No one wants to touch your dirty keyboard.

Between my job as a consultant here and on my travels using other peoples computers, I have developed only one irrevocable, unavoidable, instinctual pet peeve. No, it’s not 42 tool bars in a browser, non-activated copies of Windows, or even vicious malware. I can deal with those. What bothers me the most is a dirty computer. A grimy, sticky, slightly yellowed keyboard with a splattered screen.

Please understand that just like door knobs, steering wheels and phones, your keyboards will be handled more then anything else in your entire day. If more then one person uses that same computer, then there is two people who have effectively swapped any grime, dirt, sickness or whatever else you call it. Normally, I’d be fine with this cesspool of microorganisms, but I’ve seen from experience how much more myself and others get sick when in huge, dense populations for a long time. So, it’s better safe then sorry to clean your computer, and rest assured that there’s one less thing that won’t get you sick.

1.) Cleaning your Keyboard and Mouse

Cleaning a keyboard is easy. I try to do my personal ones about once every few weeks, but for shared keyboard I’d say go for once a week or even once a day. The best method I’ve found is using certified keyboard wipes, which will not harm any electronic compliments in the keyboard. Trust me, do not just use any wet disinfecting wipe, I’ve lost a favorite wireless keyboard this way, and I’d hate to imagine what it would do to a laptop.You can just take a cloth, and wipe gently across the keyboard with it. If there are any problem spots, just add a little elbow grease.

You can do the same thing with a computer mouse and tracpad, just be sure to use only the recommended wipes.

I like these wipes, but any are good, as long as they are KEYBOARD WIPES!


2.) Clean your Screen

Screens are tricky. Matte screens, as much I would like to clean them, are almost impossible to get clean, as there will always be streaks left over. You can try using “dry wipes”, but results may vary. My advice: don’t get your screens dirty.

Touch screens and the screens on most Macbooks- ie “Glass” Screen- are different. For there, you can use approved isopropyl alcohol wipes, which come in convenient little packages that you buy in a box of 20 something. You simply open the package, unfold the wipe, and wipe. You should be done when the wipe is dry. You can also use any other approved isopropyl screen cleaner. To get rid of streaks, use a microfiber cloth afterwords.

Protip: While powered off, put your laptop on it’s top while cleaning, so the screen on the desk, and the body of laptop is against your body. This  will eliminate stress on the hinges of the screen.

Again, do not use any non certified wipes, as they may cause damage.

Box of screen wipes



Why your speakers are just okay, and what you can do about your audio based inadequacy

1978 photograph by Steven Steigman,

We take for granted the lonely audio paradise that is our personal set of headphones, but there will come a time when you have an insatiable need to let everyone around you experience the re-released album from an obscure 1976 Uzbekistani progressive rock band whether they want to or not. When that time comes, you are going to need speakers. Real, audio producing, jaw dropping speakers. Unfortunately, you don’t have nice speakers, you just have okay ones. Your speakers are mediocre at best. You just have two little itty-bitty speakers that have been jammed into your laptop. I’ll let you in on secret: if you are using those, you are not getting the most out of your music. You are doing whatever music you are listening to a disservice. The sound is distorted, muffled, and just bad. Right now, you should be feeling a little embarrassed and certainly bummed out. But rest assured, that’s okay! I know the feeling. We all need laptops, and they can only fit speakers that are so big. But there is one thing you can do that will make you, everyone around you, and your obscure music feel much much better: get good speakers. Or just get any speakers. Anything other than laptop speakers.

Today, we are going to fix that by going through some basics on which kind of speakers you can buy, and what you should look for in each. I’m going to walk you through a few examples, ranging from simple portable speakers that require no setup, to complex ones that you’ll need a pair of wire strippers for. While doing that, I’m going to try and keep a few things in mind, particularly what the perfect set speakers for you should do:

