December 29, 2009

Wiki while you work

Many moons ago I was involved with a project of creating an internal wiki to host an internal document and solutions guide for the I.S. department I worked for. I wanted to use MediaWiki or MoinMoin but was challenged to create a LAMP, WAMP OR WIMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP / Windows, Apache, MySql, PHP / Windows, IIS, MySQL, PHP) and was unsure how all these were setup. As a result we used instiwiki and got by, but I was never satisfied with our result.

Fast forward more than a year and a half and... I still am unsure how to compile a stack from scratch mostly from lack of time since I'm not working with anything that requires these servers.

For people like me the people at Turnkey Linux have created a host of virtual appliances including the object of my search which was turnkey mediawiki. At turnkey they provide an image that includes a minimal version of Ubuntu's LTS (long term service) operating service and every application required to have your application server operate "out of the box". For me that included the whole LAMP stack, mediawiki and the webmin tool for remote administration.

What I did was copy the ISO file which I could have burnt on a CD, but I decided to install the ISO directly to virtual box. I don't have a dedicated box to create a server with at this time, and with such minimal resource needs I can't see wasting a box for this one application. See my article on reducing fear during the switch for a very short write-up on virtual box.

So far, out of the box, I have been able to look at the wiki home page, and log in as the web admin. I need to get java installed on my browsers so I can continue to look at all the web admin tools, but so far I've invested 30 minutes of time and of course zero dollars. If turnkey mediawiki works for me the way I'm hoping it will, you can expect to see other write-ups on other turnkey virtual appliances.

If any of my readers have used other turnkey Linux products or any other virtual appliances, feel free to drop me a line at computerdoctor.help@gmail.com and get your article included in a possible follow up article.

December 16, 2009

...and getting the video editor to work is priceless

So after a disappointing run with Kdenlive I next tried Cinelerra. I originally did not go with cinelerra because it wasn't in the package repositories for Ubuntu. I tried to install the package from source code, and to be honest I'm not at the level where I can successfully install from source and track down all the dependencies needed.

I followed a video by mstjohn33 on how to install cinelerra in Ubuntu 9.10 and it worked. Thank you to mstjohn33 for such a clear walk through.
Now before I gallop off into the sunset with praise to the hilt for cinelerra, I have to be honest. Cinelerra is not an entry level video editor for the weekend warrior. You will have to do your homework to make this software work. For example I spent three days searching forums and trying to make sense of the instruction manual to get a simple blur box to work for me.
I also spent almost a week trying to figure out how to render a video to play in Windows Media Player.
I am in no way an expert in cinelerra, but the price is right (hee hee) and I got the job done.

As a side note, to convert a video to WMV for Windows media player, there is no settings inside cinelerra that do this automatically for you. You will need to render it in the least lossy format possible and use the following command line to convert it...

ffmpeg -i "sourcefile.avi" -s 320x240 -b 1000k -vcodec wmv2 -ar 44100 -acodec wmav2 -ab 56k -ac 2 -y targetfile.wmv

You will need to change the sourcefile.avi to what your original video is and the targetfile.wmv to what you want your file to be named.
I also edited the 320x240 to be 800x600 because that was the size my source file was created as.

I wish I could elaborate on the other settings in the command line, but I found the code on another site and copied it and edited what I knew and let it fly and it worked.

December 07, 2009

If a picture's worth a thousand words, what's a video worth?

Getting back to my love for video creating, I started a task of making a video documentary on using the ebrary reader or Adobe digital editions in Linux (see article back to school and going linux). I almost tried doing a video capture from a virtual Linux machine inside Windows, but then I had the idea to try to create the whole video and edit it using open source software in Linux. I started by using xvidcap to capture screen clips and then instead of going back to AVS to mix the video in Windows, I installed Kdenlive.

Now I will be the first to admit that this program is fairly new, the documentation is about on par with open source projects which is to say almost non-existent, and the program itself crashed multiple times.

On the plus side though this program has a fairly large set of features which are comparable to many entry to mid level video editors. The forums at their website are a great resource like many other open source sites with a following of helpful and friendly users. Also, it goes without saying that the price of $0.00 is very attractive since I've already paid over $50.00 per year to use AVS to create my videos in the past.

I was able to complete my video, albeit without an audio track yet (because I'm not sure if I want an audio track with it yet) and I will be showcasing the video later this week at work.

Thank you to the developers at Kdenlive for your hard work and I hold high hopes for your project and await the day that you are a major competitor in the world of video editing.

November 16, 2009

Bully Tries To Steal And Gets Caught

When I was a kid I used to love playing at my cousins house. They had all the cool toys and a lot of them. The only problem with playing with someone elses toys is that you have to play by their rules.

But that's not to say that if you only want to play that you have to go play with someone elses toys. You could make your own toys or play with free toys. We used to make some of our favorite toys out of scrap lumber that was left over from some project at the house. My brother and I would make our Army guns out of wood and we played for hours with our "new" toys.

How do you think we'd feel if our cousins would decide that their store bought toys weren't good enough and they came over and took our homemade toys home with them and told everyone that those toys were in fact theirs.

Far fetched right? Well after some research it seems that Microsoft has done just that.
The newly toted WUDT tool that was offered as a way to deploy the windows 7 ISO to a bootable USB drive is actually a stolen open source tool that is protected by GNU and should have been left open source.

Microsoft has been in the proprietary software business for so long that I don't think they are ready or able to learn how to play nicely with the open source community yet.
You would think that After the highly publicized lawsuit between Sun Microsystems and Microsoft in 1997 over the abuse and forced incompatibility of the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine that lessons would have been learned.

Microsoft, listen carefully. The global community will no longer tolerate being bullied because you believe you are bigger and better. Your days of being the only choice have come to a close. It time to trim the fat and find out what your customers need and want instead of forcing your bloated and over advertised software on us. Consider this a friendly suggestion because I could care less what happens to you as a corporation, but I would be sad to see such great potential toppled by it's failure to adapt.

November 04, 2009

Ubuntu 9.10 Has Bad Karma For Broadcom Wireless

For all the Ubuntu users out there we heralded in the new version of Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala this past weekend.

Now before I start on my rant I want to put up a disclaimer on my comments. I absolutely love Ubuntu and will continue to use it, write about it, train on it, and promote it.

Now on to the rant...

After spending months of joy with each version of Ubuntu since Hardy Heron I have never had a successful update either graphically or by the command line. How can a distribution that works almost flawlessly on a fresh install have such a poor updater?

