CTPC User Group


  1. Preview of the February 26th Meeting
  2. The Tip Corner – Bill Sheff
  3. Streaming Music – An Alternative Method - Phil Sorrentino
  4. Coming Soon: Microsoft Office 2013 - Nancy DeMarte
  5. Look Back Tech - Greg Skalka
  6. Tips for Upgrading to Windows 8 - Sandy Berger
  7. Exploring PC Hardware with Windows 7 - Dick Maybach
  8. Have Fun and Learn with PAINT - Jim Cerny
  9. Warning: 81 Apps Accessed My Personal Info Online - Greg West
  10. Interesting Internet Finds - Steve Costello

Preview of the Next CTPC Meeting - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 6:30 p.m.

How to Use YouTube to Increase your Google Page Rank

Any business can increase their opportunity for success by creating a website that not only describes the product they are promoting but also having a presence on Google that generates customer interaction and ultimately orders for their products. The ranking of the web site by Google uses an algorithm to evaluate websites to determine their relevance. Keywords are very important to your website to establish focus and greatly increase your chances of gaining a high position within Google for search phrases that will generate real traffic.

Steve Goethner, an independent Macintosh consultant since 1986, has decided to launch a new business to help local businesses get to the top with relevant keywords in their website. Steve believes that one of the best ways to help your page rank is to make a number of short videos on your business and post them on YouTube. He will bring his video equipment and record a short video as a part of his presentation. He will also describe the equipment to use and upload the video to YouTube and talk about some of the important points to make it effective.

This will be a very interesting presentation and we hope you will make a special effort to be at the Silver Star restaurant on Feb 26th at 6:30 PM. You are also encouraged to remain after the meeting to share pizza and refreshments.

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Bill Sheff, Novice SIG Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Computer Group, PA, www.lvcg.org , nsheff (at) aol.com

The Tip Corner

Show Desktop in Windows 7
Do you miss the desktop icon back in Windows 7? While most of them are too complicated to explain here, do we need a show desktop icon when there's already one in the lower right-hand corner of your screen?

If you click it your desktop becomes visible; hold your mouse pointer over it and the open windows on your desktop will fade. It's just like the show desktop icon of the old days.

A quick way to the Task Manager
The quickest and easiest way to get to your Windows Task Manager is simply to right click an empty area of your Task Bar and choose “Start Task Manager”.

Fake Name Generator
Here is a cute little site (http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/) that invents a whole lot of make believe information for you. Just specify the gender you want, choose a name set from the drop down list and pick a country. Then click Go. That will generate a random fake name with fake information to go with it.

Don’t like the first name that comes up? Then just keep clicking Go or changing the options until you find one you like. There are tons of names in this generator. If you are squeamish about the fake information they provide, especially with identity theft happening more and more frequently, check out the FA0. page to see what they based all of their information on. So if you have needed to use a false identify for fun or protect yourself on a suspect site, check it out.

Missing your Menu Bar in Internet Explorer
Computers are computers, so if you open up your IE and there's no Menu Bar to be found, don’t panic. Here's how to get it back. Open Internet Explorer and right-click on a blank area up at the top. The resulting menu should have a bunch of options (favorites, status bar, command bar, etc.). Just make sure “Menu Bar” has a check mark next to it and you're all set!

Slow or Stuttering YouTube
Some people complain about YouTube video playback always stuttering and stopping. I haven’t noticed it myself but perhaps I am usually patient in most cases. So if you do have a stuttering and stopping You Tube movie here are a few of the things you can check out.

Could it be Microsoft Security Essentials or Malawarebytes or your virus protector or even your firewall or your cable broadband service? So what can we blame for this problem? Is it one thing or could it be a mixture of things?

If it happens all the time it could be your computer. You may have too many programs running in windows that suck up too much memory. Try closing everything you're not using. You may also have multiple browser pages open simultaneously with stuff going on with each one, that can dramatically slow down everything.

It could be your cable internet. During peak usage periods – like when people first come home from work, more people on the server less bandwidth per user. Also cable can slow down for other reasons also.

It could be YouTube. Their site slows down due to a variety of reasons from time to time. Heavy usage, server troubles, site being attacked by hackers/viruses etc, software updates having snags, server maintenance.

Regardless on the possible cause, one solution might be is to click on the video to play, then immediately hit pause. Why? Because hitting play starts the process of buffering (loading). What you are describing can occur when the video plays faster than your internet and computer can buffer it - essentially the player is trying to read something that hasn't loaded yet, and stops until more is downloaded, and the process gets repeated. By pausing the video right after hitting play, and leaving it for a little bit, the buffering can get ahead to a point where the speed of playing can't overcome it.

So if see the red bar filling across the bottom of the video - that's the buffering progress, give it a little time before you start playing.

For more drastic action, Go with Windows 7 (Vista is part of the problem), upgrade the RAM in your machine, disable any services running in the background and upgrade to a fast video card.

I could go on about power supplies and other hints, but the main one is what we mentioned at the beginning: Pause the download and let the buffer load in enough video to preclude the speed of the video from catching up to the buffering point.

Chasing the Frog
Are you a movie buff? Do you ever wonder how much truth there is in a movie that is based on a true story? At Chasing the Frog (http://www.chasingthefrog.com/index.html) that is exactly what you can find out! This site is devoted to revealing just how true to the actual story the movies are.

