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TechKnowledgy
Thursday, 10 March 2005
TechKnowledgy - Digital Photography - Part 1
TechKnowledgy
By Randy L. Kendrick


January 25, 2005

Goodbye Film . . . Hello Pixels!


Are you one of the many who received a new digital camera as a holiday gift? If so, you will be amazed at how this changes the way you look at photography. With film you had to develop and print an entire roll to find out if you really got the shot you wanted. If you are like me, often you ended up with a roll full of disappointing pictures.

All that has changed! You now have the ability to take as many shots as you like, but only print the good ones. Plus, with the LCD viewfinder on your digital camera, you get a good idea of how the final picture will look right after you shoot it.

Some people have the impression that you can’t get “real pictures” from a digital camera. By real pictures, they mean photos like those from your favorite photo lab, glossy or matte finished, and printed on photographic paper. This is not the case. While there are some fairly decent home photo printers on the market, the ink is not cheap and to my eye, the quality isn’t as good as a standard photo. My preferred method is to transfer pictures to my computer, tweak them with a photo editing program as needed, and bring the files to a photo lab who can print those real pictures for me. Of course, you can skip the tweaking if you wish. Most photo labs have moved into the digital age, and have the capability to make prints from your digital media, including CDs, Compact Flash, SD, XD, Memory Sticks, and other types of storage commonly used by digital cameras. I also like the online service Ofoto, at www.ofoto.com. Ofoto lets you upload, store, and organize your pictures at a secure website. You can also order prints from your uploaded pictures, which will be mailed directly to you. Since you upload your photo files to their servers, Ofoto also is good insurance against losing your pictures in a computer mishap.

Digital Darkroom

One great thing about modern photo editing software is that really good programs can be had for little or no money. You certainly can spend hundreds of dollars on programs like Adobe Photoshop, but even then, this is less than equipping a darkroom to handle film. Photoshop is the standard by which this genre of programs are measured, and it is still the choice of professionals, but it is also not the easiest program to learn to use.

Adobe realized this and came up with Photoshop Elements. This is a consumer-friendly program that lets you adjust lighting, contrast, fix the “red eye” problem in your pictures, and so much more. It is easy to use and costs well under 100 dollars. Another great program in that price range is PaintShop Pro. I highly recommend either of these.

However, those who read this column regularly know that I am thrifty (read cheap) when it comes to software, preferring to find freeware alternatives to commercial programs. That is why next week I will tell you about some free photo editors, as well as how to organize your growing number of digital photographs.

Free Software Pick of the Week


Microsoft Word is a great word processor. However its power is also a drawback. True, it is laden with features galore, but most people never use more than a handful of the tools it includes. Unused features mean more room on your hard drive taken up by a very large program.

A smart alternative is AbiWord, a free word processor that is no slouch in the features department, but cuts out the high overhead fluff. AbiWord will make a Microsoft Word user feel right at home. The interface is clean, and easy to understand.

AbiWord can do mail merges, create documents with tables, format complex documents, and is a good, general purpose word processing program. It can save its files in MS Word document format, rich text, plain text, and html among others. It also runs on almost any operating system, including any version of Windows since Windows 95, Macintosh OSX, and Linux.

To grab AbiWord, head over to www.abisource.com and download this great program. It is under 5 MB in size. You can also pick up some useful plug-ins for Abiword while you are there.

As with all my software picks, AbiWord contains no spyware or advertising, and is completely free. You can even legally install it on every computer you own, and give a copy to all your friends.




TechKnowledgy is a column written to help people get the most out of their computers, electronics, and other home technology devices and software. Send your home tech questions to Randy at techknowledgy@bluesprucemarketing.com.

?2005 Randy L. Kendrick

Posted by coloradoweb at 11:57 PM MST
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TechKnowledgy - Spyware Part 2
TechKnowledgy
By Randy L. Kendrick

January 16, 2005

In last week?s column, I discussed how to keep your computer operating smoothly by avoiding spyware. This week, we will discuss how to find out if your system is already infected, and what to do if it is.

Knowledgeable computer enthusiasts have long used a several programs to find and remove spyware from their systems. These include AdAware by Lavasoft, and Spybot Search & Destroy. These are both freely downloadable programs, and I highly recommend using both, as they do seem to complement one another in the spyware they detect. Be aware that no spyware detection and removal software gives total protection.

AdAware, available at www.lavasoft.de, is one of the easiest to use. Restart your computer, then run AdAware. It will then offer to search for updates. I recommend you let it do so. It then searches your computer for spyware, lists suspect files, and lets you select which programs to remove.

Spybot Search and Destroy, at www.safer-networking.org, also lets you update, check for spyware, and select programs to delete. It also allows you to immunize your system, by locking some settings typically exploited by spyware.

Microsoft has also entered the spyware protection business with its purchase of Giant Software, a maker of computer protection programs. The software behemoth has rebranded the Giant product Microsoft AntiSpyware, and has made the beta version available for free. No word yet on if the next release will be free or not, but even the beta version is a nice tool in your arsenal. The program lets you do either a cursory scan of your system, or opt for an in-depth scan. The more thorough scan took eleven minutes on my 80 GB drive on a 1.8 MHz system. The Microsoft product also offers real-time spyware protection and a module of advanced tools for the serious Windows tweaker. You may download it at www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx. Remember, this version is considered beta, so you may encounter some issues in using it. I encountered none.