1.) Speakers should not cost you lots of money

2.) Speakers should be able to do what you bought them for

3.) Speakers should sound pretty good

Now, all of those make sense, right? First one is maintaining a budget here. While it’d be nice to have a pair of Klipsch speakers, I really don’t have a couple grand to put down for them, so instead I looked for something that would only cost me a few hundred. Next, is keeping functionality in mind. Again, while I’d like a 1 “Jigawatt” stereo system with 6 point surround sound and active bass, that’s not something I could have outside during an impromptu cookout on the beach. But what does “sound pretty good” mean? Sound quality is a funny thing. What may sound good to one person may be nails on a chalkboard to someone else. It depends on a lot of factors: what kind of audio quality you play, the acoustics of the room, if there is any ambient sound around, or even if the track is equalized or not. Now, you can get into a lot of technical talk about the frequency ranges for tweeters and the power of amps. But unless you are a dedicated audiophile (more on that later) none of those really mean anything. So honestly, what I mean when I say speakers should sound good, I mean speakers should sound good to you. The most important thing when buying speakers is to test them yourself. Get some kind of higher audio quality track that you love, preferably one that isn’t a drumming bass line or soft high notes, but a nice mix. Also, try to get something that uses real instruments, unaltered vocals, or lays off constant sampling . If it doesn’t sound fuzzy or faded, buy it. Be sure to test different systems to get a wide selection of what they all sound like as well.

With that all out of the way, lets get down to business. We’ll quickly define some tiers of speakers based on who would want a certain type of speaker, using the three criteria above.

The College Wanderer: Bluetooth Speakers

These are the hip new thing out there. No bigger then a water bottle, Bluetooth speakers are ultra portable, can easily cost between $100 and $300, and actually sound decent. I recommend these kind of speakers to anyone who is on the move, outside, or finds themselves working in different places all the time. Perfect for the college kid who tends to be all over the place. They are easy to connect to with any laptop or smart phone. Surprisingly, I haven’t listened to Bluetooth speakers that I haven’t liked or been immediately impressed with.


JBL Charge Speakers. They are decently priced, and have pretty good bass.

Despite how good they sound, there are some issues with Bluetooth speakers to be aware of. These run on battery, so unless plugged in, they will not last forever. The bass will usually be lacking, but that really shouldn’t bother you. Finally, please be careful with these, as they can be easily stolen or lost due to their small size and portability.

The Desktop Commander : Desktop Speakers

If you are one of those college kids who doesn’t leave your room that much, hopefully because you have way too much to study for, you’ll want to look into some desktop speakers. These simply plug into you computer’s headphone jack and a power outlet, and don’t really have any bells and whistles. If you are really ambitious, you could even spring for a setup with more then two speakers, or even separate bass. For a dorm, these are perfect: they are small, easy to pack up when you leave, and not something to worry about getting stolen. Typically, Logitech are the biggest brand you’ll see advertised, and they are pretty good for what you pay for.


Some simple Logitech desktop speakers

However, while these may fit your needs, you may lose some audio quality. Also, you may have to invest in an auxiliary audio cord to connect your speakers.

The Audio-Übermench: The Stereo System

Most college kids, recent grads, and office workers would have stopped and settled for less with their audio equipment, but not you. You seek the holy grail of audio equipment: the stereo system. This is the final frontier of audio. You will have something to supply the sound, a receiver to direct, distort, and amplify it, and multiple speakers of different sizes to play it. You are now an audiophile, a lover of good sound equipment; someone who will always take quality to the next level. Your system will deliver high quality sound and most certainly knock your socks off.

The classic stereo system

If this is you, you need a stereo system. Unless you are buying for a TV surround system, you only really need two bookshelf speakers, and maybe a bass. You will need speaker wire to run in between the speakers and the receiver, but it really isn’t a hard process. In the back of the receiver, there will be corresponding plugs for each speaker- typically left, right, and bass. They may be more or less depending on the size of the receiver, and how much sound you want.

The back of a reciever

The worst part about this kind of system is the price. You might only spend $300 for the entire system, or you could go all out and drop a months pay check for one speaker. However, you shouldn’t be opposed to digging through locals ads or yard sales to get some good equipment at next to nothing. I’ve seen perfectly good working systems that could be worth 3 times what they were selling for, just because they are used. You might want to avoid these if you don’t have much room, or very thin walls.

The Weirdo in the Corner: Alternatives to Large Receivers

So here’s the scenario: you don’t want small desktop speakers, you don’t need a Bluetooth speaker, and you don’t have the room or cash for a big stereo system. What do you do? None of these are a good option, and you don’t want to settle for less. Don’t let the man tell you what to do!

