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25 March 2008
Audio Dubbing
Over the past several months, relatives have requested that I convert their LP's (vinyl) to CD's, or to create mixed CD's from various formats (including cassette tapes).  After playing around with various programs and wiring setups, I finally got it all done.  But it's not too hard to do on your own.  All you need is a few audio cables, and a computer with a sound card (in some cases, you may need two computers with sound cards).

Converting vinyl LP's to CD or MP3
Most LP players use RCA connectors for their output to speakers.  For this process, you'll need to purchase a cable from Radio Shack....it will be a male RCA stereo connector at one end (two plugs....one is white and the other is red), and the other end will be a single male 1/8" stereo jack (same as a 3.5 mm stereo jack).  Simply plug the RCA connectors into the back of the LP player, and then plug the 1/8" jack into the BLUE Input Jack in the back of your computer.  Now open your Volume controls in the computer (Start -> Control Panel -> Sounds and Audio Devices -> Audio Tab -> Sound Recording -> and make sure that "Digital Input" is selected).  Additionally, select the Volume Tab, click Advanced, and make sure that "Line Input" is NOT muted.....turn it up all the way.  Now you can open your Sound Editor of choice (Creative WaveEditor, Nero WaveStudio, Roxio Sound Editor, etc etc).  Click the "record" button, then fire up your LP player.  Once the recording is done, click STOP in the recording program, and edit the file as you see fit.  Then you can save/export it as WMA, MP3, or whatever format you prefer.  If you want to make an audio CD that plays in set-top players or car stereos, then open your CD burning program (Nero Express, Roxio Easy CD creator, etc etc).  Designate your new project as an "Audio CD," then drag these new files into the project window, then burn.  Viola!  You'll now have an audio CD that can be played from every CD player on the market.

Converting Cassette Tapes to CD or MP3
This process is virtually the same.....but it depends on the tape player, as to what type of cable you'll need.  Big "receivers" use RCA or optical cables, so you'll need either the same cable above, or an optical-to-1/8" plug.  But small portable tape players typically use a single 1/8" stereo plug for output to headphones.....so you'll need a cable that is male-to-male, 1/8" stereo on both ends.  Plug one end into the "headphone output" of the playback machine, and the other end into your BLUE Input Jack on the back of your computer.  Now follow the rest of the steps above.

Recording Internet-based songs to CD or MP3
This one's a little tricky, and possibly illegal, depending on copyright issues.  But for educational purposes, I'll let you know how to do it.  It just involves a little creative thinking.  You'll need two computers and a male-to-male audio cable, 1/8" stereo jack on both ends.  Plug one end into your "output" computer's headphone-out or speaker-out port (LIME GREEN port), and plug the other end into your "receiving" computer's "line-in" or "digital input" port (the BLUE one).  On the "receiving" computer, start up your audio recording software (be sure that the volume for "line input" or "digital input" is turned up all the way), and press record.  As soon as you can, start playback from the "output" computer.  Stop the recording when done, and edit as you see fit.  You may have to adjust input/output volume settings.  I've found that it's best to lower the output computer's volume to about 15-25%, and keep the input computer's volume settings at 100%.  But you should definitely "play around" with these setttings to get the best recordings for your needs.
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30 October 2006
Updates for PC Utilities:  AVG Anti-Virus
Recently I found out that
Avira AntiVir hasn't updated their install files for free version of their program.  You can still download the program, but it will not automatically update itself....it has reverted to "demo" mode.  As such, I'm now recommending the free version of AVG Anti-Virus.  Its interface is quite a bit different, but after playing around with the program for awhile, you'll get used to it.  In addition, it will automatically update itself, checking for the latest virus definition files upon each start of Windows.  It also has a "guard" program like Avira, one that runs in the background and alerts you of any virus-infected file that attempts to gain access to main memory.

Spyware Utilities
The November 2006 issue of
Maximum PC lists 25 tools that can "keep your PC purring."  I've taken a look at all the free utilities, and here are a few of the spyware utils you could take a look at:  First is A-Squared, which seems like a decent replacement for Lavasoft's Ad-Aware.  I personally didn't notice any difference between the two, but you can freely run as many spyware scanners as you wish, so the more the merrier.  Another one is F-Secure's BlackLight Rootkit scanner, a spyware scanner dedicated to finding rootkits on your system.  And still another dedicated spyware scanner is HiJackThis!, a program which detects browser home page hijackers.

