TipsFor.us 2008 Review – The Obligatory Summary Post

The year 2008 has come to an end, and thus concludes the first year of existence for TipsFor.us. It’s been an interesting year for us, and I’ve learned a lot so far.

TipsFor.us was re-born from the ashes of a previous domain in March 2008 and is therefore a fledgling site. We’ve made some mistakes in our youth, and I’ll share what I’ve learned here.

A Few Stats and Charts

First, some numbers. We’re definitely a small site, but we managed to muster almost 500,000 pageviews in our infancy.

As you can see, we had a big spike in late March when an article on open-source Windows apps was featured on StumbleUpon and Del.ico.us. Traffic has been relatively flat (but consistent) since.

An overwhelming majority of you visited our site on the Windows operating system (almost 89%). We really need to start writing more Mac and Linux articles.

On Windows specifically, most of our visitors came here on XP. Vista didn’t even muster one-fourth of our Windows visitors. People still use Windows 95?

Within the Mac category, Intel-based Macs absolutely dominated the older PPC models. No big surprise.

Concerning web browsers, Firefox crushed the competition. No surprise again, since this is a tech site.

Opera managed to slightly best the young Google Chrome, but I’m curious to see how the stats will compare next year, especially once Chrome is released for Mac and Linux.

We’re ending the year with roughly 350 daily RSS readers, up from almost zero at the beginning of the year. Hey, upward is good.

By the end of next year, I’m aiming for a modest 1,500 RSS subscribers. Maybe more.

Mistakes and Lessons Learned

The biggest mistake we made this year was lack of consistency. The traffic spike in March and April gave us some steam, but then I left the country to live in a Greek village for a couple months this past summer and the site languished. We didn’t start gaining momentum again until September.

The old adage is that content is king, but consistent content is even better. In the earliest days of the site I settled for writing an article whenever I felt like it or found the time, and posting was sporadic at best. In the last few months I’ve settled into a much more consistent posting schedule. I’ve found WordPress’ scheduling feature quite handy, since I can write a few posts at once and then schedule them for specific days/times.

I would love to maintain a daily posting schedule, but all of us who run this site are busy people. Everett works as a programmer full time, while James and myself are full-time graduate students. Still, I resolve to create and stick to a consistent posting schedule for next year, even if it’s just 2-3 times per week. I want to see TipsFor.us grow, and consistent, quality posting is the best way that I know to grow and keep traffic.

Future Plans

I have several big projects scheduled for next year. My ultimate goal is to make TipsFor.us one of the premiere tech tips sites on the Internet, and while I doubt we will ever achieve national or worldwide recognition, I still aim to write useful and as high-quality articles as I can muster. The ultimate purpose of this site is to share knowledge, and we will continue on our path of writing tips, tutorials, reviews, and perhaps even an occasional rant.

Though our readership is comparatively small, I offer my thanks to those of you who are returning visitors and subscribers. It warms my heart whenever I read a thankful comment or one offering additional advice and knowledge. This site would not be what it is without you.

I also offer thanks to my co-authors, James and Everett. Thanks for your friendship and contributions!

Here’s to the past year, and to a bright 2009!

~ Brian

TipsFor.us editor (and Self-proclaimed Ruler of the Free World)

Printing in OS X: Parallel Ports, Drivers, and Mayem

Don't Buy One of These! They Don't Work!
Don

This is a quick tip. In a word, do not buy the USB to Parallel conversion cables. They SOMETIMES work, which is worse than not working, because then you start believing that they might work, but when it comes time to print something serious (like a 100 page document), you will go insane… you’ll print 3 pages, then the print queue will jam, you’ll have to reset it, and it will take 4 or 5 minutes to get the next 3 pages into the queue, then it will jam again, and again and again. It’s nuts. You will have wasted $10 or $20 bucks and you won’t be able to print anything reliably.

Using Parallel Printers with OS X

So how do you use a parallel printer with an OS X computer? Macs haven’t had parallel ports on them for years, but there are still plenty of printers out there that do. Here’s my hot tip: get a dedicated print server and hook this into your network. This works, it works well, AND it’s scalable. If you get another USB printer, this option will cover you. If you have multiple computers in your house that need to share a printer, boom, you’re in luck.

This guy is a good friend to OS X
This little guy is a good friend to OS X

I recommend the
TRENDnet TEW-P21G
($110) because I’ve been using it for about 2 years and I haven’t had any problems with it. I simply plugged it into my router, plugged in the printer, and poof… OS X was able to find it. I’m not using the wireless option on this device, but it is there if I ever need it — if you don’t need the wireless option, TRENDnet has cheaper models. It has two USB 2.0 and one Parallel printer port. I’m sure there are other similar products out there, but the point is to let this little “computer” handle the printing instead of trying to make OS X do the difficult (?) job of translating printing to a parallel port. Check out a print server like this if you need to interface with a parallel port printer on OS X. It’s well worth the money.

