Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Stop Computer-killing Dust in its Tracks

by: Erik Keranen

It attacks your computer like the South American army ant. Tiny, harmless looking critters by themselves, in larger numbers they can cover, kill and dissolve a full grown cow in a matter of hours.

Okay, maybe not exactly like that. But, wood shop and machine shop owners are experiencing the devastating effect of manufacturing dust on their shop computers. And they are looking for answers.

It doesn’t take much to ruin your day, especially, when metallic dust meets sensitive electronic components. Electricity chooses to travel in the shortest route possible, and little bridges of metal dust make great short cuts. Zap! WRRrrrrrr…

And wood dust makes a great insulating blanket. That’s okay if you’re lost in a big wood bin and freezing to death, but to a hard working computer it can be bad news. Heat sinks and fans attempt to dissipate the heat from within your computer, but a layer of dust can reduce or prevent this transfer of heat. Also, computer fans can malfunction when dust and grime are allowed to build up. Things heat up. Computers die. Data is lost. Business suffers.

Okay, what’s the answer then? How do you protect your computer from dust?

The actions you are willing and able to take to protect your computer equipment from dust depend on a large number of individual circumstances. Regardless of your situation, I recommend you take a three-front defensive position and optimize for each of the following areas:

• Computer room environment

• Protective computer dust barriers

• Computer maintenance

Let’s look at each of these areas individually.

Computer Room Environment

Control the environmental conditions surrounding your computers. The ideal solution would be to keep your computers and monitors in a clean, climate controlled computer room. In other words, take them out of the danger area. Of course, this is unrealistic or undesirable to many shop owners, who want, or need the computers to operate in the immediate work area.

So what then? Do what you can to control the dust and air pollutants in the shop. Use and maintain dust collectors for woodworking machines and a ventilation system for the shop area. And, if you can’t move the computers out of the shop, try to move them across the room, away from welding, grinding or direct contact with billowing sander dust.

Protective Computer Dust Barriers

These include computer dust covers, dust filters, computer dust bags, and computer enclosures. Each has its advantages and limitations as described below. Determine which option is the best solution for you.

Standard computer covers are made by a number of manufacturers. Usually plastic or vinyl, they are cheap, but effective in keeping dust off your computers and monitors. However, they may only be used while your computer equipment is shut down. And, you must remember to put them on. Every day. In other words, they are almost useless in a busy shop.

Computer filters, on the other hand may be used while the computer is running. Also very cheap, these small pieces of loose mesh material are placed over fan air intakes in the computer case to remove dust from incoming air. Some have experimented with using panty hose, Brillo® Pads and other household items with some success. The main drawback with computer filters is their small surface area. They clog up quickly in dusty areas and must be cleaned, or changed frequently to allow the unimpeded flow of cool air into the computer case. Another drawback is that they leave other openings in the computer case unprotected, allowing fine dust to infiltrate the CD ROM drives, floppy drives and other small openings.

Relatively new on the scene, computer dust bags are a combination computer cover and computer filter. Designed for the harsh, dusty and smoky conditions inherent to wood shops and machine shops, these innovative covers entirely encase the computer processor or monitor at all times, allowing the entire surface of the bag to act as a huge dust filter to remove dust from incoming air. Monitor dust bags have a see-through, anti-static front to allow a clear screen view, and are very effective in keeping dust, wood chips and other debris out of the cooling vents. At around $20 or less, the recommended life-span of the computer dust bag is 3-12 months, depending on the level of dust in the shop. A possible drawback to using the computer dust bag is reduced access to CD and floppy drives. However, it is possible to use these drives if you cut a hole in the dust bag and cover it with a door flap, which is included with the bag. You may also have to cut an access slot to use your USB ports.

Finally, computer enclosures are typically metal or wood, box-like cabinets which your computer processor and monitor are placed in to protect them from the surrounding environment. A variety of fan and filter combinations introduce fresh air into the enclosure. Computer enclosures have the added advantage of protecting your equipment from blunt force trauma, such as a falling 2x4, chemical splashes and other things harmful to your computer. Filters must be changed regularly. Disadvantages include high price, greater amount of space required, and filter maintenance.

Computer Maintenance

Finally, the third part of a sound computer dust protection strategy is computer maintenance. Yes, that means cleaning. Does that scare you? It’s easier than you think. You don’t have to buy all kinds of expensive tools and cleaning agents, and no heavy scrubbing or complicated disassembly is needed. The most important thing is to maintain a regular computer cleaning schedule. It may be as simple as opening the computer case once every three months to blow out the dust. Educate yourself on the computer cleaning basics and decide the right course of action for yourself. For a copy of the Standard Operating Procedure, “Computer Cleaning and Dust Protection in an Industrial Environment”, which you can modify to fit your own requirements go to It’s free when you sign up for “The Computer Dust Solutions” newsletter.

Just as numerous insects and animals perish when attacked by the army ant, a great number of computers are killed by dust every day. Don’t let it happen to you. Follow the common sense ideas shown here and stop computer-killing dust in its tracks!