Like I always do, I backed up my personal files and tried the updater and from 9.04 to 9.10 I found the following errors upon booting up Karmic
  • touch-pad mouse did not work
  • Firefox was extremely slow
  • Sound card did not work
At this point I tried fixing each problem separately, but after getting the touch-pad working and then going through a handful of solutions for Firefox I decided it wasn't worth the effort and I'd rather do a fresh install. Of course now we get to the meat of the rant...

After doing a fresh install I find that my broadcom wireless card wasn't detected. This is just plain weird because it was detected on the live cd. My solution was to load the broadcom drivers off of the live cd with the following steps...

1. Open Synaptic Package Manager
2. Load the Live cd in it's drive (or thumb drive if you install with that media)
3. Go to Settings / Repositories / Ubuntu Software
4. Check mark the installable from cd and close
5. Refresh Synaptic
6. Search and install
  • fakeroot
  • patch
  • dkms
  • bcmwl
7. Reboot computer

Hurray, now it works for me. Hope this helps.

Now I urge the hard workers at Canonical, during their 100 paper cuts initiative, to please focus on improving their graphical updater so it... well... works.

October 15, 2009

Is Freedom Ever Free?

While talking with co-workers regarding the merits of using Linux and open source software I always get the same foaming at the mouth comments about not being compatible and blah blah blah that I always seem to dispel if they are willing to give a little effort.
But in retrospect I think I've over simplified the difference of being a computer user and a computer operator.

When I grew up I had two paths to take when I was introduced to computers. Like Neo I chose to take the red pill and find the truth of the computer world, how it works, investigating new technology and rejecting commonly thrown about metephors like viruses, bad code, glitches, etc. that was bandied about to explain users that had gotten themselves into a bind with bad input. I could have of course easily chosen the blue pill like so many user sheeple and stared numbly at my screen playing games and clicking buttons to work other peoples inventions, considering my PC's as glorified televisions.

In reality a user will be led by the hand by their GUI and play the games and use the program and cry to their local repairman for help when they get themselves stuck. Why? Because they can't be bothered by learning and troubleshooting their problems for themselves. When things are going good they will never expand their mind with learning.

As I grew up, the "secrets" of the computer world were discovered in thick user manuals, and gleaned from the sage wisdom of older technicians and programmers. Today however wisdom is still gleaned from our peers and wiser "geeks", but the way we listen to them has changed vastly. With the power of the internet connecting so many of us from vast far flung places and probably never coming face to face in our daily travels, we are able to read or watch each others solutions, opinions, and various bits of wonder. This is why I write, in hopes that someone may need a solution that I have created or gleaned from others work.

Every operating system from the original MS DOS versions and Unix command lines, to the new Windows, Macintosh, Linux GUI systems will all need a learning curve to operate proficiently. Don't be fooled into thinking that one is easier than the other by virtue of it's flashy appearance. They all have quirks and problems to overcome, they all break down from time to time with careless use, and they can all get similar jobs done with the correct applications. To be truely free you must free your mind by taking on the yoke of knowledge and learning so you can choose how you want to use your computer. Every OS is only a tools, so swallow your red pill today and find out... How's your tool working for you?

October 14, 2009

Complete Your Uninstalls In Windows

Have you ever had a program that for whatever reason doesn't seem to be working or was set up wrong? Like many users I usually just uninstall it and re-install it and see if it's any better.
Now days it seems that after the re-install the program comes up with the same settings and user information as before I uninstalled it.
WHY?
This is such a plague to me and my customers that I started searching for answers, and like so many things I found it at work.
While troubleshooting the peachtree accounting software I had a case where after installing on a Microsoft Vista machine the software would not load. We needed to install using the Administrator Rights, but even after uninstalling and re-installing the program didn't work.
One of my co-workers explained that even after uninstalling a program, many times items are left in the registry or in the file system and these settings remain for future installs to point to.
The cure? RevoUninstaller.
Revo Uninstaller helps you to uninstall software and remove unwanted programs installed on your computer even if you have problems uninstalling and cannot uninstall them from "Windows Add or Remove Programs" control panel applet.
Revo Uninstaller is a much faster and more powerful alternative to "Windows Add or Remove Programs" applet!
With its advanced and fast algorithm, Revo Uninstaller analyzes an application's data before uninstall and scans after you uninstall an application. After the program's regular uninstaller runs, you can remove additional unnecessary files, folders and registry keys that are usually left over on your computer. Even if you have a broken installation, Revo Uninstaller scans for an application's data on your hard disk drives and in the Windows registry and shows all found files, folders and registry keys so you can delete them.
With its unique "Hunter mode", Revo Uninstaller offers you some simple, easy to use, but effective and powerful methods for uninstalling software. You can use it to manage your installed and/or running software programs.

The software comes in two packages. The first being the full version installed to your local PC, and the second being a portable version (easily used on a thumb drive or a shared network drive)

This is by far one of the most useful tools for Windows that I've ever found and has become a permanent edition to my tool collection.

Calling all geeks! If any of you play the download games that give you a one hour preview, let me know if after uninstalling with RevoUninstaller and re-installing the game, do you get another perview?

September 04, 2009

WINE, It’s Not Just For Boozers Anymore

It’s been a while since I posted and I’ve got so much information to put out there for our new Linux users.

By now you’ve probably had a chance to peruse the package repositories and maybe even tried out a few new programs. Now you might ask, “why isn’t such and such program listed” or “I really liked this one program” or “I want to run my favorite game”.

What’s the answer? WINE. No, I don’t mean get sloshed and forget the whole ordeal, but rather the program WINE which stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. I know, it makes no sense to me either.

WINE is a program that runs windows programs at the application layer without the need of a Microsoft Windows operating system physical or virtual machine.

If you read my last post for Back to School you’ll see two real world examples.

Once you install the WINE program from the repositories installing Windows programs is a breeze. To be more accurate though, it’s a straight forward process and it either works or does not.

  1. download program or browse to installation file on CD
  2. right click on installation file and choose open with WINE
  3. do exactly what you would when in windows
  4. after installation right click on the start icon and in it’s properties click on the run as a program option

And that’s all folks. No more whining when you should be WINEing.

Back to School and Going Linux

Now that I work for one of the largest academic publishing companies in the world I am faced daily with questions about PC’s and Mac’s. Remember my philosophy of not bashing Windows or Macintosh systems because a computer is only a tool and you should be using whatever tool that best suits your needs.

Last week I got a call asking how to install e-brary reader so the student could view one of our e-books. What was the problem? You guessed it, Linux. This student somehow got a PC that had Linux installed on it but she really didn’t know much about it. Normally we only give support to PC and Mac users, and when looking at the ebrary or adobe site they give the same standard support as well.

