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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Buying Advice: Computers

It's one of the most frequently asked questions I get. "What computer should I get?"


As everyone should know by now - any computer you buy TODAY, right now, is instantly out of date. Technology flows at a pace much faster than the market and consumers can absorb -- which makes it very difficult for companies to attain any market leverage for any significant period of time. That's partly the reason why there is significant parity among computer companies these days.

There's a couple of things you need to know about any computer you're going to get. If you get more than 5 YEARS out of it - you've done good. For laptops, if you get 2-3 YEARS out of it - you've done really good. (more on laptops later) Why only 5 years? Because we're not buying a durable good like a refrigerator or a stove or a TV here that's supposed to get some decent life out of it. Computers are pretty fragile devices - and susceptible to heat, movements and power fluctuations. Even if you take really good care of your computer stuff -- anything over 5 years is really good.

So what do you look for first?

Actually - the question falls back on you: "What are you going to do with the computer?"



Some word processing, ability to check email, download pictures, maybe do some video work and surf the web. Clearly you don't need the top of the line, but in order to reach that 5 year target, we need a computer that can at least last that long. One of the guides I use are the prices of the computers across the spectrum.

There is no compelling reason WHY anyone should get a top of the line computer system. (period) Even for gaming because most games are optimized for older computers anyway. You'd be better off spending that money on a souped up graphics card or more memory.

That's why I promote the "middle of the road" way of computer purchasing. With top of the line out of the question, you also don't want to purchase a bottom priced computer because (spec wise) they won't last 5 years like we want it to. Where you want to focus your attention is in the middle of the road computer prices as they represent your typical 5-year computer system. More than not, these computers will do nicely for most users that want to extend the life of their computers as much as they can.



Gigahertz, megahertz, dual core, quad core -- holy heck!! Don't get bogged down with the verbiage. Don't get bogged down in the chipset. Keep an eye on the price tag - remember the middle of the road advice up above? The same is true here. But there are only a couple of things you should look out for: memory and hard drive space.

Ideally you want as much memory and as much hard drive space as you can get. But look at how much you're paying for the extra memory and space. If it's a small amount (under $150) it'll be a good deal. Upgrading your memory doesn't cost that much and installation is generally straight forward. You can have your computer memory installed for cheap. At bear minimum - you should seek 2GB of memory.

Hard drive space is a little different. Upgrading a hard drive also requires the re-installation of your operating system - which take more time and hence, more money. In the alternative you can get an external hard drive and use that for your data, photos and video. There's some draw backs to using external hard drives, but that's for another blog entry. If possible, try to get at least a 200GB hard drive with your system.



When it comes to the basic software that runs our computers, the operating system -- everyone is stuck with Microsoft Vista unless you're lucky enough to be in the mac crowd or geeky enough to venture into Linux. When it comes to Microsoft, in my honest professional opinion - I wish they would've stayed with Windows XP. It was a great operating system that worked with every piece of hardware you could've had.

But with the advent of Vista - and the cataclysmic amount of problems it towed with it -- it lost its luster very quickly. One would expect that with a new operating system you could expect the same performance, if not better. In the testing I conducted with a myriad of programs - I actually found my performance significantly decreased to the point where these programs are so bloated when they run the computer is bogged down.

Unfortunately - there's no much choice.

Windows 7 is due out in the next year or two - but users will remain cautious not to jump the gun like so many did with Vista. These operating systems are substantial memory hogs -- which is why it's essential for you to consider starting off with no less than 2GB of memory.



Before I made the switch to Windows, I was an avid Macintosh user. I started using them back in 1989 in college and loved them. Really great solid computer systems and very easy to learn. So why did I move over to Windows? It became a question of applications. The availability of programs has always been a problem because software companies would have to dedicate two sets of programmers for both operating systems.

But times have changed for Mac users. While there are still inherent differences between the programming of both operating systems, there are better programs that attempt to bridge the Windows world over to the Macintosh experience. Overall, these programs do a pretty decent job at it. It's important to note that some of the more robust programs that require a great deal of resources (games, video and graphic applications) may have some difficulty running in the cross platform using VMWare or parallels. There's no easy way around that - which is why I can't make a total switch to macintosh unless I'm willing to sacrifice all of the applications and programs I currently employ. That's a hefty investment on top of a new computer system.



You can obsess about the number of USB ports are available or the number of Firewire ports if you want. The 80% of folks out there will want at least 3-4 USB ports and maybe a firewire. USB ports are good for hard drives, cameras, scanners, printers and some video cameras. Firewire ports are good for video cameras and some hard drives. You can get some computers that have a spattering of different reader cards for digital cameras - if that works for you.

Something to keep an eye on - is whether or not the computer comes with a monitor. You're likely to get a flat panel LCD screen with most computers these days and they start around $150-200 if you were to buy it solo. You're probably not going to find one cheaper -- so if it comes with an LCD screen -- get it. Do you need anything larger than 17 inches? In most cases - probably not, but if you're looking at a small differential in price with similar specs on your computer system -- get the upgraded monitor.

But stay away from package deals with ink jet printers. For more information as to why I stay away from ink jets -- see my other blog entry on buying advice for printers. Ink simply isn't worth it.



Ahhh, the convenience. The ability to do our computing on the road, in our job, in our house -- having all of our files right there with us when we want them -- all sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately the problem goes back to issue I raised at the start - where these computers are generally very fragile. Even if you baby them -- they're still prone to problems as they age. Hard drives can fail, the LCD monitor screen can suddenly quit, they can overheat -- etc.

