December 14, 2005

Hey, where did all the wires go?


Wireless is the new black. Everything is wireless these days – first it was the cordless phone, then the mobile phone, then a few years ago Apple released Airport, the first consumer friendly wireless networking solution (based on the 802.11b protocol), then Intel built wireless into their mobile computer chips and suddenly everything is wireless – well nearly everything.

Wireless networking or specifically the 802.11 protocol requires that you are nearby an access point. These are generally pretty easy to find. Millions of households around the world have wireless routers/modems that allow them to surf or check email from anywhere in their house – these same networks have been built in high-traffic areas like airports, hotels and retail strips and shopping centres. The biggest provider of 802.11 wireless solutions in Australia is Azure - check out their website to see if they offer a wireless hotspot near you. If they don’t there is now another option to add to the list of wireless solutions.

Bigpond has just announced their wireless service that runs on their high-speed 1xEV-DO network. If you are out of range the card automatically switches to their CDMA1X that covers up to 98% of the population. The price of the plans depend on whether you need a mobile card or desktop solution, and also what speed of service you want and how much you plan to download. Plans range between $34.95 per month for the desktop solution to $69.95 for the mobile solution. A desktop modem will cost you $199, and a mobile PCMCIA card is $299 on a 12 month contract. On my Mac installation was very simple, I inserted the CD, ran through the installer, entered my username and password, restarted and I was online.

3’s wireless solution uses the 3G high speed network. 3’s product is targeted only at laptop users. For a $99 cap per month 3 wireless customers receive up to $500 worth of internet usage (about 488Mb). With a $49 minimum spend the PCMCIA card is free, however to buy outright costs $540. Setting the 3 card up was easy and hassle free on my Mac. The 3 card does not require a username and password and can also be used to send and receive SMS messages (Windows only).

Like 3’s service Vodafone have also just released a high speed PCMCIA data card. Manufactured by Novatel Wireless (like 3’s) Vodafone Mobile Connect also uses the newly released Vodafone 3 network. Mobile Connect plans range from $29.95 for 100Mb to an unlimited plan for $99.95 while the card costs $399 (off plan). Set-up was easy, and on Mac OS X the Vodafone card uses the built in Internet Connect application. Like the 3 card, Mobile Connect throttles back to the regular GPRS network if the high speed 3G network is unavailable.

In my testing I achieved slightly higher speeds on the 3G based networks (3 and Vodafone) (17.6Kbps) compared to Bigpond’s network (15.7Kbps) and both reasonable coverage around Melbourne. All three products suffered when inside buildings but Bigpond suffered the most. EVDO reception was good in the inner city but poor outside this area. Once the Bigpond card throttled back to CDMA1X it was basically useless. I was testing the 512K service from Bigpond, if you opt for the cheaper plan (256K) assume you will get half that speed (but the same reception). Another thing to consider is that the 3 capped solution is only available while on the 3 network, if you roam on to the Telstra GPRS network you will need to pay extra. Vodafone Mobile Connect roams on to their GPRS network so you’ll need to think only in terms of data. Like Vodafone, Bigpond provides a fixed amount of data regardless of whether you are connected to the high-speed EVDO or the ultra-slow CDMA network.

All solutions are impressive – and work today. If you are on the road and spend most of your time in the CBD (of all capital cities) and broadband speed internet access is critical then all cards will give you good access. If you mainly travel away from city areas I’d suggest the Vodafone Mobile Connect due to the more flexible network roaming and better value for money on the unlimited data plan.

A Beginners Guide to Blogging


According to definitions, blogging is ‘To write entries in, add material to, or maintain a weblog.’ OK, so what’s a weblog. Well, in simple terms a weblog or blog is an on-line diary – however it’s not a private diary (as most are) but rather a public diary where people can read and discuss your thoughts. Blogging is the equivalent of podcasting – just with text.

Blogging has been around for years but lately it has risen to a new level of prominence – and some blogs now generate as much web traffic as on-line newspapers. Anybody can become a blogger – and share their opinion with the world. Another great thing about blogs is that they can be interactive – readers can leave comments and others can even comment on the comments!

Popular blogs can generate a huge amount of interest and therefore traffic. The smart Bloggers try to monetise this traffic by using on-line advertising. Rather then in-your-face banner ads they use smaller more subtle content driven advertising that matches the content of of the blog to the ads. The rationale is that if you are interested in what you are reading about you are more likely to click on the ad about the same topic.

Some of my favourite blogs are Engadget and Boing Boing. Each has a unique style and I often check these sites regularly.

Creating a blog 3 years ago required intricate knowledge of HTML (the language of the web) however now there are websites dedicated to helping you set up a blog. My favourite is Blogspot.