On the main page you’ll find featured movies like “Soul Surfer” and “Not Without my Daughter”. But if you want to check out more go to the right of the page where you will find the True Story Archives, an alphabetical listing of the movies they have investigated. Some of their investigations are truly in depth analysis. This site is certainly one to check out, and you might even want to bookmark it so that you can explore future investigations as new movies are released.

Is your computer a 32 or 64 bit operating system?
For Windows XP and Vista: Hold the Windows Key, and then press the Pause Key, which is located two keys to the right of the Print Screen key. This window shows all of the basic info about your computer like how much RAM you have and what-not, but it also can tell you what OS you’re running. In XP If it doesn’t specifically say Windows XP x64 Edition, then you’re running a 32 bit operating system. But with Vista there is a specific field that says “System Type”, which has your OS type listed after it and will actually tell you 32 bit or 64 bit. No Means No

Yes/No to All
When working in Windows that involved multiple files, you might have noticed that there’s an option for “Yes to All”, but no button for “No to All”? What can we do?

Well, the good news is that if you find yourself in this situation, all you need to do to get “No to All” is hold the Shift key when you click “No”. Voila!

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Phil Sorrentino, Member, Sarasota PCUG, FL, November 2012 issue, PC Monitor, www.spcug.org, philsorr (at) yahoo.com

Streaming Music – An Alternative Method

With Windows 7, Microsoft has provided a great way to share music on your home network. Each computer (using Windows Media Player), can share the music from every other computer within a Windows7 “homegroup.” This is accomplished by allowing “streaming” when the homegroup is set up. If streaming is turned on, then the music from another computer in the homegroup will show up in Windows Media Player as available music to play. If you don’t see the other computer’s music, you probably did not turn on streaming. If you didn’t turn on streaming when you set up your homegroup, you can remedy that by going to the other computer, starting Windows Media Player, clicking “Stream” and choosing “Turn on Media Streaming with Homegroup,” and then checking “Music.” That should allow you to play the music from the other computer on your computer.

Though this is a great accomplishment, it may not be very useful, especially if both computers are in the same room or at least close by. But if the computers are in different rooms or on a different level in the house, or at the other end of the house, it could be very useful. Just imagine playing music from your music collection, which resides on your main computer in the computer room, on your laptop while sitting at the pool. Or in my particular case, playing the music that resides on my main computer in the computer room, in the living/family room through my very high fidelity stereo system.

Streaming within a homegroup is a great feature for computers running Windows7, but if you have network computers that are not running Windows7, there is still a way to play music on these computers. This method is called “Play to.” It allows you to play music in the main computer, but listen to it at another computer, possibly where there is a better set of speakers, or a room where there will be a large number of listeners. (This feature supposedly works with any electronic component that advertises the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) logo, though I have not tried any.) On the computer that is to receive the music, you will have to Open Media Player, Choose Stream, Choose “Allow remote control of my player, and click the confirmation box, “Allow remote control on this network.” Then, on the main computer, In Media Player, on the Play tab, click the “Play to” icon. The pop-up menu should list all the PCs in the house that have been prepared for remote operation. Just choose the computer to receive the music and you’re set to enjoy the music from your main computer, using the computer in the listening room of choice.

The Alternative Method: The above two methods are built into Windows Media Player and can suffice for most network music streaming, but they are very dependent on these features being part of Windows Media Player, and future versions of Windows Media Player. A more general way to accomplish playing music in a main computer, but listening to it on another computer, is to develop Playlists that can be used on any computer in the network. Playlists developed in this fashion do not restrict you to the use of Windows Media Player, and can be used with many other music players.

There are a handful of file extensions for playlists, such as .m3u, .wpl, .pls, and .b4s. Windows media player can use .m3u and .wpl. It seems to prefer .wpl as its default setup for playlists. The .m3u extension is the most general format and is recognized by many music players, so this is my preferred playlist file extension. (If you use Windows Media Player to create your playlists, make sure you select the .m3u format when the playlist is created.) An m3u file is a plain text file that specifies the location of one or more music files. Each line indicates one specification. The specification can be any one of the following: an absolute local pathname (e.g. C:\My Music\Brooklyn Roads.mp3), a local pathname relative to the m3u file location (e.g. Brooklyn Roads.mp3), a URL (used to access a stream on the Internet). The m3u file can also contain comments prefaced by the “#” character.

So the alternative method consists of creating a set of playlists that can be used on any machine on your network that will play the music from your main computer (where your music collection is stored). For example, let’s say we have four computers on your wired and/or wireless home network, named D1, D2, L1, and L2 (D is used here to designate a desktop computer and L is used to designate a laptop, but in reality these will be the names of the computers on the network.) And further let’s think of D2 as the main computer, where the music collection is housed and maintained. (Note here that there is only one computer collection to be maintained which makes maintenance and backup simpler.

