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Introduction to Linux

April 4th, 2012 | Posted by admin in I've Always Wondered... - (0 Comments)

Introduction to Linux

You may have heard of the Linux operating system before, and maybe think it’s only for programmers, or people familiar with writing code.  Not true.  There are many versions of Linux that are based upon a GUI, or a graphical user interface similar to the Windows © operating system you are probably familiar with.  The nice part about Linux is that it is presently open source, free, and at the same time a very stable and secure operating system.  On the downside, it is not as popular of an operating system, so it doesn’t have as many programs written for it.  Linux is suited more towards basic tasks, such as document creation, media playback, and web browsing.

Open source refers to the capability of anyone to access the underlying code within the operating system, and modify it to their liking, or make it more user friendly or secure.  Most versions of Linux are currently free, and can be downloaded from web servers all over the world for no charge.  Since Linux is also open source, anyone can examine the code, and find any security holes quickly and patch them, meaning the Linux platform is also highly secure.  There are also less viruses made for Linux, just based on the simple fact that less people use it than Windows ©, therefore it is more profitable to write malicious code for other more widely used operating systems.  There are still malicious programs in Linux, however quite less than Windows©.

Linux has its roots in the creation of UNIX.  The UNIX operating system was developed by AT&T Bell Labs in the early 70′s.  Initially, UNIX was free and the source code was available from the beginning.  UNIX was easily modifiable to create a custom platform.

Many people may have never heard of either of these type operating systems, It is only natural to be intimidated by the unknown, however Linux is just like any other operating system, and is actually quite similar to the Android OS.

If nothing else, operating systems like Linux raise the bar across all operating systems.  The mere existence of Linux mandates that software companies like Microsoft© and Apple© continue to produce quality software.  The moment they don’t, they risk losing market share to the free alternative.  Linux forces software companies stay on the cutting edge, and fix problems quickly.

Security

Any computer system is susceptible to viruses.  The ability to be exploited by a virus is woven into the nature of computers.  Computers simply follow the instructions of any program you authorize, and it is always possible for someone to create a “bad” program that performs undesirable functions.

Linux is less susceptible to computer viruses because it has a smaller user base, and also because it is open source.  Having a smaller user base makes writing programs of all types, malicious and genuine less profitable.  Open source can help prevent security holes from being exploited as they normally would be.  The average Linux user is also slightly more knowledgeable about computers than your average user.  Therefore, it is statistically lower probability that you will encounter a virus while using Linux.

Free Software

There is also quite a bit of free software available for Linux.  Programs like Open Office are available for both Windows© and Linux, however there are a large number of programs similar to Open Office that are only available on Linux.

Some examples of other open source software programs you might have used before are; Mozilla Firefox, Apache HTTP Server, and osCommerce.  Each of these programs is completely free, and used by millions of people every day.  Any user is free to improve upon the original source code, and to modify the existing program for their needs.

Linux is easy to download and free to use so give it a shot sometime.  Who knows- you might just like it.  Nowadays Linux can be easily downloaded onto a USB drive, or burned to a cd, and booted directly from that device.  This means you can try out Linux for free without uninstalling your current operating system, or risking any of your files.  If you don’t like it and want to revert to your normal operating system you can simply restart.  If you decide you like it you can then keep it as your main operating system, or uninstall your old operating system.  People switch over to Linux every day; you might just be next!

How to Set Up a Wireless Router

April 4th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Networking - (0 Comments)

How to Set Up a Wireless Router

Setting up your new wireless router can seem complicated at first, however once you have done it once, it becomes quite easy.  Setting up a router successfully can be done by anyone, provided they follow the correct steps.

You will first need to know the following:

SSID – Service Set Identifier.  Your Set Service Identifier is your network name.  If you have ever connected to a wireless network before, you have selected the network based upon its name, or SSID.  People commonly select SSID’s they will remember, such as “Jim’s Network”, or “Free Public Wi-Fi” if you are at a restaurant or similar establishment that provides free internet service.

Encryption Type – Typically you are allowed to choose between WEP, WPA and WPA2 Encryption standards.  WEP is the oldest standard, and is easily cracked with brute force attacks.  Choose this option only if you must, and make sure to pick a long password.  WPA and WPA2 are newer, and much more secure.

