Monthly Archives: November 2010

5 tips to get a good price on a laptop

As a web designer, I buy a lot of computer equipment, along with being constantly asked by friends to help them find “deals”. Of course, when I purchase a new computer or laptop, I have to pay out of my own pocket, I am always looking for a “deal”. Over the years, I’ve mastered how to get good prices on computer equipment. Here’s a few things I’ve learned.

1: Stay away from retail stores

If you want to get a good deal on a laptop, stay away from big box retailers. I won’t name names, (and even tho my son works for one such big box unit),  I have noticed that their prices are always the same as the MSRP listed on the Internet. Even the store’s sale prices are more expensive than what you would pay if you were to buy the same laptop online.

Price isn’t the only reason I recommend avoiding major electronics stores. Things like high pressure sales tactics and upcharges for things I don’t want (such as extended warranties, setup, software suites, and “optimizing my machine”) are enough to drive me nuts (short trip). Unless I need a computer immediately I avoid the electronics stores at all costs.

2: Decide what’s important to you

If you have to have the latest and greatest laptop, you’re going to end up paying a premium price for it. However, if you don’t absolutely have to have the best, you can save big bucks by compromising on a few features. You may also find that it is cheaper to upgrade a laptop than to buy one with everything you need.

For example, a few years ago, I needed a laptop for a project I was working on. The only real requirement was that I had to have 4 GB of RAM. At the time, laptops with that much memory were really expensive. I was able to save a fortune by buying a 1 GB laptop and then buying the memory for it separately.

Here are some other ways you can save money:

  • Buy last year’s model.
  • Buy a comparable system from a less expensive manufacturer.

3: Shop online outlets

Most of the major electronics stores have online outlet stores where you can purchase open box items at a discount. A lot of PC manufacturers have similar online outlets that sell refurbished computers.

Even though some people may look down on those who buy refurbished systems, I have saved a fortune by purchasing refurbished computer equipment. Not every computer I buy is refurbished. But if I plan to use a computer only as a lab machine, I have no problem with buying refurbished hardware.

4: Comparison shop

Several Web sites, such as My Simon and Price Grabber, will do the comparison shopping for you. Such sites query numerous online stores and show you which store has the best price on the laptop you want. Although I whole-heartedly encourage comparison shopping, there are two things to watch out for.

First, price comparison sites examine a finite number of stores. If you know of some stores that often have good prices on laptops, it may be worthwhile to manually check their prices in case they are not included in the price query on the comparison site.

The second thing to watch out for is that some online stores will charge an obscene amount of money for shipping, just so that they can claim to have the lowest price.

Incidentally, if you do decide to purchase a laptop from an online reseller, take the time to check out the store’s reputation. The Internet is filled with charlatans.

5: Beware of buying used laptops

Although I sometimes buy refurbished laptops, I tend not to  buy used laptops. The reason for this is that laptops just take too much abuse. A refurbished laptop is fully compliant with the manufacturer’s original standards and it comes with a warranty. A used laptop has no such guarantees.

If  you know someone locally who was selling a used laptop, I might consider buying it if I could test drive it first. However, I would never even consider purchasing a used laptop off the Internet. You never know if it has been dropped, coke spilled into it, etc….

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5 ways to drive traffic to your website

1: Word of mouth
Sometimes, there is nothing like good old fashion word of mouth to
attract traffic to your site. I have lost count of the number of times
I have had friends tell me about a cool new site that I need to check
out. Remember, if you give people a reason to talk about your site,
they usually will.

2: Search engine optimization
I wasn’t even going to mention search engine optimization because it’s
such an obvious requirement. Even if a site has already been
optimized, it may be worth reviewing it from time to time. Search
engines change their rules all the time –and when that happens, a site
that is highly optimized today might not receive favorable rankings
tomorrow.

3. Social networking
Social networking sites can be a great mechanism for driving traffic
to your Web site. This might seem an obvious choice, but the number of
clients we have not utilizing this FREE form of marketing is
astounding.

