Tech Tips for Tweeners: Wireless to Go


One of the primary purposes of Newsome.Org is to introduce and explain computer-related programs and features to other in-betweeners like me- people who are the parents of the youngsters to whom computers and the internet are as integral as the telephone and the children of our parents who have no intention of ever embracing computers.

These days almost everyone has a work laptop and those of you who don’t soon will. Wireless network connections for connecting to a home or office network and the internet are becoming commonplace in offices and in hotels. In fact, the Days Inn in Cheraw, SC has something the very upscale Barton Creek Resort and Spa doesn’t have- free, high speed wireless internet!

In any case, wireless networking has gone mainstream and most newish laptops have wireless network capability. This is helpful for home networks- we have a secured wireless network at our house that allows me and our guests to use our laptops anywhere in the house. Wireless networks in offices allow visitors to connect to the internet in conference rooms. Wireless networks in hotels allow you to use your laptop from the easy chair, bed, etc. The problem is that many hotels, even nice ones, don’t yet have wireless networks. Rather, they have a cable-connected network, usually via a little box on the desk. This works fine until you want to move to the easy chair on the other side of the room- beyond the reach of the network cable.


Well, thanks to Linksys there’s a cheap and easy solution to this problem. I bought a Linksys WTR54GS Travel Router from Newegg for $79.99. I took it on its first business trip last week, and it was invaluable. Here’s how simple it was to use.

I plugged it into the electrical outlet in my hotel room (the built in plug is retractable for easy storage). I plugged the hotel room network cable into the router (the router comes with its own network cable just in case the hotel room or other location doesn’t supply one). I turned on the router. Immediately I had a fast, stable network connection. Simple as that. I didn’t even need to use the installation CD that came with the router.

Granted, my instant network was unsecured, but it’s easy to set up a secured network and you only have to do it once. After that, a secured network is equally instant.

The router is small and comes with a handy carrying case for the router and the supplied network cable. All in all, this is a must have for the frequent traveler.

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Tech Tips for Tweeners: New DVD Formats


One of the primary purposes of Newsome.Org is to introduce and explain computer-related programs and features to other in-betweeners like me- people who are the parents of the youngsters to whom computers and the internet are as integral as the telephone and the children of our parents who have no intention of ever embracing computers.

Everyone, no matter what age, has a DVD player and watches DVDs. Many people record TV shows and/or home videos onto DVDs. One problem with recording DVDs is that, because of conflicting and sometimes incompatible formats (DVD-R, DVD+R, etc.), DVDs recorded by one player won’t play in certain other DVD players. Fortunately, many newer players can play most, if not all, of the current DVD formats (older and very low end players still cannot). But the problem is about to get worse.

Like about every other emerging tecnnology where there is money to be made, various companies are pushing incompatible new DVD formats for new, higher capacity (i.e., can hold more video) DVDs. C|Net has posted an article that tells you everything you need to know about the HD DVD vs. Blu ray compatibility war. If you use DVDs and especially if you record onto them, you need to understand this issue and how it may affect you and your videos.

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Tech Tips for Tweeners: Computer Security


One of the primary purposes of Newsome.Org is to introduce and explain computer-related programs and features to other in-betweeners like me- people who are the parents of the youngsters to whom computers and the internet are as integral as the telephone and the children of our parents who have no intention of ever embracing computers.

As the neighborhood computer geek, I get a lot of calls for help with computer-related problems. Without a doubt, the large majority of those problems are related to computer security, or the lack thereof.

There are 3 things that everyone must do to protect their computer and the data thereon. If you don’t do them, you will eventually encounter a problem. The only question is whether it will be a minor problem (such as a hijacked internet home page) or a big problem (like the loss of data or the theft of personal information).

Having said that, don’t avoid the internet like an unsafe neighborhood. The convenience and benefits are too great for that. We don’t give up driving just because there are bad drivers and potential carjackers out there. We simply wear our seatbelts, lock the doors and watch where we are going. There are a few simple things you can do to increase your computer safety and manage the risk.

One: Install a Firewall

A firewall monitors your incoming and outgoing internet (and other network) traffic and helps prevent traffic (e.g., connections) you don’t want from doing something bad to your computer. There are two kinds of firewalls: hardware and software. We are talking about the software kind.

Even if you connect through a router, you still need a software firewall.

