Tech Tip: Choosing the right computer solution for you

#TechTip Find the tech solution that works for you. A Chromebook isn’t for everyone but for those always online it’s a great option.

There are now many more options out there for you instead of the traditional computers from the past.  Desktops and Laptops used to be the only real choice in your computer, but now you can choose between desktop, Laptop, Tablet, or Chromebook.  In addition there is also Smartphones and media centres and gaming platforms which do much of the work of computers for you as well.

How do you choose what is right for you?

Lets take a quick look at where each computer could be useful to help you make an informed decision:

Desktop: Yes, you have heard many times about the end of the desktop, but they are not dead yet.  Why would you want a desktop?  There are a few reasons.  First is how customizable desktops are.  You can purchase a decent desktop and add whatever additions you want, or you can build from scratch everything from the processor to hard drive to graphics processors.  If you wanted multiple media drives, DVD Burners, Blu-Ray players, additional hard drives, you can install them all in a desktop.  If you had software that you needed to run all the time, a desktop or server can be left on all the time and provide significant cooling to keep it running properly.  Yes they are fixed in a location,  but if you work in one spot all the time then there isn’t much of a difference.

Laptops:  Still popular are laptops.  Between Laptops, Ultrabooks and Netbooks, a portable computer with all the power of a desktop still is the go to computer for getting work done.  While not as customizable as desktops, the ability to do all your work everywhere and anywhere you want is still appealing.  Businesses have not had time to adjust to the shift to tablet computers, so for business, laptops are still pretty much required in order to get a lot of work done.

Tablets:  Becoming more popular over the last few years, Tablets have the ability to be more portable than a laptop and provide many of the features that a laptop would require.  Originally its acceptance was for entertainment and personal use as the iPad made it popular for watching shows and playing games on a bigger screen than could be seen on a smaller iPhone.   Businesses have started the shift to tablets, but as mentioned, many businesses are not there yet, and some software still works better on a laptop.  The trend from both personal and business is to shift to screens of all sizes either through responsive web design or apps for specific platforms.  The future is most definitely in the Tablet world.

Chromebook: The Chromebook, which is based on Google’s Chrome Operating system is a shift from the traditional laptop.  While it maintains the look and feel of a laptop, there is very little in the way of storage on the device.  Instead, the system boots up quickly and uses Google’s interface to access everything.  Essentially it needs to be connected to the Internet at all times to really work.  While not for everyone, it definitely serves a market of those needing to stay connected online with a device that has a fast boot up and automatic virus protection.  Its cost is also a huge draw as it is usually cheaper than most laptops.  Using Google’s array of services, you can do everything including email, web browsing, file management and document management all through Google’s core group of web apps.  It’s definitely worth a look if you want an inexpensive system and use Google’s products.

There is a growing list of Smartphones and media centres that can also manage some of the tasks normally associated with a computer.  For example, Smart TV’s have become common instead of the exception in new TV purchases.  For those that have  a Netflix subscription, or enjoy browsing YouTube for content, a Smart TV could be a great add in.  similar, Google’s Chromecast can add computing power to a TV, as well as most new gaming systems, including the XBOX One and PS4.

There is also the growing field of wearable technology, but that is in itself a whole other blog posting.  When you make a choice in the new year about a new computer, look at your lifestyle, your needs and wants, as well as budget requirements.  May your 2014 be wonderful as well as connected!



Tech Tip: Follow Santa on his Journey around the World

#TechTip: Follow Santa’s journey around the world via NORAD. Someone needs to clear the airspace for him!

Its Christmas Eve, and apart from all the flights speeding across the world to get people home in time for the holidays, there is one more very important flight that is speeding around the world right now.  And you can see where he is!

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, commonly referred to as NORAD, is a joint U.S. and Canadian military facility that tracks the airspace around North America.  Originally it was designed during the Cold War to keep an eye on Soviet Bombers infiltrating the sovereign airspace.

