Category Archives: Tips & Tricks

Combine Multiple PDF Files in Linux

I switched over to LinuxMint full-time this year.  More about that later.  But I’m learning the tools now available in Linux.  So…

I had an occasion of combine multiple PDF files.  Not having Adobe Acrobat Pro or otherwise, I was unaware of how to do it with Linux.  A quick Google search later and I found pdfunite.  Input PDF files get listed first and the last file is the output file that you’d like the input PDF files combined into.

pdfunite 1.pdf 2.pdf 3.pdf output.pdf

It worked perfectly.  I did change the input file names to exactly what is listed above.  Much easier to type in than the verbose file names that I originally used.

Straight Talk Wireless APN Settings for MMS

Straight_TalkAround September 2013 I decided to ditch AT&T for my mobile phone service and move to Straight Talk Wireless.  I love the service, especially the price.  The service is $45 for unlimited talk, texts and data.  I have not tested the limits of “unlimited”, but it works well.

One caveat is MMS.  Straight Talk has a problem setting up phones with MMS.  Apparently it’s not standard between carriers or phones.  At any rate, sometimes MMS messages have a problem.  That’s probably why you’re here.

Doing some searching, I found a link to a forum post that explained the settings to get MMS working on a Nexus 5, an Android phone.  These setting are the ones that work best for me, so I’m sharing in the hope that you find it useful.

On your phone, navigate through Settings to Mobile Networks, then to Access Point Names (APNs).  Create a new profile and call it Straight Talk.  Populate it with the following settings:

  • Name=Straight Talk
  • APN=tfdata
  • Proxy=not set
  • Port=Not set
  • Username=not set
  • Password=not set
  • Server=Not Set
  • MMSC=http://mms-tf.net
  • MMS proxy = mms3.tracfone.com
  • MMS PORT=80
  • MCC=310
  • MNC=410
  • Authentication Type=PAP
  • APN type=default,supl,mms,hipri
  • APN Protocol=IPv4
  • APN Roaming Protocol=IPv4
  • Bearer= unspecified
  • MVNO type=None

Save the settings and restart your phone.

If these settings do not work with the standard Texting app on your phone, try a replacement like Textra SMS or TextSecure.

Great Gifts for the Geek in Your Life

lights

People are always asking me if this tech gift or that geek gift is right for their significant other.  The one rule that I try to follow is this, “most electronics are crap”.  This is particularly true for many of the gifts that are marketed for “the geek in your life” around the holiday season.  With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 5 Gifts that I’d love to get myself this year.


1. Roku 3 Streaming Media Player– It’s a set-top box that has the best interface of any similar device I’ve ever used.  These features are supposedly built into many Smart TVs, but the one thing they get all wrong is the interface.  Roku gets it right.  Netflix, check.  Amazon, check.  Every other streaming service, check.


2.Motorola Moto G – 16GB– The Moto G, due to be released on December 4th, is a great way to give a new Android smartphone to your luvva without chaining them to a two-year commitment.  It has much in common with its big brother Moto X, but for less than $200 it’s a stupendous deal.

3.Kindle Fire HDX 7″/ Google Nexus 7– Everyone wants a tablet, even if they don’t need one.  They are one of the hottest tech gifts period.  The reason for calling out both, rather than just the Nexus 7 is whether or not you are into Amazon Instant Video streaming.  If you’re a fan of that service then the tablet to get is the Fire, otherwise I would get the Nexus 7.  It is a quick tablet with a fabulous display.  I would also skip the 10″ version of any tablet.  They’re just too darn big.

4.Amazon Prime– If you are receiving a constant stream of purchase from Amazon, there’s a good chance that you are already an Amazon Prime member, but how about your father-in-law.  The impossible to buy for father-in-law.  He could use Prime as well.   Not only do you get free 2-day shipping on a significant percentage of items in the Amazon store, but you also get to stream all the available Instant Video choices that are included as part of the subscription.


5.Lenovo IdeaPad S400– The ultimate Christmas gift, a new laptop computer.  My recommendation is one of the Lenovo IdeaPad models.  They have plenty of power, plus they have touch screens.  That way when you reach out and interact with the computer with your finger, it will actually respond.

Now, you may be asking, where are all the Apple products?  Back at the store where they belong.  I can’t in good conscience ask anyone to buy Apple products where you get less for your money and are locked in with a company that only wants to extract every last cent it can out of the consumer.  If you are into Apple products, move on and God help you.

