Tech Tips

Keeping up with technology is kind of like driving your Volkswagen Beetle across the country. Every time you start to get anywhere, you have to stop and fill-up. Technology changes so fast, we have no choice but to continually re-educate ourselves. This section includes technology tips that will help you stay on top of trends. Check back often, we’re always adding new content.

If you have ideas regarding technology resources you’d like to see added here, please let us know.

File Compression

At one time or another, every computer owner has run into the problem of large files, and insufficient hard drive space. Despite thinking that you would never run out of space when you purchased your computer, you’ll soon find that the applications and documents can quickly consume a hard drive. Before you know it, your computer is prompting you that disk space is running low.

One effective method to combat limited disk space is to utilize a simple compression program. The function of a compression program is to take large files and make them smaller without changing or losing any information in the file. It does this by using a complex set of algorithms and equations that reduce the size by reorganizing the bits of information in the file. When a compressed file is expanded, the bits of information are rearranged to put the file together.

Like everything in the computer world, there are many different compression application to choose from. Even though each program uses different algorithms for their compression, their compression levels are comparable. A typical compression rate for a 100k Word document containing all text is about 60%-90% of the original file size. With this in mind, choosing your own favorite compression utility is usually a matter of personal preference.

One of the most common, and user-friendly programs is called PKZIP. This program is freely available from www.PKware.com. It’s user interface combines functionality with ease of use by putting the compression terminology into easily understood terms.

Another highly used compression utility is called RAR. The RAR compression format is extremely useful for packing together large programs into one very small file. It can take extremely large files and spread them out over several smaller files which can be easily transferred or stored on individual floppy disks. This program is also free to the public at www.RARsoft.com.

Another extremely popular shareware compressing agent is called ARJ, and can be found at www.ARJsoft.com. This program has all the same capabilities as RAR and PKZIP, but uses a different format and file extension.

With the various compression utilities out there, it’s nice to have more than one around so that you can access other people’s compressed files. You can only expand a file with a .zip extension using PKZIP. A file with the .arj extension can only be opened with ARJ, and the .rar extension can only be opened with RAR. Most files available on the Internet come compressed in one of these three above formats, and some sites offer various compression formats so you can select the one you prefer.

With files sizes ever expanding and online file transfer an important part of business today, compression allows us to save valuable disk space and time. Once you familiarize yourself with common compression formats, you can cut large files down to size in a matter of minutes.

File Transfer Times

As technology continues to advance, Internet users have become increasingly accustomed to fast connection speeds. Although download times are affected by many variables, the most critical is the connection speed of both parties. Not all modems, though, are created equal. Some are fast and some, though once considered fast, are now very slow. Commonly-used modems range the gamut from 28.8 kbps analog to the 250 mbps wireless. The following is a brief comparison of various modems and the respective time required to download a 10MB file.

Modem / Transfer Rate / 10MB Download

28.8K / 28.8 kbps / 46 minutes

56K / 56 kbps / 24 minutes

ISDN / 128 kbps / 10 minutes

ASDL / 384 kbps / 3.3 minutes

Cable / 600 kbps / 2.1 minutes

T-1 / 1.54 mbps / 50 seconds

Wireless / 250 mbps / .3 seconds

Macintosh vs. the PC

Macs and PCs are like apples and oranges. Both are computers, and perform similar functions, but they look and operate quite differently. However, like apples and oranges, comparisons between the two are highly subjective. Whether to use a Mac or PC is matter a personal taste and the operations you require.

IBM named its first computer a PC, which stands for “personal computer.” A Macintosh isn’t a personal computer, but rather a “person’s computer.” Although PCs and Macs are programmed to perform similar tasks using hardware, each computer requires different software. Hardware includes external devices such as monitors, connectors, cables, consoles, speakers, keyboards, printers and a mouse. Hardware necessities include a keyboard and monitor, whereas an add-on includes a scanner. Software is the computer brain of both the PC and the Mac. Software instructs the hardware of its tasks and how to perform them.

Computers are designed to house short-term storage on the hard drive. In addition, both the PC and the Mac use disks for long-term storage. PC and Mac disks have different formats. There are two kinds of disks available to users. Floppy disks have 1.4 MB of information and zip disks have 100 MB of information storage, with MB standing for “megabyte.” Zip drives work the same floppy disk drives, but are not standard on most PCs. Mac’s have a built-in zip drive, whereas PC’s only offer it as an option.

