Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Peek, Inc Sucks: How the Operators of Peek Failed Me

With twitter becoming my main outlet for online expressions, it now takes a lot to get me riled up to write something in this blog. Fortunately (unfortunately?) something has happened to one of my favorite geeky device to get me so riled up that I had to post something in blog form.

Last month, the company that created the Peek Mobile Email Device made all their users buy a whole new device because they had a falling out with their network service providers. The service disruption eventually made all older Peek models out in the wild into a fancy electronic paper weight. As a consolation to their customers, Peek, Inc offered their current customers a special deal to allow them to upgrade to the latest Peek device mode, the Peek9 for just $1 plus $6.95 for shipping. (So, basically $7.95 for the latest Peek which at the time wasn't that bad).

When Peek, Inc. made the announcement about their discounted Peek9 "Lemonade Promotion," their web site's ordering system was apparently not quite ready to accept the people's orders. At the time, the site didn't have the right options, made people choose a plan, and didn't have a proper order confirmation page. Trying to complete my order, I mistakenly hit the order button a couple of times hoping to invoke something from the site to tell me that they had received my order. Little did I know that my random clicking would cause me so much grief.

As it turned out, my double-clicking resulted in having two orders in their system. I contacted Peek and told them about my concerns and that I really only needed one Peek. I got a response from their President, Amol Sarva, who promised me that their people would take care of it and that my credit card would not be charged twice. At that time, I was happy to get a response and thought nothing more of it.

I eventually got the new Peek9 and with a couple of hiccups with transferring my account over, everything was sorted out and I was back up and running. I didn't even mind that the Peek9 upgrade cable that was promised to us were back ordered and that it would take several weeks to get them. I was a happy camper up to this point.

For about a week, everything was going fine. The Peek9 worked like a charm. I was happy. Then the postman arrived with another box from Peek. At first I thought they were the backordered Peek9 cable but as it turned out, it was another Peek9 unit. Concerned, I quickly checked my credit card online and saw that Peek, Inc. had charged me another $7.95 for another Peek9 device which means they never canceled my duplicate order despite their president telling me that I would not be charged twice. Turns out that he was a liar or at least his people made him into one through their incompetence.

To try resolve the issue, I tried calling Peek's support phone number at which I was sent to a recorded message that said that the company was not accepting anymore request for tech support on their support phone line. The message went on to tell me that I needed to go online to file a ticket to request any support. Being a patient and good sport, I did this without hesitation and much complaint.

My original online request for help was filed on October 28th. I heard nothing from the company until the morning on November 30th. That's roughly a whole month of not hearing anything from the company. Now that they actually replied to me, their solution is to make me go through a RMA process to ship back an item which I wasn't even supposed to receive. They also asked me if I just wanted to keep the device as a back up which really makes no sense to me. The RMA process wasn't really even a viable option because it meant having to take time from my busy life to file, process, and mail back something that I was told that I wasn't supposed to getting for the fantastic refund price of $1. Yeah, they won't refund the shipping according some post I read on their forums.

While all of this insanity is happening, I noticed something else wrong with my new Peek. I am now starting to get email from accounts that I have since removed from the device. At first, I thought it was just a backlog of email coming in, but several of my tests show that new emails are still being delivered to my Peek despite not being entered into my Peek.

At first, I was disappointed with how my order was being handled. Now, I'm just livid and furious about how my Peek is still accessing email accounts that I have removed. Essentially, Peek is now accessing my email accounts illegally. Their servers have apparently made copies of my user names and passwords to continue to grab my email to send to my Peek device. As it was first explained to me, the removal of an email account on the Peek should unlink that email account from the Peek servers, but for some reason this was not happening with my Peek.

I received an email from their tech representative about this issue and they tell me to just do a reset to clear out the email accounts. I am not an idiot. I know how to use my Peek and doing a Peek reset was the first thing I did. In fact, I had done this 3 times and I will, for good measure, do it again after I finishing writing this post.

If you're having the same problem with your Peek, drop me a comment below. I'm hoping my case is isolated, but I have a feeling it's not.

All in all, Peek, Inc. failed me and I'm not so enthusiastic about them anymore. In the beginning, the Peek was something I could proudly to show off and excitedly tell people about it. Now, I find myself disappointed by their actions and warning everyone of the type of disappointing service they can expect.

no and to tell people about. Now, I'm just annoyed by their actions and

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Data Service Frustrations

Last August, I upgrade my regular cellphone to a smartphone. I was a proud owner of the LG Spyder II and traded it in for an Android-powered Motorola Milestone with service from Cellular South. So far, I like the phone, but the data service has been somewhat frustrating.

At the onset, I was very excited to do the upgrade. I had envied other people who talked about the different things their app-laded phone could do. So when Cellular South finally released a smartphone with a physical keyboard, I jumped on it. The physical keyboard is one of my requirements for a smartphone. It's one of the reasons I never went for an iPhone. Being a heavy txt'er, I just preferred the tactile sense a physical keyboard has as opposed to the virtual ones. As far as the Motorola Milestone is concerned, it's a nice phone. It's basically the same as the first generation Motorola Droid from Verizon, so I really won't be reviewing it. Everyone out there who knows how to use Google, can easily find a more detailed review than I could ever do.

