How to Shop Like a Tech Nerd this Christmas
Whether you are a Do It Yourself webmaster or just looking to make sure your home computer is running well, you can put some truly useful items on your holiday wish list.
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I'm dedicating this newsletter to listing the toys and tools that I have used personally and have liked. Some of the items are fun, some of them are useful, and a couple are the best-of-class programs that help you practice safe computing.
I love using computers, software, and other electronics.
I hope you will enjoy -- or at least find useful -- the suggestions here. I am happy to talk with you if you have any questions about these items or if you want recommendations for items that I haven't mentioned.
|We Were Early Adaptors, but the Kindle Book Reader is Ready for Prime Time|
| We bought the original version of the Kindle and loved it from Day 1. Newer Kindles are smaller, easier to navigate, and considerably cheaper. Kindles are not just for techies any more.|
Kindles allow you to get new books in a minute. You can go on a business trip or vacation with a stack of books that weigh just a pound or so. And, you can synch your reading between your Kindle, your smart phone app, and your computer. When you pick up the "book" on any device, Amazon will take you to where you left off reading.
The black and white Kindles are terrific for reading in sunshine and bright places. And, the smallest of the models are less than $100.
I haven't tried the new color-screen Kindle Fire, but its additional apps and functionality may win me over. The downsides to the Fire are its price ($200), the fact that color screens aren't as readable in sunlight, and it connects to Amazon only through WiFi. Its upsides are its price (only $200) and the fact that the color screen is more readable in dim light conditions. If you have one or get one, I'd love to know your review.
|So You Really Want to Play at Blogging... WordPress and Blue Host Set You Up|
Blogging can be/should be fun. Your personal or business blog gives you a place to share your views on life or on how your organization or industry is doing.|
I don't think you should blog because you think you should. And, I think most people should try blogging at a free site before they spend the money on a hosted, custom blog site. (See "So You Think You Need a Business Blog?" for my comments on peer-pressured blogging and giving yourself a free trial at blogging before buying.)
But, if you are ready for your own, customizable, independently hosted blog, I have two suggestions.
- Use the WordPress blogging platform.
WordPress is free, there's on-going development, and there is a huge community writing add-ons and providing user-to-user support.
Plus, I am familiar with WordPress and can help you with your customization questions.
You can download WordPress from WordPress.org, but most hosting services have a way for you to install it built into their control panel. This brings us to recommendation #2...
- Host your blog at Blue Host
Blue Host has a one-button (plus a couple of questions) installation service for WordPress blogs.
I use other hosting services for most of my clients' websites, but I tested Blue Host after reading how well it supported WordPress blogging. Blue Host is just easier to use for WordPress than any other service I have tried, and their prices are competitive with the other low-end shared hosting services that meet my clients' needs. I use Blue Host for my own Dangerous Common Sense business blog, and I have set clients up with Blue Host for their blogs.
More on Blue Host
|DIY Website Creation and Maintenance|
|I confess that there is nothing magical about what I do. If you have the time and the patience, you can create your own website.|
There are two pieces of software that are critical to making a quality site: a HTML editor for the web pages and a photo editor for the graphics. I recommend two Adobe products for this work. Adobe offers a free 30-day trial of its products, so you can download them and try them out before you spend any money.
- Dreamweaver CS5.5
Dreamweaver is the industry standard HTML editor/source code creation tool. Like any modern HTML editor, you design a page in a WYSIWYG screen similar to what you do when you write a MS Word document.
Dreamweaver not easy or particularly user friendly, but you will learn the small group of commands you need for a simple site relatively quickly. You can add more features, like roll-over buttons, expanding panels, and other jazzy features over time. Adobe also has some free video tutorials available, and there's a whole industry selling additional training and add-ons to Dreamweaver that let you do more with less effort.
Dreamweaver is expensive ($400), but you're paying for quality and also for being in the current mainstream of website authoring.
More on Dreamweaver CS 5.5
- Photoshop Elements 10
I actually own the full version of Photoshop, but I don't use half the capacities of that program. Photoshop Elements has all of the standard photo editing tool that most people need or understand for a 1/7th of the price of full-blown Photoshop.
Most website graphics need cropping, contrast adjusting, sharpening, and a few other simple edits. Photoshop Elements is more than enough unless you're moving into professional photography.
More on Photoshop Elements 10
|Chrismas Socks for Your Computer|
|Now we come to the techie gifts that are the equivalent of socks: security and back-up software. Maybe these are the gifts you can put on your wish list and tell your mother, aunt, or anal-retentive spouse about.|
Even if these are not fun, creative tools, you need these two items to protect your online life.
1. You need a good firewall and anti-virus program to keep bad guys from taking over your computer, highjacking it for their purposes, stealing your online banking username and passwords, and all that sort of evil stuff.
I strongly recommend ESET Security Suite (Firewall and Antivirus). Our whole household has used ESET products for 2 or 3 years without a problem. Their slogan has been "The best antivirus program you've never heard of," because they are not in bed with PC makers and don't come as trial versions like the major players. But, I like them because the programs are not huge resource hogs that freeze your computer when they scan a file. ESET's NOD32 Anti-Virus program protected my computer when another computer in the home network running another program let in some viruses. Plus, the ESET firewall system is somewhat understandable and customizable. Other firewalls are impossible to tweak because the manufacturers think they know better than you do about what should run on your computer.
If your subscription to your current anti-virus program and firewall is expired or close to it, I say start the new year with a new program.
More on ESET.
2. You need a service that automatically backs up your computer to a remote location via the Internet.
Back-ups have to be automatic and daily or else you are at risk of losing valuable data. The back-up should transfer the information somewhere away from your home so that fire, flood, earthquake, or theft doesn't take out both your computer and your back-up media.
I have used and like two products, Carbonite and Mozy. Both offer selective or full restoration of files, and they will restore a specific version of a file backed-up within the past 30 days. This versioning is a lifesaver for when you accidentally write over good information with a blank file or other mistake.
Both services are gradually increasing prices as home data storage gets huge. But, Carbonite seems to be trying to move upscale right now, so I suggest Mozy.
More on Mozy.
|Where to Post Your Social Network Message|
|Once you've decided on what geeky gift you want (or are giving yourself) for the holiday, I know that you'll want to tell people in your social network about your new toy.|
But, where should you post?
Here is a flow chart from Breakingcopy.com to help you decide the right venue for your message.
Click on the picture to see the original-size version on the creator's blog.