Mobile Phone Alert: Free wifi calling is a double bonus – save money and improve reception at home!

If your mobile phone wireless carrier offers free wifi calling, check it out! It could save you money, relieve stress, and give you better at-home wireless coverage!

stickynote tech services' business lifeline: the blackberry bold 9900

In order to use wifi calling, you need a phone that supports it like this Blackberry Bold 9900.

As a small business owner with limited funds, I worry about the cost of my mobile phone bill, especially since my mobile phone is the lifeline of my business and I often get into lengthy conversations with customers on it.  Of course I could cut those calls short but that would be at odds with my mission to provide a superior level of service and responsiveness to my customers. However, I do worry about going over the magic minute mark and possibly getting whacked with extra charges.

So imagine my delight when T-Mobile, sent me a text message announcing that they were offering free wifi calling for supported phones on their network.

What is wifi calling?  It’s the mobile phone equivalent of Skype or Vonage, where instead of calling through the carrier’s 3G or 4G network (what most people still refer to as the cellular network), your phone is set up to make calls over the internet using your home wireless network.

T-Mobile does a great job of getting the word out about free wifi calling.

So I rushed to the link on t-mobile’s website that promised the free wifi calling feature, and frankly, found it a bit difficult to decipher. They didn’t offer much in the way of instructions except for a list of phones for me to pick from. Okay,  I chose mine, the Blackberry Bold 9900 and clicked it, expecting to be taken to a page that would say yes or no wifi calling and maybe some instructions for how to enable it. But instead, it just delivered me to a page that displayed a link stating that a software (OS) upgrade was available for my phone and then listed links to the Blackberry user manuals.  Apparently T-Mobile feels that sending me to the manuals is adequate guidance… ummm not in THIS America!

t-mobile web page showing manuals and software upgrade link

Here's where T-Mobile could have been a little more user-friefndly by letting us users know that the software upgrade is the key to enabling wifi calling!

Of course I don’t give up so easily and just a short google search away, found on crackberry.com, that my phone does indeed support wifi calling, but it needs to be enabled by my carrier. Ok, back to the T-Mobile site where I once again followed the path through the woods to the page for my phone.  Still no clues from T-Mobile (not that I expected anything to have changed, but thought maybe I just missed seeing something the first time around like an “enable wifi now” button). So while searching I noticed the “software upgrade available” button again and decided to at least get that done so I wouldn’t feel like my efforts were wasted.

I initiated the software upgrade directly through my phone and it took about 2 hours to complete. When it came back up, lo and behold! there in the upper right corner was the wifi calling icon, and within minutes a message popped up on my screen explaining how wifi calling works. You know… they could have just said something on the website like “to enable wifi calling, download this lastest software update” …

Anyhow, the first benefit to wifi calling is that calls through my home wifi network don’t use plan minutes and don’t cost extra. This is perfect for my home-based business where most of my longer calls take place while I’m at home sitting at my computer.  The second benefit is that my indoor wifi coverage is about a zillion times better than my indoor 3g/4g coverage, so I no longer have to do the sit-in-the-chair-by-the-front-corner-of-the-house-and-lean-towards-the-window-because-that’s-where-the-coverage-is thing.

Now don’t let me mislead you, wifi calling is far from perfect. First, it’s only as good as your local wifi connection and if you frequently lose your wifi connection at home, consider upgrading your wifi router as an unreliable connection will translate directly into dropped calls.  Second, at least in the case of T-Mobile’s implementation, there’s no handoff between wifi and 3g/4g which means if you go out of range of your wifi network during a call (eg if you leave your house), the call will be dropped.

However, if you take and make a lot of calls at home and have a reasonably reliable wifi network, free wifi calling can not only make things cheaper and easier, it can also give you a little respite from that constant worry over plan minutes!

 

 

 

Not just goofy home videos any more, maturing Youtube offers a wealth of DIY video resources for do-it-yourselfers.

What is YouTube?

There was a time not too long ago when if asked what is Youtube?  You might have responded that it’s the world’s biggest collection of home videos ranging from skateboarding dogs, to dancing bridal parties, to rambling kids spacing out on novacaine.  You may have mentioned music videos and especially the plethora of cover songs and live performances, and of course, there are videos of every kind of sport and activity with footage from helmet cams, bike camsdashboard cams, and even space shuttle cams.

