Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How To Create PDF Documents For Free!

For those of you that occasionally need to convert documents and spreadsheets into pdf format, here is a great trick.

Google has recently released a free word processor and spreadsheet that can be used online for free. Although not as robust as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, these programs do offer an impressive feature set. Google allows you to save your created files online through your Google account, and even upload Microsoft files and view or edit them within Google Documents.

If you need to create a quick pdf file of a Microsoft Word or Excel file, here is a great way to do it for free.

Open up Google Documents and select upload at the top of the page. Browse your hard drive for the file that you want to convert and upload it into Google Documents. After your file uploads, it will appear opened inside of Google documents and you will be able to view and edit your file.

To create a pdf, simply select file and then export as pdf. You'll have a brand new pdf file of your document within seconds.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How to Stream Itunes Plus Downloads to Xbox 360

The new iPod touch players look fantastic. So much so that I've become determined to make the switch to an Apple iPod.

Unfortunately, I use an Xbox 360 and a Roku Soundbridge to stream music throughout my house. The Soundbridge seems to have no problem streaming the "unprotected" Itunes plus tracks, but the Xbox 360 was a no-go.

Here is what I did to get it to work.

Microsoft's Zune software has the same media server abilities as Windows Media Player. However, unlike WMP it is also capable of streaming Apples AAC format as well as mp3's and WMA tracks. Plus, it streams video's and photos as well, which apparently is a requirement of Xbox 360's media streaming function.

I downloaded the Zune software onto my laptop and it automatically imported my Itunes plus AAC tracks into the library. I also downloaded the Xbox 360 update that enables AAC decoding. Its a free download in the games section of the Xbox Live Marketplace.

I disconnected my WMP streaming laptop from the "Computers" section of the system blade in the Xbox 360. Then I went to the Music section and selected "Computer." I was given the option to select a computer to stream from and I selected the "Zune" server.

Xbox 360 was able to see my Itunes plus track but it did not play it. However, it did play AAC music that was ripped from a CD into Itunes. This was progress.

Apparently, the "unprotected" Itunes plus track has some extra data that makes it unplayable in the Xbox 360. Not exactly DRM free. Hopefully Microsoft will address this and fix it in the future. In the meantime, there is a semi-painless workaround.

If you open Itunes and right click your Itunes plus track, you have an option to convert it to AAC. This will slightly downgrade the quality, but it will make the track playable on your Xbox 360. Unfortunately, it also makes an extra copy the track on your hard drive which eats up more space.

Not a perfect solution, but its good enough for me. I'm going to order an iPod touch now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

3 Ways to Print Wireless

As a wifi laptop user, I often carry my computer to various places around the house to do work. But I only have one printer which is in my office. I often find it frustrating to have to carry my laptop into the office when I just want to print something quickly. Here are three solutions to that problem.

  1. Buy a printer with built-in ethernet or wifi.
  2. Get a router with a built in printer port.
  3. Buy a wireless print server.
If you just bought a printer recently and you don't want to upgrade to a wireless model, your best bet would be to upgrade your router or get a wireless print server.

However, if it is time to upgrade that printer, do yourself a favor and get these features built in. Its an simpler and cleaner solution to wireless printing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Set up a Cheap THX Certified Sound System

A room busting THX Certified Home theater system doesn't have to completely bust your budget. Although some THX certified theaters can easily sell in the $10,000 + range, a smart consumer can put together a great sound system for under $1000.

The home theater in a boxonkyo hts990thx system is one of the best values in home theater on the market. Here are a few of the details.

  • 110 Watts per Channel Minimum into 8 Ohms, 2 Channels Driven, FTC
  • HDTV-Capable (50 MHz) Component Video Switching (3 Inputs/1 Output)
  • Color-Coded 7.1-Multichannel Inputs (Receive 7.1 Surround Sound from Compatible Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD Players)
  • XM Ready with XMHD Surround

The best part about this system is the price...currently $799.00 at Amazon. And the consumer reviews I've seen have been pretty positive. One of the few complaints is the absence of HDMI inputs.........which may not be necessary if your TV already has HDMI inputs.

