Free Education and Politicians Have Nothing to do With it

Posted in Research on October 28, 2011 by Ethan Dickenson

Well, you don’t have to spend a small fortune to get an education after all!  If your goal is to learn and increase your knowledge without investing a small fortune then this site should be of great interest to you.   Khan Academy provides college level courses free of charge via video clips on the internet!  Perfect for those of us who have the time and ambition to learn but lack the finances to extend our education.  I’ve always wanted to see if I had the capacity to understand and learn some of the more advanced courses in mathmatics and now I’ve got a way to explore that without laying everything on the line to find out.  Hats off to Kahn University for making it possible for anyone to learn to his or her own potential regardless of financial capacity (the only limitation being a computer and a connection to the internet…).


Wow… this site has some of the most important lectures available to humanity.  Here you can see the same lectures being given at some of the most prestigious universities in the world.





Find Out if You Are Getting The Net Speed You Pay Your ISP For?

Posted in Entertainment, Web Site on February 19, 2009 by Ethan Dickenson

This site provides you with an interface to test the speed of your internet connection and then it provides you with a graphical display that summarizes how your speed compares with the average in your city/state/country…  Everyone should run this so they understand what they are getting.  I was surprised and upset when I figured out that I was not getting the service I was paying for.

The test is easy to do, so just go to this site and choose a server location.  The ads are a little confusing so stay away from all those, just choose a server that is close to your geographical location and it will take care of the rest.  When the test is complete, click on the ‘my summary’ tab at the top.   You can run the test several times and it will keep track of each test and display the results, this way, you’ll know it wasn’t a ‘fluke’…  I’ve only run my test 3 times over 2 days…  I’ll keep testing, but at this point, I’m fairly certain these figures are typical of the throughput I normally get.    More details on my personal ‘tail of woe’ are at the bottom of the page, after the information on


My Personal Tail of Woe…

I’ve often wondered why it sometimes seems to take a long time for me to navigate from page to page on the internet.  I’ve tuned my PC, bought one of the best ISP packages available in my area, I use Mozilla and have tried other popular browsers, I spent time tuning my browsers and tweaking the way they handle cash…  but I always seem to be slower at home than I do when I log onto some other network.  I’ve been unsatisfied with Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner service for other reasons but this is something new.  The other reason I’ve had some frustration with this ISP is because my line drops about 10 times a day and the only way I can fix it (after investing time with their tech support) is to reboot my router.  About a year ago it dropped my line and when I rebooted my router it didn’t fix the problem.  They told me my router was old, which upset me because it was a linksys router, nothing had changed on my end, and it was a very popular product… but I bent over, ‘assumed the position’ and went out and bought a new Netgear router and I was up and running again, but my line still drops at least 10 times a day…  Once I got so frustrated that I tried to cancel my service and I spent over 2 hours on the phone talking with customer service people and running into dead ends and finally they referred me to the phone number for their ‘customer attrition center’ which rang busy every time I called.  To make a long story short…  I just let it go because I didn’t have time to dork with it.  I’m paying 150 bucks for my phone, Road Runner, and the most basic cable you can get (that has the box, which I need so I can get Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon for my kids).  If I were getting excellent service and great speed out of my internet connection it would still be too much but to be paying above market prices and then receive below average (market specific) quality…  it just adds insult to injury.   So now that I’m sure of the cause and what is to blame…  I’m going to figure out a way to resolve the situation and either fix the problem or cancel the service.  Who has time to deal with this kind of crap…

It seems like, in today’s economy, the consumer has to fight so hard to get a fair deal from so many of the companies we do business with.  The frustration and stress that we have to live with are unprecidented in human history.  If you don’t watch everything you pay for like a hawk you’ll end up on the short end of the stick.  What’s worse is that sometimes you need to fix a situation but you can’t do it, and the reason you can’t do it is because the company has knowingly used a strategy to frustrate you so you will go away and put up with their low quality or damaged or misconfigured product.  Between banks, insurance companies, heating and air conditioning (maybe I should just say contracting in general), wireless phone companies, and all the other products and services we must buy to keep our world running…  we spend so much time dealing with crappy customer service that it drives us all nuts.  Why is it that all these companies are out to deliver poor quality and a terrible customer experience.  Corporate America deserves to have the shit hit the fan.  A generation ago business practices like this would have been considered illegal.  These strategies designed to knowingly frustrate the customer are unacceptable and shouldn’t make sense in a healthy fair market.  And when the government then bails out these crooked companies it really screws everything up.    We should never have started giving money away because now the companies can screw the consumer all they want and they won’t go out of business and they probably won’t have to lay people off!  How will they know the difference between right and wrong?  What ‘control’ is there to ensure the customer gets what they pay for?  Big business will frustrate and steal from the consumer whenever they can get away with it and for as long as they can get away with it.  Eventually, America’s economy will collapse and the American consumers will all end up in funny farm somewhere,  having been driven completely crazy from the insane stress of having to deal with business practices designed to frustrate them so they won’t get their issues resolved.  It’s a rediculus and awful situation and the American businesses that utilize these tactics deserve to go out of business and they should be ashamed of themselves.   It’s a sad situation because eventually we’ll probably decide to put government regulations in place to protect the consumer from the people they are doing business with.  The free market is a wonderful thing.  Through it’s nature, it resolves all these issues.  But when our government ‘bails out’ and provides ‘stimulas packages’ we are screwing with the ‘nature’ of the free market and everything falls apart.  The only role government should play is to ensure the free market is exactly that so everyone can open up a business and compete at the same level.  The minute it becomes viable (and it’s coming) for me to utilize the Internet as my feed for my television, I am going to say goodbye to the cable company.  If they were smart, they would be working hard to build customer loyalty instead of squeezing every cent out of their installed base and cutting their business costs so close to the bone that they can’t support their comittments.  The whole situation is infuriating to me!!!

