Tuesday, September 25, 2007

SSC #39 Video Editing (finally!)

by Jeff Smith

Wikipedia defines "video editing" thusly
--Video editing is the process of re-arranging or modifying segments of video to form another piece of video. The goals of video editing are the same as in film editing — the removal of unwanted footage, the isolation of desired footage, and the arrangement of footage in time to synthesize a new piece of footage.

That being said, in order to have everything go smoothly, you need to have all of your ducks in a row. 

    First, have some clear idea of what you want your finished video to look like.  If you go into the video editing process without any idea what you want out of it, you're output is not likely to make much sense to the person(s) viewing it later. 
    Learn how to use your video editor.  For you Windows user, your best bet is Nerovision Express.  Many of you already have it on your PC and don't know it.  If you have the Nero Suite, then its there.  But regardless what you're using, play with it and figure out how everything works and what all the buttons do before you attempt a serious project.
Make sure you can cut scenes down to the exact moment, learn how to add background music if appropriate, learn transitions.  You wouldn't try to build a house if you didn't know how to wield a hammer, would you?  So play with it, do some non-serious stuff that you don't plan on showing off.  Once you're comfortable you know what you're doing, then you can feel free to get all Spielburg on something.
    Make sure you have all the neccessary codecs needed to convert any and all videos that will be in your project.  It can bust you out of your creative process rather quickly if you have to jump online and search for codecs or software.  This should be figured out in your playing around phase.
    You don't have to go too flashy.  Just because your program has 50 some-odd special transition effects, doesn't mean you need to use every one during the half hour of footage from last Christmas.  I try to follow the KISS rule when it comes to video projects... Keep It Simple Stupid.  It will keep your finished videos from looking too obviously amateur, and will speed up the final encoding process since those transitions add lots of processor work.
     Keep your intended audience in mind.  When you're making a creative work, its sometimes helpful to envision who you think will be enjoying it in the future, and add or remove elements based on how you think they would like it. 
    If you're mixing to a DVD, it adds a touch of class if you spend some extra time on the title screen.  Many editors allow you to loop video sequences and sound bites during the main menu sequence, some even allow you to use parts of the video content to make animated buttons!
These extra touches add a lot of polish to a DVD project and are the icing on the cake.
   You should do all of your footage editing before you go to make a DVD.  Not many programs do everything, but even in those that do, its possible to lose your vision in the midst of all the complexity.
If you'd like some more tips, feel free to write me.  Or if you have some tips you care to share, you are welcome to leave comments to this article on the weblog.

See ya next week!


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Sunday, September 16, 2007

#38 How it went with SFD '07

by Jeff Smith

    First off, I'm happy to say I'm writing this from a laptop that was given to me just today by my mother-in-law.  I plan to put it to good use!  Thanks Sherry!
    Secondly, I'd like to tell everyone how it went with Software Freedom Day.  And to start that, I must start out with an apology.  It seems a few people called asking when we would be starting up, and my wife told them that we'd be getting out there around 9am.  But unfortunately, it was a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, because my plans were to get out there at about 1pm.  Not because I'm a lazy cuss, (which I am) but because I knew we'd be up late the night before burning off CD after CD in order to give away.  We finished up the night before, which I am tenuously calling Software Freedom Day Eve, at about 3:30am. 
    So no, 9am just wasn't going to work.  So to those of you who were looking for us out there early Saturday morning.  I am really sorry.  I'm sure your distress was causing me some troubled dreams.
    We went out there with just under 100 CD's and only managed to give out about 40 of them.  It probably would have went better had we gotten out there earlier.  My wife even baked some Open Source Oatmeal Raisin cookies for the event! (the recipe *should* be on the blog by the time you're reading this, so if you wanna "compile" some cookies for yourself at home, you can)
    It seemed that a lot of people just assumed that we were trying to sell something and avoided us just on principle.  But for those of you who did take the time to come over and get a cookie and some software, thanks for taking the time to do so.
    Next year we hope to do a better job of it.  And I'll make a point to have all of the preparations done in advance so that come next Software Freedom Day Eve, I can be snuggled, all warm, in my bed while visions of penguins dance in my head.  In other words, I'll get an earlier start.

I don't see why you people put up with me.  Anyway...

NEXT WEEK:  Back to tips on video editing, as promised.
If you're having PC problems and need some help, call (270) 866-7608 (before 8pm) to set up an appointment and I'll be happy to come help!
See my ad elsewhere in this paper for rates!

Questions or comments:
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Sunday, September 9, 2007

#37 Lots of announcements

by Jeff Smith

This is the week I'm supposed to tell you about how to edit your videos, or at least I said so last week, but there's a lot going on so I probably won't have the room to write about it in the detail it deserves.

As you should know, if you read my column regularly, Software Freedom Day is coming up on September 15th, and my family will be one of only two teams in the entire state that will be giving out stickers, flyers and free CD's full of software. We'll be giving out Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn CD's for those of you who would like to give the most popular distrobution of Linux a try. And for those of you not quite brave enough to step out of your virus harassed comfort zones, we'll be giving away copies of the Open CD.

The Open CD is full of free open-souce software for Windows. There's lots of useful programs on there that I think you'll enjoy, and which will familiarize you with the concept and quality of open source software.

We should be spending a little bit of time in both Jamestown and Russell Springs handing out things and trying to spread awareness of the Open Source Sofware Movement.

Another announcement I have for you is that I've posted all of the past StraightShootinComputin articles online for anyone who may have became a regular reader a little late in the game and would like to go back and see what they missed. You can find all my past articles at
http://straightshootincomputin.blogspot.com. They're laid out nicely, and you're welcome to comment on them right there underneath each article, as well as send individual articles to friends. This is a great way to share this column (if thats something you wanna do) with friends and family outside of the Russell County area.

Questions or comments:

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Friday, September 7, 2007

#36 Making DVD's

by Jeff Smith

After last week's article, hopefully you're somewhat familiar with what is entailed when working with video files. Due to the user-friendly-ness (if thats a word) of many of todays DVD authoring suites, you won't need to know how most of that works, but where that knowledge will come in handy is when something DOESN'T work, you'll have a pretty good idea why.
In Windows, there are quite a few DVD makers out there, and I'm sorry to say that there aren't any All-Star free ones out there. There are some that are free, but either they require you to convert videos into MPEG-2 format first (requiring another program) or they do all the encoding, but don't allow you to make nice menus and title screens for your DVD's. One such program is DVD Styler (www.dvdstyler.de) and is a quick and easy solution for someone who's videos are already in MPEG-2. Another free solution is called DVD Flick (www.dvdflick.net) which can convert just about any video you have and burn it to a disk, but doesn't offer much in the way of window dressing. If you just want a versatile down and dirty DVD maker, this one is for you.
It won't always be this way though, one up and coming free program is Avi2DVD (www.trustfm.net/divx/SoftwareAvi2Dvd.html) which promises to do conversions of just about any file you have a codec for and even lets you do menus. It looks like it has a little ways to go on the user friendly-ness (theres that word again) but if you're willing to take the time to learn to use it, or if FREE just happens to fit your pricerange, I say give it a shot.
Moving into the Proprietary (costs $$) software realm, NeroVision Express is about the best I've found combining both ease of use and a good feature set including video converting, stable burning, and the ability to make some nice looking menus. And being that many of you likely received Nero pre-installed when you bought your computer, its possible you already have it and just aren't aware of it.
Another good name brand DVD authoring tool is Ulead VideoStudio 11 ($99). Meanwhile, the editors over at C|Net recommend a program called DVDComposer 1.5 ($130). I've never personally used that one, but I do have a bit of trust for the guys over at C|Net.
After reading this, I hope you got a good sense of just how many options are available. When looking for software like this, always ask around a bit or get a recommendation from a trusted source (like me!) because there is lots of software out there that promises the moon, but only gives you a big stinking piece of cheese.

For further reading, check out

Questions or comments, write me at

#35 Video editing concepts

by Jeff Smith

This week, I'm introducing you to the many different
elements of video editing that I will be covering in the
next few weeks. I won't be mentioning software today, just
going over the terminology that you'll need to understand
in order to get a clear picture of what video editing entails.

First, understand that a video file, like any other file is
just made up of ones and zeros. In order to use the ones and
zeros in a video file, your computer must have a codec installed
that can read it. A codec is short for code/decode. Much like
scrambled military radio signals, video files are packed tight
with information. Without the codec, your computer can't make heads
or tails of the file, and therefore cannot play it.
Secondly, recognize that there are both Audio and Video codecs.
A video file will likely contain sound as well as visuals. In
for your PC to correctly play a video, you must have both the audio
and the video codecs that the file is encoded in.
The higher the quality of a video, the higher the bitrate of the file,
and also the bigger the file will be. Bitrate just means amount of
data per second.
Framerate means video frames per second. Much like an old
reel-to-reel projector, video files are made up of thousands of
still pictures that progress through the action being shown.
Re-encoding a video will allow you to change the bitrate,
framerate, and even the codecs for video or audio or both, provided
you have the codec the original is encoded in, and also the codec you
want to convert it to.
Re-encoding a video can make it much smaller, but doing so can possibly
compromise the quality. Re-encoding can only worsen the quality of a video.
It can never create a higher quality video than what is started with.

I think thats enough for this week, let those terms and meanings
roll around in your head for a bit and settle in. You'll be needing
them next week. See you then!

Questions or comments, write me at

#34 Couch Potato Heaven

by Jeff Smith

Having gotten hip to all this new-fangled internet media, you're probably pining away for the relative simplicity of your couch and your oldest and bestest friend, the remote. Why is it that if the remote goes missing, we'll spend 20 minutes searching frantically for it instead of just getting up and changing the channel manually? Its because we wish to reserve the right to be lazy at a later time. And I can definately understand that. I would do the dishes from the couch if it were at all possible. (I'm crossing my fingers that some day it will be!)

