Monday, March 25, 2013

Google Reader Waves Bye Bye

Google announced last week that they were going to be discontinuing their Google Reader in coming months. I use the reader daily to do research and monitor growing trends in marketing on the web so the news left me scrambling for an alternative.  I found Feedly, an RSS reader that interfaces well with Google Reader as it pulled in my many feeds and allowed me to categorize them easier than it had been in Google Reader. The interface is nice and fresh and customizable  too.

But some of the blogs I follow didn't look quite the same in the new reader and oversized pictures didn't load quite so fast. Whether it's a newsletter, website photo, or blog, it's important to resize photo's. Digital cameras take really big pictures by default---as big as 3600 px or larger----you could create a billboard with that many pixels.

Determining how many pixels you need to leave in your picture for maximum load speed without sacrificing quality can depend on several things. Generally  for a thumbnail sized photo you need to reduce your photo to 100 px or even 50 px. But the photo you're reducing needs to be clear and in focus to begin with. For an email or newsletter that contains more than a couple of graphics each picture should be limited to at the most 500 px with 250 px or less being optimum. Website or blog photos can look great, load great at around 500 px---no bigger than 900 px.

If you're loading onto a site like eBay that has no pixel maximum, you may have trouble loading pictures If you reduce the size to below 1000 px you'll have less problems. Etsy's maximum is under 1000px---and I've found that a good policy.

Then consider Facebook--- A cover picture needs to be 851px x 315px---which requires a lot of cropping in 1/2. Your profile picture though needs to be a square of 180x180px. Pictures posted to your timeline need to be 403px to properly fit one column and look nice when posted to your page.

And what to use to reduce your photos? One program that has the versatility to resize in batches is the open source Photoscape. This program is great for simple photo editing also. And it's currently free.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Sales through Social Marketing

It is possible to garner sales and new customers through your Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages. But it requires diligence, patience, and dedication. Simply posting a page and a couple of posts and then recruiting your friends to like your page is not usually enough to garner what you need for sales.

A formula of a couple of posts per week; a mixture of information, freebies, and business news to keep things mixed up and constant monitoring is the recipe to create an environment that eventually has new customers and sales coming in.

Too much activity can be detrimental to your goals too---keep posts interesting and different and limited to 2-3 per week.While researching how small businesses use social media to generate activity I came across an antique store that had over 5400 page likes. This store, out in the middle of Indiana cornfields, about 100 miles from any good sized city, garnered my attention. The Facebook page posted in 2011 generates interest through posting events and new products on the page and makes the company larger than life.

The page was exciting enough to tempt me to travel the 200 miles round trip to find out just how the company matched up to the excitement generated by the Facebook page. And what I uncovered, was what I had suspected all along---with the right formula of social media marketing even a small business can look much larger than life on the Internet. I was actually a bit disappointed by the physical location and the business itself but the Facebook page did its job---it got a customer in to the business to have a look.              

Monday, March 11, 2013

Another Computer Repair

The Internet is replete with people who have various models of Sony's Vaio Computers with bad power ports. This model seems to have an inordinate amount of breakdown in this area and it's really too bad because it can be an otherwise good computer. My computer's (VPCF12AFM) power port failed under warranty, was returned to Best Buy where a poor repair was performed and it failed again when it was out of warranty. Compared to the under warranty repair that took a full month to complete, the process of swapping the part out myself was less trouble.  

Changing the port after it cracks is not a difficult job if you have the right part. The part is available on eBay. The port comes with the port at one end and a plug that connects to the motherboard at the other. If you are a DYI'er, you do not want to get the port by itself as a separate component because that will require soldering---a difficult process if you're not a pro.

Be careful not to order the cheapest part because, in this case, cheap can get you something that literally falls apart in your hands. When you receive the part before you open up the computer, make sure that the part is well put together with no solder joints showing and is tightly and compactly wrapped. Also, my port needed wires coming out of the side---there are ports for sale with wires coming out the back; making it nearly impossible to maneuver the port  into place properly. There is very little room in the space allowed for the port. A tightly, well wrapped port will insure that you can maneuver the port into place without the wires coming undone. Ports are running $8+; buy the more expensive one.

To change out follow these steps:

  • The inside of the computer is a sandwich. The top layer contains the keyboard, speakers, and various buttons----and the power port. 
  • The bottom layer contains the hard drive and memory chips.
  • The middle layer contains the motherboard. 
  • Remove the hard drive
  • Remove the memory chips
  • Remove all the screws from the underside of the computer. There were 3 sizes of screws in my computer. Keep track of where the three sizes come from.  
  • Turn the computer over, open it up and remove the cover above the keyboard. This simply snaps off---no screws.
  • You can remove the keyboard; again no screws just tabs.
  • The power port is under the cover above the keyboard that was removed in the previous step. A wire running from the power port runs into the middle layer of the computer and there is a tiny plug that fits into the motherboard. 
  • It is possible to unplug the old power port and plug the new one in without dismantling the computer further. It requires patience---and if you have large hands, maybe borrow someone's smaller hands.
  • Be sure that the port is securely in place and securely plugged in. Also, since the fan is in the general area, make sure the wire is run in the place it came out of and will not interfere with the fan. Plug the power jack (but don't plug the computer into electric) into the port to insure that everything fits.    
  • Reverse the process above to put the computer back together.
Before you do any work make sure that your files are backed up and be careful of static electricity that will fry computers. This isn't the easiest job to do but it really isn't all that bad and, as long as you have a good, well built part this job should only take 4-6 hours to perform.      


Monday, March 4, 2013

On Printers

A few years ago I purchased an HP Photosmart Premium 309C printer. I was looking for something that would print spectacular photographs, brochures, handle two sided printing, business cards, and knock out resumes.

Not a good decision. My first printer was returned to HP. It printed one inspirational photo and then decided everything else should be covered with a blue tinge. The second printer was sent by HP directly to my home after a myriad of phone calls to somewhere in India and massive frustration due to speaking to people who don't care to learn the English language in order to deliver even a mediocre amount of customer service.

The second printer never kept a wireless connection for more than one print job, did atrocious brochures, mediocre photographs, and resumes with random lines through them even with multiple attempts to align print heads and through the many, many costly print cartridges. Since the wireless was simply an added bonus that I really hadn't been looking for in the purchase, I used the printer wired. But even wired, every print job was a struggle, something that I looked to with dread. It finally puked one day in the middle of a shipping label. I tried to troubleshoot with HP's website and instead of an answer got a request to participate in a survey to tell HP how they were doing. I did complete the survey with little expectation of anything further---stating that I had been an HP customer for over 30 years---loved their early 250C computers that were real workhorses, economical to print, and, with the exception of the print drivers that would sometimes get overwhelmed, were really decent printers. I also stated that after all that time I was parting company with HP because of poor product and poor service. HP apparently didn't care---I got no response back.

I then went down to the local Walmart and made what has become the best purchase of a printer since that 250c that worked so well ---and for the cost of an HP cartridge pack. The model I bought was a Canon MG21---clear printing, trouble free, loads it's drivers in Vista or Windows 7 without issue and in about 15 minutes time takes care of everything for you. Every time I go to print, instead of dread, I experience the joy that comes with knowing that I purchased a superior product at the best possible cost. The cartridges cost a bit more but last 3-4 times longer than that hungry HP.

It's a shame that my brand loyalty made me suffer through that last HP but I'm suffering no longer. And it's a shame that HP puts out such awful products and service these days.