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Web Design For Dummies: Creating a Website By Yourself

In 2010, soon after I started Silverleaf, one of the first things I did was get business cards. After choosing a design, finding a printer, and deciding on how many I could afford, I anxiously placed my order. The day my new cards arrived, I ripped open the box…

Instantly, I hated all 500 cards. The free template design I chose looked low-quality and cheap, and having a personal e-mail address on the card seemed really unprofessional.

I needed a new design, and a separate business email address. However, there were problems: the domain name I purchased was WAY too long, and I didn’t know how to create a new email address @mynewdomain.com

Oh, and I didn’t know anything about creating a website.

Creating a Website With Software

As I began researching website design, it soon became clear that creating a website was not going to be easy. The more I learned about domains, host servers, CSS, FTP, and HTML, the more I lamented, “FML”.

Website Design

First, I looked into using web design software. The software promised to make website design easy: position some buttons, images, and menus, and viola: a professional-looking site, complete without the need to learn any code!

In reality, what I ended up with was a strange-looking, mis-aligned template page that I couldn’t fix, because I hadn’t learned any code.

I had a vision of what I wanted my website design to look like, but I just couldn’t make it look right. As a do-it-yourself-er, I would normally have the patience to continue learning on my own, but at this point I was spent. I needed help.

Finding a Web Design Professional

Next, I decided to look for a web design professional that could make my vision a reality, and not overcharge me for a basic design. After all, why should I spend a lot of time trying to do it myself, when I could pay someone to do it for me, quickly and correctly?

Silverleaf Web Design

Finding someone to do a professional website design turned out to be much harder than I’d imagined, however. I asked family and friends for referrals, and out of about SIX website designers I contacted, only ONE responded to my request.

Even worse, the designer that did respond quoted me a high price and long wait time, for creating a website that I felt had an extremely basic design, and shouldn’t take that long to make.

After my discouraging experience hiring a web designer, once again the do-it-yourself attitude in me kicked in. I decided that if I wanted a website, I was going to have to learn web design myself.

Website Design For Dummies

Fast-forward two years later, and www.silverleafcs.com is complete. I’ve even completed a few other sites as well. I honestly can’t say how many hours I’ve spent learning HTML and CSS, staring at line after line of code, and creating a website that I think finally looks perfect.

I don’t recommend that anybody assume my crazy “do-it-yourself” mindset, at least not when it comes to a technically and creatively complex project like website design. In fact, I’ve partnered with a team of web design professionals for exactly this reason: website design isn’t easy.

So, if you’re thinking about creating a website, please, save two years of your life and check out the Silverleaf web design page for a free quote instead.

How To Delete Your Google Web History Before the Unified Privacy Policy Takes Effect

Delete Your Google Web History

Google recently announced that it was changing its privacy policy and sharing data that it collects about its users amongst all of its services, beginning on March 1st.

What this means is that information from your web history searches and the web sites you visit is going to be combined with information from other Google products like YouTube and Gmail.

If you’re sensitive about your personal information being shared on the Web, then here is an easy way to turn off your search history and stop it from being recorded:

  1. Browse to Google.com, and Sign In to your Google account.
  2. In the upper-right corner of the page, click the dropdown menu by your name.
  3. Select “Accounts Settings”
  4. Find “Services Section”
  5. Under “Services”, there is a section which says “View, enable, disable web history.” Click the link next to it which says: “Go to Web History.”
  6. Select “Remove all Web History”

When you click on “Remove all Web History,” a message appears that says “Web History is Paused.” What this means is that although Google will continue collecting and permanently storing information about your web history, it will make all data anonymous: Google will not connect your Web History information with your online accounts, and will therefore be unable to send you customized search results.

You may have already known about turning off search history, as this is one of the top settings to change if you don’t want any potentially sensitive searches (religion, sex, health, location, etc.) to be recorded. But with the information giant consolidating its products and “simplifying” its privacy policy, now is a good time to check your personal data sharing settings in Google.

FREE Computer Virus Removal Software Isn’t Free

Computer Virus Removal SoftwareEvery PC user knows that computer viruses are bad news, and that the best way to avoid infection is to install antivirus software to protect your computer. What many people don’t know is that there is virus removal software available that is completely FREE to download and use. However, using free computer virus removal software comes with a hidden price.

