Cheap Computing

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July 27, 2014  7:20 PM

Buying and Selling Used IT Hardware Takes a Shrewd Eye

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller
buy, Hardware, IT, PC

bletchley_parkI recently did an interview for Slashdot with the CTO of a company that brokers used commercial and enterprise IT hardware. Some readers agreed with what he had to say, some didn’t, and a few were trolls (which is typical on Slashdot). But today, I want to talk about personal gear, and what I have to say is generally applicable to buying and selling bicycles or air conditioners, too. I’ve covered this topic before, but it’s worth looking at again.
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July 16, 2014  9:08 PM

Once Again, Let’s Talk About Cheap (but Good) Video Production

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller

corneliusLet me start by saying you MUST turn your smartphone or tablet on its side to shoot most video — and for most still shots, too. Little vertical-strip pictures are annoying in a world where we have widescreen monitors and TVs showing almost all photos and movies at a 16:9 aspect ratio, and most movies are shot in an even wider format, usually 1.85:1.

Second, lighting is important. Whether you’re shooting with a smartphone or a $5000 professional video camera, you don’t want the main light source behind your main video subject, a sin called “backlighting” in the trade. As a general rule, you want lights to show the artistic_backlit_autumn_leaves-600x412face of your subject(s). The only time you ignore this rule is when you’re going for an artistic effect, like the photo of leaves next to this paragraph — or the person you’re interviewing doesn’t want his or her face to show. And in that case, you’ll want to disguise the voice, too, which is a whole different level of complexity.

Third, headroom. I’ve mentioned this before, and I’m sure I’ll mention it again. “Headroom is a technical term, not just Max’s last name. Please keep the top of your subjects’ head at the Correct_headroom_with_zoom_gridtop of the frame, not in the center.

Fourth, not everything needs to be viewed from the height of your face. You might want to take some shots from your waist, so that the person(s) you’re shooting look especially imposing. Or you might want to hold your camera overhead to get a view from above. Now and then, you might even want to hold your camera a little off-level, although this is an effect that should be used sparingly so that your audience doesn’t think you’re incompetent instead of a fine artiste.

Back to the “narrow strip” thing. Here’s an impromptu video of Charlie Sheen shot by a fan. Think how much better it would have been if it had been shot in 16:9 widescreen, which it could have been if the person who shot it had been in the habit of turning his or her smartphone 90 degrees to take photos or videos. In fact, if this video had been shot widescreen, TMZ (or a similar gossip outlet) might have paid for it, since they’re always in the market for well-shot videos of celebrities embarrassing themselves.


July 7, 2014  9:57 PM

‘The Savings Experiment’ Might Help You Save Money

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller
Cellular, Internet, ISP

saveThere have always been websites and blogs devoted to frugality. You’re reading one right now. But we haven’t seen a whole lot of videos on the topic of frugal technology. However, a section of AOL’s Daily Finance site called The Savings Experiment has a whole bunch of them.

Save All Around by Powering Your Computer Down is a video the site ran back in 2012 that a friend called to my attention because last week’s Cheap Computing post was titled Should You Turn Your Computers Off When You’re Not Using Them?

I like to think I got a little deeper into this topic than AOL did. Maybe that’s because it’s hard to get much information into a two minute video. It’s also possible that while AOL’s intended audience is people who wonder how to find the “Any” key, I write for technological sophisticates like you.

Still, the AOL ‘Savings Experiment,’ sponsored by Bank of America and Visa, has a lot of good tips and is worth a look or two.
Dial Into Savings on Your Smartphone Bill, for example. I believe I’ve mentioned a few times that my wife and I use Virgin Mobile, which gives us unlimited data and 300 minutes of voice for $35 per month per user, which is just right for us; my wife has gone over 300 talk minutes just once, and unlimited data is good because we do a lot of video work. You might want a different plan from a different carrier. The big secret is to shop — and wisely at that, which means you need to take the perky AOL spokesmodel’s advice to check your phone use habits before comparing cell plans.

One problem with ‘Savings Experiment’ is that it isn’t always accurate. For example, Surf for Savings on Internet Service says Verizon FIOS is the most expensive ISP. This may be true where their contributor Brent Hankins lives, but where I live in Manatee County, Florida, FIOS is about $50 per month and the only other broadband provider charges nearly $75. So no matter what the AOL people say — or what *I* say, for that matter — you should do your own shopping because we all have different circumstances, needs, and desires.