Now in order to enjoy this cornicopia of PC-based TV in true American style, we've just got to get a remote. You don't want to have to grab for a mouse every time you want to turn down your streaming
internet radio, do ya? Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do this. One popular way is with the Streamzap PC Infrared Remote (approx $50). This very functional remote has 35 buttons and controls most PC media players using the included software, right out of the box, and hooks in to your PC using a simple USB plug.

For those of you who are more daring, or wish to have a more customized remote control, you do-it-yourselfers would probably like the Creative PC-DVD Infrared Remote. You can also find it by its model number CIMR100. When looking to buy this remote, be careful as some places like to try and overcharge the
unsuspecting buyer. I've seen them priced over $150, but those are people just trying to make a quick buck from people who don't know better. If they're charging over $20 for it, keep looking elsewhere. This bare-bones remote features an infrared receiver that connects via serial cable, and a credit-card sized remote control. It doesn't come with any software, but I highly recommend a program called uICE (Universal Infrared Control Engine) which costs $20.

Using this nifty little program, you can program the functions for each individual button on the CIMR100. If the included remote doesn't have enough buttons for your liking, you can use almost any old universal remote you have laying around. In the end, the CIMR100 and uICE together cost nearly as much as the Streamzap, but if you happen to lose the CIMR100 remote, you can just head to the store and buy a new cheap universal remote and get back to being the kind of couch potato that other couch potatoes look up to.

Keep in mind this isn't an exhaustive list. There are tons of other PC-remote solutions out there. I recommend you do a little comparison shopping before settling on one. I recommend places like Pricegrabber.com or Pricewatch.com when it comes to ferreting out the best prices online.

Next week, I'll begin covering Video Editing, so hope you come back for that,
I'm sure you will find it interesting.

Questions or comments, write me at

#33 Streaming TV Shows to your PC

by Jeff Smith

So far, we've covered streaming Internet Radio to your computer, and playing DVD's on it as well. This week, I'll talk about some of the many ways you can watch television shows on your PC. And when I say there are many ways, I mean it. You can stream many shows directly from TV network homepages like CBS.com, NBC.com, ABC.com... so for instance, if you missed the Season Finale of LOST or Grey's Anatomy, you can go and watch it (not right this second, finish the column first). Keep in mind that the quality of the show depends on your broadband speed, which locally, isn't all that great compared to more metropolitan areas.

There are other websites dedicated to hosting multiple channels/streams of content, such as Channelchooser.com or BeelineTV.com. Other sites let you watch amusing clips and home-brewed comedy such as Blinkx.com or LikeVid.com. And theres always the undisputed king of streaming video, YouTube.com which hosts videos on just about everything. An option for those of you who like to stay current on what's happening in the world is CNN.com. Another great site I just found out about is www.tv-links.co.uk. This site gathers links to TV shows hosted on other video sites such as YouTube. A definate must-see.

These are just a small percentage of the website-based video content providers you have at your disposal. Just google the term "video search" and you'll see a whole lot more. Still other websites allow you to watch streaming Internet-only TV channels using Windows Media Player. One such site is www.webtvlist.com, and there are more to be found if you search around a bit.

Now getting away from websites, there are also programs that are dedicated to streaming continuous
content to you. A relatively new TV player is TVU (www.tvunetworks.com) which hosts quite a few streaming channels, but a newcomer thats making a lot of waves is called Joost (www.joost.com). I'm sure there are a few more by now. But these are the best ones I'm aware of at the moment.

Yet another way to watch TV on your PC is by getting a video capture card ($50-$70). A video capture card usually has a coaxial connector on the back for your cable-line, and often an RCA jack as well to get video from a VCR or VHS camcorder (helpful in capturing home movies in order to make DVD's). What this will do is allow you to capture video directly from your cable TV line and display it on your desktop or record it to your hard drive for later viewing.

Some of the really nice ones will let you record one show while watching another, or record two shows simultaneously. Essentially, it turns your PC into a DVR (Digital Video Recorder). Coupled with a TV-out enabled video card, your PC will take the place of your analog cable box (not sure how it works with Satelite or digital cable, sorry) as well as allow you to watch literally thousands of videos from the web.

Add in all the PC games your hardware can stand, and you have one really nice multi-media machine.

Oh, and whats all this high tech TV wizardy without a remote? See ya next week for that!

(you can go watch Grey's Anatomy now, thanks for being patient!)

Questions or comments, write me at

#32 DVD on your PC

by Jeff Smith


The next step in replacing your entertainment center's components
with your PC is replacing your DVD player.
Today's new computers pretty much all come with a DVD-ROM (reader)
or DVD-R/DVD-RW (reader/writer) as standard issue. But if you have an
old clunker, fear not, they're actually pretty cheap. You can find a
DVD-ROM for about $23 (including shipping) or a DVD-RW for about $10 more
from Newegg.com. They used to be a lot more expensive than that, I have
a buddy who bought a DVD-RW when they first came out with them, and it cost
him a little over $400! (hey Bobby :-P) Apparently, it pays not to be an
early-adopter of new technology.
Having the newest and fastest stuff is
only good for bragging rights, and then only good for about 4 to 6 months.
For instructions on how to install a DVD drive in your PC, check out
http://pcworld.about.com/magazine/1904p196id41021.htm but skip the part
about PCI-based MPEG-2 decoders as you won't need one.
If your computer already has a DVD drive--reader or writer--then
you're most of the way there already. In fact, many new machines are set
up to play DVD's out of the box. So pop one in and see what happens.
If it tells you something about not having the proper plugins or decoders,
fear not, just go to www.videolan.org and download the VLC Media Player.
This robust player will play just about any video you throw at it, including
Furthermore, its FREE! Its available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, so no
matter what operating system you use, VLC is there for you. It has all of
the needed codecs built in, so you won't need to add any.
Now you can sit back and enjoy your DVD's on your PC screen, or if your video
card has TV-out, you can pipe it on over to your bigscreen TV!

Next week I'll be covering multiple ways to stream TV shows to your
computer... See ya then!

Questions or comments, write me at

#31 Move over TV

by Jeff Smith

Your computer can be used for entertainment in many
diverse ways. Many of you already use it for
communication and games, but it is possible to get
much much more than that from your machine.
In our house, we've not had a TV for a few years
now. No cable, no dish. We've just had our
computers and our broadband internet connection.
We've not missed TV at all, in fact, when we go to our
friend's houses, commercials usually catch us by
If you're one of those people who just can't live
without your bigscreen, don't worry, using a video
card with a TV-out, you can output whats on your PC
monitor to your TV screen, regardless of its size.
And they make wireless keyboards these days with a
100-foot range, so there's no doubt that it will reach
to your La-Z-Boy. As with gaming, I'm going to break
this topic up over the next few weeks so that I can
get into more detail. But to give you an idea of
what will be covered, you can use your computer to
replace your stereo, dvd-player, cable/satelite box,
DVR/Tivo, and also record from your camcorder to
capture and edit your home movies.


Most of you probably already know this, but for
those of you who don't... as long as your computer has
a CD drive in it, you can use it to play store-bought
audio disks. Windows Media Player does this just
fine, and in fact, you can save songs from your audio
disks to your harddrive so you don't have to switch
out the disk every time you want to hear a song. You
can have your entire CD collection living on your hard
drive and mix up custom playlists to suit whatever
mood strikes you.
You can also download music from the internet from
places like MP3.com, Lulu.com and from programs like
Itunes and those "other" programs.
For radio, with DJ's and everything, there's
Shoutcast.com Shoutcast uses the net to stream
internet radio stations to your computer. While you
won't find out local weather and events from internet
radio, you will find much more variety than anything
you could possibly tune in on AM, FM, XM or Sirius. I
like to listen to the stream from Beatlesradio.com
Now you may be wondering how those tiny PC speakers
are supposed to measure up to a full-fledged stereo.
Well, if you already have a nice sound system, they
don't have to. If your stereo has RCA-jacks on the
back you can buy a cord from Radioshack (1/8th in.
male stereo plug to male stereo RCA plugs) for under
$10 that will let you hear your PC through your
stereo. If your stereo doesn't have inputs on the
back, you can spend a bit more and get an FM
transmitter to pump your PC to your FM dial.
If you don't have a pumping stereo, you can always
invest in a set of premium PC speakers. They can get
as big and loud as the best stereo systems out there.
Though keep in mind that if you want to get a 7.1
Surround Sound setup, that you'll need a soundcard
that outputs in that many channels. It all comes down
to how much you want to spend.

Next week, I'll cover playing DVD's on your PC.

Questions or comments, write me at

#30 Computer Gaming - Linux Gaming

by Jeff Smith

For a long time, Linux has had a reputation for not being all that great for playing games, but I'm here to tell you, its just not so anymore.
When it comes to playing games on Ubuntu Linux, there are several routes to go. There are lots of simple games--like 60+ kinds of solitaire and tons of children's games--available via the package manager.
Some of the best Windows games are now coming out for Linux as well, such as Quake 4, America's Army, or Return to Castle Wolfenstein. There are also tons of awesome 3D games that you'll only see on Linux! A good place to see what's available for Linux is www.happypenguin.org
If a game doesn't have a version built for Linux, don't fret, there's another way to go. Linux has a program named Wine (WINdows Emulation) that will run many Windows applications (including lots of games!) A company called Transgaming has taken Wine and upgraded it to a new program called Cedega that is specifically for running Windows games. Cedega boasts improved DirectX compatibility and can play many more games than Wine does... the only problem is, to get Cedega, you must join their website, which costs $5 a month or $55 a year. But for that subscription, you get nearly constant upgrades and updates as they make the program compatible to more and more games.
Using Cedega, you can play top games like World of Warcraft, Elderscrolls IV: Oblivion, Medieval 2: Total War, and Need for Speed Carbon and many more.
Another program that does basically the same thing is called CrossOver Linux. It handles new games like Half Life 2 and Call of Duty 2 (soon). It also handles Windows applications like Photoshop and MS Office. Crossover Linux costs about $40 and comes with 6 months of support.
Keep in mind that you'll need a pretty nice nVidia graphics card to play any 3D games on Ubuntu (or any kind of Linux for that matter). ATI graphics cards are great hardware-wise, but their driver support for Linux is abysmal. There have been petitions to ATI and mass phone-ins to express the Linux community's disappointment with ATI's support, but so far they seem to be turning a blind eye.
In summary, Linux gaming has quite a lot going for it and is starting to get the attention it deserves from developers. Making the choice to switch to Linux doesn't mean you'll have to give up gaming as there are lots of Linux-only games, tons of Windows games that will work, and it just gets better every day.

