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Tricks & Tips

Archive for May, 2008

Do More with Google

May 29th, 2008

I sure talk about Google a lot.  Honestly, Google does a lot for me.  I am extremely happy with their services.  However, Google does a lot more than just provide great search results.  Here are some other useful things you can put in the search box:

• “What time is it in Chicago” – returns local time in Chicago
• “1Z9999W99999999999” – returns the UPS tracking information for that package. Also try FedEx, and USPS.
• “Delta flight 123” – returns the flight details and status
• “100 dollars in euro” – returns (not very much!) the euros you would receive for $100 USD
• “movies 29649” – returns showtimes in Greenwood, SC
• “expialidostious” – offers a link for you to click the correct spelling: expialidosious. I use Google as a spell checker all the time! 😉

You can mix and match these with the TXT service options from my last tip as well.  Here are many more examples from Google:  http://www.google.com/help/features.html


4 Tricks for Your Phone

May 27th, 2008

Tired of pressing options (4, 7, 2, 2) to get a LIVE person on the phone when dialing a large company? www.gethuman.com is a list of user tested numbers and/or options that fast track you to a human. Extremely helpful when you’re frustrated. 😉 (You can always just try pressing zero a few hundred times, or screaming, either sometimes will take you right to someone (or hang up on you).)

Free 411
Stop calling 411 for $1 (or more) a call.  Try 1-800-FREE-411.  This free service, by Google, finds your listing and even offers to send a TXT message with the number.  Here’s a demo: http://www.google.com/goog411/index.html

Google’s TXT Services
Send a text message to GOOGL (46645) like, “Chinese restaurants, Times Square” or “Weather 29649” or “Define plethora” or “directions from 29649 to Atlanta, GA”  and you’ll get a text message right back.

Don’t forget about Jott.com.  I emailed once already about this (http://www.digitaloffice.com/tips/?p=9) and it really is a hidden jewel.  Dial Jott and it will send your transcribed chat to yourself or others. Easy for reminders!


Battery Backup

May 22nd, 2008

UPS BatteryLet me get right to the point: You need a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply, aka. “battery backup”) on most electronic devices you own, especially your computer. If you value your investment, or the data you have collected, don’t skimp here.

Without a UPS, your computer or other electronic device plugs into your electrical outlet and is subject to whatever voltage comes down the line. Low voltage (brownout), high voltage (spike or surge), or other conditions feed right into your device. This can cause minor damage or complete failure.

A UPS plugs into the outlet first. It conditions and protects the power it supplies to your computer. And they work well.  If they don’t, most manufactures offer a warranty of coverage of ($25,000 or more) to compensate.

A UPS is commonly known to provide battery time to sustain your computer while the power is out. On a basic UPS you have 5-20 minutes, tops. This is enough time to save your work and shutdown. Or to prevent shutdown if your power is on the blinks. To provide sustained uptime, that would be a generator. 😉

Recently an office we support had a rare incident of continuous high voltage throughout the office. Initially walking in in the morning, all the computers were off but the lights were on. Odd, but we later determined the UPSes disconnected power to the computers to protect them. A couple of hours later, the power company found a problem on their line. Other medical equipment in the office, not on UPS were fried.

Don’t wait for a problem to occur to take this serious. The common manufacture for UPSes is APC. Office Max sells these for $40 – $100.

Here’s a pretty well written FAQ I found online: http://www.jetcafe.org/~npc/doc/ups-faq.html.


(myname@embarmail.com, myname@charter.net, myname@myprovider.com)

You will lose your sacred email address…

  1. If you move to a new city (change Internet providers)

  2. If your Internet provider closes shop or if they get sold (EarthLink -> Embarq)

  3. Frustrated at your provider’s poor service? You’ll either have to change your email address or just live with the provider you have. 

We all grew up with email addresses just handed to us from our Internet provider. It came with it and we didn’t know any better. Things have changed and there are too many options available now that work so much better.

Free alternatives online offer advantageous:

  • Simplicity – gmail.com? yahoo.com? (easy to say on the phone)

  • Reliability – most large providers have servers all across the country, and world – uptime isn’t a problem

  • Easy to use – if you travel, webmail is available. When your home, you can use Outlook.

Google Mail is my favorite, hands down. A free email address, easy to use, and can be configured to work in Outlook. For me, their spam filters work 99% of the time.

The only option that supersedes the above web based options would be to have your own email address (e.g. firstname@yourname.com). This can’t be ripped away from you and you can move it along wherever you go in life, to any provider you like. You don’t have to have a website to use a custom domain name as part of your email address.