Insert me. The heart of the matter is that our company supplies electronic books of all nature of subjects. Why would a student that wants to study math or psychology or biology be prohibited from viewing a book only because they don’t have a PC or a Mac. It’s not like they need to run proprietary platform specific software that I am getting to despise more every day. They only need to read. We use two different technologies to manage our e-books. The first program is Ebrary reader which enables the books to be viewed online through Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari browsers. The second program is Digital Editions which allows a book to be installed on your computer and a license applied to your pc or Adobe account to prohibit the free distribution of copyrighted materials.

Before I continue my monologue, let me go over how I was able to run both of these programs. My Linux platform of choice is Ubuntu…


viewing your e-book in linux from Computer Doctor on Vimeo.


Ebrary.

Problem: only runs on IE, Firefox, and Safari for Windows and Mac

Solution: get a version of Firefox for Windows to run on Linux

  1. Install WINE if not already installed (this is a run environment for windows programs)
  2. Download Firefox for windows from www.firefox.com (look for other platform versions and choose windows)
  3. Right click on the firefox installer .exe program and choose open with WINE
  4. After installation use the install ebrary reader link from the bookstore or from http://www.ebrary.com/discover/get_ebrary_reader.html
  5. Now right click on the new firefox icon on your desktop and select properties and check the run as program option


Adobe Digital Editions:

Problem: not supported by platform

Solution: get and run the windows version of digital editions

  1. go to http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/403/kb403051.html for the manual installation of digital editions
  2. select the link in number 2 of the windows instructions and save to your desktop
  3. right click on the adobe installer icon on your desktop and choose open with WINE
  4. finish installation with defaults. See the adobe website for details
  5. when finished right click on the new digital editions icon on your desktop and select properties and check the run as program option.

The only irritation to installing this way is that in order to get e-books you must be able to save the e-book url icon to your computer first and then drag and drop to your digital editions program. This is no problem for my company since that’s how we supply our books, but for the Adobe free library they have flash player link buttons that don’t supply the url.

Now back to the monologue…

In 2009 Abbey Schubert purchased a Dell computer loaded with Ubuntu. While I salute Dell and other manufacturers for bringing a Linux option to purchasers I feel that there are no easy manuals available to help brand new users get underway with the daily tasks of using their system. I know that if Abbey went to my church or school that I would have been able to help her or any other student use their Linux computer for 95% of their daily tasks barring the few time they might be forced to use software that a few features do not currently work in the WINE environment or have a direct equivalent in open source software.

Remember that just as I never bash operating systems much, I will not bash new users that find themselves in unfamiliar territory and are panicked about the possibility of not being able to get their work done.

July 29, 2009

Do I need Antivirus like I did in Windows?

This question has been a topic of a lot of concern for many new users to Linux, and the common answer may be a little misleading, so before I give my endorsement for any tools or products I want to answer the heart of the question first.

Does Linux get viruses? No. Or to answer a little more truthfully, not usually, not easily, not to most users.

Why isn't Linux plagued by all the viruses, spyware, malware, root kits, ect. like Windows? The answer in twofold. First because Linux is set in a way as it becomes improbably that an outside program can be granted root access without the user knowing. Second because at this time the vast majority of desktop users have a Microsoft OS running their machine. If you want your virus to spread, you must write it to affect the biggest user base. For a more detailed explanation feel free to read this article.

On the other hand there are reasons you might want to have an antivirus program installed on your Linux distribution.

  • to scan a Windows drive in your PC
  • to scan a Windows-based network attached server or hard drive
  • to scan Windows machines over a network
  • to scan files you are going to send to other people
  • to scan e-mail you are going to forward to other people
  • some Windows viruses can run with Wine
  • Linux virus infections are theoretically possible
Before I give an endorsement to any antivirus program, know that I am a new user to antivirus on the Linux side and only give these as recomendations and am open to endorsements of products from people that have had real experiences with combating real viruses in Linux.

The first suggestion I have is going with ClamAV antivirus which you should be able to find in the repositories or at their website. This is an opensource software project.



The second suggestion I have is using AVAST which many of you will recognize from my windows articles about antivirus software. Although this is proprietary software, it is free for home users and you can find more detail at their website as well.

To summarize, I would not lose sleep wondering if your Linux system is being overrun by viruses, but for curiosity sake or for insurance in the future when Linux takes over the PC world I would check out these or other antivirus options.

July 27, 2009

Friendly Faces

So this weekend I took a quick trip up to rural Michigan not far from Detroit with my girlfriend to meet her family. Of course, much to my girlfriends chagrin, I got to talking about computers with her nephew and niece. I don't normally like to sit around and talk to the High School and College age kids, but while their parents were missionaries in South America they became Linux users.

Although they were used to using Open Suse, the similarities to Ubuntu were wonderfully interesting to learn. I have to be honest with my readers in that I used Knoppix a long time ago as a pre-install environment to fix windows and didn't know it was linux, and I used Mepis for about a year before I started using the Ubuntu line of distros. That's all the linux experience I have because I was an instant fan of Ubuntu. I am also dabbeling in CentOS, Fedora Core, Backtrack, and looking into possible training with Canonical for the Ubuntu server system.

I had a wonderful afternoon of total geekieness and want to give a shout out (if that's what cool people still do now days) to Ian and Ashley and wish you good luck in the coming year of school.

July 24, 2009

Getting software like you never did with Windows.

By now you've read a few articles about some great software, but how in the world do you get this software?

In the windows world you find, or more likely buy, the software and run the .exe file, but in the Linux world there isn't a whole lot of downloading and running.

Of course for advanced users you can download the tar ball, or the gz and compile the software, but before I get a migraine we'll just pretend I never mentioned this paragraph until later. Much Later.

I'm going to discuss a few new concepts today that will probably be foreign to most Windows and Mac users, but is very important to the core of the Linux community.

1. Most software is free. Free means different things to different people and in different contexts.
  • There is Free as in speech. This is free as an entitlement. This is software that is provided free of charge and open source so you can modify it and re-distribute it.
  • There is Free as in Beer. This is free for you to use, but proprietary in that you can't change it.
2. The safest way to obtain this software is from the software repository in the package manager.
  • a package is a software bundle that needs to be compiled or installed
  • software is a package that has been installed
  • the repository is a group of packages that is maintained by your distribution to insure the best possibility of compatibility
  • the package manager is a graphical interface to browse, select, install and uninstall the packages
For Ubuntu the default package manager is Synaptic. I like synaptic because it is a clean easy to understand, straight forward package manager. When I select the title of a package it has a description and sometimes a screen shot of the package. Even when I'm using a different distribution that may have it's own package manager, I alway install synaptic and use it as my go to package manager of choice.

