Computers Confuse Me Blog

Technology Tidbits for the Non-Technical

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From the author and designer of ComputersConfuseMe.com comes a technology rich blog for the non-technical. ... more

Moving to sgawne.com/blog

February 18th, 2009

I’ve decided to create a blog to go along with my photography website so this blog will be moving to a new address, www.sgawne.com/blog/.

The new blog will be split between photography related posts and technology related posts. I feel this is a good move for me because I would never be able to maintain both blogs individually and it allows me to focus more on my photography hobby while still posting periodic tech related tips, tricks and news.

So please join me at the new blog!

Thanks!

-Scott

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When you delete a file in windows the file is moved to the recycle bin, but did you know that even after emptying the recycle bin the file still exists? Whether you’re giving your old computer to a family member, donating it to a charity or just tossing it out in the trash, you must securely erase the hard drive to protect your data!

When you delete a file you’re simply telling the operating system (i.e. Windows) the file is no longer needed and it’s OK to overwrite the storage space it once took up. If the the actual space on the hard drive has not yet been overwritten with new data the information still exists and is recoverable, even though you can’t see it. In some cases even overwritten the space still leaves some of the data recoverable.

The only way to be sure your personal data is completely safe is to use a tool that will securely erase your drive buy writing over it with multiple passes of random data. The good news is there are plenty of good free tools to handle this, below are two of the most popular.

A program like eraser can securely erase an entire hard drive or specific files and folders of drives your still using. Eraser can also be used to overwrite “white space” of active drives. This means you can use it to securely erase all free space on your hard drive and ensure data from previously deleted files is no longer recoverable.

Darik's Boot and Nuke
Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) is another excellent program when you need to securely erase an entire hard drive. You simply add the tool to a CD, USB stick, DVD or floppy drive and then boot your computer with the device connected. During the boot process your computer will find the tool and ask you to choose which drives you want to wipe. Select the drive or partition you want to erase and off it goes.

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As you probably know by now Microsoft has made some major changes to the interface in the their Microsoft Office 2007 suite up applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), specifically the “Ribbon”. The ribbon is essentially a completely new way of displaying buttons, tools, commands and menus items which is “intended” to enhance usability and decreases the time it takes to edit documents.

However, until you learn to use the ribbon it could have the exact opposite affect! Most people find themselves continually hunting for buttons and tools that they could easily find in the past.  Don’t worry they still exist! You just have to learn where to look, and here’s how:

One of the best tools to make this transition easier is the Microsoft Office Interactive Guides. The site contains Microsoft Office 2007 user interface guides for each application in the suite. The guides are simple visual tools that show you were where to look in Office 2007 to find the same exact tool you used in Office 2003. (If you’re used to a version older than 2003 don’t worry, it’s probably similar enough to 2003 that the tool will work just fine for you as well.)

You can launch web based versions or download them and take them with you. They run independent of other programs and don’t require any version of office to be installed on your computer.

After you launch one of the guides you are presented with the Office 2003 interface where you navigate to the button or menu you were searching for. By hovering over the item you are presented with a simple description of where to look in Office 2007 to find the same tool. If you click an item you get an animated display. It’s that simple!

Here’s the link where you can find the interactive guides: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/training/HA102295841033.aspx.
You may also want to check out the Microsoft Office training site for lots of other helpful information on the Office suites: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/training/FX100565001033.aspx

Now that you’re well on your way to learning how to use the ribbon you can take full advantage of one of its best features: hovering over an item on the ribbon will temporarily modify your document (until you hover off) so you can see exactly what the results of selecting the item will be, no more trial and error!

Good luck and enjoy!

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More and more programs these days are using tabs in one form or another, web browsers and Firefox and IE have had tabs for a long time. Most of these programs now also allow you to drag and drop the tabs to re-order them. The drag and drop feature lets you organize better and helps to increase your proficiency.

So if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering why hasn’t Microsoft added this feature to the taskbar of the Windows operating system. If you could re-order your open applications and windows you could group them together in order by the tasks your are working on.

There’s no reason to keep waiting for Microsoft, meet Taskbar Shuffle!

This little program is easy to install and works as advertised. Taskbar Shuffle runs in your system tray without slowing things down. Once installed you can begin dragging your taskbar items around and reordering them any way you like. Go ahead, give it a shot!

