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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Anker 40W 5-Port Family-Sized Desktop USB Charger With PowerIQ Technology

Loyal readers know I am a huge fan of wall plates that include USB ports. I like the Belkin wall plate so much that I got a couple more for my house last week. Of course there are times that even two USB ports aren't enough. While the ports on that plate are great, they don't provide the extra juice needed for devices that have a "fast charge" option.

So whether you get one for a location in your home where charging takes place or you get one to take on the road, the Anker 40W 5-Port USB Charger (see photo below) is something you should seriously consider. It is currently selling for under $26 on Amazon.

Anker 40W 5-Port Family-Sized Desktop USB Charger - PowerIQ Technology

Not only does this awesome little charger have five ports, it also includes technology to deliver the extra juice for devices that support fast charging. It is an elegant solution for putting a charger on a desk, counter or nightstand. It is also small enough it can easily fit in your travel bag. As we all get more devices that charge via USB, we're going to need this kind of charger to keep the power flowing.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Getting Rid of the X in CorelDRAW PowerClip Frames

PowerClip FrameIf my memory is correct, the PowerClip feature arrived somewhere around CorelDRAW 5. That's 5, not X5. So it has been around for around 20 years. As Corel looks at how users take advantage of features, they look for pain points and ways that pain can be removed or at least lessened.

One such pain point was frames being left behind after the contents were extracted from a PowerClip. The solution that was implemented (I think it started in CorelDRAW X6) was to display a big X in a frame that contained no contents as you can see in the graphic at right. For me and many other users, this created an even bigger pain point. That X prints, gets exported and otherwise interferes with our artwork. Personally I wish there was a way to completely disable this new "feature" as I never want the X to appear.

I'm sure some of you like the new behavior and it helps your workflow. I got a call recently from a loyal reader being driven absolutely nuts by the X as it was showing up on a wooden sign he etched with his laser engraver. There was a real cost to etch another sign as the wood is not free. With a new feature like this, you'd think there was a very, very obvious way to get rid of the X. Unfortunately it is hidden deep enough that many users struggle to find it or don't find it at all.

Remove PowerClip Frame

PowerClip Frame GoneAre you one who has pulled out some of your hair to find out how to rid yourself of the X? I struggled to find it myself so I've written this post to help you find it a little more quickly. Plus it is a nice reminder should I forget where it is found. You need to right-click on the PowerClip frame containing the X and you'll get a pop-up menu similar to the one above. From that menu, choose Frame Type | None as shown and the X will be gone as shown at right.

It should be more obvious how to get rid of it. Maybe there should be an option on the Property Bar or even in the Effects menu. Personally I'd prefer a way to permanently disable the "frame type" option completely as it does not help my workflow. For now, I'll just have to do it as I've shown above.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

My Computer Got An Unexpected Upgrade, A Really Fast One!

Loyal readers have probably noticed there haven't been any new posts the last few days. There was a good reason, my main computer was dead. So today I'm going to share the story of the dead computer and how I got it going again with a lot more speed.

Over the past few months I'd had an intermittent issue where my screen would just go black. The only way to resolve it was to reboot the machine. No, it hadn't "crashed", I just wasn't able to see anything. I tried a few things but I feared the answer was to replace the video card. Since this only happened about once a week, I just put up with the annoying blackouts. Earlier last week, I'd finally had enough and I ordered a new video card.

The new card arrived late last Wednesday and I figured it would take about 15 minutes to remove the old card and replace it with the new card. Oh boy was I wrong. When the old card was removed, a capacitor fell off the motherboard (you can see the fallen capacitor in the photo above right). I'm sure some of this was user error (ie, my fault), but I'm thinking the capacitor may have already been a little loose and it was truly the cause of the screen blackouts. I tried the new card, but all I got was a black screen.

By the time this happened on Wednesday evening, it was too late to do anything. I wasn't concerned about my data as I knew it was all backed up and the hard drive in the computer was just fine. The problem was that I couldn't use my main computer at all until it got fixed. I could have purchased the same motherboard, but it was five years old and replacements were hard to find. Due to the rarity of the old motherboards, they were also more expensive than when I first bought it.