The only thing to be maintained on the computers other than the main computer is the folder of playlist files, which can be easily copied when or if the original files change.) So each playlist will be defined by a playlist file, which has the extension .m3u, and should have entries that represent the music choices on the D2 computer. Each playlist file should probably have names that represent the type of music in that playlist, like Oldies.m3u, or SentimentalMusic.m3u, or MoodMusic.m3u, or TheBeatles.m3u. The playlist file will have a series of lines of text, each one representing a music title to play. Each line will be as follows: \\D2\E:MP3MusicCollection\MusicTitle.mp3. Where “D2” represents the main computer name, “E:” represents the disk that the music collection is on, “MP3MusicCollection” represents the folder the music is stored in and should be the “share name” for the shared folder, and MusicTitle.mp3 represents a song to play. (Here is an example: \\Desktop2\MP3MusicOn2E\MusicA\Jefferson Starship - Miracles.mp3. Note here that there is a Music folder, MusicA, within the top level Music folder, MP3MusicOn2E.)

This type of file can automatically be created by Windows Media Player when a playlist is created, or it can be created manually with Notepad. (Not Wordpad or Word because the playlist file must be a simple text file without any associated formatting. Once a playlist is created it should only be opened and edited within Windows Media Player or with Notepad, again for the same reason.)

With the above defined playlist files copied to any networked computer, you should be able to play the music at that computer; D1, D2, L1, or L2, using the music collection on the main computer, D2. Any computer that is on your network only needs a copy of the playlist files and a music player to use this alternative streaming method to allow you to enjoy, remotely, the fruits of your music collection.

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Nancy DeMarte, Regular Columnist (Office Talk), Sarasota PCUG, Florida, October 2012 issue, Sarasota PC Monitor, www.spcug.org, ndemarte (at) Verizon.net

Coming Soon: Microsoft Office 2013

“Oh, no,” you say. Not another new version of MS Office, just when you were getting used to the 2007 or 2010 versions. Calm down. This version is both very much the same and very different from previous versions. If you’re comfortable with the newer Office suites, it’s not at all a problem to learn. The main differences are found not as much in the specific programs as in the overall look and purpose of the suite. Office 2013 is designed to be compatible not only with PC’s, but also with the new devices that Microsoft is rolling out, like the Windows phone and its new tablet called Surface. To compete with rivals Google and Apple, Office 2013 is also highly integrated with Microsoft’s cloud area, SkyDrive.

An Office 2013 preview came out in mid-July. The reviews I read from the tech writers were quite positive, which made me decide to download the preview and give it a look. I was immediately impressed with most of the changes that have been made to the programs of the suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.), some of which will be discussed below, but the overall appearance took some getting used to. They call the new look Metro, which means a cleaner, more modern design. The text on the ribbon is simpler, less ornate than in previous versions. And it is easy to hide the ribbon details and toolbars, leaving only the tabs. There is much more white space, giving a less cluttered feel. And if you use Office 2013 on a touch screen device, even more white space opens up for easier touching. I found I could accomplish more in Office 2013 with fewer clicks than in Office 2010.

Besides a cleaner look, the other big focus of the new Office is storing files on the Internet, where they can be accessed from and synced with other devices no matter where you are. This is certainly the future of computing. For example, the default saving location in Office 2013 is no longer “My Documents,” but SkyDrive. It took just two clicks for me to save a document to my SkyDrive location. If I edit it there, the changes will sync with the same file on my PC.

Another general change is the demise of “add-ins,” which are optional downloads that provide extra features to Office programs, like the International character toolbar. Instead, Office 2013 will offer “apps” from a new Windows Store, much like the app store in Apple’s iTunes. Apps stay on the host website so they can be accessed from any device at any time.

Program changes:
Microsoft got quite a bit of resistance to the ribbon in Office 2007, so changes within the new Office programs have been few, but useful. Here are a few of my favorites:
Word 2013 has added the ability to edit PDF documents, a real time-saver. In versions 2007 and 2010, you could save a document as a PDF, but it was “read only.” If you wanted to edit it, you had to save it as another file type, like a .docx, then re-save as a PDF. Read Mode (different from Reading Layout View) displays a document in landscape orientation (wider than it is tall) and removes all the toolbars and rulers to maximize the reading area. As I know from my iPad experience, this is something especially suited for mobile devices. Another upgrade is the ability to insert online video from within a document. The move to make things simpler for Office users is represented by the new, updated templates found in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. When you open the program, a group of templates appears on the screen, ready to be used. Many more are available online. One, of course, is a blank document or spreadsheet or slide.

Excel 2013 has a couple of helpful changes. For example, it includes a Recommended Charts button. Selecting a group of data and pressing this button will show a short list of charts best suited to display your type of data. Flash Fill will sense that you are performing repetitive actions and complete them for you, as long as the data is in the same form.

PowerPoint 2013 has new, updated themes. This pleased me because some of the themes had been in existence since the early 90’s and had become a bit stale. Another nice upgrade is the Presenter view, where the presenter can see on his laptop not only the projected slide, but a small version of the slide before and after, not visible to the audience. The Zoom feature lets the presenter zoom in on a graphic or text on the screen during a presentation.

The Outlook 2013 email program can display your Facebook or LinkedIn accounts at the bottom of the screen. The new Peeking feature opens a mini-window as you are composing an email so you can refer to your calendar or contacts list without having to open another program to get information.

All in all, I like Office 2013. Much of what exists in Office 2010 is still there, and the new features helped me complete tasks more efficiently. After a small period of adjustment, I like the modern look. I have had no trouble saving documents to my SkyDrive area and really appreciate the advantages of accessing files on multiple devices. The one feature that I haven’t yet been able to get used to is the change in the Save As window. To save a document to My Documents, I had to go through four clicks: Save As – Computer - Browse – My Documents. If I save to SkyDrive, the clicks are reduced to two: Save As – SkyDrive. Perhaps before the actual Suite is released, that problem might be fixed, or maybe there is an easier way that I have yet to find.