The reason I'm posting is that in the last couple of months of using the phone, I have found myself progressively being annoyed by my weak data signal that I get in Pensacola through Cellular South. 4 out 5 times that I need to use my smartphone indoors, the phone has a weak or no data signal. The only time I can get a stable signal is if I am standing outside my house or at the parking lot at work. I can get a true 3G signal only if I drive out to the Pensacola Beach, but anywhere else it's been a crap-shoot. Unfortunately, I don't live anywhere near the beach.

So far, the only response I have received from CS about their crappy data service is this:

"We currently do not have any information regarding changes to the data network in Florida. We are working to improve our data coverage throughout our calling area."
I guess that there really won't be any immediate improvements to Cellular South's data service for customers in Florida. One thing I will give CS is that their voice/phone coverage is great. I have never been anywhere that I could not get a phone signal to make a call. It's their data service that really needs some major work.

At the point, I'm keeping the phone service for at least another month or two. I'll give them a chance improve their service, but if they don't do anything, I am dropping them like a hot potato.

I can already attest that the Virgin Mobile's prepaid service works really well in Pensacola and now that they have recently released an Android-powered phone that has a physical keyboard they look like contenders for winning over my business. Looking at their rates, I may actually also save $25 per month if I go with them.

Right now, I'm paying a little over $100 per month for the unlimited everything plan with Cellular South and the only thing unlimited I'm getting is annoyance from the crappy data service that I'm getting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

G33K & G4M3R Girls Anthem

This music video parody proves Geek and Gamer Girls really do exist. Extra geek cred for appearances by a rapping Seth Green, Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff and Stan Lee.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Informal Poll Results

As promised, I am sharing the results of my mini poll on cell phone type usage in the Pensacola MSA area. To view the results click here.

The poll was a hybrid experiment in determining how easy it would be to use Google Docs to create a poll form and to also see what kind of phones people had in the area.

As someone on Twitter pointed out, the survey was not perfect because it originally did not include areas around the Pensacola area. People in Cantonment, Pace, and Milton, Florida were hesitant to answer as they thought they were excluded from the survey. By the time I redefined the target area, people have already moved on about their business.

Overall, the experiment was a success. I determined that creating survey forms with Google Docs is easy and free. It's perfect for small, informal surveys, but I believe professionals would be happier using services like SurveyMonkey.com since they provide more advanced options and controls. The survey part of the experiment could be better, but that was my fault for doing a better job of designing it.

At this point, I'll probably do this survey again, but I think I'll spend more time working on designing it than I did before.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pensacola Poll: Cell Phone Types

Results of this poll will be published on this site on Saturday August 7, 2010!

Monday, July 19, 2010

QR Code Shirt for Smart People

Technology can often times lead to funny things and if you combine that with my twisted sense of humor, you'll end up with something like this. I'll let you decode the shirt to figure out what it says.

Imagine yourself wearing this at your in-law's family reunion, some lame-ass party, a fraternity/sorority event, or the day they take those dreaded yearbook/reunion pictures. All I can say is that this shirt is perfect for any type of gathering.

The humor is even compounded as most people can't easily decode this today. This shirt can make any group picture with you wearing this shirt will even be funnier in the future when everyone has QR decoders on their phone.

If you'd like to buy this shirt, click here.

Natalie Del Conte explains QR Code

Natalie Del Conte at CNET.com explains QR Code

QR Codes: Not Just for People with Smart Phones

Recently, I discovered an online service that bridges the technology gap in regards to decoding QR codes for non-smartphones users. A company called MSKYNET launched a beta version of a MMS/eMail QR decoding service in April of 2010. (Source: Article)

MSKNET's QR decoding services works on the principle that you can send a picture message (MMS) or email an image to a specific email address where their computer servers will translate your QR code and then reply back to you with the decode information MMS/Email. The email address for this service is GO@SPARQ.IT.

Warning: Do keep in mind that although the service is free, any picture message/email data rates from your cellphone service provider still applies. If you are not in an unlimited plan, you will be charged for sending and receiving the reply. Also, if the message inside the QR code is lenghty, you may receive several reply messages.

So let's have some QR fun. If you have a QR code reader on your smart phone (if not, search your phone's app market) or if you have a camera phone with picture messaging and you're fine with using GO@SPARQ.IT method in this post, go ahead and snap a picture of the QR code in this post and let me know what it says in the comments section.

Also, let me know what kind of phone you have so I can get basic idea of what kind of phones people are using these days. Let QR decoding begin!

What are QR Codes?

Most of Americans have not heard of QR codes. Some have passingly read about it in a magazine or seen it mentioned in a news report, but the technology has obviously not taken off in the United States.

What is a QR code? Basically, they are square bar codes that have been popular in Japan for well over ten years. These bar codes can be found pretty much on everything. They've been placed on food packaging, magazines and newspaper ads, television shows, store displays, business cards, buildings, billboards.... if you can print on it, I'm sure the Japanese has placed a QR code on it.

To get more geeky about QR Codes and learn more about its technical details and history, I recommend starting at the following Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code

For those who are short in time, I'll try to hit the highlights for you:

QR codes were created byJapanese corporation Denso-Wave in 1994. The "QR" is derived from "Quick Response", as the creator intended the code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed. The underlying concept of QR codes relies on people having camera phones or smart phones that can scan and decode the square bar codes.

