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Episode 876 May 20, 2012

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Audience Questions

Audience QuestionsHour 1

Hour 1 Hour 2 Hour 3
Watch Mike from New Jersey Comments

Mike has an older laptop running an AMD 2.0 ghz Semperon chip and 4 gigs of RAM, which he downgraded from Vista to Windows XP. He thinks it's time for an upgrade. Leo doesn't think his processor is that bad, and he could easily upgrade that machine to Windows 7. In fact, Windows XP is slower than Windows 7, so he'd probably see performance improvements with that alone. Mike still wants to get a new laptop though, and is wondering whether or not to get one now or wait for the Intel Ivybridge processors. He's looking at getting a laptop with an Intel i5, wants to get it at Costco because of the warranty, and wants to keep it under $1,000.

First of all, Leo points out that most of the current Intel i3, i5, and i7 processors are built on the Sandybridge architecture. Mike mentioned Ivybridge which is the newer architecture, which has some nice new features built into it, such as USB 3. The Ivybridge mobile parts won't be out until next month, and the ones out now run hotter. Secondly, Leo advises Mike not to go to Costco for the latest and greatest model, as they seem to carry older models.

Lenovo just released some very nice Ivybridge this week, and Leo would recommend looking into those. The Thinkpad T-series are fantastic with backlit keyboards and HD displays. They also have "battery slices" that Mike could buy if he wanted longer battery life.

Leo was specifically answering Mike's question, and wants to add a few things for everyone listening:

  • Mike's Semperon computer is not obsolete.
  • Upgrading to Windows 7 and installing a new hard drive, perhaps an SSD (Solid State Drive), would speed that computer up dramatically.

  • Costco is not a bad place to go.
  • There's nothing wrong with going to Costco, they just might not have the latest models. Also, the cost savings would be negligible and there isn't a compelling reason to go to Costco to buy a computer. Do some shopping around online.

  • Leo doesn't only recommend the Lenovo T-Series.
  • Leo likes Lenovo, but he also likes Dell. He would also look at the UltraBooks if you want something very light and don't need a CD/DVD drive.

  • Most importantly: If you can wait, wait.
  • The mobile version of the Intel Ivybridge processors will be out next month, and Windows 8 will be available in October. Leo thinks there will be a lot of new hardware for that.

Watch Kevin from Beaumont, CA Comments

When Leo went to China, he bought an international data plan from AT&T and his phone worked great everywhere. Leo doesn't recommend getting a SIM card in China. If Kevin wants to unlock the phone, he should ask Apple and AT&T. They will do it, but it's non trivial. Even though AT&T's plans may be expensive, there are a couple of reasons not to get a data plan in China:

  • Data rates may still be expensive.
  • Kevin should check AT&T's international data rates first. The maximum amount of data he could buy is 800 MB for $200. It's expensive, but would likely work for the three weeks that he plans to stay.

  • Kevin would get a Chinese phone number instead of his own.
  • It would be good for Kevin to keep his regular phone number in case people need to reach him.

Kevin should get international roaming for the phone, which makes it a little cheaper for phone calls. He should also get an international text package because international texts cost a lot of money otherwise. Most importantly, he needs to get an international data plan as well. Kevin also wanted to know if he would be able to use Skype or Face Time while there. Often services like Skype, Facebook or Twitter are blocked in China. There's a wikipedia page called "What's Blocked Right Now". The good news is if one or more of those services are blocked, he could try getting around it using another app to post to Twitter or Facebook, such as Path. If Kevin gets access to wifi at the hotel, though, he can use Skype to make free or nearly free calls that way (provided it isn't blocked, although when Leo was in China he was able to use Skype just fine).