According to Microsoft, Office 2013 will not run on Windows XP or Vista; it will run on Windows 7 and 8, but is designed to integrate best with Windows 8, which itself is advertised as being compatible with mobile devices of all kinds. Windows 8 went on sale October 26, 2012. Office 2013 won’t be released for a year or so. It will have several versions for home and business, and claims to have versions compatible with Mac and open-sourced formats. Pricing has not been set. As a reviewer said, “It will cost more than Google Docs, but it has many more features.” Anyone can preview the suite by going to http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview. Don’t be confused. The download will be called Office 365, which is the subscription-based version of Office 2013.

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Greg Skalka, President, Under the Computer Hood User Group, CA, October 2012 issue, Drive Light, www.uchug.org, president (at) uchug.org

Look Back Tech

No matter how modern your technology may be, you usually can’t escape your past. The introduction of the personal computer 30 years ago started a revolution in how we deal with correspondence, communications, photography and music. This revolution resulted in an evolution of capabilities over three decades, culminating in the Ultrabooks, tablet computers, personal music players and digital and video cameras we have today. In the fast-paced and ever-changing world of computers and consumer electronics, the past, as defined by different features and capabilities, can be as recent as yesterday. And unfortunately, something new and improved usually means something else just became obsolete, sometimes before its time.

Unless you just came out of a 30-year coma, you probably have computer files, media and devices that are not fully compatible with the latest in computers and electronics. For those of us that have been using computers and technology for even a short time, moving to the next, newest, latest and greatest will involve change. How do we bring along the content we have created and used in the past? How can we continue to use our favorite old devices?

Fortunately, there are a number of devices available to address these issues. They are often called translators, converters or copiers, but I like to think of them as “look back” devices. They can help us look back to an earlier time, bridge the divide between technologies and bring our content, be it music, photos, video, documents or information, along with us as technology evolves. And boy, does it ever evolve.

Imagine archaeologists stumbling upon an undiscovered ancient library. Despite alphabet and language translation issues, they could probably eventually learn quite a lot about the time period in question, as ancient civilizations typically used information recording technologies we can still easily use today. Assuming they are in good condition, carved stone tablets are still as readable now as they were when carved thousands of years ago. Even the information in paper books preserved from a hundred years ago is still easily accessible. That may not be the case, however, with information stored from only ten or twenty years ago.

Imagine instead opening an unclaimed storage locker that has been closed for 10 to 20 years, and finding it contains lots of important and interesting information. Unfortunately, it is stored on Betamax, VHS and cassette tapes, LP records, 8 inch, 5.25 inch and 3.5 inch floppy disks, SmartMedia flash memory cards and bare Parallel ATA (PATA) hard drives. You might feel the archaeologists have an easier task in obtaining their information. Even if you could come up with functional hardware to read all these old media types, how could you provide the data to someone that wants to access it on an iPad?

Fortunately, there is look back technology available to access and translate a lot of that old media. Although current computers no longer have drives to read removable magnetic disks, and the latest Ultrabooks, Chromebooks and iPads don’t even have optical disc drives, there are a lot of USB external drives available for these older media types. I have not seen (at least recently) any USB external drives for reading 8” or 5.25” floppy disks, so for those you might have to rely on an old working computer. USB external drives are readily available for 3.5” disks, however, and are great when you have older equipment (like electronic test equipment) that can only store to its built-in floppy drive. There are also plenty of USB external optical drives available to read and write CD, DVD and even Blu-ray discs.

There are a number of options when it comes to getting information off of older computer hard drives. If you don’t have a computer that supports the older drive, there are plenty of hard drive external enclosure kits available to interface all sizes of PATA and SATA hard drives to USB. The Apricorn DriveWire Universal Hard Drive Adapter is one of several similar products that can easily connect any size or type of bare hard drive to USB for data transfer. It is great for transferring files you forgot you needed from those old computers that won’t boot anymore, or have no removable media in common with your new computer. For bare SATA drives, there are also quick-change docks available to easily access them through USB or eSATA.

A lot of laptops and tablets have slots for reading the removable flash memory cards commonly used in digital cameras, but most can only accommodate SD (Secure Digital) cards. Many of the older or less popular media formats, like CompactFlash or SmartMedia, are not supported in new devices. There are a lot of USB adapters available for almost any memory card format that has ever existed, allowing these cards to be read again. I have one USB media adapter that claims to accommodate 56 different types of memory cards.

Though almost everyone now captures and enjoys audio-visual entertainment through digital means and devices, including digital still and video cameras, personal digital music players and streaming audio and video, the all-digital era is at most only two decades old. Many of us still have music, pictures and video in an analog format, which makes them more difficult to enjoy in our digitally-oriented world and makes the originals more vulnerable to loss or degradation over time. Fortunately, there are many look back devices available to help bring these analog items into the digital world.

