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I Like My Music LOUD — But Not My Technology

4 March, 2009 (21:29) | Technology Solutions | By: Ted K.

Have you ever experienced an above average level of noise or hum coming from your computer? This noise is usually caused by cooling fans or poorly installed components. I’ve received queries from clients who are fed up with the noise coming from their legacy PC’s and they make noise a central issue when upgrading to new systems. Noise is even a bigger issue in the SOHO business segment, where smaller office sizes and cramped quarters seem to make computer fan noise even more pronounced. This more pronounced noise level, may contribute to making employees more annoyed and generally less enthusiastic about the workplace. There is also a psychological component to the noise problem in that in makes the owners of the technology feel that they bought worthless junk or that they overpaid for their technology.

Just How Do You Fix Unwanted PC Noise?

Well, there are many ways to address the noise problem in your technology. There are many solutions out there, so it is important to correctly identify the source of your problem. However, I have outlined some possible scenarios that will help get you started.

Regular Desktops and Small Form Factor Workstations from Major Manufacturers — In my work I’ve seen quite a few entry level desktops and small form factor workstations that exhibit excessive noise problems. In many cases the noise would become more pronounced, the older the machine gets. With some older HP and Compaq SFF workstations, sometimes the cooling fan in either the power supply or the CPU cooling fan is the culprit. Replacing these components with a higher quality component will fix your noise problem.

Non-Branded Machines Built To Order — These types of machines are kind of scary in that you never know what you will find in these boxes until you open them up. These non-branded machines are usually built by some no-name discount computer stores or dis-reputable people trying to cash in on someone’s naivety. I’ve seen quite a few of these come in for repair and they are all sloppily made with poor components. The case is always shoddy, and how things are installed are shoddy as well. And in all cases, people have paid high sums of money for this worthless junk. With machines like this, a repair is never worth it; just salvage what you can and get a quality machine.

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Websites, SEO and Magic Pills

22 January, 2009 (22:52) | Technology Solutions | By: Ted K.

When speaking with many business owners who are contemplating a web presence for their company, I find that in many of them usually have unrealistic expectations as to what a website can do for them and a shaky understanding of how much web development actually costs. In a lot of cases they would site over-hyped articles in trade magazines and whiz-bang sales pitches from slick marketing firms as the foundation to their beliefs. Unfortunately, many of these articles and tactics from marketing firms reinforce the idea that a website is easy, maintenance-free, inexpensive and is the magic pill the will cure what ails your business.

As with anything in life, a truly exceptional website takes a lot of investment in both time and money. Taking advantage of the latest technology and designing your site with the future in mind will add great value to your site. Yet unrealistic expectations still persist among business people who are new to web services. In order to avoid web services sticker shock and the paralysis that goes along with technology unawareness, it best to educate yourselves on the common fallacies that exist with web services.

Common fallacies of web services

SEO strategies are equivalent to sales prospecting — As simple as this sounds, for many business people it is not an obvious statement. Many hold the view that seach engine optimization is the most critical component to sales prospecting and the only reason to have a web presence — this is simply not true. In order for any SEO strategy to work successfully, you need a website that has a wealth of content that is valuable to your customers as well as a business strategy that is sensitive to your customers needs. SEO strategies should not be looked at as a sales prospecting vehicle; they simply don’t work that way.

SEO strategies as a replacement to good content — It is a mistake to look at any SEO strategy as a shortcut to having a robust web presence with compelling content. Any SEO strategy alone, will not keep users coming back to your site. There is simply no replacement to having a website that is designed in a usable way and is a valuable service to your users.

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What is the Real TCO for Small Business Technology?

1 December, 2008 (22:09) | Technology Solutions | By: Ted K.

There is a perception in the marketplace that technology seems to get cheaper and better every year. In fact marketing initiatives of many purveyors of technology are very good at creating buzz about what is the latest and greatest and what is the “must have” technology items.

For a lot of small business owners that I work with, it seems that the price-point for technology is usually the selling point. However, I am always quick to point out to my business partners that there is a lot more to the message than the marketing. No matter how attractive pricing becomes, it is very important to focus on the total cost of ownership or TCO.

There are many factors to consider when trying to determine the total cost of ownership of a piece of technology. For example, let’s say we are looking for a desktop workstation for our business — there are a wide variety of additional potential costs that should be taken into account.