What you may not have responded with is a detailed do it yourself auto repair screw-by-screw tutorial for pulling the intake manifold from your Ford Escape so you could change the back three sparkplugs which, for reasons that mere mortals cannot possibly comprehend, are buried  underneath an awful lot of other stuff that has to be removed first.  You may not have mentioned the step-by-step do it yourself appliance repair video showing detailed disassembly of your Maytag Dryer to replace a broken belt tensioner pulley.

nothing beats solid detailed instructions!

Left to my own devices, who knows how many screws I would unnecessarily removed for my dryer repair if I didn't have a video that showed only two that actually needed to be removed!

What you may have missed if you haven’t been paying attention, is that Youtube has become the go-to authority for almost all things DIY, often offering multiple do-it-yourself videos, some from fellow do-it-yourselfers who want to share what they’ve learned, and some from professionals who offer free do it yourself video tutorials in exchange for the opportunity to pitch their shop as the place to go if you bite off more than you can chew or need to buy parts to finish your DIY project.

Either way, it’s not a bad thing, and as a do-it-yourselfer who has done both the plugs on the 03 Escape and the belt tensioner pulley on the Maytag dryer, I can tell you firsthand that having a good do-it-yourself video tutorial on hand not only saves time, money, and mistakes, it could even save you from having bloody knuckles by suggesting a better technique for removing a sticky bolt than what you may have attempted otherwise!

 

SOLVED: Why is everything too big to fit on my screen?

Sometimes a corrupt video driver can make everything appear oversized on your screen, but more often your browser's zoom feature is the culprit.

Does it seem like everything on your screen just got humungous and you have to scroll up and down and sideways just to see everything?  Chances are you inadvertently used the zoom feature of your web browser and your screen is zoomed in so you are now seeing everything larger as a result.

Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome all contain a “zoom” feature that allows you to enlarge or reduce the viewing size of web pages you are browsing.  This feature is particularly handy if you want to read something small but don’t feel like hunting for your reading glasses at the moment.

While the menu structures that get you to the zoom feature may vary, all three of the major web browsers, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome share the same keyboard shortcuts for using the zoom feature.  Here’s a quick summary:

ZOOM IN:  CTRL +

To zoom in, hold down the ctrl key and while holding it in, press the plus key (note that on laptop keyboards you may need to do ctrl/shift/+ if there’s no numeric keypad).

Zooming in makes everything appear bigger on your screen.  You can zoom several times and each successive zoom will make things larger.  Zooming is handy for reading small type, and can also help when trying to make out details in an online image.  Note that not all web pages will zoom. Some (like facebook photo images) will automatically resize to fit the browsable screen area.  When zooming in, expect that you will have to scroll sideways as well as up and down to see the whole web page.

ZOOM OUT:  CTRL –

To zoom out, hold down the ctrl key and while holding it in, press the minus key (note that on laptop keyboards you may need to do ctrl/shift/- if there’s no numeric keypad).

Zooming out makes everything appear smaller on your screen.  You can zoom several times and each successive zoom will make things smaller.  Zooming out is handy if you are looking at an image that’s too big for the viewable area if you want to see the entire image onscreen.

RESET TO NORMAL VIEW:  CTRL 0  (that’s a zero, not the letter o)

To reset your view to normal (100%), hold down the ctrl key and while holding it in, press the zero key.

A few more notes about zooming…

At the top of this article I mentioned that you may have inadvertently used the zoom feature to make everything gigantic and not fit on your screen.  How, you might ask, does one “inadvertently” access the zoom feature? Here are a few common causes:

  • Young children randomly pressing keys may hit the CTRL+ combination
  • small animals, especially cats, that may walk on the keyboard
  • Laptop touchpad controls that access zoom by using two fingers to “pull apart” or “pinch together” much like the zoom feature on your smart phone.

Regarding the need for reading glasses to view small type on web pages, if you find this to be a constant hassle, you may consider resettng your text size to larger than normal.  This will usually make text display larger without necessarily blowing up the entire website.  Text size is accessible from the “view” menu on most browsers.

I have observed that some websites, and particularly web-based games don’t display properly in zoomed-in mode. That is, besides being large, they may also display random characters or image bits called screen artifacts. Usually using CTRL/0 to reset to normal will solve this.

Please note that there are other possible causes for things being too large for your screen including corrupted or missing video driver, but you should try the things mentioned above first before digging into the more technical aspects of your PC.

 

HEAT WAVE! Hot weather can stress your older PC or laptop: Avoid expensive damage with a simple cooling system tuneup!