4: Provide a reason to visit
The Internet is filled with so many sites, you have to give people a
reason to visit yours. One way to do that is to give them something
useful that they can’t get anywhere else.

5: Solicit reviews
If your Web site is set up to sell a product or service, I highly
recommend trying to get it in front of someone who writes reviews on
whatever it is you’re selling.


10 ways to manage your time

1: Use the right tools

Whether it’s hardware, software, or the chair you sit in, using the best tool for the job can make a huge difference in the amount of work you get done. It’s not always easy to determine which tool is best. Know your options and research which tool best meets your needs. New tools are being developed all the time. Keep up to date to determine whether more effective tools are available.

2: Properly manage your time and your tasks

Simple time management can help you make more effective use of your time. Know what you intend to accomplish before starting each day. You may want to write these tasks down, but I learned to do simple daily planning without any special tools. I found it easier to break my day into morning and afternoon and reevaluate my working plan at lunchtime.

There are tools designed specifically to help you prioritize your tasks. Whatever method you use to manage and prioritize your tasks, it should be flexible enough to allow you to choose an alternate task.

3: Learn to say no

It’s sometimes hard to do, but do it. You may not be able to say no to the boss, but when possible, pare back your to-do list. If the list gets too long, consider segregating it into current and future tasks. Having too many items on your plate can be discouraging, and a motivated person is more productive than a discouraged one.

Learn to say no to interruptions. You wouldn’t interrupt your child while in school. Except for emergencies and the occasional honey-do item, you should encourage others to avoid interrupting you when you’re hard at work.

4: Focus on one task at a time

It is a common misconception that the conscious mind can process more than one task at a time. It’s just not possible if the tasks require conscious selection and action. The best multi-taskers may quickly switch from one task to another, but they still can focus on only one task at a time. Experiments have shown that productivity drops when multi-tasking.

5: Know when you are not productive

We all seem to have those times during the day when we just aren’t totally with it. Recognize when you are unproductive. Is it mornings? Late afternoons? After lunch? Use these times to do repetitive, simple-to-accomplish tasks. I am unproductive in the mornings, so I read and answer my email, return phone calls, and schedule conference calls.

We are not machines. Productivity begins to suffer when focusing on one task for too long. When you begin to feel tired or unable to focus, stop working. Take a break or take an early lunch.

Lower productivity can be long-term as well as short-term. Recognize the warning signs of burn-out. Take a vacation, sabbatical or schedule some downtime when you see the first signs of physical or mental exhaustion.

6: Take advantage of nonproductive time

Any work that can be accomplished when traveling or during other lost nonproductive hours means that you can focus on more important tasks when back in the office. Waiting in line and walking to lunch are great times to accomplish tasks that require careful consideration and thought. You may be tempted to multi-task while driving, but that is a bad idea.

7: Sleep on it

It’s counter Intuitive, but when you’re stuck trying to solve a particularly difficult problem, set it aside until tomorrow. The answer to a difficult problem has often come to me in that quiet time between lying down to sleep and dozing off. If it didn’t, starting the next day with a fresh perspective often helped solve the problem.

In addition, getting the right amount of sleep will help you be more productive. This is different for each person, but is typically between seven and nine hours each night.

8: Use your resources

I call this the copy-and-paste method of increasing productivity. If you are a programmer, reuse proven code. If you have a presentation to give, there may be existing graphics, text, or slides that can be recycled from a previous PowerPoint. Use standards and templates when appropriate to save time. Consider developing a library of work that can be maintained and mined for reuse by your department or company. Sharing this library will make everyone more productive.

9: Take a break

Sometimes, I used to get up and go for a walk right in the middle of the workday. Thankfully, no one ever stopped me to question what I was doing, but I often wondered what others were thinking. And thinking is exactly what I was doing. Taking the time up front to develop a plan of attack away from interruptions can save hours of wasted effort.

