Friday, January 31, 2014

Podcast Picks: Daily Tech News Show.

Get your tech news every weekday.

A few years ago there was Buzz Out Loud.
There was a daily tech news podcast called Buzz Out Loud from CNet.com hosted by Tom Merritt. It was the first podcast that my wife and I enjoyed. It was funny and insightful. Eventually CNet started to drop its audio podcasts one by one and Tom Merritt left CNet for the Twit.tv Network and hosted their daily news show called Tech News Today.

Not too long ago I listened to Tech News Today.
I was a daily listener to Tech News Today.  The show was hosted by,  +Tom Merritt+iyaz akhtar+Sarah Lane, and produced by +Jason Howell.  It was a great show and then TWIT.TV decided to not renew Tom Merritt's contract, and Iyaz Akhtar has left Twit for CNet. TWIT has decided to take Tech News Today in a different direction which just does not work for me as well as the old Tech New Today. 

So Tom Merritt created a new daily tech news show. 
The Daily Tech News Show has really filled the gap that the change to Tech News Today left when they made the format change. Tom and his guests cover a large range of tech news, from cell phones to bitcoin and does it well. If you are interested in technology then you should give this podcast a try.


Scorecard
The Rating uses G, PG, PG-13, and R while the other categories use A for the best that I know of,B for good but others might be better,C is average, D below average, and F is just terrible. 
  • Rating PG It is hard for anything to get a G rating, but this show is professional and profanity free. You will not have to worry about listening to it while driving the kids to school.
  • Quality A  Tom Merritt is very good at what he does and built his own studio at home for doing Tech News Today. He is using the same studio for the Daily Tech News Show so the quality i very high.
  • Community N/A The show is too new to judge, I have a feeling that it will be a very good community once fully established. 
  • Depth A Tom Merritt worked at Tech-TV, CNet, and TWIT.TV he has years of experience reporting on technology and it shows.
  • Entertainment Value B This is a news show, but the news is still presented in a fun and interesting way.
  • Overall A I try to listen to this show every weekday.
How I feel about this Podcast.
I feel that Tom Merritt is one of the best tech journalists around today, his shows are informative, entertaining and unlike so much what passes for journalism he is not inflammatory.  That is not to say he does not have strong opinions but he is willing to listen to all sides of must subjects. I just wish that Tom could get Molly Wood to be his co-host on the show. 

Where to get it.
You can subscribe to his podcasts from his webpage, iTunes, and many Android podcast apps. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Free Software: Microsoft Office Replacements.

Software is often expensive, if you are a student, starting a small business, or just a home user the expense of Microsoft Office might be more of an expanse than you can justify.  What a lot of people are not aware of is that there are free and legal software solutions available that you can download from the Internet.

Apache OpenOffice 4.01
Apache OpenOffice has a rather long and complicated history. OpenOffice started out as an Office suite  called StarOffice which was bought by Sun Microsystems. Sun bought StarOffice because it ran on Unix so it would run on Sun's version of Unix called Solaris. Up till that point every person that worked at Sun had both a Sun workstation and a Windows computer just run Office. It was cheaper for Sun to buy an Office suite company than to keep paying Microsoft for Windows and Office. StarOffice was already free for Linux and Sun kept giving it away for free and finally open sourced StarOffice as OpenOffice.  Of course the story does not end there, Oracle bought Sun in 2010. Oracle's history with open source is not all that positive, which caused many developers to leave Sun. That brought about a situation where a group a developers took the open source code and created LibreOffice. Oracle saw no real value in keeping OpenOffice so they eventually gave the code to the Apache foundation and that is why we have two almost identical free open source office suites.

OpenOffice is composed of several applications, just like Microsoft Office.  Writer is a word processor like Word or WordPerfect, and supports all the features that most people would expect from a word processor and is fairly compatible with Microsoft Word.  Unlike Microsoft Word, Writer does not ship with a grammar checker, but you can choose from two free grammar check extensions.

Calc, the spreadsheet application that comes with OpenOffice. It will do most of the things that an average user will need including charts and macros. I am not a spreadsheet wizard but I have used it often for spreadsheets and it got the job done.

The rest of the applications in OpenOffice are Impress for presentations, The database manager Base, Draw for vector art, and a mathematical formula editor make OpenOffice a complete office suite.

LibreOffice
I covered Officeholder’s creation in the section on OpenOffice. After the split from OpenOffice the LibreOffice team made huge leaps in usability and Docx compatibility.  Today the differences in the actual programs are small, and will very between updates as one tends to leapfrog the other in features.

Update
LibreOffice has just updated to Version 4.2 which includes a compete refactoring of Calc which now will use the GPU to speed up calculations. Today LibreOffice is in the lead, for or more information on the changes click here.

The Pros.
Both suites are very powerful, run on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and best of all it is free.