One last piece of advice, skip the extended warranty on your devices.  They are unnecessary most times and when/if it does become necessary to replace the device you won’t want to have it replaced with the same old many year-old tech.

Become a GMail Ninja

isinread

As a GMail user I tend to search for emails a lot. Rather than organize by labels I just use the search function. Search for a keyword from the email and up it pops in the results. You want an email from john@smith.com, searching for the email address gives you all the interactions with that person. But how about going deeper with your search?

Say you’ve been picking and choosing which email you click on and now the unread are interspersed with the read. You’d like to see all the unread mail in your inbox. GMail search to the rescue. Simply type in the search box, “is:unread in:inbox“, and the result is a list of exactly those emails and only those emails.  I need all the emails from joe@josts.com prior to 10/1/2013.  Not a problem.  Just search, “before: 2013/10/1 from:joe@josts.com“.

This just scratches the surface of what’s possible.  For the full monty on all things GMail search, check out the Advanced Search page at Google Support.

Amazon Prime Hobbled

add-on-item

What gives Amazon?

While making a purchase on Amazon today I ran into a problem that I hadn’t had before.  The thing that I wanted, the USB to Micro USB adapter pictured at the right was listed as an “Add-on Item”.  I wasn’t adding it on to anything.  I just wanted to purchase the cable and have it delivered with my Amazon Prime. However, that’s not what happened.

When trying to check out with the item in my cart, I was informed that the item would not ship unless I had purchased $25 of goods on Amazon.  I chose the appropriate option of “Prime Eligible” when searching for the item I wanted but that’s not what I got.  I got another subset of items that ship only when I spend $25 or more.

This is not an isolated “problem”.

myotape

Why is this an Add-on item only?

The Amazon policy is explained in their Shipping & Delivery section of their Help page. The policy is better explained by this Amazon Strategies blog post.

“The Add-on program allows Amazon to offer thousands of low-priced items that would be cost-prohibitive to ship on their own…”

So there it is. Amazon is getting rid one of the big benefits of Amazon Prime, effectively hobbling the service. Now, if you want that small item AND you still want to purchase through Amazon, you’ll have to buy it from one of the Amazon Partners that are willing to sell those small items one-sy, two-sy. Luckily, many of those partners will ship items for free as well. You’ll just have to wait the 3-5 days for standard shipping instead of the 2-day shipping that we were promised with Prime.

I have to wonder why I’m only seeing this now though.  I buy things on Amazon using Prime multiple times a month.  Is it a larger roll-out?  I only tend to buy larger items on Amazon?

It’s time to take a serious look at what I’m paying for with Amazon Prime.  My Prime subscription is set to auto-renew on August 28, 2013.  There is going to be some serious number crunching to decide if it’s worth it before I renew this year.   I’m guessing it’s going to be…
do not renew

How to Block Cellphone Spam

I’ve been getting quite a bit of text message spam lately. Strange messages show up on my cell phone telling me how to get my horoscope or how to make $100/day by being an undercover shopper. How do you stop it?

You could do what the messages say and reply “STOP” or “NO” to the message. This goes against the common knowledge that you shouldn’t reply to email spam. The idea being that you’ve just told them that the email address that they have is indeed a good address. This seems only logical for text spam as well. And, while email spam doesn’t cost you anything, except time, the text message does cost you money out-of-pocket.

A quick search on the Internets found the article below by David Pogue of the New York Times. Here’s what he found out for AT&T, my carrier:

AT&T: Log in at mymessages.wireless.att.com. Under Preferences, you’ll see the text-blocking and alias options. Here’s also where you can block messages from specific e-mail addresses or Web sites.

Funny that when I called AT&T that they didn’t give me this information.  They said there was nothing that I could do to stop the messages.  The article is from three years ago, but for AT&T the instruction were still correct.  We’ll see if the messages stop, but at least I’ve been proactive about stopping it.

How to Block Cellphone Spam – NYTimes.com.

Google Apps for Free

If you’re a small business and are using the email service that comes with your Internet connection, you’re doing it wrong.  Heaven forbid you’re using AOL or Yahoo as your email provider.  At a bare minimum you should have a personalized email address with your company’s domain name.  For example, I have the domain name russturley.com.  When I give out my email address, it has my username, russ, along with my domain name.  It’s much easier to remember than some obscure username at some local ISP’s domain name.