Lepai Reciever

What you want to do is look into smaller, low powered receivers. Excluding speakers (remember, used ones are okay here), one of these bad boys will always be under $100. One of my favorites, one that I’ve used personally for years is the Lepai Receiver. The company has no other products I know of, but the receiver they make is wonderful. It’s maybe 2in x 3in x 4in. You can fit it on a bookshelf, attach two speakers to it with wire, get an aux cord, and boom, decent audio with very little setup. It’s a totally strange arrangement, but it gets the job done.



Passwords, Security, and Beyond: Keeping a Password Secure

Last time, we went over the best ways to create secure passwords, so now we’ll finish it up with keeping those new shiny passwords secure. By keeping them secure, we mean that it will be difficult for anyone to gain access to it, while you, the user, can easily access it. But before we get down to the details, it’s best to first realize that there will never be a 100% fool proof way to keep all of your passwords secure forever- there’s no guarantee regarding digital security. So there’s really no point to going to extremes and keeping all of your passwords in a super secret vault in your basement with the only key buried in the backyard in an unmarked location. But rest assured, with a few relatively simple steps (and some healthy paranoia) you can significantly reduce the risks of losing the element of security with your passwords.

Operating System Security

Passwords, Security, and Beyond: Creating a Password

Passwords are nothing new. The provide a secure way to access information that only one person should have access to.  Under normal circumstances, this shouldn’t be a problem, but when the human condition of greed and evil are taken into consideration, passwords suddenly become a big deal: they are a bunch of characters that provide access to your entire life. But a lot of passwords aren’t taken seriously, like those that are only used on one account, or that are protecting things that aren’t really worth anything. These passwords are usually easy to guess, are not stored properly. This is exactly what you want to avoid. So in this two part blog, I’ll go over two of the most essentials things know about passwords: how to make a secure password that you will remember, and how to keep it that way.


Google Play Music: A Look at Music Lockers

We have written many times about a wondrous new technology called the “Cloud”: a collection of far away servers whose only purpose is to provide remote storage for anything you want. This is a pretty neat idea, as it allows you access all your data via Internet connection. If you ever need storage, but lack the space on a physical device, the “Cloud” is there for you. The same goes for regular backups of important work, although you should always be wary of backing up important personal or private information for security reasons. Be sure to always use a secure connection (like SFTP) or just store your data on secure servers (like the UDrive at UMass).


MOOC? What’s a MOOC?



Have you ever taken a step back from your daily grind of endless homework, classes, work, and labs; and just wanted a break? Do you sometimes just feel like there’s just too many coding classes, too many chemistry classes, just too many classes you just aren’t interested in? Don’t fret, this isn’t a sign to change your major or even your college. Not yet anyway. This happens all the time – any college class can become overwhelming and lose it’s luster. Alternatively, you could just be really bored and have not as much homework as everyone else, and think, “Gee, I’d love to take a class on Urban Planning, but really can’t fit it into my schedule”.

Well, maybe that last one doesn’t happen as much, but you get the idea. There’s this neat little secret which fixes both: MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course.


Data Storage via FTP

Your data is important. Scratch that – your data is very important. Whether it’s just a handful of essays, lab data, or your master thesis that launches you into the profession of your dreams, that data is still important. The worst case scenario is that, by complete accident, that data is lost and there is nothing to do about it. There is one thing to do to ensure that this never happens: back-ups. A pain? Yes. Worth it? Beyond words. Now you have a couple of options: external hard drives, cloud storage, or uploading it to a secure server. External hard drives are relatively cheap, but can be broken or lost. Cloud storage can be accessed anywhere and never be lost, but we suggest that you should be wary when uploading data to a cloud drive for security risks. Instead, a viable option is to back-up data to a server. While it can be a bit difficult at first, the process is easy with a little practice and the right software. This can all be done with with three letters: FTP.

Adobe Apps Operating System Software

Top 5 Open Source Applications

Software Giants vs. the Open Source Initiative:

Open Source Logo

In the last decade and a half, an unknown number of tech companies have sprung up and established themselves as booming enterprises overnight. Its pretty safe to say that there has never been growth like that in such little time, ever. Unfortunately, buying that software is the only option when you want a high quality product. Even though the latest Adobe Software Creative Suite might be some of the best editing software out there, it’s priced at $2,600, or about the cost of a Umass Unlimited Meal Plan. Do you want to pay for high end software; or eat? For software that your job depends on it, maybe, but not for the average user. In the end, software has hit a dilemma: either have expensive, professional software, or don’t have any at all.