Everything you need is in the box. And although its not on par with top of the line systems, it will be very pleasing for most users and you won't have to worry about all the extra work, money and research that comes with a high-end system.

How to Soundproof your Home Theatre

Sound and Vision is currently running a nice article on soundproofing your home theater. Some of the recommendations include double-stacking drywall, installing a dense acoustic matting material or use natural soundproofing materials, beefing up windows and doors and sealing gaps.

The ultimate goal is to increase the STC (sound transmission class) rating which describes a material's ability to affect sound transfer. A rating of 65 or higher usually results in a great soundproof theater.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

How to get free anti virus software and spyware

For those of you unable or unwilling to pay the pricey annual subscriptions for the of Norton Anti-Virus or McAfee, there is another option. AVG offers totally free anti virus programs for non-business users. It is not quite as full-featured as Norton or McAfee, but it is a quality program that can be downloaded for free at download.com. You can use AVG for real-time anti virus protection and to run scheduled daily scans. AVG regularly updates its virus definitions which you can download for free.

While you are there, make sure to download a copy of Ad-Aware 2007, a free anti spy program that is widely used on the Internet.

With these programs, you get anti virus spyware free software that will protect your computer from threats without threatening your wallet.

5 Ways to Listen to Mp3's in Your Car

Mp3 players allow you to carry your entire music collection with you wherever you go. But listening to those tracks on your car stereo isn't always easy and straightforward. Here are 5 ways to get those mp3's playing in your car.

  1. iPod dock - If you have an ipod, this is a great option available in some new cars like the Scion line. Plug in your iPod and browse your tracks through your stereo interface.
  2. Auxiliary jack - Most new cars are now including an aux jack as a standard feature on their car stereo systems. You connect your mp3 player to the aux jack via an audio cable and use your players interface to select tracks. If your car doesn't have this, you can buy a relatively inexpensive new car stereo with an aux jack and replace your current system. Discount mp3 players such as an ipod shuffle or a creative zen stone will work great with this option.
  3. Fm transmitter - This option allows your mp3 player to transmit an FM signal that your car stereo can pick up with its fm tuner. I've tried this option and found the quality to be inconsistent, but it may be an option.
  4. Cassette adapter. This is an old fashioned option that allows you to transmit a signal from your mp3 players line-out to a car stereo tape deck. Again, not the best quality, but it works.
  5. Travel speakers - The final and crudest option is to use a pair of travel speakers that are designed to work with an mp3 player. It bypasses your audio system altogether........but at least you get your own music.

Friday, August 24, 2007

How to Calibrate your HDTV Yourself

HDTV's are becoming increasingly better calibrated out of the box. However, if you are a person who is particularly picky about your HDTV picture, but you don't want to pay big bucks for a professional calibration, then you can try the Digital Video Essentials Calibration DVD.......newly available on HD-DVD.

I tried the DVD version of the disc and I must admit that I learned a lot, although much of the material can be very technical for the average user. However, taking some time to run through some of the calibration steps should improve your overall picture. The video takes you through a series of test screens and then gives you an opportunity to pause the disc to calibrate your TV. You will get a brief explanation of each test screen and instructions on what to look for.

Its an interesting DVD to watch if you are a techy geek with extra time on your hands. And although its not a professional calibration, you will learn a lot and should get some improvement in your picture.

Spyware Removal - Free Computer Security Software - Spyware

A lot of people I know do a poor job of performing regular spyware removal. Free computer security software for spyware is easy to find at reputable sites like download.com. One of the more popular free programs is Ad-Aware, but plenty of other programs like Yahoo Anti-Spy will also get the job done. In fact, it doesn't hurt to regularly run 2 anti-spy software programs just in case one program detects a problem that another program does not catch.

After you install it, all you need to do is keep the software updated with the latest spyware definitions and run the program regularly (running it daily is recommended). Some programs will even schedule regular scans for you......although you may need to upgrade to a paid subscription for this service.