Pass Phrase – This is also known as the “encryption key” or password.  This is frequently confused with the router password.  The pass phrase or encryption key is authorizes a network printer or additional network device to join with the wireless router.  These keys are generated by encrypting any phrase you choose.  You can usually choose between 8-63 characters, and may sometimes use spaces, like “I’m a talking dinosaur”. In this example spaces count.  The result is usually something similar to”13kyp9096!&t8″.  All you have to do then is type the original phrase in to authorize any network device, unencrypted of course.

In order to proceed, you will need to know the following:

1. The routers IP address.
2. The routers username and password.

IP Address

The routers IP address usually looks something like 192.169.0.1, 192.169.2.1 or 10.0.0.1.  The documentation that comes with the router should contain the IP address.  If it does not, a quick search with the make and model of the router should yield the IP address.  Once you have it, type it into your web browsers address bar and type enter.  A login screen should popup prompting you for the username and password of the router.

Username and Password

The username and password generally defaults to “admin” and “password” respectively, if this does not work a quick search is in order.  If you have an older router, a hard reset may be necessary if you don’t know the password.  Performing a hard reset is usually pretty straight forward, usually involves poking a paper clip into a small hole in the back of the router and holding it for 10 to 15 seconds. This will return the router to its factory state.

How Much Power Does a Computer Use?

You have heard before, “turn your computer off to save electricity when you aren’t using it”, which begs the question; exactly how much power does a modern computer actually use?

Well that’s an interesting question, one that we will have to dig a little deeper to answer.  Let’s take a look:

Starting with the basics, an average laptop computer with a 15”inch screen will consume an average of about 50 watts per hour.  Just for comparison, a basic desktop computer with a 17”inch screen will consume around 250 watts per hour.  These are estimates and a lot of factors go into this.  Some computer manufacturers will supply computers with special utilities installed to minimize power consumption; for laptops these are usually standard in an attempt to stretch battery life.  You can go here to download an application from Microsoft called Joulemeter, which will analyze your computers power consumption and provide you with an estimate per hour (Currently available for Windows 7© only).

Let’s assume your computer uses 50 watts per hour, and let’s say you work on it every day, almost all day 12 hours a day.  12 Hours per day, and lets factor in a conservative estimate of 31 days per month, 12 months per year.  This is right on par with a small light bulb!  In fact, some light bulbs are 80w or 100w meaning the average laptop consumes half as much power as a larger light bulb.  Simply amazing considering what you can do in an hour on a laptop.  Write a paper, solve complex equations, watch a movie, play music or even build a website.  Let’s see how much it costs to run this laptop 12 hours a day for a year.

50 Watts (Per Hour)(.05 kWh)(Assuming a conservative price of .15 cents per kWh)

X 12 Hours of use a day.

_____________________

=(.05)X(.15)X(12)=.09

In other words, this laptop uses 9 Cents a Day in electricity.

Hmm. Turns out most laptops don’t use much power at all.

.09 Cents a Day

X 31 Days in a month.

X 12 Months in a Year.

_____________________

= $33.28, Per Year

Okay so our meaningful number is somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 Bucks a year, to power a laptop 12 hours a day, every day.  Keep in mind this is a conservative estimate; your laptop will likely cost slightly less than this.

Remember this is in watts, which is a very small unit of power to begin with, so let’s convert this number to something a little more meaningful like Kilo Watts.  We now have 223 Kilo Watts per year worth of electricity to run a medium sized, average power laptop 12 hours a day.

Let’s now take at how much the typical desktop computer uses.

Desktop Computer and Computer Monitor

The average desktop computer uses somewhere between 250-500 watts.  This is 5-10 times as much power as an average laptop.  You can see that the energy savings over a desktop computer can be significant.  If your laptop uses $33.28/year, 5 times that is $166.40/year, and 10 times that is $332.80/year.  Not a number that is going to break the bank; however if you are on a tight electric budget, a laptop is the way to go.

How to Buy an Inexpensive Computer

Nowadays, most people have a home computer, or a laptop.  The information age necessitates the importance of staying connected, and many of us have jobs where we need access to a computer daily.  Needless to say, having a computer is absolutely essential.

The reality is that most of us don’t need the latest and greatest technology for just word processing, surfing the internet, checking email, and listening to music.  Any cheap computer will be able to do those tasks no problem, and often at a fraction of the price of a brand new decked out computer.  Unless you are editing graphics, encoding video, or playing the latest games, you can get away with a very basic computer, often a significantly cheaper model.  Also don’t buy an expensive computer or laptop just to watch videos and be able to play DVDs, any computer made after 2005 should be able to play HD videos no problem.  If you computer has gotten slower over time, perhaps doing some periodic maintenance is the solution.

