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The $500 Computer

There is a strong correlation between a new computer's initial cost and its performance characteristics. This performance is mostly or completely fixed over the life of a computer. Some components are upgradeable, but laptop processors are soldered to the motherboard. Some manufacturers (Apple) now sell laptops with fixed RAM and storage as well.

The minimum performance characteristics that software developers, engineers, and programmers (the world) expect computers to have increases over time. When you get a new computer, there is usually some margin between its performance characteristics and what the world expects. As time goes on, this margin closes and your computer seems slow. Eventually, the world's minimum expectation exceeds your computer's capabilities and your computer becomes garbage. The technique employed by computer manufacturers to drop the price of a laptop to the $500 point is to use components with less capable performance characteristics. These computers ship with a slim margin between their maximum capabilities and the world's minimums. They are slow to start and quickly become garbage.

Ballpark figures

$1500-$2500 computer will not be garbage for about 4 - 5 years
$1000 computer is good for about 3 years
$500 computer is practically garbage when you buy it

The $1000 computer seems to have the lowest cost per year of useful life  

The $1000 computer seems to have the lowest cost per year of useful life

 

Digging Deeper

Computers also have replacement barriers. It takes time / money / attention / effort (let's use money for our units) to move all of your data from an old computer to a new computer. Let's call that about $300. Over 15 years, if you're buying $2,500 computers and getting 5 years out of them, you go through 3 computers and spend a total of $8,400 on hardware and overcoming replacement barriers. The total cost of the $1,500 computers that last 3 years is $9,000. The $500 laptops that you want to throw out a window every year (because they are garbage) cost $12,000 over 15 years.

So "splurge" on a new computer because it's really saving!

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Looking for A Few Good Nerds

Feedwire is growing. We are increasing our capacity to provide kick-ass IT support to you. In order to do so, we need more real live genuine Nerds on our staff. Finding qualified staff has been a challenge for us, and we could really use your help. Zach and Chris are a tough act to follow, but we have total confidence that with your assistance, we can succeed.

We’re looking for the fourth Beatle, the geek d’Artagnan, a master of all trades nerdy. Do you know anyone who might be a good match for our team? Can you refer them to us? Here’s a job description for you to share with your favorite future Feedwire Nerd. You can also click here to forward this very note to them.

Feedwire is a Los Angeles based IT consulting firm. We work to fill the three roles of IT in business today: Data protection and risk mitigation, enhancement and optimization of employee efficiency, and the support of business goals through intelligent technology choices and implementations. We fill these roles while maintaining the belief that technology can be magical, that Nerds don’t have to be nerdy, and that human skills are just as important as computer skills.

Our customers vary in size from residences and sole proprietorships to hundred-million-dollar companies. Their industries span entertainment, law, finance, retail, manufacturing, and more. We even work for some guys who wear mustaches and carry guns. They run mostly on MacOS and iOS with a smattering of Windows, Linux, Android, and Blackberry.

We are looking for a few good Nerds. In a single day, our staff members may be asked to wear many hats: CTO, Accountant, Suicide Hotline Operator, IT Manager, Tier 3 Tech Support, Network Engineer, DBA, Webmaster, and friend. Each role needs to be handled expertly. We find joy in solving problems and take pride in our attention to detail, all the while saving money, time, and grief for our customers.

Are you an IT Nerd rockstar? Are you amazing with Mac OS and terrific with Windows? Do you have a passion for technology? Are you the scientifically improbable love child of Doc Brown, MacGyver, Dr Who, Doogie Howser, and Chuck Norris? Join us! Fill out our application and take the test here: http://www.feedwire.com/hatchery

If you refer a candidate that we hire, the entire Feedwire staff will take you out on the town for dinner and drinks, and if you’re lucky, dancing and karaoke. If you prefer, we can provide a few hours of IT support to you, on the house.

Henry Ford

If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it, but don’t have it.

It’s good advice. Perform a basic cost-benefit analysis: consider how much time is worth, and multiply it by the amount of time the machine will help you save over its lifespan. Is that number greater than or less than than the cost of the machine?

Ask a Nerd in Vegas

It’s been a busy month for this nerd. Feedwire traveled along with Profiles Television on their Escape Routes project. We designed and implemented a portable managed network to ensure their video streaming traffic priority over all other traffic on the production network. Malibu, New York, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, and finally, Las Vegas. The project was a win-win—it was both fun and successful. Now our portable managed network is available for rent, so if you’ve got a production office to set up and need some rock-solid managed network gear, get in touch with us.

I’m on my way back to LA, but I’ll be taking questions all day. Hit this nerd up via comments and receive answers to your questions. Any realm of knowledge is fair game. Nothing is off limits. Ask away!