Once you create your blog space you are ready to blog. Simply click ‘New Post’ and start your blog entry. In your entry you can add images and links – I’d suggest adding both to your entry as this makes for more entertaining reading for your audience. And speaking of your audience how can you get people to notice you.

In the Blogger preferences you can add yourself to their directory of blogs – this will generate some traffic. A better way is to email your blog link around to your friends and ask them to forward it on to anyone you think might be interested. Next thing to do is add your blog address to Google to generate even more traffic.

If you do create a blog try to keep in current by updating it frequently – that way you’ll have people coming back to see whats new rather then a once off visit – and you’ll find that it can become cathartic, a new way to vent your angst!

December 7, 2005

The new iPod


People won’t believe you when you tell them. How could they believe that in a device smaller then most mobile phones you can fit up to 15,000 songs, 25,000 full-colour photos AND 150 hours of 30fps video. Well, you better believe it because this week Apple launched the latest its line of iPods. And this time, it comes in black.

Apple has been very busy for the last 9 months cracking out 3 entirely new iPods – first came the Shuffle, a solid state, screenless iPod that serves up your music in random order. In my gym every second person has one. Then, only 2 weeks ago came the Nano – the revolutionary replacement for the Mini. Based on solid state flash memory the Nano is smaller to hold then the average business card and sounds terrific. The Mini was available in four lolly colours; the Nano is available in Black (the new Black) and White (the old Black).

Finally, just last week Apple released its Flagship 5th generation iPod – and yes, this time it does Video. Most major media outlets predicted this but you really have to see it to believe it. The gorgeous, bright 2.5 inch LCD screen (320 x 240 pixel) makes the basic iPod functions like selecting music and playing games even better. Album art looks almost real and video is just crystal clear and a pleasure to watch. I’m still not sure if I’d like to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on it but for music videos and hour long TV shows its great.

The new iPod is the thinnest and most portable video player I've seen. The $449 version is about 30% thinner than the previous model, yet it holds 50% more data, and has a larger high-resolution color screen. Somehow Apple enlarged the screen without enlarging the overall width of the iPod.
Apple claims that the 30-gigabyte hard disk on the model we tested can hold up to 7,500 songs, or 75 hours of video, or 25,000 photos. The 60-gigabyte model doubles that capacity for $99 more.

Battery life on both models if very good if you stick to music, however watching videos can drain the battery more quickly. The 30-gigabyte model is rated as being able to show 2 hours of video and 14 hours of music. The 60-gigabyte model is slightly better achieving 3 hours of video and 20 hours of music.

After the Nano was released the public made a fuss of the lack of included case – Apple have made a mends with the iPod bundling a simple carry case in the box. Also in the box is a USB cable (the new iPod doesn’t support Firewire anymore), earphones and software. However, if you’d like to do more with your new iPod you might consider purchasing a universal dock ($59), AV cables (so you can watch videos and photos on a TV) ($29) and a USB charger (for charging while away from your computer) ($48)

In my testing the iPod works like every other iPod. The screen was bright and easy to read and syncing with my Mac was simply a matter of plugging it in. I downloaded some Video podcasts to test out video quality and to my surprise was very impressed. The screen is clear, sharp and bright, and outputs at 30fps – making the whole image very smooth. Audio fidelity is as good or better as previous models and the dock connector is compatible with the full line of iPod accessories. TV output from the iPod was better then I expected, quality was excellent from both my purchased videos and my home made iMovies.

The new iPod however won’t play most video formats (in fact it only supports 3 codecs H264, MP4 or M4V) so if you want to continue watch all of those clips you have saved up you’ll need to convert them across. There are many utilities available on the Internet to do this (most are free) or you can follow Apples instructions here. Please note that this requires a $29 upgrade to Quicktime 7, something Apple should definitely include for free.

In my opinion Apple needs to make transferring video to the iPod as easy as possible to encourage rapid adoption and should release a suite of tools that lets you do this – or at the very least include conversion tools within iTunes (like they have done for music) Until this point, the iPod should be considered as primarily a music player that does video, rather than a Video iPod that plays music.

With this new iPod Apple have another hit on their hands. In last weeks investor briefing Apple described iPod Nano sales as ‘staggering’ and this was only after 17 days of being available. One can only imagine the adjectives Apple execs will use when the Christmas season passes and Amazon hottest product list looks like this:
1. iPod (white)
2. iPod (black)
3. iPod Nano (black)
4. iPod Nano (white)
5. iPod Shuffle

The colour behind Bluetooth


Bluetooth is that latest wireless technology to hit the vernacular. In fact it is so popular now I often see people driving and walking with these devices attached to their ears. However, Bluetooth is more then just a technology that connects wireless headsets to mobile phones; it can also be used to link up just about any peripheral to anyother. I like to think of Bluetooth as a wireless replacement for the USB cable. In fact, Bluetooth has a range of up to 10m so think of it as a long USB cable.

