Wednesday, January 5, 2011

HDMI Cables - Don't Get Scammed

HDMI cables are licensed under two specifications, standard and high-speed, everything else on the label is a bunch of hooey. If you have an HD TV that can support 1080p resolution, then you need the high speed in order to deliver the best quality picture from your blu-ray player. Ignore everything else on the package. Some stores, like Best Buy, have HDMI cables that talk about TV refresh rates on the package. They list specifics like 120hz, 240hz and 480hz. HDMI cables cannot effect your TV's refresh rate. That is handled entirely by the TV's circuitry. It's just a cheap marketing scam to get you to pay more.

Don't be fooled by labeling that says ultra-high speed either. High speed is high speed. Again under the licensing specs, any high speed cable can pass the 1080p and 3-D signal at optimum speed for the best picture. Some of these cables cost $150 to $250.

My suggestion is to by the one on Amazon for $3.99.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Safe Internet Searching

Porn built the internet. Like dandelions showing up in your yard, it can show up unexpectedly in almost any search engine results page; especially image searches. Do a search for any term and you will see explicit imagery if your search settings are wide open. I have a 9 year old who likes to do research on the internet for animals. Recently she discovered how to use powerpoint and loves to make slide-shows with images. The most logical place for her to get these images is from Google. My dilemma is keeping her safe while she searches. So how do we keep from seeing pornography while searching for rainbow brite (do little girls even know who that is anymore)?

Luckily most of the search engines try to help us out. The default setting for most of them is "moderate". This means that it will return results without the naked people, for the most part. If you want to be absolutely safe change the setting to "strict". I'll get show where to do this for Yahoo, Bing, and Google in a moment. Yahoo and Bing are the most restrictive while Google is the most relaxed. I needed a base image of a fist for a web site I am putting together. Yahoo and Bing didn't show results until the settings were changed from moderate to strict because it detected adult content within the results. Google on the other hand showed the moderate results right away while filtering out all of the nudes and the bizarre.

How to adjust settings 

Google's settings are a little tricky to find. If you go to and look up at the top right hand corner there is a link, "Search Settings". Go here first. You can adjust the settings once a search is complete but the goal here is to avoid the flesh peddlers. You will then need to scroll down to the "Safe Search Filtering" category to set your desired level of security.

Yahoo search settings are contained within the "options" drop down menu to the right of the gold search button.

Bing search settings are offered to you when you perform a search that may contain inappropriate material.

Pornography is a persistent plague on the internet. I hope the steps above help to keep your kids safe from it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Got Rid Of Cable/Satellite And I Love It

If you are like I was, you are paying for satellite or cable TV and complain about not having anything to watch. Or, what's worse, you find yourself watching local channels more often than not. My advice to you is, "Stop paying to watch TV!" That's what I did and I haven't looked back.

You might be thinking that you have to give up your favorite shows or that you are limited to the movies in your DVD collection, but don't despair. I am about to open up your eyes to a universe of entertainment. You'll not only be able to watch any TV show you want virtually on demand, but you will also be saving money. It's all about using technology to your advantage. Here's how it works.

First of all, you're flat screen HD TV doesn't have to go to waste. Networks and their local affiliates broadcast most of their shows in HD these days and you can watch them for free. I bought an HD antenna for $35 from Radio Shack. I get about 17 local stations and the picture is actually better because the signal isn't being compressed as is the case with a cable or satellite company.

Now for the fun part. Almost all network TV shows are available to watch free on their web sites. For instance, I used to watch 24 the day after it aired on the Fox web site. Do a search on the internet to find your favorite show and then follow the links to the network site that it is on. If you don't want to huddle over your monitor to watch it, you can always hook up your laptop or desktop to your TV. If you have an HD TV, the connection is fairly simple. Just unplug the cable from your monitor and put it into a similar port on the back of your TV. There are detailed instructions in this post.