Watch Andres from Huntington Park, CA Comments

If he can wait until October, it may be worth it. Normally, if he had Vista for instance, he wouldn't have to wait because Windows 7 can work fine on a Vista computer. Windows 8 is such a departure from the current version that Leo expects to see hardware built for Windows 8. Since Windows 8 is so touch-focused, that could mean computers will have touch screens to take advantage of the new interface. Windows 8 will run fine on current systems, though, if Andres just plans to use the mouse. There's also some debate over whether a touch screen even belongs on a laptop. Leo thinks it would be nice to have because he touches his laptop screen all the time after using the iPad, so he discourages Andres from assuming that he wouldn't want that.

Watch Gary from Santa Barbara, CA Comments

The truth is the Mac is just as vulnerable, but there are far fewer viruses out for them. Leo's general rule of thumb is that Macs tend to be better home computers while Windows is better for businesses. The other thing Windows is really good for is gaming, although the Mac is catching up as a gaming platform. Unless there's specific applications that Gary may need, Leo recommends that he go with a Mac. Because the Mac is less of a target to hackers, he won't have to worry about security as much.

Gary also wants to know what anti-virus and anti-spyware to get. Leo suggests ESET's CyberSecurity for the Mac, which is available at the Apple store (Disclaimer: ESET is a sponsor). There's also a shareware program that could be particularly useful called LittleSnitch. It watches for outbound connections because when someone gets something bad on your system, they want to connect to the outside world. It can be annoying though because it constantly asks whenever something wants to connect to the internet. Leo recommends a Macbook Air if he can afford it, since they are so light and portable.

Watch Robert from Burbank, CA Comments

There's a free open source program called Prey that Robert can try. This software will run on the laptop and use wifi access spots to "phone home" from time to time. It can lock data and even remote wipe it if necessary. If that doesn't work, then there's always Lojack for Laptops for $40 a year, or Orbicule for Mac.

Watch Ed from Palos Verdes, CA Comments

Leo says that’s common when using the wrong driver for the display. Check the display settings and try another resolution - look for the native display settings. If that doesn't fix it, Ed should look for the correct drivers from the manufacturer (in Ed's case, Dell) and install those. Ed said they only list drivers up through Windows Vista, but the Windows Vista drivers should work fine on his computer.

Audience QuestionsHour 2

Hour 1 Hour 2 Hour 3
Watch Chris from Anaheim, CA Comments

It's difficult for Apple to match songs that were ripped from CD because of the lack of ID3 tags. Macworld has a great article on the Secrets of iTunes Match. Apple does not do a very good job of documenting how iTunes Match actually works, although WordsWorth in the chatroom pointed to an Apple discussion about Troubleshooting iTunes Match. If Chris has the full album with proper tags, it'll do a better job. He also should make sure the quality of the songs are 96kbps or higher. If the songs aren't, then he can re-encode them through iTunes to a higher quality.

There's a way Chris can find out what iTunes Match did with each song. Right click on the top bar in iTunes, and select "iCloud Status". This will let him sort his library based on whether songs were matched or just uploaded. It isn't uncommon for iTunes to not recognize songs and upload them instead, and in fact Leo has quite a few songs that were uploaded instead of matched as well.

Watch Jim from Temecula, CA Comments

Look at the Lenovo Thinkpads. They're business focused, robust and well built. Leo thinks Jim will be able to get an excellent laptop for that price. Dell also has some great computers in that price range. He won't be able to get a Mac though, the cheapest Mac is $1,000. Jim was also wondering if the Thinkpads can play movies and music, and they absolutely can. He should just make sure it has a DVD drive and should look into getting some good external speakers for it too.

Watch Hisham from Saudi Arabia Comments

Hashim has a choice in Wordpress to either show an excerpt of his blog posts or display the whole text. Leo strongly advises anybody with a blog to give away the full text. Some bloggers only make the excerpt available in RSS readers because they may have advertising on the site, but even in that case Leo says to serve the audience first and the advertisers second. Sustaining the audience is the most important thing.

RSS is a way to syndicate content. It means that most websites can create a special file written in XML that contains information about the posts on that site. A reader, such as Google Reader, can aggregate those posts. So if you use Google Reader, or any other type of reader, you add an RSS feed for the blog you want to read (most will auto-detect that), and then you can scan through several blogs quickly. Leo encourages blogs to make the full text available when clicking on that headline in the reader.