You might say, “I can’t change my email address now! Too many people know it.”  Don’t let years go by and you eventually end up without options.  I’d recommend adding a second email, and start using it now.  You can forward your previous address to the new and slowly migrate over the next year to your new.

Or, if you ever have to get a new email address, just think about the above.

Skip the @embarqmail.com address and go get a free one at www.gmail.com.


Windows XP SP3
A week or so ago, Microsoft released Service Pack 3 for Windows XP (SP3). It has been in beta for some time and now is available at www.windowsupdate.com. SP3 includes only a few new features but mostly focuses on security and is basically a compilation of previous updates.

Normally we encourage you to download all Microsoft Updates. SP3 is a major revision to Windows and is still quite new. I would recommend this update be performed down the road a bit. If you do pursue SP3 and have problems, of course we can help, or Microsoft has phone support available at no charge: (866) 234-6020 (or online contact:  http://support.microsoft.com/oas/default.aspx?ln=en-us&prid=11273&gprid=522131)

Windows Vista SP1
Microsoft began automatic distribution of Service Pack 1 for Vista on April 23rd. There are tons of updates and new features here: additional hardware compatibility, great looking updates to common functions within Vista, and general fixes, not to get specific. 😉 Better yet, I found a quote online from one that has already updated: “I have been testing it today and I think it’s worth doing… The benefits I’ve seen so far are an increase in speed, decrease in CPU cycling and my laptop seems to run cooler.” Sounds nice, I hope it works so well.

Like SP3 for XP, I’ll probably wait a month or two for the kinks to be worked out by someone else. Please also note that although both updates are official released, they may only be available on some computers as they slowly open the download.

Off topic, but time sensitive: Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate for $59.95:
Students, educators, or per Microsoft, anyone with a .edu email address can purchase MS Office 2007 Ultimate for $59.95 between now and May 16, 2008. This isn’t a hoax… I’ve checked out. Ultimate includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Accounting Express, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Groove, and InfoPath. Ultimate edition is over $400, normally.
Visit http://www.theultimatesteal.com/


Have you ever second guessed your antivirus software? Have you been concerned that spyware may be on your computer? We run utilities that protect us, but sometimes things still get through.

There is an online scanner available for free. You have to manually run it, but if you ever need a second opinion or you suspect problems with performance, give Trend Micro a try. It will give you a summary when done, and then resolve most issues right then!


Click the “Scan now. It’s Free” red link. Sometimes you then have to click “Start Scan” (DO NOT click “Get it FREE now”).


New AVG Free 8.0

May 8th, 2008

Windows Only

The popular free choice for virus protection, AVG, announced a new version recently:  (http://www.grisoft.com/us.93836). I just tested it out myself and it seems like a great upgrade.

Version 8 includes new features and a new, easier to use interface. It’s supposed to be faster, but its performance is questioned by some. I personally didn’t experience any additional delays after installing 8.0.  It includes anti-spyware built in, which is great for XP users.

Version 8 also includes “Link Scanner”, which I didn’t like at all. It checks each link as you browse the web. That’s too slow for me. In the options, you can disable this (I did).

AVG Free 8 can be downloaded from: http://tinyurl.com/4or34z  Or, if we routinely maintain your computer, we’ll probably upgrade you on our next visit.

The current version, 7.5 will NO LONGER receive updates after December 31, 2008.  You must upgrade before then.  This is a FREE upgrade, contrary to how AVG is presented when you visit their site. 😉


Your Music Online

May 6th, 2008

Instantly listen to music online:
This is just the neatest site!  www.deezer.com has got to be the easiest way to immediately start listening to any song.  Visit the site, type in the name of your artist or song and BAM it starts playing. Fast, easy, and free. If you want, there are options to legally download the song on the spot.
For example: http://www.deezer.com/track/167510

www.last.fm is another online resource for listening to music online.

Find your music online:
Ever hear a song on the radio you just wish you knew the name or artist? Here’s what I do: www.google.com. Type in: +lyrics <all the lyrics you heard>.

For example: +lyrics said it’s too late  … will quickly find One Republic’s – Apologize.http://tinyurl.com/6rre24
(The + in front of a word in a Google search makes that word a REQUIRED part of the search.)


I’m a strong user of Google’s vast array of online tools. Including, Google Maps.

If you’re not using Google Maps, check out the following great introduction video tutorial. Learn how to find businesses and check reviews, get driving directions and select your route, learn about satellite images, and more:

Street View is a really neat feature that allows you to actually SEE the streets in a growing number of major cities (eg. NYC).  Check out this video as well. It’s also a good way to get a second example of how to use Google Maps:

Get started now: http://maps.google.com