Archive for February, 2010

Record and Edit Audio Free with Audacity

The internet is full of free software and can be hard to find applications that are useful amongst all the rubble. Audacity is a genuine diamond in the rough, an exceptional audio recording and editing software.

AudacityThe program is even used by Speech-Language Pathologists to record and analyze variations in accents and voice disorders. It also has a number of other features and possibilities for other lines of work, including:

Recording live audio.
Converting tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs.
Editing Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV, and AIFF sound files.
Cutting, copying, splicing or mixing sounds together.
Changing the speed or pitch of a recording.
Removing static, hiss, hum, or other constant background noises.
Quickly editing even large audio files.
And more!

Audacity is available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux/Unix operating systems. To see if your computer will run Audacity, view the system requirements for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Once you’ve determined that Audacity will run on your system, go to the download page to install Audacity. Be sure and click on your operating system to download the correct file. Follow the instructions provided for installing the program.

After you’ve installed Audacity, you can try recording a file. Open audacity and hit the record button (the red circle). You will need a microphone to record your own voice. To stop recording, you can press pause (the two blue rectangles) or stop (the yellow square) but note that they work differently. If you press pause and then press record again, you will start recording right where you left off. But if you press stop, Audacity will create a new sound layer, and once you press record again it will start from the beginning. For example if I recorded myself whistling a tune and then pressed stop, and pressed record again and sang the tune, when I played it I would hear myself singing and whistling the tune at the same time. When you record the second layer, you can hear what’s playing in the first layer when you record.

You can also use Audacity to edit audio files that were recorded by other means. Audacity can open most any type of audio file. M4P is a common file type that is an exception. If you want to open an M4P file you will need to convert it, which you can do in iTunes by following the instructions here.

Once you’re finished with your file you will need to save it. If you might want to continue working on it in the future, you should save it as an Audacity file to keep the layers in tact. To do this, go to the File menu and choose Save Project. If you want to distribute the file, by burning it to a CD, emailing it to a friend, or putting it on your webpage, you will need to export it as a common type of file. Otherwise people will only be able to listen to it if they have Audacity.

Here are the types of files that you can use to export your completed Audacity projects:

Ogg Vorbis – A free and un-patented audio compression format used for storing and playing digital music, similar to the MP3. For more information, see the vorbis website. To export to this type of file, go to the File menu and select Export as Ogg Vorbis.
MP3 – The standard for storing and playing digital music and other audio files. To export to an MP3 file you will first need to download and install the LAME MP3 encoder. Follow the instructions here. Be sure to download the correct version for your operating system. Once it is installed, export to MP3 in Audacity by going to the File menu and selecting Export as MP3.
WAV – An audio format that uses raw or uncompressed audio and is ideal for creating audio CDs. To export to this type of file in Audacity, go to the File menu and chose Export to WAV.

Want to do more with Audacity? The Audacity Wiki includes a page filled with tutorials for creating all sorts of projects with Audacity. Many off-site tutorials are included as well.

HouseCall Meets the Winter Storm Challenges

HouseCall met the recent challenges of unprecedented back-to-back storms by continuing complete operations in support of all our Washington, DC-based clients and representational districts throughout the country.

Expert in crises management, HouseCall was able to manage complete operations while accommodating employee weather related circumstances.

When the government closed or limited operations, HouseCall pressed on at full capacity in servicing our valuable clients, both onsite and remotely each and every day.

-HouseCall offers ‘best in breed’ IT solutions to government clients 24/7/365.

Phishing Scams: How Not to Get Hooked

We detected irregular activity to your account on 01/29/10 at 6:15pm.

As part of our continuing commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website, we are undertaking a period review of our member accounts.

This email is to notify you that you have a new message in your Secure Online Mailbox from Customer Service in response to your inquiry.

The above examples are taken directly from phishing emails. Phishing is a form of identity theft in which criminals use deceptive emails to separate you from your login information in order to eventually separate you from your finances or other secure information.

How to Detect a Phishing Email

Asking for Personal Information

Since the purpose of phishing is to obtain your login information for nefarious purposes, the phishing email will attempt to convince you that you need to login to your account for some reason or another. Common reasons include:

Your account is going to close and you need your personal information to open it.
“Suspicious” or “irregular” or “fraudulent” activity has been detected in your account and you need to login to find out what it is.
You have a piece of information waiting for you in your account and you must login to retrieve it.
You have won a contest and you need to login to claim your prize.

