Tips:  Internet & Video

[Last update: 4/20/13 - Redesigned]


Getting on the Internet
From the commercials, you'd think there was SO much choice in getting high-speed internet, but there isn't really. Its basically a duopoly between whatever cable company is in your town and the only landline phone company in your area. Satellite? They usally just pair up with the local phone company to compete with the local cable company. Until they change the laws to be something like the way power utilities have to allow competition, there won't be more than 2 choices in any area. Oh yeah, there's still dial up! Oh, ONLY if there is no other choice. lol
Comcast
Comcast, at $40-$50 a month, better be fast! But it is. It IS quite a bit faster than DSL and until FIOS is available here in NH from the telephone company (it may never get here if Verizon sells VT/NH/ME to a tiny company) it is the reigning champ for residential customers. You can run multiple computers and file servers with one connection easily. And it doesn't tie up your phone like a dialup connection will. And unlike DSL, if you get cable, they usually can get you a connection. (no distance from the office issues)

You can buy a Comcast kit at the store (Staples, Circuit City, Best Buy) but usually Comcast will send a guy out to enable it. Especially if your place needs to be upgraded to the new RG6 cable, which is required for best throughput over the old RG-59 TV cable. Their techs are good. Hopefully you get a cable guy who's been taught the computer stuff rather than just a computer guy. They fix you up from the pole and your TV reception gets better as well. I sometimes have to come in and cleanup the network issues they create though, especially if you have TiVos or Nintendo Wiis to get on your network as well. They won't do those.
Verizon DSL
I used Verizon DSL and although it IS slower than Comcast, even I, who LIVE on the Internet, rarely notice the difference, even with multiple computer, TiVos and Wiis on my network. Only if I run a file downloader like LimeWire or BitTorrent do I ever notice my network grinding to a halt. And at sale rates like $12.95 and $14.95 per month (usually for a years subscription) you can't beat the price! Even over dialup! And unlike dialup, you still can use the phone at the same time, just like cable!

For some reason, Verizon hasn't sold kits in the stores, though I think this finally has changed in some places. You call them or go online and see if your phone number can get DSL and they will send you a free kit in like 3 days. For $15, they'll make it a wireless kit, so you don't have to buy a wireless router to support more than one computer or wireless devices. (pay the $15, its worth it if you're ever going to go wireless) Its not too hard to install yourself and they have good phone techs to help, though I've had to intervene at times. ;-) Wierdest thing is having to put these filters they send you to put on all your OTHER phone lines to keep your phones from interfering with the DSL signal. Weird, but relatively easy.
Fairpoint DSL
I use Fairpoint DSL right now and it IS slower than Verizon was when they sold 'us' to Fairpoint. AND its unreliable these days, reminicint of the days of trying to dial into CompuServe, after AOL took them over! But at least, unlike dialup, you still can use the phone at the same time, just like cable. But there are just too many outages for my high use and I'm looking at going back to cable!

Forget the 'other' DSL companies. They have to get access to Verizon's/Fairpoint's lines and they makes it very hard to get connected. So its just a pain. Go right to the source. Shouldn't be that way, but it is.
Dialup
Why use dialup at $25 a month for AOL and the like or $10 for 5-10 hours a month, when DSL is as low as $13 or $24 at most?? Well, when Verizon/Fairpoint says you're TOO FAR to get DSL. Or you have satellite instead of cable. Or you travel and need a mobile connection. Or you only use your cellphone and have no landline. (they can STILL set you up with DSL even without a landline!) Or you loooove AOL's interface! (you can use AOL on DSL or cable WITHOUT paying for AOL now! Dump it!) Or you are REALLY fed up with Fairpoint! But other than that, going with cable or DSL will make life a lot smoother. If you do go dialup, and buy a new computer, make sure it has a modem! They're starting to leave them OUT of new computers.


Browsers
Yes, Windows comes with Internet Explorer, but I do find other browsers to be very useful at times. For one thing, they are less likely to be 'broken into' by spyware and viruses, just by the fact that they are not nearly as popular! Much like the Mac enjoys its clean, no-virused image, due to still pitiful marketshare, (its been stuck at 10% for 10 years, Mac-o-files, don't argue ;-) other browsers can fly under-the-radar, unaccosted by as many sicknesses as IE is. On the other hand, other browsers tend to be a tad less compatible with many websites, so I always keep IE around for those instances. But I find each browser is better at a particular task than the others:
Firefox - Being the next most popular browser, Firefox is also the next most compatible browser AND therefore the next most affected by spyware and viruses. There are even Firefox-specific ailments, but still NOwhere near the number that affects IE.