Installing a package is as simple as
  1. finding the package you want
  2. checking the box next to it
  3. accepting and marking the dependencies that may be needed
  4. clicking apply
  • Dependencies are other packages that are needed to run the software you are asking for.
NOTE: Occasionally you will be asked if you are sure you want to install the package because it is unsupported, it may cause a conflict, or some other objection. You will have to make up your mind if you want to risk overcoming the objection or not.

Uninstalling a package is exactly the same except when you check the box you will want to select mark for uninstallation or mark for complete removal and then applying.

I know these concepts and procedures are new and will take some getting used to, but I want you to start thinking of the Software Repository as a free candy store where you can come and go as you please and take as much as you want without having to worry too much about the dentist or getting a stomach ache.

Creating text documents, spreadsheets, presentations and databases; almost like you did in Windows.

One of the hardest parts of switching to Linux for me was how was I going to replace the Microsoft Office Suite. Ok, in reality this was almost painless for me. A little story about my past... At one time I left a comfy desk job to work at my old companies shipping dock and was eventually promoted to the lead clerk and had my own office of sorts. I had an antique pentium 3 computer with no productivity software whatsoever. I asked our local IT departments "computer expert (1)" for a version of Microsoft office even if it was only 97 or 2000 but I was denied because I didn't need it. Well anyone who really knows IT, knows that a no is just an opportunity to find another way. So I found my way to the great people at Sun Microsystems and their Open Office free productivity suite. I was able to do all my documents and spreadsheets and that was enough for me at the time. So enough about my ancient history.

According to their website, Open office is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose. As an introduction only I'll give you a rundown on their products and the Microsoft equivalent.
  • Writer: This is almost identical to Microsoft Word. You can open almost all word documents with the only exception I've found so far is the newer graphical add in's found in Office 2007 like the colorful spreadsheets and such.
  • Calc: This is almost identical to Microsoft Excel. You can open all excel spreadsheets and be able to use the calculations. The only exception is that macro's are not compatible.
  • Impress: This is almost identical to Microsoft Powerpoint. You can open most any PPT presentation from powerpoint.
  • Draw: This similar to Microsoft Visio. The graphics aren't in my opinion nearly as nice as in Visio, but... you can get graphics from anywhere... but I'd never suggest to do anything to infringe upon other software products. Enough said.
  • Base: This is somewhat similar to Microsoft Access. You can open Access databases with Base, but only the tables will import. As an advanced database programmer I was disappointed that the forms are not compatible... at this point. I'm holding out hope that at some point in the future this will be "fixed". In the meantime I'm still looking at base and may learn how to create forms and do all the things I do now with Access.
One other program that I relied on heavily from the Office Suite was OneNote. A beautiful and easy way to take and organize notes. There is a program in Linux that I love just as much, but that is for another article. One thing to remember is that no set of software is perfect and so easy that it can be mastered in one sitting. It took me 10 years and 5 versions of office to consider myself a power user and perhaps a SPE (software product expert) or SME (subject matter expert) so give yourself a break and take time to learn Open Office and it's own set of special features and tricks.


(1) a two year degree in computer science from the local junior college shouldn't be construed as being a computer expert by any means.

July 23, 2009

Reducing fear durring the switch

Lets take a pause in the middle of my list of things to make switching to Linux easier.
Perhaps you want to switch now, or are in the middle of the switch and you're asking yourself "what happens if I can't do something that I used to do in Windows?"

This is a normal question that every Windows user I know, including myself, asks. Don't feel bad. First of all, I have never run into a situation where I couldn't find my solution in Linux. Second of all, you don't have to quit Windows cold turkey. I'm going to show you how to put Windows on the back burner, but keep it close at hand like a security blanket, just in case.

What I'm talking about is being able to run Linux while not uninstalling Windows.

Solution 1. Use the Live CD. Most mainstream Linux distributions have a Live CD,
that is a CD that can be booted up from and has the stock, out of the box OS ready to be used in RAM. You can install and use programs, Access the internet, use your wireless connection, create documents, ect. Just know that anything you change from "stock" will be lost when you turn off your computer.

Solution 2. Run the OS virtually. This is one of my favorite options for more powerful computers. In essence this is running a virtualization program like Sun's VirtualBox which emulates an X86 processor and allows you to install an OS from a CD or ISO file. In this way you can be booted up in Windows and then "boot up" Linux inside the Windows environment. On a different note, once you go to Linux you may want to run a virtualization program in Linux to "boot up" windows inside the safety of Linux.

Solution 3. Dual Boot Windows and Linux. This is probably the most common option used. Unlike Windows, most Linux distributions require fairly modest hard drive requirements so you could easily install Linux in a partition. Using this option will also install the Grub boot loader which will bring up a menu when your computer boots up. By default Ubuntu will be first in the menu along with the Ubuntu restore mode, Ubuntu Memory tester, the Windows and Windows recovery mode (if available).

In a future article I will go over the Grub boot loader and how to change the countdown timer to load as well as the order that OS will be displayed.

To summarize though, DO NOT feel bad if you want to hang on to multiple operating systems. This is your computer and you should use it the way you want to. For me however I find that I boot into Linux more often than not.

July 22, 2009

How to IM just like you did in Windows

One of the next requests I normally hear from new linux users is how do I send instant messages? Although I'm not as bound to instant messaging, it is a major part of other peoples lives.

I've used the Yahoo IM in the past and the first thing I looked for was how hard it would be to install the yahoo chat client on Linux and after reading a few forums I realized that installing Yahoo IM would be a disaster. Sorry Yahoo, but true is true.

So I looked around a little bit and found a program already installed by default that would handle my yahoo IM's and more.

From the pidgin website they state "Pidgin is a chat program which lets you log in to accounts on multiple chat networks simultaneously. This means that you can be chatting with friends on MSN, talking to a friend on Google Talk, and sitting in a Yahoo chat room all at the same time."

Pidgin supports the following chat clients AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google, Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo and Zephyr.

The only downside to this that I can find is that it can become confusing. I set up my yahoo account and my MSN account and before I knew it I had a long list of people and it was unfamilier who was messaging me from which list.

You can try to install individual IM clients for Linux if you can find one, You can try to install the Windows version using WINE, but for ease of installation, just stick with pidgin and enjoy.

