Compu-Home Blog

These articles by Malcolm and John Harding address current issues in the world of personal computing. We hope you find them helpful! If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.

Compu-Home Has Moved (Just a Bit)

Posted May 23, 2017

Just a brief heads-up to our loyal Compu-Home customers in the neighbourhood, that our computer workshop has moved, to 3841 Albion Road South.  This move was long overdue and now we have a more suitable space and facilities to work on equipment when it cannot be fixed at your premises.  Our telephone number, website and email address have not changed, and the new workshop is actually only a few minutes away from our old address.

 

Hope to see you soon,

Malcolm, Cory, Dan, Frances and John

3841 Albion Road South (Corner of Kingsdale)

Gloucester (Ottawa)

613-731-5954

info@compu-home.com

Have I reached the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?

Posted May 23, 2017

With the old “Phone Book” gone the way of the Polar Ice Cap, you often turn instead to the computer when you need the telephone number of a business to call for help.  On the surface, this would seem to be a quick, convenient and up-to-date way to access a number and sometimes you can even save some time by distinguishing the various departments or locations that you might need to reach.  Another time you look up a site is when you want to download some little utility that you need, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, or maybe the free version of an anti-virus utility.

Google or other search sites are quick and efficient for these purposes, but you must be wary of a couple of complications. First is the possibility of clicking on a link that is not the genuine site that it appears to be.  If you want to talk to Rogers, or Bell, or Hewlett Packard, or Microsoft, etc., it is very easy to be waylaid into an imposter site that looks just like the real thing, but is in fact a call centre run by crooks who will offer worthless advice and charge an arm and a leg for it.  Always be sure that the web address (the http://www.etc.) is the real company, and while you are at it, give yourself a head start by seeing if there is a Canadian (.ca instead of .com) version.

Next is when you are looking for a website that offers a download of something that you need (Adobe Acrobat Reader, for example again) and you find what appears to be your source, but it turns out not to be owned and operated by the actual publisher of that software.  Adobe is a long-established and reputable company and you are quite safe in downloading software from the real Adobe website.  The problem is that if you search for “Adobe Acrobat Reader Download” you will find pages upon pages of alternate locations from which you can download Reader and many of them may not be legitimate, because they will lead you to the same old scams, or fly-by-night “alternatives” to the software you really want.

Another time to be careful is when you are downloading and installing the program.  Lots of very handy little utilities are out there, available at no charge.  (One example that we recommend constantly is “Irfanview” which is a free program for very simple editing of photos.)  These publishers have to pay the rent and so instead of charging for their program, they sometimes enter into agreements with one another, and there will be an unobtrusive little checkbox during installation that bundles in another program that might have been useful to you in some circumstances, but perhaps not right now.  A common example might be an anti-virus program and you certainly don’t want that if you already have one working on your computer – and so you have to watch out for those little boxes!

Terrific Tech Travel Tips

Posted May 19, 2017

The Internet and mobile devices have made a huge contribution to the convenience of the modern traveller.  Whether you travel for business or pleasure, the ability to make, confirm and change reservations and other arrangements, check routes on Google Maps and keep in touch with folks (and banks) back home all leave you with more time to be productive and enjoy your time away.

 

Essential checklist:

Passport

:  Losing a passport or other identification and cards is probably right up there with most travellers’ worst nightmares.  Having photos of the front and back of everything – both paper copies and also saved on a tablet or phone – will not likely allow you to stroll right through security, but they certainly will help while you are jumping through the hoops and making the frantic phone calls.

:  Hands up real quickly everyone who has all of their passwords memorized!  Most of us have some sort of system, whether it’s online, notebook, scraps of paper or fatalistic hoping-for-the-best, but you can be 100% sure that when you are far from home is the very moment that you will urgently need the password for your bank, credit card, or some other vital website.  How you make that information available while you are away will depend on your personal system; just make sure you have something that you can rely on.  Allowing the browser on your laptop to save the password for a site is certainly dangerous, but it sure is handy.

heavy backpack:  Most airlines allow for a “personal bag” in addition to a carry-on suitcase.  In our case, that bag has nothing but electronics.  Our personal criterion for what must be kept at hand and in sight at all times is simply how expensive and time-consuming it would be to have to replace something quickly and conveniently, if it didn’t survive the trip.  A camera is a no-brainer; nobody wants to have to be without their camera or go out and buy a replacement for the one that was stolen from a checked bag.  What might not seem like such an obvious example is that it is probably going to be impossible to buy the charger for your specific camera batteries if yours goes walkabout, and so chargers go into the backpack too.  All too soon that backpack gets pretty heavy but fortunately, airlines don’t usually weigh that personal bag.