It is important not to take this too lightly. A nasty spyware program can create havoc on your system and even steal valuable information like passwords and credit card numbers. Scanning regularly has become essential computer maintenance.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

How to Watch the NFL in HD for Free

It's NFL season, and if you have an HDTV then you will have an opportunity to watch the games as they were meant to be seen.

But don't worry if you don't have the pricey NFL Sunday Ticket with Superfan. If you are able to receive regular HDTV broadcasts, then all you need is an HDTV with a built-in tuner and a old antenna. Many Fox and CBS stations broadcast NFL games weekly over-the-air in high definition. And you can pick up these broadcasts with an old VHF/UHF antenna. You may need to play around with the location of the antenna, depending on where you live, but I don't have a problem receiving HD signals in my basement where I live.

Many people don't realize that the quality of HDTV through a regular antenna can often exceed the quality of satellite or cable. The broadcasts are usually completely uncompressed. So grab that old antenna out of the garage and enjoy the NFL for free in beautiful high definition.

Connecting HD TV to DVD player - How to Select the Best Video Cable

If you have just purchased your first HDTV, you will want to do some research on what cables to use when connecting your hd tv to your dvd player.

Most likely, your old DVD player was connected to your old TV via a composite video cable or an s-video cable. You can use these cables to connect your DVD player to your new HDTV, however you will not achieve the highest quality.

Many DVD players have a component cable-out connection that you probably didn't use or weren't able to use with your old tube TV. It is a cable with 3 video cables (red, blue, and green) instead of one yellow cable.

Using this component cable with give you a significantly higher quality picture that will look great on your new hdtv.

Another less common option is an HDMI cable. Some higher quality DVD players have this connection. If it is available, use it. It offers the highest quality and passes both video and audio signals though a single cable.

Most of these cables can be purchased for a relatively low cost at a local store or on the internet (be careful.......some places can charge in excess of $100 for HDMI cables that are probably more expensive than you need). Its a great way to get a picture quality upgrade with very little effot.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How to Set Up an Webcam Video Conference?

If you don't have a webcam set up on your computer, you are missing out on an amazing communication tool that allows you to have video conferences with your friends and family for free. Here's what you need:

Webcam with built in microphone
Broadband internet connection
Computer less than 5-6 years old
MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger

This is such a simple thing to set up that its a wonder that more people do not take advantage of it. Both MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger allow you to video conference with anyone in the country who is a member of their messenger service. Anyone can join and it doesn't cost anything. Simply download the software from either Yahoo or Microsoft, install it, and sign up for an account if you do not already have one. (If you use Yahoo Mail or Hotmail, then you can use your existing username and password for your messenger account.........its all connected).

Most webcams come with built-in microphones and plug into your computers USB port. Just follow the setup disc that comes with the camera to install the hardware.

To start a video conversation in MSN Messenger, simply click on any one of your "buddies" and select "start video conversation." If its your first time attempting this, MSN messenger will take you through a few simple steps to configure your webcam and microphone. Once that is set up, your "buddy" will be notified that you want to start a conversation. After they accept your invitation, your be having a video conversation within a few seconds.

Yahoo works a little different. You first need to call your "buddy" in a voice-only conversation. Then, you invite your friend to view your webcam separately.

In my experience, MSN provides a higher quality video conference than Yahoo. But they both work great and its mostly a matter of preference.

That's all there is too it. Now get that webcam set up and start communicating like its 2007.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quick and Easy Extra Hard Drive

Are all of those digital music files eating up your hard drive? Need a way to back up your files?

If you have a laptop, or you're not comfortable popping open your desktop, an external hard drive is a great solution to this problem.

External hard drives have come a long way in terms of storage and price. You can now get a quality 500GB external hard drive for under $200. These plug into your computer via USB or firewire and instantly provide extra storage space with little or no setup.

If you want a portable solution, lightweight drives of 120GB can sometimes be found for under $100 dollars if you are a savvy shopper. Unlike their larger cousins, portable hard drives draw power directly from your computer and do not need to be plugged into a power outlet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How to Set Up a Wifi Network?

