Friday, February 19, 2010

Opera 10 – essential for netbooks


One of the great things my wife got me for Christmas is a Compaq Mini – the little system that’s made me a believer in netbooks.

I love my Compaq (a.k.a. the MicroLappy). The battery lasts four to six hours (depending on how hard I’m pushing it), the 10.2” screen is nice and clear, it’s light enough to drag anywhere and makes that laptop I use at work seem hot, heavy and almost impractical.

There is one major drawback to the netbook – that CPU is a bit slow, so I’m always interested in applications that don’t bog it down too much. I’ve been a Firefox fan for years and still am, but I’ve noticed a problem that is particularly bad when I’m surfing blogs – pages with a lot of graphics, weird scripts and etc. just slow the browser down to a crawl.

So I gave the new version of Opera a try. That’s always been a fast browser, but Opera 10 came with a feature that feels like it was just made for netbooks – turbo browsing. What is Opera Turbo? Simply put, it’s a concept that has been around for a long time – graphics are compressed significantly and that results in less CPU time and memory spent on rendering images.

Opera Turbo can be switched on and off with ease and that’s handy as there are times when those compressed graphics look terrible. Still, that feature doesn’t leave my Intel Atom processor puffing like a fat man running up a hill and I’m very glad of it.

Yes, there are some other things that are nifty about Opera. The ability to easily share files, stream music and such with friends through the Opera Unite application is very convenient. I also like the “speed dial” that allows fast access to frequently visited sites, but Google Chrome has something very similar to that so that’s not a terribly unique feature. Another feature that’s useful is visual tabs – something that allows the user to view tabs as thumbnails instead of just text.

Still, what sets Opera apart is really Opera Turbo. Opera is all about speed and the browser simply excels in that area. I still prefer Mozilla Firefox to any browser out there, but Opera is simply outstanding for use on netbooks.

And, of course, Opera 10 is absolutely free.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The best Nigeria scam yet?


Looking through that good old junk mail folder from time to time can be a hoot.

I wandered over to my junk mail folder and guess what I found? Yes, I discovered what my well be the best Nigeria scam on the planet. Click here to have a look and judge for yourself.

The brilliant thing about that particular email is that the scammer represents himself as someone who is part of an anti-fraud unit wanting to offer (get this) money to people who have fallen victims to Nigeria scams. That’s a sleazy, ballsy move, but I can’t help but admire the gumption.

Yes, the recipient of the email is identified as a victim of an implied Nigerian scam and, as compensation, there’s an ATM card with $950,000 on it just waiting to be delivered. All the victim has to do is send along $60 (and, of course, some personal information to be abused later) and the card will be sent right along.

Hey, that’s not a bad deal, right? Send in $60 and get $950,000? You just know there are some people in this world willing to take that gamble.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My latest project…


As I’ve mentioned on here a time or two, my wife and I are renegade, ne’er-do-well Baptists.

In other words, we were raised up Baptist and turned Methodist. We’re members of Parkview United Methodist Church in Benton, Ark., and have discovered that place will gladly utilize whatever skills we bring to the table.

Since I like blogging so darned much, I’ve been called on to help that church with its own blog. So I’ve started working on that and you can find it here. I’ll warn you – it’s brand new and a bit rough, but I’m sure I’ll overdo it before long.

What’s in store in the future? How about a nifty audio player where people can listen to the latest sermons from the fabulous Pastor Dee, the requisite Facebook badge, a calendar of events, a signup form for a bi-weekly digest, the church newsletter and all sorts of bells and whistles. Truth be told, I’ll probably model it a bit after the blog I put up for my employer (hey, that thing is getting 2,000 unique visitors per week and I hope the one for the church does that well).

It’s a fun project and I’m thrilled to be involved in it. Hopefully, it will help the church do some good in the world (and that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?)

We don’t make anything anymore and that’s a problem? Really?


I was watching the CBS News national report tonight and saw a story suggesting it might be bad that we don’t make anything in the United States anymore.

