Geeks on Tour

Computer Tips for Travelers is just part of the education we offer. For all the Show-Me-How Videos on Wi-Fi, Blogging, Bootcamp topics, Picasa and other topics of interest to travelers. Go to www.GeeksOnTour.com.

We also have a site dedicated to tips for photographers using Google’s Picasa!  www.PicasaTutorials.com

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Part Time Mobile Internet Connections

As fulltime RVers, we have no problem signing a 2 year contract for Internet service from Verizon, but we know many people who only travel part time. What are their options for mobile Internet service? A couple years ago, your only option was to rely on Wi-Fi which is very UNreliable! Now there are several options for short term cellular Internet connections. The technology world moves fast, and nothing moves faster than cellular Internet plans, so take the information below as talking points only. Check with your provider, and/or your contract for the details that apply to you.

Verizon is the focus of much of the information in this article since it is what we use personally, and it is the most popular service among RVers.� There are links at the bottom for information on other providers.

1. Putting your Contract on Vacation: Even if you do sign a 2 year contract with Verizon, for example, you can put your service (and payments) on vacation for up to 6 months.�� Be aware that vacation time will be added to the end of your contract.� That means, if your contract period starts on 1/1/11 and goes thru 1/1/13, and you put it on vacation for 6 months, your contract now goes thru 7/1/13.� Be sure to check with your service provider (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T etc.) for details based on your particular contract.

2. Bring your Own Device: People sign up for a two year contract because that is the way to get the device (Mi-Fi, or cellular modem) for a steeply discounted price.� If you already have an appropriate modem or hotspot device, you can get service on a month to month basis.� So, bring your own device and sign up for monthly service and you can turn the service off at any time.� Standard monthly service plans offer 5GB for $50.

3. Prepaid Mobile Broadband: These plans can be pretty pricey, but it may be the best option to get your teenagers for your month-long summer vacation.� For example, Verizon charges $50 for 1 GB� � expires in 1 month or $80 for 5GB � expires in 1 month.� There are no overages because, once you hit your limit the service is turned off.

4. Cellular Resellers: You can get service without a contract from Virgin Mobile (resells Sprint network) and Millenicom (resells Verizon network.)� Also see the paragraph below on the 3GStore � you will find several options there, including monthly plans that resell Verizon, and DataJack which appears to use the t-mobile network.

4. Pay-As-You-Go: TruConnect is a service using the Sprint network.� You buy the device from them then pay $5/mo plus 3.9 cents per megabyte.� This would only be good if you are a very sporadic user with low data needs.� According to my calculations 5GB at 3.9 cents per MB = $169.68.

5. Smart Phone Internet: This is my favorite.� First of all, you may find that you don�t even need to take your computer on short trips because you can do your email and browse the web straight from your phone.� If you do take your computer, many smart phones today have a �Hotspot� feature that costs extra from the service provider, but that feature can be turned on/off at will and you only pay for the time you have it on. When it�s on you have your own Wi-Fi hotspot powered by the phone�s data plan and up to 5 devices can connect to it.� You can also use third party tethering software called PDANet. This allows you to tether your phone to the computer with a cable and use the phone�s data plan to power Internet browsing on our computer at no extra service charge.� The PDANet software costs about $20 � one time fee.� See this Geeks on Tour Video: Connecting to the Internet with Droid.

6. 3GStore: 3GStore has a reputation for being very knowledgeable and helpful in giving guidance thru the morass of mobile internet devices, service providers, data plans, and signal boosters.� They are resellers for cellular services and they sell all the devices to make it work.� We�ve had such good experience with them that we are an affiliate for 3GStore.com.� They have several plans for short-term cellular Internet solutions.

Here are some links to more information

Verizon Data Plan Details

Sprint Data Plans

AT&T Data Plans

T-Mobile Plans

Discussion of Part-Time Internet solutions on RV.net Forums

This tip brought to you by Geeks on Tour

Geeks on Tour is a membership website with hundreds of Tutorial Videos on topics of interest to travelers, such as managing digital photos with Picasa, Route-Planning with Streets and Trips, and sharing your travels with a website using Blogger or with friends on Facebook. You can subscribe to our free enewsletter, or become a paid member and be able to view all of the videos in the Learning Library.