Ask a Nerd in the City

Los Angeles is a fine city, but today I’m writing from THE City. New York City, where they know nothing about the taste of picante sauce, but plenty about the taste of pizza. I’m here providing IT support for Escape Routes, but that’s not all I’m up to. I’m also here to answer your questions.

Come one, come all. Submit your questions and behold the answers. Ask any question from any realm of knowledge. No subject is taboo, no question is sacred. I will beam your answers through the clouds.

Post questions to comments.

Mobile Me: The End is Nigh

Apple is killing Mobile Me. If you’re currently using Mobile Me to sync contacts and calendars with your iPhone or between computers, to collaborate with others, or to publish content, you have only a few weeks left (June 30) to transition to another service. Do not dilly-dally.

Alternative services are out there. iCloud is the most obvious candidate, but depending on how you use Mobile Me we can investigate Google, Google Apps, or Exchange as possible replacements. Your frinedly neighborhood Feedwire has successfully transitioned individuals and businesses from Mobile Me to each of those replacements.

This is a pain in the ass, but in spite of Rorschach’s fear, it’s not the end of the world. We’re here to make this change as easy as possible for you, your family, and your coworkers. Drop us a line and let’s get your data swiched before Apple pulls the plug.

We're Ready to Answer You

Are you troubled by strange questions in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of confusion while thinking about things you wish you knew? Have you or any member of your family ever let a question go unanswered? If the answer is, “Yes,” then don’t wait another minute. Post your question to the comments and ask the professionals. Feedwire! Our courteous and efficient staff is on call for 24 hours today to serve all your curiosity satisfaction needs. We’re ready to answer you!

No realm of knowledge is off-limits. All questions will be answered. Ask away!

Ask a Nerd about an Acronym

Today is a glorious day! Today, Ask A Nerd Day and No Acronym Thursday are coincident. In honor of this, I’d like to see questions regarding acronyms. We will decompress any and all acronyms. No realm of knowledge is safe from our understanding. Post any questions, but especially questions about acronyms, backronyms, initialisms, and abbreviations to the comments and you will get an answer from one of our Nerds. Asking? Ask on!

Ask a Nerd de los Muertos

We nerds are not afraid of the dead. In fact, we welcome any questions the dead might have for us today. Living participants are welcome too. Ask any question about anything in (or under) the world, and we will answer. Post questions to comments. Get asking!

Ask a Nerd at a Wedding

Feedwire friends John and Lindsay are getting hitched today. Congratulations to them! What better day than today to have your questions answered? All realms of knowledge are fair game - post questions to comments.

Introducing the Feedwire IT Budget Calculator

We have created a new tool for our friends to use, strangers too. We’ve consolidated our experience and expertise into a sophisticated automaton that asks you a few questions about your business and replies with a detailed breakdown of how you should plan your yearly IT budget. Neat, eh? Check it out here: http://www.feedwire.com/budget-calculator/ Would you like to know more? Read on!

Ten Grand!

We started using Zendesk to manage our tasks and trouble tickets in 2008. We started with ticket #1. We are now above nine thousand, on our way to 10k. To celebrate our progress, and because we like numbers, we’ve got a prize lined up for whomever is lucky enough to submit ticket 10,000. It’s both a surprise and a prize. A prize surprise. Keep sending us your problems and we’ll keep solving them.

Another Day, Ask Another Nerd

Today is your chance to learn the answers to your questions. Technology is our forté, but all questions are within bounds. We’re even prepared to answer the question of life, the universe, and everything if you’re prepared to formulate it!

Example questions, to get you started:

 

  • Why is he climbing the mountain?
  • Who set us up the bomb?
  • What’s that blue thing doing here?
  • Who took my frog? Who found my frog?
  • How do magnets work?
  • What’s the difference between a nautical mile and a statute mile?

 

Whatever your question’s topic: natural philosophy, sports, mathematics, art history, design, astrology, economics, literature, linguistics, alchemy, or general trivia - we are ready, willing, and excited to answer.

Post questions from any realm of knowledge to comments.

08/01/0Nerd

This day, the first of the month, bring you a new opportunity to have the answers to your questions revealed. All you must do? Pose them. Ask any question from any realm of knowledge and our nerds will answer. From cartography to caligraphy, from theology to philology, our nerds have everything marked, everything ‘membered! You wait, you’ll see.

Post your questions to the comments.

Be a Lion Tamer

Today, July 20, 2011, Apple released a new major revision of Mac OS: 10.7 Lion. If you’ve got even a few drops of Nerd blood in your veins, this is an exciting event. I’m sure you’re eager to buy and install this upgrade, but I urge you to take a deep breath and verify a few things before you take the plunge. Putting your head into an unknown Lion’s mouth isn’t usually a good idea.