For printed materials like photographic prints, a good flatbed scanner can make excellent digital scans. For less critical material, a hand-held scanner can digitize much quicker with good results. Where the original is a film negative or slide, there are a lot of reasonably priced film and slide scanners available to allow those old memories to be more easily accessed and permanently preserved in digital form. At one end of the spectrum are precision film scanners that make high-resolution scans but require more time to scan. There are also lower-cost film scanners based on digital camera sensor technology that make very fast scans of reasonable quality. These scanners, such as ones made by Wolverine Data, make it possible to convert large collections of slides or negatives to digital files in a reasonable time. There are services available to perform these conversions for you for a fee as well.

For those that have large collections of vinyl audio records, cassette tapes or even 8-tracks, there are devices that can be connected to your computer through USB to digitize from almost any audio source. These devices take in right and left channel audio inputs, and so require that you still have an appropriate and working player available. There are also USB players for vinyl records and for cassette tapes, which allow those media to be played and digitized through your current PC or laptop. These are great when your record or tape collection was preserved, but you no longer have a turntable or cassette player that works. There are also many devices available for digitizing analog video, such as from camcorders or VCRs, but these all rely on you having a working player to provide the analog electrical signals.

The look back devices so far described allow legacy data storage to be accessed by current computers and analog media sources to be digitized. But what do you do when you have legacy hardware, like a parallel port printer or a hand-held GPS receiver with serial port interface, that you still want to use? There are USB to parallel converters, so that you can electrically connect that parallel port printer to your Chromebook. There are also USB to serial converters, which provide me a way to connect my old Magellan hand-held hiking GPS to my laptop (which has no serial port) and download tracks. Computer technology seems to advance much faster than some other electronics, and it seems a waste to have to buy a new GPS simply because your new PC doesn’t support the interface it uses.

The last look back application is in telecommunications. Today all computers have either a wired Ethernet connection, a Wi-Fi capability, or both. It was not too long ago, however, that the only way to get on the Internet was through a dial-up connection with a modem. Unfortunately, there are still parts of the rural U.S. where dial-up may be the most reasonable option. Since modems disappeared from new computers many years ago, the best way to connect your Ultrabook to the Internet in these locations may be through an external USB modem.

The problem with advancing technology is that it makes everything obsolete eventually. This means there will be a bright future for these “look back” devices to handle the things we expect in our current computers at some point. While USB is pretty universal, I don’t expect to find a cloud with a USB port on it.

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Sandy Berger, CompuKISS, www.compukiss.com, sandy (at) compukiss.com

Tips for Upgrading to Windows 8

If you have just upgraded your computer to Windows 8 and are disappointed at the performance, don’t blame Microsoft. The problem may be with your computer manufacturer and/or with your upgrade preparation. Here are a few tips to get you on the road to happy computing with Windows 8.

In the past two weeks, I have upgraded three computers from Windows 7 to Windows 8 with a wide variety of results. On the first computer, an older Gateway desktop, the upgrade was seamless and Windows 8 works beautifully.

The second was a very recently purchased Lenovo that was advertised as “Windows 8 ready” and came with the $15 upgrade to Windows 8 offer. You might expect that this upgrade would be the smoothest, but it was the most problematic. The Windows 8 installation went smoothly and things seemed pretty good until I tried to start Internet Explorer, which refused to work at all. Then I found that the Picture folder wouldn’t update and the Epson printer wouldn’t work.

A little trouble-shooting was definitely in order. As I delved into the problem, what I found was amazing. The Gateway didn’t have any Gateway programs running in the background. But the Lenovo had more than twelve programs that were starting along with the computer and running in the background. These ranged from power management programs to programs that were supposed to speed up the computer to programs that seemed to have little use.

I set out to test each of these programs to see if they were interfering with Windows 8. After several hours of trouble-shooting, the answer was an emphatic “yes”. There were two Lenovo programs that were interfering. When I disabled these programs, all the Windows 8 functionality returned. Internet Explorer worked, the pictures updated, and the printer worked.

The aggravating thing was that these programs didn’t show up as incompatible when I ran the Windows 8 Upgrade Advisor in preparation for the upgrade. This computer was supposed to be “Windows 8 Ready”. So what happened? Well, many manufacturers load their computer with “stuff” to make them seem better than the competition. The irony is that most consumers don’t even know that those “special” programs are there. I never heard of anyone purchasing a Lenovo because it came with such great extra programs.

While Apple products are immune from this because Apple manufacturers both the hardware and the software, most computer manufacturers do this. Smart phone manufacturers do the same.

It is obvious that all of this “stuff” just complicated the computer and can obviously cause problems. Across the board, manufacturers should stop pre-installing all this junk. Since we now live in a world of apps, if a manufacturer wants to give me some free programs that are worthwhile, they should offer this to me in the form of an app that I can choose to install or ignore.

This is one case where I put the blame fully on the shoulders of the manufacturer. I must say that the Gateway really excelled in this endeavor because it was not infested with all of the proprietary programs that the other computer had.

The bottom line is: don’t make the mistake of thinking because you have a new computer that was purchased under the $15 upgrade offer, that it is really “Windows 8 Ready”. Before you upgrade, check the manufacturer to see if they have special instructions for getting your computer ready for the update.

While Lenovo’s website was pretty useless in this endeavor, I found several other manufacturers had some good instructions.

The next computer that I upgraded was a Toshiba laptop. Toshiba, like Lenovo has a lot of proprietary programs running in the background. Toshiba, however, had excellent upgrade instructions on their website. I was told to upgrade the BIOS before installation and to remove several Toshiba programs. With that preparation, the upgrade went smoothly.

