Tony's Tech Tips!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Linux, not just for geeks anymore.

Linux, the little OS (Operating System) that could has been making improvements by leaps and bounds. Do you have an old machine laying around and think it's useless? Head over to and download their Live CD. Set your BIOS to boot off the CD and get ready for an operating system install thats as unique as it is enjoyable... for a change. There are many different flavors (distributions) of Linux out there, Debian for the more geek inclined, Red Hat, one of the more common flavors that has something for everyone, and Novells SUSE Linux for server/enterprise solutions, just to name a few. Ubuntu (Heavily based off of Debian) seems to be the best option for both the uber-geek, and the casual Windows or Mac user. From the moment the CD boots, you'll know you are in for a treat, it actually loads the OS from the CD, so not only can you start installing Ubuntu to your hard drive, but you can load up firefox and start surfing the web... WHILE IT'S INSTALLING!

Bring new life to old systems!

I had a couple stray computers lying around, an old 233mhz PowerMAC, and a 500 mhz Dell. These two machines were doing nothing but taking up space, so one day, I decided to see how they ran Linux. I had to install Debian on the PowerMAC, as ubuntu did not have a Mac version available. Now, I got Debian to work fine on my PowerMAC, but it took a LOT of searching around some old mailing lists to learn the best way to do it, and being the tech head I am, had a fun time with the challenge. For now, I'll stick with talking about the Dell. I scraped up some RAM I had laying around so that I'd have 256 meg to work with, no matter what OS your working with, you can never have too much RAM that is for sure, but even with just 64 meg, it still ran way better then I had expected. The install was totally painless and after a reboot I was ready to rock and roll.

Okay, now what?

One of the best features of Ubuntu, (or any Linux flavor) are the software repositories, imagine the Add/Remove Programs panel in windows, only instead of just listing the software installed, it categorizes all the available software into nice little sub-catagories to help you find what you're looking for. When you find a program that looks worth messing with, just click on it and mark it for installation, when you're done poking around, it will download and install all the software you marked automatically. It truly is a beautiful thing. I set the Dell up with Apache (Free web server software) and a copy of Rawdog (An RSS feed aggregator) as well as all the cool screen savers I could find. One of which was an old style terminal type screen saver that would read a text or html file and display it's contents slowly, kind of like the old Wargames movie when the computer was talking back to the kid... I set Rawdog up to get the news feeds I wanted, when I wanted, then pointed my screen saver to the html file rawdog generates and now I have all the latest headlines flying across my screen in true 80's hacker movie style! Not only that, but I also made up a quick website for some friends of mine, totally painless, and runs super fast.

What's so great about all this?

Well... First off it's FREE, second, it's POWERFUL, and third, it's FAST. I'm totally blown away by how fast I can surf the web on this old clunker, it plays all my XVID's, mp3's, even youtube for crying out loud. It's so reliable one wonders how we put up with random lockups and BSOD's (Blue screen of death) for as long as we all have. Linux has a great little command called "Uptime" that tells you how long it's been since a crash or reboot, I had mine up to 1 month, 2 weeks, the only thing that stopped it was a big storm that knocked out our power, but when the power came back on, she booted up right away and was right back in the swing of things without me even having to hit a single key. Sick of rebooting every time you do a windows update? That's a big rarity in the linux world, the only time you'll need to reboot is when a new kernel comes out, maybe 3 or 4 times a year at most. If you have a newer machine, with a half-way decent video card, you can get Compiz Fusion running and make some OSX and Vista users foam at the mouth with jealousy at all the awesome 3d features that not only look cool but can actually boost productivity. There are so many neat little tools and programs that people have made you're sure to find something out there you didn't even know was possible.

Viruses, Spyware, Malware? Never seen 'em!

Finally, and probably best of all, is the total lack of nasty infectious software you run into all the time with Windows machines. While there ARE viruses for Linux, you'd probably have to manually infect your own machine to find them. This makes it a great solution for your childrens computer, as you won't have to worry about them clicking around randomly on websites and wrecking your machine. You can also run Linux and Windows on the same machine, using GRUB, the almighty boot loader. The only thing that Linux NATIVELY lacks is support for all the awesome new games that are coming out nowadays, but there is software out there that will let you run many of these games in Linux, it just takes a little tweaking to get them running, optionally, you can pay for a service that will do the tweaking for you for each game you're interested in. The bottom line, is that this is the OS that could save the planet from being overfilled with old computers lying in the dump. If you have an older machine, some spare time, and an interest in learning about new and exciting things in the computer world, you really should give Linux a try, it might just open your eyes to a whole new world of endless possibilities, even on machines that are 10+ years old. That's all for now, next time I'll answer the question I hear the most from everyone, how do I download free stuff on the internet?

Friday, August 24, 2007

What Web Browser should I use?

It may be obvious to some, not so much to others, but the browser you use makes a really big difference when it comes to getting a case of the 'Vista's'

Opera: The 31337 (ELEET) browser.

I would say the best browser out there right now, with a single caveat, it almost has TOO many options, and that's why I call it the 31337 browser, If you use Linux, understand how the internet works, and love going thru endless option check box's, wow is this the browser for you. It's fast, sleak, doesn't hog up system resources and is a godsend to what is unfortunately an 'Internet Exploder' dominated market. If you want to start having an awesome experience using the internet, and don't mind going thru a myriad of options in order to get things the way you like, you need to click here, NOW!

Firefox: One word... FOXY!!!

