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This portion of the website is an ever expanding area for Do-It-Yourself types. Click on a topic below to read the answer. Just keep in mind that the opinions expressed here may not be universally accepted. If for some reason you take issue with an answer, then consider it as entertainment only.
 



A: I am glad you came here looking for answers. If you want something added to this page, submit your request using the 'Contact Us' form. I will do my best to get it answered; check back soon...
 

A: Probably not. If you are buying a portable Windows computer with a touchscreen, Windows 8 may work for you. But without a touchscreen, Windows 8/8.1 is exasperating. There are some people who claim to love the new Windows ‘Metro’ interface, but they are in the minority. There is a learning curve and Windows 8 comes with no instructions. Even with a touchscreen, users are challenged to figure out what gestures will make it do what they want.

Windows 8.1 has a default desktop mode, but it comes up short in the productivity department. There is no familiar ‘Start Menu’ and that has been the focus of many Windows 8 discussions. A couple ‘Start Menu’ replacements are available from third parties, and Microsoft has put back a ‘Start Button’ (but no Programs Menu). However, the issues in Windows 8 go much deeper than the “Start menu.”

The biggest problem I have with Windows 8 (yes, I own a copy and use it), is that it tries to be a one size fits all product. But as is often the case, things that come in a "one size fits all" never do fit well. A single version of Windows software cannot be optimized for a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and refrigerator.

As near as I can tell, the programmers at Microsoft who long ago brought us the Multiple Document Interface, tabbed browsing, and support for multiple monitors are now gone. And the new programmers seem to have a one track mind. They seem to think computers are used only for social networking! The concept that a user may want to cut & paste from one complex document to another, or compare things side by side is apparently uncomprehensible to them.

To give you an example of the frustration of using Windows 8, let me share with you an early experience I had. For early adopters, Microsoft was offering a free Media Center upgrade. I took them up on the offer, and they sent me an email outlining the five steps required to install it. Step 1 was to open the ‘Search Window’. But that's where things came to a screeching halt. It turns out that when you go to enter text in the ‘Search Field’, it opens FULL SCREEN – covering your view of the remaining 4 steps (including the product code). Apparently, I was supposed to print out the instructions before I began, rather than use them in a side-by-side window. How rediculous...

The above example is just one of the many aggravations I have with Windows 8 day after day after day after day… The bottom line is that it is a productivity killer. I do not recommend it.

Perhaps in Windows 10 Microsoft will correct the most glaring steps they took backward in Windows 8. But I think the problems in Wondows 8 go beyond it being an immature product, and rests squarely with the objective of making a one-size-fits-all Operating System. And until they go back to focusing on a product optimized for how each device is used, their product will remain disappointing.

P.S. You can still buy a new PC with Windows 7 by shopping at places that cator to small businesses, and update it for free later to Windows 10 (which has simular issues, but not as bad).


A: There are two components to your question – the physical aspects of your network and the security aspects. I will address the security concerns first.

The biggest security factor is physical security. If no one can get to your data, it is secure. Ideally then, your network would be an isolated wired system within an impenetrable building. However, this is not practical if you want to communicate with the outside world. Your exposure multiplies when you are mobile with your laptop/tablet/smartphone. So…

I encourage people to use strong logon passwords with their PCs. This slows down the casual snooper, such as your babysitter. If you do want to let someone use your PC, then create a special account for that purpose (with its own password). Because stuff get stolen, passwords alone are not good enough – an identity thief can connect your stolen laptop hard drive and/or smartphone to a PC and help themselves to any personal information stored there. So, encrypt your device!

Wireless networks pose an increased security risk. If you have a wireless router on your network, you must check the settings – even if you do not connect wirelessly. Older routers have been shipped with wireless enabled, and consequently, users unwittingly did not realize their neighbors could browse their network! This is a widespread problem – I often visit a home where at least one unsecured wireless network is within range…

To check your wireless settings, refer to your manual or the manufacturer’s website for the procedure. Typically, you can access your router by typing http://192.168.0.1 or http://192.168.1.1 in your web browser. Find the wireless settings and make sure you use WPA2 encryption if you have the wireless radio enabled. (Weaker forms of encryption can be hacked.) A long (13 chars) encryption password that no one would guess is best – the security of your wireless network depends on it!

Some people suggest turning off the SSID broadcast in the router. I recommend against that. When establishing connectivity, at least one device must advertize its presence. When you shut off the SSID broadcast in the router, then the laptop must toot its horn. Although it may make you feel better and confuse a casual snoop when your wireless network does not appear in Windows Wireless Networking, that is not what matters. The threat occurs when you are in a coffee shop and a serious hacker eavesdrops on your device continuously announcing the SSID of your home network, in an effort to automatically connect! At that point, you've been had. Ideally, your device should remain silent about any network it will connect to. Therefore, your router needs to broadcast the SSID to initiate connections, which you protect with a strong password.

To share files and printers, you must turn on printer and file sharing. This setting is found under Start | Control Panel | Network and Internet | Network and Sharing Center | Change advanced sharing settings (menus in XP are similar); File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks must be checked.

If you need granular control over file/folder access (not likely), then you can turn off ‘simple file sharing’ and configure duplicate accounts on each PC (presuming your PCs are configured for a workgroup, rather than an enterprise domain). To turn off simple file sharing, open Windows Explorer (Winkey – E) and select ‘Folder Options’ under the ‘Tools’ menu (in Windows 8/10, it is under the ‘Options' dropdown, under the View Tab). Near the bottom of the ‘Advanced settings’ list under the ‘View’ tab, uncheck ‘Use Sharing Wizard’. To setup duplicate accounts, make sure all your PCs have all your logon accounts added, using the same password on each PC.