AT&T, Verizon, and Flickr – Good and Bad News

If you pay for broadband Internet through AT&T or Verizon, I have some good news and some bad news for you. First, the good news:

Good News

You have a Flickr Pro account. Congratulations! Perhaps you already knew about it, but if you did not, then YES, a Flickr Pro account is complimentary with your broadband package. Just sign in with your AT&T or Verizon credentials.

So go start uploading your unlimited number of photos. Enjoy! But wait, it’s time for some bad news.

Bad News

Don’t enjoy your Flickr Pro account too much, because you won’t have it for long. Come the first of February 2009, your Pro status will be revoked unless you chalk up and pay the required $25 per year.

From AT&T (requires login):

Beginning January 31, 2009, AT&T Internet members will no longer receive Flickr Pro free of charge. These Flickr Pro accounts will be converted to free Flickr accounts which are similar although with some limits. The free Flickr account lets you upload up to 100 MB of photos per month and allows you to view or share up to 200 of your most recent uploaded photos. Don’t worry, if you have more than 200 photos or videos, they are still stored and will not be deleted unless you delete them yourself. You can easily renew your Flickr Pro account at any time.

Here’s a screenshot of the text. Sad, isn’t it? I blame the recession.

I was just getting used to my complimentary Flickr Pro account, too. Oh well, back to Google Picasaweb I go.

Changing your iPhone’s Battery and 10 tips for Longer Battery Life

iPhone
iPhone

I mentioned in a previous post that the iPhone’s battery needs more attention than simpler phones. And you can’t change the battery yourself! That thing is soldered into place… so unless you are REALLY good with a soldering iron or if you don’t care much about the very real possibility of frying your phone, then changing the batter requires a trip to the Apple store.

Changing your iPhone Battery

Take the phone to an Apple store. The charge for replacing the battery is $79 plus shipping and handling, and just like a laptop repair, it usually takes 3 days. The store can loan you a phone for a fee.

I DO NOT RECOMMEND TRYING TO REPLACE THE BATTERY YOURSELF. If you were looking for a DIY article, then let me try to talk some sense into you. This is a DELICATE device. It was not soldered by a human… it was soldered together with very precise robotic machinery. Don’t kid yourself… you are much more likely to kill your phone than you are to successfully replace the battery.

If you are concerned about battery life, there are a couple products available that can extend or augment battery life, e.g. Backup iPhone Battery, Juice Pack, or check out the recommendations below.

10 Tips for Extending your iPhone’s Battery Life

  1. Lock It — Just turn off the display.
  2. Turn Off Bluetooth — If you don’t have any Bluetooth devices (or if you aren’t using any), disable this in the Settings.
  3. Disable Wi-Fi — This isn’t as much of an energy saver as Airplane Mode, but if you don’t need to join any networks (e.g. if there aren’t any or if you’re happy using the 3G network), then just turn off the Wi-Fi searching under Settings –> Wi-Fi
  4. Turn on Airplane Mode — yes, you can do this on the ground, and it basically makes your iPhone into an iPod… you can’t use the internet or BlueTooth and you can’t make or receive calls. But it really extends the battery life.
  5. Turn off Location Services — Settings –> General. Some applications (like Locly) use your phone’s current location to do stuff, but your battery pays the price when you’re phone is repeatedly asking the world “Where am I?”
  6. Turn Off 3G — If you’re traveling where you’re only ever seeing the Edge network (the tiny E in your status bar), then you can probably loose the 3G functionality. Go to Settings –> General –> Network
  7. Turn off Sound Check and EQ— sound enhancement requires more processing and often more amplification. I also recommend using small earphones (e.g. the white earbuds) because they require less power than a big set of headphones. Yes, louder volume drains the batter faster, so keep the volume down. Settings –> iPod
  8. Fetch Mail Less Often — Settings –> Fetch New Data. Try checking email manually (i.e. when you launch the application).
  9. Store it at Room Temperature — don’t subject your phone (and its battery) to extreme temperatures. The basic rule of thumb is that it’ll be comfortable where you are comfortable, so don’t leave it in a hot car or in a freezer. Extremes will shorten the battery life.
  10. Plug it In — Yes, the iPhone works perfectly when it’s plugged in. It’s good to take it out and use it now and then to make sure the battery gets its exercise, though.

Taking Screenshots on a Windows Mobile Device

In case you are wondering how to take screenshots on your Windows Mobile Smartphone or Pocket PC, let me show you. In my experience (with WM5), Windows Mobile has no built-in way to take screenshots, but there are a few free utilities available that can provide that functionality.

Here are three free tools for taking screenshots on Windows Mobile:

  1. vSnap, by Mobile-SG
  2. Capture Screen Utility, by Fann Software
  3. Screen Capture, by Illium Software

Of the three, my personal favorite is Screen Capture, by Illium Software.

Download and Install

There are two ways to install Illium Screen Capture. The first is to download and run the complete installation file on your Windows PC (with your device connected). But what about Mac and Linux users who also happen to own a Windows Mobile device (like myself)?

That leaves us with method two – download the CAB file directly to your Pocket PC or Smartphone. The original download links on Illium’s site are way too long to type manually, so here are TinyURL links instead.