An application on the phone would then in-turn translate the code into text or links to online media. A popular use for the QR codes is to provide an easy link from actual physical products to expanded information found on the web.

For example, a can of soda with a QR code could lead to an online page with nutrition information or a promotional campaign. Japanese magazine ads often have these codes to provide extra online advertising content that can be kept more current than their printed ads.

QR code adoption in the United States has been slow. As it stands, most Americans do not have smartphones that can process QR codes, but this is rapidly changing as more and more people are buying iPhones, Blackberries, and Android phones.

Soon, these codes will everywhere and their closer than you think. Facebook is supposed to be using QR codes as part of their service and Google is already sending out QR codes to certain businesses that are frequently visited online.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How Cyber Criminals Infect Victims

Here's a video by Panda Security that shows you how easy it is for hackers to bind a trojan/virus program with any legitimate programs that are available at P2P/File Sharing/Torrent services. In this demo, the trojan's goal is to hijack a banking web sites that you visit and change the login screen to steal your information.

Seriously people, don't download pirated software! Make sure you are using current anti-virus program and and make sure that it is updated regularly. If you're going to download programs, make sure you get it from the company's official web site or from trusted sites like Download.com.

Scary, I know. Let's all be safe and practice "safe downloading."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Buying Glasses Online

Recently, I've been experimenting with buying prescription eye glasses from online retailers. My goal was to find glasses under $10 that I could use as back up pairs for those moments when I misplace my normal glasses. Overall, the experience has been good but it wasn't perfect.

I ordered 2 pairs of glasses from two different site: Goggles4u.com and ZenniOptical.com. Both sites were recommended to me by people on Twitter who seem to be happy with the service that they go from them. My experience with both were leave much to be desired.

ZenniOptical was the slowest of the two to process and ship my glasses. It took closer to three weeks to get my glasses. Compared to Goggles4U, their web site was not very user friendly. It was very cumbersome to search for frames since you couldn't filter by frame size. But what they lack in user accessibility, they made up in their lower prices.

Goggles4u was quick to process and ship my glasses. I had my pair within two weeks. The only thing that annoyed me with them was that they did not have the lenses for my prescription in their sub $10 level glasses. I had to go up to the next level ($12.95) to get my glasses.

Now, the adage of "you get what you pay for" applies here with the quality of the frames. They look nice visually, but they don't feel as sturdy as those that I normally get from my optician. Then again, you're not paying $145 for these glasses, so if they do break, you won't feel so bad about it.

Overall, the amount of money you'll save with buying glasses online is staggering, but the saving comes at the cost of quality and time. When I go to get glasses from my optician, I can get them within a couple of days and if there's a problem with them, I can just go back and have them fix it. Buying online requires some patience and even more patience if your order wasn't done right, since you'll need to ship it back and then wait some more for them to fix it.

When ordering glasses online, regardless of where you buy it, you'll need to realize that the glasses you get will come in their stock/default form and will not be tweaked to fit exactly on your face and head. You'll either have to bend and shape them to fit you perfectly or get the help of your local optician to make them fit properly. Warning: The later option my lead to some awkwardness when they realize that you didn't buy your glasses from them.

All in all, if your goal is to save money, then buy glasses online. If you need your glasses sooner and don't want to deal with shipping back bad orders, then consider going to your local optician.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Death of a Netbook

It was bound to happen but I didn’t know it would end this way. Last Friday, my trusty ASUS Eee PC 1000HE netbook died as a result of accidental coffee spillage at McDonald’s. I knew I would have to eventually get a new netbook at some point, but I was hoping that it would be due to obsolescence and not as something stupid having coffee being spilled on it.

Although replacing the netbook would definitely be an inconvenience, it is not what irks me about the whole incident. I guess I’m more bothered by the woman who bumped into me causing me to drop my coffee into my computer. Sure, she apologized but it did not seem very sincere. She said that she was sorry but that she had to go because she was running late and had to pick up her son from school. She did not offer to fix my computer, nor did she leave me any way of contacting her. She just gave me some napkins, apologized a couple of times, and then left. I looked like a putz shaking my netbook around trying to dry it.

At this point, there’s nothing I can do. My memory of what she looked like is already fading away and I doubt anyone would just step up and say it was them.

Before the day was over, I did manage to buy a replacement netbook. I picked-up a Toshiba NB305 netbook at BestBuy. Thank goodness for my ‘rainy day’ fund.

I did learn a couple of things about this experience. I was reminded that one should never drink near laptops. You can replace a desktop keyboard if you spill coffee into it, but it's a lot more detrimental when it happens to a laptop. Also, I learned not to expect everyone to be good people and do the honorable thing. In a situation like mine, if I had to do it again, I would have asked for her name and her contact information up front and to let her know that I might need her to cover the repairs. I guess now I know and knowing is half the battle.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sharp Electronics is Pure Awesomeness!

If you've been following my blog posts or my tweets, you'd know that I've been having problems with my less than 1-year old Sharp BD-HP22U Blu-ray disc player and was eventually instructed to send it back to Sharp for repairs. When I came home yesterday, I was surprised to see that my Blu-ray player was quickly returned to me and I'm ecstatic to tell you that it is now working flawlessly.