Whenever you use a Bluetooth device you’ll need to pair the two devices. Pairing is a form of ‘mating’ the two devices so they are secure, and also so they know what each other is capable of. For instance, if you pair a mobile phone with a computer via Bluetooth, on pairing the phone tells the computer what it is capable of (eg. File transfer, SyncML and dialup Internet). The requirement of entering a PIN number is useful so other Bluetooth devices don’t interfere with your unique pairing.

Bluetooth devices have dropped dramatically in price, and most modern mobile phones now come with the technology standard. Typically, this means you can use a Bluetooth headset that lets you talk on your phone while it is in your pocket or bag.

Most Bluetooth headsets only have three buttons – one lets you answer and hang up calls and the other two are for volume. Pairing the device usually requires that you hold down the answer button for an amount of time and initiate the pairing from your phone or computer. You’ll need to consult the headset manual for the required PIN but in my experience it is usally ‘0000’.

If you have a computer that also has Bluetooth you might also consider pairing the headset to your computer. This will allow you to use VOIP applications (like Skype) with your headset and often improves the conversation quality for both recipients. In my experience

Bluetooth is getting better thanks to better support by mobile manufactures and better quality headsets. My first headset 2 years ago wasn’t reliable and battery life was terrible. My current headset works well – the biggest problem is its constant requirement for charging.

If your computer doesn’t have Bluetooth and you’d like to add the option the cheapest way to do it is with a USB Bluetooth adaptor – These should set you back about $90 and simply plug in to either your desktop or laptop and let you use any compatible Bluetooth device.

If you plan to use any electronic device in the future you’ll need to get familiar with Bluetooth – it is the accepted wireless standard to connect devices and will only gain in popularity in the next few years – eventually it will replace USB as it is more convenient and transfers data nearly as quickly.

December 1, 2005

VOIP or Voice over Internet Protocol


Voice Over IP or VOIP is the latest buzz word to hit the IT world, just recently confirmed by the fact that eBay, the internet auction site paid over AUD $3Billion for Skype, providers of VOIP.

VOIP in simple terms is voice communication over the Internet. In practical terms, that means using your computer (or a specialised phone router) and an application (I’ll get to that in a minute) to make regular phone calls. If the phone calls are to others who are also running a similar application then communication is free. However, if the communication is to a regular PSTN or mobile phone, it costs money. The catch here is that it doesn’t cost MUCH money and certainly a lot less then a comparable call from a landline phone.

The two main applications that are available for VOIP are Skype and Gizmo. Both work in a very similar manner. First off, you’ll need to download one or both and install on your local computer. Once loaded you’ll need to create an account (a wizard will help walk you through this process) and then you’ll need to find friends to chat to.

Before you start chatting however make sure you have a good set of headphones and a microphone to plug into your computer. To find people to chat to you can use the built in phone books – these generally work quite well. I was able to find friends of mine in the US and the UK and connect with them. If however you want to take advantage of the cheaper calling rates to normal phones then you will need to buy credits. For Skype these are called Skypeouts and can be purchased in blocks of 10 Euros. As an example, a typical call to a landline in the US costs (at the time of publication) .027 cents per minute.

Alternatively RTX technologies produce a USB cordless dualphone ($199) that works with Skype. Simply plug the phone in to a USB port on your computer (Windows only) and the phone interfaces with Skype so you can make and receive Skype calls like you would normal calls. Additionally, because you are interfaced with your computer your Skype address book is accessible via the phone. Another great feature of this phone is its ability to plug into a regular PSTN line allowing you to make regular local untimed phone calls. In my testing, the USB cordless dualphone worked well for both regular and Skype calls. Setup was very easy but make sure your computer is connected to the internet as the software needs to download the latest version before installation. Voice quality over Skype was generally good but suffered when my internet connection was busy checking emails. This phone is first generation and aimed at people who want to test the VOIP waters but don’t want to be tied down to their computers. At only $50 more then an equivalent DECT phone but with Skype capabilities it is a good purchasing option.

If you’d prefer to get more serious about Skype and ditch your phone provider altogether there are other options. Available in stores now are VOIP boxes from different providers. I tested VOIP services from MyNetFone and Engin.