There’s nothing like a few days in the high 80’s or 90’s to put your computer or laptop’s cooling system to the test.  Of course if you have good air conditioning, this all may go unnoticed, but for those who don’t, or if you use your laptop on the road, outdoors, or in public places like classrooms, buses, or subways, rising temperatures outside means rising temperatures inside your computer that could become so critical your system shuts itself down to prevent damage.

How does cooling work in the PC?

Stickynote computer service can help with overheating computers or laptops

Some companies have developed laptop cooling devices that are like a tray that goes under your laptop and has fans that blow up into the laptop chassis. If you are having heat problems this can help but don't skip on blowing out or vacuuming the system's cooling vents!

Your computer’s processor (CPU) generates enough heat in a tiny space, that left uncooled, it would cook itself to death in a matter of minutes,  To counteract this, system designers have come up with a variety of schemes to draw heat away from the CPU thus ensuring that it is sufficiently cooled to operate reliably.  Most CPUs are air-cooled by the combination of a heat-sink (a heat-conductive metal structure designed to draw heat away from the surface of the cpu chip) and a fan that pushes air through the heat sink structure and exhausts the air along with excess heat out through vents in the computer chassis. You can usually locate these exhaust vents on a laptop just by moving your hand around the back and sides of the unit until you feel a gentle rush of warm air exiting the case.  In most cases, there are sensors that measure the temperature of the CPU and cause the cooling fan to run faster when the chip gets hotter, and slower when the chip gets cooler.  The purpose of this fan speed regulation is to balance the cooling needs of the CPU with the aesthetic need for the computer to run quietly and not be a noisy intrusion in the room.

A COMMON SYMPTOM: NOISY FAN

Understanding how cooling works, it’s easy to see how the first sign of a cooling problem is usually that the cooling fan suddenly becomes very loud, and remains on and running at high speed for prolonged periods of time.  This is a dead giveaway that your computer is fighting to stay cool, and in most cases, is losing the battle!

I once had a customer who told me her computer sounded like an airplane trying to take off.  While we had a good laugh over her description, it was no joke when I opened the tower and found the cooling system so clogged up with pet hair and dust that it was a wonder any air was passing through it at all!

In this case, the cause of cooling failure is usually blockage of the air vents or the “fins” on the heat sink where the fan is trying to push air through.  This is remedied by using a vacuum or compressed air (or both!) to clean out the vents, the area around the heat sink and fan, as well as any cowling that may be in place to direct airflow.  This can get very messy and is generally recommended to be performed outdoors so you don’t end up blowing all that accumulated dust and stuff into your indoor breathing space.

What if your PC abruptly shuts down before it even finishes booting up?

If your computer abruptly shuts down without warning during or just after startup, there's a good possibility your cooling system has failed and your CPU is overheating.

I have observed, particularly in older desktop PCs (windows xp vintage), that sometimes plastic clips used to join the heat sink to the CPU surface can become brittle and break causing the heat sink to “pop” off of the CPU.  In this case you may get the high-speed fan sound, but more importantly, the PC may freeze up and become completely unresponsive or more commonly, it may abruptly shut down within 30 seconds to a minute of being started. If this happens, don’t keep trying to start it!  More than a few times starting without the heat sink attached and the CPU will cook itself leaving you with little choice except to go shopping for a new computer.

What if your fan isn’t noisy but you get a warning message indicating an overheat situation, or your pc shuts down abruptly without warning?

It’s not always the case that cooling problems are indicated by a noisy fan.  In fact, a cooling problem could also be indicated by a suddenly quiet fan that used to be noisy or an least noticeably running.  In this case, your fan may have failed and is either barely turning, or has stopped altogether.  In this case, the computer may issue an error messsage, but is more likely to just abruptly shut down without warning after a few minutes of operation.  In this case, the fan usually needs to be replaced.

One time, I was called in to a local dry cleaner to investigate why their computer kept shutting itself down.  When I got there, I found a portable tabletop fan pointing straight into the back of the computer and running at full speed.  The manager said this was the only way he could get it to run without shutting down.  Not surprisingly, when I opened the unit up I found it so packed with lint, there was no airflow at all from the built in fans.  That customer is now on a regular regimen of quarterly cleaning to avoid the inevitable lint buildup.

 

Other signs that a cooling problem may be looming on the horizon…

Groaning – If your computer is making what is described by many customers as a “Groaning” sound, this usually indicates the bearings are wearing out on the cpu or graphics cooling fan.  Replace the fan now because if you just ignore it, rest assured, when the groaning stops, so will your computer!