Minimum Requirements

First you’ll want to ensure that your computer meets the minimum requirements for Lion:

  • Mac computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor
  • 2GB of memory or more
  • OS X v10.6.6 or later (v10.6.8 recommended)
  • 7GB of available space

You can check all of this by first selecting “About this Mac” from the Apple menu, which will tell you your current Operating System version. Clicking the “More Info” button in the same window will launch the System Profiler application, which defaults to a Hardware Overview screen. Processor and RAM are listed in that screen. If your computer is less than three years old, you’re almost certain to meet the minimum requirements.

If your processor isn’t on the list you are probably better off buying a new computer. Fortunately for you, new computers will include the new operating system, so you won’t have to bother with the rest of this guide. If you’re short on RAM, it’s possible to upgrade. Other World Computing is our favorite source for Mac RAM upgrades. If you’re running os 10.6, but not 10.6.8, you can run “Software Update” from the Apple menu and apply the queued updates. If you’re on 10.5.x or lower, you must first upgrade to Snow Leopard before upgrading to Lion. It’s available from the source itself.

If you’re light on disk space, you should think about upgrading your hard drive or getting a new computer. Trying to install with only the minimum required space available will put you into an extremely low disk space situation, a recipe for a crash.

Preflight

Once you’ve qualified your hardware and operating system for the upgrade, it’s time to tackle your software. Start by listing all of the software you use. For me, that list would include Microsoft Office, 1Password, Firefox, MarsEdit, VPN Tracker, and others. Make an actual list, because you’re going to need to check items off.

Armed with your list, open each piece of software, and use the “About” item from the application menu to find your version number. Do this for each item on your software list.

For each item on your list, visit the software developer’s website to check for Lion compatibility. They may require a free update, or you may have to pay for an upgrade, or you may find in the worst case that your software is no longer supported and you have to choose between continuing to use that software under 10.6 or switching to a new software and upgrading to 10.7. Notable software packages that will NOT run under 10.7 are Now Up-To-Date, Quicken, and old versions of EP and Movie Magic Budgeting.

You may have trouble locating Lion compatibility info on your software vendor’s website. Fortunately the internet is full of altruistic nerds. A few Aussie nerds banded together to create a database of Lion compatibility experiences, available for free to the world: http://roaringapps.com

If you’re using any kind of special hardware - RAID cards, video controllers or processors, PCI expansion bays - you should know better than to attempt an upgrade right away. Your computer is a workhorse, not a toy. Leave it in its current stable state for at least a few months longer.

Backup

Now that your hardware and software are in order, it’s NEARLY time to upgrade. First, double-check your backup. If you’re running time machine, verify that your backup has run recently. If you have a spare drive around, use Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! to make a bootable clone of your hard drive. Operating system upgrades are major software operations. Things can go wrong. We want to be sure that your data is safe and that you can get back up and running quickly in the event of an error, bug, or crash.

Install

The install process itself is painless. Launch the App Store from the dock, click on the giant Lion, then click the “buy” button. Once the download finishes, you can run the “Install Mac OS X” application in your applications folder. The install will take about 45 minutes, so enjoy a coffee or an icy beverage.

Shameless Plug

If this process exceeds your capabilities, your interest, or your desire, we are here to help. We can handle the entire process for you, or help you through the sticky parts. Call (+1-310-984-6946), write, or send a pigeon.

Ask a Nerd In July

Today is the first of the month. To me that day has an odor. It’s a distinctive odor, the odor of answers. Questions and answers. Come one, come all, ask your questions and they shall be answered. No realm of knowledge is off limits. Efficacy, intelligibility, and even grammaticalness itself are not guaranteed, but answers are.

I don’t mean to reiterate the double redundancy of repeating the same thing over again more than once, but you can ask literally any question you like and your question will be answered. Put on your asking caps and get asking. Post questions to comments, answers will follow.

An Ounce of Prevention

If you’re a friend, colleague, or client of mine, you probably run some kind of antivirus software. It’s a Good Idea™ in Mac OS and an Absolute Necessity™ if you’re running Windows. I don’t want to diminish the importance of antivirus software. Install it, run it, and keep it updated. Unfortunately, malicious software can still sometimes get through the cracks. So what are the cracks and how do we fill them?

First the cracks. Software. All of the software on your computer is imperfect. Most of the imperfections are benign. Some of the imperfections may allow unauthorized parties to make your computer behave unexpectedly. These imperfections are called, “Vulnerabilities.” The worst vulnerabilities can be exploited to allow unauthorized people to run software on your computer without your permission. Such exploits and vulnerabilities are discovered all of the time. Take a look at a single week’s worth.

