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Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Frugal Computer Upgrade

Posted by Tim Stobbs on June 4, 2015

After recently buying a replacement for my old netbook computer this post might come across a bit hypocritical, but I don’t actually throw money at all my computer problems.  For example, our other laptop computer while being ok for most tasks for my wife and the boys was getting a little slow.  But rather than just blindly replacing that computer I decided to do a bit more work and see if I couldn’t fix the issue with a bit less spending than a new machine. (I should point out while I’m the tech guy in my house I’m no where close to an expert, this is merely stuff that isn’t to hard for the average person to try out.)

I used a two stage process to make sure what I was doing would be worthwhile.  First up I did all the free stuff you know you should do on your computer but never seem to get around to doing.  You know, like:

  • Uninstall all the programs you don’t actually use.  If you haven’t used it in a year it is really good candidate to remove.
  • Turn off all the extra features you don’t use on your desktop (for example, a clock on a sidebar when all you do is look at the corner of the screen anyway) and remove all but the essential shortcuts.  Put any files on your desktop into folders.
  • Turn off all the programs that load every time you start the machine, but rarely use.
  • De-fragment the hard drive.
  • Install all those updates you’ve been ignoring, but your computer keeps reminding you to install.  In some cases, those help fix a slow program.

I did all of the above in perhaps an hour or so.  After that there was a noticeable improvement in the computer starting up.  So ya!  At least that was a minor battle won.

Then I started looking at the computer’s stats and realized it was a bit underpowered for RAM with only 2GB (but when you consider I bought the computer for a $1, beggars can’t be picky about the specs).  So I did a bit of research on which RAM I could use and came across this handy little tool on this website which can tell you EXACTLY what kind of RAM you need to buy if you want to upgrade your computer (you can either enter the specs yourself or have it run a little bit of software to tell you want you need).  Yes of course the website recommends their particular brand of RAM, but frankly I don’t care as it saved me hours of pissing around to sort it out myself.

Then I went to Amazon and did a search for 4GB of RAM (two 2GB chips) and found it for just over $60 (which had free shipping).  Then four business days later the RAM arrived at my house.  I had previously upgraded my old desktop computer RAM before, so this wasn’t entirely new territory for me, but I hadn’t do a laptop yet.  But when I pulled off the section where I thought the RAM was located I could find the one chip, but not the other.  Oh crap, now what?

Like any modern person, I just asked Google, which immediately brought up a Utube video showing me how to find the other chip of RAM hidden under the laptop keyboard.  Three screws and four clips later I had the keyboard up and the other RAM chip in sight.  I installed it and put everything back together and tried to turn on the computer…key word tried.

It didn’t boot up at all.  Oh crap! I had a blank screen and my cap and number lock LEDs were blinking at me.  Damn it!  Back to Google and HP’s website which pointed out the lovely three blinks I was getting was because of a memory issue and if you tried to upgrade your RAM you likely didn’t seat it right.  So I took everything back off and pulled out the new chips and put them back in again.  Then crossing my fingers I pushed the power button again.  This time I see the Window’s icon on the screen and I said “It LIVES!” (To which my wife, just laughed).

Then I tried out a few tasks on the machine and noticed it was working much better now.  So for a total of $60 and perhaps 1 hour to uninstall a bunch of software and another hour to piss around and finally get the new RAM working I have a much better computer for the rest of my family to use.  Two hours of my time and $60 is dirt cheap compared to a new laptop (which ran me about $770 if you must know).  So rather than just assuming you need a new computer when your old one starts to slow down, you might want to consider a simple clean up and RAM upgrade instead.

Ok, to all the much more savvy computer people out there…what else would you recommend people do?  Or if you have fixed this issue yourself, what did you do?

Hell Can Freeze Over?!?

Posted by Tim Stobbs on May 29, 2015

Much to my shock and utter amazement after delaying the decision for four months the senior management at my employer decided to grant us bonuses for last year.  This is of course after they gave us our usual raise and then took it away earlier this year.  Yup, I know this doesn’t make any sense to me either.

In the end, they decided we just qualified to get them and through some fairly complex calculations I got roughly a bonus roughly equal to 5% of my annual salary.  To say this was unexpected doesn’t begin to cover it. As I pointed out to a co-worker of mine I gave the odds of me getting a bonus as a snowflake spontaneously forming in hell.  Not impossible, just very unlikely.