Engin’s voice box was the simplest to plug-in and get going. Literally, take the box out, plug it in to your broadband router (You’ll need one of these – so if you only have a one-port ADSL router you’ll either need to upgrade to a four-port or buy a hub for $50) and your regular phone line and you are ready to go. We use a DECT cordless phone at home and this worked well with the Engin box. Sound quality was inferior to regular phone call but in most cases adequate. During heavy Internet usage periods voice quality suffered noticeably and the service was unusable. Callers complained of mumbled sounds and most sentences needed to be repeated twice. My wife who is more critical then me complained and made me disconnect it.

Engin’s pricing plans may compensate for the lack of voice quality on occasion. A basic monthly subscription is $9.95 (plus you’ll be spending about $150 on the Engin box) and local and national calls are untimed 10c all day every day, and calls to mobile are 29c per minute. International calls are very competitively priced at 3.5c per minute. Additionally with the Engin service you get another phone number.

Setup for MyNetFone was a little more challenging however I found quality of service was much better then Engin. I tested the MyNetFone service on a NetComm V300 VOIP ($229) router that doubles as a VOIP box and a router. Initial set-up was more challenging but if you have experience configuring routers then you should be fine. If you don’t have this experience I suggest you employ your local technician to get you running. You’ll need to know how to login to the router, add your particular settings (like your phone number, password and IP details). Once setup though I found the service was excellent. The NetComm unit has a feature called QOS (Quality of Service) that instructs the router to prioritise voice data packets over regular packets. In practical terms this means voice quality doesn’t suffer during heavy internet usage periods. In my tests the NetComm router was almost perfect. On some occasions dialling a number didn’t actually place a call – in these situations I had two options, hang-up and try again (this usually worked) or dial ## before the number to use my existing PSTN phone line.

MyNetFone’s pricing is comparable to Engin’s – a mega-saver plan costs $9.95 per month and that gives you access to 10c untimed local and national calls. Mobile calls are billed at 29c per minute with no connection fee. International calls cost as little as 2c per minute (this is comparable to SkypeOut rates). MyNetFone do not provide an additional phone number with their service.

Either way, VOIP promises to bring even cheaper phone calls in the future as the technology becomes more common, and will in the future probably displace regular phones as the commonest means of communicating. For now, if you are really keen I’d suggest buying a dedicated router (like the NetComm V300) and signing up to a service like MyNetFone and giving it a shot. If however you think you’d like to wait I’d suggest downloading and using Skype as a cheaper alternative. Either way, Telstra should beware - VOIP technology will develop quickly and overtake regular PSTN lines over the coming 5-10 years.


How fast is Broadband?



The term broadband simply refers to fast Internet access. I think it easiest to think in terms a water pipe. If you have a narrow pipe only a small amount of water can flow through at a time, however if you increase the diameter of the pipe more water can flow through in the same amount of time. Now, instead of water flowing think in terms of data.

A narrow pipe is called ‘Narrow band’ and is typically what you get when you are using a modem and a dialup connection. There are different dial-up speeds, the most common is 56Kbps. A broad pipe is called “Broadband” and the minimum speeds available are 256Kbps. In relative terms 256Kbps is about 5 times the speed of dial up. For some people this is adequate however in my opinion shouldn’t really be referred to as broadband.

So what about the difference between ADSL and Cable? Well, think about the difference between a black pipe and a white pipe. Both carry water but look a little different. Theoretically, the maximum diameter of each pipe is different but in reality this is unimportant.

The only providers of cable in Australia are Optus and Telstra. In my opinion Optus cable is far superior not because it is fastest, but because Telstra cable uses an antiquated connection system that is often faulty and very unreliable. Both offer similar plans but if you have the choice go for Optus.

With ADSL there are many more providers because ADSL runs over regular phone lines. In fact ADSL can run side by side with your voice line so being on the internet won’t mean your phone is engaged.

In terms of providers I like both iiNet and Optus. Both offer are competitively priced and offer a reliable connection. However, Optus offer a minimum plan of 512Kbps while iiNet (for around the same amount) offer 1500Kbps. On the negative iiNet have just merged with Ozemail and have caused some users much frustration with long support delays and occasional network instability.

Regardless of the broadband provider you choose, make sure you choose broadband. Even if you only send the occasional email, or browse the occasional website broadband will improve your experience. Plus, these days total cost of broadband is often cheaper then dialup – when you factor in the 25c each time you connect.

November 27, 2005

iTunes in Australia


iTunes music store is different to anything else on the market, both on the internet and in real life. iTunes main competition is with other online music stores in Australia, namely Bigpond music, 9MSN music and Destra music (and its affiliates) – all of which are browser based and from my experience, nearly impossible to use. It’s no surprise Apple have come up with the best solution - the key to their system is the integration between the software (iTunes) and their audio player, the iPod.