Thats about it for gaming, next week I'll begin explaining how to put your PC at the heart of your entertainment system.

Questions or comments, write me at

#29 Computer Gaming - The Right Card for YOU!

by Jeff Smith

When it comes to picking the best video card for your machine, what it really comes down to is what kind of slot is available for it to fit in. There are many different types of PC card slots, and its a pretty good way to guess the age of a PC if you don't know already. Keep in mind that the only way to upgrade what slots you have is to upgrade your motherboard or get a new machine. Note, if you wish to know what these slots look like so you can identify what's in your machine, just go to Google and do an image search for the type of slot.
The oldest slots I have dealt with are ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) and they went out of style a long time ago. An ISA slot couldn't handle a graphics card from today if you begged and pleaded.
The next step up from ISA is PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect). A PCI slot can handle the lower end of the graphics cards from yesteryear. Your computer most likely has a few of these slots because they're used for just about everything, not just graphics. The best card for this slot (by online reviews) is the nVidia GeForce FX5700 (approx $90), but be warned, they're hard to find and be sure its a PCI card, because this model also comes in AGP.
AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port Interface) was the successor to the PCI slot. AGP was also the first slot dedicated solely to graphics. It came with increasing data transfer factors (2x, 4x, 8x) as time went by that let data flow through the port with increasing speed. Reviews say that the best AGP card out there is the nVidia XFX GeForce 7900 GS. And they're not too hard to find online for around $180.
The newest and fastest graphics slot yet is the PCI-e or PCX slot, which stands for PCI-express. This is the current graphics card slot of choice for the hardcore gamer. Like the AGP, PCI-e come with modifiers like x2, x4, x8, x16 and x32, but unlike AGP where these are factors of transfer rates, this number represents the number of data channels or "lanes" available for data to travel through. Each lane allows 2.5 Gbits/sec of data transfer. Being that this is the slot that all the graphics card companies are supporting right now, picking the best card is a bit difficult because the title will likely be taken by a different card next week. And some of the prices of these cards go way up there ($400-$600) for the top-end. But a good reasonably priced card can be found for around $80 to $150 so just shop around online to find one that fits your budget.

You may have noticed that the cards I mentioned above were from nVidia. There's pretty fierce rivalry between nVidia and another company, ATI (recently bought by AMD) over the graphics card market, and there are fans on both sides. For a long time, I preferred ATI over nVidia hands down. NVidia's cards were often more powerful, but I always felt ATI's cards had more features, such as TV-out support and dual monitor support and such. Now that I've gone to Linux though, ATI no longer is my favorite brand. ATI doesn't support Linux very well, and even their best hardware suffers from lack of proper drivers in Linux. This is no one's fault but ATI. NVidia has caught up with them in the features, and has excellent Linux driver support. If you're even going to consider gaming in Linux, nVidia is definately the way to go.

Next week I will wrap up the gaming tips with an article solely on Linux gaming... whats available just for Linux, and also how you can run many Windows games on Linux.

Questions or comments, write me at

#28 Computer Gaming - Requirements

by Jeff Smith

Today's hottest games take some pretty strong hardware to run. You could be reading this while driving home with your new machine from the computer store even now (wow, you can read and drive?) and unless you bought a PC that is specifically built for gaming, chances are you can't run the newest games. And believe it or not, for some of the best games, a computer that can run them with all the graphics maxxed out doesn't exactly exist yet. Oh, they can be run, but some of the more taxing features have to be turned down or off, else they run choppy and slowly. Doing this allows a game to look up to date on hardware built five years from now, or at least thats the intention.
A top of the line gaming rig has to have it all. It definately needs a recent video card in order to handle the visual components of the game, it needs a good processor and lots of fast RAM in order to handle the huge gaming worlds and everything happening at once. It needs a fast hard-drive in order to pump the data where it needs to be when it needs to be. A good USB gamepad, flight-stick or racing wheel can make a big difference in some games. And recently, they've come up with whats called a dedicated physics card. This card does all of the physics related calculations for games so that it takes that task off of your processor. Game physics has to do with everything from how your Ferrari handles to how the bad guy flips over the railing like a ragdoll after you empty two full clips in his zombified head!
Now you can often run good games with a lesser than awesome machine, but graphics and effects need to be turned down. And in some instances you just plain can't. If a game requires 3D accelleration, or Hardware T&L (Transforming and Lighting) then your video hardware built into your motherboard isn't likely to cut the mustard. Familiarize yourself with the hardware that you have, and always check out the Hardware Requirements on the back of a game before you purchase it, because once it is opened, you won't be able to take it back to the store. The excuse "It won't run on my machine" just won't work (believe me I've tried it) and you'll just likely end up giving the game to someone who can run it, or else setting it on the shelf where it will continue to taunt you as it slowly gathers dust.
Next week I'll cover how to choose a good video card for your machine, and 3D gaming on Linux. See ya then!

Questions or comments, write me at

#27 Computer Gaming - Retro

by Jeff Smith

Computer Gaming has been around nearly as long as computers themselves have. It has gone from rudimentary dots and blips to hyper-realistic intense 3D scenery with positional sound and realtime weather effects. Needless to say, it has come a long way.
Today, I'm going to talk a bit about games that will play on older hardware. Most of you out there probably don't have a top-of-the-line gaming PC, even if you just bought it last week. The majority of systems sold just don't have the hardware to handle the top of the line games, even fresh off the shelf. The majority of new systems (unless they were designed for gaming) need some upgrading to be done before they can handle the intense number crunching involved in today's most beautiful games.
So in the interest of giving the most useful information to the greatest amount of people, I'd like to tell you about Home of the Underdogs, HOTU for short. You'll find it at www.the-underdogs.info (please note that the address ends in .info, not in .com) HOTU is not a game, its where old games get born again. HOTU is a collection of freeware, and abandonware. Freeware is a pretty easy word to figure out, Abandonware is software that was copyrighted, but since the company holding the copyright is now out of business, there's no one to file any lawsuits. Hence, the software is abandoned by its creators, and now up for grabs. If you're running a very very old machine, don't fret, they've got the some of the best games from the DOS era, and while they won't compare to this year's Game of the Year, they'll be more fun than solitaire and Jezzball. You can even find text-based adventure games, and take a stroll down memory lane using your imagination to fill in the visuals, ala the old Zork classics.
For those of you brave enough to try Linux, there are tons of free games to be had, of just about every gaming genre that there is. You only need to google a search for the terms "Linux Games" to see whats available, in Ubuntu, searching for "game" in Synaptic Package Manager brings up 877 different game packages. More on 3D linux gaming next time.
For casual gaming, there are tons of Flash games that will run in your web browser available online at places like Pogo.com or UnlimitedWebGames.com and many many more sites like them.
Next week I'll explain about 3D accelerators, physics engines, and the many different types of card-slots that exist for graphics cards, all of which is important to know for those wishing to play the latest high-end PC games.

Questions or comments, write me at

#26 Things to Come

by Jeff Smith

You've undoubtably heard that computers can do some pretty amazing things, and yet most people just use their own machine to check their email and maybe buy something on ebay from time to time. In the next several weeks I plan on giving an overview of just some of the many many things that are capable with the average home computer. The purpose of this is to open your eyes to the versatility of the machine you already own, and perhaps spur you on to getting more creative enjoyment out of your computer.

For the most part, my articles have been aimed at repair and maintenance, with a little news thrown in. But here begins a new chapter. Below is a list of topics I will be covering in the near future, so if you're not a regular reader of my article, this may be a good time to become one.

Games and Requirements - I will cover a wide range of game topics, whats going on now, and some golden oldies you may have missed.

Media (movies television music) - How to put your PC at the heart of your entertainment system.

Video Editing - From home movies to amateur filmmaking, dvd authoring and special effects

Wireless Desktop - the easy way to network, learn about building encrypting your home wireless network

Home Control - More than just turning the lights on and off, you can fully automate much of your house

Home Recording - Garage bands can do more now than ever before!

Teleconferencing, Chat and Instant Messaging - Still just using one chat network? I'll show you how to really get connected

Internet Telephone (VoIP) - From its infancy to today, learn about talking through the net

Digital Assistant - How to use your computer so that you'll never forget another appointment, birthday or anniversary

Voice Control - Not a good typist? Control your machine using your voice, or dictate into a wordprocessor

Touch Screen Control - Not just for Star Trek or fast-food joints anymore, control your machine with a touch screen

Remote Control - Use your machine from anywhere with a web connection

Remote Access - Access your files from work, on vacation, anywhere

PC Customization - From custom cases to sprucing up your desktop, make your machine a hotrod!

Child Friendly Computing - From internet nannys to keeping your kids from deleting important files

Broadband - Differences between different kinds of broadband

Digital Photography - Whats a megapixel and why it matters

Home Networking - Hook up all your machines at once and share files across your house

Multi-Monitor Systems - You can get more done when you've got more desktop space!

As you can see, we'll be getting into some pretty interesting stuff, so stay tuned every week! It all begins next week, so see you then!

