Cheap Computing

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September 27, 2013  11:13 PM

Two Cheap Phone Deals — From Best Buy, of All Places

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

logoMy last post was titled Goodbye, Contract Cell Phone Plans. It was about the joys of prepaid cellular service, and how it saved me all kinds of money. About four hours after I uploaded that post, my HTC phone died. A snickery person might say it died because someone dropped it onto a hard floor while standing on a ladder, but I was the only person in the room so that’s not possible. Or is it? (Blush.) In any case, Virgin Mobile is replacing it under warranty. Sadly, since my particular phone model is backlogged right now, that’s going to take a week or two. Despair? No way! I found a “good enough” Kyocera Event phone on Virgin’s website for $49.95, and almost ordered it. But my Cheap Computing instincts kicked in before I did, so I shopped around for that model phone. And I found it for $39.95. All right!
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September 24, 2013  10:51 PM

Goodbye, Contract Cell Phone Plans

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

motorola_bagMy first cell phone cost nearly $1000 and air time was $1/minute, with a minimum of $200 per month on a two-year contract. But I owned a limousine service, and that was better than having an answering service handle my calls. Then, like everyone else, I got a phone that was included with my carrier’s airtime plan — which cost $150 for unlimited use. Before long — Glory Be! — I found a carrier that didn’t charge for the first minute of incoming calls, which dropped my cellular bill below $99/month for the first time. Now I pay $35 per month for unlimited data and texts and five hours of talk, which is more than I ever use. And my phone plays music and movies, and I use it to read books more than for any other purpose. Talk about Cheap Computing! My $150 smarty-pants phone both computes and is cheap. And it does everything I need and then some.
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September 16, 2013  12:01 AM

More Video Teleconferencing Advice

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

logitech-b910-hd-webcamBack in January I wrote a post titled Nine Free and Easy Ways to Look Your Best in a Video Interview or Chat. In that piece I talked about simple things you could do (like smile, which most people don’t) to look your best on camera. Today I’m going to talk about why you may need a webcam better than the minimum-quality one I talked up in the “Nine Ways” post. And I’ll tall you why I no longer use Skype for remote interviews.
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September 9, 2013  3:25 AM

Training Your Spam Filter – a Free and Easy Task That Will Improve Your Online Life

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

spamstackThis is something so basic, I thought everybody knew how to do it. I was wrong. An awful lot of people, including many who have substantial IT skills, seem to have trouble training a Bayesian spam filter. The funny thing is, this is one of the easiest things you can possibly do with your computer and the network to which it is attached. You don’t need to know how a Bayesian filter works or what Bayes’ theorem says. You just need to be able to click on the word “spam” or a symbol that means “spam” in your email program, and also to click an “x” or similar symbol to declare mail not-spam that has been classified incorrectly as spam.
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August 31, 2013  7:37 PM

Happy Labor Day, IT People

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

labor-day_delaware-dot-gov

No matter how low on the IT totem pole you may be, you are almost certainly better off than the fast food workers who have recently been on strike. You work in better conditions, get to sit down when you want, and generally earn a lot more money than the $7.50 – $9 most food workers get paid. You may even get health insurance and paid vacations, which most fast food workers don’t. And if your bosses irritate you, better jobs await. Or at least jobs that are no worse than the one you have now but with less-irritating bosses.
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August 26, 2013  9:22 PM

Buying Used Computers vs. Buying New

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

USED-COMPUTERSI am still suffering from a hardware problem that prevents me from installing Linux and OpenShot on a fresh computer, and I won’t have money to buy much of anything until Wednesday. So let’s talk about buying a used computer vs. buying a new one, a choice that is facing me this week. Over the years I’ve bought both used and new computers, and mostly used cars. But buying a used computer is often not as good a deal as buying a used car, especially if we shop carefully for our new computer and know exactly what we’re looking for, and why.

The big problem with buying a used computer is Moore’s Law, which states — roughly — that computer power doubles every 18 months. That may be an overstatement in the 2010s. Even so, today’s $500 computer is more powerful and has more useful features than a $500 computer sold in 2010.
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August 19, 2013  2:27 AM

Confessions of an eBook Junkie

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

AndthumbI can’t hide it any longer. I have become an eBook junkie. The last 10 books I’ve read weren’t on paper, but on the screen of my $69 Android tablet. But they were all books I got for free. That’s a Cheap Computing kind of thing, right? So maybe I shouldn’t be ashamed. And I’ll tell you, it’s a lot more convenient to borrow library books online than in person (despite my local library’s terrible eBook software), and my 7″ tablet is a lot lighter and more comfortable to read in bed than a hardcover library book.
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August 13, 2013  7:54 PM

Video Editing in Linux, Part One

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

logo
Linux is less likely to crash than Windows. It runs on less robust hardware. In many ways it’s easier to use, especially for people skilled with computers. (That would be you, right?) But not all software written to run on Linux is perfect — or even necessarily 100% usable. I’ve battled with the idea of editing video in Linux for over a decade, now, and it is finally becoming possible. Sort of. And there’s hope that it may get better. The most “complete” video editing programs for Linux right now are supposed to be flowblade, KDEnlive, LiVES, Shotcut, and OpenShot. These programs are all free both in the sense that they cost $0.00 to use, and in the sense that you are free to do with them as you wish in ways you cannot with proprietary software.
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July 31, 2013  11:08 PM

I Use Linux Because I Like It, Not Just Because it’s Free

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

LinuxSome people use Linux because it’s free in the GNU sense of software freedom. Some like it because it’s free in the financial sense. I use Linux because it’s my favorite operating system. Specifically, right now I’m using Kubuntu, which is so much to my taste that it could have been designed just for me.

Let me start by mentioning something that sounds silly, but is a basic Linux/Unix characteristic: Programs and files that take two mouse-clicks to open in Windows open with a single click. This is not silly when you open and close dozens or hundreds of files and programs in the course of a workday. It’s something you don’t think about when you use Linux unless you move to Windows suddenly, as I am often forced to do for video editing. Then the double-click thing become an irritation, and makes it feel all the better to escape back to Linux.
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July 22, 2013  3:18 PM

Beware the Frumious Shipping Charge

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

99centHow can a $26 item cost less than the same thing for $19? Is it the Jabberwock, my son? Very possibly. In his poem, Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll wrote, “Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!” Could this poem have been a metaphor? Could it really have been about shipping charges?

The thumbnail at the beginning of this story is from an Amazon page for a bicycle tail light. If you buy much from Amazon you’ve seen this sort of thing more than once: an item priced impossibly low, with a ridiculously high shipping charge to make up for the low price (and then some).
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