The single-processor Mac is faster than the cheapest single-processor PC. PCs are usually less expensive than Macs and there are more PC’s on the market. For example, Gateway and Dell are two different PC providers. Another difference between the PC and the Mac is that the Mac tends to be easier to use and troubleshoot. Most PC users need to consult a computer technician when experiencing difficulties, whereas Mac users are usually able to troubleshoot without outside assistance.

Macs tend to have more consistent applications than the PC does, and those applications are pre-packaged with built-in Apple standards. PCs have more options and lower prices. The purchasing difference between PCs and Macs is that Macs have the built-in features that PCs don’t have. PC buyers must either buy a pre-packaged deal or buy computer software on their own.

Macs have the capability to read PC disks with a built-in format translator, whereas PCs need special software to read Mac disks. Mac parts are also harder to find because often they must be ordered from an Apple dealer. PCs have parts that are usually cheaper and easier to find. PCs are also easier to upgrade because their software options are separate and there is a larger selection.

Scanning Different Media

The process and applications of a scanner are relatively simplistic. It acts and functions much like a copier. It has the same little scanning bar that blinds you if you look into it, and instead of feeding paper (though a rare few do) it transmits the scanned object into your computer and allows you to alter it digitally. In that respect, a scanner can far surpass the average office copier.

Color Scanning

Scanning color pictures can be fun, but it’s also very challenging. You may expect to get the same quality and detail as the original, but that’s not always the case.

A critical part of any scan is determining the proper resolution, or dpi (dots per inch) setting. Most scanning software allows you to select from a range of settings, usually between 75-6000 dpi. Of course, individual settings depend on the quality of the scanner you’re using, and technological possibilities are expanding all the time.

Generally speaking, the greater the dpi (or higher the resolution), means a better quality scan. It also means that you’ve created a larger file. A typical 400 dpi color scan can be as large as two megabytes, whereas a 100 dpi black and white scan is somewhere between 50-100 kilobytes. There is also a major difference in the smoothness of color shading. The edges of the scanned picture become more jagged and irregular when using a lower resolution setting.

The advantage to scanning in pictures at a lower resolution is that the files are not as large, and can be easily attached to an e-mail or saved to a floppy disk. A 400 dpi file takes a long time to transfer on a slower machine, and is too large to fit on only a single disk. The disadvantage, however, is that the lower resolution creates a lower quality picture. Photo images found on the Web are usually scanned at 72 dpi. While they look great on your screen, these photos will not print on a color printer very clearly.

Black & White Scanning

In scanning black and white text or photocopies, the concern over resolution is not as great. Whether it’s photos or text, contrast is just as important as resolution. Sometimes you’ll need to darken the black or grays to add contrast against a white background. Adjusting contrast can cause otherwise unnoticeable scratches or particles to appear. Using Photoshop, you can easily increase or decrease contrast once a scan is completed.

Another thing to be aware of is the quality of the original you are scanning. The scanned picture can never be better than it’s original, and you must keep in mind that there are always minor deficiencies, scratches, or other imperfections that will be enhanced by the scan. Keeping the glass on your scanner clean, and double-checking for wrinkles, smears and other debris on the original will usually lead to a high-quality scan.

In scanning different kinds of media, the best thing to do is experiment. Once you have some of the basic principles down, you’ll start to see more and more ways to apply them, and even begin to think of new things you might want to try. Play around with scanning objects other than pictures or documents. Most mid-range scanners can capture almost anything that will fit on the glass. Just keep trying different things and don’t get discouraged if success is slow to come. Proper scanning techniques can take years to refine.

Selecting Domain Names

Deciding to go online is definitely an important step; but it’s only one of many. After making the initial decision to go “virtual,” the next and possibly most important step is choosing a name for your Web site. In Web parlance, this is referred to as selecting a domain name. Name recognition and recall is an e-commerce imperative. The following are some tips for selecting an effective domain name for your organization or business:

Keep it Legal

Domain name length should fall somewhere between 2 and 63 characters, not including the top level extension — traditionally .com, .net or .org. The only acceptable characters are the letters A-Z, the numbers 0-9 and hyphens. However, domain names cannot start or end with a hyphen. As well, domain names are not case sensitive and are generally displayed in all lowercase letters.

Once you’ve selected a name and confirmed its availability, you must also make sure it doesn’t infringe on any existing trademarks or intellectual property. Simply being available does not make a domain name legal.