The Real Cost of “Free” Protection Against Computer Viruses

Most PCs have antivirus (AV) software pre-installed, but it is often only a “trial” version that expires after a set time, and then requires the user to pay for the “full” version. While these types of computer virus removal programs are effective and well worth the money, a cheaper alternative exists.

Free virus removal software is a cheaper (and arguably, better) alternative to subscription-based AV software. You can download and use it for free, and it doesn’t extract a yearly subscription fee from you in exchange for continued protection from computer viruses. What “free” computer virus removal software DOES extract from you, in various ways, is your personal information.

Free Computer Virus Removal Software Programs

“Free” antivirus software not only protects you from getting computer viruses, but it digs up your personal data and sells it to the highest bidder. In addition to being effective virus removal tools, software programs such as “AVG Free”, “avast! Free Antivirus”, and “Avira Free Antivirus” are also ingenious data-mining and marketing machines. Virus removal software companies offer these programs at no charge, and then make money later by selling their user’s information to marketers and advertisers.

Who needs free software? I’d rather keep my personal data!

To demonstrate how “free” antivirus software (or any type of free software, for that matter) can easily gather a user’s information, consider this important but often overlooked step during the installation process of a popular free AV software program:

“Quick Install (Recommended)” (If you choose the “recommended” install settings, the software installs automatically – congrats, you’re done! Unfortunately, you also just opted-in to about 7 different data gathering schemes.)

“Custom Install (Advanced)” (A custom installation lets you uncheck all of the options that would install various information-gathering gadgets, email scanners, search bars, toolbars, etc., leaving only the essential software installed.)

A custom installation isn’t that hard to do, but a software company will nearly always label this option as “advanced” in order to intimidate users, and instead recommend that they perform a quick install. Although technically quicker and easier, this “recommended” option usually installs unwanted data gathering features alongside the core software.

If you manage to get through the installation without falling into any data mines and protect your information, free software can actually be quite useful. Free computer virus removal software in particular should be installed carefully, and with close attention paid to the “recommended” settings.

As always, please feel free to contact me for help with virus removal, or with any computer question.

Skip the “Geniuses” For Mac Repair

Mac Repair

Even though Macs are stylish, user-friendly, and mostly reliable machines, the majority of Mac users inevitably will need to have repairs made on their computer or laptop at one point or another. But if you’re out of warranty, Mac repair can be extremely (and unnecessarily) expensive!

The High Cost of Apple Service

For instance, one year and one month after I purchased my beloved MacBook pro, I noticed that the edge was cracking and a small piece of the plastic was coming off. I thought, “How much could this POSSIBLY cost to repair? It’s just a tiny snag in the material! I should take it to the Apple store!” Yeah… that was a mistake.

The “geniuses” at the Apple store said that my “tiny” and “common” problem would cost over $200 to repair! I was so flabbergasted by this obscene price, that I just kind of said, “OK,” and wandered away in a stupor. Once I returned home and processed what had just happened, I vowed to find alternatives to the Apple store and their Genius Bar.

Though, in general, I’ve encountered nice people working in the Apple stores, I rarely get the answers or I’m looking for. The stores just seem pretentious. Yes, everything is clean and sleek looking, and the employees wear matching shirts and trendy accessories, but it’s just uncomfortable. Calling your technicians “Geniuses?” Yeah, that doesn’t make the average Mac user feel like an idiot when they walk into these stores!

Mac Repair Without the Attitude

This has lead me to search for affordable and qualified technicians, without the snooty attitude and expense of the actual Apple store. In my experience, small businesses make it easy for people like me to receive affordable service. With a small business, you aren’t just a number waiting in line – you’re a real person, with real needs, and they’re able to address you directly and give you great, individualized service at a great price.

In short, your best plan of action is to skip the Genius Bar, and find a local computer technician who does Mac repair, and who will give you a great price and the individual attention and answers that you deserve.

Hard Drive Factories Flooded In Thailand, Price Increases Make SSDs A Better Storage Option

Massive flooding in Bangkok has severely affected production of hard disk drives, a primary component used in computer storage.