Pets – If you have pets (including birds), particularly breeds that shed a lot, expect your cooling vents to get plugged up quickly.  Plan on a vacuuming/blowout at least annually, more often if you notice a marked increase in fan speed/noise.

Dusty House – If you’re like me and live in an older or antique house, you know that it’s a constant battle to stay ahead of the pervasive dust that seems to be shed endlessly by horsehair plaster.  Thanks to its constant airflow, your computer’s cooling system is like a magnet to plaster dust and should be blown out at least annually, more often if you notice increased fan activity or are undergoing home renovations that generate inordinate amounts of dust.

In conclusion…

I’ve given you a few different computer overheating scenarios, some that are easy to remedy, and some that may require professional help.  The most common failure, the clogging of vents and heat sink with dust, lint, or pet hair, is forunately also the easiest to tackle on your own if you’re a do-it-yourselfer.  Go to Staples and buy a couple cans of compressed air and use it to blow dust, hair, and other obstructions from your computer’s vents and fans. But don’t forget, do it outdoors unless you relish the thought of breathing in a dust cloud!!!

Ugh! My Facebook notifications are a wasteland of app requests! Here’s help for the harrassed…

App requests:  The new spam…

Are you getting smothered by Facebook app requests and invitations in your notification list?  What a thrill to sign in to Facebook and see that little number saying your friends have included you in their online activities, only to open the list and see nothing but annoying app spam!  How often are you seeing stuff like this in your facebook notifications?

Billy Williams has sent you a request in keg partyville

or

Jimmy James wants to enter your birthday in Birthday Alarm Clock

Now as much as you like your friends Billy and Jimmy, you have no intention of signing into those apps, so what do you do?  Should you just ignore the request? You can, but that won’t solve the problem of you receiving a barrage of continued requests, getting them over and over again until you’re so annoyed you start seriously considering unfriending (or worse) your friends!

Step away from the unlike button!

Don’t think too badly of your friends for this, in fact, although a friend would actually have to initiate the first request according to Facebook app development guidelines, subsequent requests may be sent automatically by the app without your friend even being aware of it thanks to this little gem called Frictionless Requests that I found in the Facebook app developers guide:

Frictionless Requests

Frictionless Requests enable users to send Requests to specific friends from within an app without having to click on a pop-up confirmation dialog.  Upon sending a Request to a friend from within an app, a user may authorize the app to send subsequent Requests to the same friend without a Dialog prompt. This removes a Dialog from the flow and streamlines the process of sharing with friends.

So although guilty of sending the original invitation, all the annoying invites since then may be coming from the app itself, taking advantage of frictionless requests to continue getting in your face perhaps even after your friend is no longer interested in the app!

Don’t despair – Here’s how you can fix it!

If you’re sick and tired of app invites and app requests cluttering up your notifications, there are settings that can help you reign in on those spammy apps without having to resort to unfriending your bffs. Here’s the lowdown, step-by-step:

First, you need to get into your privacy settings by clicking the little arrow (inverted triangle thingy) to the right of your ‘home’ link, and choose ‘privacy settings’ from the dropdown menu

stickynote tech services on facebook privacy settings

pull down your facebook settings menu and choose privacy settings

Next, scroll to the bottom of the privacy settings and choose ‘manage blocking’ in the Blocked People and Apps section

Stickynote Tech Services setting up facebook block list

click 'manage blocking'

scroll down to  the ‘Block App Invites’ section and start typing in the names of people who frequently send you unwanted app invites.  As facebook suggests the correct name, click it, and it will be added to your list of blocked app invites.  This won’t limit them from any other interaction with you, but will nicely get rid of those annoying invites.

Stickynote block app invites in facebook

type the names of people who send you app invites to block those invites in the future.

okay, so what about those apps that seem to be on the tongue of every friend, and as a result, are all over your notifications?  How about blocking the app itself? Yes!!  Go to the section titled ‘block apps’ and start typing the name of the offending app and poof! Facebook will autocomplete the app name and with a simple click, it joins your no-no-please-no list of apps you never want to hear from again (that is unless you change your mind, in which case you can go into the list and unblock to your heart’s content).

 

start typing the name of the app and facebook will autocomplete with matching app names. As indicated by the arrow, you can see part of my list of blocked apps.