There are a lot of choices out there, and I’ll recommend two. If you want to make things as simple as possible, use Windows’ built in firewall. You need to have Windows XP with Service Pack 2 installed in order to use Windows firewall, but (and this is very important) you need XP and SP2 installed for many other reasons. If you have an older version of Windows, upgrade. If you have XP make sure SP2 is installed. If your computer is too old to run XP and you are determined not to buy a new one, check out Zone Alarm (see below).

If you can’t or won’t use Windows’ built in firewall or if you want a little more protection, check out ZoneAlarm. There is a free version and a more robust ZoneAlarm Pro version, which is what I use. Both are easy to install and configure. $50 a year is not much money to protect your computer, so I suggest shelling out the dough. Also, unlike Windows firewall, ZoneAlarm works on Windows 98 (Second Edition) and later. If you have an earlier version of Windows, it is seriously time to junk it and get a new computer with a new OS (like Windows XP).

Two: Install Antivirus Software

After you get your firewall up and running, buy and install an antivirus program. Antivirus programs attempt to identify and eliminate computer viruses before they infect your computer. Unlike a firewall, which stops unwanted connections (where another computer “talks” to yours), antivirus software stops a usually hidden or disguised computer program from making changes to your computer.

Windows does not yet have an integrated antivirus program, although Microsoft is working on one. I’ll make two recommendations. One, which I use, is Norton Antivirus. You can buy it online, download it and install it right away. One note: resist buying the once indispensable Norton Utilities, which bundles other programs with an antivirus program. These once great programs have been largely rendered unnecessary by Windows XP and now serve mainly to cause unnecessary programs to run in the background, possibly slowing your computer down. The program costs another $50 per year, but is worth it.

The other program that I like, though less than Norton Antivirus, is McAfee Antivirus. Again, avoid buying a bundle of software. Buy only the antivirus program.

Important Note: No matter which program you buy, it is critical that you run regular updates, which can be automated if you like. The developers post regular updates that identify new viruses. If you don’t update the software regularly (at least once a week), you will not have adequate protection. Finally, make sure you have enabled email scanning, which allows the program to automatically scan every incoming and outgoing email for viruses. Most computer viruses are delivered via email, some of which may be disguised as emails from someone you know (once a virus infects a computer, it will often access the computer’s address book and email itself to the contacts therein- the idea being that people are more likely to open an email from someone they know).

Three: Install an Anti-Spyware Program

Firewalls keep hackers from communicating with your computer. Antivirus programs keep virus files from changing your computer, but there is still spyware. Spyware is malicious software intended to take partial control of a computer’s operation without the owner’s consent. Spyware differs from viruses in that it does not usually self-replicate (e.g., email itself via your address book). Like many recent viruses, spyware is primarily designed to exploit infected computers for commercial gain. I would also add that spyware is generally less damaging than a virus and is much more common on even a careful user’s computer. My unfortunate experience has been that spyware, particularly the tracking kind (that allows some program you have installed or some website you have visited to track where you go on the web), is virtually inevitable. The goal is to regularly scan for it and delete it.

Microsoft is also working on an integrated anti-spyware program and there is a beta version available for free. I haven’t used it, so I can’t comment other than to say that this will, like Windows firewall, become the easy choice in future versions of Windows. In the meantime, I’ll make two recommendations. First, Ad-Aware, the program I use. Like ZoneAlarm, there is a free version and an Ad-Aware Plus version for $40). I use the free version and it has always worked well for you. One note: the pay versions claim to prevent spyware before it infects your computer (and perhaps making spyware less inevitable). I haven’t used them, so I don’t know how well the prevention works. If anyone has any thoughts, please post a comment.

Another good program is Spyware Doctor. I have only used it a little, but it got a great review from PC Magazine. I stay with Ad-Aware, because I have used it for years. If I were starting anew, I’d shell out the $30 for Spyware Doctor.


I don’t want to overstate my point and cause undue concern about computer security. I use the internet for everything from banking to shopping to data storage and I have never suffered a serious security problem. The reason I am so comfortable using the internet so extensively is because I understand the risks and take these steps to manage them. It will take a couple of hours to buy and install these programs, but if you install them and keep them updated, you will protect yourself against some very real but manageable problems. Get to work and happy surfing!

