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Saturday, November 9, 2013

1417. Custom music - your own radio station.

I know there are lots of ways to listen to music online, but I’d love to be able to create something like a radio station that played only songs I like. What are my options?
Doug’s never been into purchasing CDs, but Ken used to purchase a lot of them—he’s got a huge collection of them in boxes. Of course, he rarely plays any of them; they’re all ripped and stored on a network-attached storage (NAS) device, and he can enjoy any of his music anywhere in his house, or on the road, by simply streaming it from the NAS. When Ken stops buying CDs, you know the world has really changed; that time has come. Just as cassette and 8-track tapes finally disappeared (although there are still folks using cassette tapes to listen to music, they’re few and far between), CDs are at the end of their life cycle, and we couldn’t be happier. At this point, the discs and their packaging are an environmental nightmare; and, since you cannot recycle the unwanted discs, they simply end up eating space in landfills.
Clearly, unless you’re a serious audiophile who requires the highest fidelity reproduction, digitized music (which is almost always compressed in some way, and therefore loses some of its fidelity to the original source) stored on a hard drive (local or cloud-based) is the way to go at this point. The question is, however: Where do you find the music you want to listen to, in a continuous stream? You can purchase tracks from any of several different sources, but then it’s up to you to create your own playlists. The question here is how to create something like a personalized radio station that can play music you like, continuously. (You may note that we’re not even discussing “illegal” sources of online music—we have no interest in contemplating how you can find copyrighted music for free.)
Although music services come and go, and you may have your own favorite, Ken strongly favors Pandora.com, which allows you to easily create your own “stations” by supplying search keywords. Pandora provides both a free and a paid service: If you opt for the free service, you get a lot of ads and restrictions on how many songs you can skip; the paid service allows for fewer restrictions and no ads.
To try it out, Ken browsed to http://www.pandora.com, and when asked, entered the name Debussy (to hear music of the classical composer Claude Debussy). Music started playing immediately, and soon other music like that of Debussy’s filled the room (as did ads, unfortunately, without a paid account). If you’re a fan of Johnny Cash, for example, you could enter that name and create a Johnny Cash station. You can create as many different stations as you like, and switch between them as the mood suggests.
We suggest trying out Pandora to see if it fits your needs. You can use it for free, but you’ll be happier with a paid account.

You might also want to investigate other options: Spotify (http://www.spotify.com) and the new Beats Music (http://www.beatsmusic.com) also provide large catalogs of music, for a fee. (Spotify has a free service, like Pandora, with somewhat irritating ads.) No matter which option you choose, you’ll be able to play just the music you like, in a continuous stream.

1416. Getting the skinny on techy products. How?

I often try to purchase techie products online, but never know which one is best. Is there some unbiased place I can look for information?

It Is funny - I used to subscribe to the Consumer Reports website but it's not free and to be honest the reviews seem a little outdated to me on technical products.

I found a website that has truly helped me in a lot of recent purchases and that is the wirecutter.com. They do in-depth technical reviews of technical products. They bring in technical experts in the field of that particular product and it's really helpful for picking up things like flat screen TVs or computers or other technical products.

They have a alternate site a sister site as it were witch is the  Sweethome.com which does the same thing for home products. So if you need to find the best fruit peeler or turkey fryer I cannot recommend this site highly enough. 

On the other end were talking about technical products here so check out the wirecutter.com. It's free and full of good information.