10: Know “the” business and “your” business

IT often supports many types of businesses. From manufacturing to nonprofit, knowing how the business you are doing work for works will make you more productive. Whatever your job, you need to know it inside and out. If your skills aren’t up to snuff, ask yourself what you can do to improve them.

1: Use the right tools

Whether it’s hardware, software, or the chair you sit in, using the best tool for the job can make a huge difference in the amount of work you get done. It’s not always easy to determine which tool is best. Know your options and research which tool best meets your needs. New tools are being developed all the time. Keep up to date to determine whether more effective tools are available.

2: Properly manage your time and your tasks

Simple time management can help you make more effective use of your time. Know what you intend to accomplish before starting each day. You may want to write these tasks down, but I learned to do simple daily planning without any special tools. I found it easier to break my day into morning and afternoon and reevaluate my working plan at lunchtime.

There are tools designed specifically to help you prioritize your tasks. Whatever method you use to manage and prioritize your tasks, it should be flexible enough to allow you to choose an alternate task.

3: Learn to say no

It’s sometimes hard to do, but do it. You may not be able to say no to the boss, but when possible, pare back your to-do list. If the list gets too long, consider segregating it into current and future tasks. Having too many items on your plate can be discouraging, and a motivated person is more productive than a discouraged one.

Learn to say no to interruptions. You wouldn’t interrupt your child while in school. Except for emergencies and the occasional honey-do item, you should encourage others to avoid interrupting you when you’re hard at work.

4: Focus on one task at a time

It is a common misconception that the conscious mind can process more than one task at a time. It’s just not possible if the tasks require conscious selection and action. The best multi-taskers may quickly switch from one task to another, but they still can focus on only one task at a time. Experiments have shown that productivity drops when multi-tasking.

5: Know when you are not productive

We all seem to have those times during the day when we just aren’t totally with it. Recognize when you are unproductive. Is it mornings? Late afternoons? After lunch? Use these times to do repetitive, simple-to-accomplish tasks. I am unproductive in the mornings, so I read and answer my email, return phone calls, and schedule conference calls.

We are not machines. Productivity begins to suffer when focusing on one task for too long. When you begin to feel tired or unable to focus, stop working. Take a break or take an early lunch.

Lower productivity can be long-term as well as short-term. Recognize the warning signs of burn-out. Take a vacation, sabbatical or schedule some downtime when you see the first signs of physical or mental exhaustion.

6: Take advantage of nonproductive time

Any work that can be accomplished when traveling or during other lost nonproductive hours means that you can focus on more important tasks when back in the office. Waiting in line and walking to lunch are great times to accomplish tasks that require careful consideration and thought. You may be tempted to multi-task while driving, but that is a bad idea.

7: Sleep on it

It’s counter Intuitive, but when you’re stuck trying to solve a particularly difficult problem, set it aside until tomorrow. The answer to a difficult problem has often come to me in that quiet time between lying down to sleep and dozing off. If it didn’t, starting the next day with a fresh perspective often helped solve the problem.

In addition, getting the right amount of sleep will help you be more productive. This is different for each person, but is typically between seven and nine hours each night.

8: Use your resources

I call this the copy-and-paste method of increasing productivity. If you are a programmer, reuse proven code. If you have a presentation to give, there may be existing graphics, text, or slides that can be recycled from a previous PowerPoint. Use standards and templates when appropriate to save time. Consider developing a library of work that can be maintained and mined for reuse by your department or company. Sharing this library will make everyone more productive.

9: Take a break

Sometimes, I used to get up and go for a walk right in the middle of the workday. Thankfully, no one ever stopped me to question what I was doing, but I often wondered what others were thinking. And thinking is exactly what I was doing. Taking the time up front to develop a plan of attack away from interruptions can save hours of wasted effort.

