Saturday, November 05, 2005

Tech Things I've Learned

Stealing from Lisa Arch's awesome series "Things That Seem Obvious" I am going to post some "Tech Things I've Learned" every now and then. Some of them may be familiar or obvious to you, but some may be new. I hope they're useful:

When you're joining a TiVo'd program in the middle, always hit the TiVo button before you turn on the TV. That way you'll be sure not to see any spoilers.

When you're in TiVo's "Now Playing" screen hit Enter and you'll get the choice of how you want to sort your shows. I prefer folders, so all my Daily Shows, for instance, are in one group and not scattered about.

Last TiVo trick, and it's one a friend just called this week to ask me about. Yes, it's true, there is a hack/easter egg that lets you add a 30-second skip to your TiVo. While you're playing a recorded program, hit Select, Play, Select,3,0,Select. You should hear three "pings" to let you know you succeeded. Now whenever you hit the Forward Skip button while watching a recorded program, you will jump 30 seconds ahead. But if you ever have a power outage or reset your box, you will have to program it in again.

Drill Oreo-sized holes in the back of a small apothecary cabinet, one for each drawer, then mount a power strip on the back Then you can charge small electronics inside the drawers out of sight. You can also store the accessories and dongles for each device in the same drawer.

If you are browsing the web using Internet Explorer, you are using a terrible and unsafe browser. Firefox is the new gold standard. Download it for free, use it, and never look back.

One tweak for Firefox: Go to Preferences, then Privacy, then Cookies, then check the box marked "for the originating web site only." This is the only hole in Firefox, and look how easy it was to plug. And by the way, as far as I know, you can't do this on Internet Explorer, so that should tell you something.

When your parents, or someone else similarly non-tech-savvy, calls you to say they're having trouble with their TV, nine times out of ten they are watching the wrong video input.

The tenth time, it is because they have an older TV, which might have reset its functions after a power failure and now needs to "relearn" that it even
has more than one video input. Just talk them through running the setup again.

Whenever you have a choice between using USB and Firewire, usually it's best to use Firewire. Especially with external hard drives.

When making any electronics purchase, do your research online, not in the store. Check out reviews at sites like and ignore everything said to you at the store and you'll never buy a lemon.

Even better, never set foot in a store. Just go to Froogle and find the best price online. Even if the price is the same online as locally, sometimes the shipping is less than the sales tax and hassle would have been.

The best deal for frequent online shoppers is Amazon Prime. If you shop there, as much as I do, it's a steal: pay an annual membership fee, and 2-day shipping is free, overnight is $3.99, no matter how much you buy.

If you have an Audible account and an wi-fi Palm PDA or Treo, you can now download your Audible content to your phone without a computer, with a great new app called Audible Air. It's especially great for subscription programs, because you can set it to download automatically.

Speaking of Treos, the most miraculous software I've ever seen is called Clicker, and it allows over 90 different models of handhelds and cell phones to be used as remotes for Macs and PCs, controlling Itunes, Powerpoint, Keynote, Squeezebox, DVD players, VLC and so on. You can even remotely control your email app. It's remarkable. I have a Mac Mini as a media server, and Clicker lets my Treo becomes a bluetooth remote for iTunes.

Speaking of bluetooth, when you're out in public with your phone or your laptop, turn off the bluetooth. You'll be more secure, and you will save your battery.

Same goes for wi-fi. Unless you're at a hotspot and planning to use it, shut it off.

As I said in an earlier post, always email files to yourself. I keep gmail accounts for file storage, and regularly email drafts of documents to those email addressed as I revise them. At 2GB per free account, why not?

Any computer magazine will tell you that the cheapest way to speed up your Windows PC is a memory upgrade, and that is true when it comes to upgrades... but there's a free way. Go to START... RUN... and type "msconfig" without the quotes. In the Startup tab you will see a mind-boggling number of programs you don't need that load every time Windows time does (such as Real Networks and Logitech Messenger). Uncheck everything you know you don't absolutely need to have running all the time and click Apply. When you reboot you will have a noticeably faster computer.

You can also download Ad-Aware for free and scan your machine. I just did so for a friend's PC and found over 150 pieces of spyware and malware. Get rid of it, and pay for the real-time scanning upgrade while you're at it.

You can also speed up your Windows system by uninstalling anything with the word Norton in it. But that's just IMHO.

If you use a wireless controller with your Xbox, you can still talk on Xbox
Live. Just buy a bluetooth headset for non-bluetooth phones and plug the
transmitter into the memory card jack.

Text messaging from your cell phone can be a fun way to have a quick
conversation with friends, but it can also be a powerful tool using Google
and other services like it. If you haven't tried it, do so and you'll be addicted.

And finally, because the fuel of tech is sugar, just text message "mcflurry" to 73260 and you'll get an e-coupon for a free McFlurry (at least in L.A.). The Snickers one rocks.

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