While I’m being generally being a good boy with the extra money and the vast majority of it will be moved into RRSP accounts.  So between this bonus and my tax refund I’ve had an insane month for income.  I’ll give you all the details later this weekend as I finally get caught up on my net worth posts.

Then I decided to spend a small portion on the windfall on something that I would enjoy: I bought a new laptop.  You see I had previously bought a little netbook computer to do my writing on since I wanted something portable and lightweight…which did work fine for a number of years.  Then I changed to a different writing program that was designed to support larger writing projects (aka books) late last year.  Yet there was a problem…the new program was a bitch to use on my netbook since the display was fairly small.  While I could have just put up with it I thought I would be purely selfish and just buy what I want.

So this is my first post on the shiny new machine and my dear god it is a HELL of a lot faster than my old one.  It’s sort of nice not to upgrade for a few years so when you finally do it becomes a bit of shock to get eight times the RAM, double the processor speed and nearly five times the hard drive of your previous machine.  Yes I’m having a geek moment and I’m enjoying it. ;)

Affordable Coffee from a K-Cup?

Posted by Tim Stobbs on February 25, 2015

Over the holidays I have a well meaning gift to my wife and I of a Kurig coffee machine.  It’s just one brand of several types out that that use disposal coffee pods and at first I’m completely admit my first thought was: what the hell am I going to do with this?

You see I already know from using K-cups at work that the little pods are not cheap like around $0.75 to $0.80 per pod.  So when you have already been drinking dripped brewed coffee for years why the hell would I want to spend a small fortune buying little expensive coffee pods?

Yet cost isn’t everything in life so when my wife suggested we give it a try before making up our minds I thought: oh why not?  If it is bad, we just get rid of it.

Anyways, during our initial use of the machine I had to admit it was handy to have around when you just want a single cup of coffee.  My wife particularly liked it after lunch since she usually just heated up the old coffee that was made that morning…which is you ever microwave old coffee you know that isn’t that good.  For her she was getting a much better cup of coffee after lunch and since she only drank that one cup it didn’t make sense to make a second pot of coffee.

Yet the cost of those K-cups was driving me nuts…there had to be a better way.  So I turn to good old Google for a solution and come across reusable K-cup pods (which apparently won’t work with the new 2.0 machines unless you hack them…just Google it).  I’m like, oh ya!  More less waste and you can use your own ground coffee in them so you can even have the same old coffee that I’m used to in my morning pot of coffee.

Except it appears some of them by design are a bit of pain to use as you have to replace one section of the machine to use them, which seems sort of pointless to me.  Anyway after digging around in Amazon’s website I come across one that looks just like a regular K-cup.  No parts to change out, just put your coffee in close the lid and brew.  Also you can get two of these little reusable K-cup in a package for around $15.  So I decide to give it a try and order them.

Well when I get them I had a look at them and it seemed fairly easy to use them.  We played with the amount of coffee you need to add to get a damn close copy to the taste of my morning drip pot of coffee. Yet after that is is all good.  The reuseable is easy to use and saves you a small fortune in buying all disposal K-cups.  The only real downside the reuseable K-cup is you end up using a bit more coffee per cup than you would with a traditional drip brewer.   So there is a bit of an increased cost to using them, but it isn’t huge by any means perhaps 1/2 tsp extra per cup, but this mainly because we like our coffee strong.  I don’t have exact values, but I would approximate our savings as 60% less than a regular K-cup.

In our case this is saved by making a smaller pot first thing in the morning, so overall it likely not much more coffee usage in the house by having the machine in the house.  I estimate the reuseable K-cups are about 20% more expensive than our usual drip pots of coffee.

Then my wife has a brain wave which I love…why not just buy flavour coffee in disposal K-cups.  After all you never really want more than a cup of flavour coffee at a time (ok, at least we do).  Also to limit our spending on this we choose to only buy the disposal K-cups with our spending cash.  It should be a treat, not a everyday thing.

So all in all, I have to say I’m surprised to be agreeing to keeping the machine in the house.  I noticed in the instructions that it can go from stone cold water to ready in just four minutes.  So rather than keeping it on and plugin all the time I put it on a power bar and shut it down when we aren’t using it.  That helps keep the power bills down from just leaving it plugin all the time.

In the end, it is possible to have one of these machines in your house and not spend a small fortune on K-cups.  Just buy one of the reusable K-cup and take the extra 15 seconds to fill it up and empty after you are done.  Does anyone else use these machines regularly?  Any other tips to share?  I’m still mostly new to this.