Now, the glue. Software vendors work diligently to fix these bugs as they are discovered. It’s your job to install their patches. In decreasing order of importance, you should keep the following things up-to-date on your computer:

 

  1. Your operating system. Both Mac OS and Windows provide mechanisms for automatically updating themselves. Check and apply those updates regularly.
  2. Your web browser. Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome, or whatever web browser you use, it’s the first part of your computer to come into contact with the internet. All of those browsers have had high-severity exploits discovered, and all are regularly updated and patched by their authors. Check and apply those updates regularly too.
  3. Your web browser plug-ins. Flash is great, it lets web sites present full-featured applications with beautiful interfaces without leaving your browser. Unfortunately, it has also allowed malicious parties to install malware and viruses on unsuspecting computer users like you. Keep Flash and your other web plug-ins updated.
  4. The rest of your software. Microsoft Office, Acrobat, Photoshop and others have all been exploited. Check with those vendors too.

 

That’s a lot to check. Fortunately there are nerds out there who care about you and have developed free tools to help you keep yourself safe.

On the Mac, after enabling automatic updates from Apple, I use AppFresh by Metaquark to scan my computer for out-of-date software. It’s free and it’s easy to use.

On Windows, after enabling automatic updates from Microsoft, I use the Personal Software Inspector (PSI) by Secunia to keep my software healthy. Secunia PSI can run almost entirely automatically. It’s a breeze to run and it does a great job.

If you need help with any of these ideas or processes, please don’t hesitate to contact your friendly neighborhood Feedwire nerd. Happy updating!

Ask a Nerd Day

Welcome to the FIRST monthly Feedwire “Ask a Nerd Day.” You have from midnight to midnight to pose any question to us. Our knowledge is vast, our wits sharp, and our tongues loose. Be careful what you ask, because we WILL answer.

Post your questions to comments. We will respond in kind. To celebrate this kickoff, the author of our favorite question (a totally subjective title) wins a free hour of IT support.

Ask away, but ask fast. You don’t want to know what happens if you ask a nerd after midnight. You also don’t want to get us wet, but that’s an entirely separate issue.

The Cost of Free

First, the story:

A producer, essentially a 3rd-party contractor working for one of Feedwire’s clients, has elected to use a free gmail account for the bulk of her business and personal email. We’ll call her Sophie to protect the innocent. She’s currently on a business trip in Africa. Email communication is essential to her work and to her life.

Two days ago, her account stopped receiving messages. We’ve reviewed the settings, tested and re-tested the account. Her account is not full, her emails are not being forwarded, her messages are not being downloaded to some device or computer. Messages addressed to her are not being delivered to her mailbox. They’re just now starting to soft-bounce. Senders are receiving notices that delivery of their message has been delayed, and attempts will be made for a few more days to deliver the message before giving up.

We have concluded that there is something wrong with her mailbox. This isn’t an unexpected occurrence. There are millions, possibly billions of mailboxes out there in the world and every once in a while one of them has a glitch or a hiccup. Unfortunately for her, gmail’s free email service does not include phone support. There is a web-based support form, and the problem will probably eventually be resolved, but eventually doesn’t help her immediate and severe need to access her incoming mail.

Now, the solution:

Pay for it.

If you need a service, if you depend on it for business or for life, pay for it. You don’t have to pay much, but you do have to be someone’s customer before you can get any kind of customer service. Reliability has become free. Gmail is an extremely reliable service, among the best, but even the best fail. Failure is the expensive part. You get to decide whether you will pay a little in advance, or a lot on the back end. It’s your call.

What’s it cost to have a paid-for email? We can set you up for $22 / year. Three times that, and we can include a permanent secondary archive of your messages. $50 / year for an extremely reliable mailbox on your own personal domain with accessible customer service and support. I’m sure Sophie would have gladly paid $50 to avoid the predicament she’s in now. Probably even ten times that.

Everything breaks. The consequences of failure can be shaped. You have the power to prevent failure from becoming disaster. We’d love to help you with that process. Get in touch with us.

 

Microfeedback

Two facts, seemingly intractable, but not for long:

 

  1. Your thoughts are important to us.
  2. We are not telepaths.

 

Fortunately, we are technologists. We’ve deployed a new technology (called Nicereply) which will give you unlimited opportunities to share your thoughts with us.

If you work with us, you’re familiar with our ticketing system. This helps us track work done and ensure that issues don’t fall through the cracks. We’ve added a new line to every ticket response and closure notification.

When you receive a ticket response email, click on the nicereply link and you’ll have an opportunity to rate our work and to give us feedback. This will help us help you. We’ll get to share in your important thoughts without having to resort to telepathy. Win, win, win.

A thousand words would have been overkill, so here’s a screenshot taken from a ticket response email to show you the new link: