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If you haven't upgraded to Windows 7 or are looking for a new version of Office, don't head to your nearest retail store/website just yet.  You may have a cheaper option.  If you are a student or teacher chances are that you qualify for academic pricing.  Microsoft's web page with more information can be found here.  You may have better luck, however, asking someone at the campus bookstore or checking your school's website for specific deals. 

Another option I just read about on CNET's Cheapskate blog is Microsoft's TechNet subscription service.  Basically for $200 you can download almost any piece of Microsoft Software for up to 10 computers (non commercial use).  This includes Windows 7 and Office.  A full list of available software can be found here (xlsx file).  For more details on this product/program I recommend checking out the blog post on bnet. 


Keep track of your money in 2010

Posted by Scott

Check out the blog below for some geeky and some not so geeky ways to keep track of your money.


Get more out of your gmail account

Posted by Scott

Here's a useful trick to make it easier to organize your inbox.


Avoid Unwanted Data Charges

Posted by Scott

My wife and I recently decided it was time to upgrade cell phones.  Previously we were each an added line on our parents cell plans.  After some deliberation, we decided it would be best if we cut the cord (pun intended, sorry) and started a new plan on our own.  We ended up with new phones and a text/picture messaging plan, but no data plan.  I like the concept of having internet on my phone (almost) anywhere I go, but I am not ready to pay the extra premium every month.  Unfortunately, basically every new phone is made so that you can have easy access to the internet, even if you don't subscribe to a data plan.  This often means an accidental button press, extra curiosity, or multitudes of preloaded data using apps can lead to connecting to the data network, resulting in unwanted charges.  If you are a newer subscriber to AT&T, data usage without having a data plan will cost $2/MB.  Since they always round up even one accidental visit to the mobile web will cost you $2 even if you only transfer 100kb of data.

So, if you are in this position what are your options?  The first option would be to call your carrier's customer service and ask them to block all data to your phone.  This will prevent any data transfer to/from your phone.  This may be a very good option for some people.  However, many texting plans now include text, picture and even video messages.  For AT&T (I would imagine other carriers are similar) picture messages are actually sent through the phone's internet connection, but you are only charged 1 message, not kb of data.  Therefore, if you block all data you are blocking a feature you are paying extra for.

I wasn't ready to give up picture messages, especially since I was wanting to experiment with posting pictures to facebook via my new cell phone.  I started looking into other options and I came across a way to eliminate most of the accidental data charges and keep all of my phone features available to me.  The solution is to create "dummy" internet profiles on your phone.  I'll walk you through what this looks like on my LG Xenon.  The process should be similar for other phones/carriers, but I can't guarantee your results.

First, look for through the settings menu of your phone for different "connection settings."  Your user manual should help you find these settings.

On the Xenon go to Settings --> More --> Connection --> Access Points --> create a new profile
Here you can create a "dummy" access point with bogus information that will not be able to connect to the network, thereby avoiding data charges.

Next create a new Internet Profile by going to Settings --> More --> Connection --> Internet profile --> new profile.  In your new profile make sure to use your newly created dummy access point in this set of settings.

Finally change the built in browser connection settings Settings --> More --> Applications --> Browser --> Accounts  From here create a new account making sure to use your dummy Internet profile.

If possible, do not delete the default settings, create a new entry instead.  If something goes wrong you can always go back to the defaults.
There may be more places to change settings depending on your phone/carrier.
I have only used this on my phone and have not tested this extensively.
This may not eliminate all paths to data usage, but should significantly cut down on accidental charges.
I recommend doing some searching on google to try and find people who have attempted something similar with the same model phone that you have.


Toy Tracker

Posted by Scott is a new site for gadget news, reviews, etc.  What's different about gdgt is the social networking features.  At gdgt you can create an account and add the gadgets you have or want to your profile.  You can discuss your favorite products, ask for technical help, or add to the database of gear.  This can be a great resource if you choose popular gadgets.  As the user base continues to grow and more products are added gdgt has the potential to become a one stop shop for research, reviews, and tips from actual owners.  It was also fun to look up past toys and gadgets and see how far things have come.  Check it out.  If you like it you can follow me and we can be friends.

my gadgets


Online Storage

Posted by Scott

Online storage is becoming more and more popular as high speed internet and cheap, high capacity storage infiltrates mainstream America.  There are several ways to keep your favorite files online.  If you want complete customization and flexibility you can build your own network area storage (NAS) unit.  This is more cost and effort than most people want to exert.  Instead, many people are opting for online services.  An important use of online storage is for offsite backup.  I use Mozy to back up some of my documents automatically.  If you want to pay $5/month you can backup your entire computer and should the worst case scenario happen, you will still have all of your files.  Mozy will give you 2GB free space (if you sign up with my link we will both get an additional 256MB) to try their service.  Carbonite is a similar service.  Another reason for online storage is to transfer your files from computer to computer.  In the good old days we all used to carry around floppy disks.  Then we upgraded to CDs and emailing ourselves that presentation we had to give in class next hour.  Now USB drives and online storage are common place.  Dropbox is a popular service for this.  Online services for uploading files have been around for quite a while now, usually offering 500MB - 2GB free storage.  Microsoft has recently upgraded its skydrive service to offer 25GB space for FREE.  There are a couple of things to keep in mind, however.  For one, the drag and drop bulk uploader only works with internet explorer.  You can add file from any browser, you just have to be prepared to select individual files.  The other thing that limits Skydrive uses is its 50MB/file limit.  This prevents you from backing up many video and other large files.  If you want to share files, Skydrive will let you upload to a public folder and provide a url to share with your friends.  I will probably upload all of our wedding pictures to skydrive to keep on copy (along with other backups) online.  If you have an existing hotmail or account you already have a skydrive account.  If not, the 25GB may tempt you to signing up for microsoft's service.  Don't forget, you can create different accounts at 25GB apiece if you really need a lot of storage.


Nerd Search

Posted by Scott

If you pay very much attention to tech news, you've probably noticed an abundance of buzz around the new Wolfram Alpha "computational knowledge engine."  Wolfram is not a replacement for your favorite search engine, but it can provide a wealth of information in the world of science and math.  Here's a full list of search examples.  You can also watch an overview video (13 min).    This site will only become more useful as more data and calculations are added.  Go check it out.  You'll never have this much fun doing double integrals.