I'm not sure what was exactly wrong with my BD player. I haven't been re-contacted by Sharp to explain what was wrong and what they did to fix it, but based on the amount of time it was with them, the fix must have been simple. I'm going to guess that they flushed out the old firmware and replaced with a new one, but that's just speculation. I'll let you know once I hear something from them.

At this point, I want to give credit where credit is due. I want to thank a few people at Sharp for helping me fix my blu-ray player.

I want to thank Martha Harvey at Sharp's Strategic Marketing & Communications Division in Mahwah, New Jersey for responding to my tweets and connecting me to right people to troubleshoot my player. I believe Martha is the person (if not one of them) who is behind @Sharp_USA on Twitter.

I want to thank customer specialists Neybel Martinez and Athanasios “Tom” Tolios at the Customer Assistance Center in Romeoville, Illinois. Neybel listened and worked with me to troubleshoot my player and Tom helped me in shipping it to them when we ran out of things to try.

All in all, I'm very happy at the response that I got from Sharp. It's very rare to find a company that a company that actually listens to their customers and are willing to help them solve their problems. What I experienced with Sharp has made me a true fan. I now feel a lot more confident in choosing them to meet my electronics need and I make no hesitation to recommend them to others.

Again, thank you Sharp for fixing my blu-ray player. You've just made this ByteMonkey into a happy monkey.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bluray Player goes to Romeoville, Illinois

Somewhere in Romeoville, Illinois, my Sharp BD-HP22 Bluray player is being looked at by some repair guy working for Sharp. Hopefully, he or she will know how to get my Bluray player back in working condition.

In the last couple of weeks, I've been posting on twitter about how my Sharp Bluray player stopped playing new Bluray discs after upgrading to their new firmware. I did the upgrade because I wanted to watch the recently released Avatar Bluray disc without having the "popping time-line" glitch on my less-than-a-year-old player. The upgrade seemed like a simple process at the time. What I didn't realize at the time was that by doing the firmware upgrade that it would stop playing any of my new Bluray movies (more specifically 50GB DL type discs; old BD movies played fine).

After tweeting for about a week, @Sharp_USA finally contacted me and we did some troubleshooting through email but none of the things we tried worked. They finally asked me to ship the player to them to look at and hopefully repair it.

As of today, the FedEx tracking says that it made it to the address where I was shipping it to. So now we wait to hear what they have to say about the player. It's truly maddening to think about what I had to go through to just watch a Avatar at home.

Overall, I think the Bluray industry needs to be more clear and upfront about what will and will-not play on their players. There really needs to be clear markings and labels on all players still being sold to avoid confusion. Plus, not everyone out there will be comfortable doing a firmware update especially if it involves more than a button click. Unfortunately, these people will end up being at the mercy of people like Best Buy who charges $30 and some change to do the firmware update for you.

Right now, I'm seeing a lot of older model Bluray players going on clearance but stores typically won't label them "old model" since they want to sell them. I just feel sorry for the next guy who has to go through the insanity that I endured just so we could watch a movie at home.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Avatar Bluray Blues

Last Thursday, I bought the Bluray disc for Avatar and discovered that it doesn't work well with my less than 2-year old SHARP BD-HP22 Bluray disc player.

Being a techie, I knew that some of the newer Bluray discs would require a firmware upgrade. Without hesitation, I went to the SHARP website, downloaded the latest firmware and easily installed it. It was a very painless process, but my happiness would not last, as I discovered that the firmware update did not fix my problem. With the Avatar Bluray disc, some kind of time-line pops up during the movie every 3 minutes and stays up for about 10 seconds of so. It is very annoying and keeps anyone from enjoying the movie.

I contacted SHARP via Twitter (@SHARP_USA) but they refuse to respond or acknowledge the issue. I guess they just want me to chunk my faily new BD player and buy a new one which is something that is unacceptable. SHARP needs to support all their current devices. It's not like I'm asking for technical support for a 80's tape deck. This is a bloody Bluray disc player. This is current technology.

I fully intend to tweet everyday about this issue until I get an official statement from them. If I get any response, I'll make sure to let all of you know.

Below is a Youtube clip of a similar issue being experienced by Samsung Bluray players. Obviously, the problem is not limited to SHARP. Hopefully, all the BD player makers can get together and fix this issue. If they don't, they'll have a lot of pissed-off consumers who may decided to boycott Bluray discs.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Prosthetic Culture

Amber Case presents a lecture about Prosthetic Culture. She is a Cyborg Anthropologist studying the interaction between humans and computers and how our relationship with information is changing the way we think, act, and understand the world around us. She’s obsessed with compressing the space and time it takes to get data from one place to another, especially when the final destination is the mind. You can follow her on twitter at twitter.com/caseorganic.

Utterli is Dead, Jim

It looks like Utterli.com is dead.

Once known to it's users as Utterz, the site provided users a way to post audio, video, and pictures online. More uniquely, the service allowed users to make voice posts by calling a phone number which literally gave it's users a "voice" on the Internet. Utterz/Utterli posts was also able to replay one's post to other blog services like Blogger, Tumblr, and WordPress, turning the service into a sort of online posting hub.

