Category Archives: Tech Support

Let’s look at Google Docs

I find it much easier to understand new products if I watch their introductory video. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, so I thought I’d share a few of the ones that have impressed me. Such things as Dropbox, Evernote, Zotero, and the like make help make the job of assembling and collaborating on ideas a whole lot easier. As I can arrange it, I’ll add other similar videos here. It’s easier than writing lots of words.

Although I’ve been using Google Docs since it first came out, I’ve only recently reviewed this video. Life in the cloud appears to be approaching the realm of possibility for those eager to experience the frontier. The truth is, I’m seeing many reasons why having files available from anywhere, by those with access and when they are edited locally the product is updated globally. As I contemplate forming a small enterprise here, the whole Google apps concept appeals to me 1) because of its cost and 2) because of its universal availability and the control offered.

Check it out. If you have a Gmail account you automatically have a corresponding Google Docs account for the asking.


A laptop for Ben

On occasion I have been one of the resources to which a friend has turned for help with his computer questions and issues. Last night I received an email from him asking my advice once again. His son, whom we'll call Ben, enters a large midwestern university this fall as a freshman, and he needs a laptop. My friend, whom I'll call Bob, wants advice about what things he needs to consider when making the purchase of a laptop for Ben's college work.

In Bob's email he made this request, "Can you possibly help us in our orientation toward getting him the best, but being sensitive to what he wants as well — the X University is a wireless campus so I guess we'll need that stuff too."

He continued, "Any help, insight, commentary, recommendations would be greatly, greatly appreciated." And then in conclusion he added the line that makes this request really interesting when he said, " … money is really not an object (well, for the most part, you understand I think)."

The constraints should be obvious.

Ben needs a laptop to use as his computer during his college career. It will need to be light enough to maneuver around campus to the library, the dorm, and the classrooms with ease, but it needs to be powerful enough to serve as his primary computer and should have enough storage to meet his needs. Ben intends to be a business major rather than graphics artist or architect or physics major, but he has been a gamer in the past. So a fast machine with good graphics capabilities will make his leisure time more enjoyable, I'm sure. He is also "into" music, so Ben is likely to want to use it to entertain himself or as a processing station for his "tunes" for his IPod. Ben has done some work in his hometown as a disc jockey, so he might even want to do a podcast at some point. He needs to be able to produce written assignments for classes, tie into the university's wireless network, use the resources such as printers and scanners that may exist at school and have a software package that covers all his basic needs at school. He doesn't need to be hassled by having to recover from virus or spyware infestation or hardware malfunction. The laptop needs to be sufficiently current and reliable that it will last him for the next 4 years.

So I turn to you, my readers with experience in choosing and using a laptop, for your comments to help Bob and Ben and me to choose a laptop for Ben. Given the requirements as spelled out by Bob's email, and expanded upon by me, and given the opportunity to choose a laptop without undue concern over cost, what would you choose for your hypothetical 18 year old son, just heading off to college? What factors do you think Bob should take into consideration? And what specific computer would you recommend? (A link to the specific configuration would be great.)

Please be aware that because I have moderation turned on to all comments, it may take a little while for your comment to show up here.   

One final bit of information, Ben himself in his message to his dad suggests a computer that a friend of his has recently gotten, a laptop that Ben says, "looks like pretty much exactly what I envisioned." That laptop is the Dell Inspirion E1505.

Is that laptop the best choice for Ben, or do you have other ideas? Should Ben consider a Tablet PC, a Mac, or what? Any and all comments about this subject will be welcomed and appreciated.

And thanks for your help.

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Phishing is getting sneakier

Don Oldenburg, a columnist for the Washington Post, has an article this morning about a new wrinkle in the phishing scams that show up way too often in our inbox.  Everyone should read it. 

One way that you can usually tell that an email from PayPal, for instance, isn’t legitimate is that it doesn’t address you by name.  Instead, it will often be addressed to “Dear PayPal User.”  That’s a dead give away.  However, the newest wrinkle is that this one DOES address you by name, and in Don’s case it purports to be a receipt for an Xbox.  Read the details in his article of how he dealt with it and what you should do if you receive one.  There’s no need for me to repeat those guidelines here.

However, in his article he mentions a web site with which I was previously unfamiliar that I want to mention to you.  It is FraudWatch International. That one is probably worth bookmarking and visiting from time to time just to check on the latest way that the Nogoodniks on the Internet are trying to get your identity or your money. When you receive such emails, you can forward them in their entirety to so that they can follow up.  Of course, you should never click on the Hyperlinks within those bogus emails, no matter how legitimate they sound or look.

Staying well-informed is probably the best way to protect yourself against being taken in by one of these scams.

Gmail labels

The other night I wrote an explanation for Caole, my ex-wife, of Gmail’s labeling capability. If you have a Gmail account, you may find it helpful to you as well, so I am copying the relevant part of my message to her here. If you don’t have a Gmail account and would like one, feel free to email me (my address is in the About Me page) and I’ll be glad to send you an invitation.

Now, for today’s “lesson.”

Last night I mentioned the concept of Labels to you. Labels are Gmail’s way of letting you apply some organization to the email you receive. Most email programs permit you to move messages from your inbox into a folder, analogous to putting a piece of correspondence into a folder and sticking it in a file drawer. Gmail’s approach is superior to that because messages often belong in more than one folder and, while you can make a copy of messages and put them into multiple folders, doing so takes up more storage space. So Gmail uses Labels instead, which means that you can apply as many labels as you think you need to each message.

When I set up your account I created a few labels (to get you started), three of them if I recall. There was Family Correspondence, Instructional, and Travel, again if memory serves. (I also set up a couple of filters which I’ll cover in another message at some time, but for now a filter is a way of applying labels or taking other actions automatically, based on some predetermined rules that you set up . But more about that later.)

It’s easy to apply a label to a message. Just look above this message and you’ll see a “drop down box” that says More Actions. If you click the down arrow beside that, you’ll see the labels that have already been defined in the list. For instance, for this message, you would choose “Instructional.” Do that now to see what I mean. Now notice that this message has two labels applied to it — Family Correspondence (that was applied by the filter) and Instructional. Those labels are indicated by the green text at the top of the message. Do you see that? Good.

At the moment you only have three labels defined, the ones that I created to begin with, but you can create as many labels as are meaningful to you. In that same drop down box, one of the choices is “New Label.” So when you choose that, you can define a new label and thereafter it will appear in the drop down list for you to choose and apply as needed. Don’t worry about applying too many labels to a message. You can add as many as you need, and then you can look for the message under that label. Just click on the label name in the list of labels on the left, and there you’ll find all the messages identified by that label. Clever, huh?

So now that you’ve applied all the labels you think you need to this message, you can get it out of your inbox. You do that by clicking on the Archive button at the top of it. That will remove it from the inbox, but it won’t be lost. It will be in the All Mail list, and it will also be listed under each of the labels it has.

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