Questions or comments, write me at

#25 Ubuntu on Dell Machines!!

by Jeff Smith

Dell finally listens...

Back in February, Dell launched a website called Ideastorm whose sole purpose was to garner feedback from the web community on what they could do to attain their former glory as the biggest and best PC distributer. The overwhelming response they got back was that people wanted Linux pre-loaded on Dell machines. Literally, it was a landslide of requests, and after a little deliberation, Dell responded by teaming up with Canonical, the makers of Ubuntu Linux.
Now you can buy a Dell machine pre-loaded with Ubuntu Linux. Everything is pre-configured, all drivers are present and working and you have Dell's customer support to back you up.
Preliminary reports say that the Ubuntu Dells are good solid machines, and Dell has included some backup features that make it really easy to re-install Linux if you mess it up while you're first getting used to it. Keep in mind that these machines are slightly cheaper than their Windows counterparts, mostly due to the fact that Ubuntu is free, so the cost of a Windows license is not included in the price. They are capable of running Microsoft Windows (why you would want to I dunno) though you'd need to buy your own copy of it separately.
While pre-installed Linux machines are really nothing new, (www.system76.com) this is the first time that a very large company such as Dell has ventured into this territory. Personally, I think its a strong sign of how much Linux has matured as an operating system.
If you'd like to hear what Dell has to say about their Linux machines, you can browse to www.studiodell.com and click on "Linux 101: What's all the fuss?" for an explanatory video.
If you're not sure you wish to try Linux, keep in mind that many of you already use Linux on a daily basis and don't know it. When you use Google, you're using Linux because Google runs their web servers on Linux. In fact, the majority of web servers use Linux, 58% of them in fact. TiVo runs on Linux. Many popular mobile phones run on Linux, including the Motorola Razr2, with more and more cellphone companies switching to Linux based software for their handsets every year.
So even though you may not be aware, chances are you're already a Linux user. And thats not a bad thing. Not at all.

Questions or comments, write me at

#24 Whats a BIOS?

by Jeff Smith
Hello and welcome back, this week, I'll be explaining a bit more about what a BIOS is and what it does.

Whats a BIOS?
Simply put, BIOS stands for basic input/output system. The bios is a small bit of software that resides on the BIOS chip. In most systems you can access the BIOS at startup time by pressing Delete, or F2 or F10, depending on the maker of the system. The BIOS has a lot of very important configuration options available that impact the performance of your system. IT IS NOT A PLACE TO PLAY AROUND! Back before I knew anything, I completely killed my very own first computer by playing with options in its BIOS that I did not understand. This led me to having to replace the motherboard and re-do everything from scratch. So don't muck about in there without a little bit of research first. If its not broke, don't fix it!

What a BIOS does:
This is the first thing that starts up when you turn on your machine. This chip has many jobs when it powers on, such as checking to see that you have RAM installed, finding and initializing your video hardware, detecting and mounting your various disk drives and other hardware. After it has successfully found all the hardware, it will start up your operating system.
Once your operating system is running, the BIOS becomes a kind of middle-man between your software and your hardware, making it easier for software developers to address many different models of computer parts.

Updating your BIOS
As time goes by, there may be upgrades for you BIOS that enable new features, or increase compatibility with newer parts. If you've recently added some hardware and are having lots of trouble getting your machine to recognize that it is there, a BIOS upgrade may be in order. Be warned, upgrading a BIOS is potentially a dangerous operation, so if you don't fully understand what you're doing, better call someone who does. And if your machine is running fine as it is, a BIOS upgrade is an unneccessary risk.
There's also some software that will scan your BIOS and let you know if an update exists and what it would do if you applied it. You can find that software here: www.esupport.com/bioswiz/index2.html
Til next time, take care of your machine, and it will be there when you need it.

Questions or comments, write me at

#23 Cleaning your heatsink

by Jeff Smith

Two weeks ago I finished up by saying that I would cover cleaning your heatsink in the following article. Well, the long and short of is is, I forgot, and did CMOS batteries instead. I was planning on writing about the BIOS today, but looking back, I found what I'd said, and I will cover heatsinks today.

What is a heatsink?
If you've ever taken a look inside your machine, you may have noticed something that is reminscent of a radiator. Usually, its square, metal, and is comprised of parallel verical fins. Most often, there is a fan attached to the top of this or the side to force air through the fins, radiating heat away from the processor, and keeping your system nice and cool. Over time, due to the airflow, dust and hair accumulate on the fins, much like the lattice on a window fan. The blockage diminishes the airflow and acts as an insulator, trapping in the heat. If left unchecked, it can get bad enough that your processor will overheat, causing your machine to reset unexpectedly, and eventually can cause your processor to overheat to the point of ruin. If you have pets, or have your machine situated in a location with lots of dust, this is bound to happen eventually.

How to clean it!
If your heatsink is not too bad off, it can be blown out using a can of compressed air. You can find these at department stores, though their locations vary from "hobby" areas, to electronics sections.
If you find that that didn't do a good enough job to suit you, you can take a toothbrush or something similar and clean out between the fins. Note that you will likely have to remove the fan for this.
If even this isn't enough to get it clean, you'll need to remove the heatsink from the processor, and wash it. Make sure to dry it thoroughly. You will also need some thermal grease to put on your processor to facilitate the heat transfer to the heatsink when you replace it on the processor. So make sure to have some handy if you plan to remove your heatsink.
Once your heatsink is clean and everything is put back, your processor will run much cooler, have less mysterious resets, and it will extend the life of your processor indefinately.



by Jeff Smith

Every computer (that I've ever seen anyway) has a small battery that is usually located on the motherboard. The purpose of this battery is to keep a small amount of electrical current supplied to the BIOS chip and the system clock. This allows the computer to save your BIOS settings and keep your system clock up to date even though your machine may have been banished to the back of the garage or closet for months on end. Its basically a watch-battery, roughly the size and shape of a nickel, and you can get a replacement pretty easily at Walmart or K-Mart or RadioShack. They usually cost around $5 or less.
They are usually pretty easy to replace, given that they are most often held in by a simple clip, in fact the most difficult part of the process is often just getting to it. Its a good idea to go into your BIOS and write down all of the settings BEFORE it goes bad.
CMOS stands for Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor, and it doesn't really have anything to do with the battery, but with the type of computer chips that the battery is providing power to.

When your CMOS battery goes dead you'll often experience messages during boot time that your BIOS settings are being "reset to default" and your clock will reset to a few years ago. Clocks on older machines may reset back to 1981! When you begin to experience these signs, its a good indication that you should change your battery.
Default settings often don't take full advantage of your hardware, so if your settings get reset, it could result in a loss of performance.
They usually last for years, so if you have a new computer, you're not likely to have to deal with this for a while. Keep in mind that replacing the battery will also wipe out your settings, so be sure to write down your settings before replacing it.

Thats it for this week, see you next time!


#21 Keyboard spill? No problem!

by Jeff Smith

This week I'd like to share with you a little gem of a tip that I have recently verified to work. I was reading about a month ago about what you should do if you spill a glass of wine (or sodapop) on your laptop. And while I hoped I would never have need to use the information, I did file it away in my noggin in case the need ever arose. Be warned, it may sound a little counter-intuitive, but a good friend of mine spilled a coke in hers and I decided it was a good time to put the trick to the test.
Now mind you, she had taken it to the local telephone company, and paid then $65 for them to clean it out for her. They pretty much wiped off the screen with a moist towellette and gave it back. A while later, with some of the keys not working, and with it overheating and shutting down at unexpected moments, she put it in my care.
This is what I did.
Turn it off, remove the battery. Remove any PCMCIA cards you may have in it, and unhook all cords and cables. Turn it over and remove all screws you see, making sure you know where to put them back. Turn it over and open it up. Remove the keyboard, remove anything that comes off easily, being careful not to tear out any wiring. Look for a small flat battery, about the size of a nickle and remove that. Now here's where it gets scary.
You're going to want to wash it under cool water. No soap. Rinse out all the residue from the spill.
Now hold it up and tilt it to drain out excess water. This next part is important, you're going to want to rinse it again with either distilled water or rubbing alcohol. Tap water won't hurt components, but the residues that stay behind after it evaporates will corrode electronics. Distilled water and rubbing alcohol both evaporate cleanly. So rinse out the tap water using one of those. I personally used the alcohol. Now drain it again, and sit it in such a way that it will get plenty of air circulation. And leave it for a few days. Before re-assembly, visually inspect it and look for any moisture. If you see none, re-assemble the machine and replace the battery and everything else and try to boot up. If it acts strangely, immediately shut down and remove the battery again and let it dry some more.
When all is said and done, it should work like it did before.
I hope you never need to use this trick, but its good to know, just in case.
Of course, if your machine is still under warranty, just send it back and let them deal with it. :-D


#20 Reader Response to Open Office

by Jeff Smith

This week I thought I'd let you read a response I received to my article last week on Open Office. John Moss lives in Fredericksburg, VA and receives the paper via mail and is also on my list of people who receive my article in their email. He's written to me numerous times responding to different articles that I've written, and I thought I'd share an excerpt from one of his most recent letters.

He writes:
I am not only surprised but impressed with the Open Office program. Wow!!!! That's saying something since I'm an old guy that has seen a lot of programs come and go over the years and it takes a lot to impress us. Downloaded the Open Office program with the BitTorrent program. Worked with the program for a while this afternoon and later this evening and got a new and finished manuscript almost ready for publication in a matter of hours. This is a new book that I have been pulling my hair out trying to get Microsoft Word to format and number the pages correctly along with the headers. In fact, publication has been put off over and over again while I look for someone who can help me that doesn't cost a fortune. With Open Office the manuscript is almost done and I learned a lot that can be used with the other programs. Looks like the MSWorks is going into the drawer along with the WP X3. Working on a new book now (almost half done) and I'm going to convert it to Open Office tomorrow sometime.

