Thursday, December 29, 2011

Donating PCs and Other Equipment

Now that 2011 is winding down, you may discover you have some old PCs, smart phones, peripherals, tablets, and flash drives laying around. Why not donate them? There are several reasons to donate or recycle your used equipment. According to
  • 75% of the fossil fuels and energy used by a computer are actually consumed during manufacturing. Extending the computer’s lifespan through reuse means more return on that initial environmental cost.
  • Every computer dumped into a landfill represents a missed opportunity to provide technology and tools to individuals and organizations across the digital divide.
  • Even if a computer cannot be reused, recycling ensures that valuable raw materials are recovered from used computers and that any waste is disposed of in an environmentally sound fashion.
In 2009, 25% of 2.37 million tons of used and end-of-life electronics were collected for recycling. 38% of these were PCs, 17% were televisions, and 8% were mobile devices, according to the EPA.

When deciding whether to donate your used, but still useful equipment, consider these tips:
  1. Determine if your old computer can be reused. The lifespan of a PC can vary depending on lots of factors, including how often it is used and what it is used for. But I’d say the typical lifespan of current PCs is approximately three to five years. So if your computer is five years old or less, chances are someone else could put it to good use.
  2. Donate Newer Equipment to a Reburbisher. Instead of donating directly to a school or charity, it is usually a better idea to donate newer equipment to a refurbisher. They can make sure the PC or printer or mobile device runs well and is using legal software. Refurbishers tend to pass on equipment that is ready to use to those who need it - many times at little or no cost.
  3. Recycle Older or Broken Equipment or Hardware. Most equipment that is older than five years old or that no longer works should be disposed of responsibly. Consider sending your electronic devices to a computer recycler. They salvage useful parts of your equipment before breaking down the rest and can safely remove any hazardous material. Check out Earth911 for a drop-off location in your area, or better yet let Kardon Technology help you recycle your old equipment.  Twice a year, in the spring and the fall, Kardon Technology carries used equipment to the Decatur Recycle Center.  
  4. Remember to Include any Accessories. When donating a computer try to include such things as the keyboard, mouse, printer, software, and any documentation that came with your equipment. These can almost always be used by the next owner, plus it’s always nice to have a complete system.
  5. Clear your Computer of Personal Information and Data. These days it doesn’t take much for someone to recover deleted data from your PC. Putting files in the Trash and emptying the trash can does NOT permanently delete the files. It can still be recovered. The best way to wipe your data from your PC is to use special software such as Disk Book And Nuke or WipeDrive. You can find dozens of similar programs on the web and they all are work pretty much they same way. These programs typically overwrite your whole disk with random data several times and therefore preventing the bad guys from reconstructing your files.
  6. Maintain a List of What You Donate. With tax season approaching, you are likely eligible for a deduction if you donate equipment to a nonprofit refurbisher or a recycler. You can request a tax receipt from refurbishers and recyclers. You can also determine the fair market value of you equipment by using an online evaluator tool like GadgetValue. This site provides fair market values for desktop computers, laptops, televisions, and even iPods.
So clean out that closet of old and unused equipment. Be environmentally and socially conscious. Donate your devices to someone who can put it to good use or dispose of it responsibly. If this seems like too much of a hassle for you, let Kardon Technology help. You’ll feel better that you are helping the environment and you can rest easy that Kardon Technology will take care of your equipment responsibly.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Are you updated or outdated?

Most Android and iPhone users know that the real value of their smartphones lies in the Apps.  The App Stores make a smartphone a handheld computer that also makes phone calls.  Otherwise, the device is a phone that can do some cool things.

Many people, though, don't understand what they are really doing when they download an App.  Many of you can recall when you purchased software that came on a CD (for some of us a floppy disk or even reel tapes, yep, we installed software from tape).  You would load that software on your computer and you used it.  In many cases, you never updated the programs until you bought a new version of it and loaded a new CD.  To get an update often involved a process handled by a technician or another CD. That process is happening now using a download from thin air when you install Apps on your smartphone.

There is a major difference between those old installations and the new ones, besides the obvious "thin air" magic involved.  These applications are connected to the Internet any time your device is connected.  The Internet connection means you are connected to the entire world.  Most people don't envision the device in front of them could, technically, be connected to some kid's bedroom in Siberia or a crime ring network in China.

Applications today must stay up-to-date to handle the constantly changing technology and security requirements.  You may be loading an update that just fixes a bug when you tap a special spot on the screen or you could be loading an update that fixes a security flaw.  Yes, there are some bad updates that get loaded.  But, overall, you are much better off loading updates regularly than not at all.

We find so many smartphones loaded with Apps that never get an update loaded until there is a complete reset or someone like us comes along and takes care of it.  Kardon Tech clients are able to let us take care of keeping their Windows servers and Windows computers applications up to date automatically.  We will eventually be able to do that with your smartphones, but not yet.  Until then, everyone should take the need for updates seriously and update weekly.  If not weekly, how about at least once a month, please.

