Author Archive | Steve Bass

Fix Your Font Hassles, Save Music From YouTube

Steve Bass's TechBiteYou have problems, I have answers, and that’s what I’m tackling in this week’s story: Two of your gnarly issues.

I can see you now, quickly composing a message with your long-repressed computing crisis. Don’t start hyperventilating. I gave up answering e-mailed PC troubleshooting questions years ago. However, some computing hassles, aka kvetches, are broad enough to benefit everyone seeing the solution. BTW, if you do write, I’ll definitely read the missive. Worst case, you’ll get my best personalized boilerplate response (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one).

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Like Action? Listen to Police and Fire Scanners

Steve Bass's TechBiteI started to write about ways to glean info in a national disaster. I’ll get to that in another story, because as I dug around, I discovered live scanner feeds. You know the kind–police, fire and rescue, forest service, emergency services — and I wiped out an afternoon glued to the broadcasts.

I listened to the Newcastle, Australia police struggling with a jaywalker and then handling a robbery attempt; later heard the Thurston County, WA police nab a parole violator; and finally downloaded a clip from a recent pursuit of a guy shooting at a Snohomish County, Washington, sheriff deputy.

Fascinating stuff, indeed.

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MagicJack: The Aftermath

Steve Bass's TechBiteOh, my, but you’re a vocal bunch. When you like something, you tell me. Ditto for when you don’t. If you’re new here, read magicJack: The No-Brainer Money Saver.

Here are some responses that landed to my inbox–and a few of my comments.

* Some of you couldn’t believe I had a perfect, landline-quality connection with magicJack. That’s not quite what I said. When it works well, I said, it’s terrific. At times, though, I’ll make a call and the voice quality is dreadful — snapping, popping, and crackling. So I redial. Since I started using MJ, about 75 percent of the time I get good calls on the first try; 25 percent of the time I have to redial. And yes, bad connections and redials are annoying. But in this economy, so was paying AT&T over $300 a year for my extra landline. Now my yearly cost is $20.

* As with all things technological, kids, everyone’s mileage varies. Bad connections could be because of your ISP’s lopsided tubes, your kids downloading music on a networked PC, or the USB 1.0 ports on your ‘486.

* MagicJack doesn’t like Canada as well as it does in the United States. That’s obvious because magicJack doesn’t carry any Canadian phone numbers. Using magicJack in Canada means you’re stuck registering it with a U.S. phone number, and your Canadian buddies have to call the U.S. number. But you folks have great medical care, and very few paparazzi, so I guess it’s a trade, eh?

* I had a dozen messages wondering if magicJack steals passwords, sends spam, or kidnaps children. The most notorious of these accusations — read it on BoingBoing— is a year old. It’s all been proven false. Bob Rankin, a trustworthy journalist, wrote about it in his “Magic Jack – Good or Evil?” series: part 1 and part 2.

* In this corner are the lovers of Skype— and there are lots of you. Funny thing, I use Skype to speak to my Web designer in Singapore for free. But I don’t use Skype often because I already have a headset for my phone; I don’t like needing another one– a USB headset — just for Skype. (That may change: I’m testing Jabra’s GN9350e, a cool-sounding, dual connection wireless headset that lets me swap between the PC and my landline. I’ll keep you posted.)

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]


Seven Tools to Make Your PC Smile

Steve Bass's TechBiteYou have an insatiable need for free tools, I know, and there’s no reason to deprive you. I have seven gems for you, and all but one are freebies. Plus I have a quick follow-up about passwords and security.

Dump the Dupes

You think you might have a couple of duplicate files on your system? (Don’t be silly — of course you do.) Easy Duplicate File Finder (see image) is a handy freebie that will dig around and show you where they’re lurking. I like being able to choose specific folders, use a mask to find only certain files, and either rename or move dupes.

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Use Passwords? Read This Article. Now.

Steve Bass's TechBiteThe e-mail from PayPal said I’d sent $400 to a gaming firm in Germany. It’s a dopey phishing expedition, I thought, and authentic-looking, for sure, but nothing to worry about.

The trouble was that when I logged on to PayPal, I really did have a $400 withdrawal. It was clear that someone had my password.

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MagicJack: The No-Brainer Money Saver

Steve Bass's TechBiteI just saved $320 by cancelling an extra phone line and signing up with magicJack. It works as advertised; I like it; and it’s a keeper. I also have tips to make magicJack better, and if you’re intrigued, hack into it. (Fair warning: My magicJack review is long, way more than I usually allocate for one newsletter.)

Making the Switch to magicJack

I used to have three phone lines, and for years I needed all of them. But with almost all of my communication through e-mail, I decided to dump one and replace it with a magicJack. And save myself about $320 a year.

You plug the magicJack into a free USB port, then plug your phone line into the gizmo. Now you can make free calls with VoIP — they’re routed through the Internet. (The magicJack comes with a 6-inch USB extension cable in case it interferes with other devices plugged into your USB ports.)

Plug one end into a USB port and connect the other end to your standard phone.

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Favorite Windows Freebies–New and Old

Steve Bass's TechBiteI call them utilities; some of you call them tools. They’re small, free programs that make computing life easier, less tedious, and more productive.

Generally, I tell you only about tried and true utilities–the ones I call keepers — and that I regularly use. I was thinking, though, that as so many of you are power users, you might be interested in two that are new (to me, at least): Lexmark’s Toolbar and Stardock’s Fences. I just started playing with them and I’m curious to hear what you think.

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Get Read: The Cardinal Rules of E-Mail

Steve Bass's TechBiteWant me to ignore your e-mail? Can do. Just leave the subject line blank, stick your entire message into one, long, 300-word sentence, or use cutesy, curlicued fonts I can’t decipher. Oh, yeah, make sure you use a lavender background and neon green type.

Get ready, I have dozens of ways for you to make sure your e-mail is read.

I’m providing these tips as a public service. Ah, heck, that’s not true. The topic’s entirely for me. I’m persnickety about e-mail because I go nuts trying to plow through the 50 or so e-mails I get each day from TechBite subscribers. Too many are loaded with things that make my head hurt and my eyes water.

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Help is On Its Way

Steve Bass's TechBiteI get messages yelling–no, pleading–for help: “My PC has [fill in the blank] and I can’t [fill in another blank].” I read all of them and pluck those with universal appeal for use in the newsletter and upcoming blog. Unfortunately, I can’t personally answer every message. (Hey, it’s not that I don’t love you; it’s that I don’t have the time and wherewithal, a word I don’t often get to use, to research the dozen Help! e-mails I get each day.)

The truth is that fairly often the unique, PC-specific problems that ail you are things I can’t replicate on my PC. And believe it or not, I don’t know everything. Just ask my wife.

So this week, I’ll tell you how I find solutions for common computing woes. With my help, and your perseverance, maybe you’ll learn how to find solutions on your own and, of course, stop haranguing me for answers. (I know, it’s the old learn how-to-fish cop-out.)

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