 Unlike blocking invites through friends which only blocks the invites, blocking the app effectively silences it including invites, updates, bragging (Bob Roberts just earned three-gazillion schmingers in schmingerville!), and whatever other types of clever communications the developers have dreamed up to entice you to join 😛

Okay, one final note before we wrap up and you head off to build some block lists…  You should be aware, that when you add a friend to the blocked app requests list, it not only blocks the specific app request you’ve been plagued with, it effectively blocks your friend from sending you app requests from any app (or more precisely, it blocks any app from sending you invites through your friend).  The good news though, is that even when added to your app request block list, your friend can still engage you directly via chat, message, or wall to tell you live and in person so to speak, what a great app they just discovered and suggest you check it out!

Try my addiction. It will change the way you see the world!

I have a confession to make.  I am an addict.

scallop shell on beach

This close-up was taken with the camera nearly on the sand and only about an inch from the shell

What started as a young child’s fascination, marveling at larger-than-life photos of ants blown up to monster size in the pages of Encyclopedia Britannica, transformed to full-blown addiction in the mid 70’s when I discovered how to shoot close-up with a super-eight movie camera borrowed from my high-school’s AV department. Back then, close-up photography with a still camera required special lenses and complicated manual camera settings and you’d have to be somewhat of a photo geek to pull it off. However, all that changed with the advent of the highly automated digital camera, and suffice it to say, my addiction has been fueled in recent years thanks to the ease with which such photos can now be squeezed off in rapid succession.

This morning glory "heavenly blue" appears to be lit from within. This was shot about an inch from the flower.

Today’s breed of digital camera, and even some cell-phone cameras now feature fully automated close-up or ‘macro’ modes that make it simple to do and with spectacular results that will have you enjoying your own addiction in no time!  Most digital cameras support a mode of close-up shooting called “macro” mode.  This is typically chosen from a menu or directly selected via a button on the camera and is almost universally indicated by a tulip symbol.

 

This diminutive mushroom was captured larger-than-life in Mansfield's Great Woods by lying on the ground alongside a moss-covered log - well worth the effort.

Now if you have tried selecting macro mode on your camera but found that it won’t focus, it’s probably because you’re shooting your subject from too far away. On most cameras, when macro mode is selected, you need to get your camera lens down close to your subject, usually as close as a couple inches or less from your subject.  Okay, so what does this mean? For me it means a lot of crouching and laying on my belly to get ultimate shots of moss or mushrooms or other miniscule wonders of nature. You can start however by shooting flowers or other objects closer to eye level.  Some cameras are totally automated and will handle everything when macro mode is selected. Some, however, are not so user friendly and will let you choose conflicting settings that give you frustratingly fuzzy results.  Here are a few guidelines to help get you on your way towards being a full-blown addict yourself:

This picture demonstrates the power of macro photography. In the top image, a small pebble can be seen inside the red box. Below is the same pebble shot from about a half-inch from the lens.

– When shooting in macro mode. make sure your camera’s zoom is set to the ‘W’ or ‘wide angle’ setting.  Zooming in while in  macro mode will just confuse many cameras and render out-of-focus results.

– Plan on getting your lens close to your subject. As close as an inch or less. Better cameras will shoot distances to a fraction of an inch. You can experiment with your own camera by placing a penny on your dining table and moving the camera closer and farther away (within inches though) and observing when it will focus and when it will not.

– Don’t expect your flash to be useful for lighting your close-ups because in most cases, your subject will  be so close it will be in the shadow of the lens.

– The effects of movement are greatly exaggerated when shooting close up. Use a tripod or monopod where practical to steady your hand. Trying to shoot a butterfly or bee on a flower? Unless you have a high-end camera, save it for a windless day. Shooting objects up close when the wind is moving them generally will give disappointing results.

– And finally, keep an open mind about your subject. The thing that makes macro photography so fascinating is not necessarily what you expect to capture, it’s the unexpected surprise that gives you that “wow!” photo you may have never thought you could shoot.

Now go find that tulip symbol on your camera and get out there and shoot something amazing!  And if you become addicted?? Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Shooting in macro mode offers unparalleled detail rarely observed by the naked eye. This squirrels stash features marble-sized acorns in crisp detail.

P.S.  To truly appreciate the detail in these images, click them to enlarge!

 

 

 

Under $20, Under 20 minutes: How to hook up your home stereo to free the music that’s trapped inside your PC

Bose 301 speakers circa 1985. Beautiful sound for modern music!

These Bose 301s mounted to the wall in my living room were purchased in 1985 and still sound better than some of todays most elaborate and expensive computer surround sound speaker systems.

This is the sort of stuff that, as a geek, I take for granted, but always seems to amaze my non-geek friends when they’re over the house for a party or a barbeque. The stuff I’m talking about is breaking free of the cheesy speakers that came with the computer, or worse yet, that are built into your laptop computer, and instead, playing the music from your computer through the superior sound quality of your home stereo system.

