Saturday, December 29, 2007

Analog Cell Phone Service Discontinuing

Back in 2002, the Federal Government started allowing cell phone providers to start dropping the Analog cell phone signals. The end date for analog service is Feb. 18, 2008.

According to news reports, only about 1 million people still have analog phones which can be easily switched out.

Now most people have switched over to digital cell phone service, but one group of people who will be in a lurch are the people with OnTrack in their cars who use that service to provide emergency road assistance. General Motors started changing some of the cars in 2002 to digital service but as late as 2005 some cars still had the old analog system. Some of the cars can be upgraded but many cannot be. Check with your GM dealer.

Another potential problem is wireless alarm companies who did not switch their clients systems.

We made the switch long ago. In fact, from most cell phone providers, you can no longer get dual band (analog and digital) phones. As they pack new features into phone such as MP3 and video, that feature got left behind. And with good reason. Digital signal is more secure.

Bye Bye Analog...

AOL Kills the Netscape Browser

AOL just announced that their support of the Netscape browser will end. There will be no updates after Feb. 1, 2008. They are urging the Netscape users to migrate over to Firefox.

Netscape was orginally started in 1994 as the original browser. Then Microsoft came along with Internet Explorer in late 1995 and gained a huge market share. Netscape was the focus of a federal antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.

Since AOL is now focusing on ad-supported web business, any support for Netscape takes away from their core business, so it was decided to let Netscape die.

There is a link on our blog to download Firefox as a replacement.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tech File: Tips for buying, using digital cameras

(Note: Our Editor, George Margolin quoted in San Jose Mercury News, 12-17-07)

Tech File: Tips for buying, using digital cameras
By Larry Magid, San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched: 12/17/2007 01:33:39 AM PST

Lots of us are getting digital cameras for the holidays. My gift to myself was a Canon S5 IS. Unlike the other cameras I've owned, this one has a 12x optical zoom and a body that looks almost like one of those professional SLR (single lens reflex) models, only smaller. At $330 on, it's a lot of camera for the price. But you don't have to spend that much to get an excellent digital camera.

Even if you spend less than $100 on a digital point-and-shoot camera, you'll wind up with all the equipment you need to take excellent photographs. Kodak's C513, which sells for only $79 at comes with a 3x optical zoom, a 5 megapixel sensor and a 1 gigabyte storage card. My older Kodak camera takes great pictures.

One thing you don't get with many small cameras is an optical view finder. For those too young to remember, all film cameras had a little hole near the top that you looked through. Today, most people take pictures by looking at the LCD screen at the back of the camera. One advantage to an optical view finder is that the image won't wash out in bright sunlight. Another is that when you're holding the camera up to your head, you're helping to stabilize it. Mainly for us old folks, it's a force of habit. I'm just used to holding the camera up to my eye.
Some small cameras still have view finders, such as Canon's PowerShot SD850 IS which sells for about $250.

Another thing I prefer is cameras that take AA batteries. They're not as efficient as some of the proprietary rechargeable batteries, but they are cheaper and easier to come by. Worst case, you can buy disposable AAs. But you and the environment are much better off with rechargeable AAs, including a relatively new generation of rechargable batteries, such as the Sanyo eneloop that come ready to use and have up to a year of shelf life. Some small cameras from Kodak, Nikon and others use AAs, though most small digital cameras use proprietary batteries. To my delight, that larger Canon camera I bought last week uses four AAs and is rated for 450 shots on a single charge, depending on use of flash and the LCD display.

When it comes to a zoom lens, pay attention to the optical zoom but ignore digital zoom specifications. Optical zoom involves the movement of the lens to give you a good close up. Digital zoom uses software to simulate a zoom, resulting in a loss of quality. Besides, all digital editing programs give you the ability to blow-up images on a PC or Mac, which is all that a camera's digital zoom accomplishes.

How you use a camera is probably more important than what camera you buy. I'm no expert but I've been taking lessons from my friend George Margolin, an award winning photographer and former technical editor of Popular Photography. Margolin agrees that "virtually any of today's digital cameras will take very good pictures," and he recommends using the camera's "auto" feature for most picture taking.

Still, there are times when you might want to override the automatic settings, such as when taking pictures in low light or photographing a moving object. For that, Margolin suggests using the scene function (often abbreviated "SCN") available in many cameras. That function typically provides various modes, such as bright light, sports, beach, indoor and snow. Most cameras also have a "macro" setting that you can use to take close ups of small objects such as jewelry or flowers.

Most cameras also have manual settings that can get you into trouble if you're not careful but free you up to take some great pictures if you learn to use them. You often can adjust the aperture or F-Stop (size of the lens opening) and shutter speed and set the "ISO," which is the equivalent of using a different speed film.

A lower number such as 2.8 would give you more light than a higher number but also shorter depths of field. A shorter depth of field means that more of the background will be out of focus, which can be good or bad depending on your composition. Decreasing the shutter speed can help compensate for low-light conditions but also increase blur if there is any movement or shaking.
Margolin says that the flash can sometimes be useful even in bright sunlight when there is light behind your subject or if you're photographing someone with dark skin. He also says to pay attention to the way you compose a picture. Things in the background you might not notice such as trash on the ground affect the quality of the picture.

If you use a zoom lens, be aware that you can get increased blur if you or the subject is moving. A 3x zoom triples the impact of any motion compared with no zoom. If you have a very large zoom, such as the 12x in my new camera, be sure the camera has image stabilization to compensate for movement.

Just as a food processor can't turn a bad cook into a great chef, a great digital camera won't transform the likes of me into an Ansel Adams. But, unlike a film camera, a digital model lets you practice for free to make the most of whatever camera you have.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

CompUSA closing Retail Stores,Macrovision to buy Gemstar

CompUSA will be closing all the remaining 103 Retail Stores, after being sold to an affiliate of restructuring firm Gordon Bros.. According to the press release, they will remain open through the holiday season, whcih could mean bargains for people who are near a store. They pulled out of the LA/OC area earlier, so there are non locally.

Macrovision will buy Gemstar which owns TV Guide as well as the online TV listings that were commonly included with ATI All-in-Wonder graphics cards. And yes, I did use the online listings- it was handy to have. That part may become a pay service as Macrovision sells security tools.

Macrovision to buy Gemstar

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Black Friday results for the OC

Yes, they are saying sales are up, but of the hundreds of people I have polled in the OC, very few actually made it out on Black Friday. Yours truly was out at 3:30am for a 5pm opening, but we had set our expectations on not one of the hot TV's or cheap computers but on a 22 inch monitor for $169. After being 150th in line, each of the two of us managed to each get a monitor, and of course we had to pick up that 4gb flash drive for $21.

In my opinion, the sales were not as discounted as in previous years, but I am seeing more people shop at the bigger discount stores. Have a Happy Holiday and Enjoy life!

Vista to be Subject of Hackers in 2008

There have been very few malware targeted at Vista operating system in 2007. According to Computerworld, this is not necessarily because of it being a secure system, but falling below the radar of the virus makers. It is estimated that adoption will be about 10% by next year and will raise Vista to the level that will attract virus/malware makers. Apple had the same benefit of being below the radar and is less of a target also for virus/ malware makers.

It will interesting to see how Vista will handle the attacks expected.