So, you have a convert and this experience makes me take a harder look at getting an operating system that isn't pouring good money after bad into MS's pocket. I have also cancelled upgrading to Vista. I'm going to put the money into a used or new box.

Thanks again for [the] generous wealth of information.

Thanks go out to John for being such an avid reader and for being willing to try something new. Open Office goes a long way to prove the point that just because something is free, does not mean that it is inferior.

If you have any questions or comments about any of my articles, or would like some advice on a computer problem or purchase, feel free to write.


#19 Open Office

by Jeff Smith

Open Office is the newest and biggest contender to Microsoft Office. It features a full word processor, database, spreadsheet, and presentation software. Oh, and did I mention that it is FREE?
Open Office is open-source. Meaning that anyone can work on it and modify it and adjust it to their liking, so long as they have the skills needed to do so. It supports all the common document formats and is available on Windows, Linux, and Macintosh, so they've got all the bases covered. Chances are, if you're using a computer, you could use Open Office. In fact, your kids may already be using it.
I read recently that a lot of schools may be moving to Open Office for teaching word processing and other such things. Moving to free software in the classroom means more money to go toward important things like more teachers, better books, better food, etc. etc. It also means that the school system won't be pushing software skills on children that engender digital reliance on one corporation's products. Right now, the whole world runs on Microsoft software. But should it?
So you're too frightened by the unknown to try Linux. You're comfortable paying for Norton Antivirus when you could be getting better protection for free. Are you really too scared to try a new word processor? Next time you go to upgrade to the next version of MS Office, take a tip from me and don't. Opt for Open Office instead. They're not paying me to say this. In fact they can't, because no one is paying them. Open source software relies on word of mouth to propagate. You can find Open Office at www.OpenOffice.org
Just keep in mind the next time you're about to shell out $50-$60 for some software that you could probably find something for free that will do the same job, sometimes better, for free. And if you need help finding free software, drop me a line and I'll point you in the right direction.


#18 Blue Screen of Death

by Jeff Smith

The Blue Screen of Death

If you're a Windows user, more than likely, you've encountered the Blue Screen of Death at some point. Perhaps you were working on something important, perhaps you just weren't holding your mouth right. Then suddenly, the computer beeps at you and the whole screen turns blue with a bunch of white writing that doesn't seem to convey anything useful. Us geeks have been calling it the Blue Screen of Death or BSOD since Window 95. In fact, its been MicroSoft's preferred "uh-oh" screen since Windows 3.1.
Its pop-culture presence has extended to t-shirts, coffee mugs, and the usual sort of collectibles. And I've seen some pictures of it in action in some unexpected places. There was a picture floating around not to far back of one of those huge video screens at Times Square, in New York that had suffered a crash and was displaying the BSOD.
I'm sure the question on everyone's mind, now that I've taken two paragraphs to reminisce about an error message, is what to do about it.
Keep in mind that a BSOD can result from any number of different problems. And most of the information displayed on the screen is not something that the average person can understand.
The first line usually says something like "A problem has been detected and windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer" The next line is the one you need to pay attention to. It may not make any sense to you, but write it down. Then, when you get your machine booted back up, or can get to another computer, search for that phrase on Google, or one of the other search engines. Often it can lead you to a solution, or at least an understanding of what has gone wrong. Not always, because some of the messages are not specific enough and cover too many possible problems. But sometimes.
In any case, it will be helpful for when you try to seek help from other sources.
That goes for error messages other than the BSOD as well. The more information you can give a repair tech, the less investigative work he'll have to do to find out why your machine is not behaving itself, and that should speed up the repairs. Which in the end, translates to a smaller repair bill. Or at least it should.


#17 Cut Copy & Paste

by Jeff Smith

It seems that last weeks article about email attachments helped out more than a few people, so I'm going to get back to basics for a while. If you're moderately computer literate you'll probably not learn much from this article. But if you are one of those people who sometimes mistakes the CD-ROM tray as a cup-holder, then this one is for you. (that means you Alfred)

When using your computer you may find the need to make a duplicate of a file or move a file from one folder to another. Or perhaps you wish to take some text from a webpage and email it to someone. These are instances where CUT COPY and PASTE will come in handy.
In Windows, you can access these functions via your right-click menu. For instance, lets say you wish to copy some text from a web-page. You can hi-lite the desired text by clicking and dragging over it. Then by right-clicking somewhere in the selected text you should see a menu with "Copy" as one of the options. Alternately, you can use the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+C to whatever is selected.
At this point that text is now residing in what is called the "clipboard." This is a virtual space for files or text that is in transition. Kind of like a holding-area for what you're trying to copy or move. If you select and copy something else before pasting, it will clear the previously copied data and only hold the last thing that was cut or copied.
The next step is to open your email or a text file where you wish to put the copied text. Right-clicking in an open document in an empty area should give you the option to "Paste." Clicking that will deposit the text right there. The keyboard shortcut for Paste is Ctrl+V.
Cutting works in the same way, except that it deletes the original text (only works in documents you can edit, or on writeable disks) and it exists only in the clipboard until you paste it elsewhere. Keyboard shortcut is Ctrl+X.
In linux its even further simplified... at least for copying text. To copy text in Linux, you only have to select the text to be copied and then middle-click (on your wheel) to paste where you want it.
Doing these operations is very easy. And quite handy when it comes to organizing your files. You can cut a file from anywhere and navigate to where you want it and paste it. Remember not tot move Windows system files unless you know what you're doing.

Selecting multiple files using keyboard modifiers.
When selecting files, you can use the keys CTRL and SHIFT on your keyboard to help you select mutliple files. For instance, clicking one file then holding CTRL while you click another will keep both files selected. You can keep adding to the selection until you have everything you want selected, and then CUT or COPY as you need to for all the selected files at once.
If you click one file then hold SHIFT while clicking another file, it will select those two files and every one between them.
Using CTRL and SHIFT in this way works for both Linux and Windows.

Thats about all I have for this week, if you have any questions about this or any article I write, feel free to write to me at the email address below.


#16 Sending Email Attachments

by Jeff Smith

Hi and welcome back. It still surprises me whenever I come across someone who doesn't know how to do an email attachment. I often forget that I was new to all of this once, and that I didn't come out of the womb knowing what I know about computers.
Mostly it surprises me because it is just so easy to do. Sending an email attachmnent is one of the oldest and most widely used computing "tricks" in existence.
An attachment, is simply a file that is sent "attached" to an email. Thanks to viruses, they've gotten a bit of a bad name, but so long as you're careful when you open an attachment, and trust who its coming from, they can be very handy.
Using attachments, you can send pictures to your relatives, documents to and from work, or just about anything within the size limits set by your email handler.
Yahoo Mail, which is what I use, allows up to 10 megabytes worth of attachments to an email. And they virus-scan any attachments you may receive before you can accidently download anything malicious. I couldn't tell you the filesize limits of other services, as I've been a pretty faithful Yahoo Mail user for over 10 years.
Using attachments is pretty easy. Next time you wish to send one, just begin composing an email as you normally would. Then look for a button that says something like "Attach Files" (or it may look like a paperclip) and click it. You'll need to browse to and select the file you wish to attach. Then continue with your message and send it. If all went well, your recipient should now have a copy of the file you sent waiting for them in their email. (No, this won't delete your copy of the file.)
Always be careful to virus scan any attachments you receive that end in .zip or .exe because they may possibly be infected with a virus. They won't necessarily be infected, scanning is just a good habit to make. Or you could get an email service that scans them for you. Like I have.
See you next time.


#15 About ISO's

by Jeff Smith

Last week I was talking about DamnSmallLinux and I promised to give a better explanation on ISOs or disk images, but first, let me tell you how things are going with DSL.
I installed DSL on a very old Fujitsu laptop. Probably about 14 or 15 years old. Maybe more. It has a 133Mhz Pentium 1 processor, only 32MB of RAM, and a tiny lil 1.6GB harddrive. If you've got a newer digital camera, chances are your flash chip for that is bigger than this thing's harddrive. Using and configuring DSL is tough, and not for the faint of heart. Instead of clicking options and adjusting values, you actually just edit text files that contain the configuration information. Its cryptic and weird but very potent. Typos are very potent as well, in a bad way. But after messing with it all week, I was able to get it to hook up to my wireless network, browse the web, read ebooks, and listen to streaming music from Shoutcast (Internet Radio). I was able to change the layout of its menus, and put in a nice looking toolbar, as well as install several useful programs. It now has a pretty useful group of office utilities, such as spreadsheet, word processor, calculator, and an appointment book. Also it can edit photos or create art using the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) which is basically a free alternative to Photshop. Email is handled through web-based email, though it does have a regular email client built in. Add all that to the ebooks and Shoutcast, and its quite a lot of usefulness for such an old machine. All in all, I'm very proud of how it has come along.
DISK IMAGES -There are lots of different file formats for disk images, depending on what program you use to make them. There's .iso, .nrg, .bin and .cue, .mdf and .mds, .ccd and lots more. These are usually made by copying a whole disk into one of these filetypes. Other times, disk images are generated from other programs in order to make bootable cd's. Its a good way to store a cd on your hard drive so that you can make a replacement in case of damage, theft or loss. You can also use utilities such as D-tools, or Alcohol 120% to "mount" these virtual cd's in a virtual cd-drive. This will make your computer think you actually have the disk in a physical drive connected to the machine, and you can interact with it just as you normally would the real version of the disk.
This use of ISOs is great for people who have lots of harddrive space and who hate searching for important disks. I always keep ISO's on my drive of the install disks for all of the different operating systems I use. If I ever need a new Windows or Ubuntu install disk, burning one only takes a few minutes, and there's no worrying about scratches, or other damage, as it is a freshly minted disk.
Getting familiar with ISO's can make your computing life much easier, and its not nearly as hard as it sounds. Chances are, if you use a burning program, it already supports disk images. Just do some poking around and you'll likely find it is pretty easy.
Until next time, burn CD's ... not yourself.