Do you want to free your network from wires? A Wifi network is a quick and easy way to set up a home network without running wires through your entire house. And with today's technology, Wifi provides a fast, reliable, and relatively safe solution.

Good Wifi routers can be found for less than $100 dollars. They work just like a standard router, but provide the added capability of wireless networking. The Netgear WGT624 Super G is a good Wifi router with great coverage and can be found on Amazon for around $60.00.

Many newer laptops come with built-in Wifi capabilities. If your laptop is not equipped with wifi, you can add a PCMCIA card, or a usb wifi adapter. Most desktops do not come with Wifi built in so you will also need to add a usb adapter or PCI card to any desktop that you want to add wireless networking to.

You may see a list of Wifi standards such as 802.11a,b,g. G is the currently the top certified choice but the new N standard may be approved as early as this year. Most newer products are backwards compatible with all of the available standards. If you want to get a jump of the new N standard (which should be faster and cover greater distances), you can find routers available with the Pre-N designation. However, most people will be more than happy with a backwards compatible G standard.

The router you purchase should come with its own installation CD that will guide you through the setup process. Here are some of the key things to keep in mind.
  1. Your network will need a name: Pick something catchy that only you would know.
  2. You'll need to set up security or anyone can access your network. Most routers give you a choice between WEP and WPA. Although neither are completely secure, your best bet is to go with WPA. You will need to create a key and write it down in a safe place. Anyone who wants to access your network will need to enter this key.
  3. You may want to turn off the broadcasting of your network name as an added security measure. Any computer that wants access to your computer will first need to know the name of your network.
  4. You can also control access to your network by individual MAC addresses (a computer's unique id). You can restrict access of your network to specific MAC addresses.
  5. To connect to the Internet via a Wifi connection, make sure that you run an ethernet cable directly from your cable or dsl modem to your wireless router.
  6. In order to share files, you will need to run the windows wireless network setup wizard. After you run the wizard, save the setup file on a usb drive (you will be given this option) and use the usb drive to run the wizard on every computer that you want to set-up on your network.
  7. If you want to share a printer, you can install the printer on any computer set-up on your network and print through that computer as long as it is turned on. Go to Control Panel -> Printers and Faxes -> Add Printer -> A network printer -> and browse for a printer. Select the printer that is connected to your networked computer and finish the wizard. You should be able to print wirelessly through that computer.
  8. Your computer's network connections will either be managed by windows or by software included in your wireless laptop or networking card. You will use this program to connect to any network that you might want to access.
There it is. Not too painful. Enjoy the freedoms of wireless networking.

Monday, April 16, 2007

5 Ways To Make Your Computer Run Faster

As a computer ages, it seems like increasingly becomes slower and slower. Part of the problem is that newer programs require more memory and processing power. Eventually, a computer is unable to run newer applications.

The other part of the problem is that most people don't practice regular computer maintenance. Over time, your computer becomes cluttered with spyware, programs running in the background, and a fragmented hard drive. Here are a few things you can do to speed up your windows computer.

  1. Run a spyware checker and remove all spyware from your system - try a free application like Adaware or Yahoo Anti-Spy.
  2. Defragment your hard drive. This is a free windows program that is already on your computer. Try running it at night before you go to bed. You'll wake up with a better performing hard drive.
  3. Uninstall any applications that you never use. This frees up hard drive space and will prevent some of these programs from using up valuable sytem memory.
  4. Shut down start-up processes that you don't need. There are 2 ways to do this. First, if you know a program is starting up everytime you boot your computer, go into that program's settings and tell it not to run when windows starts up. Another option is to go into your system configuration and selectively remove programs from the startup process. To do this, go to start -> run -> and type msconfig. Select the Startup tab and unselect any program that you do not want to run everytime windows starts (Make sure you set a system restore point before doing this in case something goes wrong!!)
  5. Install more memory. Many systems are equipped with too little memory to adequately perform multiple tasks. Adding memory is an easy and relatively inexpensive was to boost your systems performance. If you are running Windows XP, make sure that you have at least 512MB of memory. 1GB of memory should result in a significant performance increase.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How to Rip a Lossless Audio File

For most people, a standard compressed mp3 audio file is good enough. Itunes compress their audio files in AAC format at 128kbps. Other music stores such as Yahoo, Napster, and Rhapsody compress their files at 160kbps-190kbps.

What is the difference? Basically, a lower bit rate like 128kbps takes up less space on a hard drive or mp3 player, but tosses out information from the original CD source. As a result, not all of the sounds are there and this can result in a song that simply doesn't sound as good as the original.

For those of you with large hard drives and an ear for quality, the lossless format will provide you with a mathematically identical copy of the original data from your CD. Although there is still some compression, the files are nearly 10 times the size of a typical Itunes audio file.

Lossless is a great option for music archivers because it preserves the original quality and data of the song, but also gives you the ability to down-convert to a lower bit rate for transferring the song to your mp3 player. If you have the hard drive space, I recommend this option.

Windows Media Player 11 (WMP 11) gives you the ability to choose a number of options for ripping your music at different bit rates, including WMA lossless. Itunes has its own lossless format as well. You can go into the settings of Itunes or WMP11 and change the bit rate for ripping music at any time. Just make sure you set the appropriate bit rate before you begin ripping your CD's.

Either of these options have their advantages. Just remember, if you go with Itunes, you are forced into using an Apple iPod for your mp3 player (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Stream Amazon Unbox Videos to the Nintendo Wii

Here's a great way to unleash your Amazon Unbox Videos from your computer using Orb and a Wii Console with Mario Kart Wii Bundle - Black.

Orb is a free software that runs constantly on your home computer and allows you to access all of you music, videos, photos, and files from any computer with an internet connection. `

If you have been lucky or determined enough to get a Nintedo Wii, you can use it to stream Amazon Unbox movies and TV shows to your Nintedo Wii (the Wii includes build in Wifi...an ethernet adapter can be purchased as an add-on).

All you need to do is download and install Orb on your home computer. Orb will scan your music, photos and videos (including Amazon Unbox videos).

Next, install the free Opera web browser on your Nintendo and navigate to orb.com. Sign into orb and you will see the mobile version of Orb on your screen. Simply select your Amazon Unbox video from the video menu and press play. Your Amazon Unbox video will now play through your Nintendo Wii.

You can also view your photos and listen to your digital music collection.


Saturday, April 7, 2007

Quick and Easy Whole House Music System

The digital music age has given us the ability to unlock our music collection and distribute it in countless ways. One of the coolest new features is the ability to listen to your music from anywhere in the house. Here is what you need.

  1. Personal Computer with wifi capabilities
  2. Wifi Router
  3. Home music client (Xbox 360, Roku Soundbridge....)
  4. Home stereo system or powered speakers.
Your personal computer has the ability to act as a personal music server for your entire music collection. Even a computer that is a few years old will have the necessary processing power to run a home music server. There are many different software programs that can serve as your digital music workhorse, but I recommend Windows Media Player 11 (WMP 11). Its free, it works well, and it can perform every task you need to get up and running.

If you have a personal collection of CD's, you can use WMP 11 to rip those CD's onto your hard drive. I would recommend setting your rip quality at a minimum of 192 kbps. This will give you a great sound quality without taking up too much hard drive space. 100 CD's should take up around 8 MB of hard drive space at this bit rate. Make sure you are connected to the internet when you rip your CD's so that WMP 11 can download all of the artist and song information for each track.

Once you have your CD's ripped to your hard drive, you need to activate media sharing in WMP 11. In WMP 11...go to tools->options->library->configure sharing. Give your music library a name that is easy to remember. Once you have your music clients set up, they will appear in this window. You can then select which clients you will allow to access your music library. You can even configure specific rules for each client such as only show songs that you have rated 4 stars or higher.

This article assumes that you have already set up a wifi network in your home. If you haven't, all you need is a wifi router and a computer with wifi capabilities (if your computer is not wifi enabled, you can purchase a usb adapter that gives your computer this capability).

The next step is to set up a music client. If you have an Xbox 360, you can use it to access your entire music collection. See this article for more information.

My favorite home music client is the Roku Soundbridge. It costs under $200, sounds great, is easy to set up, and works without interruption. The soundbridge does not include speakers, but you can easily hook it up to your home stereo, or hook it up to a high quality set of powered PC speakers. The latter is a great option if space is an issue. The soundbridge supports digital audio output and also includes an ethernet port if you would rather set up a wired network.

When you start roku, it will walk you through connecting to your home network. It works with both WEP and WPA wifi security standards, and if you have security set up you will need to enter your network key. Once it connects to the network, you will see the name of your home music server (you may need to go back to WMP 11 and allow this device in your media sharing window). You should be able to see your entire music collection organized by artist, album, playlist, etc...

Roku even supports subscription music services so if you are a Rhapsody subscriber you will be able to access all of your Rhapsody tracks. You attach up to 10 soundbridge clients around your house - which should be more than enough for most people.

That's it. Pretty easy. Enjoy.

How to stream subscription music through your Xbox 360

One of the coolest features of the new Xbox 360 is the ability to stream music and photos through your desktop or laptop. If you have a large music collection on your PC, you can simply connect the Xbox 360 to your network and access your collection from any room in your house. Very cool.

If you subscribe to Yahoo! Music Unlimited , Napster To Go! , or Rhapsody then it gets even cooler. These services allow you to download almost any song onto your hard drive for a low monthly fee. With the Xbox 360, you can stream these subscription songs to your Xbox 360 and through your stereo system, giving you an almost unlimited collection of music. If you are like me and listen to a lot of new music, these services allow you to discover lots great new songs, and they can save you a lot of money.

How do you do this? It’s really very easy. If you have an Xbox 360, then the first thing you need to do is connect it to your home network. The Xbox 360 comes with a built in ethernet port and cable. Just connect the ethernet cable to a standard router and the Xbox 360 will automatically detect the connection (this only works for broadband internet service). The Xbox 360 also has a wireless adapter available if you have a WIFI network at your home. It’s currently selling for around $100 so the basic cable connection is currently the less expensive option.

After you’ve connected your Xbox 360 to your home network, the next step is to download either Windows Media Connect or Windows Media Player 11 on your main desktop or laptop (whichever computer you use to store your music collection). I prefer WMP 11 because the network media sharing feature loads much faster after rebooting your computer. For those of you running Vista, the media sharing option is already built in.....no need to download anything new. Visit http://xbox.com/pcsetup and follow the instructions for the download. It’s really easy to install, and the software will detect your Xbox 360 automatically.

Next, go to your Xbox 360 unit and pull up the media menu. Select music. You should see the network name of your home computer. If you click on it, it will take you to a menu that allows you to browse your music collection by artist, album, genre, and playlist. (You may need to authorize your Xbox 360 in WMP 11...go to tools->options->library->configure sharing->click xbox 360 then allow). It can take a few minutes for your Xbox 360 to detect everything in your music collection. Don’t panic if only a couple of artists show up at first. They will all show up after a few minutes. If you run your Xbox 360 through your home stereo system, then you have a great new way of enjoying your music collection.

Finally, to add an unlimited number of songs to your collection, sign up for a subscription music service. All of them offer a free trial so you can check it out without spending any money. Just be sure to download the subscription tracks to your computer's hard drive so that the xbox 360 can detect and stream the tracks. Even if you don’t stream these songs through your Xbox 360, you still have the ability to listen to them on your computer, or transfer them to a compatible mp3 player and take them with you. They are all great services, but I’ve really been enjoying Rhapsody lately. It has thousands of songs to discover and a really nice interface. You can even stream any song instantly from your PC without having to download it onto your computer……..Have fun!

Our next article will explore using the Xbox 360 for a digital photo slideshow.