The update process is different for each OS.  They don't automatically update the apps for you.  There are many discussions on the pros and cons of doing that, but, for now, you have to manually request all your updates.  Here is a good article on running the updates for both iPhone and Android devices.  Windows Phone also has a Marketplace.  You can update the apps you install from there following the instructions here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2011 Web Products of the Year Blog

As we enter December, it is time for year-end wrap-ups of all kinds. Images, songs, movies of the year provide time to reflect on what was a part of our life for the past 12 months. With ReadWriteWeb’s Top Consumer Web Products of 2011, we can see just how attached to web technology our lives have become.

The top 5 list gives us a glimpse in to what is most important for our technology. The straightforward idea of viewing the web or viewing information and the abstract idea of the cloud.

Starting with Evernote, we know that sharing and syncing data is a hot commodity, but Evernote does the work with a little twist. Instead of just simple file sharing, there are countless ways to take advantage of this program and sync information across platforms and devices:
    • Share rich-text files, images, and to-dos
    • Character recognition allowing for documenting notes, receipts, or business cards (and capturing the text
    • Web clippings and Instapaper-like service for saving articles
    • Usage through standalone apps and browser extensions.
Use it on your phone, tablet, or computer and always find a way to save and share the data for later.

This has been a big addition to our company and it can be put to use in your company, as well. Whether you are sharing a copy of the business card you just picked up at a networking lunch or sending a task list with appropriate picture to your colleague, there are times when just sending a text isn’t enough or a phone call doesn’t give the whole picture.

Next up, the Kindle. With a tad bit of leeway, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about e-readers and tablets. The iPad, Galaxy, and Xoom join the Kindle as providing mobile access to the Internet and data that used to be limited to a laptop or the newspaper. This year, the Kindle made a move to become more than just an ultra-fancy book with services for video, music, magazines, games, and the omnipresent app.

The ability to carry around an entire library can always be appealing to those bookworms among us, but improvements to services like Amazon Prime stretch the Kindle (and other tablets) beyond the Barnes and Noble in a can.

These tablets should definitely be viewed as more than just a novelty, too. Carrying a laptop to half a dozen meetings can be cumbersome. Not to mention time lost getting it out of a carrying case, starting it up, and loading a PowerPoint or Word for note taking. However, the versatile tablet provides mobile connectivity in a quick and easy to use format. It also provides an avenue for data sharing and research capabilities that can improve any meeting. Instead of telling someone about their website or document, pull it up in a easily viewable format and pass it around the conference table.

Over the past year, there have been several clients looking for a new laptop that have spent time investigating the idea of replacing that old laptop with a new tablet. It has a place in medical offices and financial offices for doctors and investment planners all the same. And, with the increased focus on mobile apps, many of the proprietary programs are beginning to be be seen with a tablet conversion. No longer are people tied to their desktop to run their company’s web app. An iPad and a bluetooth keyboard and you are running your company from the local coffee shop.

The next two products of 2011 are Dropbox and iCloud. Both of these products use the nebulous idea of the “cloud” to provide backup and cross-device syncing. That buzzword can get people in trouble if they don’t make sure they understand what is going on and, in many cases, they can miss out on impressive functionality.

Dropbox provides a computer folder that can be anywhere for nearly anyone. Share documents, pictures, presentations, and other files by simply putting them in the right folder. As an extension of the folder system on your own computer, it lends itself to being user-friendly and easily implemented. With Dropbox, multiple people can work on a file without the dreaded “what version did you update” conversation. Make sure those in your office are always using and working on the most current version. 

At the same time, the off-site cloud storage provides a straightforward and simple backup solution for the most important of documents. A dependence on computers means depending on the consistent performance of the technology for important personal and work data. There’s nothing worse than needing information and it just not being there.

In the same vein, cell phone backups have become a vital part of the working life. Cell phones have contacts, voice memos, bookmarks, apps, and they are in-use 25 hours a day. Dropping it in a water puddle or leaving it on the subway is just not a pleasant thought.

iCloud provides simple online backup for everything iPhone/iPad related. The idea of cloud backup for cell phones is being passed around the various companies and will, soon, become just as prevalent as the App store or Android marketplace. Lose your phone or destroy it beyond repair and iCloud provides a way to locate it or restore the data on a new phone. With the astronomical prices of a phone combined with the importance of the data they contain, this is a product that anybody with a smartphone cannot live without.

At the number one spot is Google Chrome.  Surprisingly, the “Internet” is not simply Internet Explorer. Web browsers are the vehicle for email, YouTube, Facebook and every other site out there. And, just like a vehicle, nobody wants to use the economy sub-compact to drive on the Internet superhighway. Knowledge about web browsers is imperative for today’s computer user. Faster and more secure browsing can be achieved simply by using a better browser and keeping it updated.

Google Chrome has made an effort to integrate many of the plugins (like adobe flash and Ad-block) to improve the web viewing experience. There are also apps and email integration that provides shortcuts to the most important things in for a user’s experience.

Internet slow, decreased computer performance, annoying redirects, and more can lead to a very short conversation with the IT tech. “Let’s clean the computer of any viruses and start using Chrome or Firefox”. It is a simple and easy transition and it can provide instant relief when viewing the Internet. In the coming year, Chrome will provide more than just simple web page viewing, too. New APIs and its very own Web store are leading to an all-in-one computer program that allows connectivity to web-based platforms and cloud services. More and more work can be done within a web browser.

Looking in to these and other recent web products can help you find a niche that needs to be filled. You never know what products will help improve your work efficiency or overall business experience.