Don’t let phishing companies “lure” you into providing your information. If you think the email might be legitimate, call the organization but make sure you do not call any phone number provided in the questionable email! For instance if you think the email is from your bank, call a number for your bank that you already know to be legitimate.

If you have a HouseCall Systems Administrator we would be happy to take a look at any email you think is suspicious.

Disguising Themselves as a Reputable Website

Phishing companies know that you are too smart to give your personal information to a website that is unfamiliar, so they disguise themselves as websites you trust such as Paypal, eBay, or even your bank.

Web addresses can be disguised in emails. The email can write out the address www.ebay.com but then have it link to another website that will steal your information. The phishing websites can copy the design of the reputable websites. They can also send you to legitimate websites and then display a pop-up that asks you to login there and take your information that way.

Pretending to be a Potential Employer

A recent technique of phishing scams targets people on job seeking websites. The emails pretend to be an interested employer and ask for personal information, such as a social security number. You should always be careful when giving out your social security number to anyone.

Things You Can Do

Always make sure you have anti-virus software running on your computer and that it is up to date. Sometimes phishing emails contain spyware that monitors your activity on your computer in attempt to gain information about you that can be used for malicious purposes. Be cautious when downloading any attachments.

Turn the spam filter on your email account. If you are a HouseCall client we are happy to assist you in doing so. Remember that no spam filters are perfect and even if your spam filter is turned on some phishing emails can slip through the cracks.

Never respond to an email asking you for personal information, such as your social security number, a PIN number, or your password. Your HouseCall Systems Administrator will never email you asking for you password.

If you receive a phishing email you can report it by forwarding it to spam@uce.gov as well as the organization that the phishing email is attempting to impersonate.

If you think you may be a victim of phishing or identity theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC. You should check your credit report to make sure that no one is opening accounts under your name. You are entitled to a free credit report every year. To obtain yours visit annualcreditreport.com.

For more information visit the Federal Trade Commission’s information on Phishing scams.

A New Day, A New Desktop Background

Changing your desktop background or “wallpaper” is an easy way to customize your computer. Best of all, you can change it as often as you’d like without having to peel the old layer or get your hands sticky by using any special glue.

Many people like to use photos that they have taken with their digital cameras so their desktop can become a virtual picture frame of family members, friends, and favorite animals. To do this, simply find the photo you want to use as your desktop background and right click it. On a Windows PC, select “Set as Desktop Background.” On a Mac, select “Set Desktop Picture.”

Once that step is finished, you will be presented with a few options as to how you want your image to appear. On the Mac you will need to click the button that says “Open Desktop Preferences.” You can play around with the settings until you find the one you like.

On a Mac:

mac

You can pick fill screen or stretch to fill screen for an image that might be too small for your screen. This stretches it so it covers the entire screen. Sometimes it makes the image look a little distorted.
Choose center if you have an image that is smaller than your screen that you want to center on the screen. This will leave the edges around the image blank and you can chose what color you want it to be.  Fit to screen is similar, but it re-sizes the image.
Tile allows you to take a small image and have it repeat across the desktop.

On a PC:

windowsxp

Choose center if you have an image that is smaller than your screen that you want to center on the screen. This will leave the edges around the image blank and you can chose what color you want it to be.
You can pick stretch to re-size an image that might be too small for your screen and stretch it so it covers the entire screen. Sometimes it makes the image look a little distorted.
Tile allows you to take a small image and have it repeat across the desktop.

If you have a Mac or Windows 7 you can do even more with your wallpaper. Both operating systems have a feature that rotates your wallpaper between all the photos in a different folder. For instance, if you have a photo of a tree, a flower, and a kitten in a folder you’ll start off with the tree photo as your wallpaper, then in 30 minutes (or however long you specify) it will automatically switch to the flower, and then 30 minutes later it will switch to the kitten.

To do this on a Mac:

changepicturemac
1. Right click your desktop and select “Change Desktop Background.”
2. Next, select what folder you want to chose. Under “Apple” your Mac has a preset list of folders with backgrounds. For instance, the “Nature” folder will rotate between different backgrounds with a nature theme. You can also choose different events from iPhoto. If you have a photo of images on your computer you want to use, click the “+” button to browse for that folder. You can see all the images in the folder on the left.
3. Right under where you can see the images in the folder, check the box that says “Change Picture:”
4. Select how often you want the picture to change by clicking on the drop down menu.
5. Close the window to save your changes.