#14 DamnSmallLinux

by Jeff Smith

Hello and welcome back again! This week I'd like to share with you a recent discovery.
I have good news for those of you who have an old computer in your closet or garage just sitting there gathering dust. That old machine may not be as worthless as you may have thought. This weekend I came across another distribution of Linux that is just perfect for older hardware. Its called DamnSmallLinux. I'm not trying to offend anyone, thats just what it is called. From here on, I'll just call it DSL.
The minimum requirements for running DSL is a 386 processor and 16MB of RAM. The complete installation of the operating system is only 50MB! For reference, many of the applications on your average machine take up more space than the whole operating system of DSL! DSL comes with a word processor, spreadsheet, firefox web browser, some card games, a Tetris clone and a whole lot more! If you've been curious to try Linux, but don't want to risk messing up your main machine, now there's a version of Linux for you to try that you can put on practically any old machine you have laying around.
DSL is also easily expandable via MyDSL extensions which allow you to download optimized applications (provided you have a working net connection) which provide added functionality to your old machine.
Be warned, DSL is not as easy to use or configure as Ubuntu. In fact, I'm still figuring it out myself. I recommend this for hobbyists and PC enthusiasts only. But then again, you can run it completely off of the disk, without modifying any of your existing files, so it doesn't hurt to check it out.
You can find DSL at www.damnsmalllinux.org From there you can download the ISO and burn it to a disk which you can then use to install DSL, or as a Live disk.
For those of you not familiar with the term ISO, it is a disk image file. Basically, it's a whole disk copied into a file, which can be used to recreate the disk. If you're still confused, tune in next week where I'll be covering ISO's and other disk image file types in greater detail.
See you then!

#13 Just some numbers

by Jeff Smith

Todays harddrives just keep getting bigger and bigger. Amazingly, there are actually terabyte drives out on the market these days.
To give you an relative idea of what a terabyte is, a terabyte equals out to about 217 recordable dvd's worth of data, or 1498 recordable CD's, or 728,177 floppy disks. If you consider the average size of an MP3 file to be around 4 megabytes, then a terabyte hard drive will hold 262,144 songs.
More specifically, a terabyte(TB) is about a thousand gigabytes. And a gigabyte (GB) is made up of approximately 1000 megabytes(MB), which is comprised of about 1000 kilobytes(KB), which is about a 1000 bytes(B), which can be broken down to exactly 8 bits(b). The reason I keep saying approximately and about and other vague phrases is that its not exactly a thousand. Its 1024. The reason this is so has to do with binary math and is more than i can really go into in depth in such a short column.
A couple things to note about this is how companies use these different numbers to misrepresent their products and services. If you've ever used a dial-up internet connection, you probably noticed that on a 56k connection, you never actually see your download speed anywhere near 56. The reason for this is that connection speeds are advertised in bits. 56k means fifty-six kilobits-per-second, while on the other hand, Windows measures your internet speeds in kilobytes. 56 kilobits converted into kilobytes (divide by 8) gives you 7 kilobytes per second, which is the fastest you're ever likely to see a dialup connection go.
Common DSL service is offered with 768 kilobit-per-second download and 256 kilobits-per-second upload speeds. Which equals out to 96KB down and 32KB up showing up on your PC.
They sell internet service in bit speeds because it just looks better on paper. Its kind of like saying, I don't have one hundred dollars, I have ten thousand pennies. I think this marketing scheme was created by the same team that came up with ten hot-dogs versus eight buns.
Its also why your brand new 60GB hard drive only shows about 55GB once it is installed. For the purposes of advertisement, harddrive manufacturers do their math in even 1000s, whereas Windows does its math with 1024.
Right now your average store-bought computer comes with 40 to 80GB of space on its hard-drive. Probably more if it was geared toward video editing. This is expected to raise quite a bit in the future, but don't worry, an up to date version of XP can handle drives up to 1.44 petabytes. A petabyte is 1024 terabytes.
To run Windows XP you need at least 128 megabytes of RAM. By comparison, man went to the moon with the help of a computer that only had 32 kilobytes of RAM. So I guess the moral story to be learned there is that its not so much about the power of your machine, as what you do with it.
I realize that all of these numbers may be giving some of you a headache, and for that i apologize. I only hoped to give you a better understanding of the math involved in your computer and how it is used and misused by various companies and organizations.
Hopefully, armed with this information, you will be more informed next time you order internet service or make a hard-drive purchase.
See you next week,


#12 Restore Disk No-No's

by Jeff Smith

If you bought your computer new, you invariably recieved either a Windows installation disk, or restore disks from your manufacturer, or possibly both.
A common problem I'm seeing with inexperienced users is that they think that these disks are a fix-all. That if you've got a computer problem, you can use these disks and all of your problems will go away. Which is partly true. Your computer problems WILL go away. But unfortuneately, your personal files will go away as well.
The majority of these disks work by wiping your computer and re-installing everything from scratch, leaving your computer in the same state you bought it in. If you have family pictures, songs from iTunes, or important company info, those restore disks will erase it all away, leaving you with nothing but your (now) perfectly running empty system.
This happened to one of the cellphone retailers in town. I was contacted with a request for advice dealing with a virus related problem. My advice was "Don't do anything to it until I get there."
What I would have done would be to remove the hard drive, place it in a virus-immune linux machine and copy off all of the vital information without fear of contaminating the linux machine. After which, it would have been time to use the restore disks to wipe and re-install Windows, and then use the backups I'd have made to restore the vital info back to the customer.
What actually happened was that the potential customer decided that they could fix it themselves, of course, because they had their trusty-dusty restore disks.
Long story short, they lost all of their company records for that location, several thousand dollars worth of accounts, and had no backups to speak of. Live and learn I guess. Moral to this story is, firstly, always keep backups of your important data, and secondly, know when to call in the pros.
If you had a Porche or a Ferrari you wouldn't go banging about in the engine unless you knew what you were doing. If you've never done more than check your email or use software that you were trained to use at work, don't consider yourself a PC repair man. When your PC full of precious data is on the fritz, it is not the time to be experimental. Either you know exactly what to do, or you don't.
The time to use those disks is when you're reasonably sure there's no data on your computer that you wish to keep. Most times even when it won't boot up and does nothing but sit there and beep at you, your data is still in there and can be recovered by someone who knows what they're doing. Even if your hard drive fails and won't ever work again, there are places you can send it to that will recover the data and return it to you on CD's. Just don't panic. Don't spaz. Don't do anything rash that you'll probably regret later when you realized that those pictures of your loved ones, or worse, account information for the entire eastern seaboard are gone forever.

Until next time, just keep your cool.


#11 Buying vs. Building a PC

This week's article is entitled:
BUYING VERSUS BUILDING, in a no-holds-barred, title match. This one's for the belt ladies and gentlemen. First let me make clear that this is for desktop systems only, if you're gifted enough to build your own laptop, you probably know anything and everything I might say in this column
In this corner, from Silicon Valley, wearing the Dell, Gateway logos, and the black, blue and white trunks, the reigning champion, Joe "The Big Easy" Buying. Ooh, mixed crowd response there, both cheering and jeering. Seems that customer support publicity isn't working out quite like they wanted it to.
And in this corner, from Hometown USA, a relatively unknown contender, John "Do it Yourself" Building, wearing the all white trunks and the "Pricewatch" and "Newegg" logos. Not much of a crowd response on this one. It seems not many people know what to think about Mr. Building.
And there goes the bell... They're out of their corners ladies and gentlemen... and there goes Buying with a "$100 rebate" to the midsection of John Building. We have our selves a fight. The rookie comes back with a "cheaper upgrade" uppercut to Joe, and follows up with a "better compatibility" right cross. But Joe is not finished by any count, he dishes out "Customer Support", "Limited Warranty", and "Six months same as cash" in rapid succession. The Rookie appears stunned, but undaunted, and returns a flurry of blows, "Parts Manufacturer warrantees", "Designed to your needs", and another "cheaper upgrade" for good measure. Joe Building, staggered by these massive blows, tries a desperate "Windows Pre-installed"
The crowd holds its breath as John "Do It Yourself" Building blocks with "Linux" and begins to beat Joe Buying about the head with "No Viruses" "No spyware" "Free software" and "No DRM" Wow, this rookie is really putting the heat on!
The crowd favorite is nearly asleep on his feet, but puts every last ounce of energy into a quick one-two.... "Building your own PC is too hard!", "we can do it better!" With a look of contempt, and a "Not really", John "Do-it-yourself" Building lays the champ out cold on the mat. The ref is still counting, but this one is over folks.
Thats it for this week, any questions, you know where to write.
I think I'm going to go watch Rocky Balboa.

Next week: The disks that came with your computer, and when to use them, and when not to.


#10 How to Speak Geek

Straight Shootin Computin
by Jeff Smith

Hello again reader,
Below are common web abbreviations you'll find in emails, chat rooms, and forums and their meanings.