Nearly 25% of the world’s hard disk drives are made in Thailand, but with major fabrication plants currently submerged under several meters of floodwater, major HDD manufacturers are being forced to cut supply, and raise prices on hard drives across the board.

For someone starting to build custom pc, this presents a problem. Only two months ago, I purchased a Western Digital hard drive for $54.99 for a custom PC build: that same drive now sells for $149.99, representing a 170% price increase.

As inventories shrink and producers struggle to keep up, it looks like hard disk drive prices will remain high. The question is: do I eat this price increase, or pass it along to my clients?

Or should I switch to an alternative storage solution instead?

Solid State Drives

Until recently, solid state drives (SSDs) have been too costly to be implemented on a wide scale. SSDs have a high cost-per-storage density; currently around $1.75/GB (cheaper hard disk drives cost around $0.25/GB). But as SSD technology improves and prices continue to fall, more custom pc builders are offering them as a primary storage solution.

The best part about SSDs is that they are fast. Really, really fast. We’re talking around 5x faster than hard disk drives, for typical uses such as booting a computer, launching applications, and copying files. And they keep getting faster, as new advances in storage drive controllers and file systems are taking full advantage of the higher speeds SSDs have to offer.

My second favorite feature of solid state drives is that they are based on flash memory technology, and thus extremely reliable and efficient. Traditional hard disk drives, in contrast, contain sensitive moving parts that are prone to mechanical failure, are noisy, and consume lots of power. SSDs do not suffer from these problems.

Using HDD and SDD Together

At first glance, a big problem with solid state drives is that they are simply too small. For $150, many consumers will go with the 500GB hard disk drive over the 100GB solid state drive. After a basic Windows installation (25 GB) and program data (50GB), a 100 GB SSD just doesn’t have much room left for storing photos, music, and large movie files.

A great solution to this problem is to use both types of storage devices in one computer system, getting the best of both worlds. For storing large volumes of media data (music and movies), a big and cheap HDD works just fine. But critical operating system and application files should be installed on an SSD, to take advantage of the ultra-fast read/write speeds and reliability offered by this new technology.

Closing the Price Gap, and Making the Switch

Despite my love of technology, I’m not the type that goes out and buys the newest tech when it becomes available (I’m looking at you, iPhone fans), and I’ve so far resisted switching to an SSD-based computer system myself.

But SSD technology has advanced past the awkward and expensive first-generation phase, and I’ve used it in a few custom PC builds with impressive results every time. Their speed and efficient operation just can’t be matched by hard disk drives.

Now, with the future of hard drives looking uncertain and prices remaining high, solid state drives are looking better every day. I just may pick one up for myself.

Planned Obsolescence: Why You Should Buy A Custom PC

On the inside, computers are all the same.

This iMac uses the same standardized hardware as a custom PC

All computers use a processor and memory to crunch the numbers, a hard drive to store the numbers, and a motherboard to hold it all together. Plug in a monitor and keyboard, and you’ve got a computer!

Manufacturers like HP®, and Apple® put together standard parts and sell “pre-made” computers (such as this iMac® pictured to the right). Although fast enough for typical use and competitively priced, these systems use second-rate hardware with limited upgradability.

Planned Obsolescence

A big problem with pre-made systems is that they don’t last very long, at least not in a useful way. After a few short years, even the most expensive pre-made systems will start to slow down. This is because most manufactured systems are built with cheap (and/or integrated) parts that have limited upgradability; and with no capacity for upgrades, the only way to speed-up an aging pre-made system is to replace it with a brand-new computer!

Pre-made systems are poorly designed with this kind of “planned obsolescence” in mind: manufacturers purposefully use inferior hardware, so that their products become unusable in a short time. And when consumers incorrectly believe that they have to buy a brand-new computer every few years, manufacturers make more money from selling more pre-made systems!

But don’t despair: on the inside, computers are all the same, and there are alternatives to pre-made systems!

Custom Computers and Long-Term Value

Did you know that it is possible to build high-performance custom computers, for less than it costs to buy “pre-made” systems?

Since all computers use standardized components on the inside (for example, Intel® processors), you can choose your own hardware components to create a fast, rugged, and truly custom machine.

A custom PC being assembled.