Just last week Apple announced iTunes 6, alongside an upgraded (5th generation) iPod. iTunes 6 now supports video (as do the new iPods) and Apple has made available over 2000 music videos available through the iTunes music store. In addition to the music videos, US customers can also download top rated TV shows from ABC like Desperate Housewifes and Lost. The episodes are available for download the morning after they air on TV.

In March, a friend of mine who lives in London sent me a Chaos music voucher for my birthday – The Chaos music store is powered by destra music, a clunky, difficult and entirely un-usable music store. The range of music available through destra (and its affiliates) is about 500,000 (compared to iTunes 1m+), searching for my favourite music often came up blank. Once I actually found some music I liked downloading it was another painful experience – I had to download each song individually, one by one and select a save to location, and then import that music in to Windows Media Player. Once the music was in WMP I had a difficult time playing it until I updated my version and then was re-issued with something called a Digital Certificate. After 2 hours of trying to get the music to play I finally gave up, called Destra and got a refund for my friend, sent him an email and asked him to buy me a regular CD and post it to me from England.

My sister who lives in Los Angeles also thought I’d like a digital music voucher for my birthday but bought me an iTunes voucher instead. As you’d expect from Apple the whole process from logging in, searching and buying music is fantastic. iTunes music store is well integrated into iTunes, simply click on the ‘Music Store’ icon in the iTunes source list and you will be taken to the music store home page.

Finding music in iTunes music store couldn’t be easier - just click on an artist or album on the front page, or use the very useful search function at the top of the window. If you select an album you are taken to the album page where you’ll have access to track listings from the album, and usually some biographical material about the artist. Most text in the iTunes music store are links. For example, you can click on any artist name to go to that artists ‘home’ page where you will usually find a complete bibliography of all of the artists recordings.

When you find the music you are looking for you’ll see a little ‘buy song’ button next to each track listing and a ‘buy album’ button at the top of the listing. Before you buy double click on each track listing to get a 30 second streaming preview. When you click buy song for the first time you will be taken to an Apple registration page where you set up your user account and enter your credit card details. Once this process is complete you will be able to purchase songs with one-click. When you click buy song the music is automatically downloaded into your iTunes music library, and is also viewable in a special playlist called ‘Purchased Music’. iTunes music is download in AAC format and encoded at 128Kbps, Apple says that most people can’t hear the difference between this compressed file and the original recording

There are no restrictions on playing purchased music either and unlike other music stores there are also no restrictions with the amount of times you can burn purchased songs to CD. Purchased music also comes complete with album art so you can use iTunes to create great covers for your CD’s as well.

Another great feature of the iTunes 6 music store is the ‘Just for You’ feature. This is similar to the amazon.com functionality in that iTunes suggests music you might like. For example, if I search for Paul Simon there is a section that suggests if I like Simon I might also like listening to Joni Mitchell, Beth Hart and Bob Dylan. All of these other artists are now just a click a way and I can sample their music as well. A word of warning, this feature is in Beta testing at the moment and can often return some strange recommendations. For example, last week it suggested I download some AC/DC after my recent purchase of Mozart: Violin Concertos.

iTunes music store also makes it easy to buy vouchers for friends and even set up allowances for your kids – you could for example give each child a $10 voucher to spend at the store each month – that way they won’t use peer-to-peer software like (Kazaa and Limewire) to download music illegally and your computer won’t be at risk of being infected by viruses or spyware.

The one annoyance I have with iTunes music store is the way in which classical music is classified. Often the composer, artist and album name are mixed up, and some double albums actually have different titles. However, once you have downloaded the music you can correct this yourself if necessary.

All things considered it’s no wonder why Apple have claimed over 85% of the downloaded music market – in Australia at least nothing comes even close to being able to match it for number of tracks and ease of use. And to top it off, iTunes is the only software that works with iPod (80% market share, and growing) so if you want to buy digital music and put it on your iPod then iTunes is really your only choice. Some commentators argue that Apple’s ownership in the music market is a bad thing however I believe the solution Apple has provided is so elegant that even with an open market no other provider could match Apple’s trademark ease-of-use. In fact opening the system to competitors like Microsoft would only be worse for consumers – imagine having to worry about viruses on your iPod!

November 23, 2005

Your Christmas Wish List


Christmas is a time to celebrate with friends and family and a time to indulge in the great gifts that you give and receive. There are often times however where the present exchange isn’t satisfying for either the giver or receiver.

As always the perfect solution can be found on the Internet. There are many websites devoted to setting up and maintaining wish lists – some websites let you select different items from other online stores, while other online stores actually provide the functionality themselves.

The best wish list aggregator I found was Mygiftlist.com. You’ll need to signup as a new member, log in and create a wish list. The benefit of using an aggregator is that you’ll be able to select different gifts from lots of different websites. Mygiftlist manages this list for you and additionally lets you add reminders and birthdays – meaning you can have a permanent list here that people can use all year round.