Why_NORAD_Tracks_Santa One day, back in 1955, a local Sears store printed a phone number for kids to call Santa directly.  Unfortunately there was a misprint in the newspaper’s advertisement, and the number printed was accidentally the number for the predecessor to NORAD.  When children started calling the number and asking about Santa, the duty officer told all his staff that evening to give reports on Santa’s location to the local children.  (He probably didn’t think there would be any harm in releasing such Classified information to young children!)

Since that day, NORAD has kept track of Santa’s journey from the North Pole around the world to children everywhere.  This year, NORAD  and others including the Canadian Department of National Defence, have made available their tracking on Smartphones, as well as their traditional phone number to call 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723).

To visit their website and track Santa on his journey, check out

Have a Merry Christmas!

Tech Tip: Gift Ideas after the Ice Storm

Our bonus #TechTip today is a last minute gift idea.  After the last ice storm we just went through, many were left without power.  While phones and tablets may have provided some contact to the outside world, they still had to be charged.  Without power that could have been a problem.

CRCFRX3WXR_Red_front1To stay in contact with whats going on in the world, and keep your phone charged up, consider a portable phone charger.  Eton builds these kits that can charge your phone, have a built in flash light and AM/FM radio.  All with a hand crank or some models with a solar panel as well.

Everyone should have an emergency 72 hour kit stashed away in their home, and hopefully this Ice storm shows why it is important.

If you are looking to purchase one of these units, or one of the many available, a simple Google search will net many results, but Radioworld is a great place to purchase items like this.

It will make a great gift, and keep you connected during the next emergency.

Tech Tip: Don’t Drink and Drive, use a Taxi App

#TechTip: if you enjoy a few BEvERages this holiday season, download the find a taxi app for your smartphone. Travel safe

Today’s blog is going to be short, because the message should be fairly clear.  Don’t Drink and Drive.  If you are going out this holiday season and will be enjoying a few festive drinks, then make sure to designate a sober driver.

Things can happen, and perhaps you find yourself unable to drive home safely.  This is where technology can come to your rescue.  Download the #TAXI app for your smartphone and call a cab easily.  It can find out what city you are in with the Phones GPS, and connect you to the best available cab company.

Enjoy the holidays and Stay Safe!

Tech Tip: Schedule time to contact loved ones face to face

#TechTip schedule in advance time to contact loved ones who live far away. Skype or Google hangouts are great to talk face 2 face

As much as we want to get together with our loved ones this holiday season, sometimes its not always doable.  Be it work commitments, distant relatives, or flight delays, the holidays can be hard when not everyone is present.  To help overcome this, use technology to help connect you.

Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime, or one of the many other video chat services are a great way to stay connected to those you love from far away.  Of course a phone call is easy and with long distance rates at their lowest point ever, it may make sense just to give a quick call.  But if you can set up a face to face video chat, it will brighten everyone’s day.

Skype is probably the most recognizable of all the online video chatting platforms.  Its used everywhere from staying in touch with Grandma to  journalists filing reports from the far reaches of the world.  Accounts are free to set up, and Skype to Skype video and voice calls are free.  There is a charge if you want to access the traditional phone lines or get your own phone number for Skype, but for most people it will work fine.  The video quality is decent enough for staying in touch and achieving that true face to face.

Google Hangouts is probably one most people haven’t heard about as much, but if you have a Google or Gmail account, you have access to hangouts.  If you have an Android phone, then chances are you have access to hangouts.  Like Skype, it will provide you with Voice or Video access for no charge.  You can access it by looking on the left hand side of your Gmail account for the contact names available.  If you know someone has a Gmail account, you can probably have a conversation with them.  Check out Google here to see how to use Hangouts.

Facetime, made popular by Apple and all its feel good commercials probably provides the best quality call with ease of use.  The one catch is each person needs to have an Apple product such as an iPhone, iPad or Mac that can support Facetime.  That has gotten a lot easier as more people use Apple products now than a few years ago when Facetime first came out.  Check out what Apple has to say on Facetime and how to use it.

Other services may be fun like Snapchat, which has gained popularity in recent months, as well as Vine and Instagram, but these are typically to record a short video message and sent out to others.  While it won’t provide you the 2 way interaction some may want, it is a great consideration for those short Post Card messages to many friends and family members.

The holidays is about connecting with your loved ones, and if you cant connect in person, maybe technology can give you a hand.