The Cons.
Ease of use and documentation is where OpenOffice and LibreOffice really fall sort. OpenOffice and LibreOffice really need tutorials, better wizards and better documentation. Doing the most common simple tasks with both programs is simple enough but once you get into more complex tasks you are often left with little documentation. Some tasks like picking a range for legends on a chart are just a lot more complex than on Office.

Go cloud based?
Google and Microsoft offer free cloud based office suites that might do what that you need.

Google Drive and Docs.
Google Docs offers the same type of applications as OpenOffice and LibreOffice with the exception of a database management system. Docs also offers a number of other apps that you can integrate with Drive. While none of the applications are as feature rich as OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or Microsoft Office they are good enough for most people. Google Docs can import a large number of file formats including the native formats for OpenOffice and LibreOffice as well as multiple versions of Microsoft Office.

SkyDrive.
Microsoft SkyDrive offers free web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.   I have used them and they actually seem more powerful than the same apps from Google. When I first tried the apps then where a bit buggy for me. Last time I tried SkyDrive apps it they seemed to work but I did not do exhaustive testing.  While Google Docs have become very popular SkyDrive apps have just have not seemed to catch on. The reason could be that Microsoft does not advertise SkyDrive apps so that they do not impact the sales of Microsoft's Office 365.

Google Docs or Microsoft SkyDrive.
This is a difficult call. I use Google Docs out of inertia, Google Docs work so I have not seen any reason to change. I have used SkyDrive apps but have not migrated to them. If you are a heavy Office user then SkyDrive may be the better choice.

Cloud or not?
The SkyDrive and Google Docs will work on any computer with a modern browser and an Internet connection. Cloud applications also make sharing and collaborating on documents simple. Your docs are also available anywhere you can get an internet connection. The downside is your files are stored on Google's and or Microsoft's server. If your internet connection is down or their servers are down your data could be unreachable. A very good option is to use both the cloud and OpenOffice or LibreOffice together. You can save your documents to SkyDrive or Google Drive to create cloud based backups and allow for collaborating on the net.

Which office suite should you use?
I would give all of them a try, and select the one that works best for you. These free solutions are a good and cost effective solution when compared with buying or subscribing to Microsoft Office. While none of the free solutions are as powerful or easy to use as Microsoft Office not everyone needs the power of Office.  If you are running Linux then Microsoft Office is not an option. If you are using a Chromebook than even the only solution would be a cloud based solution. Do you need Office or can one of these free suites work for you? You are the best judge of your requirements ,but for most people any of these apps is probably more than good enough.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why I am blogging.

Why did I start to blog?
My first blog post was on May 4th 2011 and was on my feelings about the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the people demanding to see the pictures of his dead body.  I was disappointed that some people I knew wanted pictures of his dead body as proof that the US got him.  After that start I did a grand total of seven posts over the next few years. Due to family health issues, writing blog posts became a very low priority. The other problem was I had grand ideas for posts, but just could not get the posts finished. My wife, who has been blogging on a more regular basis, suggested I write shorter posts but write new post daily.   


I wish I had started sooner.
I have really gotten into the daily blog posts. I am probably going to skip Sundays because I need a day of rest from trying to write. 


What I hope to give back. 
I have decades of experience in computers, a love of science, a love of old movies, and I am a native Floridian.  Hopefully I can share some of my knowledge, experience and occasionally my opinion on various subjects.  I also hope to learn from readers who comment on my posts. 

I want to know who some of my readers are.
I have had one visitor from Finland and one that is running BSD as their operating system. My guess is the person from Finland read my post on Nokia where I predicted its death. Microsoft is now buying Nokia, so I feel that prediction looks pretty spot on.  Who is using BSD to surf the web? I have a feeling that most of the people who read this are people I know, but who do I know in Minnesota or Italy?


I would love to see more comments. 
I do not get many comments. I would love to know who is visiting my blog and what they think. Do you like the technology posts about computers? What about my posts on movies, my opinion posts, favorite websites, favorite YouTube channels, or my places to see in Florida posts?  I hope to hear from some of the people who visit. You can also follow me on Google+ and Twitter

My Favorite Classic Movies: Gentleman's Agreement.

Bert McAnny: What? Now, Green, don't get me wrong. Why, some of my best friends are Jews.
Anne Dettrey: And some of your other best friends are Methodists, but you never bother to say that.

This is one of the really great movies and takes place in one of the most interesting times in US history. This move takes place in the post war years, that time between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean War and the 1950s. It also addresses anti-semitism at a time when anti-semitism was wide spread and tolerated. 

Plot.
Gregory Peck's character Philip Schuyler Green is a writer and a returned veteran with a new job at a New York magazine.  He is also a widower and lives with his son and mother. His first assignment is a piece on anti-semitism. Philip Green is not happy with the anti-semitism story because he feels it all has been done. Eventually he finds an angle to his story that would be original, he is going to pretend he is Jewish. He also meets two women so you have a romantic plot.