To build your own computer, first pick a motherboard (along with matching processor and memory), choose a hard drive, video card, and PSU, and then wire it all together in a case. Install the operating system, update the hardware and software, and voila! You now have a fast and reliable computer, built with the latest technology and high-quality components.

When you build your own computer, you get to choose the hardware that goes inside. If you want a huge hard drive with lots of storage space (or even better, a state-of-the-art solid state drive!), you can install it. If you’d rather spend your money on a super-fast processor and RAM, you may do so. And if you want to customize your machine with extra USB ports, a Blu-Ray drive, or even an old-school floppy disk drive, guess what? You can!

But the main advantage of owning a custom PC is that when you choose the hardware components, you know that you’re getting the best available hardware that is ALSO upgradable. Pre-made systems lack this feature, because manufacturers don’t want you to upgrade: they want you to buy a brand new computer when your old one slows down.

When you build your own computer, you get an upgradable and “future-proof” system that will stand the test of time. However, assembling a computer requires extensive technical knowledge: this is where I come in!

My Custom PC

My six-year-old custom PC.

I use my computer for photo editing, multimedia and video streaming, 3D gaming, and other graphics-intensive applications, so it’s important for me to stay up-to-speed with a reliable machine that does what I need it to do.

When I first decided to build myself a custom PC, I had no idea I’d be using the same computer over 6 years later! I’ve done a few inexpensive hardware upgrades in that time, but the computer is still so fast that I don’t need to buy a whole new system. Realistically, I plan on using this computer for at least four more years… giving my custom PC a useful lifespan of 10 years.

In my opinion, assembling a custom PC is the best way to buy a new computer: the long-term value gained from choosing quality, upgradable hardware makes building a custom PC extremely cost-effective. Dollar-for-dollar, a well-built custom PC is faster and more reliable than a pre-made, and over a longer useful lifespan.

If you are interested in building a custom PC, order now or contact me for a free consultation and estimate.

Is the Apple Name Really Worth the Price Tag, Or Should You Get a Custom PC?

What’s So Great About A Mac?

I’m the first to admit that I love Apple products. They’re user friendly, stylish and innovative. However (and it’s a big “however”), they’re so expensive! And, God forbid, something goes wrong with a MacBook and you’re out of warranty – it’ll cost a fortune to repair!
Is a Mac Better Than a Custom PC?
So, despite my love for sleek Apple computers, I’ve come to realize that there must be a more affordable alternative that’s equally user friendly and has the same (or at least comparable) hardware. And, after searching around a bit, what I’ve found has been a bit shocking to this Mac devotee.

Are you ready for this? Newsflash: all computers are virtually identical on the inside! Maybe I’m just really not technologically savvy, but for some reason I just assumed that the higher price tag of a Mac was for a good reason (i.e., that there was better or faster hardware used in it). That really, really isn’t the case.

Newsflash: All Computers Are the Same

Evidently, all pre-made computers (e.g., Mac, HP, Dell, etc.) use more or less the same cheap processors, memory, hard drives and motherboard, and you’re just getting charged more based on the brand. Because these manufacturers use cheap parts, the computers become antiquated and bogged down really fast. So, you end up paying for something that should last many, many years, but you only get a couple of years’ use out of it!

And because Apple especially has many of its features “integrated” into the pre-made computers, it makes it either really difficult or really expensive to upgrade. So, when it comes down to it, when you buy a Mac, you’re getting something really stylish, but you’re also getting a really low performance to cost ratio when you consider that you could get the same thing from a PC for about half the price.

What Kind of Computer Should I Buy? A Custom PC, Of Course!

A Custom PC Is Better!
Really, when you look into it, the best route to take seems to be building a custom PC for yourself (or having a professional do it for you, if you’re tech skills are anything akin to mine – sheesh!). When you take the extra time to have a custom PC built, it’s really worth it because you get a truly custom computer, made just for your needs, with an emphasis on long-term value. And, when the time comes, you can easily make hardware and software upgrades to fit your changing needs, without having to buy a whole new computer!

Once you know (like I now do) that all pre-made computers use the same cheap parts, getting a PC custom made seems like the only logical option if you want custom specs, superior performance, a great cost, and an easy and affordable way to continue to upgrade your computer to fit your changing lifestyle.