LOL - Laugh Out Loud
LMAO - Laughing My #&% Off
ROFLMAO - Rolling On Floor Laughing My #&% Off
BRB - Be Right Back
G2G - Got to Go
AFK - Away From Keyboard
W/E - Whatever
NP - No Problem
TY - Thank You
YW - Your Welcome
JK or J/K - Just Kidding
BRT - Be Right There
IMHO - In My Honest (or Humble) Opinion
TTUL - Talk To You Later
IDK - I Don't Know
A/S/L (R/P) - Age/Sex/Location(Race/Picture)
OMG - Oh My God (Gosh if you prefer)
OMFG - You can guess what the "F" stands for.
IDK - I Don't Know

If you have teenager who is using the web regularly, you'll want to be familiar with the following abbreviations. Keeping your kids safe online is a tough job, and being successful at it means having an understanding of the lingo they often use.
CD9 - Code 9 means parents are around
P911- Parents Emergency
GNOC - Get Naked on Camera (webcam)
(L)MIRL - (Lets) Meet In Real Life
MorF - Male or Female
MOS - Mom Over Shoulder
NIFOC - Naked In Front Of Computer
NMU - Not Much, You?
PAW - Parents Are Watching
PIR - Parent In Room
POS - Parent Over Shoulder (or Piece Of $%&@)
PRW - Parents Are Watching
S2R - Send to Receive (pictures)
TDTM - Talk Dirty To Me
WTF - What the %$&# ?
As well as these abrreviations, there is also something called Leet speak. Leet is short for "elite" Leet is not another language, its actually English, though it is hard to tell. In Leet, 4's are used for A's, 3's for E's, etc. Below I'll post a short sentence in regular english and again in Leet.
Believe it or not, this is english.
|33L13\/3 17 0r |\|07, 7|-|1$ 1$ 3|\|9L1$|-|.
If you find yourself faced with a lot of leet speak, there's a free translator at http://www.noslang.com/ It also has lots more abbreviations (these are just the most common), and lots of tips for parents dealing with teens online.
Next week we'll be discussing buying a new computer versus building your own.
Until then, keep those kids safe.


#9 Got enough RAM?

by Jeff Smith

So just how much RAM is enough?
Chances are, if you've never added any RAM to your computer since you bought it, you could definately use some. Most PC manufacturers put what is considered the bare minimum of RAM in the computers they build.
How much RAM you actually need varies from user to user. But first, for those of you scratching your heads, RAM is short for Random Access Memory. If you thought of your computer as a person, RAM would be kind of like short-term memory, or concentration power. The more RAM you have, the better your PC will run, and the better it will be able to handle multiple simultaneous tasks.
Different operating systems require different amounts of RAM just to run. In Win95 days, 128 megabytes of RAM was considered living high on the hog. But now, Windows XP requires 256MB before you can even install it, 512MB is recommended, and if you play a lot of graphically intense games, you'll want a gigabyte or two of the fastest RAM your machine can handle.
You can tell when your machine is hurting for RAM when you experience big slowdowns when using your computer intensely. You'll notice the hard-drive light flickering on and off, and maybe a low sound like your computer is constantly clearing its throat. These symptoms are a result of your computer using your hard-drive as "virtual" RAM. When you're doing more than what your RAM can handle, it will shove off older information to the hard-drive to be picked up later. In Windows, this is called your pagefile, and in Linux it is called your swap partition.
Using virtual memory allows your computer to run programs and tasks that it really doesn't have enough RAM for, but the price for this feature is a slow system and excessive wear and tear on your hard-drive, increasing the likelihood of a crash. Your hard-drive cannot transfer information anywhere near as fast as RAM can, so it essentially becomes a bottleneck for data moving around your computer.
Before going out and buying RAM, make sure you know what kind you need. RAM has changed in speed, capacity, and in physical characteristics through the years. There's are utilities available on the net to help you identify what RAM you need. If you need one of these, drop me a line and I'll direct you to them. And keep in mind that your computer will run at the speed of the slowest RAM installed in it.
Next week I'll be going over common computing abbreviations and anacronyms. By the end of next week's article, you'll be able to speak geek with the best of us.
See you then.

#8 The Downside of Linux

by Jeff Smith

Hello and welcome back. If you remember last week's article, we were talking about Ubuntu Linux and how switching to it from Windows may just make your computing life much easier. We've discussed how it is pretty much immune to viruses and spyware, and how it can do just about anything that you do with Windows.
Today I'm going to tell you about the downside of Ubuntu Linux, and the problems or differences you may find when first beginning to use it.

Firstly, finding drivers for your hardware is a lot different. For the most part, Ubuntu will detect and install all of your hardware automatically. But sometimes there will be one piece of hardware that just isn't so easy. In this case, you'll have to go into the forums at Ubuntuforums.org and ask for help. The people there are great, and you'll likely find a solution (if there is one) and have your hardware up and running pretty soon. On the other hand, the hardware world bows down to Microsoft. Many hardware manufacturers do not consider Linux to be a big enough market entity to make Linux drivers for their hardware, or release the source-code for the drivers so that the Linux community can make their own.

Lexmark printers, for instance, did not work with Linux for a long time, but recently, support for Lexmark has come to quite an acceptable level. This driver delay is not the fault of Linux, but of Lexmark. In other cases, some very old hardware may have come from manufacturers who are no longer in business, and due to this, Windows drivers may be all that ever exist. In cases like these, your options are only to change hardware or do without it... or stick with Windows.
A good rule of thumb is, if it works on the Ubuntu Live disk, it will work without a problem. If it doesn't then it will take some investigation to find out for sure.

Another difference from Windows is installing applications. You're probably used to downloading an installer, double-clicking on it, and then clicking "Next" a bunch of times, then clicking "Finish." With Ubuntu, installing software can be MUCH easier or MUCH harder depending on the software. Ubuntu has what is called a Package Manager. In the Package Manager, you can search for and install thousands of free programs quickly and easily. Just select everything that you want, be it one program or one hundred, and then click "Apply" It just downloads and installs it all automatically. Easy as pie. Easier, in fact, than on Windows!

On the other hand, installing software that is not contained in the Package Manager repositories can be very intimidating. It involves compiling the code for your specific hardware, and its something I've not completely mastered myself. Luckily, there's almost always help to be had, and if you can cut and paste, you can get through it.

For most users, the repositories will have any kind of software you could ever need, and Ubuntu comes with most the things you're going to need already installed. So chances are you may never have a need to compile anything.

You will, on the other hand, find instances where it is necessary to use the terminal, or command line. Unlike MS DOS, which has pretty much been rendered all but useless in Windows, the terminal in Linux is robust and powerul. It is internet enabled and learning your way around in there is highly recommended.
I've heard it said that it is best to install Linux with the help of a friend who already knows that particular brand of Linux. So if you do decide to give Ubuntu a try, and you run into a snag, you're welcome to drop me a line, and I'll try to steer you in the right direction.

As Linux grows in popularity, and believe me, it is growing fast, hardware makers will begin to support it more and more. So Linux will only get better, while Microsoft will always continue to be... well... Microsoft.
Next week: Do you have enough RAM? How much is enough?
See you then.


#7 Intro to Ubuntu

by Jeff Smith

Last time, I began telling you about Linux and the benefits of using it instead of, or in conjunction with Windows. I also told you that there were a great many different distributions of Linux. Today I will talk about my favorite flavor of Linux... Ubuntu.
Ubuntu does just about everything you normally do with Windows. It has a full suite of office software, a powerful graphics editor, media players, web browser, email client, and yes its even got solitaire (with about 50 or 60 other solitaire variations built in) and other games. You can also easily install tons of free software for everything from recording studio software to virtual planetariums.
There are also different versions of it. There's Edubuntu, that is geared toward students and teachers, which has lots of educational software pre-installed. And Xubuntu which runs well on older machines with out-dated hardware.
You can download an install disk from Ubuntu.com for free and follow the instructions on how to burn it, or they'll even mail you up to 10 disks for free if your connection is too slow. So its super easy to get. Its also really easy to install.
They have what is called a Live Disk. If you boot up with this disk in your drive, it will actually load up a temporary copy of Ubuntu for you to try out without ever changing or impacting your Windows files in any way. It comes up to a full desktop, with mouse, icons, even a clock and word processor. If you're on broadband you can even use Firefox to surf the web... and this is just off the install disk.
If you decide you like how it looks and runs (note that it will run much faster after it is installed) you can just doubleclick the icon on the desktop labeled "Install" and begin the install process.
The installer will help you wipe your drive, or divide your drivespace up so that you can keep your Windows installation just as it is. Its pretty good. The only thing that was tricky was setting the timezone.
When it finishes, you can continue using the temporary desktop, or reboot and try see how well it runs after its installed. You'll notice upon rebooting that the installed desktop looks and works just like the temporary desktop. So take your time and play with the temporary desktop before installing it to see if you think you will like it. If it has problems, and you wish to install anyway, or have problems after the install, there is a great online community for free help at UbuntuForums.org.
I recommend that the first time you install it, that you install it onto a non-vital computer, or wait until you main computer needs to be wiped anyway. And its always a good idea to back up any non-replaceable data before installing ANY operating system. That goes for people upgrading to the new Windows Vista too.
Next time I'll be discussing some of the differences between Windows and Ubuntu, so don't rush out and install it right away. If it sounds good to you, download or order an install disk, but be prepared to feel a little lost. Also, keep in mind that while for most computers Ubuntu "just works," it is not compatible with every piece of hardware out there so there may be snags here and there to getting everything set up just right.
As always you can reach me for question or comment at