I still believe that computer companies should not put so many extra programs on their computers. I actually can feel Microsoft’s pain in having to try to deal with a PC ecosystem where this is allowed. In Windows 8, Microsoft produced a good operating system that works fine when other integrated programs don’t interfere. Yet, most home users who have problems upgrading to Windows 8 will blame Microsoft and tell everyone that Windows 8 is a terrible program.

If you decide to upgrade to Windows 8, be sure to search the website of your computer manufacturer first. Get your computer ready. See if there is a BIOS update available. Update all the software on your computer, and turn off unnecessary programs that may be running in the background. If there are problems after the upgrade, look at the manufacturer’s proprietary software as your first line of trouble-shooting.

Another tip that I can give from my upgrade experiences is that if you are upgrading a laptop, plug it in so you won’t run out of battery power during the upgrade. Also, allow yourself enough time. You can speed up the process by using a wired connection, rather than wireless, but you can still expect the upgrade process to take at least two hours. Good luck to all of you upgraders out there! And be sure to let me know how it goes.

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Dick Maybach, October 2012 issue, BUG Bytes, Brookdale Computer Users’ Group, NJ, www.bcug.com, n2nd (at) charter.net

Exploring PC Hardware with Windows 7

Windows 7 includes programs that can teach you much about your PC and its performance. Using them can help you understand what goes on inside the enclosure, guide you in deciding what components you should upgrade, and help you determine which new PC would be a good replacement for your current one.

The first tool we'll examine is the Windows Experience Index, which is a performance rating of your PC. The fastest way to access it is to tap the Windows key, type “index” and select Check the Windows Experience Index from the presented list. The screen-shot below shows the results for my Acer Aspire-One netbook. The first time you run this program, you won't see any scores; instead, there will be a button labeled “Rate this computer.” Click on this to run the benchmarks that find the scores.

Note that lowest score is for processor speed, which means that over-clocking the CPU would be the best way to improve its performance, since replacing the CPU isn't possible. If I decided that I needed substantially better performance, I could run this same program on a netbook or laptop on a showroom floor to see how much, if any, improvement I could expect. This test provides much better guidance than the often-used processor clock rate.

The next tool provides an overview of the hardware, and the easiest way to access it is to tap the Windows key, type “system” and select System (in the Control Panel section) from the list. The results, again for my Acer netbook, appear below.

This screen shows you the basic information about your PC, the Windows version, an overview of the hardware, and its network identity. If you have run the Experience Index benchmarks, you'll also see a performance rating.

The System Information tool provides detailed hardware information; access it by tapping the Windows key, typing “system”, and selecting the System Information item on the displayed list. The results for my Acer netbook appear below.

At first, the left pane will contain only three items under System Summary: Hardware Resources, Components, and Software Environment. Click on the box labeled “+” to the left of each item to expand it as shown. The right panel shows the information for the item highlighted in the left one, in the above case, System Summary.

You might be puzzled by the memory numbers. In particular, they show that Windows can use only 1.73 Gbytes of the 2 Gbytes installed. The remainder is used by the hardware, mostly by the display controller. On this machine, Windows makes 1.73 Gbytes available as swap space, which brings the total available computer memory to 3.46 Gbytes. At the time, this program was run, Windows and its applications were using 830 Mbytes of the available memory, leaving 905 Mbytes of physical RAM and 2.35 Gbytes of virtual memory still available. To understand the other items in the left pane, you will need to make Web searches or obtain a good hardware book, such as Upgrading and Repairing PCs, by Scott Mueller (now in its 20th edition).

The last tool we'll examine is the Resource Monitor, which shows how hard your PC is working and what software is using its resources. It's most easily accessed by tapping the Windows key, typing “resource”, and selecting Resource Monitor from the list. The screen below shows a snapshot, again taken on my netbook.

Here, the left pane (under the Overview tab) shows the active processes occupying the CPU. To make the shot less cluttered, I've closed the Disk, Network, and Memory items, which you can open by clicking on the down-arrow buttons on the right of each title bar. The graphs on the far right show short performance histories of each parameter. In the case of the CPU, the green shows how hard it's working and the blue its clock frequency, as indicated on the CPU title bar in the left pane. Note that at the instant I made this screen-shot, the CPU was running at 120 per cent of its rated maximum clock rate, although as the graph shows, it was less than 100 per cent most of the time. Comparing the other title bars in the left pane with the corresponding traces in the right one will let you interpret the data. In particular, in the disk display, blue shows the per cent of the time it's busy and green its transfer rate; in the network display, the blue shows its per cent utilization and green its data transfer rate; and in the memory display, blue shows the per cent in use and green the hard-fault rate. This last item is confusing. Hard Faults are not errors; instead they show how much data swapping between RAM and the swap file is taking place. Earlier versions of Windows used the term “page faults” for this, which was somewhat less alarming. Note here that we're using only about half the physical RAM, so there really isn't a problem. If the physical RAM usage were to approach 100 per cent, the hard-fault rate would dramatically increase, and the PC would slow down just as dramatically. Thus, this is the plot you check to see if you need more RAM.

We've taken a very brief look at some useful hardware tools in Windows 7. Although making full use of them would require much study, spending just a few minutes with them will give you a better idea of what is going on inside your PC. Also, they can help you make better choices in your next hardware upgrade or PC purchase.