1415. Wireless speakers - are there any good ones?

I’d like to have music available in several rooms in my house, but I really don’t want to install wired speakers in multiple rooms. Is there some wireless sounds system that works well?
Kens’ house came wired for sound in most of the rooms, and the wiring connects up to an antiquated system of wall plates that allows you to change volume and sound source, but nothing else. In a modern world, you should be able to change the content easily without having to trudge back to the audio source. In addition, adding wired speakers to an existing home is difficult and expensive, normally, because it involves invasive work inside walls. We suggest you avoid this if at all possible!
If you’re just sitting in one place, or if you want a portable speaker you can move from room to room, and if you’re interested in playing music you have stored on a portable device, almost any Bluetooth speaker will do. There are a ton of battery-powered Bluetooth speakers available, and each of these uses the short-range (up to 30 ft) Bluetooth standard to connect to almost any portable device. If you’re interested in this sort of arrangement, you might find this article useful in making a shopping choice: http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/the-best-bluetooth-speaker/.
If, on the other hand, you would like a whole-home audio system that you can control from a handheld device (or a computer), we highly recommend the Sonos system (http://www.sonos.com). It isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t sound cheap either.  Sonos speakers use their own wireless mesh network to communicate, and only one of the Sonos devices in your home needs to connect to a network in order to retrieve music from the Web and to be controlled by your devices.
Ken got turned onto these speakers a few years back, and has three Sonos devices in his home. The nice part is that not only are the speakers small, somewhat portable, and easy to set up, they sound great. In addition, you can control all aspects of the sound system from a phone, tablet, or computer, using the Sonos software. You can easily have different music in three different rooms, or group all three rooms together so that the same music is playing in all three simultaneously. You can stop and start any room’s music from your device or computer, and you can stream music from a large number of sources, including online radio stations (most radio stations stream their content online, including our local stations), Spotify, Pandora, Sirius/XM satellite radio, and more. If you have local MP3 files (or any other type of digitized music), the Sonos software can find it and play it, as well. All in all, we’re very pleased with the Sonos system, and highly recommend it.

Sonos isn’t the only option—Bose and other companies make comparable systems, using slightly different technology. We haven’t tried them, however—that doesn’t mean they’re not great, but we can vouch for the Sonos system.

1414. Extra Battery or Case to Extend Phone Life


I have a friend whose phone battery never lasts past 2PM. She’s done all the standard things to help extend battery life (turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when they’re not needed, turning off location services for most apps, turning down the screen brightness, and so on) but she still can’t get a full day’s use from the device. What are her options now?
We certainly know the feeling—we have all these settings configured appropriately, yet our batteries run dry midday sometimes as well! If you’re travelling in an area with poor cell coverage, for example, your phone spends far too much effort trying to connect to the cell network, and this effort can run your battery down.
To extend your battery life, assuming you’ve made all the appropriate software settings, your next best bet is to invest in some sort of external battery. The simplest option is to examine the various battery cases that are available for your device. A battery case is a combination of a standard phone case with an external battery, and clearly, this sort of case must be designed specifically for your phone. For popular phones, you’ll find a plethora of different manufacturers providing these cases. For the iPhone 5/5s, the WireCutter web site recommends the Lenmar Meridian so far (the options grow daily): http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/the-best-iphone-5-battery-case-is-the-lenmar-meridian-so-far/. Popular manufacturers include Belkin and Mophie (http://www.belkin.com and http://www.mophie.com).
If you’d prefer a more generalized solution, you can pick up one of the many different external battery packs. These small devices are available in various sizes; the power of the battery is measured in milliamp hours (mAH) and in general, the larger the number of mAH that the battery provides, the better. Most of these battery packs work the same way: You charge the battery at home, and then carry it with you to charge your device while away from a power source. The larger the battery, of course, the less convenient you’ll find it to carry the battery with you. The iPhone 5, for example, includes a 1445 mAH battery. An external battery pack that supplies 5000 mAH can charge this phone at least three times when it’s fully charged. The new iPad Air has an 8820 mAH battery, so the same battery pack wouldn’t be able to completely charge the iPad Air. There are so many of these batteries available, it’s hard to recommend the right one for you. You can check out the review on The Wirecutter (http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/the-best-usb-battery-pack/), although the field of options changes daily. The nice part about using an external battery pack is that it can work with any device, and isn’t tied to any specific form factor. Ken has this highly recommended model: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0089DZNS4/?tag=thewire06-20. Your best bet is to search online for “external battery pack review” and see what turns up.




1413. iPhone 5C and 5S. Which one?

