Friday, April 29, 2011

Quick Response Codes - They're A Lot Easier To Use Than You Think!

Quick Response or "QR" Codes are two-dimensional barcodes that are cropping up all over the place - especially in printed advertising materials. They are readable with traditional barcode readers, but more importantly with modern camera phones. All you need is one of a number of FREE camera phone reader applications for QR Codes available for the common smartphone platforms including the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Just go to the appropriate application store (iTunes Store, Android Marketplace, or Blackberry AppWorld) and search for and download a "QR Reader". Most QR Codes contain web addresses (URLs), although they may also contain other kinds of data like phone numbers or e-mail addresses. To use the reader, just run the app, point the camera at the barcode, and click the button. If you want more general info about QR codes, check out this Wikipedia article.

What many people don't realize is how easy it is to start using QR Codes of your own to link your printed materials to additional information online. Here's the simplest way I've found:

  1. Go to the webpage to which you would like to link using a QR Code.
  2. Copy the web address (URL) shown at the top of the page (in the address entry area of your browser).
  3. Go to and paste your link into the box labeled "Text to embed in QR Code".
  4. Select "500x500" for the "Image Size", and then click "Create QR Code".
  5. Right-click on the image that appears, and select "Copy" (if you want to paste it into Word or Publisher right away) or "Save Picture As..." (to save to your computer for later use).

If you would like to make it easy to track usage of your QR Codes, I suggest you create a free account at, which will let you take long addresses and shorten them. You will then be able to associate the short addresses with your QR Codes, and later log into to view statistics on the usage of those QR Codes.

If you've thought of some clever uses for QR Codes, please post them to the Comments below!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Care and Feeding of a Healthy Computer

One complaint I hear all the time about computers versus other sorts of appliances and machines in our lives is that they don't come with any sort of owner's manual or maintenance guide to tell you how to keep them running smoothly year after year. While I doubt this is a complete list, here are some of my most important recommendations for things you should do regularly to maintain a healthy computer:

  • Daily: Back up your data EVERY DAY. There are two kinds of data - the kind you back up, and the kind you will eventually lose. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use Mozy (; up to 2GB FREE, additional storage plans start at about $5/month). Mozy will back up changed files to "the cloud" every day, and makes it easy to restore data from your backup when needed. Got high school or college aged kids? Save yourself some potential pain and tears by putting Mozy on their laptops!

  • Weekly: Scan your system for malware (viruses, spyware, etc.). I use AVG Anti-Virus FREE on most of my computers, but any leading anti-malware product (Norton, Trend, eSet, etc.) will offer a scanner. Even though these products protect you all the time in the background, it can't hurt to get a second opinion once a week by running a complete scan of your system. I find that Saturday night is a good time to do this since I am usually not sitting on my computer then! (Be sure to close ALL programs before running a scan so that infected files may be removed easily and automatically if found.)

  • Monthly: Make a complete backup image of your system to an external hard drive and take it somewhere else (safety deposit box, relative's house, lawyer's office, etc.). This is important because your daily backups do not save programs, just data. While this doesn't seem important if you have all the official CDs for your software, think about how LONG it takes to reload all that software, printer drivers, etc. My favorite software for this is Acronis True Image, which costs $40 to $50 for the Home version. But there are some free products out there with a few less bells and whistles that do the same thing. I'm so paranoid that I actually do DAILY onsite image backups as well as monthly offsite image backups.

  • Quarterly: Scan your hard drive for errors (problems with the disk drive itself). Go into My Computer, right-click on your C drive, choose Properties, then click on Tools. When you click the "Check Now" button, you will be prompted about completing the check next time you reboot. Go ahead and schedule that, but be sure not to forget to reboot your PC when you are done for the day since the disk check can take a while. Oh, and ALWAYS do your monthly image backup BEFORE running a disk check! You have been warned...

  • Every six months: Physically clean the inside of your machine using a can of compressed air. NEVER vacuum the inside of a computer! ALWAYS blow out the inside of a computer outdoors or in a very well ventilated basement or garage area. The dust and grime inside a computer is not healthy for breathing by humans or pets. For a more detailed look at how to clean the inside of a computer, see this excellent article:

Following the suggestions above will help keep your computer running smoothly, and will protect your data in the event that a catastrophe occurs. Do you have a favorite suggestion that you think I missed? Share it with everyone by posting a comment below!

A word about defragging: Back in the 'old days' of personal computers...about ten years ago...lots of people defragmented their hard drives to improve performance. In those days, hard drives were much smaller and slower than they are today, and files would get split into chunks as they were saved on your hard drive. This splitting or 'fragmentation' would increase over time as the hard drive got more and more full, ultimately affecting performance. Today's hard drives are large and fast, and fragmentation is rarely an issue. In fact, in Windows 7 the system performs steps automatically to keep files less fragmented. Some research has found that defragging your hard drive in Windows 7 can actually be harmful in some cases! So the bottom line is that you do NOT need to worry about defragmenting newer computers.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

iPhone vs. Droid...Decisions, Decisions

One question I get a lot lately regards the latest so-called smartphones – specifically, “Should I get an iPhone or Android?” As with many technology questions, the answer depends on what you actually need. It’s not a “one size fits all” answer.

Let’s start with what these types phones have in common. Both have touch screens, make it easy to view and respond to e-mail and surf the web, allow you to play music and movies on the go, and have large libraries of additional available programs or “apps” that can do everything from play games to provide portable databases for your business. But there are some big differences.

The iPhone is a star in ease-of-use and presently has the lead in the number of available apps. For people familiar with iPods, the iPhone integrates seamlessly with iTunes, which offers a wide selection of audio and video programming. However, the iPhone has a limited number of available models, does not support Adobe’s Flash technology, which is used my many video-based web sites, and is not available with an integrated keyboard. And you MUST use iTunes to synchronize content with your iPhone.

In contrast, the Android system – created by Google – has fewer applications, although it is adding them at a dramatic rate. But there are dozens of Android-based device models with more being added each week. There are models with touchscreens in a variety of sizes, as well as quite a few with integrated keyboards that slide out or are positioned just below the screen. Android is also very flexible with support for Adobe Flash, and offers easy synchronization with your PC or over-the-air with your Google/Gmail account.

So what should you choose? If you don’t mind being locked into iTunes and need the easiest platform possible (maybe it’s your first “smartphone”), choose the iPhone. However, if you need the greatest flexibility and selection of phone devices, or find tight integration with Google to be appealing, choose an Android phone.

Have your own iPhone or Android experiences to share? Feel free to comment below…