Chuck Gray

Your Guide to eBook Retailers

ebook readers

The holiday shopping season is looming which means it’s time for a new round of eReaders to be introduced from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and maybe, just maybe, Apple, and there will be several months of us giving them our money.  But before you buy, read on to find out exactly what you’re getting into, in terms of both hardware and retailer.

Web Site Builders

Web Design

When the Web was still new, it was necessary to know how to code in order to create a Web page.  Languages like HTML, CSS, Javascript and more were the tools in your utility belt to build a Web presence.  The truly savvy could (and can) do most of this with nothing more than a plain text editor, though most people turned to programs like Dreamweaver to more easily and quickly assemble entire sites.  Then you had to choose your Web hosting service.  Then you had to FTP your pages to the hosting service. . . it was an involved process.  I haven’t done any professional Web design in close to a decade so I couldn’t tell you what the pros are up to these days, but I’ll tell you what I tell all my training-on-demand students: who cares?  Use a Web site builder service to streamline the process. It will save you time, grief, brain power, and probably some money!

Avoiding Sneakware

I see it all the time: PCs choking on gobs of uninvited software to the point where they barely function.  They may be Web browser toolbars or antivirus utilities or programs that promise to speed up your computer, when in fact they do exactly the opposite.  It enrages me to see programs like these on my customers’ computers because I know that they did not knowingly install these programs--these programs waltzed in with another that the customer did want.  This sort of software is referred to as “sneakware.” It’s kind of like the plus-four your buddy brings to your small gathering that was really only supposed to be a plus-one at most. It’s rude, annoying, and most people don’t know how to properly say “no.”  I can’t help you with your social skills, but I can tell you how to say no to sneakware.

Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman

Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman

C.S. Friedman has long been one of my favorite fantasy writers or, really, writers in general. Having written two trilogies and four stand-alone novels in the past two decades, she's not the most prolific writer in the fantasy world, but when she chooses to publish, her work is always brilliant. I was first introduced to her stories in high school by a friend who was in the middle of reading her Coldfire Trilogy. I've always been loathe to accept recommendations from friends who say, "You've gotta read this book!" but I'm glad I did. And now with her second series, the Magister Trilogy, I've just finished and thoroughly enjoyed Feast of Souls.  

This first book takes place in a world that is practically medieval, with tales of small, squalid villages, deeply-forested trails, and grand, opulent capital cities and castles. Friedman takes great care to emphasize the disparity between the peasants--dirty, uneducated, and willing to sell themselves and their families to stay afloat--while the rich go about their lives oblivious to those "below" them. There are three main categories of persons in this book: the morati, regular mortal people, no matter their walk of life; the witches, natural magicians who must draw upon their own life-force to perform their work and who, consequently, are rather short-lived; and the magisters, mysterious sorcerers who act as political counselors and power brokers who do not die. The secret to magisters' immortality is known only to them.  

The Post-PC Era: Humbug

The Post-PC Era: Humbug

If you pay attention to technology news at all, you might have heard the term “post-pc era” tossed about.  This term was, if not coined, then certainly nurtured most heartily by Steve Jobs when talking about the iPad.  It’s a funny thing about the iPad: when it was first announced everybody just sort of shrugged and said “So what?  It’s just a big iPhone!”  But people bought them anyway and it turned out that there was indeed a huge market for these devices.  Now we use them for all sorts of things, and I will admit that my tablet gets me through most of my casual computer usage at home.  Web browsing, book reading, video watching, etc. are now all accomplished on a piece of plastic and glass that fits comfortably in my hand and has a battery that lasts all day.  Tablet computers have seen a much faster adoption rate than PCs did, and this popularity has many in the media and at Apple singing the PC's death.  How wrong they all are.  

Customizing Your Android Experience

Customizing Your Android Experience

Our smartphones are our lives.  Go ahead and deny it, but deep down you know you get jittery when you aren’t caressing your tiny portable computer that basically hands you the digital world on a tempered glass tray.  As I pointed out in my Must-Have Android and Must-Have iPhone apps articles there are a lot of apps out there that’ll do just about anything.  But there’s lots more that we can do to customize our smartphones and our tablets, especially for Android.  Sorry Apple users, your fantastic apps may bring all the boys to the yard, but Android has you beat fair and square on the customizability front.  Sure, you could jailbreak your iPhone or iPad (Google it if you dare, just know you’ll be put out in the cold if you take a busted jail-broken device to the Apple Genius Bar), but I’m not going to risk going there, so Android users, this one’s for you!

Rescuing Your Documents with Linux

Ubuntu logo

Sometimes catastrophe rains down on our PCs.  We turn them on and . . . nothing happens.  Could be any number of factors: virus; aging hardware; broken software update.  And, of course, sometimes things just go bad.  Sad thing is, we're never ready for these events when they happen.  Our files aren't backed up to any external media, and, with our PCs not running properly, we don’t have any easy way of retrieving them.  Sure, you could take the computer to a repair shop or run the factory recovery discs that may have come with the machine, but you run a very real chance either way, especially the latter way, of losing your files.  So, I'm going to tell you how you how you might be able to salvage your files, if not your computer, for free using Linux.

Back Up Your Stuff!

Back Up Your Stuff

I've written a few articles advising our users to back up their data.  Every so often, usually when we need them the most or when the warranty has expired, our computers stop working.  This wouldn't be so horribly bad if we'd backed up our files first.  So, let me reiterate for anyone who has read me before that backing-up your data means that the same files are stored in two completely different places.  If you've copied all your important files to an external hard drive, but then erased them from your laptop, they are not backed-up; maybe your external hard drive goes kaput,  and, even though your computer is still working, all those files are lost from the external device, aren't they?  To back up your files they absolutely need to be in two different places.  Redundancy is the name of the game, and I'm going to teach you how to play (wow that sounded corny).  

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Oh, John Scalzi, how I love you (~swoons~).  Your likeable characters, intricate but uncomplicated plots, your passion for science fiction. . .   you COMPLETE me.  And your latest offering, Redshirts, does not disappoint.  I knew the moment I read the title oh, so many months ago, that the Trekkie in me would melt at the book's first words.  I was not mistaken.  

Growing up in a military family, Star Trek's flaws were constantly pointed out to me.  That preposterous notion that the entire senior staff would be sent time and again on dangerous missions with no one with any real command experience left in charge.  I didn't care.  Star Trek was cool, like bow ties, fezes, and Stetsons.  But I'm ashamed to say I never did notice the disturbingly high mortality rate of the red-shirted junior officer on away missions.  It wasn't until years later that I heard the term "redshirt" that it occurred to me, oh yeah, those guys were always toast, weren't they?  Still, I never really gave them much thought, save for when I heard someone use the term I could go "Hey, I understood that reference! Yeah, those guys died, like, A LOT, didn't they?"

My Favorite Chrome Extensions

Google Chrome logo

Google Chrome is arguably the most popular Web browser currently on the market.  It took a few versions before I made the switch from Mozilla Firefox to Chrome, most notably due to Firefox's rich browser extension offerings.  Chrome is finally catching up to, and in many ways, surpassing Firefox with its extensions library.  A browser extension is special program written specifically for a Web browser that, as the name implies, extends its functionality.