I don’t understand why Apple released both the iPhone 5C and the iPhone 5S. What’s the difference? Which one is right for me?
It’s true: If you want a new iPhone at this point, you must choose between the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S. The iPhone 5C is the colorful one—it’s available in green, blue, yellow, pink, and white. Apparently, there are folks who need a phone of a particular color (Doug and Ken don’t fall into that category.) The iPhone 5S is the one with the fingerprint reader, the better camera, and the faster processor. In other words, it’s way more advanced than the iPhone 5C. They’re both available with multiple storage options; both are available with 16 or 32GB of storage, and the 5S offers a 64GB option, as well. These sizes have nothing to do with the speed or power of the phone—they simply indicate how much “stuff” you can store on the phone. If you use your phone to watch videos (Ken does this for hours every day at the gym), you’ll have to consider how much space you need: If you stream your video from iTunes, Netflix, Amazon or Hulu+, then you won’t need much storage space. If you tend to download videos from iTunes to keep with you, you’ll need as much storage space as you can afford.
Doug and Ken both sprung for the iPhone 5S, which is $100 more than the 5C in every configuration. Not only is its camera and processor better, but the fingerprint reader provides quick access to the phone when it’s locked (and it should be, whenever you’re not using it).
There’s no “right” phone for everyone, and we can’t recommend the right one for you, as well. Apple’s web site allows you to compare the phones: http://www.apple.com/iphone/compare/.  It’s useful to note that you can still get the iPhone 4S for free on a new contract. You can only get the 8GB model, but note that it’s quite a step down from the 5S or 5C—but it is free. Also note that if you already have an iPhone 5, it’s hard to justify the upgrade to a 5C, because they’re essentially the same phone except for the colors. The upgrade from an iPhone 5 to a 5S is a little less hard to justify, but it’s probably worth waiting for the inevitable iPhone 6.

If you need a new phone now, and if you’re sold on the Apple/iOS world, you can’t go wrong with either the iPhone 5C or 5S. We suggest looking at the 5S if you can afford the $100 premium, and think carefully about how much space you’ll need. We both went with the smallest size, since neither of us tends to carry a lot of music and video content around with us.

1412. Remove a Wireless connection in Windows 8.1 missing?

I can't find the option to "forget" the settings for an existing wireless Internet connection in Windows 8.1. Where did that option go, and how do I remove a network's settings in Windows 8.1?

If you listen to us you have to understand that these questions don't just come out of nowhere. This one came about because Doug and I were sitting in a room trying to get some work done and we couldn't figure out how to remove the settings for existing network connection. 

We knew we have done this in Windows 7 and Windows 8.0 but we just couldn't find it in Windows 8.1.   And the reason we couldn't find it is because it's gone.  There is no user interface to remove an existing wireless Internet connections in Windows 8.1.  

You can do it. You have to go to the command line and type some arcane command using the net command and no one knows how to do it offhand, But we do have a tip on the website which will lead it will link that shows how to remove an Internet connection setting with Windows 8.1. Give it a look if that's something you need to do.



1421. Make sure you are in the right Google account

I have multiple Google accounts and I can't tell which account I am logged into. Is there some way I can be logged into multiple and switch between them?

This has been an irritation to me lately. I have a number of Google identities. One for my Google Analytics, one for Google Voice, my Google Gmail account, and my Google Business account. Sadly you could actually be logged into two accounts at the same time. This caused a major problem when the password was changed. It turned out I didn't know which account got the new password. Confusing to say the least.

Since then Google has fixed this issue and you can only be logged into one at a time. To check which account you are in check the Account profile in the upper right area of the web page. I need to do this often.

Google has provided a way to switch between the multiple account easily. From he Account profile click the drop down and select Add Account. Once signed into multiple accounts the same dialog allows you to switch between accounts. Having differnt pictures for each account can help.

Some Google applications do not support this feature.

Google is also striving to combine accounts to minimize these issues.

But be aware of which account you are in so you don't send emails from the wrong account.  It could prove embarrassing.