Make it Appropriate

Consider your target audience when selecting a domain name. What is the purpose of your Web site? What tone should it take? Perhaps it should be formal, or informative, or even sarcastic. Consider whom you intend to attract and what will capture their attention.

Keep it Simple

Keep your domain name short and sweet. Generally, a shorter domain name is easier to remember, write down or repeat frantically in your head while sprinting to the nearest computer. Remember, as length increases, so does customer confusion. That being said, try to restrict the domain name to one, two or three words maximum. Try to select easily-spelled, easily-pronounceable words with few syllables. Although they’re available, avoid using hyphens to separate words. Also, avoid acronyms unless they’re part of your name. Whereas “qmfc” is short, may not be easy to remember.

Make it Evocative

Domain names are especially effective when they create strong visual associations — strong and relevant visual associations. Name recall is promoted when a consumer can connect a specific and unique image, memory, scent or individual with your domain name. Take the word “banana” for example. You know how bananas look, smell, taste and feel. Make it something concrete and certain. Like www.deathandtaxes.com.

Make it Easier

To facilitate your search, log on to Network Solutions (www.networksolutions.com), or use a program such as Mozzle (www.mozzle.com), or Domain Questor (www.internet-soft.com). These services, as well as many available freeware and software tools, can be invaluable. For example, Mozzle contains an automatic thesaurus, acronyms, alternative domain name spellings, trademark searches, pattern searches and so on.

Make it Universal

Be wary of ethnocentrism when creating a domain name. If your site is targeted to a global audience, take into account the fundamental linguistic and cultural contrasts that distinguish your market segments. This includes slang usage, spelling discrepancies and other various geographic idiosyncrasies.

Make it Unique

Some domain names betray all practical advice and yet are still tremendously effective. Why? Because they’re unique and thus, easily remembered. Ultimately, uniqueness is perhaps the most influential predictor of domain name success. This is especially true for small to mid-sized businesses who lack instant brand recognition. The key, however, is to be both unique and relevant. Remember, like any brand name, logo or trademark in the real world, a domain name is your identity on the Web. Furthermore, if created correctly, it is a moniker that customers will forever associate with your product, service or company.

Understanding Computer Viruses

The first tenet of warfare is this: know thy enemy. So what exactly are computer viruses? Computer viruses are devious little computer programs that attach themselves to legitimate program-hosts and then engage in rampant self-replication. It’s easy to be fooled by their small size. Don’t be. They’re never small for long. Computer viruses propagate like rabbits — and by the time you first recognize their presence, your data may be permanently damaged or erased.

On this point, however, an important clarification must be made. Like biological viruses, computer viruses are not inherently destructive. You’re probably harboring a fugitive cold virus in your body right now, even if you’re not actually sick. With both biological and computer viruses, you can be infected without being affected. Your computer can be a veritable hive of viruses without exhibiting any visible symptoms or actual damage. If not instructed to do otherwise, viruses will quietly, unobtrusively and perpetually replicate. They’re only destructive if intentionally engineered to be so.

Malicious computer viruses contain a “payload” — a programming element separate from the self-replication code that executes its objectives. For example, a payload might display a personalized message on your monitor. It might erase critical data or program files, reformat your hard drive, or infiltrate your messaging software and overload the local network with authorless e-mail. But not all computer viruses are created equal. Some are full of sound and fury, yet signify nothing. Others are silent but deadly. In general, though, computer viruses are of three main types:

Macro Viruses: These are the most prevalent type of virus today. Unlike conventional viruses which can attach to virtually any program, macro viruses prey on specific programs. A macro itself is an instruction code that automatically executes other program commands. Many popular and prominent software applications utilize macros extensively. Essentially, macro viruses are macros that embed within a program and self-replicate.

Macro viruses that run on Microsoft applications like Word and Excel are particularly common — chiefly because certain programming strategies employed by these applications make them particularly susceptible. Macro viruses work like this: when an infected document is initially opened, the macro virus embeds itself in the associated application and then proceeds to attach itself to every subsequent document created. In this way, the macro virus is unwittingly disseminated whenever the user transfers a document.

Parasitic Viruses: These are the most infectious type of virus. Parasitic viruses attach themselves to executable programs like .com or .exe files. Once an infected file is launched, the virus is free to replicate itself, embed in primary memory, or release its payload. Further, it can corrupt not just specific programs, but virtually any program being processed in RAM.