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Jim Cerny, Director, Sarasota PCUG, Florida, November 2012 issue, Sarasota PC Monitor, www.spcug.org, jimcerny123 (at) gmail.com

Have Fun and Learn with PAINT

Feed your creative side! Learn a little about computer graphics.

I’ve always liked the Paint program -- it comes free with Windows. Sure, there are other drawing and graphic programs you can use, many of them free on the internet, but since everyone who has Windows has the Paint program, you might want to know a little about it. To open Paint on your computer click on the “Start” button in the lower left of your screen, then move your mouse to “All Programs” and a list of your computer programs will be displayed. Scroll down to the “Accessories” folder and click on it. In the list of programs in the Accessories folder find “Paint” – click on it once and it will open. You can play with Paint and make your own drawings and you can open a photo in paint and then draw or put text right on the photo. But before we do that, let me tell you why I like the Paint program and why I think it is worth your time to learn about it.

Paint is an excellent program for new computer users because it can teach you some basic computer commands for doing graphics. You can draw and work with shapes, colors, lines, pictures, and more. But the important thing is that what you learn in Paint will come in handy in many other graphic programs. Paint is also an easy program to learn on your own by using its own “help” option. When you open Paint (in Windows 7), click on the little blue circle with the tiny white question mark in the upper right corner of the window (or just hit the “F1” key on your keyboard). Then click on the article title you want to learn about. I suggest starting at the top and read all the sections if you have not used Paint before. Don’t worry, the entire help article is not long and you can read it all in less than a half hour. But you really need to actually do what the instructions tell you so that you will build up your computer skills. The program is simple enough to learn easily and it will introduce you to some great computer graphics. But, on the other hand, Paint is limited in what it can do. For example, it is not intended to be a complete photo editing program by any means.

Play with Paint for a while and learn how to draw and change shapes. Select different colors and draw some lines, circles and squares (to draw perfect circles and squares, hold down the “shift” key while you drag your mouse to create the shape). Try selecting different brush types – you can select oil or water color, for example, or crayon or marker. Notice how you can see “through” some colors to the others underneath (Paint prior to Windows 7 does not have this feature). Now draw a text box by clicking on the text tool which is a capital letter “A”. In the box will be the insertion point ready for you to type your text. You can make the box “transparent” or “opaque” and move it wherever you want. Make a mistake? – just click on the “undo” arrow, the small blue arrow curving to the left at the very top-left of the Paint window.

One thing Paint can do is allow you to put text right in your photo. If you click on “help” you will see the “Adding text” title – click on it to learn how. But let me step you through this, one step at a time (in Windows 7), to introduce you to this:

  1. Open the Paint program (see instructions above).
  2. Click on the dark blue rectangle in the upper left of the window. This used to be the old “file” menu but in Windows 7 the word “file” is gone. (No, I don’t know why they removed the word “file”!).
  3. Click on “Open” which will display a window in which you can find the photo you want to work with in Paint. Click on the photo and click on “Open” at the bottom right of the window. The photo will now be in the Paint program window – but wow -- look how big it is!
  4. Why so big? Well, I guess the Paint program is used to dealing with images with fewer pixels, but it’s no big deal – let’s zoom out to see the whole image at once. Click on the “View” tab and then click on the “Zoom out” tool until you see the whole image in the window. Now we can work with it much more easily.
  5. Click on the “Home” tab and then click on the “Text” tool – this is the large capital letter “A” in the “tools” section of the Home tab ribbon. You are now ready to draw a rectangle in which you will type your text.
  6. On the photo, drag your mouse (hold down the left mouse button) to draw a rectangle. If you draw it in the wrong place, just move it to where you want by dragging it with your mouse. You can also change the size of the rectangle by dragging the little white “handles” at the corners or sides. Try it!
  7. When you draw this rectangle, the “Text” or “Text tools” tab is opened for you. This is where all the text editing tools are, and there are not that many.
  8. The “insertion point” is already in the rectangle ready for you to type your text – but wait a second, where is that insertion point again? It is in the upper left of the rectangle you drew, but it may be VERY tiny! Can you even see it? The Paint program had no idea how large your photo was going to be so the larger (i.e. more pixels) your photo is, the smaller the font will appear. Remember, we zoomed out to see the whole photo. So, get the font larger by clicking on the little black arrowhead next to the number in the “Font” tool area and pick a big number, say “72” and see how big that is. You can enter numbers larger than 72 if you want by using the keyboard.
  9. Select a color for your text. Pick a color from the color pallet that will stand out on the photo, such as yellow. Just click on the color you want and that color should then appear in the “Color 1” box. This will be your text color.
  10. You can select other text options if you wish, such as bold, italic, or a different font. Also, select if you want your text box to be transparent (my choice) or if you want it to be “opaque” (that is, to have a background color). The background color will be the color in the “Color 2” box which you can change if you want by clicking on that box. If your text color and the background color are the same, you will see no text!
  11. After you type your text you can still move the box to where you want by dragging it. Once you click outside the box, that’s it, your text is now part of the photo and the box is gone. If you make a mistake, just click the “undo” blue arrow at the top left of the window and you can try again.
  12. Save your photo with a NEW NAME. Click on the blue rectangle again (the old “file” menu), move your mouse to “Save as…” and then click on your file type (probably “.jpg”). In the window that opens, pick the folder into which you want to save your photo and enter a good name in the name box. Click “Save”. If you do not give it a new name it will replace your old photo which will be lost.
I think you will enjoy using the Paint program, let it bring out the artist in you. While you are drawing your masterpiece, you will be learning some very helpful computer skills. Computer graphics can really do some amazing things and there are several programs free on the internet if you want to do more. So have fun and get colorful!