If something were to happen to your laptop, or home desktop computer, how would you do these basic tasks?  Dust off the old typewriter?  I don’t think so; which is ok, because a good computer can be bought for much less than you think.  There is absolutely no need to drop thousands of dollars just to perform simple computing tasks.

Since computer technology is constantly improving, over spending now may leave you unable to buy a new computer when you actually need one.  Computers have a relatively short lifespan compared to most major consumer goods, and the likelihood of owning the same computer for more than 5 years is pretty slim.  Why spend all of your money on just one now?  You will most likely want an upgrade at some point in the future, so why spend thousands now?

The price for computers, unlike most goods and services, tends to drop over time.  Competition is part of the reason; rapidly increasing demands for new technology and profits for the companies that deliver is the other.  Look at some of the great technology brands you know and love.  I bet you wouldn’t log onto the Apple© homepage and expect to find a laptop for under a hundred dollars advertised, would you?  Of course not.  Why not?  Because Apple© is a premium brand in consumer electronics.  They deliver above and beyond what most people need at a substantial premium.  Why do people buy these computers if they are so expensive?  Some people need that specific device for their job, and it is worth the extra cost to them.

Just as there are premium brands, there are also basic brands.  My personal favorite computer brands are HP© and Dell©.  HP has lots of corporate contracts, and often offer bulk discounts to companies that purchase several computers at once.  Dell does the same, and you can often find used computers from these two brands, with yesterday’s technology, off corporate lease.  Off lease computers are great, and they often will continue to work beautifully for many additional years after you buy them.  Large corporations know that after a certain time period, the failure rate per unit goes up.  To avoid this hassle, they upgrade after a few years.  This is great for the average person looking for an inexpensive computer, and these can often be found online for fewer than a hundred dollars.

Having a cheap computer around can be great, especially if two or more people want to use a computer at the same time in your house.

If you don’t like the idea of buying a used computer, not all is lost; you can still buy a new computer at a great price. How you might ask?  Computer manufacturers and retailers know that you often will look at brands you know and trust when purchasing new consumer items – so, they often sell inexpensive base models at minimal profit.  They do this to stay competitive and so when you go to buy a new top of the line computer, you think of them.  Also, they know the real money in retail computers isn’t made on a per unit basis; it’s made at the corporate level in bulk purchases of custom computers.  Significant profits in selling computers are only really made at the custom level; so if you want to save money don’t buy custom.

It can be easy to buy an inexpensive computer on a budget; hopefully this article saves you money on your next computer purchase.

How to Improve Your Laptop Battery Life

If you own a laptop, you know that after a while, the battery is shot.  Unplug it from the wall and you will be scrambling for an outlet in no time flat.  Question is, how do you prevent this from happening – how do you make your battery last longer?

Modern laptop batteries are known as “Lithium-Ion”.  Lithium Ion is known as the “modern laptop battery”, and has many significant improvements over older batteries.  However, one major downside remains; they still wear out after 2-3 years.  There is no way to prevent the battery wearing out in this timeframe; however there are some tricks you can use that will help your laptop last longer.  After all, they are portable computers, and aren’t much fun tethered to the wall all the time.

The advice of, “let it die completely, then recharge it all the way to retrain it” is no longer applicable.  The “memory effect” or the need to “cycle” a battery by discharging it before recharging it again, is a hangover from the age of NiCad and NiMH batteries. Lithium-ion batteries don’t have a “memory”.  Time to try something else.

There is also no need to charge it, and then let it slowly drain completely as you use your laptop.  This is known as “cycling”, which also doesn’t apply to modern batteries.  In fact, it is actually recommended you leave the laptop plugged in all the time when you don’t need the battery.  This actually preserves the battery as modern laptops can determine the battery level.  If the battery is full, modern laptops will ignore the battery and run off of AC power, preserving the life of the battery.

Evolution of the “Smart Battery”

Modern batteries are smart.  They implement energy saving features, and precise reserve indicators.  The modern battery is quite a feat of engineering indeed; however they are still designed to wear out; like a car tire.  The best advice when it comes to modern batteries is to get smart about battery conservation.

