My 12/28/08 Missoulian column
Here are some tech tips to remember for 2009; that flip of the digit is coming up fast. These tips are all over the tech world in that they are for printers, laptops, cell phones and more. Some are good tips that I learned long ago, and others are for changes coming up this year:
• Is it time for a new laser printer toner cartridge that’s close to a Ben Franklin in cost?
First, shake that toner cartridge. Take it out and shake it back and forth and tap it like you’re trying to get the last bit of ketchup out of the bottle.
The idea is to knock loose chunks of the black powder that does the printing, but don’t get fingerprints on the rollers or the drum. Put the cartridge back in and try it. You might get another 500 pages. (If you know where to find it, run the cleaning utility in the driver, too).
Then read a piece at Slate.com about the toner and ink cabal that makes us all pay too much and makes us throw away cartridges that still have a long ways to go. Who woulda thunk it? There are tricks like putting a piece of tape over the sensor hole on a toner cartridge to fool the printer into thinking the toner cartridge is brand new. Read the Slate piece at http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2008/08/take_that_stupid_printer.html.
• Sick of slow-running Windows Vista?
Consider “downgrading” to Windows XP before next summer. Microsoft has been unsuccessful in drawing users away from XP and upgrading them to Windows Vista. As of the end of November, Vista’s market share was 20.5 percent, while XP’s was three times greater, accounting for 66.3 percent of all computers that went online that month.
And recently, Microsoft gave XP another reprieve from the software cemetery. XP will be available to system builders until May, rather than the end of January. And you can still buy XP on Amazon.com. So check if you got an XP disk with your newer Vista PC, and read PC Magazine for their guide on going back to XP. It’s not exactly for the feint of heart, but if you really liked XP and don’t much like Vista, read up on “downgrading” at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2287685,00.asp.
• Need to update the roaming software on your phone?
Your preferred roaming list needs to be updated regularly for better coverage, longer battery life and fewer dropped calls, as the cell phone support techs say. Cell companies are always adding more towers and making changes and expanding networks, and in order for your phone – and you – to be able to access those improvements, your phone’s software needs to be updated.
For the Verizon and Alltel networks, enter *228 and press “send.” Then follow the prompts. You don’t want to program your phone, you want to update roaming, which is choice two. It will take a few minutes, but it’s worth the wait. (For other cell companies, check their support Web site on how to update roaming and cell software.)
• Is that laptop battery losing its life?
It may be time to run the battery all the way down to make it last longer. This goes for both overall service life and run time when unplugged from the wall. This trick has to do with fixing the habit of batteries “remembering” the way they are used – probably mostly plugged in – and not wanting to run very long unplugged. So when you run the battery all the way down – until the laptop shuts itself down, suspends or sleeps – and then plug it in and let it charge all the way up, you’re both erasing the “memory” of the battery and also resetting the changing circuitry in the laptop.
I discharge/recharge the battery regularly in my MacBook and have gotten up to another hour of run time; friends see the same in different Windows laptops.
Check your documentation for other power tricks to go along with discharging/ recharging the battery. MacBooks like to have their power management unit reset once in a while, too. (Hold down the Command-Option-P-R keys when restarting until you hear the startup sound twice.)
Heavily using any laptop battery will eventually wear it out of course, but try erasing its “memory” for some more life. Check your warranty, too. Maybe you can squeeze a new battery out of the manufacturer due to coverage or recalls of defective batteries. If you buy a replacement from someone other than the manufacturer, be sure it’s up to original specs.
• Remember the digital TV change coming up in February?
If you’re on cable or satellite, you’ve probably already gotten assurances from your subscription service that everything is OK and your TV won’t go black on the Feb. 19.
But if you use an antenna or rabbit ears, you need a digital converter box to keep getting free TV over the air after that. The FCC has been running tests in some markets around the country, and surprising lots of people whose TVs went black.
I don’t think the change is going to be a train wreck (there’s long been talk of pushing it back, anyway), but some will be caught unaware. So check out Montana PBS-KUFM for help and suggestions on what to do.
If you get a TV converter box, get one with an analog pass through so you can still get analog signals, as many low power stations are not changing over to digital right away due to requirements and cost considerations. See: Montana PBS KUFM-TV.
• Finally, remember to reboot that PC or Mac when things get glitchy.
Rebooting is a quick fix for many symptoms, a little like one of the magic elixirs that traveling salesmen used to hawk. Always reboot before you try fixing anything else or calling for or finding help. You’ll get a clean copy of the operating system and programs and will likely be working again in a few minutes.
Rebooting a PC is kind of like a New Year’s resolution for your computer that you can use all year long. Restart and get a new lease on work.