Ever since Utterz was re-branded as Utterli by it's owners, RPM Communications, Inc., user support and service seemed to slowly decline. Personally, I left Utterli after I could not get any support to resolve my picture messaging problem which other competing services had solved very easily and quickly. I still kept my account open so that I could listen in to other people's post but my involvement eventually waned as most of the users migrated to other services like Twitter or Facebook. Many left because of the lack of tech support. Others were tired of seeing too many spammers joining and disrupting conversations.

Although never confirmed by RPM Communications, many user believed that the change from Utterz to Utterli was an attempt to make the service more attractive to investors or perhaps to other companies who might be interested in buying the service. There was an underlying feeling among the users that the company wasn't quite doing so well after administrators and support techs suddenly disappeared and the site's homepage was never updated after the rebranding.

Although, I had moved on to other services, I still feel sad to see Utterz/Utterli go. I met and conversed with a lot of great and talented people that I respect and admire. It was also place that offered a glimpse at many varying life styles and point-of-views of the people in the United States and beyond.

The service's demise now leaves many of it's orphaned users having to clean up their blogs and remove all the broken links that link back to Utterli. Since there was no warning to site's closing, users were not able to back up their postings. All of the users data was subsequently lost from the closing.

We all knew the party wouldn't last forever. All good things in life do eventually come to an end.

Goodbye Utterz. Goodbye Bessie the Cow. Goodbye yellow and green leaf-lemon thing. Good bye Utterli. You will all be missed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

slotRadio: It's like Internet Radio but better

As a gadget geek, I'm always intrigued by what's new and available to the average consumers. This time, something in the realm of portable music players caught my eye – and ear.

During a random expedition to the Radio Shack in Gulf Breeze, Florida, I discovered that they were having a sale on Sansa products. Having been in the market for a replacement MP3 player, I decided to look over their selection to see if I could find a bargain. There, I found a good deal on a Sansa Fuze but what really got me was the slotRadio music cards.Publish Post

slotRadio cards are micro SD cards that contains a large library of music which can only be played on slotRadio players or select Sansa devices. Each card contains several predetermined playlists and is available in several genres such as 80's/90's, Oldies, Country, and Hip Hop/R&B. Users have the ability to skip as many songs as they want but won't be able backtrack to replay a song. This is similar to how some music streaming services like Pandora Internet Radio operate except slotRadio does not need to be connected to the Internet.

slotRadio cards are prefect for those who don't have reliable access to a computer to download music from. Also, those of you like me who can't afford to have an unlimited data plan on their iPhones or Blackberries to play Pandora an Wi-Fi hotspot isn't available, this little SD music card is worth the price. Each card supposedly holds 1000 songs and is priced at about $30 depending on where you buy them. That's basically 3 cents person and when you compare that to 99 cents per song on iTunes or whatever insane price AT&T charges for unlimited data plan (I don't own an iPhone or Blackberry, so I wouldn't know exactly how much they're mugging your wallet for). The whole things is basically a no-brainer.

Now, some of you are probably wondering if the cards have been loaded with songs that no one really wants to listen to. Perhaps, you're thinking that this is probably the reason why the songs are so cheap. Well, rest assured that each song on the cards are from Billboard's top charting artists. They're not cover bands. They're not fake. They're the real deal.

Personally, I've been enjoying the slotRadio Daily Mix and 80's/90's cards at work whenever I can't get my iPod Touch to connect to Pandora through the Wi-Fi. In reality, it's not a burden to carry the Sansa Fuze with the slotRadio card. They're relatively small and compact. Plus, they're durable enough to be in my pocket which is something I can't say about the iPod.

All in all, I think slotRadio is a great idea. It's better than the radio because it has no commercial interruptions and you can skip songs. It's on par with Internet radio but wins overwhelmingly when you don't have access to the Internet. Now, if Sandisk would only improve their telephone customer support, then everything would be perfect.

If you'd like to learn more about slotRadio, visit http://www.slotradio.com/

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Standing Cat

For your amusement, here's a cat standing up...

You've just witnessed the first step in cat evolution towards becoming ThunderCats.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How can I make keep my computer healthy?

Although this goes against my "no-fixing-your-computer" mantra, I will give you some tips since you'll be doing all the work.

During my many years of using and fixing computers, I've come to find a handful of programs that has helped me keep my machines happy. All of the software that I'm listing are free, but they do have paid version for those of you who would like to support these companies.

Let's get started! First, you'll need protection if you don't already have one, or if your current protection software came with your computer and is about to expire. The following are my choices for anti-virus/firewall protection:

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition - This free anti-virus program provides basic protection against viruses, spyware, and other threats. I recommend this program for those who already have some kind of firewall protection and are just looking for basic virus scanning and protection

Comodo Internet Security - CIS is a free, all-in-one suite that includes a firewall, anti-virus, and malware protection. I strongly recommend this program for those who do not have a firewall or anti-virus protection. The program is completely free and not hindered in any way. It's also perfect for those trying to save money. Why would you pay $50 or more for protection when you can get one for free?

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware - Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware is an anti-malware application that effectively removes malware and spyware. I strongly recommend running this program every two weeks to make sure that your computer is not infected and to identify any threats that might be hiding in your computer.

Now that your computer is secured and protected, I'm going to share with you some tools that will you keep your machine humming along at it's peak performance.

CCleaner - This is a freeware, system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system - allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner. I recommend using this program as every two weeks at the very least. The more you use this, the less junk will accumulate on your computer. Tip: When doing a registry clean, make sure to choose to make a back up of your registry just in case something goes wrong.