Instead I turned to some of the blog posts I've written in the last few months about our "dream computer." Sure I write these posts to tell you about great hardware, but I also treat them as research for myself should I ever need to replace something. I purchased the exact parts I told you about in the posts listed below.
There were a couple of other items I hadn't covered in those posts. While a new CPU typically comes with a fan to keep it cool, the supplied cooler is average at best. Since heat is a bad thing for a computer, I purchased the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO to make sure my fast new CPU kept really cool. It is also important to put thermal paste between the cooler and the CPU. Again, thermal paste is supplied but it isn't the best. So I got the Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound 3.5 Grams as another way to keep my CPU extra cool.

Normally I wouldn't pay extra for fast shipping, but I really wanted to get the parts on Friday so I could make sure everything was working again before the end of the weekend. A stack of boxes arrived around 5pm on Friday. By 9pm I had everything replaced and I had even taken the time to eat dinner as a break from computer building.

I kept the case and drives I'd been using so the plan was to boot up the machine and everything would be as it was on Wednesday, just faster. Unfortunately the plan didn't turn out as smooth as I had hoped since Windows wouldn't boot. After a little head scratching, I changed some settings in the BIOS and it booted just fine. There were still a few things to configure such as drivers for the new Ethernet ports on the motherboard. By midnight on Friday, the transformation was done and the computer was as good as new. While I hated having to spend money on new parts when it wasn't planned, the result was a much faster computer that should last me at least 3-4 more years!

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Business Is Slow, Find An Important Project to Complete

A week from now it will be a holiday here in the United States and that means most of us will be with family and friends eating massive quantities of comfort food. Growing up in Kansas, I typically found that Thanksgiving meant cold weather and it wasn't uncommon to have snow. My first Thanksgiving in Arizona was held outdoors which was a great change. Since then I've had the chance to enjoy it on a beach in Maui, in the freezing cold and darkness of Alaska and even among the revelry in Las Vegas. While each experience was different, the idea of being with our family and friends was the same. I hope each and every one of you has a great holiday!

For some businesses, the holidays are crazy busy. Retail stores are a perfect example. On the other side, service businesses are often quiet around the holidays. I use times like to work on special projects since I know it can be quiet around the office. For example, I installed Windows 8.1 on one of our office computers over the Thanksgiving holiday last year. It wasn't a task that required a lot of my time. I'd start an installer and then get back to something else. Most importantly, it didn't disrupt business in any way.

This year I don't think I'll have a project like that, but I'll probably put in a little time on some new Web sites to be launched in the near future. Not only do I have a work project, I'll also probably try to get a few things crossed off my never-ending to-do list at home.

I bring up my process to get you thinking a bit about what tasks you might do in the days when your business is slow. Loyal readers know that I'm a huge proponent of backing up your computers regularly. If you are not doing it or doing it very infrequently, maybe that downtime is the perfect occasion to put a better plan in place. Of for those of you who "never have the time" to learn some new software tricks, spend an hour or two learning during your business downtime.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Everyone Should Have a Wacom Tablet, Here Are the Two Best Options

Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch Small TabletI've been using a tablet as my primary pointing device on my computers for more than twenty years now. Don't confuse a graphics tablet with a tablet computer such as iPad or Samsung Galaxy Note. We're specifically talking about a device that in many ways replaces your mouse usage. Except it doesn't have to completely replace your mouse.

What exactly do you do with a mouse? You move your cursor around the screen and mix in left, right and double-clicks to execute certain actions. In graphics software, your cursor is used to draw and/or edit graphics. One phrase I've uttered hundreds (maybe even thousands) of times in a training class is "did you learn to draw with a crayon or a bar of soap?"

For me, a mouse is nothing more than a bar of soap with buttons. Whereas the pen supplied with a graphics tablet represents a very powerful crayon. While there are multiple tablet brands, this is one category where one brand is so far above the others that you shouldn't even consider the lesser brands. You should get a Wacom brand tablet and the only choice is the size and feature set you desire. Obviously your budget does play a part in the decision, but consider that a good tablet can easily last a decade or more.

Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Medium TabletFor this post, I've chosen the two tablets from which the majority of users should choose. The top photo is the Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch Small Tablet and it is selling for $84.95 at Amazon as I write this. The area in which you draw on the tablet is approximately 4" x 6". It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of its bigger brother, but it is a great way to get started with a tablet and I doubt you'll find any features missing.

The bottom photo is the Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Medium Tablet and it is selling for $300.99 as I write this. It has a larger drawing area of approximately 6" x 8". You'll also notice a row of buttons on the tablet that can control functions on your computer. This is the size I have used for years now and it is perfect balance between size, price and functionality.