To do this in Windows 7:

changepicture7
(Image Source: http://www.intowindows.com/how-to-customize-a-windows-7-theme-detailed-guide)

1. Click the Start button, and then click “Control Panel.”
2. Click “Change Desktop Background.”
3. Click the “Picture Location” menu to find the pictures you want to rotate. All the pictures have to be in the same folder.
4. To change how often the pictures rotate, click the drop-down menu under “Change Picture Every” and select the amount of time you would prefer.
5. When you are finished, click “Save Changes” and close the control panel.

For more information, view the video here.

Looking for something fun and interesting to use as your desktop background? Check out these sources:

National Geographic – Take your wallpaper directly from the pages of National Geographic magazine!
Vlad Studio – Cute, mostly seasonal themed wallpaper.
Flickr Wallpaper – Hundreds of beautiful wallpaper from Flickr’s wallpaper pool.

Computer Cleaning Tips and Tricks

Computers, like everything else in the world, get dirty. While your workststion starts off looking shiny and new, you will eventually notice crumbs in the keyboard, smudges on the monitor, and lots of dust. Thankfully, there are simple things you can do to keep your computer looking spiffy.

Don't let this happen to you!

Watch What You Eat
Eating in front of your computer is about as common these days as eating in front of the television. Unlike the television, crumbs can easily get into unwanted places, particularly your keyboard. If you decide to eat at your desk, make sure to not take bites and chew over your keyboard particularly if you’re eating something that makes a lot of crumbs.

Spills are even more devastating and most often end up on your keyboard. If you spill something on your keyboard turn your computer off right away and then turn the keyboard upside down. Shake the upside down keyboard gently over something that you don’t mind if it gets wet. Keeping the keyboard upside down, clean off what you can with a dry cloth. Then leave your keyboard unused and upside down overnight to dry.

More Keyboard Tips
For cleaning crumbs out of your keyboard you can use a can of compressed air or a vacuum attachment. Spray the compressed air between the keys to dislodge crumbs, dirt, and other particles. If you use a vacuum make sure that your keys do not pop off easily as they could get sucked up!

If your keyboard is used by multiple people it’s a good idea to disinfect it occasionally. Spray disinfectant on a cloth or dampen a cloth with rubbing alcohol and then gently rub the keys. Always unplug your keyboard before cleaning it.

Keep Your Monitor Shiny
When cleaning your monitor, make sure you never spray it directly with water or any cleaning solution. Usually a dry cloth will do the job. Use a microfiber or any lint free cloth. Special cloths designed for cleaning electronics are available.

If your monitor is particularly dirty, you can use water or rubbing alcohol. Just make sure you dampen the cloth first and then wipe the monitor down instead of applying the liquid directly to the monitor. You do not need to drench the cloth; a tiny bit of moisture will do.

A Clean Mouse is a Happy Mouse
Mice can get gunk built up on the bottom which causes them to run less smoothly. The best thing you can do to clean them off is first unplug the mouse from the computer. Then dampen a lint free cloth with rubbing alcohol and wipe the gunk off the bottom of the mouse. If you use a mouse pad, you can wipe it down as well.

Today most people use optical mice that light up on the bottom. If you have a mechanical mouse with a ball inside, here is an excellent video on how to clean it.

Cleaning the Inside
The internal components of your PC can easily get dusty. Cleaning out the dust helps your computer to run more quickly and quietly.

Important: Make sure your computer is turned off and unplugged before you clean it! You do not want to disrupt any of the components while they are in use.

Once the computer is powered down you will need to open up the case. Different brands and models of PC open in different ways. If you feel uncomfortable opening your computer or are unsure of how to do so, ask your systems administrator to take care of this for you.

Use compressed air to spray the dust out of your computer. You do not have to touch any of the internal components. Unlike a keyboard, using a vacuum to clean the inside of your computer is not a good idea as it could generate static electricity and damage your computer. You might want to wear a mask if the inside is particularly dirty to keep from inhaling the dust.

The outside of your computer can be cleaned as well. Simply wipe it down with a damp cloth.

Keeping your computer clean is easy. It not only keeps your computer running more efficiently but it can also keep you healthier. It looks much nicer, too!

(source for portions of this blog: http://www.computerhope.com/cleaning.htm)