#6 Intro to Linux

by Jeff Smith

Today I'd like to talk to you about Linux. If you're like most people I've talked to, your reaction to that statement was probably, "Um...What's Linux?" A lot of people have never heard of anything other than Windows and Macintosh. If you're one of these people, then listen up. There is a third option.
If you're tired of viruses and spyware, sick of endless security holes, hacker threats, if are ready for something different, then listen up. There is another way.
Linux is an Open-Source operating system. For those of you not hip to the terminology, Open-Source means completely free and anyone can modify the programming code however they like. The source code is available and if you know what you are doing, you can contribute to how the program works, what features are incorporated, and even how it looks, even rename it.
Linux is an alternative to Windows and Mac that is more secure than either of them, runs good on older hardware, and does most of the things that you do on your computer now just as well as the competitors. Its NOT succeptible to viruses or spyware. And its FREE.
So I guess the question on your mind now is "Why haven't I heard about this before?" For one thing, Linux isn't really owned by anyone, so there is no one to pay for advertising, nor money to pay for ads due to its low low price of $0.00. To be truthful, Linux has suffered a reputation for being only for geeks and technical geniuses. Its began in 1991, created by Linus Torvalds, as a PC-compatible version of Unix. It was cryptic, hard to understand, hard to configure, and hard to use. But not anymore.
Linux has blossomed into a wonderfully functional and robust way to use your computer. The hardest part about using it is un-learning all of the habits you've gained from using Windows. Many new users get discouraged by the differences and think that it should be more like Windows, an attitude which tends to upset experienced Linux users. Its not supposed to be like Windows.
If you give it a chance, and don't mind feeling dumb for a little while while you get your bearings, you'll eventually get the hang of it just like you did starting out with Windows. It IS different. Some things are not where you expect them to be. But I personally found it to be worth the effort.
If you've never learned to use a computer, Linux is probably easier to learn than Windows. Things are layed out in ways that make sense... just not to seasoned Windows users.
"But," you ask,"what exactly makes it better, other than the price?" One thing is stabilty. Often when using Windows, after your computer has been on for a while, your computer will start to act up, and you'll need to reboot it in order for it to get its head straight. Linux is so stable, people have had their computers running for over 14 months solid without needing to reboot. It is this reason that most of the websites you visit on the net are hosted on Linux servers.
Another good thing about it is the amount of free software available. In Linux, free is a way of life, a philosophy. You won't recognize most of the names of the software (K3B instead of Nero or XMMS instead of Winamp) but they'll work just as good as what you've come to know. Think of it as like the bagged cereal at the grocery store. It tastes as good as the name brand stuff, but you get twice as much. They can sell off-brand cereal much cheaper because they don't have to advertise. With Linux, its supported by volunteers and enthusiasts. When you have a problem with it, you don't search a knowledge base and read 10 pages looking for your answer, you write your question in a forum, and a volunteer will usually answer you in a little while. Often in just a few minutes. Its a community, and you're invited to become part of it.
And speaking of asking questions about computer problems, I don't print my email address at the bottom of this just to waste ink. If you have a problem or question and need some advice, or just want to tell me what you thought about an article, please email me. I'd love to get some feedback on what you think. I promise you will get a reply, and if it is a common enough problem, I may even print your letter in here. I also do repair work in my free time if its a bigger problem than you can handle, and I don't charge an arm and a leg.
Next week we'll discuss the many different flavors of Linux (there are over 250) as well as my personal favorite, Ubuntu Linux. Until then, surf carefully, its a dangerous web out there... for windows users. :-)
Jeff Smith

#5 PC Gaming and the Console War

by Jeff Smith

It is now less than a month from Christmas, and many of you with teenagers to buy for have undoubtedly heard about one or more of the new gaming consoles that has emerged in time for the holiday shopping scene. First out was Microsoft with their XBOX 360, and then came the other two relatively back to back, Nintendo Wii, and Sony's Playstation 3.
All three of these consoles are competing for your holiday dollar. Today we will discuss the differences between them, pros and cons for each, and also compare with gaming on a higher end PC.
XBOX 360
price: from $300 for bare bones to a little over $400 for premium package
Being first to market can often be bad for a system. Looking back at Sega vs. Nintendo console wars of the past, often Sega would release their system first, in hopes of getting the jump on their competitor and gaining a base of game-buying consumers that would ensure their success. Often this would backfire on them as it would give their competitor just a little more time to ensure that their console would have more features. Often consumers will wait to see what the other console(s) entail so being first doesn't make as big a difference as you might think. This was the fate of the Sega Dreamcast.
This phenomenon doesn't seem to be hurting the XBOX360. What did hurt the 360 was the fact that some of the newly bought consoles had problems crashing, freezing up, or scratching game disks. These woes are normal for a game console launch, and the only advice I have is to wait for them to work out the bugs. There were six or more models of the original playstation as they refined its components throughout the life of the system. These new consoles will be no different.
The XBOX 360 offers stunning graphics capabilities utilizing graphics technology from ATI. The premium package (>$400) sports a 20GB harddrive, wireless controllers, an ethernet cable, a headset for talking in-game to other players, HiDef component cables,and a chrome finish... so going for the bigger retail package pays off well.
The 360 is backward compatible with games for the first XBOX so if you have some, you won't need both systems connected to your TV. If you connect it to broadband, it also lets you purchase and download some arcade games and older console games from their XBOX Live service which has a monthly fee. It can also utilize media files shared on your home network. XBOX 360 also incorporates HD-DVD technology that can pack up to 30GB on one disk.

Playstation 3 (or PS3)
price: 20GB system $499, 60GB system $599
Sony has built the most technically impressive system in this console war. Utilizing graphics technology from Nvidia, the PS3 has more graphics power than either of the other two systems which in the end will equate to better looking games after the game designers become familiar with programming for its hardware.
The PS3 has not been exempt from system launch problems. Amid reports of systems not booting, limited backward compatibility, overheating, disk scratching and freezes, is the greater problem for buyers trying to use the system with their Hi-Definition TVs. Sony has so far been unable to fix the HD issues, and seem to be backpaddling on their earlier promises to fix the problem with a software patch and so far they are blaming it on the TVs. My only thoughts on this are that the 360's HiDef hardware is working just fine.
The 60GB PS3 is capable of hooking up to your WiFi network in order to connect for online gaming, and after seeing the success of XBOX Live, Sony has created the Playstation Network which connects users and facilitates social networking and purchases. File transfers between your PC and the PS3 are not officially supported except via USB storage devices, but a network file-transfer utility has been created by a third party and is available free online at http://www.redkawa.com/fileserver/ though at first glance it doesn't look very user friendly. PS3 also incorporates the new Sony-backed Blu-Ray disk format which boasts storage capacities of up to 200GB per one disk.
Nintendo Wii
price: $249
Nintendo started out as the underdog in this console war. A much smaller system, having less graphics power, less processing power and no Hi-Def support, the Wii looked to be doomed from the start. But as details emerged, the Wii has surprised and amazed its critics by utilizing groundbreaking gameplay mechanics and amazing backward compatibility. Not having as much processing power also means that the Wii is not very prone to overheating. It also means not costing as much. A few freezes and crashes have been reported, but most problems around the Wii seem to center on their controller. Conversely, most of the excitement surrounding the Wii also centers on their controller.
Nintendo Wii's new controller has revolutionized gaming. It is motion sensitive, meaning that to swing a bat, or sword, golf club or aim a weapon, you actually move the controller in the air and it translates that movement into the game. The controller is shaped like a remote control and has a corded attachment that allows each of your hands to move independently and control different aspects of the game. The biggest complaint about Nintendo Wii is, oddly enough, muscle soreness. Playing games on the Wii are much more physically interactive and Nintendo actually has recommended taking up an exercise regimen prior to gaming on the Wii. This novel approach to gaming has been making gamers out of people who normally don't play video games, as well as getting couch potato gamers up and in-shape. Whole families are enjoying the Wii together and getting workout while they are at it! The problems reported with the controller mostly occur with the strap that secures your grip breaking, causing you to throw the controller, damaging it upon impact.
Nintendo has outdone themselves on the backward compatibility side of things. Boasting the ability to download and play games from the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Gamecube (requires Gamecube controller), as well as titles from former rival consoles such as Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx-16... and rumors of titles from Commodore 64, all available to purchase and download via their Virtual Console online service, the Wii gives you the opportunity to stroll down memory lane and enjoy titles you played as a kid.
PC Gaming
price: varies from system to system
If you were to spend as much money on upgrading your PC as the cost of these consoles, you would find that you can play a pretty amazing selection of games. Upgrading your graphics card, motherboard, processor, and RAM, as well as buying a good USB compatible controller can turn your average desktop system into a video game powerhouse. As far as backward compatibility goes, with the use of emulators, you can play games from NES, SNES, N64, Sega Master System, Genesis, Saturn, Dreamcast, Playstation 1, TurboGrafx-16, and many more, as well as arcade games dating back to the beginning of video game history. Note that you are legally required to own the games for those systems before downloading much in the way you are legally required to own a CD before you download mp3's of its songs.
Using a USB controller and running your video to your TV via a TV-out capable graphics card turns your PC into the ultimate game console. The only thing to worry about before purchasing PC games is making sure you have the minimum hardware requirements for running it. In fact, many console based video games come out for PC as well, and there are many PC-only games that are immersive and engaging that will never be released on a console.
Another thing that PC gaming has going for it is that you can upgrade your hardware components individually. In 5 years or so when these consoles are considered obsolete, you'll be faced with another huge purchase decision, or you could just upgrade your PC components here and there as you can afford it, and sell off your old parts on eBay to recoup some of the costs. And lastly, your computer will be a mean machine that has all of the useful functionality that we've come to depend on. If you are buying for someone else, make sure that your intended hardware upgrades are compatible with what they already have.
The Conclusion
The format war going on inside of the console war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD is somewhat secondary and reminiscent of VHS vs Betamax. Don't make your decision based on that.
There is no right answer or clear winner here. You must decide to spend your holiday dollars based on what is important to you, or who you are buying for. For the tech-head its clearly PC upgrading. For the extreme gamer, the PS3 is likely a must-have, though shortages have made it near impossible to find one to buy and you may want to wait for them to work out some of the bugs anyway. For the gamer and audio-visual multi-media madman, the XBOX 360 combines excellent gaming capabilities with media functionality that is unsurpassed. For everyone else, gamers and non-gamers, young and old, there is the Nintendo Wii.
by Jeff Smith

Vote for my Ubuntu Brainstorm Idea!!!

Do you think it would be a great idea to have a specific version of Ubuntu designed for kids and parents? Filled with fun games and parental control features to keep your little ones safe? Join Ubuntu Brainstorm and vote!