If you choose to use a wish list from an online store directly choose Amazon.com. Log in to Amazon (you’ll need to create an account) and then browse the store – each time you find something you’d like (or actually like others to buy for you) click the ‘Add to Wish List’ button. This places the item in your Wish List – which you can browse at any time by selecting the Wish List link at the top of the page. Once you have compiled your Wish List select the link that says ‘Tell people about this list’ to have Amazon email the list to as many people as you want – however, when inputting email address make sure each is correct, and be sure to separate them with a comma. You can also add a customised message to all your friends.

If you’d like a more Australian experience you can check out either dstore (www.dstore.com.au) or Wishlist (www.wishlist.com.au). Both websites provide a local service so shipping will be less expensive. Functionality is the same as Amazon.com. Simply navigate to a desired product and select ‘Add to Wish List’. However product range, availability and layout can make finding products on these local websites more difficult.

Also remember that product availability and shipping times can become delayed during Christmas so if you do decided to use an online wish list get in early.

Even if your friends and family don’t decide to buy directly from a website, sending them a wish list is a good way for them to get a feel for what you’d like, or what you are expecting for Christmas. They can always print out your list and take it to a bricks & mortar store when they go shopping. And even if you end up getting something you’ve never wanted at least you’ve had a fun time dreaming.

November 16, 2005

Episode 1

Welcome to Gorog's Tech Survival Guide. Each week I'll post my latest survival guide - as published in the Melbourne Herald Sun Melbourne Herald Sun. If you'd like me to cover specific topics just send me an email and I'll see what I can do.

November 15, 2005

Organising your inbox

Organise your inbox so that you can find emails quickly

Most of us can’t survive without e-mail today, but very few of us are good at keeping our inbox organised. The advantage of having a well-organised inbox is that you can quickly and easily find e-mails when you need them. Follow the simple tips below to keep your inbox neat and tidy and make your life easier.

Folders

In the same way that you save word, excel and powerpoint document in folders, it is useful to save e-mails into folders.

Folders can be according to subject, such as ‘business’, ‘personal’, ‘subscriptions,’ or into people, such as ‘John’, ‘Mary’, and ‘Jane’.

Creating folders for e-mails is easy. Select File, New, Folder. Then select the type of folder you want, in this case ‘Mail Items.’ Next choose the location of the Folder, which will be Inbox for mail. Then name the folder. Repeat this step until you have created all the folders you need.

Once this is done, you can move all the mail from your inbox into the folders. This is done by clicking on the item you want to move and dragging it into the folder you want to store it in.

You can do the same in your sent items.

Once this is done, it is easy to find e-mails by selecting the folder you have stored the e-mail in. Rather than needing to search through your entire inbox, you only need to search each folder.

In each folder you can search for an e-mail by selecting Find.

You can also create folder for your contacts. Follow the same steps as you did to create mail folders, only this time select ‘Contacts’ for type of folder and file the folder in a different location under Contacts.

This makes it easy to group contacts into business and personal, which is very helpful when you need to search for a contact.

Mail rules

Now that you have set up your folders, you can use ‘mail rules’ to automatically file e-mails.

Using mail rules is useful as your e-mails get automatically filed.

For example, you can set a mail rules to automatically move an emails you’re your boss into your ‘business’ folder set up previously.

To make a new mail rule, select ‘Rules’ from the tools menu.

Use the wizard in this dialogue to specify the following: When to apply the rule (ie. When the email is received or even after the email is sent), To whom the rule applies (ie. Anybody with ‘yourdomain.com’ in their email address), and what to do if the rule is satisfied (ie. Move it to a specified folder). You can also specify any exceptions to the rule in the last part of the wizard. Lastly, give the rule a name, like ‘Bosses Rule’ and close the Rules dialogue. From now, this new rule will apply depending on the criteria you have set.

If you follow these simple steps you’ll have systems in place that will allow you to using your e-mail more effectively. The best part is that you’ll save yourself lots of time because it will be mush easier to find e-mails.

Printing more efficiently

Save paper ever time you print by better understanding your print options

Printing is one of the most common tasks modern computers are used for, whether it is at home or in the office, making it vital that you understand the capabilities of the printer you are using, and ensure that it is set up correctly before every print.

It only takes a few seconds to save yourself, or your business, hundreds of dollars a year on paper bills.

The print command is located in the file menu, but above it there is usually another command called Page Set-up.

The Page Set-up command (depending on the program) allows you to change the margins of the page, change the paper size and also select the paper source (if you are using a laser printer with multiple paper trays).

