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.