So far we have taken care of watching current network shows either in real time or later without the need for cable and satellite. Next, we are going to look at the ways you can watch a ton of great TV shows and movies for very little cost, Netflix.

I pay under $20 a month for Netflix and it is worth every penny. Not only does this get me 2 DVDs at a time and unlimited per month, but it also covers as much streaming video as I can watch. I'm not proud to say it, but I watched 4 seasons of Prison Break in 3 weeks. Netflix has tons of movies and TV shows that are available for instant viewing or rent. The bonus is that you aren't limited to watching the instantly viewed titles on your computer. There are several Netflix ready devices and you probably own at least one of them already. If you own a Wii, PS3 or an XBox 360 you can stream the movies or TV shows through that device and onto your TV. There are also blu-ray and dvd players from LG that support netflix as well. Do you have an Iphone? Just download the netflix app and watch movies anywhere.

My family loves movies and video games, so I have a PS3 hooked up to my flat screen, and a Wii in a family room. Of course if you don't own any of those devices you can also hook your laptop or desktop to your TV and stream the movies that way.

Now some of you may be asking how do kids get along without Disney, Nick Jr and Teen Nick. So far I haven't had any complaints from my kids. They can always find episodes of That's so Raven, Hannah Montanna, Drake and Josh, etc...on netflix. Keep in mind that these stations also offer free videos of their shows on their web sites as well.

Hopefully i have shown that you can have all of the TV you want without paying for cable or satellite. My total cost for this freedom was an initial investment of $35 followed by the cost to have internet and netflix. Compare that to your cable bill and see if it isn't worth it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Which Anti-Virus Software Should I Use

Let's start with a negative. If you are a home user, never, never, never ever install McAfee. That thing is the worst resource hog. It will make your computer run slow because it checks every file after every action. I have had this problem on every computer that I have ever used with McAfee installed. I thought it was an internet connection problem, but a good tech buddy of mine told me it was McAfee. As soon as I uninstalled it, my computer ran smooth and fast.

Now for some tips. In the world of anti-virus software there are major players like McA'crap listed above as well as Norton Anti-Virus and some others. You can install them, but unless you want to pay every month to keep your anti-virus up to date, you are wasting your money. New viruses are created every day and these companies make you pay for the privilege of having your computer run slow in an effort to thwart the threat. I don't know about you, but "free" sounds a whole lot better to me.

Thankfully a free option exists. I recommend AVG anti-virus. You can get the free edition and it is updated regularly. You get the updates later than the paid version, but most threats are the result of bad browsing habits. As long as you aren't opening every piece of spam email you get and you are avoiding spurious web sites you will probably be ok. It's not a guarantee, but I installed the free edition of AVG and I haven't had a virus problem since. The company I work for uses their paid version and there haven't been any problems there either.

It's easy to download and it runs in the background without ever making your computer slow. The exception to this is when it is running a scan, but you can schedule that scan to run overnight and you'll never be affected by it.

All you have to do is click "download" on the link provided to get the installation file and then either save it to your desktop for easy finding or click "run'. After that follow the on-screen instructions.

Oh one last thought. If you want to avoid viruses altogether, get a MAC. It has everything you need right out of the box and they are awesome for personal use. More to come on that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How To Install A Webcam

Most laptop computers come pre-installed with a webcam, but if you want to mount one on your desktop computer then follow the instructions and advice below.

Choosing a Webcam

There are lots of different cameras for your computer. Walk into BestBuy, MicroCenter, Target, etc. and you will find plenty from which to choose. On the low end you have webcams that provide basic video and picture capturing functions. These are usually $20 to $40. On the high end you will find features like HD (high-definition) and true color lighting, which range in price from $50 to $100. Of course there are a range of options in between. Choose the webcam that best suits your quality expectations.

I would want a webcam that has better than average lighting. My computer isn't always in an area where the lights are bright and even when it is a lower end camera may not be able to produce a well-lit picture.