For example, if you are printing a letter and using A4 paper size, ensure that A4 is selected as your Paper Size option.

The Print dialogue box has many different options:

1. The first option is called ‘Properties’. Again, depending on the printer the properties allows you to set the print quality (eg. Draft, Normal or Best) and the paper quality (Plain paper or Inkjet).

Additionally, you will be able to find a setting called ‘Multiple Pages per Sheet’. This option lets you print either 2 or 4 sheets to a page. So, if you have a 10 page document to print and it is only a draft, select the 2 pages per sheet option and you will save 5 pieces of paper.

The properties option will also allow you to choose between printing in colour (if your printer supports it) or printing in black and white.


2. Next, under ‘page range’ you can select to print the entire document (All) or select to print either the current page or specific pages. For example, if I want to print pages 3 to 5 and also 7 I would type 3-5,7

3. Lastly, there will also be an ‘Options’ button at the bottom of the Print dialogue box. This will have program specific options. For example, in Microsoft Word you can choose to print comments or document properties if required.

Ensuring your print settings are right shouldn’t take you more than an extra minute, but will save you in the long-term by making sure you print efficiently. You’ll save both time, as you won’t need to waste time waiting for documents to print, and money, as you will fit more onto each page, reducing the amount of paper you use.

Using Desktop Search to find information quickly

Desktop search applications are the latest of the ‘free’ utility software to be released by .com businesses ready to help you manage and find things on your local computer. Desktop search applications are run locally on your computer and they index all the information you have saved and then let you find it quickly, accurately and easily. Mac OS X Tiger has desktop search built-in, called spotlight and it is very effective. When the next release of Windows is available (some time in the next 12-24 months) it will also have desktop search built-in – however, until then you have three other options.

The first desktop search application to market was from Google – and this application, called Google Desktop Search gives you easy access to information on your computer and from the web. It provides full text search over your email, computer files, music, photos, chats and web pages that you've viewed. Google says that using their search application makes finding information on your computer as easy as finding information on the internet.

Microsoft have also released their own version of desktop search – called Windows Desktop Search, however their version is integrated with the MSN toolbar so you get other (in my view, annoying and time wasting) features. A simple keyword search lets you find anything on your computer (depending on the search plug-ins you have installed).

Lastly, just recently Yahoo! have also entered the fray with their own version of desktop search, called (surprisingly) Yahoo! Desktop Search. Again, Yahoo claims that its desktop search software lets you find specific types of files as quickly as you type the search request. Additionally, Yahoo! Desktop Search lets you search instant messages (as long as you are using Yahoo! Messenger). Like Microsoft, Yahoo! search can be enhanced by adding additional file plug-ins.

In my testing all three programs performed adequately, however I preferred Google’s product as it is the easiest to use and produces the most accurate search results. Also, like most web users I am accustomed to the Google interface, plus in my testing their software was reliable and easy to install, while the other two caused me some grief. Once installation hick-ups have been resolved all three search applications make it much easier to find information on your computer, and more specifically make the built-in Windows search look like the outdated, badly designed search utility that it has been since it was launched almost 10 years ago.

Get Firefox


If you have ever suffered from annoying pop-ups and daunting spyware then you have two options. The first and more expensive solution is to invest in a new Mac mini computer from the makers of iPod. The Mac mini is a great computer, priced at $799 and runs the very secure, stable and easy-to-use operating system called Mac OS X. Mac OS X is unique as it is very powerful, easily capable of running day-to-day applications like Micorosft Office and Adobe Photoshop but also by far the easiest to use. In our business, computer training, our clients pick up and are able to use at an intermediate level the Mac OS X operating system about 4 times faster then the equivalent Windows XP.

However, if you are using Windows then it’s time to change your browser software. As standard Microsoft ships Internet Explorer bundled with every copy of Windows, but Internet Explorer is unfortunately one of the main reasons that Windows gets infiltrated by adware and spyware – generally causing the whole system to slow down to the point where it becomes unusable.

Enter Firefox, a fast, stable and best of all free web browser, now recommended by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Firefox is producted by Mozilla, a company that used to be known as Netscape (you might remember Netscape once had the lions share of the browser market before Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer with every version of Windows that shipped).

I’ve been using Firefox now for over 2 weeks and can tell you it is great. It feels much faster than Internet Explorer and I haven’t had a single pop up yet. Additionally, Firefox has some great new features like tabbed browsing (the ability to load multiple tabbed web pages in the same window), pop-up blocking and smarter search (google is built in to the browser toolbar).

If you already have lots of favourites in Internet Explorer Firefox will even offer to import them when you start up for the first time.