1420. Considering the Surface 2


I remember seeing commercials on TV for Microsoft’s Surface tablet, and now I hear that the Surface 2 has been released. What’s up? I assume the Surface 2 is bigger/better/shinier, but what’s the scoop? Is this model worth the money? Should I consider this as a Windows 8 upgrade computer?
You could say it’s definitely bigger, better, and faster than the original Surface. OK, maybe not bigger—it’s exactly the same size—but it is significantly faster and better. First of all, what is the Surface? Think back to Apple’s introduction of the iPad in 2010. This enormously successful tablet computer changed the way people interact with computers, and since 2010, Microsoft has been struggling to keep up. With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft added significant support for touch computing, and the Surface tablet was Microsoft’s entry into the huge array of Windows 8 tablet computers.
Microsoft created two versions of the Surface tablet: The Surface tablet runs Windows 8 RT, which runs only Microsoft’s “Modern UI” applications (the full-screen touch-centric applications that you see in their commercials). The Surface Pro runs these applications, plus any application written for the Windows desktop (including most, if not all, applications that ran under Windows 7)—in other words, it’s a full-featured, portable computer that also works as a tablet in touch mode.
The Surface 2 is a faster, more powerful version of the Surface. Again, it’s available in two versions (RT and Pro), and if you’re considering using it as your only computer, you should only investigate the Surface 2 Pro (because the Surface 2 won’t run legacy Windows applications).
Doug purchased a Surface 2 Pro and is quite happy with it, as his only day-to-day computer. He admits that the screen real estate can be somewhat cramped, but if he needs more room, it’s easy to add an external monitor and expand the size of the screen. That doesn’t work when traveling, of course, and the screen is just fine for most casual users, as is. (Note that using the Surface 2 Pro as a tablet, touching the screen, really only works well when running Modern UI applications—standard Windows desktop applications, like Microsoft Word, really require a keyboard. Luckily, Microsoft will be happy to sell you an excellently engineered keyboard that attaches to the Surface 2—Doug likes his a lot.)

The bottom line? If you’re considering getting a Windows 8 tablet-based computer, the Surface 2 Pro is an excellent choice. We strongly recommend against purchasing a previous version at this point, as the newer one is so much more powerful (and faster)!

1418. How do I save battery power on my phone?

I try not to be that guy that stands around all day looking at his phone every 10 seconds, but sometimes it happens, and my phone runs out of juice by 2PM. What can I do to preserve battery power when I know I’m going to be out and about all day?
One option, of course, is to travel with an external battery, either as a separate device or as a battery case for your phone—that’s a topic for a different tip, however. The first step to increasing battery power shouldn’t be throwing money at it, but instead, trying to find ways to optimize the battery you’ve got.
Basically, preserving battery power boils down to turning off everything you can—the screen, and each individual radio in your device consume battery power. Reducing the screen brightness can help a great deal, as will turning off WiFi and/or Bluetooth when you’re not using them. Location Services (in other words, using the GPS) can consume a lot of battery power, as well, so turn off these services for any application that doesn’t absolutely require them.
Another thing to consider is your use of applications that receive data while in the background. This feature is new for iOS 7 (assuming you’re an Apple user), but it allows applications like your calendar to wake up and retrieve data even when you’re not using your phone. You can control this feature on an app-by-app basis, so take the time to configure the settings for each app if you want to maximize your battery life.
In addition, your phone constantly attempts to connect to the cellular network. If you’re in a rural area with low coverage, yet have your phone set to use LTE or even 4G, it’s possible that it will expend a lot of energy attempting to connect to the selected high-speed network. If you know you won’t be in a covered area all day, turn off the high-speed setting for your phone’s cellular radio. This can also save you a lot of battery life.
You can find many articles about preserving your device’s battery life online, but we found simple, helpful articles for both iOS and Android users. You might start by trying the things described in these articles. For iOS users, try this link: http://www.wikihow.com/Save-Battery-Power-on-an-iPhone. For Android users, try this link: http://www.wikihow.com/Save-Battery-Power-on-an-Android.


1419. iPhone profile configuratiion for setting up your phone.

I have a friend with a small company and wants to provide iPhones to their employee's. Is there some way to help setup and control the iPhone settings on your PC or Mac? 

How does this work?

There is a Utility you can get for your PC as well as your Mac to help you setup your iPhone or group of iPhones. It is commonly used in an Enterprise environment to control the use of phones, but with the smartphones becoming more complicated you can use this utility to help you maintain your own personal phone.

It lets you create and maintain most of your settings on the phone including your applications, WiFi settings, email accounts and security certificates.

