Stan's Chrome-Plated Tech Tips

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Mac vs. PC - Why I like PCs . . . Round 2

The Mac versus PC argument is one you're never going to win. Now if one of the two companies went away for ever I probably wouldn't shed a tear. Being in the computer repair business, especially in Los Angeles, I'm certified by Apple and Microsoft and get to work on a healthy dose of both. Because I don't care what statistics say, in Hollywood Macs defnitely make up more than 10% of the marketplace.

But nonetheless, having worked in the Corporate IT world for over a decade, the PC became a big part of my daily life. With that, a great deal of familiarity and something of a love/hate relationship with the PC was formed. But to be honest, I'm writing this on a PC right now, I have a PC I primarily use at home, and the Macs we have around the house are primarily used by my wife. So what exactly is it that keeps me a PC? Hold on, I'm getting to it.

Let's get the nitty gritty out of the way first - Price. Yup, the almighty dollar keeps me firmly entrenched in the PC world. As Apple continues to find ways to phase out their less expensive offerings (they recently gave the good ol' Macbook the axe), PC prices continue to be driven down to the point where you can get something rock-solid for $400-$500. Now I expect this trend to reverse itself in the months to come, but for now I can get a LOT more bang for the buck with a PC.

Next, Windows 7 is a fantastic operating system and in many ways superior to Mac OS X. File management is far more intuitive and streamlined. Don't even get me started for corporate environments. OS X Lion had to rewrite their interface for Windows Networking for various legal reasons. In a nutshell, it's all jacked up. Not that it worked so seamlessly before, but it was at least functional. For now it's dead in the water. Hopefully the next update rectifies it, but in the meantime, corporate users should stick to Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6.8). Interfacing with Microsoft Exchange is also still far more effective with Outlook for Windows, even with the greatly improved Outlook for Mac, it still doesn't work as seamlessly as the Windows version.

But I guess what I really like about Windows besides the price and the inherent advantage Windows machines have interfacing with other Windows machines, is just the convenience that large market share brings. There are more tips, guides, blog posts, and general know-it-all Windows types out there from which to get the information necessary to get your stuff running just the way you like. There are tons more software options, a far more developed right-click, and many more available peripherals, for tons less moolah.

So that's skinny, dear readers, from a Windows boy living in a Mac World. I LIKE WINDOWS. Phew. It feels good to get that off my chest. You Mac peeps - I love ya too! And by the way these two companies are going, I may not be far off from joining you!

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Sunday, September 18, 2011


Mac vs. PC - Why I like Macs . . . an Ongoing Series

Running a computer repair business in Los Angeles I get asked all the time, am I a Mac or a PC. Now since we service both and are partnered with both Microsoft and Apple, I can honestly say I'm both. I have a PC at my desk, but there are Macs all over the office. I travel with a Macbook Air. I own an iPad. Now while I honestly do appreciate what both platforms have to offer, there's one way the good folks in Cupertino blow Windows away: migrating between computers.

Now a lot of Mac's advantage in this area is because of it's foundation in UNIX and Apple's total control of the software and hardware. Nonetheless, it is by far superior to what's available for you Windows users. Migrating data between Mac's can be done in a number of ways, and I'm going to tell you about a few of them.

For starters, you can pluck a hard drive out of one Mac, install it in another, and as long as the Mac OS version on that drive is supported by the Mac you install it in, it should boot up just fine. Good luck trying that with a Windows machine.

You can also turn your Mac into a big, very expensive, firewire drive by holding the T (T for Target mode) key down just as the Mac is starting up. If you see the firewire logo on your screen, you did it right. Connect it to the Mac you're migrating to, and run Apple's Migration Utility either during OS X installation or after from the Utilities folder, and watch the magic happen. In no time, all your documents, settings, accounts, and applications will appear on your new Mac just as they appeared on the old one. Not too shabby.

Another note about external drives - you can run an entire Mac OS X installation off one. That's something Windows expressly prohibits (although it can be done with varying degrees of success). Just connect a hard drive with Mac OS installed or a Mac in Target Mode, start up your Mac holding the ALT key, and select the volume you'd like to boot off. Comes in really handy for troubleshooting or just transferring files. Again, nothing to even compare with Windows.

So while Macs are hardly the infallible deities of computing the brilliant marketing hype would have you believe, in this arena, they have Windows beat. Beat so badly, it's not even a competition. But knowing the good folks up in Redmond, it's only a matter of time before they copy. Because like a wise man once said, if you're going to steal someone's ideas, make sure they're good ones.

Next up, I'll be highlighting some great things about Windows machines.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011


Sly as a Fox - Dump IE for Firefox

I'm not gonna mince words - I prefer Firefox. I avoid Internet Explorer. Opera doesn't do it for me. Chrome is decent and I can't fault folks who like it, but me, I'm a Firefox man.

