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Month: March 2011

Google Talk Guru

I was recently introduced to Google Talk’s Guru, a handy contact bot that answers all your instant search queries, like “Number of grams in pound” and “current weather in Honolulu.”

Just add to your contact list and you’re ready to start using it.

Understanding Windows Power Management

As my power was out this morning, I was thinking about the power management features of Windows and how often they are likely ignored. By actually changing which power plan Windows is using, you can get more performance out of your machine while plugged in and more battery life when its not.

To start, find your battery/power icon in the Notification area of the

taskbar. Clicking on it will provide you with the most basic options for changing your power plan. By default, Windows places “Balanced” and “Power Saver” in that menu. You can also click the “More Power Options” link at the bottom of that menu to see everything you have available. A retail version of Windows will include three power plans: Balanced, Power Saver, and High Performance.

The Power Options Window

Balanced is fairly self explanatory. Its the middle ground between the other two. I generally only use Balanced when I know that I’m going to be running on battery between 30 minutes and an hour and a half.

Power Saver is for when you want the most out of your battery. Choosing this power plan disables features that use up power, like Areo, background slide shows, and other fancy GUI features that just make things look nice. It also causes your hard drives to stop spinning when not in use and will turn of your display if you leave your computer alone.

High Performance lets you use your computer to the fullest. With this power plan enabled, Windows will not hinder your graphics card, processor, or hard drive from operating at the peak of their performance. This is the setting you should be using on your desktop or when your laptop is plugged in.

There are some changes you should make to High Performance, however. By default (and without much logic), the plan defaults to still causing your display to turn off and might put your computer to sleep. To change this, click on “Change Plan Settings” and you’ll see a window like the one below.

The High Performance Plan Options Window

The image shows exactly how my High Performance plan is configured. The few other tweaks I made were in the Power Options window: preventing the computer from doing anything when I close the lid and turning the computer off when I press the power button.

I hope that this has been helpful and gives you a better understanding of the Windows 7 Power Management features.

Buying A Laptop from Best Buy, or The Second Circle of Hell

My wife recently got a new job with an insurance company and will no longer be able to get by using my desktop for work, as her job will have her visiting clients (and trying to work during my gaming time). So, we decided to get her a new laptop.

Her requirements were fairly modest: she’d need to use Microsoft Office, stream video from the web, etc. Basically, a modern mobile processor, a fair amount of RAM, and an integrated video card would suffice. I looked around for specials from the usual suspects and then turned to weekly ads from the brick-and-mortar retailers in the area.

I ran across an add for an ASUS computer that I though fit the bill and it was even burgundy, which my wife thought was neat. It was one of the few laptops that had 4GB of RAM and was still upgradable [8GB max]. So, we loaded up into the car and drove on down to Best Buy.

After telling the sales person that no, I did not need his “expert” assistance in choosing a laptop, I found the model on the floor fairly quickly. That’s when I noticed something interesting: Best Buy stores its laptops on a shelf just under the display model and all of them have been opened by Best Buy and–more than likely–loaded with bloatware and tons of other crap that I/my wife will never need/want/tolerate.

I asked the salesperson if they had any boxes in the back that hadn’t been opened (to which he responded in saying they hadn’t been, forcing me to show him both the broken tamper-proof tape and the giant sticker on the side noting that the laptop had been “set up by the Geek Squad”). After trying to convince me that I wanted one that had been “tainted” (my word, not his), he finally admitted that all of the one’s in this store were like that. To his credit, he did check the stock in other local stores to see if they had some without asking.

We drove to the Tustin store and found that the exact model we were looking for was not on display. After standing in front of the ASUS machines fro 10 minutes or so, the rather busy salesperson came over and asked if we needed help. After giving him the SKU and model number, I was able to explain that I wanted a factory-sealed box and he ran off to the back to try and find one.

A few minutes later he returned, a factory-sealed box in his hands. He still tried his Best Buy overselling on me, but quickly caught on that I was having none of it and was actually quite agreeable from then on. He explained that I’d have to sign a paper declining all of the extra setups, Geek Squad service plans and warranties, which I didn’t want. He still had to give me an anti-virus disc (Kaspersky, I believe) and a Geek Squad FAQ disc. They make nice coasters.

Other than the initial wait inside the second store, we were in and out fairly quickly. While I still agree with xkcd that there should be a code word for professional techs that gets you past the defaults, I was lucky enough to get a salesperson that figured it out fairly quickly.

After The Crash: Installing Software

The worst part of dealing with a new (or newly restored) computer is installing all of the software that we need to actually get stuff done. If you have an Internet-connection and some anti-virus software, I recommend heading over to Ninite: a website that will create an all-in-one unattended installer to get all of that software you need.

Just check the boxes of the software you want, click get installer, then run the downloaded file. Ninite takes care of the rest. No clicking “Next” or anything like that.

I recommend:

Web Browsers

  • Google Chrome


  • Skype
  • either Pidgin (if you use multiple chat services) or the single IM service you use


  • iTunes
  • VLC
  • K-Lite Codecs


  • Flash
  • Java
  • .NET


  • Foxit Reader [beats the pants off of Adobe Reader]


  • Essentials [if you haven’t already downloaded it, which should have been your first step…]

File Sharing

  • uTorrent


  • Dropbox [a must if you have more that one computer]
  • Steam [if you’re a gamer, anyway]

Click “Get Installer,” which will download a single program that you can, when connected to the Internet, run and walk away from. All your selected software will be installed and when its finished, you’re new computer will be good to go.