Of course there are all sorts of expensive high-tech and wireless networking devices that will do this for you, but that’s not what this article is about.  This artiicle is about how to play the music from your PC or laptop with the full glorious sound quality of your home stereo system, for under $20, and be set up to do it in less than twenty minutes!

stereo mini to rca mini y adapter is plugged into the computer end of the deal and enables the rca connectionsd that are standard input on most stereo equipment

Stereo-mini male to RCA female is one of two cables needed for this connection.

There are a couple basic audio cables that you’ll need in order to make the connection.  The first is the cable that plugs into the headphone or sound output jack of your laptop or pc, and splits that signal into left and right channel for connection to your stereo.  This cable is often what’s referred to as a Y-adapter and on the computer end, has a male  “stereo mini” plug (also referred to as a 1/8″ or 3.5mm plug, you can see how it can become confusing if you’re not used to the terminology!). The other end contains a pair of female  “rca” connectors, usually color coded red and white for right channel and left channel respectively.

RCA female connectors

Make sure your Y-adapter has RCA female connectors to mate up to the RCA stereo male/male cable.

Your cost: The Stereo-mini to RCA Y-adapter can be found online for around $3.  When ordering online, save yourself the aggravation and double-check to be sure what you’re ordering has RCA female ends!

 

The RCA stereo cable has two connectors at each end, White for left channel and red for right.

The RCA-stereo male/male cable will go from your computer to your stereo so make sure you buy one that's long enough!

The second cable you’ll need is a simple rca-stereo male to male.  This is the cable that will plug into the rca-female end of the Y-adapter at the computer end, and extend to plug into your stereo amp or receiver. Because the Y-adapter is usually very short, you will want to buy your RCA-stereo cable in an adequate length to get you from the computer to the stereo receiver or amp with enough extra to let you hide it if so desired under carpet, or along baseboard heaters.  I actually drilled holes in my floors and cabinets big enough to feed the rca cable through so I could drop it into the basement and bring it back up to the amp through the cabinet.  Another solution of course if you have the space for it, is to have the computer or laptop that houses your music mounted near the stereo itself, just as you would with a CD player or other device.

Your cost:  The cost of your RCA stereo male/male cable will depend on the length required to get from your computer to your stereo system. You can get a 15′ cable online for around $8.00

Let’s make the connections:

First, plug one end of the RCA-stereo cable into the RCA female ends of the Y-adapter, matching up red to red and white to white.

a laptop computer set up as the sound source for my home stereo system.

The laptop computer I use as my "tune server" has a headphone jack on the side, shown here with the stereo-mini y-adapter plugged in.

On the computer end, plug the stereo-mini plug into the headphone jack or audio-out port of your computer.

  • Laptop, Netbook, or tablet computer – Plug into the headphone jack.  This port is usually color-coded black and is typically marked with an embossed or silk-screened headphone image.
  • Desktop computer – Plug into the audio-out port on the back of the tower. Desktop computers sometimes have a headphone jack right on the CD drive. This may or may not work depending on your hardware configuration. The most reliable approach is to plug into the audio output of your computer’s sound card.  This is generally found on the back of the tower, and is usually color-coded green (it’s the port your computer speakers are usually plugged into).

An aside about old laptops:  I find most folks have an old laptop or two kicking around the house.  If this is the case, why not hog it out, reload the operating system, and make it a dedicated music server?  Provided the hard drive is of adequate size (40 gb or better will nicely handle the average music library), this can be a convenient way to get the music connection going without having to constantly be plugging in and unplugging the laptop you use on a day-to-day basis.

This receiver has a variety of available inputs that can be used to hook up sound from the computer. Shown here, the RCA stereo cable is connected to the TAPE/DAT IN

On the stereo end, plug in to any of the following inputs that may be available: AUX, CD, TAPE IN, or VIDEO IN, again matching red to red and white to white (note: do not plug the feed from your computer into the “PHONO” input on your amp, phono inputs are different than aux, cd, video, or tape inputs and are not designed to handle the voltage that comes from your computer’s headphone or audio out jack and can be damaged if so connected).

Fire it up and enjoy the tunes!