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Discover New Music!

November 16th, 2008

No matter how large your music collection you’re probably getting tired of hearing the same songs over and over again? And this can’t be more true for those of us who’s collection is full of popular songs heard constantly on the radio. It’s time to Discover New Music!

The other day I ran across a blog post with 10 ways to discover new music. Two of the programs I’ve previously talked about in my “Calling All Music Lovers” post, Pandora.com and Last.fm. Both are large music discovery services with free personalized internet radio without audio advertisements and slightly different methods for recommending new music, last.fm also has the added bonus of a large social network.

If you’ve tried both of these be sure to check out “Top 10 Ways to Discover New Music” for 8 more unique tools. Skreemr, an MP3 search engine, and Musicovery, find music from a particular era and genre that fits your mood, are just two of the tools mentioned.

Out of these 10 tools I’m sure you’ll find something to help expand your collection beyond the over played radio hits. But don’t forget to check out Amie Street if you like independent music. Their unique pricing methods make it easy to discover popular independent artists of all genres.

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Awareness Test

October 25th, 2008

Think you are always aware of your surroundings? Think again! I ran across this little awareness test today and figured I would share it with you. I’ll admit that I failed and I consider myself to be more aware of my surroundings than most. Enjoy!

Take the Awareness test!

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Still having trouble deciding who to vote for? Lifehacker list the “Top 10 Web Tools For Election Season” to help you learn about each of the candidates and where they stand on the issues that matter most to you!

The tools included everything from side-by-side comparisons, video clips, spending & donation trackers, polling locations, recent news, candidate positions on your hot-button topics and fact checkers.

Rounding out the top three are Microsoft’s Political Streams and Google’s blog search for tracking current stories at #3, fund raising and donation trackers OpenSecrets.org and Fundrace 2008 at #2, and FactCheck.org at #1 for finding the truths.

Check out the full Lifehacker article to see all ten tools and learn more.

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Have you ever fallen asleep on the subway or bus and missed your stop? Then you need iNAP!

iNAP is an application for the iPhone that will wake you up when you arrive at your destination, perfect for those who use public transportation or carpool. Just provide your final final destination and the distance from which you wish to be notified. When iNap registers that you have arrived within your specified distance it will alert you.

Best of all, it only cost $1 – think of how much better you’ll sleep when you don’t have to worry about going past your destination!

iNAP: What an excellent idea! Just make sure you try it out once before going to sleep, your destination may not get good reception and then iNAP will not know when you get close.

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Teaching a child how to use a digital camera and take great pictures is a tough task. You want the child to enjoy it but still learn some technique, that’s not easy without boring the child. So where do you start?

Check out The Digital Photography School’s (DPS) article: “13 Lessons to Teach Your Child About Digital Photography“. These tips are good enough that even though the article is written for teaching children these tips can really be used by beginners of any age.

Enjoy!

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Three weeks ago I stumbled upon hundredpushups.com. I briefly looked over the site and thought what a great idea. A 6 week training plan that builds you up to one hundred consecutive push ups. Well actually, my initial thoughts were “Wow, one hundred consecutive push ups, that sounds like something I would never be able to do.” But after a brief look over the plan it seemed like something that might actually be obtainable and wouldn’t take much time out of each day.

I’m currently training for the Army Ten-Miler run September 5th in Washington DC and I was forced to take the whole month of July off due to a hamstring injury so I needed to get back into shape quickly. This seemed like a perfect challenge to take on the days I’m not running, plus it’s perfect for getting me started on some upper body exercises.

I just completed week 3 (Friday) and I’m ready to start week 4 Monday. So far each of the workouts have been pretty tough but I’m getting through them and I’m already noticing a big difference in the number of good form pushups I’m able to complete successfully. Week three had me completing 102 push ups in 5 sets. I have to admit, the last set was very difficult and I had to take a few seconds in the rest position after 10, and then again after 15 in order for me to finish the workout. Week 4 looks similar so hopefully I’ll be able to complete it successfully because week 5 starts changing the routine a bit and looks like it could be difficult. I love a challenge though!

3 more weeks to see if I can get to one hundred consecutive push ups.

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