mac, best of both worlds.

 

Most Mac users will tell you that they use Macs because they are more stable than a Windows computer.  While there may have been some truth in this a decade ago, each successive version of Windows is far more stable than the previous versions.  In addition, the 64 bit version of Windows is even more stable that it’s 32 bit counterpart.

 

With that said, here’s my answer.  In almost every situation a PC running the most current version of Windows will do pretty much anything you will want to do with your computer.  There might be some scenarios where a Mac might perform better than a PC but there is very little software these days that are ONLY available on one platform. One such example is games.  If you want to play games then you should definitely get a PC.  I’ll list a few situations I’ve found myself having to deal with over the last few months since switching to a Mac.

 

Business and Finance: As a software developer I design and develop some custom software that integrates with the Intuit accounting package Quickbooks.  After making the switch to a Mac I thought it would be a good idea to port some of my software so it could be used on the Mac version of Quickbooks only to find out that there is NO development kit for the Mac version of Quickbooks.  This means that if you want to use any custom designed components or you want to design custom software that integrates with Quickbooks you HAVE to use the Windows version.  Also, I just recently found out that there is a different version of Quickbooks for Canada, but there is no Mac version.  Now let’s talk about personal finance.  I’ve been a long time user of Microsoft Money but it was retired by Microsoft recently so after a very long hiatus I switched back to Quicken which is actually a pretty good product, very feature rich and easy to use.  Well, the Windows version anyway.  The Mac version is a joke, almost to the point of being non functional.  There are other personal finance software packages available for the Mac but none as functional as what’s available for Windows.  Score 2 for Windows.

 

Photography and Image management:  For as long as I’ve had a digital camera I’ve been using a software package called ACDSee for picture management.  It’s fast, doesn’t require you to add pictures to a database, you just point it to the folders where your pictures are and you’re good to go.  It also has some nice built in image editing functionality which is great for doing quick touch up, rotating images or even resizing images before uploading then to Flickr or even Facebook.  It’s also relatively inexpensive for the functionality you get.  The Mac version is more expensive and lacks ANY editing capability.  Again, there are many other image management tools available for the Mac but I’ve been unable to find one that had all the functionality of the Windows version of ACDSee.  Score 1 for Windows.

 

Graphics:  Working with images and doing any type of web development requires that you have some kind of image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.  Photoshop pretty much sets the bar for image editing and manipulation software and I’m please to say that so far the Mac version is just as functional as the Windows version.  No points awarded.

 

Office and Productivity Software:  As with Photoshop, Microsoft Office has set the bar for what is expected from an office productivity suite.  Although there is a version of MS Office available for the Mac there are some features such as VB Script support missing but most users aren’t going to miss this. Apple does have it’s own productivity suite available called iWork that includes a Work, Excel and Powerpoint counterpart which seems pretty feature rich and simple to use.  I’m calling this one a tie as well and not awarding any points.

 

Next is cost, based on the research I did when looking for my last computer I found that for lower end computers, Macs were much more expensive but once you started to get into high end configurations, Macs were pretty close in price to comparably equipped Windows machines.  My research was only for laptops.


In summary, there is very little you can’t do with a Windows PC these days.  So, if you ask me I'll tell you to buy a PC.

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