First off, let me get it out in the open, I'm in love with Firefox, being an old Mozilla user from back in the day, before Mr. Gates even knew what a web browser was, before the empire, before the dark times... Anyone out there remember good ole Netscape Navigator? Well the name's moved around quite a bit, but Firefox seems like it's Navigator reborn from it's own ashes, only 10 times better. It's totally customizable, and has a very strong user and development base. The Extensions, or plug-ins if you prefer, are not only top notch but really easy to find and install. Themes? There's a billion, from the wacky to the sleek, anything you could think of. I install this browser on all of my customers machines after removing viruses and spyware. Then I install this add-on, followed by this one. Last but not least, I finish with this, and bam, not only will you see a huge reduction in pop-ups, but you won't even see most ads that are embedded in all these bad websites out there. I have my browser "pimped out" for myself, and simply refuse to use anything else I am so happy with my over-all surfing experience. I don't run any antivirus software on my machine, none whatsoever, and since using firefox, I have yet to get any viruses or spyware. Not that it's virus or spyware proof, I'm an experienced surfer and know what not to click, but I'd go so far as to say Firefox will remove 90+% of your internet threats if you install those above add-ons.

Internet Explorer: Welcome to your doom.

Well, There's a reason this sucker is last. Worst... Browser... Ever... Known as 'Internet Exploder' to those of us in the know, this is most likely the reason you have viruses and/or spyware on your machine. Bill and Ted, had they been geeks, would have referred to IE as "The most heinous personification of evil ever encountered by the human race." The only reason you should ever even look at IE, is when you are performing a windows update or the website you're using requires it. One of the larger problems is just how entangled into the windows base system IE really is. It's damn near half of your operating system, AT LEAST... Do you really want to be browsing around, clicking here and there, not really paying much attention to what's going on or what your clicking on, unknowingly giving some random website complete access to your entire system? Of course not. Avoid this foul turd of a browser as if it were the plague. I usually remove it from the users desktop and start menu after installing Firefox, leaving only "Windows Update" as a way to use it.

One rule that binds them all: Surf Defensively.

If your downloading something, and it's supposed to be, say, a pack of pictures, or maybe some Clip Art samples, anytime it asks you if you want to run or open or save an executable file, BEWARE! This is also the next best way to get yourself infected. Your best bet is whenever it asks you if you want to open, run or save, always use the save option, pay attention to what type of file it is. Is it an executable or 'program' file? Do you trust the site you downloaded it from? Obviously, if you go to and click download firefox, that's an executable program that you can trust and run without worrying about viruses. On the other hand, if your googling "Free Clip Art" and find a site trying to get you to download and run an executable file, when it really should be a compressed package of clip art, usually in RAR or ZIP format, then you should definitely head over to
and scan that file for viruses before you try and double click on it.

That's all for now, check back for my next entry,

"Linux, Why you need to take another look."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Getting things started

I've been meaning to set up a blog for a while now, so here goes...

I'm Tony, A.K.A. "The Computer Guy" I've been helping people get their computers running like they should since I was a kid. I was playing with computers before I could walk, using a Commadore 64 instead of a baby rattle. I have strong feelings for what I like to call the golden age of computers, when it was more of a hobby for the elites, and hacking away at a DOS or Linux prompt was just as cool as using windows. Before I turned 14, I began an apprenticeship at a "Mom 'n Pop" computer store down the road, where I began to learn everything I could about computers and their fun little qerks. Thanks to an accelerated learning program, I was able to count the time working at the computer store and got my high school diploma about a year and a half later, I stuck around the computer store for a few more years before getting a better paying job at a computer-parts distribution warehouse, Lyben Computer Systems. A few months after starting as a lowly tech support grunt, I took charge when the system admin got angry at the company and stopped showing up. After a few years the company decided to move to a new location, and it was up to yours truly to handle the network side of the move. That was a great work environment and I grew to love all the people that worked there.

Unfortunately due to a poor local economy, big guns like Dell, Compaq and Gateway really started to take down a lot of the smaller, more locally minded companies... Being Lyben's main Systems Administrator, I was involved in most of the sales report meetings and started to notice just how bad things were going. Also, they had been promising to pay for my network certifications for way too long and I didn't see the company lasting much longer. I heard of an opening at an automotive tool design shop, so I jumped ship just before Lyben sank like a rock. Basically the design shops current admin was overwhelmed with the 3 floors of computer systems he was in charge of, and was neglecting a lot of the AutoCAD groups needs. When I wasn't busy taking care of the normal day to day problems that popped up, I started to learn AutoCAD and actually took to it quite easily. Over time, I started to do more ACAD Proposal designs then actual system administration work. One of the coolest parts of that job was being sent to California for a month to reverse engineer a laser welding system. Mind you, I'm not an engineer by any means and was really there as more of a systems support role for the time, but what a great time it was.

In what seemed like an eerie repeat of Lyben, the main company we did design work for took a nose dive. I won't say what company, but it sounds like christ-ler :) Some 120 people got laid-off over the course of a month or so, and eventually towards the end of the layoffs, my number came up. I managed to get by on the unemployment for a while but not having my certifications really screwed up my chances in the now-ailing job market. So I decided to get in shape and do some manual labor for a while, did some tree work and a lot of side jobs, cleaning out virus's here, building machines there, it was pretty good experience, lost the hackers complexion & physique, had a great time working outside until I had an accident on a tree removal job and messed my shoulder/back up. Since then it's been back to being "The Computer Guy" doing everything from web site design and virus/spyware removal to system upgrades and repairs.

I'm hoping this blog can be used to promote my local business, as well as help people with the chronic computer problems that everyone seems to have now-a-days. I will try to post as many "Safe Surfing" tips as I can. Feel free to post a comment talking about your latest problems and I will definitely try and provide any help I can. If your looking to hire me for my services, shoot me an e-mail at Safe and happy surfing everyone!