Watch Louis from Alberta, Canada Comments

The Microsoft Store has started selling something called "Signature PCs" with the bloatware removed for an extra $100. Leo says the reason is because manufacturers make money off the software they include on the computer. Apple has never done this. Leo agrees that it shouldn't cost an extra $100 to get a machine free of junk software with an install copy of Windows included. Thanks to Microsoft being so paranoid about piracy, they charge less for a copy of Windows if the PC manufacturer agrees not to give an install disc to the consumer. Leo thinks the PC manufacturers should put their customers ahead of their own greed, stupidity and paranoia. Everyone who buys a computer should get a copy of the operating system clean, with no bloatware. Whenever buying a computer, make sure to ask for an install disc of the operating system. If the company won't give it to you, don't buy that computer.

Watch Boris from Woodland Hills, CA Comments

A site called Bleeping Computer is a great resource for cleaning malware off of your system. They have a removal guide that could help Boris get rid of that virus. However, Leo says that almost in every case, someone who has one virus also has more. So he could end up removing that one and go on computing without knowing about other viruses he could be infected with. Every security expert Leo knows has a very simple recommendation: As soon as you get infected with a virus, format the hard drive and reinstall Windows from a known good source.

The only way to be absolutely sure he isn't infected with any viruses is to format the hard drive and reinstall Windows from a known good source. This is why it's so important to have the Windows install disc when buying a computer! Microsoft is so concerned with piracy that they discourage manufacturers from providing install discs. They also have other anti-piracy mechanisms in place such as Microsoft Genuine Advantage, which generates 5% false positives. 1 in 20 users are incorrectly told that their copy of Windows isn't genuine when it is. This is appalling and is not Boris' fault at all for not having an install disc.

Boris also wanted to know why his anti-virus didn't catch this. Leo says no anti-virus is going to be perfect because the bad guys are changing their viruses rapidly, and the anti-virus software can't keep up. The antivirus is the second line of defense, the user is the first -- you should be careful what you do. Every virus requires a program to run on your system. It will not work unless the bad guy can get you to run a malicious program, or trick the operating system to run a program without the user knowing. There's so many patches to software and the operating system because there are constantly vulnerabilities found.

Here's a few tips to keep yourself secure:

  • Be careful where you get files
  • Be careful of what sites you visit
  • Turn on automatic updates in Windows
  • Don't open email attachments
  • Watch for suspicious messages from friends on social networking sites; They could have been hacked.
Watch Gary from Texas Comments

The software will have to support distributed rendering, and Leo doesn't believe that Handbrake will do this. Apple's Compressor (in the Mac app store) that comes with Final Cut Pro can do this, and higher end pro products will allow the use of multiple machines to speed up the process. Rendering, or transcoding, can be sped up by distributing bits of the render to multiple computers across the network which they call a "render farm". The software would have to do the coordination of this. Leo thinks that Gary would be able to speed up the video encoding speed of Handbrake just by getting a newer Mac. Leo says to also look at the SSDs (solid state drives), and Macbook Airs do come with this. It turns out that speed isn't just related to processor speed as much as read/write speed to the hard drive, and an SSD would improve that.

Handbrake is multi-threaded, but that doesn't mean it supports "clusters" (using processors from multiple computers). Multi-threaded means that on a single computer it will use as many threads as the processor is capable of. Gary will benefit from having a faster processor with more cores. That's what newer computers offer, with the Intel i5 or i7, there may be 2 or sometimes 4 processors on a single chip. And each of those processors, with the i7, are multi-threaded and can do two things at once. So a 4 core i7 processor is doing 8 things at one time, which is like having 8 computers working.

Watch Rick from Tejunga, CA Comments

There are a number of programs that will allow recording of streaming content. The one Leo has been recommending for a long time is Total Recorder, which will record anything on Rick's computer. If the stream happens to be coming from, it will already automatically be recorded there.