TechTip: Use your Smartphone camera to catch candid shots

#TechTip: while nothing can really replace the quality of a good camera, using your smartphone will capture those candid moments

When most of us think back to our childhoods, many of the memories that pop up are around the holidays.  This may be due in part to the many photographs that were taken and those images tend to stick in our minds.  There will be no shortage of pictures taken this year as everyone gathers together, opening presents, preparing dinners and celebrating the holidays.
Good quality cameras have made significant improvements in features and size over the last decade.  Traditionally the best pictures have come from Digital SLR cameras, but smaller point and shoots have come a long way.  But while these cameras can produce some amazing pictures, they don’t tend to be with you at every moment during the holidays.  This means you could miss that great candid shot.  There is where you smartphone can save that special memory.
While not at the same quality as regular cameras, Smartphone cameras have also come a long way.  The average camera quality on a smartphone is about 8MP in image quality.  This is on par with your typical point and shoot camera.  The one major difference between the two is the optics.  A camera phone, even with the best optics, would have trouble rivaling a decent point and shoot camera, and most definitely can’t be compared with a Digital SLR camera.  But for the quality that you would lose, to be able to get that image for posterity is worth the trade off.
Nokia-Lumia-1020-with-Nokia-Pro-CameraSome phones, like the new Nokia Lumia 1020 have bridged that gap by including a 41MP sensor in the phone for stunning pictures.  Apple has also talked at great length about how good quality the iPhone’s camera is, but it doesn’t come close to the 41MP of the Nokia model.  Perhaps something to put on that Christmas wish list is a new camera phone.
Now that you have cameras to cover everything, where do you store all the pictures?  There are lots of online photo sharing sites like Flickr. com and Google Photo, (Formerly Picasa) plus sites like Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and many others.  Try and find one area, either online or on a computer, to store all your photographs for easy sorting later. 
 I use Google Photos on Google+ because it syncs up all the photos I take with my Smartphone immediately.  I also have an Eye-Fi digital storage card for my camera which also uploads my photos in real time to Google for sorting.  If you haven’t heard of Eye-Fi, you should check out their products.  Built in to your Standard SD card is a WiFi chip which connects to your wireless network and sends the pictures you take to an online storage site where you can transfer them to an online portal.  Makes it quick and easy to get your pictures and start sorting them.
This holiday, take lots of pictures and enjoy the company of those around you.  Who knows, many years from now, those candid camera phone shots may be some of your best memories.

Tech Tip: using Crowd sourcing for holiday ideas

#TechTip Use Social media to crowd source recipes or decorating ideas, but NOT gift ideas. Might tip someone off.

What makes Social Media so “Social”, is the interaction that comes from communicating ideas with your group of friends or followers.  I have talked in the past about how you can ask Google a question by typing it in and seeing what information pops up, but asking a question of those on social media outlets is going to give you the best responses.  The idea is called “Crowd Sourcing”

The term crowd sourcing comes from the idea of Outsourcing, where you have someone else do something for you.  It can be anything from cleaning to designing a new circuit board for a phone.  Outsourcing is commonly used in business. The idea of crowd sourcing is putting a question or thought out on social media and asking for assistance with it.

The holidays are the perfect time to try this out.  If you are looking for assistance with anything from decorating to holiday party planning, crowd sourcing may be your answer.

Give it a try.  Ask your friends and followers a simple question and see who responds.  The day of our recent snow storm, I asked everyone on Facebook and Twitter if they thought snow tires on a front wheel drive car or All Wheel Drive cars without snow tires would be better on the roads.  The response I got was incredible.  (The overwhelming answer, by the way, was snow tires).

Taking that example, and applying it to holiday planning ideas should net you some pretty good responses.  My one caveat though: don’t crowd source gift ideas.  Only because the answers might make it to the person you are getting the gift for.

The other bonus of crowd sourcing at the holidays is that it gives you a chance to interact with friends you may have lost touch with over the year.  Catch up with them and wish them well!

Tech Tip: Using Social Media to hide an elf in creative ways

#TechTip do you have an Elf on the Shelf looking for places to go? Pinterest has lots of places for the elf to hide, as does Google

For those of you with kids, You’ve probably heard of the Elf on a Shelf.  For those that haven’t, its the story of a little elf who


comes out and watches the kids for Santa to see if they are being naughty or nice.  The story itself, comes with a little elf that is supposed to hide around the house watching the kids.  This is where it gets creative.

Parents enjoy hiding the elf around different areas of the house as a little treat for the kids.  Each morning, the elf may be up to something different.  Perhaps hanging from a ceiling light, or in the Christmas tree.  Maybe its in a closet peeking out, or hanging out with the childs other toys.

Depending on when the Elf makes an appearance in December, there may be a number of days that the elf has to find places to hide, and it can get hard finding new places to hide it.

Thank you Social Media, has a quick Google search will help you find lots of ideas on where the elf can sneek away.  Pinterest is also a great place to look, especially for pictures of the elf in different locations.  Some are creative, others are the elf up to no good!  You can pick your favourite search engines, or go right to Pinterest and enter “Elf on the Shelf ideas” and BINGO! a plethora of new and interesting ways for the elf to find a home that night.

Also, consider setting a reminder on your smartphone to have the elf find a new place every night.  You wouldn’t want the elf to forget to go somewhere new and make the kiddies wonder what happened!

Tech Tip: Automatic Alerts to your phone to stay connected

#TechTip for news junkies, set up news alerts to your phone for breaking stories or to stay up to date on current events

News is breaking every day all over.  Staying on top of it can be a full time job.  Whether you are a news junkie, or just want to know whats happening the world, breaking news alerts are a great tool to help you connect with the world around you.

Many news sites offer breaking news alerts or subscription services.  This usually involves setting up an account on the news website and telling them what you are interested in.  CBC News, for example, offers their subscription service that will email you alerts based on what you have requested.  They offer everything from Breaking news, to news digests based on the geographical area you are most interested in.  Email alerts will arrive in your inbox so you don’t have to keep refreshing their website every 5 minutes to see if something new has happened in the world.

If you want something a little more immediate and you have a specific topic you want news on, consider getting the news right from the source.  Many journalists get breaking news from the Canadian News Wire, which offers press releases for businesses and organizations.  When a company or government has something to say in Canada, they will often issue press releases.  Setting up an account and planning what you want to get news about is a great way to stay on top of a story before it even breaks in the news.

I have also said many times, one of the best ways to get breaking news is through Twitter.  Before news breaks on TV, often people are talking about it and sharing it.  Not only is it a great way to find breaking news, its also great to follow ongoing stories.  During major events, update can often be found on the Twitter accounts of those closest to the story.  During recent storms and environmental emergencies, Governments and organizations provided updates on their twitter feeds to keep the public up to date on what was going on.  Over the summer, for example, when a major storm caused flooding and power outages in the Greater Toronto Area, local power utilities were issuing statements saying what areas were without power and where crews were working to restore.  Their social media teams did a good job responding to requests for information and providing updates.

Keeping updated is easy, but filtering information so only the right information comes at the right time is critical to avoid information overload.

Tech Tip: backup or sync your password database

#TechTip store your password manager program on 2 USB drives. 1 to carry with you and 1 for backup, or sync to the cloud securely

We conclude the weeks blog about passwords with a post about how to manage those password database programs.

We have already covered why you need multiple passwords and how to manage the sheer number of them.  So now we have a simple tip that you really must follow: back up your password database!

With so many passwords to keep track of you need to keep them all written down somewhere and we recommend a password manager.  But if you only have that program on one computer, what happens if your computer crashes or is lost?  I usually recommend keeping your password manager on a USB drive so that you can move it between computers and its always with you.  But make sure if your database program is on a USB drive you have it backed up on a spare drive somewhere else.  Should you lose your drive you can still access all your sites.

The same can be said about syncing up your password database online.  If your manager automatically syncs online as with LastPass, or if you keep the file on a Drop box or Google Drive, you will have access to it anywhere and anytime. 

Password security may seem like a chore for those who don’t regularly make updates to it, bit a few steps now can save you a lot of trouble in the future.