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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night...ZAP!!!!! How to save your computer while sitting in the dark.

So, there you are- typing away, fingers a blur as you write your latest inspiration on the computer for the world to read and absorb in slack jawed wonder when *click* the power dies and your great American novel dies with it. Without power, your computer instantly shuts down and takes all of your unsaved work with it.

This really could have been avoided. By simply purchasing an uninterruptable power supply (UPS), you'd have plenty of time to save your next literary masterpiece.

Think of a UPS like a constantly charging battery. About the size of a small shoebox (more or less), the UPS will supply power to your computer and monitor and give you enough time to save your work and properly shut down your computer so the world is not denied your hard earned genius.

Someone's unprotected computer in this building just
started to smell like cooking bacon, because everything
got fried...everything.
Additionally, most UPS's also filter the power coming into it and provide "clean" power going out, extending the life of your $750 invesment. Plus, many UPS's provide strong surge protection, sacrificing itself instead of allowing a lightning strike or other power bump into your delicate electronics and turning them into 17 pounds of scrap metal.

PCWorld has reviewed several power supplies and has posted an article here so you can make an informed decision and be well prepared for the next lighting strike that Murphy's Law says will destroy your computer three days after reading this article. So get going!

Then, once you're really protected, you can resume your grammatical gift to the world worry free.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why is my computer growing hair?

Please tell me this is not your computer!
BTW, that's not carpeting covering the vents in this
When was the last time you looked at the back of your desktop computer?

Yep- that's what I thought. It was the day you got it and plugged in all of the cables, wasn't it? How long has that been? A year? Two? Five?

I bet if you look back there right now, you'll see a bunch of dust and fluff blocking the fan vent. Go ahead, check. I'll wait...

Yuck. Pretty clogged, isn't it? Those vents need to be clear in order to provide the cooling your computer needs to run efficiently and for a long time. Failure to keep these holes free of dust and gunk means your baby may overheat and greatly shorten the life of your desktop.

What to do? Go here for tips on cleaning all of your computer- case, mouse, keyboard, screen- all of it. You just might extend the life of your computer by several years, saving you a good bit of cash in the process.

Now, let's look under your bed... on second thought, nevermind.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Print your custom message - literally anything you want to say on a coffee mug!

My wife likes things "just so". She orders salad dressing on the side because "they might put on too much on it". Whatever- if that's what she wants, then that's what she gets- I like a happy wife.

It's that kind of specific, custom "I want it a certain way" kind of approach that the good folks at Cafe Press have used to build a successful business. They specialize in imprinting your design onto the usual t-shirts and coffee mugs. But that's not all- you can have your design printed onto bags, pillows, hats, baby clothes and even underwear. Yes, I said underwear.

What if you don't have a design ready? No problem. Cafe Press has a web page especially created to help you make your custom item. Using their site, you can write, import or otherwise make any custom item you wish.

This is a great idea for a few mugs for a small business or a t-shirt promoting your kid's run at class president.

You can order one or a hundred of anything and soon you too will have your message on a t-shirt.

I wonder if "Monkey Simple Tech" will fit on a pair of boxers?

Go to Cafe Press here to find out.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quick! Stop me before I spend again! Photography store heaven for shutterbugs

As a professional photographer, I am by definition looking for the next new thing. Lenses, batteries, lights, cameras and the idea of purchasing all things photographic makes me all warm and gooey inside with anticipation.

And the best company I know to keep feeding that addiction of compulsive photography spending is B&H Photo. Located deep in the heart of New York City, I have literally spent tens of thousands of (other people's) dollars purchasing all manner of video and camea ephemera. They literally have everything and anything one might need to capture an image on film, memory card or other recording media. All of the goodies are here too, from Gorillapods to gobos and other things that are named with made-up words (BTW, both of those previous objects are real).

The only downside I can see from using this company is the NY attitude from the phone salespeople may sometimes be a bit shocking to the fragile southerner or the innocent midwest consumer. But, my experience with dozens of purchases has proven them to be honest, reliable and upfront with all of their offerings. So, if you're a little hesitant doing business with them..."Forgedaboutit!"

That was the best NY accent I could write. It really was.

To find B&H Photo, go here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The eight most frustrating words a consumer can hear: "Your call is important to us-please hold"- Here's a solution!


I just got off the phone after traversing the infuriating phone maze of my cable company's customer support phone line. "Press 1 for English, Press 3 for billing, Press 5 for more options"

I wish they had a "press 9 for electric shock" for the person who invented this system!