How I feel about this movie.
This movie is full of great actors, has a great script, and takes place at a very interesting time in US history. I love this movie. In away it brings so much hope to the screen and to me. You look at this movie and see just how bad things were at the time. Imagine the world of 1947. Masses of returned GIs, many with post traumatic stress syndrome and no real treatment because people didn't understand it. The world had changed from one of fabric covered biplanes to jet planes, rockets, and atomic bombs. The Nazi death camps were not something that happened long ago.  The US military was still occupying Germany and Japan. Most of the rest of Europe was still in shambles. One would think that the US would have been exhausted from the war but it was not. This movie reflects that imperfect world, but also a spirit in the US that no problem could not be fixed and that nothing was impossible.  When I see this movie it gives me hope. You see just how bad bigotry was then and how much things have changed. It also makes me wish that the US could find that same attitude today. 

Favorite quote

I love how the movie ends. 
Mrs. Green: You know something, Phil? I suddenly want to live to be very old. Very. I want to be around to see what happens. The world is stirring in very strange ways. Maybe this is the century for it. Maybe that's why it's so troubled. Other centuries had their driving forces. What will ours have been when men look back? Maybe it won't be the American century after all... or the Russian century or the atomic century. Wouldn't it be wonderful... if it turned out to be everybody's century... when people all over the world - free people - found a way to live together? I'd like to be around to see some of that... even the beginning. I may stick around for quite a while.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Random Thoughts: Facebook Propaganda.

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook. 
Please keep this going around the world. Denmark is a big shame. The sea is stained in red and in the meanwhile it’s not because of the climate effects of nature. link

The problem is that the information in the link is not completely true.

The best lies always start with the truth.

So what is true?
These are pictures of a whale hunt. 

So what isn't true?
"It's because of the cruelty that the human beings (civilized human) kill hundreds of the famous and intelligent Calderon dolphins.  This happens every year in Feroe Iland in Denmark . " (sic)

This does not take place in Denmark. It takes place in the Faroe islands. The Faroe islands are a completely autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark. They have their own government and laws.

" In this slaughter the main participants are young teens. WHY? A celebration,  to show that they are adults and mature! In this big celebration, nothing is missing for the fun. Everyone is participating in one way or the other killing or looking at the cruelty supporting like a spectator."

This is not some celebration of adulthood. It is a community subsistence hunt. For over a thousand years the people of the Faroe islands have hunted Pilot whales which is the common name for these animals. The meat is shared equally with all the members of the community. 

" It is necessary to mention the Calderon dolphin which like all other dolphins are endangered and near extinction."

First of all the "Calderon dolphin" is the long finned pilot whale. It is not endangered or near extinction. The pilot whale is really a large member of the dolphin family, but the simple truth is that while some species of dolphins are endangered the pilot whale is not.  The numbers taken by these hunts are so low compared to the population that it is classified as sustainable. 

It then goes on about how much "fun" the men are having and how cruel it is. It is all pure manipulation or propaganda.

So you support these whale hunts?
No, I don't. Part of the issue is that subsistence hunting is allowed in many nations.  Eskimos and Inuits hunt whales and like the people of the Faroe islands consider it an important part of their culture.  To the people of the arctic it is the same as bison hunting is to the Native American.  As far as whaling goes this is a lot less harmful than the "scientific" whaling done by Japan, Iceland, and Norway.  Over all I do not support whaling for any reason.

If you think it should stop what is your problem?
My problem is that I support the truth. If something is not 100% true then it is a lie. People need to have truthful information to make good choices. Here is a link to a wikipedia entry on the subject read it and decide for yourself. 

Why are you picking on the left?
Actually, I picked this post because it has some basis in truth. This one does not.

"THIS NEEDS TO GO AROUND THE USA MANY TIMES SO KEEP IT GOING!
If you look closely at the picture above, you will note that all the Marines pictured are bowing their heads. That's because they're praying. This incident took place at a recent ceremony honoring the birthday of the corps, and it has the ACLU up in arms. "These are federal employees," says Lucius Traveler, a spokesman for the ACLU, "on federal property and on federal time.. For them to pray is clearly an establishment of religion, and we must nip this in the bud immediately."

And it is not true. There is no shades of grey in this it is just flat out not true. Well it is a picture of Marines praying but other than that it is false. The ACLU did file a case to stop the mandatory mid day meal prayer at the academy but people in the military are still allowed to pray. Both the left and the right pass on things that are flat out not true.I

Conclusion.
Before you share, post, or like anything that seems completely unjust or evil, Google it! Do a search and find out if it is completely true. Even if it is for a cause you support do not repost or endorse things that are not true. Opinions can vary on subjects, but facts can and should be checked. If you find something not true then let the person posting it know and give them the links. There are no good lies when it comes to things like this. Even if it supports your viewpoint it is still a lie. If you feel the subject is important enough but the info you got is not 100% true or is manipulative then create your own post with the real facts and share that. One more thing, if you see a post claiming you will get money for sending an email or liking a post? It is probably not true.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Random Thoughts: Anti-nuclear protesters, please stop trying to kill people.