Spam Utility
SpamPal is definitely rated highest on the list for programs which integrate with your mail program to remove spam from your inbox.  SpamPal works with standard mail clients such as Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora, using either a POP3 or IMAP4 mailbox, but does not work with proprietary mail programs such as Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, and AOL.  SpamPal also has many plugins that you can install separately to make it work better.  MaximumPC recommends adding the Bayesian and RegEx filter plugins, found here.
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24 October 2006
Auto-Pasting HTTP links feature in M$ Office 2000/2003
This is a nice shortcut for users of M$ Office, with Internet Explorer 5 or 6, and Windows 98SE and later.  If you're in a cell in Excel, for example, and want to include a Hyperlink to it, you can open that webpage in IE and minimize it; next, maximize Excel, click the cell, click the Add Hyperlink button, and click the webpage.  Now maximize Excel again and you'll notice that the URL has automatically been pasted into the dialog box.  Nice!  But with tabbed browsing in Firefox and IE7, you'll first have to
make sure that the current tab is the one you want, otherwise you're copying the wrong URL into the Excel dialog box!

This is a feature I use very often, and that's why I haven't used Firefox very much, and am reluctant to install IE7 on my desktop PC.  There may be a Firefox plugin for this, but I can't see why anyone would create one except for this one drawback, because creating this plugin would cause either:
     * the tabbed windows to "cascade-out" into multiple windows, or
     * the temporary, or permanent, disabling of tabbed browsing.
23 August 2006
Protecting your PC
While at work on someone's PC, I invariably get questions about virus protection, spyware, firewalls, and spam.  Here is my response:  GET PROTECTION!!!!  If you don't already have software to protect you from the aforementioned threats, get it NOW.  However, there are some caveats. 

Anti-Virus: First, DO NOT USE Symantec/Norton products.  They were very good in the past, but I've seen nothing but problems with their products of late.  Specifically, Norton has a tendency to cause problems with AOL 9/Optimized (another program I dislike with a passion).  Click Start -> Control Panel -> Add/Remove Programs, and then uninstall everything in the list that's named "Norton...." or "Symantec...." something or other.  You may have to restart your PC several times during this process.  Now your PC will be rid of "Norton's Ghost," but you'll need to replace it with a good, quality antivirus product.  My personal favorite is Avira AntiVir, which is a *free*, self-updating anti-virus utility.  Download it here, then install it.  It will update itself automatically, every few days or weeks, depending on how you configure it.  It has a very "smart AI" guard program that runs in the background while you toil away on your PC.  If a virus/worm/Trojan is detected, AntiVir will immediately notify you and request whether you want to quarantine it, deny access, delete it, etc, etc.

*NOTE*:  Never run more than one antivirus program.  Running two or more can cause system instabilities.

Now for spyware. I highly recommend Lavasoft's Ad-Aware SE.  In addition, Spybot Search & Destroy is also a good tool....both of these are free for personal use on single PC's.  Because they're free, though, you may have to "fish around" on their websites to find the free versions.

Firewalls: Most people who are fairly computer savvy don't know ANYTHING about firewalls, be they hardware or software.  They just know that they need a good firewall.  Now, Windows XP (all versions) does have a built-in firewall......unfortunately, their first iteration was as useless as a weasel in a cardboard shirt.  Thankfully, more recent versions which are automatically downloaded from Microsoft via the Windows Update feature are more intuitive.  But for the rest of us who aren't so faithful in Microsoft, we can turn to the great folks at Zone Labs

They have a free firewall called
ZoneAlarm that works very well.  The only drawback is the learning curve.  During the first several weeks after installing ZoneAlarm, you'll notice many pop-up boxes in the bottom-right-corner of your screen.  These are not advertisements.....they are warnings and questions.  PAY ATTENTION TO THEM!!!!! For example, if you've just copied an internet picture to the clipboard, and are attempting to paste it into a Microsoft Word document, ZoneAlarm will pop up and say, "Microsoft Word is attempting to gain access to the Internet......"  Along with something like "do you wish to allow this?"  In this case, you should CHECK the box that says "remember this setting," then click ALLOW.  This will allow Word to gain access to the internet every time you're connected. 

However, if you're plugging along on your own and suddenly ZoneAlarm pops up, saying that some program is requesting internet access, and you have NO IDEA what the program is, then click the DENY button, just to be safe.  If it pops up again, then read through the entire dialog box, and click on the option to have ZoneAlarm identify the program.  If you think it's safe, allow it.  If you're not sure, then deny it.  You're always safer denying, anyway.  If denying access impedes your productivity, you can always go back and allow it.

*NOTE*:  Never run more than one firewall.  Running two (or more) firewalls will cause SEVERE system instabilities.

Spam: I can't give any good tips for spam, unless you're using Outlook filters.....and if you are, then you don't need any help from me.  If you're using internet mail like Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail, then you just have to be sure NOT to give your email address to every other online retailer or "sweepstakes" entry.  So-called "sweepstakes" websites are NOTORIOUS for sharing YOUR personal information, including your name, email address, postal address, physical address, and any other information, with ALL of their "partner" companies.  DO NOT submit your personal info, including your email address, with any company or person that you have not had prior, agreeable contact.
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