I find Firefox great for my email clients, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and my own site's service. (in the business I need to keep up on each service, when people ask questions :-) I have each on a tab and I saved all the tabs as my Homepages, so when I start up Firefox in the morning, I see all my email clients logging in at once!

Opera - Opera is less compatible with many webpages vs IE or Firefox, but it does so many other things better than either of them! Its also available for far more devices than just PCs. You can probably get it for your phone and its even available on the Nintendo Wii! (we love surfing YouTube on the Wii; much better on a TV than a PC! ;-)

I use Opera for all the websites I have to 'sign in' to. It somehow recognizes 'username' and 'password' spots on webpages far FAR more accurately and reliably than either IE or Firefox. Click on the 'magic wand' icon on a page and it fills it in and off you go into the site. Far easier than any other way to get into a site. So I access all my utility, bank and finance sites via Opera, yet its more secure than using IE, since its not targeted by viruses.

Chrome - Chrome is Google's new browser, which is also found on Google's Android OS-based phones. It seems a bit more compatible than Opera and is supposedly THE most secure browser, but that causes problems with say password handling, because it works almost NOWHERE! So back to writing down your passwords with Chrome. The interface is also the most different & bare, along with Safari, so its a learning curve. But some neat features.

Safari - Safari is Apple's browser, so if you use a Mac too, this is your choice. Otherwise it won't be. ;-) Its made from the same toolkit as Chrome and has a more bare interface as well. YET, it is considered THE most unsecure of the browsers, which is ironic, given Apple's rep for 'no viruses here'. Of course THAT's because of their small market share, so why write a virus for only 1 in 10 computers? No fun. :-)

AOL - Please, please, please DON'T download AOL! Its the most virused and spywared interface ever created! I spend more time cleaning machines infected thru AOL than ANYthing else! I know non-computer folk love the interface, but I can show you how to get it all ... somewhere else! If you want to keep your AOL email, you don't have to pay AOL or even use its desktop any more. You can get your AOL email on the web thru any browser.


Video help
I do a lot of video work these days. (as you could see from my Home page boring you to death until I added the special affects, or my Fun Science page FULL of videos! ;-) And I find a lot of PCs I work on are not up to snuff on the proper software drivers to see and hear all the latest video/audio out there on the web. So I end up installing a lot of them for folks or removing bad ones that are causing trouble.
YouTube
YouTube of course, is the grandaddy of all video sites. Still the best, with the most. Especially now that Google bought them! Yahoo Video and AOL Video have their moments, but are still also-rans, far behind the leader. Also forget the 'wanna be' sites like Motiono.com. (I won't even grace them with a hyperlink) Terribly run and poor performing or outright just devious, they aren't worth your time.

I put a lot of my videos on my various YouTube accounts, or see my About page for them:
My main account, with lots of 60s/70s videos
My extra account, with space-related stuff
My Missing Pieces-related work
Enjoy!
TeacherTube
One problem with YouTube is its content can be just about anything. Like it or not, its mostly likely there. So a lot of schools and libraries have banned YouTube access within their facilities. :-( So a bunch of teacher came to me and asked me if I would put my 'School House Rock' and space videos on a place where teachers can at them in schools/libraries.

A bunch of teachers got together and this summer started a site just for this: TeacherTube.com! TeacherTube is a site for educators, teachers and students to share school-related videos and teaching materials amongst each other, without the clutter and inappropriate subject matter of other video sites.

Its NOT nearly as polished and versatile as YouTube is, I admit. And I have reported MANY bugs. (many have been fixed too! :-) But it works well and gets things exposed within schools like they wanted. Plus it has special features YouTube doesn't, like allowing videos longer than 10 minutes and attaching other useful files to a video, like help, word, PDF and such files, to assist the user in the subject of the video. Very neat.