There are some little things you can do that will make a big difference in your battery run time; here are a few examples:

Dim your screen. Screens consume the most power by far.  Every laptop will allow you to micromanage the brightness, so do so.  Taking your laptop somewhere well lit also helps, so you can work at a lower brightness level.

No man is an island, but a long lasting laptop is.  Turn off all antennas and external connections when not in use – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G, and especially 4G LTE.  If your laptop is constantly searching for an outside connection, it will not last as long.  I have found temporarily disabling the adapters on the road works nicely.  It is very easy to turn them back on when you need them.

Keep your laptop cool: hot batteries don’t perform well.  If you can keep your laptop cool by not setting it down on a thick or soft surface, your laptop will stay cooler.  If your laptop stays cool, your battery will too.  Cool batteries hold a charge longer.

Remove all unused programs, and make sure there are no background programs sucking up power.  Any program running that you do not need is shortening the life of your battery.

No USB, DVD’s or CD’s.  Get in the habit of copying any program or file directly to your hard drive before working on it.  Accessing external media will reduce your run time, especially if it draws any power from your laptop; i.e. an external CD drive.

Also, don’t forget to reboot once a week at a minimum.  Deleting the temporary files that accrue in a session, and refreshing the registry will help your run time as well.

Use your laptop.  When not being used, or in storage, the battery will lose capacity.  Now, while granted capacity diminishes with age it also diminishes quicker without use.  “Self-Discharge” for Lithium Ion is around 2% a month of remaining capacity.

Avoid standby.  In reality, if your laptop is “hibernating” or in standby mode, the battery is being used.  If you aren’t going to use your laptop for a few hours, power it down, don’t just close the lid.

Why Build a Custom Computer?

April 2nd, 2012 | Posted by admin in Buying New Stuff - (0 Comments)

Why Build a Custom Computer?

Building a custom computer doesn’t have to be expensive.  In fact, you can often build a great computer for less than you can buy one from a major manufacturer.  You get exactly what you want and need, and at a more competitive price.

Knowing exactly what you want; you can select components that will work synergistically with each other achieving optimal performance.  A custom computer will also probably significantly outlast a cheap name brand computer, if only because of superior build quality.  Most of the name brand manufactured computers nowadays are manufactured in bulk in China, and are designed to last a couple years at best.  Many custom built computers last much longer, which translates directly to a lower operating cost per year compared to a brand name computer.

There are many free how-to guides on the internet, and many websites that compare computer components, so you can read up on reviews and know exactly what you are getting with minimal effort.

Custom Built, Custom Use

Many people build their own computers, because nothing equitable is offered at a fair price.  Let’s say you want a computer for gaming.  Well you can spend several thousand dollars on a brand new gaming computer, or you can build your own.  If you build your own you can build it cheaper than you can buy it for, and at the same time upgrade it a later point in time if you desire.  You can easily build a top of the line gaming computer for under a thousand dollars that will last you for years to come and is of superior build quality.

Many people build computers for custom uses, such as trading, drafting, graphics editing, encoding video and of course; home entertainment.  Each of these computers will have specific needs that differ from each other, so proper planning is key.  It is best to determine what exactly you will be using the computer for ahead of time, before you spend any money, so you can be assured of individual component compatibility.

Budget

Competition is a beautiful thing.  Nowadays, with as many computer manufacturers as there currently are, getting quality components at fair prices is easy.  You will first need to pick a quality case, and a quality motherboard.  Then pick a compatible CPU, compatible RAM modules, a good quality hard drive, and any other drives you will need such an optical drive, or Blu-Ray Drive.  Once you have selected these, you will then need to select a quality power supply that will adequately handle all of your components with ease.  There are many free guides that go into great detail about building custom computers, and you will find the most difficult part in building the computer is often the selection of parts.  Everything fits together nicely once you actually start putting it together; just make sure you take reasonable precautions to prevent static electricity buildup.

A good solid, well-rounded computer will probably set you back around 800 – 1000 Dollars depending upon your needs.  Once you have assembled the computer, you will need to select an operating system.   Windows© is by far the most popular choice, and should suit your needs just fine.  If you are more experienced with computers, you might choose a free version of Linux for your needs.

The trick with building a custom computer is to map out everything in advance, so there are no surprises.  You should know exactly what it will cost beforehand, and also be certain that your chosen parts are compatible with each other.  People are often surprised how simple it is once they begin, and wish they had started sooner.  You might just find that custom computers are the solution to cheap brand name computers.