You should always backup your iPhone settings but this utility allows more control up front and if you need to reset things it becomes easy to do things over with changes where needed.

Look into the iPhone Configuration Utility at your Apple web site. www.apple.com

1422. Backup, backup, backup, then test the restore

I know we are not the norm but I think it is important to have backups of my computers. And I know you do. What kind of backups should we have? Online, archive, offsite?  How can people set this up?

Ken we are not the norm. But I do know that there are people that have done backups and needed them and there are people that wish they had done backups and will need them.

I recommend two kinds of backups. An ongoing image backup that can be used to completely restore your disk drive in case of total failure. Then there are the backups that will backup your day to day files that you create and change.

For PC's I don't really like the built in Windows backups. There are a number of companies that have very good backup software that provides Image backup as well as file backups.

I started using a product called Reflect from Macrium Software. They have a free version that does provide excellant Image backups. Their pay for products have more features and I found it to be the best product available. They do not integrate offsite backup at this time.

Other companies include Paragon Software and Acronis Software. I have run into some support issues with Acronis so I would consider other products. Although there current product True Image 2014 provide Image Backup and offsite file backup of 5GB in the same product.

The local image backup requires a hard drive and I recommend a USB portable drive. You can find them for $50-$150 depending on the size. Get something that is at least twice as big as your backup storage requirements.

Mac users have Time Machine. This is built into the Operating System. It gives your the image backup as well as files. It does not provide for offsite backup.

Sadly most people only do the day to day files if they do any backups. This is fine but consider the time and money it will take to recreate your computer status to how it looks today from when you bought it. In my case it would take me at least 8 hours. If I had an image backup I could restore my computer to it's current state in less than 30 minutes. I would bet it would be the same for most people.

The day to day file backup is critical as well and I recommend looking into backing up those files offsite in case of a complete disaster like fire. There are many ways to do this with companies like Carbonite.com, Mozy.com, Crashplan.com and there are websites providing free offsite storage like dropbox.com and skydrive.com 

The other important factor is even if you are doing your backups, if you haven't tested the procedure to restore your files you might as well not be doing the backup. I can't emphasize this enough. Get technical help testing the restore so you don't cause problems, like overlaying good data. I always use an extra disk drive to test my image restore.

Backup, backup, backup, and TEST the RESTORE.

1423. What is Mavericks and should I upgrade?

As a Mac user, I’ve heard a bunch about this new upgrade called Mavericks. The last time I did an upgrade it was all about Lion or something like that. Is it worth upgrading again?
After a long series of operating systems named after big cats (Leopard, Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, and just plain Lion), Apple apparently ran out of species and went for a new naming scheme, this time named after surfing beaches (Mavericks). The operating systems are actually named with user-friendly names (like Lion, and Mavericks) in addition to having a geek-friendly number (Mavericks is the same as OS X 10.9, Mountain Lion was OS X 10.8). Each version of the operating system Mac OS X, starting with Cheetah/OS X 10.0 in 2001, has added new functionality, user protections, and usability features.
Should you upgrade? Most likely, if your hardware will support the new operating system. You’ll find a list of requirements here: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht5842. You can find a list of new end-user features in Mavericks here: http://www.apple.com/osx/whats-new/. In addition to the changes listed on this site, there are many, many more changes “under the covers” that fix problems and add protection. It runs faster, and more efficiently, than the previous operating system. Mavericks is a free upgrade from the previous version of the operating system.

Before you attempt this, or any other operating system, you must ensure that your computer is completely backed up, and preferably, more than once. Ken uses both Super Duper (http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper) and Carbon Copy Cloner  (http://www.bombich.com/) to make two backups of his computer’s hard drive before he attempts any system upgrade, and you should consider this, as well. All it takes is the easy-to-use software, plus an external drive or two to hold the disk images. Once you have your backups (and Ken always boots from each of the backups to confirm that they’re complete and accurate), feel free to start the upgrade. As with any operating system upgrade, there are changes that may affect the way your computer operates, and how it interacts with you, but all in all, Mavericks is a solid, helpful upgrade, adding new features like iBooks and Maps support, as well as far superior support for multiple monitors and improved battery life in laptops.