Still, there’s a lot of valuable ideas to be found on ‘Savings Experiment.’ Not the least of them is in this video: The Best Batteries for Your Buck, which basically tells you rechargeable batteries are lots cheaper than single-use batteries in the long run. This is 100% true — except for devices where a battery may sit for many months unused, such as a smoke detector. That’s an application where a one-use battery will give you better service than a rechargeable — and where trying to save a dollar probably isn’t a good idea, anyway.


June 30, 2014  10:47 PM

Should You Turn Your Computers Off When You’re Not Using Them?

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller
computer, Linux, Monitors, PC, Standby

switchThis question has been going around and around as long as we’ve had individual-use computers, which most of us call PCs or “personal computers.” We’ve seen articles from knowledgeable people that told us to turn them off, and articles from equally knowledgeable people that told us to keep them on all the time. Who’s right? And why?
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June 24, 2014  10:00 PM

Limiting Your Subscription Services

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller
Amazon, Internet, ISP, tv, Verizon

300px-Chromecast_dongle (1)I have cable TV. I have Chromecast. I have Netflix. I am about to trade cable TV for over-the-air TV and a Tivo subscription. And Amazon Prime. That’s another $99 a year, which is enough that it shouldn’t be forgotten. What else? Phone service. Can’t forget that. My wife has a $25/month Virgin Mobile wireless plan. I have the same one, but it costs $35 because my wife got hers years ago and her low price is grandmothered in. You probably have this many subscriptions yourself — or maybe more. We need to be careful not to go crazy with all these services that look like they only cost a little. It’s easy to let them build up to the point where they cost real money.
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June 17, 2014  9:10 PM

Running Free or Cheap Android Programs and Games on Your Windows (or Mac) PC

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller
Android, Linux, Mac, PC

There are many ways to run Android OS on Intel (or AMD) PCs. Most of them require at least enough geekiness to make an ISO and reformat a hard drive, assuming you want to keep Windows (or Mac or Linux) in addition to Android. But why would you want Android on a real computer alongside, say, Windows? The people I’ve talked to who want to do this typically have some favorite Android apps — especially games — they want to be able to use on their PCs, not just on their phones or tablets.
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June 9, 2014  2:49 AM

I Miss the Days When Stores had Helpful Sales Clerks

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller
computer, Linux


I miss Circuit City. Until their last days, when they decided to lay off their most experienced, most knowledgeable, and therefore highest-paid salespeople, it was a fine electronics store. You could ask, “Does it run Linux?” and if the person you asked didn’t know, he’d say, “Just a second. Let me get Jim. He’s kind of our Linux guy on this shift.” Plasma TVs (which were a new idea back then), cordless phones with answering machines, RAM, hard drives… they always seemed to have someone around who *knew something* about the product you needed. But Circuit City is no more, and retail clerks who know about the merchandise seem to have gone away, too.
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May 28, 2014  10:20 PM

Buying for the Wrong Reasons

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller
Acer, Apple, MONITOR, Notebook, Tablet

acerAre you buying a tablet or a fashion accessory? A server or office decor? A phone or a piece of bling shaped like a phone? A productive laptop or something to impress your friends and amaze your enemies? These are all questions you need to ask yourself before you buy any piece of IT gear for your home or office.
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May 23, 2014  5:39 PM

Cutting the Cable TV ‘Cord’ Involves Multiple Decisions

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller
cable, tv, Verizon

cableI can’t handle paying Brighthouse nearly $160 every month for Internet, cable TV, and VOIP phone. Back when it was $80/month and I had a high-flying job, I was okay with cable. Now that I’m on Social Security (supplemented by a little freelancing), cable TV has become too rich for my blood. And $160/month doesn’t include any premium channels. So something has to go — and I think what is going to go is me from cable TV. It keeps going up, up, up every year as if it is something so vital that we’ll pay insane amounts to have it. Maybe some people will, but a lot of us won’t.
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May 13, 2014  10:21 PM

Tablet and Laptop Prices Continue to Drop in Fits and Starts

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller

one-day-saleLast week I wrote about an Acer tablet for $89, including shipping — if you bought by May 5. This week that same tablet is $99, still including shipping. If you look closely at the specs, you’ll see that the cameras aren’t very good, and that claimed battery life is only “up to 3.5 hours.” But if you’re not much of a photographer, and you don’t expect to be watching movies, reading eBooks or doing other tablet-type things for more than three hours away from an electric outlet, this is all the tablet you need — and it’s plenty good as a teenager’s homework machine if you add a low-cost Bluetooth keyboard to it. But, as they say, “That’s not all!” I am suddenly getting hit with all kinds of “one day” and “this week only” specials from major computer vendors.
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