Monday, March 16, 2009

Learning to Blog

Readers, thank you for being patient with me as I am adjusting to being a blogger. I promise more posts will be coming soon with some great topics. I have been learning a lot about writing a blog and I am going to share some of what I have been learning with you today. I will also discussing how you can know that this blog has been updated and I will list some of the upcoming topics.

Creating a blog is easy, you just pick a provider, in my case, Blogger, and sign up. Blogging itself is more challenging. I have found that I need time to write the blog. I also need to spend time managing the blog page. In addition, I need to learn more about blogging in general. Below are some of the other lessons I have faced.

I have also learned that I need an editor or two. No matter how many times I reread post, I will always miss something, because your brain will often fix it for you, and Word will only catch so much. I have lined up one “technical” editor, but I would also like to have a “content” editor or two. Would anyone like to volunteer? I cannot pay anything, but would love to give you credit and buy you a drink or two. It probably would not even be much work, I would like to give you a time estimate, but I can only make a wild guess (about an hour a week). I am looking for someone that is good with grammar. I would also like someone that can review the blog to make sure that it is understandable to my audience. If you can do both, great! If not, I would still like to know if you are interested, because it could be two people instead of one.

Researching what I am writing about has also taken more time than I expected. I thought I would know most of the information off the top of my head. I am finding that some of it needs more research to make sure I am accurate or can provide good examples.

The perfect example of this is the topic I have been wanted to post on for a couple of weeks now, how to follow a blog. I do not know a lot about this topic because I do not follow many blogs and surprisingly there are not too many good articles out there about how to follow or subscribe to a blog. It seems the ways to know a blog has been updated varies from blog site to blog site.

For Quick Tips from IT to Users, you have a couple of choices of ways to be notified of updates. First, I will update my status on Facebook and Twitter to let you know that I have made an update. If we are connected to through either one of those sites, you will get these notices.

Your second option is to join my mailing list. There is a box on the right side of the screen labeled, “Contact Me’. Just fill in your name and email address, and someone in the subject or message ask to subscribe to the mailing list. You will then need to enter the verification code, so that I know that you are not a spammer, and then click send.

You can also use the options on the right side of the screen, labeled, “Subscribe to Quick Tips”, which allow you to subscribe using an RSS feeder. If you are already using an RSS reader, this is probably your best option. If you are not familiar with RSS Feeds, you can wait for my post about RSS feeds and I will explain what an RSS Reader and RSS Feeds are and how to use them.

Any of these options should let you know when I have posted a new blog, so you do not need to check this site everyday for updates, at least until I am able to start updating it more regularly.

I would like to leave you with some of the upcoming topics. Please leave a comment, or email me directly with any topics you would like me to address.

Future Topics:
Text messaging tips for the average person
Spam, Hoaxes, Viruses, and Phishing (
Why you should have multiple email accounts
Why you should use a social networking site
Why you should use PayPal
Why can't I visit certain websites at work?
Why can’t I install software on my work computer?
How to keep your IT department happy
How to backup your files
How to set your browser to open multiple websites at once
How to get your email when you are away from your computer
How to pick a secure password
How do internet addresses work
What do websites know about you
Etiquette for email, internet, blogs, and comments

Thanks again for your patience. Take a few seconds to make sure you are notified when the next post is uploaded. Please let me know if you are interested in assisting me with editing or if you have any comments, questions, or requests for topics.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why can't I listen to Internet radio or watch TV online at work?

Today I'd like to address one of the big complaints that spurs questions, frustrations, and theories from people about their IT department. This is one that I find very interesting to overhear. The reasons that people think we block streaming audio and video is often far from the truth.

Honesty, I've even heard people within IT complain about not being able to listen to Internet radio or watch a sporting event online. I can't blame them. I'd love to be able listen to music over the web while I'm at work.

What I want you to learn today, that your IT department doesn't block this type of stuff to be mean or make sure you are working or anything like that. It's because if they allowed it, you wouldn't be able to work and the network would grind to a halt. Then, you'd be frustrated with us for not doing our job. (Just a disclaimer: the reasons I list here are based on my experience and knowledge, it is possible that your IT department is mean, I don't know them (unless I'm in your IT Department, then these ARE the reasons, and we aren't just being mean).