Whether drawing vector graphics or editing photos, I find the pen to give me far better control over the cursor which allows me to get projects done faster and with better quality. If you'd had issues with carpal tunnel, you will probably find that using a pen is a lot less stressful on your wrist than long hours pushing a mouse around your desk.

For those who are new to a tablet, it may take a day or two to adjust to using the absolute positioning of a tablet over the relative positioning of a mouse. Once you've made the adjustment, it is very easy to switch between the two pointing devices. While I use a tablet almost exclusively, I still have a mouse attached to my computer as a backup pointing device. Yes, both can be used on the same computer!

Some of you may have an older tablet that has seen better days. Maybe it is time you considered getting a newer tablet. Regardless if you are new to tablets or a veteran, these are the two tablets from which I'd suggest you choose.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Resolving Conflict Between WordPress, WooCommerce and Theme

As part of yesterday's blog, I told you that we are working on more projects with clients to help them with their presence on the Web. Those of you who read a little deeper found that we are using WordPress as part of our Web site building projects. It can make many tasks easier, though it can be extremely frustrating when trying to resolve a problem.

Last week brought a problem that was a real head scratcher. Adding features to a WordPress site can be as simple as installing a plug-in. Some plug-ins are free and others have a cost. To add a store to a site, WooCommerce is a popular solution because the base product is free. Of course there are numerous ways to add more power by purchasing add-ons.

If you have a store on a site, you want pictures of the products, right? Well for some odd reason we were not able to add a primary picture for products. After going to Google and searching for answers, I found the part of the interface to add the pictures was just flat-out missing. Some of the articles provided suggested solutions though I couldn't find a solution that was relevant to this specific situation.

The other aspect of WordPress that makes it popular is the ability to install a "theme" to control the overall look of the site. Some themes are free and some have a cost. Often we will look at Themeforest as they have a wide variety of WordPress themes from independent authors. As part of the research on this specific problem, I contacted the author of the theme used on the site and was informed a fix to our problem was included in a newer version of the theme.

Installing theme updates isn't always as easy as I would like it to be. Yet another one of the frustrations that can be experienced with using WordPress. There are various ways to update a theme and each has its pros and cons. I found the easiest solution was to install another plug-in geared towards a quick method to update themes. This plug-in made it easy to update the theme to the updated version with the product image fix. After the fix, the "set featured image" option was available in the WooCommerce interface (shown above right) so we could add the primary picture to a product. Woo hoo, problem solved!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Name Your Software, Backup Your Computer and a New Service

It's been a while since I've answered questions from the mailbag. Unfortunately I think two of the topics are going to sound like a broken record because they are topics I talk about quite often.

Name Your Software

I continue to be baffled by users who are completely unable to name the product about which they have a question. There is no such product as "Corel X3" or "Corel X5" or anything else where all you provide is the name of a company that makes software. Feel free to insert Adobe or Microsoft with a random version number and it is the same thing. Please read Why Is It So Difficult For Users to Name Their Software.

Sometimes the users are asking a question about how to do something in a product. There are times I can guess what they are asking about, but oftentimes there is no way to know without the name of the software. Other times users are asking about one of our products. Unfortunately no attempt is made to name the product that there is just no way to guess. This frustrates me as I want to provide help and I'm sure it frustrates the person asking when I have to ask for more information.

Some of you are probably grumbling and making excuses about why you can't provide the actual name of the software. It isn't that hard! Just do it and it makes things easier for all of us.

Backup Your Computer

I frequently talk about hardware and software to backup your computer. Many of you still don't ever backup your computer. I had a call last week from someone really upset about losing something when unfortunately they had done absolutely nothing to backup their computer. If you have never had a hard drive fail (or get eaten by malware), you are very lucky. It will happen to you. You will lose a lot of data. You will be very upset. So quit making excuses and backup your computer regularly starting right now!

Need some suggestions for software and hardware? Please read Network Attached Storage (NAS) Secures Data and Backup, Seagate Portable 2TB USB Backup Drive and Disconnect Backup Drives to Protect Data.

New Service Offered

We haven't really talked a lot about it, but we added a new service on our site last week. People have often asked me about what I'm going to be doing now that I will not be writing any new CorelDRAW books. Behind the scenes we have been providing a variety of Web services for clients, we just hadn't really listed it on our site as a service. If you need some help with Web solutions, please get in contact with us and allow us to help you!


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