Type those directly on your Pocket PC or Smartphone to download. Install as you would any other CAB file.

Usage

Using Illium Screen Capture is simple. To launch the program, look under the Start menu for Screen Capture.

When the program is running, hit the default keystroke to take a screenshot. On my Smartphone, the default keystroke is the asterisk (*), but you can change it if you want. If your sound it turned on, you will hear an audible shutter sound.

All screenshots that you take will show up in My Documents on your device, numbered sequentially. Easy as pie.

Hint: Be careful not to hit the Exit button for the Screen Capture program until after you’ve taken your screenshots. If the program is not running, it cannot take any screenshots, right?

Sync Your Phone’s Contacts and Calendar with Google for Free with NuevaSync

Many moons ago I wrote a beefy article on Sycing Your Windows Mobile Contacts and Calendar with Plaxo, Thunderbird, and Google for FREE.

Since I wrote that article, NuevaSync, the free synchronization hub, has added a few features. Notably, NuevaSync now supports syncing directly with Google for Contacts, thus eliminating the need for Plaxo.

Today, I’m going to show you how to simply sync your phone’s Contacts and Calendar with your Google account. Since I have a MOTO Q, this tutorial will be from a Windows Mobile perspective, but NuevaSync also works with iPhone and iPod Touch 2.0.

Tools Required

That’s it. There’s nothing to install on your phone or your computer.

As always, please back up your current mobile data before you proceed. This tutorial should work flawlessly for you, or it may drink all the eggnog in your refrigerator. Always keep a backup.

Step One – Configure NuevaSync

To get started, first create an account with NuevaSync. The main NuevaSync configuration area is quite spartan. All you need to do is click the change button next to Contacts and Calendar and select Google for each of them.

The Contacts area now offers Google in addition to Plaxo. Note: NuevaSync will sync with your real Google contacts, not your suggested contacts.

When you click setup, NuevaSync will ask you to enter your Google ID and request authorization for access to your account. You do not need to give NuevaSync your Google password.

Step Two – Configure Your Phone

Now that NuevaSync is configured, let’s move on to setting up your phone. On Windows Mobile:

1. Launch ActiveSync (Go to Start → ActiveSync)

2. Go to Menu → Add Server Source (or Configure Server)

3. Configure your Server Settings. For the Server Address, enter www.nuevasync.com. Check the box to enable SSL encryption.

4. Next, add your user information. Enter your NuevaSync user name (full Gmail address) and your NuevaSync password (NOT your Gmail password, unless they are the same. If they are, shame on you).

Under Domain, enter nuevasync.com. My phone automatically added the www, but it still works fine. Be sure to check the box to remember your password.

5. On the Options page, only check the boxes next to Contacts and Calendar. NuevaSync does not yet support E-mail and Tasks.

Hit Finish, and you’re done. To start the sync process, go back to ActiveSync and hit the Sync button. If you configured everything properly, your phone should connect to Google through NuevaSync and update your Contacts and Calendar accordingly.

Hint: You can adjust the scheduling frequency in ActiveSync by going to Menu → Schedule.

Final Thoughts

I really like NuevaSync. Though it’s still in Beta, it works surprisingly well, and I appreciate that there’s nothing to install. Of course, I’m patiently waiting for them to support IMAP e-mail and Tasks. With the recent inclusion of a Tasks To-Do list by Gmail labs, it seems like a logical inclusion for NuevaSync to support Gmail Tasks. I would love to see this happen.

Happy syncing! I don’t have an iPhone, but maybe one of my iPhone-toting co-authors could provide iPhone-specific instructions. Stay tuned.

Mount Multiple Disc Images for Free with Virtual CloneDrive

Please insert disc! I mean it! Insert the disc now!

If you grow tired of programs that demand the presence of a physical disc, you can bypass that requirement by running the disc virtually.

Virtual CloneDrive, by SlySoft, is a free program that allows you to mount and run disc images so that your computer will think they are physical discs. This is handy when an application checks for an inserted disc, such as installing/running software or playing a video game.

Virtual CloneDrive supports most popular image formats, including ISO, IMG, BIN, UDF, and CCD files. You can choose which file types to associate by default upon install.

You may have to reboot after installation (or after adding additional virtual drives). As of the most recent version (5.4.1.1), Virtual CloneDrive supports up to 15 virtual drives. Wow!

To mount an image, just right-click on one of your virtual drives and browse to the Mount option. You may then choose your desired image.

If you need some help determining which of your drives are the virtual ones, you can enable the Virtual Sheep option to give your drive(s) a nice sheep icon.

Virtual CloneDrive works with every version of Windows from 98 through Vista 64. I haven’t tried it yet on Server 2008, but I suspect it will work fine.

I really like this free tool, but if you want to try an alternative, I suggest MagicDisc. Daemon Tools used to rule this roost, but they upset a lot of people with the bundled inclusion of spyware in version 4. I’ll stick to Virtual CloneDrive.

Oh, and if you need to convert Nero NRG images to ISO, see my tip on using IZArc2Go.