Checking your e-mail just like you did with Outlook

If you are new to my blog site, I am in the middle of a series on how to switch from Windows to Linux. I am not a Windows basher by nature and by my nature I will continue to use Windows as well as Linux and to a small extent Macintosh.
About three months ago I noticed that my Microsoft Outlook 2003 kept freezing up on me and become unstable. I tried upgrading to Outlook 2007, but the problems kept persisting. I couldn't find any help at Microsoft or much help online. All I really wanted to do is get my Gmail through IMAP, and have a handy dandy calendar open at the same time.
I had a few options available...
  1. suck it up and keep working with outlook
  2. check my g-mail with the website and start using a calendar google provided
  3. start using thunderbird and do without a calendar
  4. other
I decided on the other option. I already had Ubuntu dual booted (as I still do) and decided to see what was going on there. What I found was the default e-mail client Evolution. I was a little doubtful as I shamefully always am, but what I found was a full featured e-mail client with all the tools I was already looking for.
  • POP and IMAP support
  • HTML message capable
  • A calendar with day / week / month views with an event alarm feature
  • To-Do tasks
  • RSS feed reader
Importing my G-mail account was easy. I could have went to the g-mail homepage and probably found instructions there, but instead I did a google search and found a fellow blogger that has a wonderful step by step tutorial on setting up g-mail with imap. You can find the article on Victor's blog.

NOTE: if you are trying to set up multiple g-mail accounts using IMAP you will probably run into problems because your computer can only sign into one g-mail account at a time. I got around this annoying problem by having my different account all forwarded to my main account.

July 21, 2009

Browsing the internet with Ubuntu just like you did with Internet Explorer

So now that you have your desktop looking a little more familier to you, it's time to start "using" your computer to do all the things you would normally do.

The first thing that most people ask about is "how do I surf the web?" and this is a good question.

Some of the common Linux browsers are Epiphany, Midori, Chromium and Seamonkey.
While still using Windows I started using Mozilla's Firefox. This is a cross platform browser for Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Here is a list of things that are the same.
  • tabbed browsing
  • bookmarks (just like favorites)
  • RSS reader
  • search box
  • uses standards for compatibility with most webpages

Here is a list of things that are different.

  • smaller memory resource needs
  • inherantly more secure
  • if it crashes there is a way to restore back to the last pages you were viewing

How do I move my favorites from Internet Explorer over to Firefox in Ubuntu???

  1. From the Internet Explorer file menu, select Import/Export. (If you don't see the menu bar, just click the key to make it appear.)
  2. When the Import Export Wizard launches, click Next. Select Export Favorites and click Next.
  3. Select the folder you wish to export and click Next.
  4. Choose to export to a file. And save it in My Documents.
  5. Click Next and click Finish to close the wizard.
  6. Copy the file to a CD, usb drive, FTP site, or e-mail it to yourself so that you can open the file on your Ubuntu system.

  7. Now in Firefox, select the Bookmarks menu, then select Organize Bookmarks.
  8. In the Bookmarks select File, Import.
  9. Choose From File, then click Next.
  10. Select the file from the location where you saved it, and click Open to start the import process.
  11. Ha Ha Ha Ha, there is no further steps. It is just that easy.

Now as long as you are connected to the internet through your cat5 cable or wireless router you can start surfing, facebooking, blogging, reading your RSS feeds and everything you would normally have done when you were using Internet Explorer.

NOTE: In order to see embeded media on webpages, you will need to install the Adobe flash, Macromedia flash, Gstreamer base and Gstreamer good plugins including all the suggested dependencies. Don't worry though, these can all be found in the free package repositories. (of course package repositories are free to the consumer by nature)

July 20, 2009

Making Ubuntu look more like Windows

The first thing I did to make Ubuntu feel a little more familier to me was to bring the desktop more in line with the way I was used to working with. These instructions will work with any distribution of Linux that is using the Gnome desktop.

To make the Ubuntu header bar and kicker bar look more like the windows start button, task bar and system tray...
  1. Delete the lower bar (kicker) by right clicking and deleting it (don't worry you can add it back later if you want)
  2. Move the upper bar (header) by right clicking on it and selecting properties. Change the orientation to bottom.
  3. Add the open windows list to the new bottom bar by right clicking on it and selecting add to panel. now choose windows list and select add.
  4. Finally drag the double dotted bar to the left and right click and select lock to pannel.

To add familier desktop icons...

  1. open any of the terminals known as the command line window
  2. Type gconf-editor
  3. press enter
    This will bring up the configuration editor
  4. now select apps, then select nautilus, and finally select desktop
    This will bring up a list of items that can be placed on the desktop.

I selected computer_icon, home_icon, trash_icon, and volumes_visable
you can now close the configuration editor window and the terminal window.

For an added touch, I renamed the icons...

  • Computer to My Computer
  • user Home to My Documents
  • Trash to Recycle Bin

Now that Ubuntu looks a little more like home you can relax a little bit more and get ready to learn how to use some common features that you are already familier with.

For a desktop that looks amazingly like windows try the suggestions at this site

July 16, 2009

Going Linux

If you've been reading my blog for any legnth of time you have to realize that I've spent my whole computing life in the windows world. Other than a few jaunts in college with Macintosh in the early 90's, I've always been a Microsoft fanboy since DOS 4.0 even before the days of Windows.

Now that I'm "all grown up" I spend all day fixing windows problems. OS crashes, spyware, viruses, software incompatibilities, Vista issues such as compatibility modes and UAC controls or someone needing training on a Microsoft office product. I'm not upset about this, it's a job. I just never get any good easy calls.

Then after the day is done and I get home, there always seems to be a friend or family member that has a broken computer that they need my help with.

Needless to say, when I get home and all I want to do is read my e-mail, watch a webcast, work on my book, or play a simple game. The last thing I want is to look at another Microsoft Product.

So now days when the 5 'oclock whistle blows, I go home to my beautiful girlfriend and Ubuntu Linux. I know what most of my Microsoft associates and classmates are thinking. Isn't Linux is hard? There's no software for linux is there? No one seriously uses linux do they?

Well over the next few articles I'll go over why and how I use Linux and how I could easily switch over and never use it again. I want people to know that I'm not a Windows or Macintosh basher.

A computer is just another tool. How well are you able to use your tool?

Thats right. Remember you bought your computer and you should make it work for you, not the other way around. Your OS shouldn't controll how you work, but you should controll and be able to change your OS and how it operates. If the enjoyment in using your computer has been replaced with a frustrating uphill battle then stop and take a deep breath and get ready to see how your computer was meant to be used.

I will cover some basics on what I use to make the change easy and painless (well mostly). Watch for these articles coming up...