Once you’ve made the connections, launch your preferred media player on the computer and adjust to about mid volume.  On your stereo amp or receiver, use the input selector to select the input that matches the input connector you plugged the RCA cable into (note that if you plugged into a TAPE IN port, there may be a separate switch or button on your amp called TAPE MON or TAPE MONITOR that needs to be enabled in order to hear your music.

old Realistic brand audio receiver by Radio Shack is one of many old-school bits and pieces of audio equipment around my house that indicates my fascination with electronics long before computers found their way home from work.

As a long-time geek going back prior to the introduction of the home computer, I have an accumulation of old stereo equipment that I love listening to including this 1970's vintage Radio Shack receiver model that is on the other end of the cable from my laptop computer.

A note about sound quality: Depending on how powerful the audio signal is that comes from your computer, you may find that you are over-driving the input on the stereo.  If this is the case, the music may sound fuzzy or distorted, or the amp may cut out due to an overload condition.  If this occurs, turn the volume on your computer lower until things sound normal and then use the volume control of your stereo amp or receiver to adjust volume higher.

Andy Trask |  in-home computer and technology serviceThis article was written by Andy Trask, Owner, and Chief Customer Caregiver at Stickynote! Tech Services.  Based in Mansfield Massachusetts, Stickynote! Tech Services is a local provider of in-home personal technology  services to individuals, families, and small businesses in Southeastern Massachusetts including the south shore, Cape Cod, south coast, greater Taunton area, greater Attleboro area, lower Route 128, and lower Route 495 up to the Franklin / Bellingham area. Need help? Call Stickynote today to experience world-class service!

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Computer Repair vs. Computer Replace: What makes sense for you?

computer repair picture of up-to-date windows 7 home computer

Is it time for Windows 7 in your house?

Well, it’s finally happened – what computer repair pros have dreaded for years. The cost of buying a new computer has finally dropped to the point where the computer itself has become  disposable, and any decision to repair a computer, even if repairing it simply means paying for a professional virus removal, has to be weighed against the  cost to replace the computer instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating stuffing the earth’s dwindling waste and recycling resources with junked computers, nor am I suggesting that arbitrarily buying a new computer is the cure-all for when things go wrong and the old computer needs repair work.  Rather, I’m pointing out to folks who may not have noticed, that the price of an entry-level desktop computer tower with (humor me and let me get my geek on for a sec here) Windows 7 Home Premium, 4 gigabytes of RAM, and a Terabyte or more of Hard Drive space, is currently retailing for as little as $399- and that’s just off-the-shelf pricing!  With a little shopper’s diligence you may be able to shave another $50-100 off that price. Netbook computers (“mini” laptops if you’re not familiar with the term) have been available in the $249-399 range since introduced a few years back.  Even full-blown laptop computers with normal-sized keyboards and screens (for those of us who’s fingers and eyes are not aging so gracefully), are hovering in the $500-700 range and can regularly be found on sale for as little as $399!

So, armed with this knowledge, let’s explore a couple scenarios, one in which replacement is the best option and another where doing a repair of the existing computer is still the more sensible approach. And then we’ll wrap up with what it means to you, and highlight some of the questions to ask and values to consider when making your own computer repair vs. replace decision:

Scenario 1

Laptop video / motherboard failure:  Let’s take the computer repair call I got last week from a woman in Sharon, MA. She told me the screen on her laptop computer had failed some time ago and that she had been using an external monitor with it, but now, even the external monitor wasn’t working.

Decision: Replace

Instead of signing myself up to repair her computer at a cost of $300-400 to replace the motherboard (which, in this case, would have been necessary because the video card is built into the motherboard), I suggested instead that she buy a new laptop and have me over to set it up, connect to her wireless network, transfer her data from the old computer to the new computer, set up email or other online accounts, and make sure she’s got adequate data backup and virus protection going forward.

Why the decision to replace?

  • Cost of repair close to cost of entry-level replacement computer
  • Casual use of computer (email, facebook, surf the web, and occasional word processing) means low-cost entry-level system would be adequate for her needs
  • New computer would have greater power, speed, and storage capacity
  • New computer would have Windows 7 vs. old computer Windows Vista meaning better compatibility with hardware, peripherals, and software going forward
  • New computer would have 12-month warranty vs. 30-day warranty on repair

In short, had we gone with a repair, she would have spent almost as much as getting a new computer just to get back to being whole. By replacing, although more expensive when you take into account the cost of the new computer plus set-up and data transfer services, has the advantage of moving her forward into the future with greater speed and capacity, a more modern operating system, and a more comprehensive warranty that makes the extra couple hundred dollars well worth it.

