Voice over IP, the new “land line”

In my IT consulting business, I get questions from clients regularly about VoIP systems and how reliable they are.  VoIP is really the state of the art and allows small businesses to take advantage of many features traditionally available only to huge corporations.  I’ve had experience with several providers over the recent months and will be doing a bit of a writeup on VoIP soon.

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What’s with the no update thing?

People sometimes ask me why I don’t update this more frequently.  Well, the truth is that this isn’t my main money making business.  Sure, the ads here help cover some tiny portion of my hosting cost but mostly this is here because, as a technology consultant, I need to be familiar with all aspects of the modern world.  That includes things like ad networks, websites, blogs as well as the other aspects that I consult on in person with folks.  My services cover every aspect of technology from televisions to gadgets such as cell phones or tablets and even (gasp!) computer issues.

While I may not update this often, I tend to use it as an information source to which I can refer clients.  That way I can send a link to my Eset writeup, for example, without having to type it all over again.  There are many other websites which discuss the basics of tech news and such so I don’t feel a need to cover all that again.

I’m here, though, and will post updates periodically.  For example, I recently purchased an Android tablet and will post my impressions of that before too long.

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Having some odd issues

I’ve been having some odd issues with the site. Some of my more recent posts seem to have gone *poof*. 🙁 We’ll call this a test post to see if it is now resolved before I rebuild those.

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Swagbucks – an interesting way to earn some freebies

Search & Win

I’m usually somewhat hesitant to sign up for these sorts of things. At a friend’s urging, however, I signed up with Swagbucks not too long ago. I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to earn much; only done some searches and a couple of surveys, etc, to feel out the site in general. One interesting aspect is you can use a bookmark (or Favorite, for you IE folks) to save a search you use frequently. I made one for my Facebook link and have been using it for a while. I also do some other basic searches there. The results are surprisingly good!

I just ordered my first reward; Amazon credit. Sweet! It’s well worth checking out. Click the banner above to get started!

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Backups … they’re for EVERYONE!

Well, I’d been planning a note about backups but waking up to a screen on my laptop saying “Warning! A hard drive error has occurred, please back up your data and run diagnostics.” I figured now was as good a time as any. This is just a quick blurb since, as you may imagine, I’m kind of busy dealing with the issue.

Anyhow, I’m a fan of Dropbox. Dropbox offers cloud backup and syncs data across multiple computers or devices. It’s fast and pretty much real-time backup of your data, once you configure your Documents to go there or vice versa. I’ve used it for quite a while so all my important data is backed up. Still, hopefully I won’t have to reinstall my OS … time will tell if I can image to a new hard drive or not.

Go check out Dropbox now!

Oh, and the hard drive’s only a year and a half old! Go figure, eh?

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Domain registration sale

I’ve been working with a client on migrating away from a webhost with poor support (more on that in another post soon). Looking for domain registration deals for the client, I found GoDaddy’s got a sale on, so I linked it here:

Get Noticed - $7.99 .Com or .CO from GoDaddy.com!

Now I won’t have to hunt it down later. 😀

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Antivirus even the most critical can love!

Click Here - Free Trial of ESET NOD32 Antivirus

As most folks these days are aware, proper antivirus protection is pretty important.  While it’s true you can get free protection, you usually get what you pay for (AVG, I am looking at you).  My AV program of choice is ESET NOD32 Antivirus.  (NOD stands for No Open Doors; I wondered for a while myself).

NOD32 is a fantastic program that even the most finicky computer user can love.  It pretty much stays out of your way, only really alerting you when there’s a real problem.  It supports quite a bit of customization in its behavior, which is rather nice for a lot of geeks and power users.

The trouble most folks I talk to have with antivirus programs is they just get in the way of your computer use (aka being annoying).  This is a real problem as it makes many people hesitant to even have something installed.  The annoyance factor of most antivirus trains us (yes, we geeks as well) to just click whatever we need to in order to do what we wanted to do, whether it was safe or not.  This is often a real issue! While the tone of that article is somewhat harsh (I’m working on a post berating geeks for treating “normal folks” like scum; wait for it!), the point he makes about clicking Yes to the bad stuff being the beginning of the end is very real.

Not only does NOD32 offer stellar protection but their pricing is great!  As of the time of this writing, the normal price is $39.99 for one computer, $55.99 for two, $71.99 for three and $95.99 for four computers.  That’s world-class antivirus protection for less than $24 a year if you have 3 or more computers!  Don’t just take my word for it, though.  Try NOD32 free for 30 days.

Eset also offers coverage for Macs, something which is increasingly important.  Despite the common misconception that Apple productsa re immune to threats, they are not.  I regularly clean viruses or malware form Macs and there’s no excuse for not having protection, in my opinion.  I urge everyone to install antivirus protection.  Eset’s NOD32 is, in my opinion, the best choice.

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Ye Gods, won’t you think of the children?!

Most folks are aware there are places on the web that are a bit, um, seedy.  While I would never suggest we not allow adults to do as they wish (assuming it harms no one else), I also don’t want my children to experience certain things while they’re children.  At the same time, I encourage my kids to explore their world and learn all they can.  So how do I protect them without unduly limiting their ablity to explore?

K9 Web ProtectionThe solution is to use web filtering software.  This is a program which stops them from going to sites or categories of sites which I don’t feel they’re ready for yet.  As an IT consultant, I’ve evaluated dozens of different security software solutions, both of this sort and anti-virus software as well.  There are several different types of filtering, some more intended for corporate use, some for institutions such as schools and others for parents.  I’ll discuss the last sort here.

It’s important to keep two things in mind: that no security software is perfect and you’ll always trade some convenience for security.  The thing you want is ease of use while remaining reasonably effective.  With that in mind, I like a couple of different products for security.  The first is an antivirus product which I’ll write up a review for in a couple of days.  The other is K9 Web Protection.

K9 is quite easy to install, there’s very little configuration required and best of all it’s free while being effective!  I have it installed on each of my kids’ laptops.  K9 will, by default, simply block access to sites which feature certain types of content ranging from, of course, pornography to dating sites or sites discussing drug use.  There are quite a few categories you can block in addition to these standard ones most folks want to filter.  Other categories include shopping, weapons and even e-mail.

You can white list specific sites for a short while or permanently if you wish.  This allows the option, for example, to block all shopping except Amazon.com or block everything and allow only specific websites on a case-by-case basis if you prefer.  You can configure an audible alert when a blocked site is accessed.  One particularly important feature (in my opinion) is the option to force Safe Search on sites such as Google or Yahoo, this prevents one of the more easily used circumvention of many web filters without blocking search entirely.  You can look at logs activity on the computer to get an idea of what’s been going on.

These are just a few of the things you can do with K9.  I recommend every parent use this software on their children’s computers.  It’s a fantastic way to let your kids explore the modern worls in a safe manner while being assured that they’re not going to stumble on something inappropriate.   Keep in mind this is free software; it’s not as though I get a commission or anything from people downloading and using it.  You can click the image above to go to K9’s website.

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Well done, Weeds!

I’ve been catching up on Weeds lately via Netflix. While I’m enjoying the show a lot, one thing truly stands out. This show deals with breast cancer in as as straightforward a manner as any I’ve ever seen.

Breast cancer is a topic that many are “supportive” of without actually really being aware of the issues it entails for those who suffer from it. Kudos to Weeds’ producers for properly dealing with this issue. Buy their stuff!

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Have you unplugged recently?

There’s an unhealthy expectation in our society that we’re accessible any time anywhere just because we can be. Too often in modern life, folks are too “plugged in”. Even young children seem to feel a compulsion to answer the phone regardless of what’s going on around them. Many now check their e-mail every time the smartphone in their pocket beeps instead of whenever they have a spare couple of minutes.

This culture of connectedness is not good for us, in my personal opinion. We need to unplug now and again. We need downtime. There’s nothing wrong with reading a book on (GASP!) paper and certainly nothing wrong with a simple solution to a problem so long as it works. A common analogy I like to use is technology is a toolbox. We need to train ourselves to take out only those tools to fill the needs of the moment. Just because you might have 12,000 different types of screwdrivers and wrenches doesn’t mean you need each one every day, although some do.

I’m not talking about simple work-life balance here, although an Amazon search for the term sure turns up enough books on the topic to tell me it’s a not insignificant part of what I mean. No, I am talking about much more than this.

The simple truth is that we don’t allow folks to just enter our homes whenever they wish. I would no more want some relative stranger popping in on me in my home than I want to interrupt my time with my child to speak to them. This isn’t during normal business hours, of course. I expect and desire customer contact during those times, within reason. In the past, I’ve had co-workers that would leave voice mail after voice mail less than 2 minutes apart, calling over and over.  Others would send e-mail then, after 5 minutes, phone in a panic because I have yet to respond.   I understand that I’m an odd geek but that’s just downright excessive.

I don’t have internet on my phone, despite owning a smartphone. I don’t check my e-mail every 12 seconds. If my phone rings and I’m in the middle of something the call will certainly end up going to voicemail. This is especially true if I’m with a client; when I’m on a client’s dime, I’m not going to pick up.  That time belongs only to the client for whom I am working.  I don’t block mobile Internet just to save money. There are a few times a month when I sort of wish I had Google in my pocket, I just find it to be a little bit too invasive, overall.

I’m a geek, with all the toys that entails. An inventory of them would bore most people but suffice it to say I have plenty of gadgets. That fact notwithstanding, sometimes we need to just unplug and get back to the basics of life!

Image: DoctorHa.net / Used with permission, all rights reserved

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