But its not without its thorns. ;-) So I have created a series of videos on TeacherTube on how to use TeacherTube better, called TeacherTube Tips:
TeacherTube Tips
All my TeacherTube videos
MySpace TV
Another interesting video spot on the web is MySpace TV. Not so much a 'me too' site as a service to all those MySpace folk, who want to easily embed tons of videos in their MySpace pages. lol They have recently been bought by Fox I think it was and they have made many of their TV shows available here. So it has some things YouTube won't have.
RedBox video rentals FREE on Monday and Wednesday!
Have you seen a red vending machine in your local grocery store? Its most likely a RedBox video rental kiosk! Unlike Blockbuster, you rent videos for $1 per day. Keep the video for 3 days? Its $3. Keep it for just a day? Its $1! And if you rent on Monday or Wednesday, you can get a rental for FREE!

If you go to their signup page and give them your cellphone number, they will text message you a 'promo/coupon code' on Monday and Wednesday, that you can type in at the kiosk (look for the 'promo' button on the screen) and a dollar will come off your rental total!

I haven't paid for a video in weeks!

Oh yeah, and you can reserve a video on a local RedBox, so you know its there when you get there! Go to the Reserve Online page and look at what's available on a local RedBox near you.

Here's a list of the RedBoxes in the Nashua area.
Orb.com: To see/hear your PC's videos/photos/music anywhere, including your Wii!
Register your PC on Orb.com and you can use your Orb account from anywhere on the Internet to see your videos/photos/music on your PC! Much like the Slingbox let's you see your TV anywhere, like on the road in a hotel or at a friend's, Orb does the same for the contents of your PC, letting you see what it has anywhere else. But unlike Slingbox, there is NO extra hardware! Just free software! :-)

But what I love best is Orb is made to work from our Wii! So I can watch movies I have on my hard drive on my PC in the LIVING ROOM, _NOT_ back in my computer room. MUCH more comfortable! And the quality is great. Much better than even watching YouTube from the Wii. Almost DVD quality!

AND there is a Games section on the Orb menu, that gets you free internet games to play on the Wii, with MANY Wii-specific! So you want a new game to play on your Wii? Then surf to Orb and try a few... for FREE!
Can't see the videos on YouTube/TeacherTube/MySpaceTV?
Then you probably don't have Adobe's Flash Player installed on your computer. (also know as Macromedia Flash until Adobe bought them up) This is one of the most essential pieces of software to view content on the web. Video, animation, games, most use Flash as their delivery vehicle. So feel assured downloading & installing this one if you don't have it already.
Can't see a video someone sent you or you downloaded?
There are lots of different 'types' of video files out there. Unfortunately. Cameras take different kinds; videocams take other types; video editors create other types; DVDs support other types.

Its a mess.

So not every file can be played by Windows Media Player, which is the default video player in Windows. But, when I work on someone's PC, I have found if I do a few select installs, I can set up a person's machine to handle about 98% of the videos they will encounter on the web, whether by downloading from things like LimeWire and BitTorrent, or sent to you by your friends:

Windows Update - Keep Your system up-to-date, or at least pick from 'Custom' the updates relating to Windows Media Player. This will keep all Microsoft-supported video formats working.

DivX - DivX is an extremely popular video format that produces small video files with great clarity. So a LOT of video editors prefer this format. Installing this only requires the 'codec' in the install, because it works within Windows Media Player itself, but the Divx Player is also very nice itself and even though I prefer Windows Media Player these days for ease of use, its nice to have the Divx Player around for a 2nd choice.

Apple QuickTime - Apple, always being the 'lone wolf' of the PC industry, like Sony and its proprietary hardware formats, has its own video format for Apple Macs. Graciously, they have shared it with the 'rest of us' over the years. ;-) Many cameras use their format, since Apple has always targeted the Graphics market.

If you have an iPod or iPhone, you probably already have QuickTime installed along with your iTunes software. If you don't have either 'iThings', when you install, DON'T pick the option to install iTunes. You just need QuickTime to view Apple (.mov) video files.

Still got Windows 98/98SE/ME? - Neither of the above will run on these old versions of Windows. :-( They both require Windows 2000, XP or Vista unfortunately. BUT, _I_ have old versions of BOTH that will install on Windows 98/98SE/ME :-) :
DivX 5.2.1 for Windows ME/98
Apple QuickTime 6.5.2 for Windows ME/98