Anti-nuclear camp

They have good intentions but they are doing harm.
I do not want to paint the average anti-nuclear person as being evil. A lot of them think they are doing the right thing. However the facts do not back up their fear driven actions. The fact that they have actually stopped the building of reactors in the US for decades and are now shutting down reactors in other nations has cost and in the future will continue to cost lives. That is not what they want but it is the result of their actions.

A resent study by Pushker A. Kharecha  and James E. Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University took a look at Nuclear power and how many lives it has cost compared to other sources of energy. What they have found is that Nuclear power has saved over 1.8 million lives compared to other sources of energy. 

Here is the paper for you to read for yourself Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power. From this paper we can see data that shows that every nuclear power plant not built has cost lives and contributed to greenhouse gas emissions. 

To put it into a nutshell, coal powered power plants cost the most lives and produces the most carbon. Natural gas is second in deaths and carbon emissions followed by nuclear. This accounts for all deaths including those from mining accidents, transportation, waste disposal, and power transmission. Here is the data from the report. 
electricity sourcemean value (range)unitbsource
coal28.67 (7.15–114)deaths/TWhref 16
77 (19.25–308)deaths/TWhref 16(China)c
1045 (909–1182)tCO2-eq/GWhref 30
natural gas2.821 (0.7–11.2)deaths/TWhref 16
602 (386–818)tCO2-eq/GWhref 30
nuclear0.074 (range not given)deaths/TWhref 16
65 (10–130)dtCO2-eq/GWhref 34
As you can see there are between 387 to over 1000 deaths caused by coal fired plants for each death caused by nuclear power. Natural gas is much better with only 38 times as many deaths as nuclear power. When you look at carbon emissions, coal produces over 16 times as much carbon for gigawatt hour and natural gas over 9 times as much carbon for gigawatt hour. 

What about Solar and Wind?
Well let's just get the big answer over with first. Not a single canceled or closed nuclear power pant has ever been replaced by solar or wind. Even in the state of Vermont which is known for being ecologically sensitive is replacing it's nuclear power plant with natural gas. 

Nuclear does not compete with solar or wind. Nuclear is a base-load technology and competes with coal and natural gas. Solar and wind are not suitable for base-load because their output fluctuates based on weather and not demand. Solar is not now, and unless massive improvements are made will never be, a viable replacement for base load plants. 

Wind as a base load solution.

Depending on location wind can be a workable base load solution. The midwest is rich with wind resources which is funny because that is also where the source of much of the natural gas and oil is located. It is also where much of our food is grown and the source for most ethanol and bio diesel. Wind is better at solar for a base load, but you still will need peaking plants burning natural gas for when the wind is not blowing or is blowing too hard. Yes, wind turbines have to shut down when the winds get too high, so too much wind is as bad as too little.  There are also siting issues. Do you really want wind turbines on every mountain top of every national and state forest? That is another advantage that midwest has for wind power. The majority of the land of the great plains is used for farming, ranching or just open grass land. Wind turbines do not interfere with those land uses. Good news is that wind farms are being built in the midwest. The down side is it takes a lot of wind turbines to replace one nuclear reactor. The largest wind farm in the US is the Alta Wind Energy Center in California. It covers thousands of acres and produces 1550 gigawatt hours of power. The Saint Lucie nuclear power plant, which is an average sized  nuclear power plant produces over 11,000 gigawatt hours. As you can see it would take 10 of the largest wind farms in the world to replace one nuclear power plant. That would mean 9000 very large wind turbines and well over 10,000 acres of land.

What about Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima?
Let's take those one at a time.
Three Mile Island
So far the studies of the people that lived around Three mile island has found no significant increases in cancer and no direct deaths. It is hard to tell for sure since the area has a lot of Radon naturally. But it is clear that any harm is so small that it is hard to detect.  Here is the report by Columbia University http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/132/3/397.abstract.
Chernobyl
Chernobyl is a different story. Officially 33 are listed as killed but could be as high as 3000. The reactor design used at Chernobyl was, to be blunt, terrible. It was never safe and no western power reactor ever used that type of design. It also lacked any type of containment building. Should anyone build a reactor like that again? No. Should the existing ones be shutdown? Yes. Western power reactors are all light water reactors with containment buildings. They can not fail in the same way. 
Fukushima
Death toll from radiation is zero. As bad as Fukushima was no one has died from radiation. How they manage clean up will really tell the story. The problems at Fukushima were caused by the backup generators being flooded. The reactors were actually undamaged by the quake and tsunami that followed. When looking at Fukushima it is important to look at the scale of the disaster, 18000 people were killed by the tsunami and over 400,000 left homeless but none died from radiation. 