I know what my next computer will be… do you?

A Review of Yelp Reviews: Content Ownership and Search Result Bias

Computer Services Reviews on Yelp

Early on in my career as a computer service professional, I realized the importance of referrals and word-of-mouth advertising. So I decided to list my business on several review sites in order to gain positive reviews and increased business.

y-2

A review site is a website on which users can write and read about people, businesses, products, or services. Yelp.com is a popular review site that offers users a convenient way to seek out new and highly-rated restaurants, write a review on their favorite (or not so favorite) business, or create their own business page.

Consumers and business owners alike love review sites, because they all provide a “word-of-mouth” sense of community and trustworthiness. Yelp’s slogan “Real People. Real Reviews ®” embodies this attitude, and the company’s commitment to providing “real reviews” is so strong that it only scores 3 out of 5 stars: on its own website!

But how can Yelp allow people to use its service for free? How do review sites stay in business?

Paying For and Filtering Reviews

Yelp.com, like many review sites, is supported by advertising. And as a popular site (#170 in Alexa.com worldwide rankings at the time of this writing), Yelp.com may charge a considerable fee to allow businesses to advertise with them.

However, critics of the review company say that it unfairly gives its biggest advertisers a higher ranking in search results, or that it punishes and decreases the rankings of businesses that refuse to purchase Yelp ads. Spokespeople from Yelp have repeatedly denied these allegations, responding that the company does everything it can to ensure that the reviews on its site remain real and unbiased.

To help address these credibility problems, the company has instituted a review “filter”: a computer program which determines if a review is legitimate and thus displayed in search results, or suspected as a fake and then filtered out. The filter periodically re-evaluates each review, so that previously un-filtered reviews may disappear, and old filtered reviews may come back.

Silverleaf Computer Services – Filtered!

filtered-reviews-2

So I listed my business on Yelp, and clients have written reviews for me. Now, when a person looking for “computer services” near “van nuys” types these terms into Yelp’s search engine, they may find my business near the top. They can click the link to read reviews about the business, where currently only 3 of a total 11 reviews are displayed. One can still find these filtered reviews, but they do not count towards the overall rating.

The majority of reviews for Silverleaf Computer Services weren’t always filtered out: in fact, the filtering soon began after a phone call I received one day. “Billy” from the Yelp Ad Department called to comment on how great my business was doing in search results. He also wanted to know if I felt that my business benefited from being in Yelp (which it has), and asked if I’d be interested in advertising with them.

I politely declined.

Content Ownership and Search Result Bias

I’m not going to bash Yelp.com for unfairly filtering my reviews as punishment for not buying ads. On the contrary, I’ve come to understand that even though these reviews were written to help my business, they are part of an online community that Yelp owns and maintains, and are not “my” reviews.

All review content (though user-generated) effectively becomes the property of the website on which it is written. Yelp, or any ad-driven site, may provide or deny access to its own content as it sees fit: if the site wants to use this valuable content as incentive for advertisers, then it may do so as a viable marketing strategy.

But people who rely on review sites (or any search engine for that matter) for information should realize that these websites are ad-driven, and are NOT free of bias. And while search engines are powerful information-finding tools and do a good job of providing relevant information, search engine results should be taken with a grain of salt because any company that gathers, organizes, and ultimately controls what information is displayed on the Web also has the power to NOT display certain information.

In conclusion, do not simply rely on companies like Yelp or Google to provide only “good” information while filtering out the “bad.” Such reliance can leave you open to manipulation by advertisers, or worse, information filtering and censorship.

Data Recovery: Dealing With Loss (And Hard Drive Failure)

My computer and I were getting along just fine: I could run all sorts of applications simultaneously and quickly, I could play all of my games on maximum graphics settings, and I had seemingly unlimited access to photos, videos, and any other data I wanted.

All of that changed one day. I turned on my computer in the morning, only to be greeted by errors, strange noises, and no data. The operating system wouldn’t even boot up, and from the sound of things it seemed like I had a failed hard drive.

“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just recover my files using this handy external hard drive backup.” I plugged the external drive into another computer to prepare for the data recovery process, only to discover a terrible truth: My backed up data was over 6 MONTHS OLD.