Printing is easiest if your printer supports an Ethernet/wireless connection (a wireless scanner/copier/printer that’s supports WiFi encryption can be had for <$100). Otherwise, you will need to ‘share’ the printer from the PC it is connected to (or go to the trouble & expense of a network print server; often >$100). To share your printer from your PC, go to the printer ‘Properties’ (see Printers, in the Control Panel) by right-clicking the printer. Under the ‘Sharing’ tab in the printer properties, you can enable sharing. Of course you also have to add the printer to each of your other PCs.

I personally prefer wired network connections to wireless. They are faster and more reliable. Typically, your Cable/DSL modem would connect to a ‘N’ type wireless router, which connects your PCs and other devices. I strongly recommend a Gigabit Router that supports "simultaneous dual band."

By using a router that can operate on the 802.11a 5GHz band (presuming your devices can use 802.11a), you can avoid all the congestion and interference on the 802.11g band, including Bluetooth. I have been to sites where more than a dozen wireless systems were in range, and more than a half dozen were on the same channel! You can be sure that wireless performance in that neighborhood was marginal at best. That is why I recommend you use wireless connectivity only in circumstances where hardwired connections are impractical, and then use wireless 'N'.

You mentioned that you want to connect your satellite receiver to your network too. I am guessing you may be a DirecTV customer who wishes to use their ‘On Demand’ feature to download movies, and/or use their ‘DirecTV2PC’ feature to watch HD content on your PC/laptop. This is a situation where it definitely would be best to have the DirecTV HR22 DVR hardwired to your router. Presuming you have 15mbps cable Internet download speeds, with this setup it is possible to ‘schedule’ a full length movie from your PC, and then immediately begin watching it in full HD quality on your PC (presuming you have a HD capable monitor). With Windows 7 or higher, you can also play movies from your PC on your TV. Or view a slideshow on your TV created from pictures on your PC. (Windows 8 supports Miracast connections.) It’s all feasible with a good secure network.
 

A: Good question; it depends on the price and your situation. If the subscription is not transferable, your "lifetime" update may not get used much if your GPS happens to get stolen, quit, or you decide you want a new one with updated features. However, having said that, I bought lifetime map updates for my Garmin because we drive a lot and I expect to keep my GPS for quite awhile (I have connected a backup camera to it, and newer models generally do not have external video inputs). Presuming you got up-to-date maps with your new unit (often free during the first 30 days), then a cheaper single map update at some point down the road may be your best option.
 

A: Sound reinforcement in a large room is not a DIY project! The speakers must take into account the room dimensions and accoustics, This means speaker selection and setup must be customized for the specific environment. You need to hire a contractor that can measure the frequency response of the room in the time domain, and then model various implementations (including accoustic treatments) using a PC to analyze the result. If your contractor cannot demonstrate a computer model of how his system solution will work, including the impact of near and far reflections on intelligibility, then you will almost certainly be disappointed with your purchase. This is not a matter of chosing 'good' speakers; it is a matter of which speakers are most appropriate, taking into account how they can be configured and what accoustical treatment may realistically be employed to augment their performance.
 

A: Since you are asking about video projection, I am assuming you have a room that's too large for a large screen TV/monitor (where LCD works better to minimize reflections and plasma works better for wide viewing angles). Personally, I prefer DLP projectors over LCD because they have higher contrast ratios. Where high ambient light levels exist, I generally prefer rear projection. If you use front projection in a well lit room, unless it is an extremely bright projector, it will result in an image that appears very washed out compared to using a DLP or Laser projector with rear projection. And it goes without saying that for a larger screens you need more lumens (4000-10000) of light output. If performance trumps cost, look into using Elation EZ4 LED Video Panels.
 

A: Uh, turn your PC off and leave it off. OK, seriously, there are things you can and should do to reduce the likelihood of viruses getting into your PC. The main thing is to keep your software up-to-date, including your anti-virus software. Windows should be configured to automatically update itself. This setting is under Control Panel | System and Security | Windows Update. For Anti-Virus software you may want to try 'Security Essentials.' It can be downloaded free from Microsoft's website by going to http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/. Unfortunately, keeping all your other programs (such as Adobe Reader, Flash, QuickTime, etc.) up-to-date is not as easy. You often need to go to the manufacturer's website and manually download and install their update (some programs may have a menu option to do this, and/or can do it automatically). I recommend that home users download and install the Secunia Personal Software Inspector, since this clever program will help immensely with this task (http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/). Lastly, if a pop-up appears unexpectedly while browsing the Internet, don't believe for a moment that the 'Cancel' button is real -- the bad guys program their nasty payload to install no matter where you click! The way to back out of their trap is to go into Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Delete) and perform an 'End Task' operation on the offending program. If you have to, shut off your PC rather than clicking anywhere on any unexpected pop-up window that informs you your PC has been scanned and found to have numerous virus infections! DONT FALL FOR IT! Those types of pop-ups are merely a brand new implementation of an old con (your Anti-Virus will be updated to detect it in a few days) and they can mysteriously appear while browsing websites you trust. Especially don't give them your credit card number to allegedly fix your allegedly infected PC!!