What about the waste.
The answer to the waste is recycling. Fuel recycling reduces the mass of the waste and the amount of time it has to be stored. Today fuel recycling is more expensive than just using new fuel. I agree that just sticking spent fuel in Yucca mountain is not a good plan at this time. Dry cask storage while not popular is probably the best plan available today. If in the future recycling is still not practical than vitrification and storage in Yucca mountain may be the solution. I know this is not a popular solution because it feels incomplete but I believe it is the best course of action at this time. 

The future of nuclear reactors.
Today the most advanced commercial power reactors in the US are only second generation reactors. In the rest of the world gen 3 and gen 3+ reactors are in already use. The US has produced gen 3 and gen 3+ reactors but have built them in other nations.While the current generation of reactors have a good safety record the gen 3 and 3+ are much safer and use less uranium so produce less waste. Work has already started on gen 4 reactors that are even safer and more efficient than the gen 3. A reactor that holds huge promise is the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. 

Thorium.
Thorium holds great promise as the fuel of choice for future reactors. Thorium its self is not dangerously radioactive. It was used to make lantern mantels burn brighter. You can not make a bomb out of thorium and it is free. How can it be free? It is a waste product from the production of the rare earth metals used in hard drives and the motors of electric cars.  If the US mined all the rare earths that we use there would be enough thorium produced to power the US with ease.  The most exciting reactor design is the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. The US built a liquid fluoride salt reactor in the 70s and it worked well. It also featured "walk away safety", you could literally shut the power off and walk away with the reactor in any state and it would shut it's self down safely.  Currently China and India are moving ahead with thorium reactors using the research done in the 1970s in the US. 

Fusion?
Today Fusion is not practical. Let's be honest, the joke is that fusion is always 20 years away and has been for the last 60 years.  There are some exciting new ideas in fusion research that may actually pay off in the near future. The first is the Pollywell reactor invented by Robert W. Bussard and funded by the US Navy. So far the Navy has been happy with the results of the research and have continued to fund the research.The other reactor that is very interesting is the high beta fusion reactor being developed by the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks. The claims that Lockheed Martin are making are hard to believe, they are promising a working prototype by 2017 and production by 2022 and the ability to meet the world's energy needs by 2050.  Frankly if it was any other company than Lockheed I would not believe a word of it.  Lockheed is the company that built the US's first production jet fighter, the first spy satellite, and the world's fastest airplane the SR-71. The number of times Lockheed has done what everyone thought was impossible is impressive, so maybe they will do it again.

So what is my answer?
Working with the technology currently available I would start with replacing all coal fired plants with nuclear power plants. That alone would cut the US's carbon output by about 40%.  Keep increasing the investment in wind farms in the midwest and solar. Ideally, we want to replace all base load power plants with nuclear with wind, solar, and natural gas as peaking loads. Once we have enough clean, cheap power things get really interesting. With excess power the production of synthetic natural gas, gasoline, and diesel fuel becomes practical as does producing fresh water through desalinization. 
Be positive not negative. 
If you care about the environment and climate change be positive. Be pro-solar and wind not anti-nuclear. Nuclear really does not compete with wind and solar, it saves lives, and reduces carbon. The safety record of nuclear is very good. I know that people fear nuclear power but the facts do not support their reactions. Even one or the co-founders of Greenpeace Dr. Patrick Moore has changed his stand on nuclear energy. As always, just read the reports and the links and decide for yourself. Some people will never get over their terror of nuclear power but I hope at least some people can do so.





Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cat Free YouTube Channels: TastyPCTV

TastyPCTV

A PC parts review show.
For people that are really into building their own PC, review sites and YouTube channels are their mains source of information. TastyPCTV is a little bit different than most. The big difference is the host Lauren. Yes, she is a very pretty young women but she is also the real deal. She is into gaming and building her own rigs. She also does not have your typical hot geek girl look. She goes more for the classic girly, very feminine,  and dare I say it princess look. It is probably more the movie star look from the 1930s and 1940s.  I happen to think that it is great that Lauren has decided not conform to the stereotype of the cute geek girl. While some might not agree, I think Lauren is doing a great service by showing that you do not have to look a certain way to be into technology. Yes, you can be very pretty and feminine and still build a water-cooled gaming rig. I would watch this channel even if Lauren was not so attractive. Frankly I am an old married guy so what she looks like doesn't really matter to me but the quality of her reviews do. She does a good job no matter what she looks like. 

Scorecard The Rating uses G, PG, PG-13, and R while the other categories use A for the best that I know of,B for good but others might be better,C is average, D below average, and F is just terrible. 
  • Rating PG Little kids will probably not like this show but there is nothing wrong with the language. She does dress in a way that draws attention but no worse than you see in the mall.
  • Quality B-  Production quality is good but not great. The quality of the information is good.
  • Community C- The community on youTube Channels are often terrible. TastyPCs is  about average for YouTube. The minus comes from the sexist and rather rude comments. 
  • Depth C The show only has a few sponsors so Lauren does not get all the newest parts.  She does do very well with cases, water cooling, and mainstream enthusiast motherboards. So far she has not done much with high end LGA 2011 motherboards and CPUs. If you are looking for tutorials on over-clocking, look elsewhere. Lauren does a great job covering what the average PC builder is interested in.
  • Entertainment Value B  I enjoy this show and it is worth watching if you are into building PCs. Lauren is really young and is just getting started, so I have high hopes she will just get better and better. 
  • Overall B I really like this show and think it is worth watching. 
Where to watch it

You can find TastyPCTV here on YouTube,  here on the web, and at TastyPCTV on Google+.