Free Registry Defrag - Over time, the Windows Registry normally becomes fragmented as new registry entries are being written, modified, or removed by your applications. This will eventually result in your computer taking a longer time to find the right registry entries to start up your computer. Free Registry Defrag is a free program and was designed to remove gaps and extra spaces that have developed within your system's Registry resulting in faster processing of your registry. Keep in mind that this program only defrags your registry and doesn't actually fix any registry errors. I recommend using this program after you do a Registry Clean up using CCleaner.

Auslogic Disk Defrag - Disk Defrag will speed up your computer by optimizing file system by consolidating free space and move system files to the faster part of the disk to get the most out of your hard drive's performance. I recommend this over the default Windows Defrag program because it's a lot faster. As for Windows Vista users, you'll notice that there isn't a built-in defragging program in Windows and Auslogic Disk Defrag is a great substitute.

Revo Uninstaller - This free software is an uninstall utility that scans before and after you uninstall an application to identify all the parts of the program. After the program's regular uninstaller runs, you're given the option to remove additional unnecessary files, folders and registry keys that are usually left over on your computer. I recommended using this over the default Windows uninstaller application when removing programs because it cleans up all the files and registry entries that your program may be leaving behind.

Now, there are more tools out there that you can use to clean and tweak your system, but I believe these is a good start. I purposely omitted any advanced tools that I use to avoid you accidentally breaking your computer. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to drop me a note.

You can ask me anything but I'm still not fixing your computer!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dingoo A-320: The Best Pocket Game Emulator

This post is not about a brand new or upcoming device. It's actually about a portable gaming device that I've owned since March of 2009 but was reluctant to post about since it wasn't easily available to everyone here in the US. I didn't want to rant about something that no one out there could go out and buy to enjoy for themselves. That would just be cruel and evil of me. Now, that I've seen this device at ThinkGeek.com, I thought I could now share it with all of you.

Although, it resembles the Game Boy Micro, the Dingoo A-320 is much more robust gaming device. It supports 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit games in 3D, CPS2, CPS1, GBA, MVS, NEOGEO, NES, SFC, SMD formats. Aside from that, it is also a capable radio, music player (MP3,WMA APE, FLAC audio formats), video player ( AVI, WMV, FLV, MPEG, DAT, MP4, AS, RMVB, RM), a sound recorder (MP3/WAV), an image viewer (JPG, BMP GIF, PNG), and crappy eBook (TXT) reader. If you want to know more about the full technical specs of the device, click here for the Wikipedia entry for Dingoo A-320.

The A-320 has a built-in 4GB flash memory storage, and can be expanded using the mini-SD memory card slot (up to 8GB SDHC) with a total of 12GB of maximum storage. There is a Micro USB port that will allows you to connects the device to your PC using the appropriate cable. A standard 3.5mm stereo jack is present as well as a video out port so you can connect it to TV using the provided A/V cable.

From my experience, game performance was great with NES and Sega Genesis games. Not all of my GBA games would work and is most likely caused by the game's dependency to specific GBA chipset/hardware that is not emulated in the A-320. SNES games tend to be slow with the stock firmware, but other users have reported much better game performance when they used unofficial community-developed firmwares at the cost of some system stability. CPS1/CPS2 arcade games and NEOGEO games required a bit of tinkering to get things to work.

Audio quality from the built-in speakers wass not great but that is to be expected with a handheld device. Using a pair of decent headphones easily fixes this issue.

The eBook reader can only read TXT files and the Text-to-Speech feature only has one voice that has a very noticeable Chinese accent.

Despite some minor performance issues, the Dingoo A-320 is a great portable video game emulator and media player. All in all, it's versatility overcomes it's flaws. If you're into playing old video games and have a library of ROMS that you want to play on the go, then I'd definitely recommend this game system.

As for me, this device is one that I always take with me especially when I anticipate that there will be a lot of waiting happening, like at the doctor's office or at the DMV.

If you're interested in getting one, check out ThinkGeek.com (http://www.thinkgeek.com/electronics/retro-gaming/bd6f/)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Best WiFi Detector

Recently, someone asked me what the best WiFi signal detector is.

Based on my experience, when it comes to these types of devices you will definitely get what you pay for. WiFi detectors come in various forms and prices. The cheapest models will run as cheap as $10 but will most likely provide sparse details on what it's actually detecting. For example, it will probably tell you that there is a wireless network somewhere and what the signal strength is. Don't expect these devices to tell you what the name of the network is or whether it's secured or open to the public.

Over the years, I have received a handful of these cheap WiFi detectors from conventions as promotional give-aways and as hasty birthday gifts. Most of them sit in a drawer because they were utterly useless.

It wasn't until I found the HS20 Digital Hotspotter from Canary Wireless (http://canarywireless.com/) that I felt that I owned a truly useful WiFi signal detector.