My rule of thumb when it comes to laptops: NEVER use them as your primary computer. As fragile as they are -- you'd need to adhere to a consistent and reliable backup process. I employ my laptops to be an extension of my computer work - so that I can eventually come back to "home base" with it and sync up my data later. This is where thumb drives and external hard drives come in particularly handy.



There are a number of options out there and some of the applications aren't worth their weight in gold. It's important not to get deceived by the likes of Norton and McAfee anymore. They've become incredibly bloated and can bog down your system in no time. They try to tack on so much garbage that it makes your computer run very slow. There are some free options out there in the form of AVG, Avast for anti-virus and Spybot Search and Destroy for spyware. These free options do pretty well, but there's the golden rule of computing:

"Most users are wholly responsible for the viruses they get..."

Viruses land on our machines for the following reasons:
- Your computer doesn't have all of the necessary updates (Windows, anti-virus, etc)
- You visited sites that installed malicious stuff behind the scenes
- You opened emails that you shouldn't have
- Exploits that are contained in other programs that haven't been patched by you or by the companies that designed the software

The best way on how to avoid a virus and other malware is to practice safe computing. With all of the scams and phishing crud out there -- it's important to stay up on warnings from other users to make sure you don't get scammed or damage your computer.



It's important to accept the fact that we're all going to have to invest in new computers and applications every 5 years. We simply can't avoid it. If you're still running on Windows XP, you'll probably have to buy a new printer and other hardware. As frustrating these computer companies have become, the reality is - the industry will keep turning over new products and programs as fast as the market can handle. So - aim for the middle, get the deals you can and practice safe computing!

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Announcing the launch of our broadcast site

We're proud to announce the launch of our broadcast site has been very successful at Over the last several months we've been busy conducting numerous broadcasts to participants statewide and beyond. Our setup allows us to come to your venue or location - and as long as your meet our broadcast requirements, we can webcast your presentation, your wedding, you class, your meeting, your public forum to a world wide web audience.

Rates vary according to setup and audience size, so inquire within.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Some exciting news from Reflecting Time Productions

It's been a very busy summer for us here at Reflecting Time Productions as we've been spending a lot of time working on various video, web and graphic design projects from all over the state and beyond. We've also started branching out into an emerging field that has some incredible potential.

Soon we'll be unveiling a very exciting addition to our current repertoire of services in the form of affordable live streaming video. This incredible upgrade will allow us to conduct remote setups anywhere in the state or the nation and be able to stream live content via the Internet to a captive audience. This isn't a $40 webcam camera that you can get from Best Buy. Using our professional video and audio gear we are able to provide enriched streaming content that can be delivered to a target audience, a church group, or even to collaborators across the United States or around the world.

The possibilities thereafter are endless.

- In addition to providing live webcasting, we will be able to offer recorded rebroadcasts of your event to be shared by anyone of your choosing.

- We can also provide numerous different file formats for your audience to download onto their systems of your event ranging from your iPod to providing it available to your website for people to download at their convenience.

- Because we're recording it with our video and audio equipment -- we can provide high quality DVDs of your event for you to distribute for your corporation, your business, your wedding, your seminar, your class, your church function.

The possibilities are endless what can be done.

We'll be announcing this new addition in the coming weeks -- so check back for more information!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Domain/Trademark Scams

This morning I opened my email to my art site and there was an email that - at first glance - looked like a scam, but as I kept studying it further it looked more and more legitimate. It had phone numbers, contact information, and had the feel of a "real" website. Real in quotes because it looked real and many times these scams end up re-directing you to a fake / phony site asking for login information (trying to get your login/password). Although my hunch told me this was a scam, it looked very professional and I was thinking that we usually look at these types of emails several times a day -- but this one could've really tricked people into thinking it was real.

But this was a domain scam where a "company" claims to be a domain registrar then warns you that someone is trying to register one of your trademarks/domains overseas. They say they are willing to give you the opportunity to make sure that doesn't happen. If you respond to their email, the "company" will then register your domain in other available web extensions such as .cn for China or .de for Germany or .eu for Europe and possibly .us for the United States. They will then try to sell you that domain or they will just tell you they charge a fee to secure it. Avoid these types of scams - don't click on their hyperlinks, don't reply to them, just send them to the trash or report them as spam. If you are worried about your domain being bought up in those extensions then go back to the place where you registered the domain from - or you can go someplace like, or any others that are ICANN certified and register them if you're worried.

Just so you know what to look out for, here is the text of the email I received:
Dear manager:
We are [insert various company names] in China, which is a domain registration agent authorised by Chinese Industrial and Commercial Department.We professionally engage in chinese and international domain names registration as well as trademark registration service.We also offer English and Chinese web design. We received an application from a chinese company asking to register "insert your domain" as their internet keyword and domain name and trademark. However,We find that it will conflict with your trademark via our confirmation.It is our duty to inform you of this issue according to the regulations of CNNIC. You are the owner of this trademark,so you have the preferential right to register and protect it by yourself.Of course,if you do not have any disagreement on this issue or you intend to give up the registration,any individual has the right to register those domains and internet keyword,which is legal.Then we will take the formal registration for that applicant.If you oppose other company to register your trademark and domains and internet keyword,even you want to protect your trademark completely,please contact us asap.We will protect your domains firstly.

Looking forward to your reply.

Sincerely yours,
[name and contact info]

So how do you know what's a scam and what's not? If you perform a simple Google text search for the name of the company - and add keywords like "scam" after it or "email scam" then this is where the internet is most helpful. Other people report spam and scams like this all the time - so it's better to be informed, do a little research before even being tempted.

And even when you are tempted - it's much better to go the route of addressing a notable registrar directly like or, etc. When in doubt - always, Always, ALWAYS assume it's a scam of some kind. It's always better to be safe than end up being sorry.

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