By the way, when you are buying a webcam, you'll also want to purchase a microphone. Most desktops don't come equipped with built-ins like laptops do. Don't spend a ton of money on one. If you are going to be using it for long periods of time, I suggest buying a cheap headset.

How To Install A Webcam
This is the easiest part of all. Before you connect your webcam, install the disc that comes with it. This disc will not only guide you through set-up but it will also install a number of cool effects that you can use on your video and picture sessions.

One final note of instruction. The webcam will connect to your computer through USB. It's the same connection as your mouse and keyboard use.

Some Fun I Had With A Webcam and Friends

Friday, July 9, 2010

How To Set Up a Wireless Network

Wifi, one of the greatest inventions of the modern age. No longer are we shackled to wall outlets by chains of cables. Yes, my friends wifi allows to us surf the world wide web from most any location within and close without our domiciles. Setting it up, however, can be a little tricky.

First, the easy part.

1 wireless router - linksys, belkin or the one provided by your ISP (Internet Service Provider).
2 Ethernet Cables - ethernet cables are the wires that look like really fat phone cords. At least one was provided by your ISP. It is connected from your modem to the computer already.

Step 1
Unplug the power cord from your modem, the box your ISP provided you with that connects to the wall. If you get your internet from the phone company, it is the box that connects to the phone outlet. If you get internet from the cable company, it is the box attached to the cable outlet. Once you have identified the modem and disconnected the power proceed to Step 2.

Step 2
Unplug the ethernet cable (fat phone cord) from the modem and put it into the jack on the wireless router labeled "1". This ethernet cable should now be going from the wireless router to the computer. Note* If don't have a desktop computer and you will be using a laptop only or if you're desktop is going to be wireless as well, skip this step.

Step 3
Grab your other ethernet cable and plug one end into the modem (internet box from phone or cable company). Plug the other into the wireless router jack labeled "WAN" (wide area network).

Step 4
Attach the power cord to both your modem and your wireless routers to turn on. Wait 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Step 5
You should be in business. Your laptop should detect the new wireless network. Happy surfing!

Caution: At this point your wireless network is unsecured, meaning anybody in close enough range can surf the internet using your connection. This is especially bad in apartment buildings. To remedy this, go through a couple of extra advanced steps.

In order to secure your network you have to access the router. To do this, open your internet browser (internet explorer for instance) and type the following address, This is the standard address given by a network to a router and you should see a settings menu for your router. If that doesn't work type this address instead,  If for some reason this doesn't work either, grab a paper clip. Somewhere on the wireless router there is a pin-hole. You can reset the router back to factory defaults by inserting a paper clip. Once that is done, try one of the addresses again.

Once you have gained access to your router, you need to adjust the wireless security settings from the available menus. These differ from brand to brand, but you should be able to find something called "wireless security". You have two options, WEP security and MAC addressing. WEP security means that in order to access the internet each laptop or wireless device will need to provide a password. Your router should tell you how long that password has to be. MAC addressing has nothing to do with Mac computers. It simply means the physical address of the computer you are using.

By using this method of security, only the computers whose physical address you have allowed will be able to use your internet. The drawback is that while securing your connection the data traveling through the air is not encrypted. If you live next to hackers, this isn't good. They could still steal your signal as it travels and see the information you just sent. In order to get the MAC address for a computer you must go to: Accessories and then "command prompt" in Windows. Once the little black box appears type "ipconfig/all" and hit enter.

A whole list of information comes up. You should see something like this.

Wireless LAN adapter Wireless Network Connection:

   Media State . . . . . . . . . . . : Media disconnected
   Connection-specific DNS Suffix  . :
   Description . . . . . . . . . . . : Realtek RTL8191SE Wireless LAN 802.11n PCI-E NIC
   Physical Address. . . . . . . . . : 00-26-B6-97-CF-DA
   DHCP Enabled. . . . . . . . . . . : Yes
   Autoconfiguration Enabled . . . . : Yes

Find the physical address and type it into your MAC list making sure to replace the hyphens with colons. Save your settings and you are done.