Finance Charges – During a typical 3 – 4 year product life cycle of a desktop workstation, many small businesses will find it advantageous to lease for the term of the entire product life cycle. You don’t pay for the entire product up front, but over the course of your lease, you will pay additional finance costs that are built into the lease — that increases your TCO.

Migration or Setup – If your new workstation is a replacement for an existing workstation, there will need to be a migration of your data and environment to the new system. If the workstation is a new system, there will need to be a setup of your required software, environment so that everything works with your systems.

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Do Your Homework When Acquiring New Technology

10 November, 2008 (21:00) | Commentary | By: Ted K.

In a recent conversation with a longtime client, I was told of his frustration with a technology purchase from a common big-box outlet. Frustration was cultivated because my client made a purchase that wasn’t exactly what he needed based on faulty information given to him by the sales clerk and baseless assurances that everything will be okay. The problem here is, is that he asked a technical question to a non-technical retail clerk. It is generally understood that retail clerks at big-box outlets are at the lower end of the pay scale and are subject to high turnover. As such, don’t expect them to be able to offer creative solutions to your technical challenges — you’re not talking to the right person. Marketing initiatives from big box retailers can be tempting for small business owners, but if you plan to make a purchase there, do your homework upfront to avoid problems later.

Things to consider when making technical purchases at big-box retail outlets

In determining if shopping at a big-box retail outlet is a good option for your small business, focus on your requirements and how discerning you are about your technology.

Limited Range of Products – In big-box retail, it is very common to find a lot of popular brand names, but you won’t find the full range of solutions for each brand. For example, if you are looking for an HP Notebook, you will typically find mainstream notebooks with features that fit a large market segment on both price and features. But you typically won’t find more business-focused notebooks and additional parts for your purchase such as higher capacity batteries.

Limited After Sale Support – in the typical big-box retail environment, it is typical to find employees that are not very familiar with specifics on the technology that they sell; so getting information on parts and add-ons for your technology can be very frustrating experience.

Not Business-Focused – Most of these outlets are not business-focused and seem to have employees that are oblivious to the concerns of small business. In fact these outlets seem to cater only to the casual home user with their customer loyalty programs and other marketing gimmicks. Business users need services that have value for their business such as leasing of their technology acquisitions and free technology seminars that are focused for the small business owner.

Getting High-Performing Audio On Your Notebook PC

1 November, 2008 (06:00) | Technology Solutions | By: Ted K.

With the ongoing price drops with notebook computers aimed at the consumer retail market, it is no wonder that notebook sales are out pacing the desktop PC market. I see it quite often with my business clients which prefer replacing traditional desktops with a notebook computer. The advantages they site are space savings and the ability of taking their work home with them, without having another computer at home. When small business users meld the requirements for their technology between their professional and personal lives, they are sometimes forced to make compromises.

One of the common complaints that I hear from users making the switch from their desktop to a notebook PC, is that the sound of their notebook is not as robust as they would like. I always have to illustrate to these users that the internal speakers on their business notebooks are very small and lightweight and as such are not made for high-volume multi-media escapades. Now it is true that there are multi-media notebooks on the market that have good sound and even sub-woofers, but these notebooks tend to be more on the larger and heavier side; a big issue with small business road warriors. Still, these larger multi-media notebooks don’t compare with the audio quality from traditional consumer electronics.

For general listening, I recommend that my clients get PC speakers from Logitech, Creative or other companies. They are inexpensive enough that you can have a set in your office and at home. For most users, a good set of PC speakers is more than enough for listening to webcasts, the occasional DVD and listening to music. Notebook users should generally experience the same sound from these speakers as when they were using a desktop. The good thing about these types of speaker packages is that it all comes complete in one box, like a complete kit. The bad thing about them is that sometimes the connections are proprietary and if one satellite speaker blows or doesn’t work, you usually have to get a whole new set of speakers.

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Protecting Your Equipment and Data With an Uninterruptible Power Supply

23 October, 2008 (21:27) | Safe Computing | By: Ted K.

I’ve worked with so many clients over the past little while and I’m always surprised how otherwise risk-averse business people can sometimes overlook a simple but necessary technology solution. The technology I’m referring to is an Uninterruptible Power Supply or UPS for short. A UPS is a device that you plug your technology into and the UPS in turn is plugged into your power outlets. The UPS will not only provide you with clean uninterruptible power to your workstation or server, but it automatically regulates the voltage going into your valuable equipment. This assures you that your equipment will not be stressed by the random power fluctuations and other power events that are common from your utility.