So, why can't you watch streaming video or listen to streaming audio at work? First, I'd like to explain what "streaming" content is. Streaming means that the audio and/or video is being constantly fed over the internet to your computer. Some great examples of this is Internet Radio, which includes local radio stations, and Internet only stations, such as among many others. Streaming video can include things like live TV broadcasts, web cam feeds, or sporting event feeds.

The reason that your IT department has to block this content is because of the "streaming" part. As a constant feed comes across the internet and the company's network to your computer, it requires a certain amount of bandwidth.

The best way to visualize this is to think about the Internet being like our roadway system and the data going across it being like vehicles, the bandwidth is the number of lanes there are on the road. Most internet traffic travels like cars from a house, out to the main road, to a bigger road, to the highway, then to smaller and smaller roads until it reaches its destination. Sometimes when you are downloading a file, or opening a web page with lots of pictures or detail, it is a larger group of information traveling over the Internet, just like panel trucks and tractor-trailers. Just like these larger vehicles, the larger group of information has harder time getting to the smaller roads, and some roads are impassable (like a 1994 dial-up connection).

Streaming across the Internet is like a parade or caravan. It requires a couple lanes across the road to get from the source of the feed to your computer. Moreover, it uses those lanes the entire time you are watching or listening to that feed. That's not a problem for say, a TV station, because they are connected directly to the highway (they have their own multi-lane ramp) and can afford their private highway entrance/exit because they are making money off what you are watching.

Your company, however, may only have a few lanes out to the Internet, and only one or two lanes to your computer. This is where the problem comes in. Usually those lanes are plenty for all the "work-related" data going across the network and out to the Internet, but when you are streaming, everything else will have to fit through the remaining lanes, if there are any. Add a few of your co-workers doing the same thing, and now no one can send or receive emails, or open or save files to the server, or work with any of the production programs that run the company (SAP, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, Sage, or whatever your company uses). Then we have problems.

Why don't we just get more lanes? The most basic answer is because we don't need it to run the company. It's hard to justify the cost of putting those lanes in and maintaining them, if we are only doing it for entertainment purposes. While I can't give you specific numbers, I can tell you that it would cost the company more than most of any of our salaries to be able to have that kind of bandwidth (or extra lanes).

I hope this answers the question as to why your IT Department won't let you listen to Internet Radio or watch TV online.

Please let me know if you have any questions or any topics or questions you'd like me to address in future posts. Just use the comment feature below.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Did you know that you can use Google to do more than just search for a website?

Read on to learn how to use Google to: get a word's definition, check spelling, do a quick calculation, convert units of measure and currency, check the weather or time somewhere, check how your stock or sports team is doing, check out times for movies or flights, or find out where a package or area code is.

If you are looking for the definition of a word just enter: "define word" as your search. (Without the quotes, and replacing "word" for the word you want defined.

What if you are just wondering how to spell something? Go ahead; type it in as your search. If it was spelled wrong, Google will suggest the correct spelling. If it's correctly spelled, you'll just get search results.

Need a quick calculator? Just enter the equation into the search box.

To take it a step further, you can convert a unit of measurement into another unit, by just entering: "5 in = ? cm" as your search. You can do this with lots of different measurements such as inches to centimeters, or yards, tablespoons to teaspoons, even megabytes into gigabytes. Just put the question mark where you want your answer. This even works with currency.

If you want the weather, just type "weather" followed by the city, state, Zip code, or city, country.

For the time somewhere, just enter "time" and the city.

For stock quotes, just type the ticker symbol for your search.

For sports scores and schedules for teams in the NFL, NHL, MLB, or English Premier League, just type the team name in as your search.

Want to head out to the movies? Just enter the name of the movie and your zip code for showtimes.

Flying somewhere? Just enter the airport code or city and the word "airport" to see delays for that airport. If you have a specific U. S. flight to check on, enter the airlines name and flight number.

What if you're just waiting for something to arrive? You can track a package shipped through UPS, USPS, or FedEx by entering your tracking number in the search box.

Getting a phone call and you don't recognize the area code? Just enter it into the search box, and Google will let you know where call is coming from or at least where the phone is registered.