Another type of problem that home users often encounter is a rogue website will reset, or hijack, your home page. Even if you change it back, it is automatically set back to the rogue page. A good way to repair this problem is to download and run Hijack This!. It will scan your system and show you a list of files that could be hijacking your home page. It is available at www.spywareinfo.com/~merijn/downloads.html

One last tip regarding spyware programs is to check your system for programs that launch automatically when you start Windows. In most versions of Windows since Windows98, you can click on the Start menu, select Run, and type in msconfig and hit the enter key. This will start the Windows System Control which shows you all of the autostart programs on your system, and lets you choose which to disable.

Free Software Pick of the Week

Do you have a CD or DVD burner in your PC, but find that the built-in Windows utility just doesn?t cut it? You could go out and spend your cash on either of two fine programs, Nero Burning ROM or Roxio Easy CD Creator. If you are of a more thrifty persuasion, like me, you can point your browser to http://www.cdburnerxp.se/ and download the excellent CDBurnerXP Pro. I have used all of the above mentioned CD burning solutions, and while the commercial products are both excellent, I find that CDBurnerXP Pro is a worthy contender. It even includes audio tools for creating that perfect music CD. The program runs on Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, and as with all my software picks, contains no ads, spyware, and is totally free to download and use.




TechKnowledgy is a column written to help the everyday person to better use their computers, electronics, and other home technology devices and software. Send your home tech questions to Randy at techknowledgy@bluesprucemarketing.com.

Posted by coloradoweb at 11:51 PM MST
Updated: Thursday, 10 March 2005 11:54 PM MST
Permalink
TechKnowledgy - Spyware Part 1
TechKnowledgy
By Randy L. Kendrick

January 9, 2005

How Slow Can You Go?

Have you ever noticed how fast that brand new computer is when you bring it home, plug it in, and boot it up? As you add and delete more programs and surf the web a bit, it doesn’t take long for that blazing fast PC to take forever to accomplish the simplest tasks. While some very useful programs will slow down the fastest machines to some degree, there is often something more insidious at work. In a word, SPYWARE!

Just as unsolicited commercial email, commonly known as spam, has almost ruined the email experience for many, spyware and its cousins, malware, adware, and scumware have made the web a less hospitable place. These invasive programs have invaded personal computers at an alarming rate during the last year.

These programs can do everything from sending information about which web sites you visit, to installing other programs on your computer, to resetting the page you see when your browser starts. At best, they slow down your system as they run continuously in the background.

What Can You Do?

The best way to avoid the problems of spyware is to keep it from ever installing on your PC. Some of the best ways to do this include:
• If you use Microsoft Windows, set it to automatically check for security updates. A program as large as Windows has many holes which malicious programmers exploit. Microsoft regularly releases updates to plug these holes as they are discovered.
• If you use high-speed Internet service, install a router between your computer and the Cable/DSL modem. This effectively hides your computer behind a firewall.
• At minimum, be sure to turn on the Windows Firewall, or use an alternative. Good ones include Zone Alarm, Kerio, or Sygate, all of which have free versions for home users.
• Set your browser’s security setting to at least “minimum”. This will prevent automatic installation of Java or ActiveX programs that can wreak havoc with your browser. I also recommend using the new Mozilla Firefox browser, which in addition to giving you a better web experience, also has fewer security issues than Internet Explorer.
• Stay away from sites that offer illegal downloads of music, software, movies or pornography. These sites are notorious for infecting computers with malware of various types.
• If a website offers to install a program or plug-in, don’t accept the download or installation if you don’t know the program or the company offering it. Exceptions to this are updates from Microsoft, or the Macromedia plug-ins for Shockwave or Flash. Even then, don’t choose to always accept updates from any company, as spyware programmers can make your computer think their program is from a trusted company.

Next week, we will talk about how to find out if your system is already infected, and how to get things back to normal if it is.

Free Software Pick of the Week

If you have wanted to create your own web page for your family or organization, but are not geeky enough to have mastered manually creating HTML, this week’s free software could be exactly what you need. Nvu (pronounced “in view”) is a great little web editor that puts a user-friendly face on the Mozilla Composer engine. Even though it is still in beta, it is very usable.

If you have ever used FrontPage, you will be familiar with how Nvu works. If you haven’t, it is still very easy to pick up, as you create web pages much as you would create a document in a word processor. Nvu gives you WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editing, and the price is right!

Nvu has versions to run on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Apple Macintosh. It is Open Source and totally free of charge, and like all of my free program picks, contains no spyware or advertisements. You can download the latest version at www.nvu.com.




TechKnowledgy is a column written to help people get the most out of their computers, electronics, and other home technology devices and software. Send your home tech questions to Randy at techknowledgy@bluesprucemarketing.com.

?2005 Randy L. Kendrick

Posted by coloradoweb at 11:50 PM MST
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