I panicked as I realized that all of my data was either lost or obsolete. In despair, I wondered: how could this have happened?

Hard Drive Diagnostic and File Recovery

As one of the only moving parts in a computer, a hard disk drive is especially prone to mechanical failure. The platters (sensitive magnetic discs where data is stored) spin at 7200RPM, while the actuator head (analogous to the needle on a record player) continuously moves back and forth, reading and writing data. These components are sealed in a metal shell, impervious to data-destroying dust and other contaminants.

Although a hard drive diagnostic may show warning signs of a failing drive, even the highest-quality and best-maintained hard drives can die at any time. Critical data can become corrupted, making it difficult to retrieve usable data from the drive. Even worse, the motors controlling the spindle or actuator can fail: in this case, file recovery requires that the drive be disassembled in a clean room, which is a very expensive procedure.

How I Recover My Files: With a Recovery Disk

Fortunately, I was able to recover my files and my operating system because I had a recovery disk: a special disc that allows you to re-install your operating system in case of an emergency.

The best way to guard against hard drive failure and data loss is to backup, backup, backup! Seriously, back up your data. Regularly backing up your data ensures that you will have an up-to-date copy of your information when a hard drive crash occurs. Invest in an external hard drive, and use it to keep backup copies of your data.

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the importance of performing regular backups until their primary hard drive crashes. If a victim of hard drive failure has a backup, then data recovery is a simple process of copying the backed-up data to the newly-installed hard drive. However, without a proper recovery disk, not only will some or all data be lost, but an expensive operating system re-installation could be required.

Invest a little time and money now in a backup solution, or pay big time later on when your computer’s hard drive crashes!

For help with data recovery or installing a backup drive, please contact me.

How to Buy a Quality Laptop (and Avoid Laptop Repair)

Laptop Uses: Which is Best For You?

After a few years, even the fastest and most-reliable computers can begin to lose steam. Even worse, for those unfortunate enough to be stuck with an unreliable laptop as their primary home/work machine, paying for laptop repair is too costly. In this case, it makes more sense to purchase a new laptop: but how does one choose?

The answer to this depends on a more important question: what will you be using the laptop for? For light use, a small netbook is enough to browse the web and check email (tablet computers are perfect for these simple functions as well). For use as a work machine, a durable frame and ample processing/memory capabilities are key. Serious gamers and graphics artists, however, may find that laptops simply do not offer enough graphics rendering capability, and may consider a desktop instead.

What Really Matters (Regardless of Primary Function)

So you’ve decided on what you want to do with your new laptop, but there are so many different models and specs that making the right choice can be difficult. Regardless of function, there are a few other important factors to consider:

Durability: since laptop computers are designed for on-the-go use, it makes sense that a well-designed laptop should be durable enough to withstand such use. Look for a model with a solid aluminum (not plastic) case. A durable shell is essential: if the computer is dropped or damaged, it is oftentimes prohibitively costly to do screen replacements, motherboard replacements, and other expensive laptop repairs.

Heat Dissipation: Laptops are especially susceptible to overheating because they are built with relatively small air ducts, heat sinks, and fans. When buying a new laptop, consider a model that does NOT have a downward-facing air intake, but rather air intake ports positioned on either the side or front of the case.

Mac Versus PC

Mac cultists and PC geeks can argue all they want about design, function, and performance, but the only real differences between Macs and PCs are their costs.

With a whopping $1999 price tag, the Mac Book Pro’s high initial cost is offset by long-term laptop repair savings. Mac fans will gladly pay a high price for their devices: their trust in the Apple brand ensures that they are investing in a high-quality product that is backed by a reputable company. If their laptop is ever in need of repair, the Apple Store will usually take care of it.

PC laptops, while almost identical to Macs in terms of hardware and performance, are significantly less expensive. However, buying a cheaply-made PC brand laptop can mean increased long-term expenses in the form of costly laptop repairs. Additionally, there is no “PC Store” that will take care of all of your repair requests, and some PC brands are notorious for having bad customer service.

In the end, buy the laptop that meets your budget and performance needs, but pay special attention to factors like durability, cooling capacity, and upgrade capacity. And if you need some professional buying advice or affordable laptop repair, please contact me.