What makes the HS20 such a great device? Here's the list of features I grabbed from their site:
  • No need to boot-up a laptop to detect whether an accessible Wi-Fi network is near
  • Quick glance icons show signal strength and security status for each access point
  • Device gives network ID (SSID), allowing identification of public or private networks
  • Back-lit display with 96x64 pixels for easy viewing
  • Uses inexpensive and easy to find AAA batteries (2)
  • Scroll feature allows easy access to multiple access points per scan; highlight an access point name to view details on network type, security open/WEP/WPA, and channel configuration
  • Battery meter icon displays status of AAA batteries
  • Does not require any additional software or hardware
  • Can be used as a network analysis, rollout and maintenance tool
  • Uses a true 802.11 engine, resulting in no false readings from Bluetooth® signals, cordless phones, or microwave ovens like some competititors' products
  • Slim form-factor easily slips into shirt pocket or computer bag; lanyard hook also allows the HS20 to be attached to other cases
As you can see, the HS20 has a lot of great features but what matters most is that it will tell you the network's name, the signal strenght, and whether it is private or public. That last part is my favorite feature.

Now, the HS20 is a $1o device. It's actually $49.99 + S&H (current MSRP price as of posting) but it's worth every penny.

The HS20 is one of those gadgets that I always take with me whenever I leave the house just in case I have to find a WiFi connection to do some moblogging or quick web site repairs while I'm out. It has proven to be one of the best $50 that I had ever spent.

You can grab the HS20 Digital Hotspotter at www.canarywireless.com or at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Achieving portable computing nirvana

Over the last couple years, I have bought two Asus netbooks, the iPod Touch, a SmartQ 5 mobile internet device, and a Nokia N810 internet tablet in the quest for the ultimate portable computing but none of them really did what I wanted them to do.

Despite their small form factor and adequate processing power, the netbooks were really not as “pocketable” as the other devices. The iPod Touch was great but could not display Flash content. The SmartQ 5 and the N810 suffered from all the pitfalls of that plague underpowered Linux-based devices. It was not until I came upon the UMID mbook M1 that I felt that I have achieved real portable computing.

The UMID mbook M1 is one of the smallest netbooks in the market. When I say small, I mean tiny. Its dimensions is close to the size of two stacked checkbooks. The best part is that it’s powered by an Intel Atom processor and runs Windows XP. This means that I can have a complete web experience that includes being able to view Flash content. Since it’s on WinXP, I can install Adobe Reader to read PDFs without buying some kind of app. I can install MS Office or OpenOffice to open and edit my documents without worrying about compatibility and conversion issues. The mbook also has a 1.3 megapixel web cam so you can use it for video calls using Skype. It can do everything that the iPod Touch, SmartQ and N810 could not do. It even has a touch screen so you don’t need a mouse.

Now the mbook M1 is not perfect. It’s the first generation of mbooks and suffers from a mini USB port that needs an adapter to use and a semi-proprietary audio jack. All of these issues have been addressed in the newer mbook BZ model, which, in retrospect, was the model I should have gone with but I was trying save some money and got this older model instead.

Despite it’s flaws, it’s still a very capable portable device and I love it. There is nothing like having the ability to experience the web the way it was meant to be and the ability to watch Hulu on a device that fits in your pocket is also totally awesome.

Learn more about the UMID mbook M1 (or BZ) at Dynamism.com

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fun With Best Buy's Tap&Go

Last month, I received a letter from Best Buy that I was being pre-selected to try out their Best Buy Reward Zone MasterCard® PayPass™ Tap&Go™ tag. As it was explained to me, it is basically a RFID decal that you could stick on a mobile device that you always carry around like an mp3 player or your phone.

RFID (Radio-frequency identification) card is not a new thing. They've been in use for years in the US in passports, credit cards, and even in some cell phones. There's even a continuing debate on whether they are secure and whether company or governments could use it to invade your privacy, but don't worry. This post is not about me weighing in on those issues. I'll save that kind of stuff for a rainy and boring day.

What has gotten me posting is the fact that this RFID is being presented in the form of a decal. I read somewhere on Wikipedia (so take this with a grain of salt) that Dairy Queen and some company called Vivotech was actually working on RFID decals to give to their customers as part of their new loyalty and rewards program. Basically, Dairy Queen customers could get coupons and discounts if they held the decal over the RFID sensor at their stores. I guess Best Buy and their financial provider, HSBC, just took the decal idea and placed a credit card RFID chip instead.

At the moment, I'm having a lot of fun with the Tap&Go tag which I placed on my cellphone. The look on people's faces and listening to their reactions when I pay by tapping my cellphone on their express pay terminals has been quite fun and revealing. So many places didn't even know that the credit card terminals could handle contact-less payments and I had to explain to them what the "express pay" symbol on their terminals meant. Some new about it, but didn't know that credit card Tap&Go decals existed.

To learn more about Reward Zone MasterCard® PayPass™ Tap&Go™ tag, visit https://www.rzmctag.com/

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow In Pensacola

The weather man said that it would snow in Pensacola, Florida today, but I haven't seen a flake fall from the sky. All that it's done is rain and be cold. Now, some people have claimed to have seen snow and some have even taken pictures of small white specks floating in the air, but those people don't work or live anywhere where I am.

At the moment, the rain has stopped but it's still cold. I don't think I'll see snow anytime soon around where I am. Too bad. I was somewhat excited at the prospect.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

And So We Shift

Hopefully you've noticed that this blog has shifted from being on http://www.byte-monkey.com and now on to http://bytemonkey.blogspot.com. This because Blogger, owned by Google, has decided to discontinue support for FTP service for bloggers who host their blogs on their own servers. (Here's the official announcement).

