Tech Tip Tom, formerly of WIBC 93.1FM and

Month: December, 2012

My Annual Freeware Picks


My annual freeware picks:




AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012 Suite & Platform



What do people use to synchronize their christmas lights to music?


There are many options for this. Some are expensive, another is not.


The GE Lights and Sounds of Christmas (found at Walmart, Lowes, Sears, …) sells for about $100. It gives you 6 individual circuits that control up to 1440 watts of preselected music and the lights are preprogrammed. It is essentially a plug and play.


There are three major manufacturers of hardware/software that allows you to program your lights via computer.

You pick a song, break it down into small segments of time (like 0.10 second segments) and tell each individual circuit of lights to turn on, off, fade, twinkle or shimmer.

Light-O-Rama (LOR) :

D-Lights is the least expensive of the three, but you have to have the ability to assemble your own equipment.

LOR is the preferred vendor for residential displays. It is a complex software that takes you about 4 hours per minute of song for 32-48 channels to program. A channel is an individual circuit of lights that you choose to control.

Animated Lighting is the most expensive, yet it is easier to program. Their equipment is what is found on some residential displays and most commercial displays.


(Reprinted from Yahoo!)

Computer literacy becoming more vital

Computer literacy becoming more vital

Columbia Daily Tribune
Columbia, Missouri

One of the greatest gifts you can give your favorite computer user this holiday is knowledge. It’s something everybody can use a little more of and one gift that truly keeps on giving.

Computer literacy is something many of us take for granted. Just because someone has been using a PC for several years doesn’t mean they are computer-savvy. In fact, you would be surprised how many people can run specific applications such as wizards, then turn around and stumble on the most basic computer task. This week, we’ll look at fundamental skills everyone must master to call themselves computer-literate, which in today’s job market can make all the difference.

Many computer users pick up the basics on their own, while others benefit from more structured learning. There are many opportunities available, from local classroom or private instruction to online courses and printed guidebooks. Here are a few areas to brush up on:

Basic connectivity — How things fit together. Laptop users have it easier, but if you’ve got a desktop PC, there can be a lot to connect: power, video, audio, keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, USB hubs, external drives and more. If you use the equipment on a daily basis, it makes sense that you should know, at the very least, how to connect each device to the proper port. Don’t just memorize where each cable connects — although that’s a great place to start — learn the function of each device and characteristics of different cables and plugs.

File and folder management — You’d be surprised how many people using computers don’t know basic skills like the difference between copying and moving files, how to rename files or create a new folder, and how to restore deleted files. These are all functions many of us take for granted, they have become so instinctual. For others, it’s a concept they wrestle with but never quite grasp. One thing is certain: Unless you want to raise some eyebrows — followed by a sigh — during a job interview or aptitude test, you need to demonstrate basic skills for navigating drives, folders and files.

Web browsing and search engines — Sure, everyone knows how to surf the Web, but that doesn’t denote skill or ability. Use of search engines is an important skill, demonstrating how to quickly and effectively arrive at the information you need. You would be surprised how many people don’t know the difference between a search engine query and their browser’s URL address bar. Don’t be one of them. A great place to start is my favorite online resource for advanced Web searching,, a site full of extremely useful information for newcomers and experts alike.

Employers like to know you’re comfortable navigating the Web but are not someone easily distracted by bells and whistles. To demonstrate basic online computer literacy, you need to know how to turn off pop-ups, adjust cookie levels, set your home page, manage history and search like a pro.

Word processing — Sad to say, the closest some people get to word processing is texting on their cellphones. In the business world, however, knowing your way around word processing software — most commonly, Microsoft Word — is essential. You don’t have to be an expert, but know the basics in page layout, text formatting, tables, graphs and printing. Notice that I’m not pushing spelling, grammar or punctuation, all seemingly lost skills and a topic worthy of its own discussion.

Manage email — Don’t believe it when they say email is dead. To stay afloat in a professional environment, academic or business, you need to know how to manage an email account. That means going a little beyond sending and receiving emails — synching accounts, directing incoming mail, sorting mail in folders, and setting up aliases, contact lists and group mailings.

Scott A. May is a computer consultant and Deskside Support technician at IBM. Reach him at

World’s first computer programmer


Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852), born Augusta Ada Byron and now commonly known as Ada Lovelace, was an English mathematician and writer chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine. Because of this, she is often considered the world’s first computer programmer.

Ada was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron (with Anne Isabella Byron). She had no relationship with her father, who separated from her mother just a month after Ada was born, and four months later he left England forever and died in Greece in 1823 when she was eight.

As a young adult, she took an interest in mathematics, and in particular Babbage’s work on the analytical engine.

Between 1842 and 1843, she translated an article by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she supplemented with a set of notes of her own. These notes contain what is considered the first computer program – that is, an algorithm encoded for processing by a machine.

Ada’s notes are important in the early history of computers. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities.

Computer components


The the late 1960s and early 70s, there was much talk about “generations” of computer technology. This photo illustrates what were commonly known as the three generations:

  1. First generation: Vacuum tubes (left). Mid 1940s. IBM pioneered the arrangment of vacuum tubes in pluggable modules such as the one shown here on the left. The IBM 650 was a first-generation computer.
  2. Second generation: Transistors (right). 1956. The era of miniaturization begins. Transistors are much smaller than vacuum tubes, draw less power, and generate less heat. Discrete transistors are soldered to circuit boards like the one shown, with intereconnections accomplished by stencil-screened conductive patterns on the reverse side. The IBM 7090 was a second-generation computer.
  3. Third generation: Integrated circuits (foreground), silicon chips contain multiple transistors. 1964. A pioneering example is the ACPX module used in the IBM 360/91, which, by stacking layers of silicon over a ceramic substrate, accommodated over 20 transistors per chip; the chips could be packed together onto a circuit board to achieve unheard-of logic densities. The IBM 360/91 was a hybrid second- and third-generation computer.

Omitted from this taxonomy is the “zeroth” generation computer based on metal gears (such as the IBM 407) or mechanical relays (such as the Mark I), and the post-3rd generation computers based on Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) circuits.

Photo: IBM [32].

Frank da Cruz / / Columbia University Computing History / Jan 2001