Why you may ask? Well part of it is just a familiarity. Firefox has been around for a while now and when it became apparent that it is vastly better than the slow, bloated, and lacking in custom plug-ins Internet Explorer, I jumped ship and never looked back. IE also had some bad memory leaks early on that would slow your system to a crawl if you left it running for too long, and once Firefox came in and rectified those, I was sold. Did I mention the viruses? Oh yeah, Internet Explorer is far more susceptible to those too. But my favorite thing about Firefox is the add-ons, and I'm going to tell you about some of my faves.

By far and away the most useful of all the Firefox add-ons is Adblock plus, This little beauty block all ad content in your browser, including flash videos like youtube and the like. Hate all those annoying banners and videos? Of course you do. Get yourself Adblock plus, and they become a thing of the past.

I also really like download statusbar for a slicker download notification down in your status bar. Fireftp is a great FTP client, for free, built right into Firefox. ChatZilla is also a great irc chat client for the Fox. PDF Download is a great way to manage the way to view PDF files in the browser. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are literally 100's of these, and the best part, totally free. Some of the developers do accept donations, so if you find any of these particularly helpful, I'm sure they'd appreciate your support.

So faster, more customizable, and less virus prone than IE. Sounds like a pretty fair reason to kick IE to the curb, don't you think? We like it so much we load it on every computer we service here in Los Angeles and we recommend it to you Mac users as well.

Now I'm sure I'm missing some great add-ons, so if you've got some suggestions, let me know and I'll update this article. But for now, everybody rock the fox!

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Sunday, September 4, 2011


Wireless Network Not Found? - Tips for Solving WiFi Problems

You're living the Los Angeles dream. You've worked hard. Done all the right things. Made a nice life for yourself. Is it so much to ask that you're able to enjoy all the benefits of wireless Internet throughout your ENTIRE home? Well in many cases, it may well be with that single, $30 router you're trying to make it happen with just can't cut it. And you know what else? The $130 top-of-the-line router you begrudgingly buy doesn't seem to get it done either. Upgrading to a faster computer doesn't make a difference either. So what's left to do? Simmer down, I'm about to tell you.

WiFi dead zones are as common as Guinness in Belfast, and just like beer selections there, you've got options with WiFi too. Mmmmmmmm, Beer. What was I talking about? Oh right, fixing your wireless network. Well, the first and most effective option is going wired. Running network cable to the remote areas lacking WiFi coverage, connecting up a wireless access point, and configuring it to extend your existing wireless network. That's the practically guaranteed fix for your wireless woes, but since it's not always feasible run cable, we'll move on to option two.

Option two is using a powerline or coaxial bridge. These devices use your homes existing cabling to simulate a wired network connection when running cable is not feasible or desirable. You connect one of these bridges close to your router and one where you'd like to extend your wireless, plug network cables into both ends, and if it's all working, you should be good to go. Generally, you'll plug a wireless access point into the bridged end and extend your WiFi just as if you had wired it up directly. Now these devices aren't full proof. Homes with older wiring tend to have issues with powerline brindges and various cable providers split their signals at higher frequencies than coaxial bridges can handle. These are definitely worth a try, but if you're going to give these a go, I suggest getting them somewhere with a decent returns policy, if you catch my drift.

The last option I'm going to discuss is the wireless bridge extender. No doubt you've seen some sort of device online or at some store shaped like a big box claiming to extend your wireless network. Generally they're all garbage, but there is one thing you can do that's effective a majority of the time. There's a great open-source project for wireless router/access points called DD-WRT ( that'll let you turn just about any router (even the super cheap ones) into a Wireless Bridge/Repeater. Get these within range of the original wireless access point and watch your coverage improve, and it'll let you connect wired devices to boot. It's the same type of configuration Apple provides with its Airport Extreme and Airport Express base stations as wireless bridge/repeaters but at a fraction of the price. But the Apple Airport setup is good too (in case any Apple fanboys/girls are reading and are easily offended).

Another little side note about DD-WRT - it'll let you increase your wireless signal way above the manufacturer-imposed limitations. Whether this is a good thing or not I'll leave up to you and I definitely don't advise bumping it up more than a few db's for fear of frying your router. They're set low for a reason beyond the wimpy FCC and their efforts to ruin your life. I generally don't mess with those settings, so if you decide to, do it at your own risk. If your router starts making weird noises, getting super hot, or plain out smoking, I'd set them back to factory defaults.

So there you have it. Chances are any of these configurations can work for getting you the WiFi coverage you desire. Before too long you'll be enjoying a cold beer and the Internet in even the most remote corners of your home. Don't forget one for the guy who taught you how to do it.

This is your man Stan - always rockin' the Wifi for the free world - Out!

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