:  Install the Skype app on your laptop, tablet or smartphone, with your User ID and Password easily available.  A nifty feature of skypeSkype is that you can purchase “Skypeout” credit, which allows you to call from your computer to telephone numbers anywhere in the world for pennies.  (A call from Canada to Thailand costs less than 5 cents per minute.)  You can Skypeout from the Internet available in hotels, restaurants, airports or even trains and in the end this may mean that you do not need a roaming package for your phone if you are traveling in a country with widespread wifi hotspots.  (Unexpectedly, lots of other countries seem to be better than the USA and Canada, for some reason.  You simply hand your phone to a waiter in any hole-in-the-wall café and ask him to get you onto the network.)

:  If you are going to rent a car, do that in advance from home using one of the sites that compares rates and choices, whenever possible.  Even then, check extremely carefully what will and will not be included.  If you can choose and stick with the loss leader, you will save a huge pot of money; add-ons will quickly at least double the charges.  Call your own auto insurance broker before leaving, to nail down whether or not you need the rental company’s insurance.

GPS2

GPS

:  Take your own GPS, if you intend to rent a car.  This will allow you to update in advance the GPS maps for the area where you will be driving.  A rental GPS is very expensive and may not be updated, especially if it is one of the models built into the dashboard.

 

 

 

:  An external (USB) wireless adapter, with an extra-long USB cable can be a big help, at a very modest cost.  Sometimes it’s simply not possible to position your laptop or tablet in a location to “see” the wifi router in a resort, hotel or apartment.  It is usually a simple matter to disable the internal wireless antenna and substitute the external one, which you can then dangle from a window, around a corner, or find another strategic location.  An adapter with extended range because it has a foldout antenna will cost about $30.00.

:  A “Mobile Wifi Dongle” might be a consideration for travel to some places.  In Canada we are familiar with devices that provide Internet over the cellularDongle network like Rogers’ “Rocket Stick” and Bell’s “Turbo Stick”. These are pretty expensive and usually available only on contract and so they tend to be attractive only when you urgently need to be connected from a cottage or some other location where traditional Internet is not available.  On the other hand, in lots of countries you can drop into a store on the street or an airport kiosk and pick up an equivalent device at a very attractive short-term price that gives you quite good speed and coverage, and pretty decent download capacity, and no contract.  Furthermore, if you exceed your original plan you can very easily “top up” your device at a reasonable rate.  https://www.uswitch.com/broadband/mobile_broadband/ is a British site that compares some of the companies and plans for mobile dongles in England, and service and prices are quite similar in the rest of Europe.

:  A USB adapter (or the proprietary equivalent for iPads) allows you to upload the day’s photos from your camera card.  First, it is fun to see the results of the day’s excursions on a full-sized screen.  Second, seeing a blown-up version of recent shots will help you to notice that piece of lint on the camera lens that will ruin all of your photos for the rest of your holiday, unless you clean it.

battery

 

:  A spare battery for your camera doesn’t take up much room in a pocket, and an extra memory card can be quickly swapped in if the one you are using is full, and not having to make room on the card by deleting photos means that you always have a backup.

 

 

 

Adapter

 

 

:  Check your devices and chargers to see their range of voltages.  (If you’re over 20, you will probably need a magnifying glass for this job.) It may surprise you to find how many of them will work in both 120V and 240V countries, which means that you will be able to get away with just the adapter for the plug and you won’t need a heavy and expensive voltage transformer.

 

 

:  So far, we have not yet taken the time to learn how to display tickets and reservations on a phone or tablet, but we sure envy the people who can flash a screen at a conductor or a ticket counter, without having to fumble through endless piles of paper.  Mastering that is our next project.