  • How to make your desktop more familier to users recovering from Windows
  • How to browse the internet just like you did with Internet Explorer
  • How to check your e-mail just like you did with outlook
  • How to create documents and presentations like you did with Word and Powerpoint
  • How to play music and video just like you did with Windows Media Player
  • How to IM just like you did with AIM, Yahoo, MSN
  • How to make notes just like you did with OneNote
  • How to find new software for free like you never could with Microsoft
  • How to set your firewall like you thought you could with Windows (even if you don't need to)
  • How to use antivirus software (even if you don't need to)
  • Why don't I have to manually run check disk
  • Why is defragging not an option or even needed with linux

Untill then rest assured that I will not be abandoning my Microsoft articles or my use of Microsoft, but I will probably be deviding my time. I am also considering a monthly podcast. If anyone would like to donate articles, or perhaps join me in developing a podcast feel free to contact me with the e-mail contact button on the blog site.

July 06, 2009

Vista incompatible... really?

I'm starting to get a little tired of all the whining from people telling me that they can't use Vista because none of their old programs work with it. Of course I heard the same thing when XP and Windows 98 came out, so I shouldn't be so surprised.

Before you cry to your local I.T. guy try right clicking on the program icon you are trying to run, click on properties and set the compatibility mode for XP service pack 2 (or an older version if needed).

Give it a try, you might actually be surprised that Vista isn't the worst OS that Microsoft ever developed.

June 28, 2009

Final Build

Well the end of school is finally here and we're as done as we're going to be with our final build lab. The basic jist of this excercise was to take a disorganized workgroup organization and produce a three site Actice Directory controlled organization featuring two Domain Controllers, Two DNS servers, and a RRAS server at each site. Feel free to download the files from the margin of this blog for your review, for your portfolio if you were a member of this class, or as a model for future classes.

June 21, 2009

Local Password Bypass

Ok, before I start I would like to put a disclaimer on this article (actually this could apply to all my articles). The author of this blog offers this information as an educational resource only. Please do not use the information in this blog on any system other than your home PC without the express consent of the owner or company involved. The author is hearby innocent of any damages incured by the misuse or illegal use of the information stated or implied in this and all other articles written. ok, now on to the good stuff.

Ok, for most of you out there in the IT fields you have probably come across a situation where you needed access to a machine and the password was not available for on of millions of weird reasons.

Originally I used a suite of tools called the PC Doctor (not to be confused with The Computer Doctor) which resets the password parameter.

I also used OphCrack (bootable CD or as part of Backtrack 3 & 4) which cracked the Hash with pre-configured rainbow tables. This could take between 5 - 15 minutes depending on the targets processor.

I finally found a new tool, thanks to Snubbs at HAK5, which is fast and undetectable.

The tool is called Kon-Boot which is deployed as a bootable CD or Floppy.

Instead of cracking a password or changing the password, it temporarily changes the kernel so you just press enter and you get into the local machine. The only downside is this is for local machine use only and does not log you into Active Directory (to my knowledge).

Another plus is that this disk can be used for both Microsoft as well as some Linux Distros. Just insert the disk, boot up, press any key when the screen comes up and press enter when asked for the windows password. (see the website for Linux instructions)

According to the website this disk works on Windows XP, Vista, 7, Server 2003, Server 2008, and with Grub 0.97 Gentoo, Ubuntu, Debian and Fedora.

Attention all bored hackers. If anyone can test this program on the following systems and report back, i'll re-edit this post and credit your find. Windows 95, 98, NT workstation, 2000, ME, XP CE, XP SE, NT server and server 2000. Also Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Mepis, OpenSuse, and any other mainstream Linux Distros.

May 28, 2009

Contest Submission

Life's been pretty busy lately with interviews, homework, still trying to pass 70-291 plus learn 70-350. There's also a special lady in my life now, but i'm sure she'll make it into future blogs.

So I was watching this weeks episode of Hak5 and I had almost forgotten that there was a contest on mapping your home LAN, so I hurried to my visio console and threw together the computer doctors home map and submitted it. It would be cool to win, but even if I don't, it was fun to make. To see my submission and all the others, check out the user submission page.


May 21, 2009

Taking Time Out

So as most of you know I've been studying for my 70-291 like crazy lately. So to blow off some steam, I took a day off just to play with the boys. I also gave Drake his first big boy haircut. Hope you enjoy a few moments of fun with my boys and remember to take time off to enjoy your summer as well.


video

May 17, 2009

IPSEC Request, Reply or Require

In this video I explore the different policies in IPSEC; Request, Reply or Require. The video shows some common servers and clients with these policies (or lack thereof) in effect and how they relate to eachother.

video

While this isn't the first instructional video I've produced, it is the very first video I've ever put into a blog, so please forgive the few mishaps towards the end of the video, and as always I hope you enjoy.

May 14, 2009

How VPN Access Works

Maybe you're a telecommuter or an offsite salesperson or a manager that was roped into taking your work home with you and your company set you up with VPN access. All you know is that you log in with an icon and punch in your key number, swipe your card or verify a certificate... but what happens behind the scene to make this work???

VPN or Virtual Private Network isn't much of a mystery at all. It is a series of hoops to jump through to let the companies network know that you are supposed to be there and it's ok to let you in.

For this example (refer to picture at the bottom) I have set a RAP rule (remote access policy) illustrated by security guards, in honor of my youngest brother, with 4 questions... lets go through this step by step.
  1. User "dials in"
  2. Rule number 1 asks "is it between 6am and 6pm?" lets assume it's is... go to the next rule
  3. Rule number 2 asks "are you a member of our ADUC (active directory)?" lets again assume yes... go to the next rule
  4. Rule number 3 asks "are you authorized for dial-in / vpn access?" lets again assume yes... go to the next rule (NOTE: many times this question becomes a stumbling block because the system admin or other IT personnel forgot to check the dial-in access in the users active directory profile)
  5. Rule number 4 asks "are you using the right security protocol?" (ie. MS-ChapV1 or EAP ect.) lets assume yes again... access is granted!!!

If at any time one or more of those questions are answered with a no, the user is denied access and should call their local helpdesk for help troubleshooting their access denial.

Hopefully this article was an interesting primer on VPN Access. RAP rules are as various as Group Policies in Active Directory but also just as easy to implement.
If you are interested in different security protocols or any other item touched in this article please let me know in the comments and I may write a follow up article.