Scenario 2

Desktop Motherboard / Hard Drive Failure:  Here’s a case where I was called out to a small business in Seekonk, MA. They were using a “middle-aged” Windows Vista computer as the central computer for the business, running some proprietary business automation functions, and also doing the business accounting via Quickbooks.  When I arrived onsite, the system had no video signal and would not start up.  I performed some diagnostics and recovery and was able to get the system to start up but would not  trust it to run the business at that point as both the motherboard and the hard disk drive were suspect.

Decision: Repair

I explained the repair vs. replace options to the business owner, leaning heavily towards replace until we started talking about the proprietary software that controls specific devices and functions of his business.  As it turns out, the software was also middle-aged, and the original installation CDs were long lost never to be found again.  With the cost of replacing that software running into the thousands of dollars, the decision to repair became obvious.

Why the decision to repair?

  • Cost of replacing proprietary software and/or related devices would cost thousands of dollars
  • Uncertain compatibility of proprietary software with Windows 7.

In conclusion, it was decided to repair the system, ultimately not by replacing the motherboard, but by tracking down and purchasing a compatible used computer online, and migrating the hard drive image from the old computer to the “new” one.

Your Scenario…

Now of course, every situation is different, and you too may be facing a repair vs. replace decision, if not today, certainly in the future.  Here are some important things to consider if you are faced with that decision:

  • What is the total cost of repair, including parts and labor?
  • What is the total cost of replacement, including computer, applications, and services?
  • Would you need set-up & data transfer services or can you handle that yourself?
  • How old is the computer being repaired? For example, does it make sense to stay with the older Windows XP system, or is it time to move to a Windows 7 computer?
  • Do you have original CDs or installation media and activation keys for software that you want to bring forward to a new computer?
  • Is the software you want to bring forward compatible with the newer hardware and/or Windows version?
  • Are you okay with change?  Realistically, a lot of older folks have become comfortable with their existing computers and how they use their computers, and frankly, the thought of change can be disconcerting.  Don’t fret, you’re not alone! This is one of the big reasons for the continued popularity of Windows XP, and is completely understandable.
computer repair or replacement, that is the question

When I saw this log-in failure, I suggested replacing the computer instead of repairing it.

In conclusion, what I’ve found from helping hundreds of customers with this decision is that although costs can play an overriding role, the decision doesn’t always come down to dollars and cents.  I recently fixed an old MS-DOS computer (a mid 1980’s vintage computer… think pre-mouse!) for a gentleman in Stoneham, MA, who used it to do his accounting.  When I suggested the old machine could fail again and he should think about modernizing, he simply responded, “if it fails again I’ll call you again. I’m 76 years old and don’t feel like learning a new computer!”

 

 

SOLVED! Windows Live Mail could not be started. … Windows Live Mail (0x80041161)

When you start Windows Live Mail, you may get an error message that reads: Windows Live Mail could not be started, It may not be installed correctly. Make sure that your disk is not full or that you are not out of memory. (0×80041161)

picture of windows live mail error 0×80041161

It looks bad but Don't Panic!

If you are getting this message, Don’t Panic!  It does not mean all your emails and contacts are lost (phew!).  Below are instructions for how to solve this Windows Live Mail error and get your email back up and running normally in just minutes.

SOLVED: Windows Live Mail could not be started, It may not be installed correctly. Make sure that your disk is not full or that you are not out of memory. (0×80041161)

1. Click the start button (the round windows logo in lower left corner of screen)

computer repair doesn't always mean broken computers. Sometimes you need help with your email or internet connection.

We haven't decided yet, what to do when it rains...

2. In the search bar at the bottom of the start menu type just the word SERVICES and then hit the enter key on your keyboard. This will open the Component Services window.

Note: Depending on your account rights a small box may pop up first asking you to give administrative permission to proceed with this action. If it does, you must click the choice that gives permission.

3.  In the Component Services window, at the bottom of the left-hand column, click “Services” and a long list of services will appear in the middle column.  Scroll down this list of services until you find “Windows Live ID sign-in assistant.” Double-click the windows live id sign-in assistant service and it will open (refer to image below)

repairing windows live mail error caused by disabled service

Windows Live ID sign-in assistant service

4.  In the  “Startup type” field,  if you see “Disabled” or “Manual”, click on that field and choose “Automatic”

5.  Click the Apply button then click OK and also close the Component Services window.

Once you’ve done this, your Windows Live Mail problem should be fixed. So let’s go ahead and start up Windows Live Mail.  Welcome Back and congratulations! You fixed it yourself with a little help from Stickynote Tech Services!

 

 

 

 

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