What I think of this show

The reviews are good and pretty complete in nature and balanced. Her production values are a bit hit or miss at times, but over all it is pretty good. The one negative is that she does not seem to publish new content on a regular basis. That is understandable since TastyPCTV has a small production team. I am not sure but I think it may be a one woman show.  Overall I think it is worth watching, just be ready to tune out the sexist remarks. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

DYI Tech: How to upgrade your old PC.

Compaq Presario 5000

Don't throw out that PC just yet.
A lot of people will just throw out old PCs when they start getting slow. In most cases simple maintenance or a few key upgrades can get an older PC running better than new.

Before starting
  1. Back up your data. You should be doing this anyway but it is a good time to make one more backup.
  2. Find out about your computer. CPU-Z is a great program that will tell you all about your CPU, memory, and graphics card. 
  3. Find out what kind of hard drive your computer supports. If the computer is even close to modern it will use SATA. If not you might really just want get a new computer.
  4. Decide what you are going to use the computer for. Just a general use surf the web computer, gaming, editing graphics and video?
The following suggestions are for both notebooks and desktops.

Do the free stuff first
  1. Clean off your hard drive. Get rid of all the old stuff you do not use or need anymore that includes old programs you do not use anymore.
  2. After you have deleted everything you do not need run chkdsk to see if your hard drive is healthy. 
  3. Scan for malware and adware. 
  4. Defragment your hard disk.  Here are tutorials on how to defragment.  Windows XP Windows7 Windows8
Next upgrade your Operating System if you can.
WARNING: Plan on your hard drive being erased. Back up all your data! If your data is not erased great but no one has ever been sorry for having a good resent backup.  
If you are using Windows XP or Vista you should upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Windows 7 requires a CPU that runs at 1 Ghz or higher and at least one gigabyte of ram for the 32-bit or 2 gigabytes of ram for the 64-bit version. If your CPU will support the 64-bit version and you have the RAM then you should get the 64-bit version, if you do not have the ram get it. Windows 7 and Windows 8 have very close to the same hardware requirements, the choice of operating system is up to the user. Even if you do not want to upgrade your operating system doing what is called a "Nuke and Pave". A nuke and pave is formatting the hard drive and reinstalling windows. A fresh windows install can do wonders for an old computer.

Upgrade your memory.
If you have 4 gigabytes of memory then stop. Unless you are going to do a lot of gaming and or editing pictures you are probably good at 4 gigabytes. If you still want to upgrade your memory, 8 gigabytes is ideal amount of memory for most users. Here is a tutorial showing how to install memory on a desktop computer.



As you can see it is not all that hard to do yourself.

Laptops are a bit harder so you should always check your manual on how to upgrade the ram. If you have lost the manual do not worry odds are it is available on-line so let Google be your friend.
Here is a video showing you how to upgrade ram on a laptop.

Install a solid state drive (SSD)
Adding an SSD to your computer is probably the best way to boost performance. Desktops easily support multiple drives.  Adding an SSD to a desktop is usually very easy. An inexpensive, small SSD of around 60 gigabytes can be used for the operating system and possible some applications giving a big increase in speed. Laptops are a bit trickier because very few have room for two drives. For a laptop a single SSD single larger SSD is usually the only option.  SSDs are still more expensive than conventional hard drives so the user have to live with a smaller drive in your notebook. Do a fresh install to the SSD to get the best results. Here is a tutorial on how to set up an SSD as a boot drive. 


Install a graphics card
This is only an option for desktops. Most computers you buy today use integrated graphics which are terrible. The exception to that rule are the AMD APUs which have okay gpus built onto the chip. So if you are going to want to game on your computer you will need to add a video card. Tom's Hardware does a monthly graphics card review here. Pick the card in your price range and install it. If you have a really old computer or a Celeron, Pentium, Core2Duo, Atom, Sempron, or other low end cpu then do not spend a lot of money on a graphics card as your CPU will just slow it down. Over all I recommend the Radeon 7770 as a good card for most people that want to get into gaming. You will also want to check your power supply can handle your new graphics card. Of course here is a video on how to install a graphics card. 



Conclusion
Just because you computer is getting slow does not mean you have to buy a new computer. Adding an SSD or upgrading the operating system can make a big system. Security updates and patches for Windows XP are ending this year. Windows XP had a good long run but it is time to move on. Windows 7 can give your old computer a new lease on life. Of course if you want a new PC anyway you might want to read my blog post about what you can use your old PC for.  







Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Movies that are Terrible: Xanadu

Xanadu, the great idea.
Take Olivia Newton-John fresh from her smash hit Grease and put her in a movie with music from the Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richards, and The Tubes. Then throw in Gene Kelly just for good measure.

Where it all goes terribly wrong.
Xanadu is roughly based on the 1949 movie titled Down to Earth. Olivia Newton-John is a daughter of Zeus, a muse that come to earth to inspire great works of art.  So far so good, yes heavy into the fantasy but it can still work except for one little detail.



NO!!!!!! The great work of art that caused a muse to descend from Mount Olympus is the world's greatest Roller Disco! Really? The Gods of Olympus want to give a hand in the creation of a roller disco? Well the Olympians where always a bit on the vain and cruel side so this must be one of their sick jokes.
Those of you that are younger than I might not remember the nightmare of roller disco.  Roller disco was a thankfully, short lived fad which is what really killed this movie. It was so wrapped up in a short lived fad that by the time the movie came out the fad was over. Had the work of art had been a play, novel, album, painting, or sculpture it would have done so much better. Nothing is worse than a movie based on a fad that is already over.


Nothing is all bad.
I honestly think some of the musical numbers are pretty good. Gene Kelly is great, as is ELO, the Tubes, and Olivia Newton-John. It is just that every-time you see anything about roller-disco you just want to cringe. Maybe those that have not lived through the great dark time of roller-disco can see this as nothing but a good bit of silliness. Okay it was 1980 and I was 15 and it had Olivia Newton-John in it, so yes I had to watch it. The music really was not bad and I really enjoyed the performance by the Tubes. Like all really terrible movies it is the chance that they could have been great that makes them so terrible.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

DIY Tech:What to do with that old computer.

First the useful and easy way.
So you have this older extra computer maybe it was free from someone.  It is a free machine but it is probably running Windows XP and is of course missing the disks if it ever came with any. So what can you do with it?

Install Linux.
Linux can run on computers that are not powerful enough to run Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8. Linux is actually a good replacement for Windows if you just want to surf the net, email, and most other tasks people use computers for. The one place it falls down is gaming, but even that might change thanks to Valve and the SteamOS. If you have an old computer that was just going to be thrown out, a copy of Linux can make it a useful machine again.

Why Linux?
  • Linux can run on hardware that new versions of windows can not.
  • There is actually a lot of good free software for Linux.
  • No real virus threats. Linux is very secure by design and since so few people use Linux malware and virus writers just don't bother targeting it.
  • It is free.
  • It works well.

For a first time Linux user I suggest Linux Mint. Linux Mint is based off the extremely popular Ubuntu Linux but includes a lot of "nice to have" software like multimedia software. With Mint you will have a system that is ready to use without having to hunt down a lot of extra software. There are several versions of Mint for you to try based on your hardware. Remember these are free so you are not risking anything but time trying them out.

System Requirements
  • x86 processor (Linux Mint 64-bit requires a 64-bit processor. Linux Mint 32-bit works on both 32-bit and 64-bit processors).
  • 512 MB RAM (1GB recommended for a comfortable usage).  1GB of RAM for Linux Mint KDE
  • 5 GB of disk space
  • Graphics card capable of 800×600 resolution.  Graphics card capable of 1024×768 resolution for KDE
  • CD/DVD drive or USB port
As you can see the heavy weight system requirements are about half those of Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. This means you can run it well on computers that would struggle with newer versions of Windows. There are 3 heavy weight versions of Linux Mint.

Linux Mint MATE is based on Gnome 2.0 and is very stable. It is a good low fuss solution.

Linux Mint Cinnamon is based on Gnome 3.0 so it is a bit more modern and slightly more attractive. Frankly they look a lot a like to me. 

Linux Mint KDE uses the KDE desktop. The KDE desktop is the most configurable desktop and probably the most powerful desktop that runs on Linux. Linux Mint KDE has higher system requirements than MATE and Cinnamon. To use Mint KDE you will want at least one gigabyte of ram and a higher resolution video card and monitor. 

The light weight version of Linux Mint
Linux Mint Xfce is a version of Mint that will run well on older and slower computers than the other versions. Xfce is actually a nice environment, it is a full desktop and really will not limit you. While ideal for slower computers it performs very well on faster systems.

System Requirements
  • x86 processor (Linux Mint 64-bit requires a 64-bit processor. Linux Mint 32-bit works on both 32-bit and 64-bit processors).
  • 384 MB RAM (1GB recommended for a comfortable usage).
  • 5 GB of disk space
  • Graphics card capable of 800×600 resolution
  • DVD drive or USB port
What if the computer is too old to run Mint Xfce?
Yes there are even lighter versions of Linux than Mint Xfce. Some of them are so light that they will run on computers that ran Windows 98! There will be tradeoffs but you will still get to do a lot of the things you want to with a computer.