Just how common are random power fluctuations and intermittent power dropouts?

You may think that if you live in a big city or in the downtown core, that the power quality is sufficient enough not to worry about. The truth, is that random power events are quite common, no matter where you live. In many installations across the city, I’ve seen what can happen when a client doesn’t have the proper power management technologies at their facility. In my computer lab, I roughly experience about 4-6 major power events a year. I define any power event as a major power event if it requires my UPS technology to switch over to battery power. This could include a complete loss of power (blackout) a temporary voltage drop (brownout). Sometimes the loss of power may be only a few seconds or in the worst case, many hours. In addition to the major power events, additional power events that can adversely affect your equipment are a surge in electric current or slight voltage drops.

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Review of the Iomega Screenplay HD

3 October, 2008 (22:49) | News | By: Ted K.

I recently got a call from a colleague who purchased an Iomega Screenplay HD. This unit is a media player that hooks up to your TV and can play various media file formats. The unit houses a 500 GB hard drive for media storage and playback. My friend was having issues with media file formats and the way in which the Screenplay HD works. So, I spent some time getting acquainted with this unit and tried to work the kinks out.

Initial product impressions

The Screenplay HD is finished in a matte black textured paint (feels like fine sandpaper, although they probably were going for suede). The finish just doesn’t feel right; it doesn’t have the polish of previous Iomega products. From an aesthetic and fit & finish point-of-view, I don’t think this product compares favorably with other consumer electronics products. However, this product functions as advertised. The unit works well as an external USB hard drive and plays back various media including video, digital stills and audio.

The remote control is very slim, about the size of three credit cards and it uses an inconvenient (and more expensive) coin cell battery. The remote control is designed to snap into the base of the Screenplay HD (I suppose for traveling or storage).

Shortcomings of the Screenplay HD

I was surprised to see just how many short comings this product has. Even though this product is made in China, I was expecting that it would be competently designed as many American-designed products are.

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Spark Your Creativity With LOGO

3 October, 2008 (22:43) | News | By: Ted K.

So what do your children do on the computer? I’m sure that many parents would say that their kids play games or surf the Internet. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could positively stimulate their brain while keeping them engaged on the computer? I would recommend getting your child involved with the LOGO programming language. There are free versions available for download on the Internet. I find that this is a good way to teach a child geometry, Cartesian coordinates and some computer programming concepts. Hopefully it gives them a better sense that there is more to a computer than websites and video games.

When I was a wee youngster, I remember one of the first things that I saw that got me interested in programming a computer was a computer language called LOGO. Some people may recognize the most popular feature of LOGO as “turtle graphics”. It was simple enough for me to get started on it right away and was instantly hooked by all the creative possibilities. The basic features of LOGO are easy enough for any parent to navigate through with their child. In addition, you will find many great lesson plans available on the Internet.

Where to get LOGO for your computer

There are quite a few implementations of LOGO out there. For Windows based PC’s a free version of LOGO called MSWLogo is available from Softronix’s website. This implementation is quite good and will even run well on older PC’s. A newer version of the program is available as FMSLogo. If you are using another platform, be sure to check out XLogo, which runs under Sun’s JAVA runtime environment. JAVA.

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Create Computer Art With Chaoscope

26 September, 2008 (03:55) | News | By: Ted K.

You know, I’ve always dabbled a little in computer art and graphics. I find that computer graphics are an interesting way to play with colors and light. Over the years I’ve used many different types of graphics applications from paint programs to 3D rendering to fractal programs and more. If you have some time on your hands, why not see what you can create.

I’ve recently tried out a program called Chaoscope. It is a “3D Strange Attractors Rendering Software”. It is a freeware software application that runs on the Microsoft Windows™ platform. You can create some interesting images with this program in which you don’t need to understand the underlying math to fully appreciate . I’ve rendered an image using Chasoscope (below). Feel free to click on the image and download the full size version in 1280 x 1024. It is a quick download at 159k — it makes a great wallpaper! 😀

Image generated by Chaoscope and rendered by the Toronto Technophile.

The Chaoscope application is easy to use and the interface is uncluttered. I’m sure you’ll be rendering interesting images in no time.