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Computer Tote-ing Travelers

We RVers like to have our laptop computers with us everywhere we go.  But, how to carry them?  I have watched people walk by on their way to the Wi-Fi hotspot just carrying their computer under their arms, with the power supply and cords dangling from the other hand.  Oooh I’d hate to see them trip. 

Business Computer bag or Beach Tote?

I also know someone who uses a simple canvas beach bag to carry his laptop because he had a computer stolen before.  The one that was stolen was in an obvious, black, computer case.  His canvas bag with the pink beach umbrellas on it is much less likely to be a target for thieves, he says!  I would worry about the lack of padding in that beach bag.

Laptop Sleeves

I  used to carry my laptop in a sleeve – the simple padded case that fits the computer like a sock.  But then, I still had to deal with carrying the power supply and mouse somehow.

Cool Computer Bag

Recently, I was given the cool computer tote bag you see in the photo above.  I love it. It’s the best of all options.  It has padded compartments meant for the computer as well as accessories.  It’s very sturdy, yet doesn’t look like a computer bag.  And, the best part, for me, is how comfortable it is to carry.  The shoulder straps are just the right length for the bag to fit under my arm, and it doesn’t slip off my shoulder!  It is SO aggravating to have a shoulder bag that always feels in danger of slipping off.  This one does not do that, even when I have it heavily weighted down with my full size laptop and all its accessories.

My computer bag was a gift from CoolComputerBags.com.  I said I’d be happy to write about it if I liked it … and I DO.  The only part I worried about was the price.  From the quality feel of the bag, I assumed it would cost in the $100-200 range – too much for the RVers I know :-)  
But, check it out at the link above.  It’s only $39.99. 

So, how about you?  How do you carry your computer?

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Amish Buggy Ride – an example of using MovieMaker

We are currently in Elkhart, Indiana.  We’re here for the Gypsy Journal Rally last week, and the Escapade next week.  Last Friday we were invited by our friends from TechnoRV to join them for dinner at an Amish Family’s home.  In addition to dinner, they would take us on a horse and buggy ride if we wanted to go. 

Amish Dinner

The dinner was excellent.  Family style – 17 of us sat around a long dinner table and passed the meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad, chicken, corn, bread, and apple butter.  All homemade.  Mostly home-grown.  You could see the corn in the field outside the window!  It was delicious!  So good that I had no room for the homemade apple pie at dessert.  But I did share a piece! 

We enjoyed the dinner and conversation so much that we stayed for quite a while.  Late enough that it started to get dark. It was then that it really sunk in … this house has *no* electricity.  They do use propane for their refrigerator and an excellent, bright lamp.

Horse and Buggy Ride

The highlight was the horse and buggy ride.  We took a couple of pictures – we were told that it was OK as long as we didn’t photograph our hosts – and I turned the camera to video for a minute as we went clop-clopping down the road.

Put pictures and video together with Moviemaker

The video is just a minute of the actual buggy ride.  We wanted the pictures to be combined with the video to give you the whole experience.  Windows Live Moviemaker makes this quite easy.  It is a free program from Microsoft, available for Vista and Windows 7. 

Steps in MovieMaker

  1. Add Videos and Photos
  2. Arrange videos and photos
  3. Add Music
  4. Click Automovie.  This will add pan and zoom effects to photos, transitions between elements, title slides at the beginning and end, *and* fit everything to the time of the music!
    image
  5. Choose ‘Publish Movie to Youtube.’

Creating movies can be an extremely time-intensive endeavor.  But, with Moviemaker, it can take just a few minutes from camera to the web!

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Amish Buggy Ride – an example of using MovieMaker

We are currently in Elkhart, Indiana.  We’re here for the Gypsy Journal Rally last week, and the Escapade next week.  Last Friday we were invited by our friends from TechnoRV to join them for dinner at an Amish Family’s house.  In addition to dinner, they would take us on a horse and buggy ride if we wanted to go. 