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Tech Tips for Tweeners: News, Newsgroups and Newsreaders


One of the primary purposes of Newsome.Org is to introduce and explain computer-related programs and features to other in-betweeners like me- people who are the parents of the youngsters to whom computers and the internet are as integral as the telephone and the children of our parents who have no intention of ever embracing computers.

People in this 35-60 group are in an odd situation. Most have, perhaps begrudgingly, accepted computers as a tool to help them work- at least as far as emails and light word processing goes. But to many, anything beyond that is unfamiliar and confusing. Because I am the neighborhood computer geek, I get a lot of questions about technology. Over the years, two things have become clear. One, many in-betweeners view computers as a chore themselves as opposed to a method to make chores easier. Two, with a little work these same people can and will learn how to make computers work for them. There is always an initial hesitation (“I don’t understand all of that,” “If I give a web site my personal information, my identity will be stolen immediately, etc.”), but these folks have been around technology long enough to pick up more than they think via osmosis and to become comfortable around technology. That’s a valuable head start that will significantly lower the learning curve.

So let’s talk about one way we can make computers work for us. Anyone reading this knows how to send email, so we’ll skip that. Let’s talk about the second most commonly used benefit of computers and the internet: information gathering.

Any information gathering process starts with Google‘s web search. But there are other ways to get even more specific information. Let’s talk about newsgroups.

First, let’s address some terms, that may sound alike, but are not the same thing:

Newsgroups. A newsgroup (focus on the group half, not the news half) is a central list of messages, organized by topic, posted by many users at different locations. Stated another way, newsgroups are discussion groups where people discuss, teach, inquire about, etc. a topic of presumed common interest. For example, there are newsgroups about fishing, hunting, quilting- just about everything. A newsgroup looks similar to the list of email in your inbox, the difference being that the messages are composed by a large group of people from all over the world. From a technical perspective newsgroups are different from web-based message boards, like Songwriting.Org, but from an end user and experience perspective, they are similar. There are two ways to read newsgroups: via a newsgroup reader, such as Outlook Express (which is almost certainly already installed on your computer) or via the web through everyone’s favorite web site, Google. Newsgroup readers have to be configured, which, while not terribly hard to do, is more than a lot of people want to do (recall my mantra- if you want people to use technology, make technology easy to use). Reading newsgroups via Google is much easier. You can find groups you’re interested in via the search box, click on the link to read the messages and “subscribe” or bookmark the group by clicking on the link at the top of the list of messages. Here is a screenshot showing what a typical newsgroup looks like in Outlook Express:


and here is what one looks like via Google.

So why in the world would anyone want to read newsgroups? Simple, to get answers to questions. When I am trying to fix a computer problem, a broken toilet or almost any other problem, I start by searching the newsgroups, via Google. Very few problems haven’t already been solved by someone else and most of those solutions are readily accessible via newsgroups. Most of the hard computer or software problems I have encountered were solved via suggestions I read on newsgroups. And most of the time, you don’t even have to post a question to get the answer. Just search for the problem and you’ll generally find that someone else has already asked it and received an answer.

News Readers and RSS. For some strange reason, the programs that read RSS, which is a relatively new method of distribtuing web site content (like the content on this page) are confusingly called news readers (focus on the readers half, not the news half). They are also called RSS readers, feed readers and feed aggregators. The content displayed by these programs is repackaged web site content, not newsgroups. It’s confusing, but think of it as newsgroups (Google just calls them groups) where a group of people post messages and news readers that allow you to read news (and other content) posted by people like me on their web sites.

News: Don’t get traditional news sites, such as CNN or Google News confused with the stuff we talked about above. Those are traditional news sites, with traditional news. You can usually read that content through a newsreader (look for the RSS link), but that’s the only connection between those sites and newsgroups and newsreaders.

So what do I use for all this? There are many good programs. Here’s what I use:

Reading Newsgroups: Outlook Express, more than likely the program you use to send email from home. I use Outlook (a more robust program with a similar name) for email, but I use Outlook Express to read newsgroups.

Searching Newsgroups: Google. There is no substitute. If I find a group I like, I’ll subscribe to it via Outlook Express, but as mentioned above, you can easily read and post directly from Google.

Newsreader: Onfolio, which has many great features. There are also web based newsreaders. Of the ones on that list, I have tried and liked Newsgator and Bloglines. Both are free.

Once you go to the effort to set these programs up, they make it easy to find, collect and store information. It’s a little learning time now that is repaid with interest when you need information fast.

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