Blogger decided that FTP users were too much of a drain on their resources and decided that everyone of their users should just use their 'blogspot.com' servers. They claim that this will increase performance and allow users to use new features that were only available to those who chose to host their blogs on blogspot.

As a consolation, Blogger does offer a paid custom domain name service which will allow users to have their custom web address that is not tied to their 'blogspot.com' domain name. Unfortunately, this does not help people who already have their own registered domain name. These people will ultimately have to reconfigure their domain to resolve to the 'blogspot.com' server and correct for any orphaned links.

All in all, it's just one big giant headache for FTP publishers, but Blogger has promised to provide some migration documents for anyone willing to spend their time correcting and patching their blogs. Although, I suspect that most Blogger.com FTP publishers will probably choose to abandon the service and seek out other blogging platforms like WordPress or Drupal. To be honest, if you're looking at spending hours to patch your blog so it will work with someone else's domain name, you'll probably want to consider starting fresh with something that has proven to be stable and well-supported by communities of users just so you can keep your domain name.

As for me, I've decided to just shift this blog into 'blogspot.com.' Sure it was tedious, but I actually enjoy working with code. The byte-monkey.com domain will remain and will contain the portal page to my various online blogging accounts. I'll also be hosting my pictures on my server because I don't trust Google's communal servers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hunting for DC Universe Classics

Over the last week, I have become obsessed with collecting DC Universe Classics action figures. I've been running around town and visiting all the different stores to see what kind of figures they have.

To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what triggered this obsession. I just remembered waking up one morning and thinking that I needed to get them. Maybe I'm going through a second pre-mid-life crisis. Either that, or I am quickly going insane (which is probably what really is happening).

I'll post some pictures once I get them organized. I've been practicing my macro shots, so they should be somewhat interesting.

Losing to the Battery Man

Well, just as I predicted. My eBay fiasco has ended badly. The seller doesn't have the missing caps nor do they know where I can get them. They decided to give me a refund of $3 for my trouble. I demanded that they change their eBay descriptions to say that they do not include the missing end cap. They had no response to my request and I doubt they'll update them.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

eBay Fails Me

Last week, I bought a replacement battery for one a laptop that I am fixing. In an effort to be thrifty, I decided to buy the battery from eBay which in hindsight was a dumb thing to do. Now, I'm stuck in customer service hell.

Normally, I have had issued with eBay sellers not shipping in a timely manner. This time, the shipping was quick, but the it was missing the end cap that snaps the battery into the case and prevents it from falling out. So, I contact the seller and tell them about this, and they tell me that the battery doesn't come with a cap. Annoyed, I took pictures and drew diagrams of what was missing and replied back to the seller. They then apologize and offered me $3 for inconveniencing me. Yes, they offered me $3 for selling me what is essentially a defective product. I ask if they would take it back and give me my money back. They said they would do minus a restocking fee and that I would have to pay for priority shipping for the return shipping, which cost as much as the battery. To say the least, I will not be doing a return.

I asked if they would sell me the missing part. At this point, I'm willing to pay for the missing part. They replied back asking me why I couldn't use the original end cap from he original battery. I couldn't do that because the laptop was already missing to begin with. The only way to get that part is to get a new battery. But it irks me that these people didn't answer my question. They just fired off their own questions to where I now have to fix their defective product with my own parts.

I'm still trying to figure out how to respond to them. I just know that this will drag on and I'll still end up losing. *sigh*

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ubuntu on Everything!

Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been busy at work and a couple of side projects.

On a techie side note, I managed to successfully install Ubuntu on an "old world" beige PowermacG3 at work. It took me two weeks of tinkering to get it to work, but I actually did something that everyone around me said was a lost cause or a waste of time. I guess those people don't know how determined I can get when I have my mind set on something. So, what was essentially just a doorstop, is now a fully functional and useful Linux box.

That little adventure inspired me to put Linux on a couple of older machines that I keep for sentimental reasons. One of the laptops already had a different type of Linux on it but it didn't have a lot of applications that worked with it leaving me mostly frustrated with it. The other old laptop that ran Windows XP. It was having some major performance issue because the hard drive was starting to get really full from all updates that Microsoft keeps pumping out to correct their sloppy programming. Both laptops are doing pretty well under Ubuntu. In fact, I'm writing this post on the former WinXP box.

Using Linux, especially Ubuntu, is not scary or hard. In fact, it's insanely easy and it's very similar to what you're already familiar with. It's not some kind of "matrix" screen that some non-computer literate people think.

For me, running Ubuntu is like having all the protection and flexibility that Mac people brag about but without having to become a pretentious, tech-bling toting, douche-bag. Plus, I'm saving the environment by preventing these computers from ending up in some landfill. Can you say the same thing when you buy a computer? How many trees died to make the box, manuals, and advertising inserts? How much pollutants were released into the environment when you made all that new shiny parts of your new fancy computer?

Just because your computer is not the latest or greatest, or whether it has significantly slowed down from all the crapware you unknowingly picked up along the way, it doesn't mean that you have to chunk it and get a brand-new one. Do yourself a favor. Consider using Linux/Ubuntu to bring your computer back from a state of being obsolete and unlock it's true potential. Trust me. Your wallet and the environment will thank you.

Save a tree. Learn Linux.