10: Know “the” business and “your” business

IT often supports many types of businesses. From manufacturing to nonprofit, knowing how the business you are doing work for works will make you more productive. Whatever your job, you need to know it inside and out. If your skills aren’t up to snuff, ask yourself what you can do to improve them.


Slow Computer? Tip #10 File system issues and display options

Some file systems work better than others for large disk partitions. Windows 7 should always use the NTFS file system for best performance.

Cleaning up the file system will also help speed performance. You can use the Disk Cleanup tool to:

  • Remove temporary Internet files.
  • Remove downloaded program files (such as Microsoft ActiveX controls and Java applets).
  • Empty the Recycle Bin.
  • Remove Windows temporary files such as error reports.
  • Remove optional Windows components you don’t use.
  • Remove installed programs you no longer use.
  • Remove unused restore points and shadow copies from System Restore.

To run Disk Cleanup in Windows 7, click Start and type “Disk Cleanup” in the search box. Select the drive you want to clean up.

Another way to increase performance is by turning off some of the visual effects that make Windows 7 look cool but use valuable system resources. In Control Panel, click the System applet and in the left pane, click Advanced System Settings. Under Performance, click the Settings button and then the Visual Effects tab. Here, you can disable selected Aero effects or just click Adjust For Best Performance, as shown in Figure G, which disables them all.

Figure G

You can turn off selected (or all) visual effects to increase performance.

Conclusion

When troubleshooting a system slowdown, you should always look for potential hardware problems first. Then, investigate the common software problems. If you use a systematic troubleshooting plan, you should be able to improve the performance of most computers suffering from system slowdown.


Slow Computer? Tip #9 Background applications

Have you ever visited an end user’s desktop and noticed a dozen icons in the system tray? Each icon represents a process running in either the foreground or background. Most of them are running in the background, so the users may not be aware that they are running 20+ applications at the same time.

This is due to applications starting up automatically in the background. You can find these programs in the Startup tab of the System Configuration utility, as shown in Figure F. Uncheck the box to disable the program from starting at bootup.

Figure F

You can disable programs from starting when you boot Windows.

Slow Computer? Tip #8 Disk fragmentation

As files are added, deleted, and changed on a disk, the contents of the file can become spread across sectors located in disparate regions of the disk. This is file fragmentation. All Windows operating systems subsequent to Windows NT have built-in disk defragmentation tools, but there are also third -party programs available that give you more options.

If you have traditional hard disks, disk fragmentation can significantly slow down your machine. The disk heads must move back and forth while seeking all the fragments of a file. A common cause of disk fragmentation is a disk that is too full. You should keep 20 percent to 25 percent of your hard disk space free to minimize file fragmentation and to improve the defragmenter’s ability to defrag the disk. So if a disk is too full, move some files off the drive and restart the defragmenter.

Note that SSDs work differently and can access any location on the drive in essentially the same amount of time. Thus, they don’t need to be defragmented.


Slow Computer? Tip #7 Runaway processes

Runaway processes take up all of the processors’ cycles. The usual suspects are badly written device drivers and legacy software installed on a newer operating system. You can identify a runaway process by looking at the process list in the Windows Task Manager (see Figure D). Any process that takes almost 100 percent of the processing time is likely a runaway process.

Figure D

Use the Task Manager to identify processes that are slowing the system.

We see an exception to this rule, however, if we click the button to Show Processes From All Users. On a smoothly running system, the System Idle Process should be consuming the majority of the processor cycles most of the time. If any other process were to take up 98 percent of the processor cycles, you might have a runaway process.

If you do find a runaway process, you can right-click it and click the End Process command. You may need to stop some processes, such as runaway system services, from the Services console. If you can’t stop the service using the console, you may need to reboot the system. Sometimes a hard reboot is required.

For more detailed information about running processes, check out Process Explorer 12.04, shown in Figure E. This is a handy little utility written by Mark Russinovich that includes powerful search capabilities.

Figure E

Process Explorer gives you more detailed information about running processes.