Boot Sector Viruses: The boot sector is essential software that resides on hard, floppy or optical disk, and is responsible for loading your operating system into memory at the start of a computing session. Boot sector viruses penetrate this vital boot sector and alter its contents. As opposed to macro viruses, boot sector viruses are spread not by sharing documents, but diskettes. Whenever new diskettes are introduced to a previously infected computer, the boot sector virus is transferred to the healthy diskette, which then conveys the virus to other computers, and so on.

These are all considered true computer viruses. Another commonly-observed form of computer pestilence (though not literally a virus) is the worm. Worms differ from viruses in that they do not require a host to wreak their havoc. Other viruses are referred to as Trojan Horses. Trojan Horses are viruses that masquerade as legitimate programs, documents or other software, only to reveal their true function later. Trojan Horse viruses are often spread through e-mail or online bulletin boards.

Certainly no one would knowingly expose their computer to a virus. Unknowingly, however, thousands daily place their machines in peril. Ignorance is no excuse, though — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The following are some common troubleshooting techniques for keeping your computer virus-free:

  • Always rely on a reputable anti-virus software applications like Norton or McAfee.
  • Always scan new files, diskettes or software before loading them on your machine.
  • Always back-up critical software or files to avoid permanent loss due to infection or deletion.
  • Always be wary of strange operating tics or unusual graphics.
  • Always ensure vigilance from the other members on your computer or network.
  • Always write-protect your system and program disks.
  • Always enable Macro Virus Protection in all Microsoft applications.
  • Never share diskettes or software without assuring their integrity.
  • Never download e-mail or Internet files/programs without scanning them first.
  • Never act on an e-mail virus alert without confirmation from an IT professional or trustworthy resource.
  • Never boot your system with a diskette other than the original.
Understanding PDF Files

Adobe PDF is a dynamic and versatile file format that can dramatically simplify and expedite document viewing, transfer, storage and output. The letters P, D and F comprise an acronym which stands for Portable Document Format. Adobe PDF is widely used by publishers, Web programmers and graphic designers, and generally accepted as the preeminent format for universal document exchange. Why is it so popular? The following five attributes should provide some insight:

Compatible: PDF is a cross-platform file format. This means that PDFs can be used to recreate documents regardless of where they were originally created. Also, PDF will preserve the document’s original style and formatting (including colors and fonts) exactly as they were intended to appear. With Adobe Acrobat Reader, virtually anyone, on any platform, running any application version, can view and print identical PDF files.

Active: PDF files are highly navigable. They contain highly useful navigation tools, such as: internal and external links, structured bookmarks, search capabilities, thumbnail page views, multi-directional buttons, magnification options and more.

Accurate: PDF files are both easily viewed and output. Since it utilizes the PostScript language, the format ensures true, faithful and fast printing. Also, PDF files viewed on-screen retain precise color regardless of software or hardware variations, and also retain clarity in magnifications upward of 500%.

Convenient: PDF files are both smaller in size than original source files (e.g., potentially 20% as large as HTML files) and easier to download and view. PDF documents also offer page-at-a-time downloading, allowing you to read and revise the early pages of a document before the entirety has been received. Further, because of their economical size, you can download the whole document faster than you would a source file.

Secure: PDF offers extensive security protections. Users can assign security passwords to PDF documents before sending them to maintain strict control over sensitive information. Further, PDF files can be authenticated and secured with digital signature technology. A PDF feature known as SelfSign enables creators and users to restrict and track access to critical documents through the use of an encoded digital signature.

The preceding information should help explain the merits and subsequent popularity of PDF files. If you’re ready to begin utilizing this versatile format, it won’t take much to get started. The following are the five primary methods for creating PDF files.

  1. Adobe Acrobat: software used to create and modify PDF files. Allows users to create a PDF file by simply dragging a document into Acrobat, choosing the format directly from Microsoft Office, or converting documents directly, among other methods.
  2. Adobe PDF Writer: software that mimics a printer driver to create PDF documents from nearly any Windows application.
  3. Adobe Acrobat Distiller: software for automated, high-volume conversion of PostScript files to PDF.
  4. Adobe Acrobat Capture: software designed specifically for the conversion of scanned image files to PDF, optimized for character recognition and clean-up.
  5. Other software: other Adobe graphical and publishing software such as FrameMaker, PageMaker and Illustrator can be used to automatically create PDF files. Also, a surplus of third party software like EZ-PDF, ActivePDF Printer and QuarkXPress offer PDF creation capability.

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