Amish Dinner

The dinner was excellent.  Family style – 17 of us sat around a long dinner table and passed the meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad, chicken, corn, bread, and apple butter.  All homemade.  Mostly home-grown.  You could see the corn in the field outside the window!  It was delicious!  So good that I had no room for the homemade apple pie at dessert.  But I did share a piece! 

We enjoyed the dinner and coversation so much that we stayed for quite a while.  Late enough that it started to get dark. It was then that it really sunk in … this house has *no* electricity.  They do use propane for their refrigerator and an excellent, bright lamp.

Horse and Buggy Ride

The highlight was the horse and buggy ride.  We took a couple of pictures – we were told that it was OK as long as we didn’t photograph our hosts – and I turned the camera to video for a minute as we went clop-clopping down the road.

Put pictures and video together with Moviemaker

The video is just a minute of the actual buggy ride.  We wanted the pictures to be combined with the video to give you the whole picture.  Windows Live Moviemaker makes this quite easy.  It is a free program from Microsoft, available on Vista and Windows 7. 

Steps in MovieMaker

  1. Add Videos and Photos
  2. Arrange videos and photos
  3. Add Music
  4. Click Automovie.  This will add pan and zoom effects to photos, transitions between elements, title slides at the beginning and end, *and* fit everything to the timing of the music!
    image
  5. Choose ‘Publish Movie to Youtube.’

Creating movies can be an extremely time-intensive endeavor.  But, with Moviemaker, it can take just a few minutes from camera to the web!

Posted in MovieMaker, Photo | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Windows 7: Snapping Windows

maximizeWindows 7 has added several innovative ways to move your windows around the screen, and manage your desktop. A great way to familiarize yourself with them is to watch the Microsoft official Windows 7 videos.

I just want to tell you about one new windows management technique that I now use *all* the time. That is to Maximize the window just by dragging it to the top of your screen. No need to find that little maximize button and click it. No need to remember the keyboard shortcut, just click and drag the top of the window to the top of the screen. When it bumps into the top of the screen, it will snap into the maximized state.

If you’ve got that … then try snapping two windows. You can drag one to the left and the other to the right. They will ‘snap’ into place, taking up exactly half of the screen. This is a great way to arrange 2 windows so you can see both at the same time. For example, you could arrange your screen so that Picasa is on the left, and instructions from our PicasaTutorials.com website are on the right.

Snap windows to each side
Note: if you use 2 monitors, like I do, you can only ‘snap’ to the left side of the left monitor and the right side of the right monitor.

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How to Find Images / Clipart

clipart We all know that pictures are worth a thousand words. But how do we find the picture that says the right thing? There are millions of images available to us now on the Internet. Did you know that you can ‘google’ for pictures just like you can google for anything else?

Let’s say you wanted an image of a motorhome. You can just google for motorhome, then find the little link that says ‘images.’

google

Now, instead of 41,000,000 results just for ‘motorhome’, you should be seeing around 1,250,000 images of motorhomes. If you see an image you like, you can right-click on it and either ‘copy image’ or ‘save picture as’ to grab yourself a copy of that image.

Copyright Free Images

But, those pictures that Google found for you may belong to someone else. If you’re just using it for something for yourself, that’s one thing, but if you want it for a brochure or website for example, that’s something else. You should find images that are copyright free. If you google for copyright free clipart, you will find a lot, but many of them come with spyware attached. It’s important to trust your source.

I use Microsoft clipart for free, copyright-free images. You can search for just about anything and you can get results that include drawings, or photographs or both. I searched for ‘RV’ to get that group of clipart above. Microsoft gets their images on a promotional basis from some of the best names in the business.

Professional Images

If I need really good images, I’m willing to pay a few dollars to iStockPhoto. It truly blows me away the quality of the photos you can get for just a few dollars. I use them for all the websites I build. When using a photo on a website, you only need the smallest image. It costs more for the larger ones, but they’re really unneccessary on the web.

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Updates are Like Rabbits

updatesUpdates, Updates, all those *maddening* updates. I just have to vent. Updates are important, and I will continue to accept them and wait for them to install, but OMG they’ve become SO numerous.