If you’re thinking, “But Russ, those types of service cost money that I don’t have.” I’m totally with you and have the answer.  The solution is Google Apps.  Google Apps provides the following services for companies with 10 users or less, FREE of charge.

Here’s what you get:

  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Docs (Collaborative spreadsheets and word processing and more)
  • Google Reader (News aggregator)
  • Google Sites (Simple web pages)
  • Blogger (Weblogs)
  • More!

If at any time in the future you grow beyond 10 users that you’d like to provide email, etc. for then you an upgrade to the “Business” edition at $50/user/year for a 1 year commitment or $5/user/month with no commitment.  Still a good deal and there are more group features that are available with the upgraded service that a company with that many employees can take advantage of.

All the versions have the option of integrating third-party apps like MailChimp, an email marketing and newsletter service, and Freshbooks, invoicing made easy, into Google Apps.  Great part about the third-party apps is that most have a free version also so you can try them out before making a commitment to the full service.

Google Apps helps groups build communities – Google Apps.

Why’s my browser so slow?

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, Why is my browser so slow?, then this post may shed some light on that. More often than not, when I come across a slow website, the problem ends up being Adobe Flash content. The site is either using Flash to deliver all or a portion of their content. It could be a video, advertisement, drop down lists, really any type of control on the page may be a Flash control. The by-product of that bit of Flash is a really slow website.

Flash is such a problem for computer performance that Apple completely left off support on their mobile products, iPhones and iPod Touches and the iPad and all those products are the better for it.  What’s left is a fast web full of quick loading pages.  In fact, many of competing products, like those running Android, enable flash and have had numerous performance and stability problems because of it.

If you’d like to get rid of looking at Flash, and you should, check out these solutions for the major browsers:

Dropbox Makes Sharing Files Easy

Transferring files from home to work and back can be a huge pain.  In the past you may have used floppy disks for transferring files back and forth. Then there were ZIP disks. Most recently flash memory USB thumb drives are the thing to move your files from computer to computer. Now there’s something easier.

Dropbox is a service that gives you a 2GB online storage site. Each computer you install the Dropbox utility on syncs with the online repository. The Dropbox utility also keeps all computers that use the same account synced with the latest version of your files. Anytime you turn on your computer, those files are there and ready for you to use.

Wait! It gets better. You are also able to share your files with others. Just input an email address and Dropbox will make those files available to that person. They don’t have to be Dropbox users themselves. The files are available to them on the Dropbox.com website. They will have to join Dropbox to access the files, but then they get the benefit of the service if they choose to install it on their system.

Wait! Again! There’s more. You now have a personal web server with Dropbox. There is a public folder that you can share files from. Simply copy the files to the Public folder and then copy the public link and share it with the world. The Public folder will not execute server code, though you could use JavaScript along with HTML and CSS to create a nice little site.

There’s even more to the service. And the best part of all this is the price. It’s free for the 2GB service. If you’d like to have more storage then you can upgrade to one of their pay tiers for 50GB or 100GB.

Free Anti-Virus for Windows

For some unknown reason, my virus protection on at least two computers failed/crashed and refused to start again. On these two computers I was using avast! Antivirus Free. The last time that I checked on it, it was version 5 of the software. The change to a new engine, the latest is version 6, may have been the thing that broke it. Either way, this was an opportunity to check out the landscape of free anti-virus products out there for the home user.

If you’re still using any Norton or McAfee products at home.  Stop!!  Uninstall that software right now and install one of these free alternatives.  Why?  In a word, expired subscriptions.  Most home users get a 90-day trial of one of the commercial antivirus programs on their new Windows-based computer.  When the 90-days is up, there is a nag screen that will tell you that it’s expired, but more often than not the warning gets dismissed and from then on the computer is out of date with the latest virus definitions.  That means you’re at risk of getting a nasty virus.

I’ll let you explore these alternatives on your own, but I have used AVG, avast! and Microsoft antivirus products personally.  They all work and I’ve never had an infection on any computer with these products installed.  The most interesting one of the bunch is the Panda Cloud Antivirus.  The reason being its described as “Light”.  That’s a great thing in an antivirus.  It shouldn’t slow down the system its protecting.  The lighter the better, so this is one I’m going to do some more research on.

So, which one did I pick?  I could have reinstalled avast! and tried that again, but instead I went with Avira this time around.

Let me know your opinion of these free antivirus applications in the comments.