Additionally, Firefox is an open source project, which means that lots of developers around the world have access to its programming code and therefore can help make changes if any bugs or security issues are found. To quote from the mozilla website: “We believe and practice the canons of open source development: release early and often, listen to your users, and given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”.

So, go and get Firefox now. Once you’ve got it check out some of the great new features, and when you are ready to explore advanced features go to the Tools menu and select ‘extensions’. Here you’ll find a large list of ‘plug-ins’ that allow Firefox to do all sorts of interesting things. I have downloaded a 4-day weather outlook that sits in the bottom of every window. And just today I installed a plug-in that lets me use mouse gestures (I draw simple lines on the screen) to control my browser. For example, instead of using the ‘Back’ button in the browser I draw a simple back line and am taken back a page. It takes some getting used to but I’m sure it will be standard practise eventually.

Without a doubt Firefox is the most exciting piece of software to be released this year. What’s better is that it is free to use and doesn’t come with the security and privacy risks associated with using Internet Explorer.

Creating a Photo Album in PowerPoint

Have you ever wondered how other people use personal images for digital photo albums? Well, Microsoft PowerPoint has simplified what once was a difficult task.

There are two options within PowerPoint – the first option consists of compiling photos and manually creating an album. The second, and easier option is to download a one megabyte template from the Microsoft website.

1. The first step is to gather all the digital photos you wish to use in your photo album. You can also scan any printed photos or download photos off the web. Put them all into a clearly marked folder within the My Pictures folder (eg. Qld Summer 2002)

2. Once you have downloaded the album template, the new Photo Album Wizard appears in the File New dialogue box.

3. To create a new photo album, click File>New on the standard toolbar. Click Photo Album on the General tab, and then click the OK button.

4. In the Photo Album dialogue box, you can choose to add pictures from your hard disk or a peripheral device; such as a scanner or digital camera.

5. To add pictures from a file you need to select File or Disk from under Insert Picture From...

6. Locate the folder or disk (or CD) that contains the picture you want to add to your photo album (eg. My Pictures>Qld Summer 2002), click the picture file, and then click the Insert button.

7. To insert multiple pictures you can just repeat step 6. To capture all the pictures at once, hold down the CTRL (Control) key, click each picture you need, and then click the Insert button.

8. Check the “Captions below ALL pictures” button if you wish to include captions. You can also have all your pictures converted to black and white by checking the “all picture black and white option”.

9. You can edit the brightness, contrast and crop pictures using the picture tools.

10. You can now specify the look of the album under the Album Layout heading. From here you can select the number of pictures that appear on a page. The shape of the frames around each picture or select a design template.

11. When finished, click the Create button.

12. This will give you a completed photo album in a PowerPoint Presentation. You can now modify many options, such as design templates, layouts, text boxes or even save it to the web.

13. To e-mail it to a friend, you should save it as a PowerPoint show. This option is located within the File>Save As… dialogue box under Formats.

14. To put it in an e-mail you can use the File>Send To (Mail Recipient – As Attachment) function and a new e-mail should open. Address the e-mail, write your message and send it.

No longer do you have to endure friends coming over and putting finger marks all over your precious photo album.

Getting more from your digital camera


Everybody always tell me that taking photos with a digital camera is easy – you just point and shoot, however there can be big differences in the results and often it’s not dependant on the camera but rather the photographer. Here are 5 tips that will allow you to get better results from your digital camera.

1. Always shoot at your cameras highest resolution. There is no point in taking 2 megapixel shots on your new 6 megapixel camera. Even though you’ll fit more shots on your memory card the resulting images will be smaller, and the therefore have less potential to be edited, cropped and transferred into that award winning shot.

2. Change the white balance mode on your camera – The default white balance setting on most cameras is Auto, the colour results tend to be on the ‘cool’ side. Try setting the white balance to ‘Cloudy’, this will result in the photo being warmer with an increased amounts of reds and yellows.

3. Use the fill flash – By changing your cameras flash mode to ‘always on’ you force the cameras hand and make sure the flash fires everytime you snap a photo – in the light this will change the luminosity on your subjects face and make for a more balanced composition.

4. Use macro mode when appropriate – if you are trying to take a shot of something at close range change your cameras setting to macro (this is often represented with a flower symbol) Now, get as close as possible to your subject and press the shutted half way, this allows your camera to focus in an its minimum focal length – the resulting shot should be a nice, close shot at close range.

5. Share your photos with family and friends. Learn how to download your shots to your computer and easily email them to friends or upload them to the web. Use a program like Picasa (www.picasa.com) as it works with all cameras and will be much better then the software that was supplied with your camera. It’s a great program that lets you catalogue, manipulate, backup and share your images. And best of all, google owns it so it’s free.