I know this can be a little tricky. Good luck everybody.

How To Connect A DVD Player Or Any Other Device To A TV

Connecting electronic devices such as DVD players to a TV requires some basic knowledge. Once you have this basic knowledge the tasks are much easier. Don't be intimidated by fancy terms like RCA cables, HDMI cables or COAX. These are merely names that describe the type of wire and it's technical capabilities. Even though the names are foreign, their applications and uses are quite simple.

The device you want to connect will determine in large part what kind of wire you need to use. On the backs of DVD players there are ports called outputs. In some cases there are several options and others, especially older ones, there is only one. In either case the wires for a basic connection will be included with the player.

The most basic connection between a video device like a DVD player or game system is using RCA-type cables. These cables are the ones with the red (right speaker sound), white (mono-sound) and yellow (video) heads on them and they can either be bundled together or completely separate. They don't even have to be colors, although the standard colors make it even easier to keep the wires going to the right places. You wouldn't want your video cable to get crossed and plugged into the audio port on your TV.

In this case you would simply match up the input colors on the back of the DVD player with the same colored RCA-type cable. The other end will be plugged into one of inputs on the back or side of your TV. Your TV may have one input or several. If it is newer then it more than likely has several inputs, both on the back and side. These inputs are labeled. Example: AV1, AV2, Cable, Antenna and so forth. Simply find one that has the red, white and yellow input jacks and match the colors up to your cables. The only thing left to do in this very basic set-up is to turn your TV on and use the input button on the remote to find the input with the same label as the jacks in the back or on the side. If you connected to the jacks labeled AV1, you would select AV1 using the input button on the remote. Turn on your DVD, push play and enjoy the movie.

Hopefully this example illustrated to you the basics of connecting a DVD player to a TV. You can use this same method of determining where the wires go with other devices, such as a Wii or other game system. In most cases, use the wires that came with the device and find the matching jack on the back of your TV.


Above I described the basics of DVD to TV connections, but as technology advances the wires may change. For instance, if you have a Blu-Ray player and a HI-Def TV you will want to connect the two with a cable that can transfer more information at higher speeds for that crisp 1080p (highest quality of high definition) movie quality.

In this case you will notice that in addition to RCA style out-put jacks there is also one labelled HDMI. It looks the usb connector that you use to attach your camera, keyboard or thumb drive to a computer, except the HDMI is thinner and wider. The nice aspect of HDMI is that it carries both video and audio. Simply plug one into the blu-ray player and the other to your HDMI input on the back or side of your TV. Turn on your TV, push the input button on your remote and select the appropriate HDMI input (HDMI 1, 2, 3 etc...).

If you want to get really fancy and split off the audio into a nice surround sound system, simply use the audio jacks on the back of your player and connect it to the sound system. You will probably have to tell your device to use the HDMI for video and the other for audio within the device's settings menu.

Here's an example of something I did. I use my PlayStation 3 for my blu-ray player. I have a really nice TV but my surround sound receiver is older and it doesn't have an HDMI output or input. In order to get the best sound and video, I connected my PlayStation to the TV using HDMI and then used the digital audio out on the PlayStation to connect to my surround sound. A digital audio cable uses pulses of light, much like fiber-optic cable, to transmit sound signals. Lastly I had to go into the settings of the PlayStation and tell it to use HDMI for video and digital audio for sound.

Basic or advanced, connecting a DVD player to a TV is all about knowing the fundamental types of connections that are available and using the clues on the back of the devices to determine which cables to use and how to connect them. There are a vast array of ways to accomplish what you want to do. Hopefully, over time, I will address them all, but for now I hope this helps somebody. Never hesitate to ask questions in the comments section. I'm always happy to help.