Trivago

:  Signing up for an account with Expedia.ca, Hotwire.ca, TripAdvisor.ca and maybe some other travel sites costs nothing, and offers quite a few advantages.  First is the obvious fact that they quickly collect a lot of information for you and allow you to make choices based on price, location, availability, features and so on, in the language of your choice.  Booking can be as simple as a couple of clicks, and cancellation policies are clearly spelled out, and are the best you are going to get.  Next is the uniformity of how transactions are recorded and displayed when they are emailed to you.  Everything can be dragged to a folder and the information is quickly available later.  So far we have never accumulated enough points at any of the sites to earn us some goodies, but maybe someday. . .

What the Heck Is a Range Extender?

Posted Feb 21, 2017 | 1 Comment

It may come as a shock to our readers, but one of our bloggers is “of a certain age” and can remember back into pre-historic times when homes had NO computers at all. These days multiple computers, tablets, smartphones, television connections, and high-speed Internet, usually operating wirelessly, are not uncommon. Even folks who have only one computer might enjoy the convenience of being able to access the Internet in various parts of the house without dragging wires behind them. The advantage of portability first became apparent back in the early 2000s when laptops began to outsell desktops, and the computer became liberated from the office desk. Now almost all devices, including desktops, have wireless capability. Alas, sometimes there are dead spots in the wifi coverage in our houses, and it is uncanny how often that dead spot is precisely the place where we would like to be connected. This could be a job for a range extender.

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Is a Chromebook in My Future?

Posted Feb 6, 2017 | 2 Comments

chromebook

 

 

Anyone who has been shopping for a laptop computer lately has been surprised at least momentarily when they have stumbled across a couple of machines that are much cheaper than most of the others on the shelf.  Most laptops of even moderate specifications are $400 and up, but there are these few particular exceptions that start in the low $200s and top out at less than $400. Is this too good to be true?  Not necessarily.  For many people, the pros and cons of a Chromebook are worth considering.

 

WHAT IS IT?

Simply put, a Chromebook is a laptop that runs on Google’s Chrome OS (Operating System).  Although this OS has certain limitations in comparison with Microsoft Windows or an Apple OS, it does have surprising capabilities in today’s web-based computing world. Google itself sells models of Chromebooks, but other well-known manufacturers such as Acer, Asus and Hewlett-Packard have their own offerings, in ranges of speed and power.  Some versions are even convertible to tablets.

 

WHAT CAN IT DO?

When you start up a Chromebook, the first (and almost the only) thing that you will be offered is the Chrome browser.  This, with a wifi connection (but probably not Ethernet) will allow you access to any function that the web provides such as web-based email, banking, research, booking a hotel, checking your calendar, planning a route on a map, and so on.  A set of very basic apps will also be available, so that you can do rudimentary photo editing, enjoy some games, or play back music and videos.  Most important for some people is access to Google Drive, which is basically an online office suite that is integrated with cloud file storage. This allows creation, storage and sharing of documents, spreadsheets, photos, presentations, music and even (with April looming) tax records.  Google Drive offers 15 Gigabytes of cloud storage free, and you can buy additional increments.

 

One nifty feature of most Chromebooks is to allow various user accounts, so that everyone can log into their own established preferences, look and shortcuts.

 

WHAT CAN’T IT DO?

You may have noticed that nowhere above did we mention a hard disk for local storage of files and programs.  That is because there isn’t one – at least not really.  Most Chromebooks do have a miniscule solid-state disk to hold the OS, a few apps, and very little else.  In fact, many smartphones have a larger hard disk than many Chromebooks.  This is why there is such emphasis on web-based apps and cloud storage.  That having been said, most models do have at least one USB 3.0 port and many have a slot for an SD camera card.  Although these are external storage solutions, the modern-day speed of these devices does allow you to approximate an internal hard disk, in a clunky sort of way.

 

For once, we are going to go out on a limb and offer some concrete advice:  A Chromebook will probably not be satisfactory as the only computer in the house.  On the other hand, the speed and low cost make the Chromebook a serious contender as a second or later machine for carrying to class, lugging back and forth to the office, or even for keeping you up to date on a vacation.