Greg West, APCUG Advisor for Regions 6 and International User Groups; Vice President, Sarnia Computer User Group, Canada gregwest (at) alternatecloud.com

Warning: 81 Apps Accessed My Personal Info Online

When I scanned Google for invasive Apps I found six Apps that were non-Google apps that had access to my personal information. Who is accessing your personal info?

Scary...It should be.

Wired magazine agrees. “You may trust Google to keep your mail safe,” but would you trust an interesting startup app by unknown college kids? Wired asks you to also consider what a disgruntled employee can do or even “an engineer working in his 20 percent time [at Google maybe]” Here is a must read detailing this topic: http://bit.ly/wired-security

Not scared yet?

Do you use Facebook? Is it secured? Of course, you went into Facebook’s security settings and set them all. Even if you did, are you sure someone is not peeking into your personal life, still? You bet they are.

I scanned my computer and found 81 “intrusive Apps” in Facebook alone and they could access my personal information in various degrees. Here is what I found intrusive Apps could do with my Facebook data:

  1. 66 apps can use my name somewhere
  2. 81 apps have access to my personal info
  3. 5 apps know my home location
  4. 2 apps are able to access my contacts
  5. 51 apps can access my 24/7 Facebook app
  6. 52 apps have access to my media and files
The Naked Security blog, by Sophros, one of the leading security and antivirus companies, says, “Of course, there are many legitimate apps and websites which you can give permission to connect with your account - but that doesn't mean you have to have a free-for-all [in downloading them].” Sophros goes on to say that apps that you give permissions to are potentially not safe anymore, “And, in the case of Facebook, it could put your friends' information at risk, as well.” One reason is the free-for-all way many simply give their info to anyone out there. Here is another must read: http://bit.ly/nakedsecurity

“OK, so what can we do?” The big tech guns such as Mashable, Tim O’Reilly, Techzilla, MNSBC and many more, recommend this free and amazing software app “MyPermissions.” This program scans your computer (and no, they don’t have any accesses) for all invasive apps on your computer and/or mobile devices. After the scan you are given the complete list of apps that are a possible threat and gives the number of how many can access what information.

Now you can click on the icons of the apps listed and go through and remove apps you do not trust. In my case I simply clicked the “Nuke All Intrusive Apps” button and after several minutes all apps were removed. Of course you don’t have to go to this extreme if you want to go through each app and alter settings. I will add them back on a need-to- have basis.

Wired magazine listed ways for you to “Stay Safe”: To get the “MyPermissions” software go to: http://mypermissions.org. You can find video tutorials at http://alternatecloud.com.

APP OF THE MONTH - zoom.us

http://zoom.us This is an easy way to set up an online conference call with up to 15 people. It is fast and free and the best part is the clarity of screenshots and video. The screen resolution, by far, beats Skype. Screen sharing is easy to use and is great for showing family members photos or videos and giving your business people a PowerPoint presentation without leaving your home. I have been helping Rayjon Sarnia (http://www.rayjon.sarnia.com/) who is planning on using this for some of their presentations to organize their missions to Haiti. To see how Zoom.us works, watch this video from the Wall Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/RQuI8J

Greg is an APCUG, Advisor for Regions 6 and International User Groups. He can be reached at gregwest@alternatecloud.com. For more tech help: http://alternatecloud.com

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Steve Costello, President/Editor, Boca Raton Computer Society, Inc., FL, Aug/Nov 2012 issues, Boca Bits, www.brcs.org, http://about.me/sefcug, editor (at) brcs.org

Interesting Internet Finds

In the course of going through the more than 200 news feeds in my Google Reader, I often run across things that I think might be of interest to other user group members.

The following are some items I found interesting during the months of July and October 2012. (Long URLs shortened with the Google URL shortener http://goo.gl/ )

The Best Three Public Domain Clipart Galleries - http://goo.gl/DGNMq
5 Best FeedBurner Alternatives For Your WordPress Blog - http://goo.gl/dP5Da
HTG Explains: How Antivirus Software Works - http://goo.gl/Yjp38
Why I bought my wife a Mac - http://goo.gl/FDzmM
How To Get Free Movies Online - Legally - http://goo.gl/jc8Nw
Secrets for successfully narrating a presentation - http://goo.gl/USl4m
How to Survive Without a DVD Drive in Your Laptop - http://goo.gl/6VbGC
Three Free Ways to Clone Windows XP in 2012 - http://goo.gl/SoMWs
CCFinder: A Desktop Application to Help You Easily Find Creative Commons Images - http://goo.gl/Q8zfL
How To Become a Voice-Over Artist With Your PC - http://goo.gl/ceAgJ
Evernote: A Great Free Tool for Writers - http://goo.gl/kBajd
TED Notepad: Minimalist Notepad Alternative - http://goo.gl/aFgCP
5 Free & Best Browsers for Android - http://goo.gl/j5CPC 

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