When such an obvious state of affairs becomes news, it’s pretty clear why – exactly – our economy is in the toilet. Everything’s made in China these days and even allegedly American companies like Ford are still waving the flag while manufacturing cars in Canada.

That’s an ironic thing about Ford. There are few more cars more distinctly American than the Mercury Grand Marquis, but that’s made in the St. Thomas Assembly plant in Canada (a plant that’s supposed to shut down at the end of 2011, by the way). It’s a messed up world, indeed, when my Toyota was made in Indiana while your Ford might have come from Canada.

It seems we’ve come to a point in time where we design and program things – do all the “high level” stuff that pays well – and rely on cheap labor in places like China to actually build what we need. The sheer irony that the largest communist nation on the planet is also home to the largest, exploited workforce in the world is something to be reserved for another time.

At any rate, the problem with the “design it here and build it there” concept is that that’s simply not sustainable. Want proof? Look at China. That country has become an economic powerhouse for the simple reason that the industrial base there is huge. That economic might and industrial based used to belong to the United States and we let it get away.

Besides, at what point will those countries that are manufacturing everything want to get in on the design end of the process, too? We’re already at a point where we don’t make much, but what happens when we’re not designing anything, either?

While it might take a few years to get to this point, one thing that is undeniable is that our economy is a mess. I was visiting with an economist a few months ago after Obama was going on about job creation this and job creation that in his State of the Union address. My question to her was something that Obama didn’t answer directly – where will these jobs come from? What segment of our economy is strong enough to pull us out of our mess and turn things around in the U.S.?

Her response was a very chilling “I don’t know.”

Sadly, that’s about what I expected. I grew up in a town that prospered in the shadow of two major aluminum plants – Alcoa and Reynolds. This county was a wealthy one, indeed, as long as those plants were running and most everyone thought Alcoa and Reynolds would always be here. However, declining profits, increasing tensions between management and labor and a host of other issues caused those plants to start sending jobs to bauxite fields in Jamaica in the early 1980s. After a couple of decades, those plants were all but shut down and now must of us in Saline County, Ark., climb in our cars and go to work in Little Rock every day.

Saline County never has quite recovered from those job losses and I can’t help but wonder if we’re not looking at the same scenario playing out on a national scale. If manufacturing is handled overseas, agricultural imports are on the rise, tech support jobs are sent to India, and companies like Anheuser-Busch are bought (and “streamlined”) by investors in other nations, where are all those new jobs going to be created?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dropbox – one of my favorite, free things


A few days ago, I decided to post about some of my favorite, free applications.

You know, the ones I simply can’t live without – those things that make working, playing and whatever else just that much easier.

I’ve already talked about Windows Live Writer, so today I’ll focus on a great, free application called Dropbox.

What is Dropbox? Simply put, it’s a great way to share files between computers. I have Dropbox installed on my computer at work and my two at home, making it a breeze to access all my files regardless of which computer I’m using at the time.

Drop box, essentially, puts a folder on your system that can be used just like any normal folder on your computer. Let’s say, for example, I write a column at the office and want to post it on a blog later from home. Since I saved my column in the Dropbox folder, I can access it from any of my systems that have the application installed.

Better yet, let’s say I get home and remember an error that I put in that column. I can change it on one of my computers at home and it will sync up with the other system – the new file will overwrite the old one on all computers where I’ve installed the Dropbox application.

Oh, and here’s one more thing. Dropbox also sets up a “Public” folder where I can save documents I want to share with (you guessed it) the public. Should I want to share a file from that folder, I simply right click it, copy the URL and post it just like a normal Internet link.

Now, there is a cost associated with Dropbox. You get two gigabytes of storage for free and have to pay if you want more than that. I’ve been running fine off the two gigabyte limit for some time now and can’t imagine having to go beyond that.

I simply can’t put into words how much easier Dropbox has made my life. Having access to my documents at home and at work is amazingly useful, as is the ability to alter documents and sync the changes with my other systems. If Dropbox was to vanish tomorrow, I’d be in a heck of a mess.