2012 Re-Launch Site v2.0

I’ve been making some changes to my site. While it’s always going to be a work-in-progress, I’ve changed so many things that I’m just going to go ahead and call it:

SILVERLEAFCS.COM v2.0

(click here to view Old site v1.8 JPEG)

The Home page, sidebars, and navigation menus have had a major overhaul, and plans for improving content and page performance even further are underway!

Here’s a screenshot of what the development process looks like in WordPress (specifically, what it looks like to write this post):

WordPress is a great a blogging platform, and the basics of posting to a blog aren’t that hard to learn.

In addition to powering the popular blogging site WordPress.com (#18 site in the world currently), the content management system (CMS) developed by the folks at WordPress.org is a robust web design platform supported by a thriving development community.

This community provides a huge selection of free plugins, which can be installed into the main framework to add functionality (not unlike the apps you install onto your iPad or Android device). With a “theme” plugin, and/or a bit of CSS/HTML/PHP knowledge to get the layout right, custom sites can be built and updated with relative ease.

For anyone looking to make a basic blog site with plenty of options for customization, check out www.wordpress.org!

Five Reasons You Want an iPad, Five Reasons You Don’t

This article first appeared here

Apple’s tablet computer, the iPad, sparks strong emotion among both supporters and detractors.

For everyone else, here are five reasons to get one, and five reasons to wait.

Apple iPad Reasons to Buy:

1. Undeniably cool. The iPad looks like a giant iPod and the look supersizes quite nicely.

2. The best e-reader? The iPad is already generating comments that it will be a Kindle-beater and Nook-destroyer. The 16 GB $499 model may not be good for carrying around lots of movies and music, but it should hold a lot of books. I want to hear more about the hands-on reading experience, but early word is the iPad is an excellent place to enjoy a good book. Or a textbook, which is a huge potential market for the device.

3. Gaming. The iPhone became a surprise hit among gamers, or at least expanded the market to include lots of previous non-gamers (such as myself). Either way, the iPad is optimized to improve the iPhone gaming experience, allowing new elements to be added to games that can be played on both the iPhone/iPod touch and the new iPad.

4. The iPad makes it easy to share media. Not for a whole room, but you and a friend or two should be able to watch movies, listen to music, or pass the iPad back-and-forth for games. It’s just the right size for sharing up-close and the lack of a keyboard makes the iPad easier to handle than a notebook.

5. Applications. With all the above going for it, the iPad almost doesn’t have to do things like Web surfing and e-mail checking or document writing. But, it does them all and runs 140,000 iPhone apps besides. Sure, the best apps will be specially-written for the iPad, but you can use iPhone/iPod touch favorites right away.

Reasons to Hold Off:

1. There is no subsidy on the 3G version. Apple wants you to pay $829 for the 64GB device, plus monthly wireless fees for AT&T’s 3G. The first year total: $1,189.

2. The wrong screen. It’s not clear why Apple didn’t choose a 16:9 aspect ratio, the standard for widescreen entertainment, but not doing so makes the iPad much less interesting for watching movies.

3. It’s not much of a work machine. New applications may hammer away at the iPad’s limitations, but the truth is that a notebook or netbook or even (in many circumstances) an iPhone is much more useful. Maybe it isn’t even fair to ask a device so well-tuned for entertainment to work at the office too, but Apple is promoting the iPad as a work tool. And right now, I have to respond, “No” in most circumstances.

4. Kindle or Nook offer better battery life for e-reading, if you don’t need all the other features or a color screen.

5. The iPad is a “tweener,” in the bad sense of the word. Not a computer, but not a smartphone, the iPad lacks the functionality of a notebook and the convenience of an iPhone or Droid. The iPad may be just one more thing to haul around if you already carry a notebook, which it doesn’t come close to replacing.

If You Can’t Buy It, Win It!

There are many more reasons, both pro and con, regarding an iPad purchase but the best one may be the simplest: You’ve either got to have one (and have the spare cash) or the iPad doesn’t do much for you.

Of course, if you’re undecided about whether or not you really want to buy an iPad, but you wouldn’t mind having one, click here for a chance to win one.

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.

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?

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.