May 13, 2009

How we resolve websites through the use of DNS

Ever wonder how when you type in http://www.google.com/ you end up going to a site with an IP address of 209.85.171.100 (or something similar) ? I never type in an IP address to get to a website, do you? So how does information flow through the system of tubes to get to you? (the internet was never a system of tubes of course http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Series_of_tubes) The answer lies in an ingenious system of lookups in the DNS process or Domain Name Service. I'll go through the steps for you so you can get a better grasp of what is going on durring the few seconds from when we press enter and your desired webpage pops up.



For this example we are useing http://www.google.com/ which is broken up as www(web server).google(secondary level domain).com(top level domain).(root level domain)





  1. The user types http://www.google.com/ into their favorite browser and presses enter

  2. The PC initiates a recursive query to their corprate, home, or ISP DNS server.

  3. The DNS server looks at their root hints to find the root zone server and does the first interitive query to it

  4. The root zone server sends the information about which top level domain server should be contacted next

  5. The DNS server does it's next interitive query to the top level domain server

  6. The top level domain server sends information about which second level domain server should be contacted next

  7. The DNS sever does it's next interitive query to the second level domain server

  8. The second level domain server sends informaiton about where it's web server is located

  9. The DNS does it's last interitive query to the web server

  10. The web server sends it's IP address to the DNS server

  11. The DNS server closes the recursive query after giving the web server IP to the PC

  12. The PC goes directly to the web server in question using the direct IP address
Hopefully this article was interesting, but to find out more about DNS servers, zones and lookups feel free to google or if you have a specific question or scenario feel free to leave a comment and I will try to answer you as soon as possible.

May 08, 2009

Pulling Rabbits Out Of Hats


It's getting to the point in class where most of us are in multiple interviews each week now and we're getting job offers and in some cases counter offers and soon most of us will be employed in our first IT jobs. I would like to feature stories about troubleshooting victories or as I like to call it, pulling the rabbit out of the hat (please refrain from any stories involving pulling hats out of rabbits) where you can send in your story about a difficult problem, what you did to troubleshoot, what failed, what was successful, how did you come up with your final solution, ect.


I'll start with a semi-common desktop problem that is mal-ware related. I had a customer who could no longer see her desktop icons, start button, taskbar, or anything other than her wallpaper picture. I immediately assumed it to be a virus problem even though she said that she had anti-virus and it was up to date. (remember assume makes and ass out of u and me)


  • So the first thing I did was CTRL+ALT+DEL to bring up the task manager and run a new program. From the run line I entered the http for the avast antivirus program and downloaded it and had it do a full computer scan which took about 45 minutes and I came up with nothing noteworthy ruling out a virus.

  • The second thing I did was CTRL+ALT+DEL to run the http for the SuperAntispyware download to look for other malware, rootkit, ect. and after it did it's full system scan that took about 1 hour I came up with a handful of cookies, but nothing noteworthy again. Now I'm frustrated because I have 1:45 invested with no results.

  • So I do what every good IT professional should do. www.google.com thats right, you heard it here, google it. Somewhere out there, there is someone smarter than you, thats had the same problem as you, and wants the world to know how smart they really are. I found someone who said that if you run explorer.exe in this situation that it will re-fire explorer and everything will be back to normal, so I tried it and got the error that windows could not find explorer.exe.

  • I went to the command line (cmd) and clearly saw that explorer.exe was right where it was supposed to be so I took an educated guess, went to regedit, found the key for explorer and changed the name to explorer.bak, re-ran explorer.exe and presto-chango-rearrango, windows did it's thing when there is no registry for explorer and it made a new one and everything came back.

  • I learned that the customer already had AVG which found the virus and removed it, but not before the damage was done to the registry.

So to summerize boys and girls



  1. never assume

  2. have your tools ready

  3. bring your laptop to do research

  4. learn how to effectively use google including boolean string searches

  5. never let them see you sweat

  6. don't forget to pat yourself on the back when you finally have that rabbit out of the hat

Feel free to send you stories in on the comment line (use more than one comment if you need and I'll string them together in upcoming articles)

April 30, 2009

Your Comments...


I have re-opened comments from unregistered users again in hopes of generating more reader comments. Remember these are moderated and may end up being primers for new articles or end up on Dagger of the Week. As always I hope you have enjoyed this column and continue to read in the future.

April 29, 2009

Malware on legit sites, more common than you think.



For the past seven years I've watched the influx of spyware, adware and malware become a daily problem for my customers and co-workers and one question has always troubled me. "how did I get this?" After quizzing the already frustrated user about e-mail, downloads and websites I would always assume game downloads or porn sites. Before chucking the problem up to one of these reasons, read this article by avast.

My suggestion to all of my customers has always been



  1. Always use a good antivirus software. The most expensive one at the store may not be the greatest, the one with the best known name may not be the greatest. Top 5 antivirus programs to purchase are Viper, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Panda and Norton. Top free antivirus programs are AVG, Avast and Avira.

  2. Always use a antispyware program. Isn't this the same as antivirus? No. Doesn't antivirus do the same thing? NO. Doesn't my antivirus take care of this too? YOU AREN'T LISTENING. NO, NO, NO!!!! You can not rely on your anti-virus software to take care of anything more than viruses which leave you wide open to all kinds of malware. The best one I've found that specializes in root-kit attacks is SuperAntispyware (programmed by geniuses and named by a 5 year old, i'm sure)
  3. If you have an anti-phishing filter (not to be confused with NO FISHING) on your browser please keep it turned on.

  4. Quit reading mail from people you don't know and quit sending the chain mail. To all my readers, you will not save little timmy's leg, there is no little girl saving the deer with water from her hand, there is no stalker in the wal-mart parking lot under your car, there is no gang initiation waiting for you to flash your headlights, or any of thousand other ridiculous chainmail stories that just aren't true, and you'll for sure not find a thousand dollars from Bill Gates, true love, world peace, or anything else at the end of these insane e-mails. Get an education at snopes.com for God's sake.

April 20, 2009

Active Directory Primer

So many of you, (or maybe not so many) may be wondering... Wow Mitchel You've been gone so long at school, but there's no posts on anything from school.

Well I've got one for you. Two ways to look at creating users in active directory GUI (I'm working on a database project that can add multiple users in the server 2003 command line with dsadd and will talk about that when the bugs are out)

  • The first way, which is the simplest but most time consuming is to go directly to the user group or the OU that is assigned to you and click add new user or the picture of the user (single human) and when the GUI opens you fill in the name, the address, the fax number, the phone number, give them and e-mail address, create their roaming profile, create their network folder, add them to all the groups you think they fall in and then wait for the user to call and complain about which network resources they still need access to, (more on NTFS troubleshooting in the future, just remember high/high/low for principle of least privilege), and then blame their supervisor for not knowing what groups the employee should have been in.