How To Use Integrated Audio Conference Calling To Enhance Your Video & Web Conference Meetings

by: Dan Richmond

There are two technologies that are making a revolution in intra-organizational communications: They are telephone conferencing and web conferencing. Using either web or telephone conferencing, companies and non-profit organizations are now able to hold many more meetings than ever before. The newest web conferencing systems incorporate both online and telephone conferencing and this will surely speed up the growth of virtual conferencing.

Most online conferencing systems allow participants to see one another using web cams and monitors, and to speak and hear one another via Voice over Internet Protocol (VOiP) using a headset or a microphone and speakers.

But what happens if one of the would-be participants does not have the right kind of headset or microphone? And what happens if one of the would-be participants does not have a high speed Internet connection or is away from his/her computer? In previous conferencing set-ups, the person who didn’t have the right equipment might miss the audio or even the whole conference entirely.

This particular problem has now been overcome by integrating telephone conferencing along with web conferencing. For example, if participants do not have the right kind of headset or microphone, in addition to everyone being able to watch the conference online, a teleconference can be used that will allow all participants to hear and talk to each other via standard telephone connections. With some systems, the call-in number and security code for the conference call are even posted within the video/web conference meeting room.

Similarly, when a company holds a combined telephone and web conference, an employee or staff member can take part in the audio portion using the telephone conference connection even if they are away from their computer or away from a broadband Internet connection.

The combined service will make it easier for companies that are already accustomed to telephone conference calling but have not yet made the jump to online web conferencing.

Online web conferencing adds many more features to a normal telephone conference call such as Powerpoint presentations, instant polling and surveys, application sharing and real time notepads for online brainstorming, but some organizations may be holding back from going to web conferencing due to the possibility of leaving behind some of their participants. The new combined teleconferencing and web conferencing systems solve this particular problem and will probably help to accelerate the already rapid growth of web conferencing around the world.

Can VoIP Calling Save You Money On Your Phone Bill

by: Jessica Liu

As high speed and broadband internet connections are becoming more prevalent in homes across the United States, people are asking themselves can VOIP calling save me money on my phone bill? To answer this question you need to take a deeper look at VOIP calling and the expenses related to switching to VOIP.

The first thing to you should know is how VOIP calling works. When you place a VOIP call it works by converting the voice signal that you speak into the phone handset into a digital signal and sending it over the internet. This signal is then converted back into a voice signal and comes out of the earpiece on the other end. By sending the signal over the internet it doesn’t matter how far it has to go, a call across the street costs the same as call across the country. For people who have monthly long distance bills that are over $20, VOIP calling may be able to save you money on your phone bill.

When evaluating VOIP services you should have an idea of your monthly calling volume. The best thing to do is look at your phone bill for the past three months and figure out how many minutes you are using. If you are using less than 500 minutes a month you will find VOIP calling plans that are probably much less than your monthly phone bill. If you are using over 1000 minutes each month you’ll probably find unlimited calling plans will be more cost effective. If you make a lot of international calls, check to see if those calls are included in the plans you are evaluating.

Some VOIP services require that you update your telephone equipment. This is especially important if you have more then one phone in the house. The key to the VOIP system is VOIP router. It connects your broadband internet access to your new phone system. Some routers only interface with newer VOIP phones, meaning you will have to purchase new phones. Some routers allow you to plug conventional phones into them and keep your existing equipment. This really becomes an important factor if you have more than one telephone in your house.

Another factor to consider is the length of the contract. Many companies offer month to month contracts, others offer yearly, and some offer two year contracts. While a two year contract may look attractive from a price standpoint, locking yourself into a developing technology for twenty four months is something to give serious consideration to. A one year contract usually provides the best trade off between price and time commitment.

Tips For Securing Your Home Wifi Network

by: Jim Faller

As consumers upgrade their computers and laptops and are discovering the convenience of wireless computing, they may also be opening themselves up to attacks from random hackers. If you have a home network and it has wireless capabilities one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself, your computers and most importantly your data, is to secure your network. You may think you are doing a good thing leaving your wireless network open for your neighbors to use, but you may also be allowing people to use your network to download pirated music or movies (which you will be responsible for), send unsolicited commercial email (aka spam) or launch viruses.

Securing your network is fairly easy and can be done by just about anyone, even if you aren’t computer savvy. If you are using a laptop you may want to connect your computer via ethernet cable to your router, while you are making the configuration changes. The first thing you should do is log into your wireless router and change the administration password and username if possible. Leaving the default settings is like locking your door and hiding a key under the mat. Next you want to enable WEP (wireless equivalent privacy) security on your router. If your router has 128 bit encryption use it, it’s more secure than 40 bit encryption. If you have an older router you may only have 40 bit encryption, 40 bit encryption is better than no encryption so if that’s all you have use it. You will need to enter the corresponding WEP encryption key on all of your computers that connect wirelessly. Reboot the router and verify you can still connect with the network cable removed. It would be easier to make all of the changes at once and the reboot, but if you make a mistake doing it step by step helps you find your mistakes easier.