If you live in a house and have a hardwired Internet connection, you probably don’t notice it so much. Just leave your computer on and update automatically. But for folks who travel and have spotty Internet connections, we can spend all of our time downloading updates. I bought a new computer last fall, but the old one still works OK and I keep it in the bedroom to play an occasional movie, or watch TV with a USB TV tuner. Last night I turned it on for the first time in a couple weeks. It had 28 updates waiting to download and install. I fell asleep before it finished!

Ten to fifteen years ago, when Jim was a network administrator, he would often put off updating for a couple months, until they had proven themselves. We don’t have that  luxury today, you must update.

Windows comes out with updates once each month, and sometimes more. There are two reasons for updates – to add functionality and to fix bugs. Most bugs today are about security. And, it’s not just Windows. It seems like Adobe Acrobat (necessary for viewing .pdf files) has sent updates almost every week this last couple months. And, programs like your anti-virus software, and Picasa. And now I have updates for the operating system and apps on my Droid cellphone too!

You really need to plug those security holes so you need to get the updates installed ASAP. But, if you feel like cursing at all those updates … I hear you!

Posted in General Computer, Safe Computing | Tagged | 1 Comment

Antivirus Slowing Your Computer?

Practice Safe Computing.

You need to have security programs (Antivirus and Anti-Spyware) for your computer if you access the Internet.

Security suites are notorious for hogging system resources and requiring frequent updates.

The most popular programs tout many extra features, leading to what is referred to as “bloat”.

These programs will protect you, but in doing so, they will also slow your computer down.  Sometimes drastically.  They also cost $$.

On their websites, Trend Micro lists 13 major features and subsystems in its security suite, McAfee lists 14, and Symantec lists 33!

Do you need all these features?  Probably not.  Many of these features duplicate abilities built into Internet Explorer, Firefox and most other popular browsers.  They all offer link-checkers, pop-up-blockers, parental controls, and more. Windows (especially Win7) has a very good firewall.

If you are running a business with multiple computers, you may want the support offered with these security suite programs.  However, most users can get along with the free versions offered by many Antivirus vendors.

My favorite for many years has been AVG Free.  I still like it, but it has fallen prey to feature bloat, too.

Microsoft recognizes the problem and has a free program called Security Essentials.  Along with Windows built-in firewall and up to date browsers, you get all the protection and none of the bloat.

Microsoft Security Essentials is what I recommend for most Windows users.  It works with XP, Vista, and Win7.

Mac users now have a built in Anti-malware program.  They don’t advertise it, because they don’t like to admit that Macs can get infected.

Bottom line: Be smart and stay up to date.

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Gmail: How do you organize email messages into folders?

We all have too much email these days and it’s hard to stay organized.  Most email programs give you a way to create folders and store groups of email in those folders.  Gmail doesn’t have folders, but it has ‘Labels’ which accomplish the same goal … and then some!

Let’s say that you work freelance for 3 companies A, B, and C.  A and B are magazines, and C is a retail store.  You want to keep all your correspondence with these companies, so you want a folder for Company A, another for B and a third for C.  But, what if you also want to be able to see your emails grouped by Magazines or Retail?  You can’t do that with folders, but you can with labels.

How to Apply Labels

With a message open (or any number of messages checked) you click on the menu option for Labels and select the Label you want to apply to that message or those messages.  Notice that there are checkboxes next to the Labels so you can apply as many as you want. When you’ve checked all the Labels for the selected message(s) then click Apply. You can also ‘Create New’ to have more Labels available.

LabelList

How Do you See what Messages have been Labeled?

When you’re looking at the messages in your inbox, you will see the applied labels

inboxlabels

The Labels show up on the left sidebar and act like folders.  In the image below, the ‘Magazine Stuff’ label is selected, so all the messages which have that label applied are showing up on the right.

labelfolders

How to remove them from the Inbox

The key is to get them out of the inbox without deleting them. 

Archive. 

archive

Archive is the key.  When you archive, the messages leave the Inbox.  Where are they?  Every message is in a storage area called ‘All Mail.’  Actually, ‘Inbox’ is just another Label.  Archiving removes the Inbox label.  Messages are in All Mail and can be found by searching for them, or you can view them by Label.  

A little more about Archiving

Emails arrive in your inbox, these should be new emails. Once I read or answer an email, I want it out of my inbox. In most email programs, the only way to keep an email but remove it from your inbox is by moving it to a Folder.  What if you don’t have a specific category for it, you just don’t want to delete it?  In Gmail, you have another choice. You can ‘Archive’ it. That means, ‘Remove it from my Inbox, but keep it in that giant storage bin called ‘All Mail.’ Imagine that your Inbox has 2 trap doors, one for delete and one for keep. Archiving means to drop it thru the trapdoor for keep. It goes to a much bigger box where it can stay indefinitely. You can always find it by using Search.
So now, using Gmail, I read an email message, reply if necessary, and then I just click the Archive button. The message is removed from my Inbox but it is still stored in ‘All Mail’ where I can search for it by any words it contains at any time in the future that I may want to see it again.

Gmail is a little different, but if you take the time to understand it, you’ll find that it is very useful.

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Blogger for Small Business

I’ve been using Blogger for our personal Blog since we began our RVing adventure in 2003.  It is drop-dead easy.  When I started, it only accepted text – no pictures, no videos.  Over the years, they’ve added many capabilities while continuing to keep it drop-dead easy.  At times, I’ve toyed with the idea that you could use Blogger for a regular business website, but so far have always opted to advise the use of standard Website building methods, or WordPress.

Now I can recommend Blogger for a small business website.

The last few months have seen enhancements in Blogger that I think make it a viable choice for a small business who wants to do their website themselves.  I’m not talking about a business Blog.  I’m talking about a full-blown website.  Probably the most important new feature making this possible is the addition of ‘Pages.’  You see, a Blog is made up of dated entries called Posts.  Whenever you write a post, it is automatically put in date order with all the other posts.  If you wanted to have one page where you listed all your products and prices, you don’t want that page to be dated and published in order with other posts.  You want a page to be outside the flow, to stand on it’s own, and to be accessible from a menu. Another example is an ‘About Us’ page. 

image

Blogger calls that a ‘Page’ as opposed to a ‘Post’ and it has been available since late 2009.  What was still missing was any way to customize the design of the site so it didn’t look like everybody else’s Blog on Blogger.  Blogger’s new Template Designer fills that hole.  It is still in draft, but I’ve tried it and it seems to work great while still being very easy.

Blogger Stats

A business also wants to know if anyone is visiting their site.  Blogger now has their own ‘Blogger Stats’ that is much more informative than just a hit counter. 

Custom Domain

When you create a Blog using Blogger, you get a web address (URL) that ends in .blogspot.com.  For example, MyRVStuff.blogspot.com.  Most people with a small business don’t want an address like that.  They want MyRVStuff.com.  You can do that.  It’s called a Custom Domain.  If you own the domain name e.g. MyRVStuff.com there is a setting in Blogger to make your blog use that address.  And, if you don’t already have your domain, you can buy one thru Blogger for $10 for a year. 

image

Your blog/website will be hosted on Blogger’s free servers, but people will get to it by typing the custom domain name.  Your viewers will never see .blogspot.com. They type www.MyRVStuff.com and they will see the website you created with Blogger.

Will it Look Professional?

Well, that depends on just how picky you are!  Using Blogger’s new Template Designer, you can certainly make it look very nice.  But, if you have specific ideas of exactly how you want your website to look, this probably isn’t for you.  You may find a third party Blogger template that will work for you, but it has been my experience that once you use features that aren’t part of Blogger’s direct offerings, you may lose some of the functionality that Blogger offers.  There is a LOT of offerings though in third party templates, you might find something perfectly suited to your design needs.

If you don’t find anything in Template Designer or in Third Party Templates to suit your needs, then you need a Web Designer, and that can get very expensive.  I’m a believer in a small business starting up with what they can afford, and at $0, Blogger is something you can afford.  I say, build something that looks nice and is functional, for free.  When the business can afford it, you can get fancy!

Show-Me-How Videos on Blogger that apply to this article:

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