  • The second way is to re-evaluate your current ADUC structure and make a group for each department and create a new "template" user with all the generic info about their site, add a home directory of \\server\folder\%username% (the %username% is a universal variable, if you don't understand how this saves time then google it) and the same for their roaming profile.


Now all you have to do is add their group to the security tab on the system NTFS folders in question and your done... unless you need to have your group access shares outside your local domain, don't know what an OU was, are not sure what a roaming profile is, or enjoy setting up one account at a time.

Still on target part 2

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I've been pretty busy studying for my MCP which I passed on 4/17. Moving on to my MCSA.
I've got multiple interviews this week so hopefully I'll be back to work soon.

I thought I felt a little tingle in my back recently and upon investigation I found that there are daggers stuck in my back, so for future posts I'll add dagger of the week comments (except for the truly poisonous one's which I'll just delete)

WHOISDNS writes again "still no job huh? thats weird with all your experience and certifications you should be making atleast $70,000 by now...."

To which I reply "Nope"

My question to you is, why do you care? I never get any comments from anyone except you. You seem so happy that I don't have a job at this point. Why is that? I'd hate to think that maybe you contributed to me being terminated. But it doesn't matter much to me, keep up the good work at baker and taylor and make sure you don't learn anything new especially how to keep my databases running when something goes wrong. I'd hate to think my old department didn't immediately fall back into the same old complacent slump of fixing antique crap, putting users off and making excuses for why new projects can't be achieved.

March 14, 2009

Still in school and still on target

It's been a few weeks since my last post, but my fans have not been silent. In response to cheeky girl and whois DNS (who is actually the same person who can't make up their mind on which to log in under)...

cheekygirl111981 said...
Hows your MCTS cert. working out for ya... Not as good as you thought huh?

Whois DNS said...
Does this mean you got your cert. or did you get ripped off like everyone told you so...


Unfortunately this is even better than I thought it would be and there is no rip off. The only rip off lately is the IT posers at Baker and Taylor like Dave Baskin who fired me for "trying to mask my identity on the internet by using the administrator userid". Dave, wake up and smell the technology. If I wanted to mask my ID, I would have tunneled back to home, or at the very least made a new ID in active directory. It's just too bad you never asked why I used the administrator password...


I have my first Certificate and the second should be completed in about three weeks, and I have multiple job interviews scheduled for next week (all in Chicagoland though).

You see there are two types of people in this world. The can't and can.
The can't is easy to spot because there are hundreds and thousands of them that sit around in despair and complain about how they can't improve, they can't succeed and they can't change and they quickly tell you how you can't as well.
There is the cans, who live a lonely existence because they decide to rise above the muck and mire and the constant dragging down of the can'ts and they challenge themselves and eventually they succeed through sheer force of will.

As for my old compatriots at good ol' B&T, you have nothing to worry about right? I mean business is good. Lots of books coming in and getting sold. It's not like they're cutting hours or anything. Sit back and be secure... what could possibly go wrong???

February 26, 2009

Independant Contracting

So I'm still looking for a job and I'm one week away from my MCTS (thunderous applause in the background) so to occupy my time I started doing repair / contract work again.

You know the routine... My computer's only 10 years old, I took it to best buy and they said, my kids never download anything, I was trying to clean my hard drive, ect. ect. ect.



So my biggest dilema is, how much? I know Best Buy has no qualms about lieing to customers and charging $70 to do nothing up to $250-$350 for average system restore or anti-virus installs, but I want to do better than that for the customers.

Right now I charge $20 per hour with a minimum 2 hour charge and a possible 10% discount for my church and school members. That seems a little low but how much is enough? Especially now that I'll be Microsoft Certified (all hail the mighty paper it is printed on).

If anyone out there has any suggestions for a pricing plan that works or has worked in the past, I'd love to hear your input.

February 19, 2009

Buying a PC #7 Extended Warrenties and Service Plans

In the final segment of buying a new PC I'd like you to consider the manufacturers warranty, the retailers extended warranty or service plan. 

I personally have never bought an extended warranty for a few reasons. 1, I always buy a mid-range PC and consider it 4 years disposable. 2, I work on my own PC. 

If you have a different view than me, then don't let anyone discourage you from buying one of these packages.  You know yourself and what you can or can't handle.  On the other hand, if your nephew dexter is pretty handy then a $20 and some brow beating might get all the repairs you'll ever need.

January 09, 2009

Buying a PC #6 Accessories

With all the cool accessories out there it's hard to know when enough is enough.  Many PC's now days are "bundled" with an assortment of stuff that you may or may not even need.

Most entry level PC's that you buy in a box at your local super store will have a monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers.  With the reduction in cost of home electronics I've also seen printers, webcams and digital cameras in bundles.

You can get cooler pads, mousepads, blank discs, laptop cases, battery backups...  the list could go on...  for quite a while.

I guess what I'm trying to convey is that you can get a lot of stuff, but do you need a lot of stuff?

Scenario #1
You have a 4 year old computer with a fairly nice keyboard and mouse (that hook up with USB plugs) and a 19 inch flat screen monitor that you really like and a all-in-one printer scanner that is working great.  You want to get a new computer to replace your older computer that you don't want to use anymore.  I would look for just a computer with no bundle because you already have everything else you want.

Scenario #2
You have a 8 year old computer that you've just run the dog out of.  The keys are sticking on your old keyboard and your mouse keeps freezing up on you, you have an old 17 inch CRT monitor (big and heavy) and you have an old printer that only prints in black.  In this case I would look for a bundled package to replaces the computer as well as it's monitor, keyboard, mouse and maybe the printer too.

Scenario #3
You or your child are going back to school and would like to be more mobile and you're thinking about a laptop.  Know that to get a comparable computer as your desktop PC you will be spending more money (but not as much more as in years gone by).  I would look for a  laptop that had a good wireless G or wireless N card for starters.  If you're going to keep it stationary at your dorm or apartment I would opt for a 17 inch screen model, but if you need to tote it around a lot then go for the 15 inch screen models.  Get a carrying case right off the bat.  Not only does this keep your more portable, it is great for protecting your laptop.  Also, look for a wireless mouse for your laptop because you're going to get tired of the little touchpad real soon.  Other than that, only get the accessories that you'll use because the pourpose of a laptop is to stay mobile.

Hex Converter

Hex To ASCII Converter

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Integer to Byte converter


This is a tool to practice converting between decimal and binary representations. After you have practiced for a while and feel that you know how to do the conversions, take the quiz.
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