That really covers a lot. The best part is that Google is forgiving. If you don't remember the exact wording from above, just try what you think it might be. Chances are that Google will know what you mean. Now if we can just figure out how to other people to know what we mean as well as Google does!

Use the comments section to mention any other Google tricks you know, or if you have something, you'd like me to discuss in the future. Thanks!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Facebook Applications Tips

If you are a Facebook user, you've noticed the updates from your friends that they're improving their score on this app, or reached a new level on that app. Did you know you can control what your friends see about you?

You can control how much an app publishes for you. Just go into your Facebook settings (by clicking on the top right corner of your screen), and select Applications from the drop down menu.

Now you can see all the apps you've used in the last month. You can change the view, by using the drop down labeled "Show". If you are showing Authorized, you should be seeing most, if not all apps that have the ability to post items about you.

Here's the important part: next to each app, you have three options: edit, about, x.

X will remove the app. Perfect for app that you only used once. (A friend sent you something, or you just wanted to see what the app was, etc.) This removes all the apps authorizations, and you won't see it anymore.

"About" will take you to a page about the app. It will show you who the publisher is and see any discussions about it.

Edit is what we are focused on. Click on edit and you will see a list of options that can vary from one app to another. Under the wall tab, you can control what is posted for you about your activities on this app. This is what I was looking for when I was trying to figure how to control what my friends saw. I've changed most of my apps to "Prompt me before publishing any stories".

You can also look at the other tabs. You'll see profile, which lets you pick if the apps appear on your profile as a box, a tab, and who can see your profile. Apps that are set to appear on your profile as a box will appear as a small box on your main page. An app that is set to appear as a tab will show up as a tab at the top of your main page. When you set who can see your profile, you can choose from only you, only your friends (and you!), friends of friends (includes your friends and you), or your network and friends (all of the above). Another tab is Bookmark, which controls if you see the app at the bottom and top right of your screen, useful if it's an app you use regularly. You may also see a tab for Additional Permissions. This is for some unique apps like Facebook for your phone or BlackBerry.

I encourage you to take time to explore these settings as well as the other settings that Facebook lets you control. I'd suggest checking these out for any website, software, webmail, or anything else you use. How to get to the settings and the options may change, but most programs make it easy to figure out what the options mean. If you have some you'd like me to specifically address, please let me know in the comments.

Please use the comments to ask any questions about what I've covered here or about anything else you'd like me to discuss.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Welcome to Quick Tips from IT to Users

Welcome to my new adventure. I was sitting here on a snowy Saturday and checking out the settings on my Facebook page. I thought that I should make sure my friends know that they can and should do this. So here it is, my way to let my friends, and everyone else, know some of the tricks and tips I have picked up over the years.

Here's my plan: I'll try to post at least once a week a tip, trick involving computers, or the internet. I'm open to suggestions, so if you what to know about something, just ask and I'll try to address it in a future post. I'm guessing that for a while, there will be many posts, but eventually it will slow down to once a week.

Your next question is probably, who am I? Well, my name is Sara and I've been in IT for over 10 years. I started using them pretty early on (mid-80's) because my dad worked with them at work and loved using spreadsheets to create lists. I also share that love (and ability to be that anal!) so my paper route (in 1989) was managed in a spreadsheet. Eventually I went off to college for a Bachelor of Business Administrator in End User Computer Support (or Office Systems as it was called the semester I graduated) from University of Wisconsin - Whitewater.

Since then I've been a "Jack-of-All-Trades" within IT Support for two different companies. I answer Help Desk calls, support, and maintain servers and a phone system, conduct user training, and sometimes even pull out the tools to fix a chair or hang a picture for someone.

Currently my job includes all that and I'm responsible for rolling out new software or major updates to current software, I also handle supporting cell phones and BlackBerries and the Blackberry server. (Yes, I am addicted to my Blackberry!). Therefore, while no two days are ever the same, and never go as planned, I still get to do what I got into the career to do: Help people use computers.

This brings me back to this Blog. It's here to give me another way to share my knowledge and curiosity with others. I want to tell you about little tricks you may not know about, about why your IT department does things the way it does, and most importantly make you more comfortable with your computer and the Internet.

So off we go!