So, while I was on hold (67 minutes!) I had the opportunity to surf the web for some kind of relief for this frustration of being kept in phone limbo while I waited for anybody to finally pick up the other end so I could pay them money!
Not me- But I feel his pain

What I found was a great website created by a consumer who was as frustrated as me in getting a human to answer my question. has gathered all of the "secret phone codes" for getting to a real person as fast as possible. The site also contains the tricks of using voice prompts to accomplish the same thing. Hundreds of companies are listed from the Fortune 100 to little operations most of us have never heard of.

This kind of site could cut your wait time drastically and spare the inventor of phone limbo a few electric shocks.

Oh, what the heck: 9999999999999999999999999999. Boy, that felt good! You can feel good too by going here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ford's got That Sync-ing Feeling- and That's a Good Thing.

Remember "My Mother the Car"? Of course you don't. Hardly anyone does. For years, it was considered by many to be the worst television show ever shown on broadcast television. The point of the show was the car actually spoke to its owner, played by Jerry Van Dyke (please don't ask me how I know that). Here's the twist: The car's voice was actually his mother's brought back from beyond. No wonder it was one and done.

With that fresh idea in your head, I give you the Ford Sync. Like MMTC, you speak to your vehicle, but this time your mother has no part in this. And your vehicle can actually speak back to you...sort of. Created with the genius geeks at Microsoft, Ford Sync is an option on most Ford Company cars and trucks and takes interaction with your wheels to a new level.
Ford's Sync Video Screen

With this option installed, the new owner will experience a new level of hands off control. FS allows you to control your compatible cell phone and MP3 player by simply telling it what to do (i.e.,"play Beatles"). You can also make hotel reservations, call friends and family, get directions, have FS read text messages to you and tell you all about your sports team, stocks and the weather wherever and whenever you want it to do so.

There's more the Ford Sync can do- much more, but why let me tell you about when you can get it from the factory itself. Go here to find out more.

And I promise your mother's voice will not come out of the speakers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hey- I just found $50 in your dresser drawer!

You know that old baseball card collection sitting in your garage or that twenty year old video game console gathering dust in the attic? Did you know that someone will actually pay you money for those?

It's true and it's easy to do. Ebay is one of the better known companies on the web and Ebay members offer for sale everything from million dollar homes to wooden clothes pins to WWII fighter planes. These folks are selling their unwanted goods on the internet and you can too and it's free to join. Ebay gets a cut of the sale (a small one) and the rest goes into your pocket.

Ebay is not an online storefront like or Amazon. The majority of the sellers are just normal folks like me and you. In fact, it's in Ebay's best interest to make it as simple and carefree as possible to sell your, treasures on their site. Tutorials and books on the subject of selling on Ebay abound, but the best place to start is at Ebay's official beginner's page located here.

Try selling an unloved widget or two then, once you have the details figured out, start scouring the house for that old rug, Aunt Millie's rocking chair and that awful owl lamp your mother-in-law gave you after you moved into your first house...oh, sorry- that was me.

P.S., I got $19 for the lamp...don't tell the wife!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How an iPod is just like a Jeep and a box of Kleenex.

The word iPod is alot like the word Jeep.  Both are brand names but both are also synonmous with the product they represent. The makers of Kleenex often take out ads in jounalism trade magazines making the point that Kleenex is a brand name for facial tissue.

The iPod is like that too. Many folks simply say they "have an iPod" when they really have something else as their MP3 player of choice. This avoids having to explain exactly what brand you have ("Archos? Who's that?"), what it does and you usually end up the explanantion with the phrase "just think of it like an iPod".

In the world of MP3 players, the 2nd most popular player in the United States after the iPod is the Microsoft Zune HD. Never heard of it? Not to worry, most folks haven't either and that's a shame because the Zune is a darn fine player in it's own right. It has a HD screen (thus the "HD" portion of the name), huge memory- up to 64 gigabytes- and a touch screen that is simplicity itself to use. It can hold 10,000+ photos, audio books and even has an FM radio! OK, that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but the iPod Touch doesn't have a radio at there!

The best thing about the Zune HD, however, is the Zune Store. Think of it like Microsoft's version of iTunes. Millions of songs and movies are for sale, thousands of podcasts available for free and a special little item call the Zune Pass. For $15 per month, you can download unlimited (yes, unlimited!) amounts of music into your Zune player for as long as you pay the subscription. the good news of all this is you get to keep your choice of 10 of those songs every month forever- even after you cancel your Zune Pass subscription. Apple has nothing like it and no one else does either. You can also buy songs and keep them permanently one at a time too.

The Zune HD doesn't come with all sorts of apps like the iPod (although it does have a few that come preinstalled), but it's comparable in nearly every other way and the best feature of all? It's cheaper than the iPod- 16G versions start at $156 (go here to see it on sale for that price), Apple's 8G iPod touch starts at around twenty dollars more with half of the memory. ($175). So, you're getting twice the memory for the less than the price of the iPod Touch.

Available at most big box stores, the Zune HD is available right now. Go to the Zune site here to learn more.

Remember, it's just like an iPod.

Only better.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quick Tip: Buy a week-old computer and save!

Here's a good way to save some money and still get a quality computer with full warranty coverage:

Dell has an outlet segment of their main website that offers fully inspected and warrantied products that have been returned for several reasons: buyer's remorse, not what they expected, malfunctions and so on.

Most products are no more than a few months old and it's a great way to save hundreds on a computer and pocket the difference. Go here to start shopping.

By the way, Apple has a similar program for their products and it can be found here. You can also find deals on iPods as well.

Happy shopping!

Looking to save money on travel? Take a Kayak.

I like to travel, but with a family of five it can cost a pretty penny. Car trips are pretty much the limit for us, but sometimes we manage to muster up enough scratch to actually fly somewhere and a cruise may be not too far into our future (I hope!).

As I've pretty well established on this blog, I am a cheapskate and I'm always on the lookout for the best deal anywhere. Travel is no different. I'm willing to pay for a quality vacation, but I'm not looking to overpay  just to see an enormous mouse or dip my toes in an ocean. One of the most useful sites I've found to save on a vacation is

Offering the lowest prices on flights, car rentals, packages, cruises, hotels and more, Kayak scours the internet for all sorts of deals and values and gathers them in one place for your review. They offer worldwide destinations and last-minute bargains you can grab for pennies on the dollar.

Travel hasn't gotten cheaper. Far from it. But when using Kayak, travel may have just gotten smarter.

To board your flight for a few dollars less, check out Kayak here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

If you're looking for a new job, This is the Web Site for You. Indeed it is!

There are literally hundreds of websites catering to the job searcher looking for any kind of employment(Monster, Careerbuilder, HotJobs) and there are those that serve far more specific occupations and industries (JournalismJobs, Higheredjobs).

You could spend all day looking through each and every site until your eyes are bloodshot or you could just go to a job seeking website with the unlikely name of

I've been thinking all morning how to descibe this site without comparisons to Google, but I can't, because that's pretty much what it is. Enter any kind of search word having to do with your job interests as random as "bread", "manager" and "blue" turned up job offers in places as diverse as Maine, Virginia and Tennessee. You can also search by location (via state, city, zip code and region), salary, company, posting date and many more. An advanced search option gives you even more choices to refine your search for optimum results. finds all of these positions by constantly reviewing virtually all job posting websites available and harvesting them for your review. New sites are added all of the time and checking back reguarly will reveal new positions and opportunities for you. The best part? Say it with me now: It's free.

Man, how I love that word.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A quick tip!

I'm going to try to include these quick tips on a roughly once-a-week basis. They're little tech tidbits designed to make your life easier and simpler.

Here's today's tip:

If you ever get an error message on an electronic product of any kind and are curious about what it means or how to deal with it do this: copy the error message exactly and go to and enter the message exactly into the search window. Press "Google search" and you should see thousands of results that define and explain the error message so you have the knowledge to know what to do to hopefully eliminate it.

How to Stay Focused When Buying a Digital Camera and Develop Your Consumer Skills

My dad takes pictures. A lot of them. For years he used a Sony digital camera that recorded images onto a mini-CD. After 10 years, it was getting pretty tough to find mini-CDs anywhere (BTW, it was tough to find them in the best of times).

So, he started looking for a replacement camera and was met with a dizzying array of choices- should he go for a lot of megapixels or is a big zoom the way to go? Are those cheap cameras any good? What's the difference between XD and SD camera memory? What is metadata anyway?

The first step is to decide what you want the camera to do for you. Are you shooting the grandkid's little league games where fast moving images are a priority or are you looking for pictures of grand vistas while on vacation? Does it need to be tough and waterproof? Are interchangeables lenses important or is small and thin what you're looking for?

The answers to these questions will help you to concentrate your thinking towards a specific type of camera so you can start to shop for something in your budget that meets your needs. The good people at has prepared a helpful article that explains what the terms and the technical specs on a digital camera means and how they apply to your real world use. You can find it here.

To compare and to see real in depth camera reviews with technical jargon galore, go here to DPreview. While based out of the UK, the cameras they test and review are the same ones available here in the USA.

The reviews can get a bit geeky but they're easy to decipher and include dozens of helpful sample photos that allow you to compare and see actual picture taking results. It's worth a look once you get down to your two or three finalist cameras.

Say Cheese!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Setting Up a Wireless Network is Not Brain Surgery...More Like Removing a Sliver

My sister-in-law was walking around her house the other day, showing off some new furniture to my wife. She went from the living room to the upstairs guest room and boasted about this floral pattern and that wood grain on that table- blah, blah, blah...(I'm not a furniture guy and had soon mentally tuned out with a glassy eyed stare). The thing is, my sister-in-law lives in Texas and we were 1,200 miles away.

So how did she walk all over the house showing off the new couch and upstairs lamp? She used a laptop computer and a wireless network. The laptop has a built-in camera and she pointed it at each object and described it to my wife as she walked from place to place. The wireless network allowed her free reign to go anywhere she pleased and to maintain a clear connection to the internet.

Wireless networks are now very common and it's easy to put one in your own home. There are many quality manufacturers and the process of hooking one up has been developed and tweaked to be as easy as possible. As proof, here's a video for one such maker, Linksys. This isn't an endorsement of Linksys, but an example of one popular product and how easy it is to set up and use.

By the way, wireless networks are more secure and reliable than ever. With a few clicks, it can be virtually impossible for someone to use your wireless setup for nefarious purposes.

Soon it will be possible for you to talk to my wife and show her your new carpet- in every room. Um, is that that the phone ringing? I gotta go now...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Let's Save the Economy and Spend Some Money!

I've decided that economy has taken long enough to recover and it's time to take the reins and fix it ourselves. To that end, here are some websites to save you money while you spend money. There are thousands of sites like these, but I can vouch for these specific sites as I've used them myself.

The first is a site called This site continually lists bargains and deals, coupons and other deals that will save you money on products you need. During the holiday buying season, this site morphs into another site called "". They dig around and find early releases of the infamous Black Friday sales that most stores have the day after Thanksgiving. Whatever the name, this site can save you money.

The next site is I can't explain the unusual name, but I can explain the great deals. The hook here is that one product per day is offered at an incredible price. This site may take some persistence because it may be days before you see a product that grabs your attention, but when an item appears that you need or want, grab it, because you may not have another chance to get it at the same low price. It's worth checking every morning for the best deals.

Newspapers are struggling and one of the reasons is Think of Craigslist as online classified ads. You can look up your town (or thousands of towns across the world) and look for deals on cars, apartments, furniture, pets, jobs and anything else you can imagine. You'll be able to sift through the ads by price, date, photos, keyword and find the item you want at the price you need. Like paper classifieds, it's in your best interest to tread carefully and inspect all purchases before buying.

Great deals take a little effort. Money is hard to come by these days and a little effort is nothing if it keeps bills in your wallet and change in your pocket.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The EVOlution of Android phones.

Ever since the Apple iPhone hit the shelves a few years ago, other cell phone makers have been scrambling to catch up and to get some of that (profitable!) smart phone pie.

Palm tried and got swallowed whole by Hewlett Packard, who bought them out after the Pre sunk like a stone on the unforgiving river of the cell phone marketplace. Microsoft tried and died and are reloading with the upcoming Windows Phone 7. Others have come and gone with the fickle whims of the buying public.

Android was introduced by Google less than two years ago and has gone through numerous updates, tweaks and improvements. Finally, the app store has exceeded 50,000 applications, the software has matured and the phone hardware can now do the heavy lifting required by savvy users.

One of the latest phones to hit the market is the HTC Evo. A smartphone in the mold of the iPhone, the Evo takes advantage of the 4G ("G" means generation) wireless phone system in place in many major cities across the country (but not all- some towns are still making due with the "old" 3G system).

It still works just fine with 3G, however and the screen, functions, apps and all of the other bells and whistles promise to provide consumers with a legitimate option to the iPhone, which has taken its lumps as of late.

For some, an iPhone is all they'll ever need. For others, an iPhone is not an option- whether due to personal choice, work requirements or cost. For those folks who choose to take another path, the HTC Evo is a good place to start shopping.

PCWorld has a review of the Evo here.