Puppy Linux is a super light and fast version of Linux. It will run on just about any computer you can get your hands on. Installing and configuring the OS is a bit more complex than with Mint but not really all that hard. 

These are just a few of the versions of Linux that are available to try. Besides Mint you could try Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS, and Suse among many others. 

After you install Linux and get it running you can install a lot of free software right from the desktop. Everything from OpenOffice which is a Microsoft Office replacement to GIMP for doing graphics to games. 

Besides making a Linux workstation what else can I do?

Build a home network attached storage (NAS) server.
A home NAS can provide you with a central space to store your music, videos, pictures, and backups for all the computers in your home. Good news, there are some easy to use free software that you can use to setup your own NAS. 

FreeNAS started off as simple, easy to use NAS based on FreeBSD. All you needed to do is create a USB flash drive and boot your computer. After a bit of setup you had a storage server. Today FreeNAS has evolved into an extremely powerful system that can work for a home or business. The good thing is that you can still just use it as a simple NAS to start of with and then add features you want by adding in plugins. Of course there is this YouTube tutorial on how to set up FreeNAS. 




NAS4Free is a fork of an earlier version of the FreeNAS. NAS4Free will run on machines with less memory but has a much smaller community. 


OpenMediaVault is based on Linux. It offers a lot of the same features as FreeNAS and NAS4Free, but being based on Linux it is easier to manage if you are already knowledgeable about Linux. OpenMediaVault leans more towards media sharing than the other NAS systems.

Openfiler is also Linux based but it is targeted more towards the enterprise than home use, so why did I include it. Simple it will still work just fine as a home server but can also be used for a business. Using this at home will give you the opportunity to learn about enterprise level storage. 

Caution
If you are going to build a NAS, buy new hard drives. Do not just throw a bunch of old drives in your NAS. Hard drives are one of the few parts of an old computer that do wear out. 

Learn about other Operating Systems
Maybe you want to see what is out there besides Windows, Mac OS/X, and Linux. Here you are going into the more technical area. 

The BSDs.

While Linux is a Unix like operating system FreeBSD is Unix. FreeBSD is the most popular and easy to use flavor of BSD. FreeBSD is also the operating system that FreeNAS and NAS4Free based on, showing that it makes an excellent server as well. 


NetBSD's big claim to fame is that it runs everywhere. It does not have as large of a community as Free BSD but it's portable nature means that it is a great operating system to study for educational reasons. If you want to get into the nuts and bolts of computer science or if you need to run Unix on your toaster this is the operating system for you.

OpenBSD is all about security. That makes it a great choice for servers, firewalls, and routers. It is not the most user friendly system. Okay it is not user-friendly at all it is designed to be used by professionals. On the good side it is well documented so you are willing to put forth the effort you can learn it. 

DragonFly BSD
DragonFly BSD is all about advanced features it is also the youngest of the BSDs and probably the least popular but it is really interesting. 

Let's get wild and crazy
So far we have been looking at the Unix like free operating systems but there are some really wild ideas floating around that you can try out. I would not use these for doing anything real. These are wild and crazy operating systems that are bold experiments. Expect them to crash, not work, and in general be a challenge. They may not even install! In other words this if a full on super geek tech kind of thing to do. 

ReactOS is an attempt to make a Windows compatible operating system. It is not in anyway Unix like and it is not a Windows clone but a whole new operating system that can run Windows Software.

Haiku is a free open source operating system based on the very interesting BeOS from the 1990s. Again it is not Windows and it is not Linux but something totally different. 

From the Menuet website. Menuet isn't based on other operating system nor has it roots within UNIX or the POSIX standards. The design goal, since the first release in year 2000, has been to remove the extra layers between different parts of an OS, which normally complicate programming and create bugs.

AROS is an attempt to make a an operating system that is compatible with AmigaOS. 

Plan 9 from Bell Labs
Plan 9 was created by the same people that created Unix at Bell Labs in the late 1960s. Unix has become the basis of most modern operating systems. Some are actual Unixes like Solaris, AIX, HPUX, Mac OS/X, and the BSD family of operating systems while Linux is a Unix like operating system but still inspired by Unix. Plan 9 was supposed to be the new Unix. It is a fully distributed operating system. 

Robot Operating System
This one isn't really an operating system as much as a flavor of Linux but it is just too interesting to leave out the wild and crazy section. ROS is just what is says it is, an operating system for people that want to build and program robots. 

This is just a taste of what is out there
It is a wonderful time to be into computers. You can download the same free operating systems that are used by Google, IBM, and Oracle. You can build servers or workstations out of old cheap computers with little to no cost.  You can try out any of this software without spending any money. You can go the practical and easy root with Linux. You can create your own NAS with FreeNAS, NAS4Free, or OpenFiler or you can go wild and crazy with Plane 9. Who knows, Maybe you will create a NAS that runs Haiku or a router that runs Plan9. You could create the next big thing.