The next step is changing the SSID (Service Set Identifier). The first thing you should do is change the name from its default setting. If your router lets you disable the SSID broadcast you should. Again make the corresponding changes on each of the computers that connect wirelessly and reboot the router. Once the router reboots make sure you can still connect to the network.

Your next step is to allow access via Mac addresses. Every computer has a unique Mac address that looks like 0A-3C-2A-55-E4-A0. Get all of the MAC addresses of all of the computers that connect wirelessly and restrict access on the router to only those Mac addresses. Reboot the router and verify you can still connect.

While these tips won’t keep out sophisticated professional hackers they will keep out casual snoopers. Lastly on each computer make sure you are sharing only the folders that you want other people to be able to see.

Creating a Wireless Desktop

by: Stephen Orgill

We live in an age of technology and as such we are always looking for ways to make life easier or ways to make things look better. In the home or office (or even the home office) making things look better involves getting rid of clutter. This is where the wireless desktop comes into play. No wires means less clutter and because when using Bluetooth wireless devices line of sight is not needed, you can use your desk space to its optimum with no worries.

There is more to the wireless desktop than you might think as well. You will all be aware that you can get a wireless keyboard and mouse. But wireless technology and Bluetooth in particular stretches much further than that. Your mobile phone if a recent one will probably have Bluetooth technology built into it. This means that you can easily connect it to your PC. Companies such as Logitech offer software that really gets your mobile phone and your PC working together. Synchronization is just one aspect of this, but how about being able to type an SMS text message on your keyboard and send it without having to touch your phone. This is all possible with the power of Bluetooth. Communication with your mobile phone is not the only method of contact with Bluetooth. You can also get Bluetooth headsets that work with Microsoft Messenger so you can add an easy chat functionality to your desktop. As new products come on the market Bluetooth becomes more and more popular. Peripheral devices such as Printers and Scanners can now be found.

-The Wireless Keyboard and Mouse -

This is the first device that you will probably buy for your wireless desktop. This is the basic starting point and probably the most effective. The keyboard and mouse wires cannot be hidden away from sight as they have to be straight in front of you. plus limiting the mouse wire can mean limiting the mouse movement as well. So A wireless keyboard and mouse will give you a better looking desktop as well as freedom to move your keyboard where you want it. You can have it on your lap or anywhere else in range. Having a wireless mouse will also help in gaming. Most wireless mice are just as responsive as corded ones and your wire wont snag at that vital moment when online gaming.

-Wireless Printers -

While printers are not being produced as wireless as yet. The idea is very much being worked on. Currently what you can by for your USB connected printers is a two small connecters that plug into your printer and USB port which connect together like a wireless network. Its almost a wireless USB connection if you like. I doubt that is how it will be described though. The advantages of the wireless printer as well as the lack of wires behind your PC is the range can be increased as well as you being able to place your printer in a place where a USB cable would be unsuitable to travel. A second advantage would be that connecting your printer to a wireless network for sharing will be much easier.

-Wireless Networking -

I think the biggest advantage of wireless technology has to be Wireless Networking. While Bluetooth technology is does not have the range in which to be affective at networking computers together. RF technology is still used however and is very easy to setup. For a simple network (peer to peer) on two computers all you need is two wireless networking cards setup to the same channel. More complex networks can also be setup using a server and workstations. Anything you can do with a wired network you can do with wireless technology.

While we keep saying that the main advantage of wireless technology is that you don't have wires lying around everywhere, this is more true than ever when we are talking about wireless networking. When your computers are likely to be located in different room, the last thing you want is for wires to be laid around your home or office being an eyesore. Plus should you wish to move your computer at anytime, you don't have to re-route the wires connecting your network together.

Security on Wireless networks is set by adding a name for your network which all computers on that network must be assigned to connect to, plus then you can add a password to keep unwanted intruders out from your files. Software firewalls are also recommended on wireless connections (as well as wired) just for added security against unwanted virus' or Adware/Spyware.

-Wireless Headphones / Microphone -

Wireless headphones are readily available from many manufacturers. These are really one of the most practical uses of wireless technology behind the networking. Wireless headphones allow you to freely listen to your music, game or whatever noise your PC is making anywhere in your room without the restriction of wires. Even if your wires are long enough they will still be a little dangerous stretched across the room. And we all know you like to dance around your room listening to your favourite tracks. A set of wireless headphones could save you a few quid on broken items that your headphone wires have snagged on and brought crashing down to the floor :).

-Wireless Speakers -

Wireless speakers are poking out of the woodwork and those of you that have a 5.1 or above sound system will just how many wires are involved in that setup. Not only do you have connection to the computer but each speaker is connected to the sub / power box and and you also have the volume control to deal with. At time of writing this the US seem to have a decent supply of wireless speakers where as only a few can be found in the UK. I am very sure that wireless speakers will become a lot more popular in the UK over the next couple of months. Wireless speakers will remove loads of wires from the back of your computer. Using a 5.1 wireless system will allow you to place your speakers in the perfect position without any restrictions or ugly wires running along your walls or floor.