Microsoft Natural Ergo Keyboard 4000.If you spend more than a few hours a day at the computer, then you probably have experienced some wrist pain. The standard keyboard is not built for proper wrist placement, neither is the way most people use a mouse on a flat surface.

So, what can you do? This is one of those times that ergonomic items really can play a roll in improving your life. For typing, we here at StarterTech highly recommend the Microsoft Natural Ergo Keyboard 4000.

Not only does the Ergo turn your wrists in the proper direction, it gives you a padded area for them to rest on. There are some other nice features, such as the quick launch buttons at the top, but the comfort alone is enough to warrant the purchase. People that have never used a natural keyboard get scare at the sight of it, but it really is easy to adapt your typing to it, and I find I even type faster on it than I do on a standard straight line version.

It is not the only model of ergonomic keyboard out there, and you can browse more models at Amazon.com with all sorts of different features and button configurations.  And do remember that even if you use a laptop, if you are going to be at a desk on a regular basis, you can attach these keyboards via USB cable and use them anyway, saving your wrists even when you don’t have a full-sized destop.

Mouse ArenaAs for your mouse situation, most people place it on a mouse pad on their desk, coming down at an angle so your wrist is bent while you use it.  My solution for years has been the Mouse Arena.  This handy little device features a padded wrist rest as well as an antenna you thread your mouse cord through to keep it out of your way.

The elevation, with the addition of the rest, makes this thing a dream to work with, and I always feel awkward when I don’t have it to use.  They can be a bit hard to locate, but we’ve linked you to the manufacturer, and they can help you locate a retailer.

I was well on my way to full blown carpel tunnel syndrome around 1992 until I looked into ergonomic computer parts.  As soon as I started using them, my wrists started feeling better, and now they feel fine, though it did take years for them to get that way.  So why not think of this of preventive medicine?  If you feel the slightest bit of wrist pain, you should always consult a physician, but these types of items should be of a benefit to you also.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Microsoft didn’t make it exactly easy in Windows XP for the new user to figure out how to change their desktop image, and even years after release I see people with the same background they had on day one. Considering you can use just about any picture as your desktop, it’s time you changed that boring old background to something that matters to you!

And this article was actually requested by a reader, so if you have something you want covered, drop us a note!

(due to the number of images in this article, please click “Continue Reading” to see it all)

Read More »

Categories: How To, Images, Windows XP   
 

The InternetBandwidth is one of those terms people throw around without much concern to if anyone really understands it.  Due to this lack of concern, you also see it quite often getting confused with the similar word, “broadband”.

In the simplest of terms, bandwidth is the capacity for the amount of data that can be transferred, and sometimes at what speed it can be moved.

In the terms of your Internet Service Provider (ISP), they will tell you they offer you “unlimited bandwidth”, and that is to say that you can transfer as much data as you want, they won’t limit it.  (although, be warned there is usually a catch to this in that it is misleading and can cost you in hidden fees, and we will discuss that in another post.)  Many web hosting companies, where you host your web site, will also offer you unlimited bandwidth, also known as data transfer, or just an extremely high number, but with these you also have to be careful.

The speed aspect of bandwidth doesn’t get discussed quite as much, but it can apply to the rate with which you transfer your data either over your Intranet, an all internal network, or over the Internet itself.  So if an ISP tells you that your connection would be 5 Mbps (Megabits Per Second), that would be your “bandwidth”.  If you have an internal network with a 10 Mbps connection, that is also your bandwidth speed.

The confusion with “broadband” that I mentioned earlier is in that term refers to any high-speed form of Internet connection, but over time people have had a tendency to make the two terms interchangeable with one another.  Just remember you are far more concerned with the “bandwidth” and you should be fine.

Categories: What Is   
 

Web 2.0Web 2.0 is a “buzzword” that came into play around 2004, and is most often credited to Tim O’Reilly. To clarify the meaning, he later stated:

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.

I think the more “basic” explanation would be that a Web 2.0 site does something for you.

When the Web first started, it was very static; Web pages really did nothing more than serve as a way to convey information to users. There was really no way for users to interact with the website, and you merely sat there and read. One quote I read that sums this up is from Darren Barefoot, and he said, “Web 1.0 was about lectures, Web 2.0 is about conversation”. You really can’t sum it up any more succinctly than that.

As designers got more savvy, and came up with more intensive ways for a site to deliver the information, they found they could get web sites to do more than just sit there, doing nothing. A whole new breed of web service was born that the service existed solely on the web without any “offline” use. This led to O’Reilly also assigning levels to web companies.

Level-3: These services exist only on the web without any form of offline counterpart. eBay, Amazon, Skype, social networks and so on fall into this category.

Level-2: These are sites have some functionality offline, but gain major advantages from when you are connected to the Internet. Since Google Docs can now work offline, but you lose features when you do so, this would fall into this category.

Level-1: Level-1 sites work offline, but gain functionality online that aren’t essential to their operation. iTunes, for instance, gains a store when you are online, but when you are offline, you still have access to all of your music and other features.

Level-0: The last level is any application that is the same online as off.

Web 2.0 LogosBesides the functionality, there was also a move to what I call “the candifying of the Web”. It is a mixture of glossy/shiny graphics and a dwindling supply of domain names that ended in the extension of “.com”. People have become comfortable with “.com” and that is the first thing they think of when they hear a websites name; very rarely will you see someone immediately think of “.net”, “.org”, or any of the other ways a domain name may end. This quickly deplenishing pool of names led to companies choosing names for their websites that had little or no connection to what they do, or they would take any odd spelling they could find that might be close.

Skype, which I mentioned above, is a company that allows you to make free phone calls over the Internet from one user to another, and while very useful, the name is nonsensical. What is a “Skype”? What does it have to do with phone calls? No one knows! The list of companies with names such as this is endless: Bebo (a social network), Flickr (a place to share photos), Yelp (a directory for local businesses and reviews) and so on.

The shiny graphics tricks, such as with Skype’s logo above, is that it became a quick way for people to have a visual cue that the site they are using is Web 2.0. However, glossy graphics does not a 2.0 service make. When using a site, and you are unsure, ask yourself if the site is allowing you to contribute in some way? Is it allowing you to generate your own content? Does it somehow allow you to collaborate with others? Is your experience with the site a dynamic one? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, than you are using a Web 2.0 site, welcome to the future!

People that work inside of the technology field, such as myself, have come to have a bit of disdain for the term “Web 2.0″ because it is over used, but it is still a quick way to identify this movement inside of the Internet community. All I can do is encourage you to do is get out there and see what the web has to offer you, it is a constantly changing landscape these days, and there is a service out there for just about every need now.

If you would like to learn more about the constantly changing field of Web 2.0, I recommend blogs such as Mashable (disclosure: I work there), ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch to give you the latest info on what is going on.

Categories: What Is   
 

Social NetworkingPeople discuss social networks, and social networking, endlessly, but what do these terms mean? They only came in to prominence in the past couple of years, but it seems like everyone just thinks you should automatically know what it means, and why it’s so important.

The basic concept is simple: you join a community that is close to your interests, set up a small profile about yourself, and try to locate others who may share your interests.  Once you find other people who share your thoughts, you can talk with them, get suggestions how to further your hobby or career, and do some true networking with them.

Originally the networks were sites like Classmates.com which focused on you reconnecting with people you went to school with, but as time progressed they evolved into sites like MySpace.com where you could connect with people you had never met, but shared interests with.

The problem then sprung up of social networking lost its focus.  People became obsessed with accumulating as many “friends” as possible, giving no regards to the quality of people they were connecting with.  So now the reverse is happening and we are seeing hundreds of social networks pop up, but all with very specific topics that make it easier to sort through the signal to noise ratio of the other members you meet.  And, if you have an interest that doesn’t have a social network yet, or you just want to set up one for a specific group like your little league team, there are options known as “white label” sites where you can set up your very own, such as Ning.com.

Overall, social networking is still probably in its “toddler phase”: it can walk, but it’s not very sure of its footing yet.  As we have gone from narrow focus to broad focus, and now we’re coming back down to narrow again, it is getting more useful as you can really get at the meat of any given subject.

How do you find them?  The link I gave above lists over 350 networks, but if you go to any search engine, enter your interest followed by “social network”, you are bound to come up with some results that will interest you.

Good luck!

Categories: What Is   
 

PasswordsThere is probably nothing more important to safeguarding your online identity than picking a strong password. However, the trick is coming up with a password that is not only strong, but can be easily remembered by you and won’t be something someone can easily connect to you.

One of the most common mistakes people make is creating a password that is something as simple as their child’s name or their wedding anniversary. If someone knows you, such as a coworker, and they want to gain access to your email, those will be the first things they try.

Here is a list of definite password inspirations you should avoid:

  • Anniversary dates
  • Any basic word you could find in a dictionary of any language
  • Any keyboard sequence (i.e. QWERTY or 12345)
  • Birthdays
  • Names of close friends or coworkers
  • Names of TV/movie/book characters
  • Repetitive letters (i.e. nnnnnn)
  • The network name of your computer
  • Your boss’s name
  • Your child’s name
  • Your company name
  • Your favorite vacation spot
  • Your grandchild’s name
  • Your license plate number
  • Your name
  • Your parent’s name
  • Your pet’s name
  • Your phone number
  • Your social security number
  • Your spouse’s name

In April of 2007, PC Mag published a list of the 10 most common passwords people use.

  1. password
  2. 123456
  3. qwerty
  4. abc123
  5. letmein
  6. monkey
  7. myspace1
  8. password1
  9. link182
  10. (your first name)

So there you have it, all of the things people do wrong, so what can you do right? Therein lies the eternal question: How do you build a good password? Some people recommend that you use a mixture of capital and lower case letters, but not all password systems offer case-sensitivity. A mixture of words and numbers can also work, but if you pick a favorite word and number, it again becomes a bit too easy for someone to figure out. I personally like to suggest replacing some letters with symbols that look somewhat like the letters of a word, this way you can use a word you do know, but it will be mixed up some. Here are some suggestions:

  • A = ^ or @
  • C = (
  • E = 3
  • I = 1
  • S = $
  • T = +

So let’s say you want to use a word like “sparkle”, using the symbols it would be “$p^rk13″. This actual word is too short, but it gives you a good visual example of just how much you mix up a word by just throwing in a few symbols into it.

Now you’ve learned what not to use, and how to build a stronger password, how do you test it? How do you come up with one that is totally random? There are free checkers and generators out there that will help you with your password.

Password Strength Meters

Microsoft Password Checker

CertainKey Passphrase Strength Meter – This one really lets you know what’s going on, scoring as you type and telling you how many days it would take to crack.

Microsoft Password Checker – From software manufacturer Microsoft, this one emphasizes length and complexity to give you a password score.

PasswordMeter.com – Numerous options and meters to judge the strength of your password and give suggestions.

SecurityStats.com Password Checker – This checker will judge your password against common password creation practices.

Password Generators

SafePasswd.com

ChooseAPassword.com – A bit basic in that only asks you three questions and then arranges those three answers into a password.

GRC.com – This one will generate passwords that you have absolutely no chance of ever remembering, but you would be hard pressed to beat their strength.

PassPub.com – Every time you load the page you will receive randomly generated password that are 8 characters in length.

PasswordFire.com – This one will ask you a couple of questions and try to combine your answers into one jumbled up password that you can remember, but would require someone to do a lot of guessing.

PwdGen – Another one that will randomly generate a password for you that has considerable strength, but, again, you will have a heck of a time remembering it.

SafePasswd.com – This one gives you numerous options such as number of characters, type to include and more.

This is certainly not a complete guide to all the rules and suggestions of passwords, but hopefully it will set you on your way to a more secure future online.

Categories: How To   
 

RSS LogoWhat is this symbol that you see on blogs all the time, and what does it do? This is the accepted symbol that indicates where you need to click to subscribe to a website’s Real Simple Synication (RSS) feed.

In the old days of blogging, you had to go to your favorite blogs and check them, sometimes multiple times a day, to see if they had added new content to their site. In 1999, the first version of RSS appeared, changing the way people accessed their favorite blog information forever. Instead of having to go to the site to see the newest info, you could now have it delivered to an RSS reader, such as Google Reader, as soon as a new article is published. With the content being delivered to you, you could now keep up with far more blogs than ever before, in much less time than it used to take to check just a few.

Now, anytime you see the symbol shown here to the right, it means the site offers a feed that you can subscribe to and have it added to your reader. Why not subscribe to our feed right now and be guaranteed of getting all of our future tips? This is also a good time to learn about it as May 1st Is RSS Awareness Day, where blogs all across the Internet will take time that day to discuss the merits and benefits of what RSS can do for you as a user.

Categories: Web 101   
 

ROFLWhen you log on to the Internet, do you sometimes feel like people are talking some language that you have never heard of? Quite often, they are. The web is full of shorthand comments that “old timers” such as myself know just as well as any real word, but may be puzzling to a new user, and sometimes asking people to explain can be embarrassing.

This list is very general, and lots of online communities have their own abbreviations that are specific to them. For instance, Joker’s Updates, a popular site for the CBS series Big Brother has a whole page dedicated to their specific acronyms. Anytime you think you may have run across one that may be community-specific, look at the context it is used in, and quite often you can figure it out. If not, look around for an explanation page like we just linked to.  If all else fails ask, and no matter how snippy a responder may be, just remember that they were once a new user just like you, so they have nothing to be uppity about.

AFK – Away From Keyboard (meaning the person has walked away for a bit, or was away)

AIM – Short for AOL Instant Messenger

ASAP – As Soon As Possible

ASL – This one doesn’t appear that often any more, but it is “Age, Sex, Location?”

BBL – Be Back Later

BRB – Be Right Back

BTW – By The Way

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

FTW – For The Win

FUBAR – Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition

FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

FWIW – For What It’s Worth

FYI – For Your Information

GG – Good Game

GL – Good Luck

GTG – Got To Go

GTR – Got To Run

IMO – In My Opinion

KK – Okay

LOL – Laugh Out Loud

MSN – Short for Microsoft Messenger, now known as Windows Live Messenger.

ROFL – Rolling On Floor, Laughing

ROFLMAO – Rolling On Floor, Laughing My Ass Off

STFU – Shut The F*** Up

TPTB – The Powers That Be

TTFN – Ta-Ta For Now

TTYL – Talk To You Later

TY – Thank You

TYT – Take Your Time

TYVM – Thank You Very Much

WTF – What The F***

WTG – Way To Go

WTH – What The Hell

YIM – Short for Yahoo Instant Messenger

YW – You’re Welcome

This is but a sampling of the ones you can find scattered around the web.  Don’t see the one you want to know?  Leave us a comment and we will do our best to tell you what it means!

Categories: Web 101   
 

iPod TouchI am no computer wiz. There, I have said it in public! I have to use computers in some way everyday in my work. Yes, I said computers—my laptop or my desktop are used everyday in some way. My desktop has so many programs on it that it takes forever to boot up and the same can be said for my laptop. At least I don’t have to heft the desktop so that is a plus. My laptop weighs about 6 pounds by itself not to mention everything that I need for it in my computer bag—who needs to exercise?

I have whined for a long time about the non-portability and complication factors of computing in my life and asked the air why something couldn’t be developed that would make applications like logging on for even the most simple of tasks easier. Well, it seems Mr. Apple himself, Steve Jobs, heard me and developed the iPod Touch just for me! Really it is the answer to my prayers-small, idiot proof and really cool looking! I can check my e-mail in a flash, make a hotel reservation in record time and look at new pictures of my 3 cocker spaniels while I am riding in the car. All I need for the really serious business of e-mail and web searching is a wireless connection which may be obtained in my home or office or one of the tens of thousands locations offering free wireless, such as McDonald’s, across the country.

The Touch turns on with the press of a button and presents you with a page of choices for activities that you have setup for your needs. From there it is just a tap away from what ever you have chosen to do and another tap away from going back to the beginning if you made a mistake—brilliant! Not even as big as a dollar bill in dimensions the Touch weighs only a few ounces but delivers like either of my larger pieces of equipment. I am checking my e-mail as I am writing this article—it took me about ten seconds to turn on and log into my AOL account—wow.

I know there are wonders and applications I haven’t found yet and I can’t wait to discover them. As I become more Touch savvy I will relay the applications to all of you, but in the meantime I have one more thing to say to you—RUN, don’t walk, to your nearest favorite computer shopping site and buy a Touch for yourself and then share its wonders with your family and friends. ‘Touch’ everyone—they will thank you for it.

Categories: Gadgets, Mobile Computing, Wi-Fi   
 
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