Budget in a SNAP With Mint!

Posted in Banking, Financial, Reporting, Web Site on December 3, 2008 by Ethan Dickenson

mintFor several years I’ve wanted to get a look at my financial data and see where my money was going. I wanted to figure out how much I spent on groceries, gas… and I wanted to be able to see my financial portfolio in one place. My computer came with Microsoft Money and for 2 years I fooled around with it but it never really worked the right way. I could force a spreadsheet into it and then look at some of the data and there was a ‘sync’ feature but it never worked properly for me… Eventually the OEM license that was on my PC ran out and I just resigned myself to defeat. But then I found Mint. I was not optimistic when I first looked at it (not for any other reason than my past experience trying to get Microsoft Money working…). But, I breathed a heavy sigh and gave it my account number at my bank. Then I found I could put in my account number at every other financial institution I dealt with. In less than a half hour I was done and I could look at more reports than I was able to get out of Microsoft Money after investing a significant amount of time in that program but I still didn’t have what I needed. I was pleased but I wasn’t completely thrilled until Mint’s system gathered my data for a couple of months. Now I’m really impressed… I get emails that tell me if I’ve spent more on gas this month than usual. I get an email that reminds me to pay my visa bill and there are all kinds of alerts I can set so the system notifies me automatically. Mint is the most useful financial reporting system I’ve ever used hands down. It’s really easy to set up and the value you get from the system is HUGE!!! The folks over at Mint got it right and I highly recommend going to their site and signing on. It’s the best way for someone who isn’t an accounting person to get insight into their financial spending. Now I’m working on creating a real budget. Which is something that I’ve talked about for years but never accomplished because of my inability to get at the data I need. Hats off to MINT! They made it easy for everyone to gather their financial information and many many have failed where MINT delivers. I recommend them without reserve, to everyone!!! Oh, one more thing… like everything else I recommend on this site… it’s free!

Make XP Look Like Vista in 3 Easy Steps

Posted in Entertainment on November 28, 2008 by Ethan Dickenson

vistablackscreenshotsmallI was sick of how my laptop looked.  So I tried to ‘freshen it up’ but I only had a couple of themes on my system, and those looked like they came from 3.1 era…, so I selected get more themes in the properties–>themes directory, only to be routed to a website telling me to upgrade to Vista.  So then I searched the web for XP Themes and got completely confused because, after selecting I theme I liked and trying to download it, I found out that you had to buy and install some software to use it.  That’s not what I was looking for!!!  I just wanted to download a free theme!   So I got stubborn, and it took me a couple of hours, but I finally got it pinned down.  So I thought I’d share my experience with you so others wouldn’t have to spend a night pulling their hair out like I did.

3 ‘Kind of’ Easy Steps

1. Go to and you have to register before it lets you download a file… so you give it an email and it sends you an email and you open the email and click the link and then…  you will be able to download your file (a bogus process that someone needs to fix).  Then you can go to the page on ‘belchfire’ that has the file you want here –> and just save it to your desktop for now.

2. Because Microsoft insists on making things difficult, you have todownload a freeware program to ‘fix’ or ‘workaround’ the partial road block Microsoft built into XP that made it so you couldn’t use themes from anyone else but Microsoft.  I happen to be running service patch 2, However, if you are running service patch 3, I did notice that Softpedia had a link to this same program that is designed for that version…  so just download the one appropriate for what you are running (either Service Patch 2 or SP3).  I’ve only tested it with SP2 but soon I’ll put this on my desktop too and then update this post.

Service patch 2:

Service patch 3:

This is the part that was a little hairy, well…  it’s a lot hairy.  In fact, it’s so hairy it’s scary!  🙂  After I downloaded it and ran it I got an error that said 200811ddhorror_28jpgsomething like ‘you’ve got a file in i386 folder and it isn’t recommended to continue.  Either move that folder or cancel the operation’. I took a leap of faith and moved my i386 folder to c:\my documents and then I ran the software and everything turned out great.  After running this program you do have to reboot your PC.

3. Now open the directory, C:\windows\resources\themes and then open the zip file you downloaded in step 1, double click on the directory and it will open and show you 2 other directories named ‘fonts’ and ‘theme’ , open the ‘theme’ folder and then drag and drop the ‘Vista VG Black’ directory into the “C:\windows\resources\themes” that I had you leave open a minute ago.  And do the same with the file named VistaVG Black Theme file that you see there and then you are ready.  All you need to do is right click on your desktop and select ‘properties’ and then select ‘themes’ and choose ‘Vista VG Black’ and it will change everything for you.  Including the wallpaper, cursors, Start bar, active and inactive windows, sounds… everything will look just like Vista and I really like it.  One added bonus…  now you can download any of the themes on that site you registered for in ‘step 1’ and they will work.  Also, I’m sure there are other sites that have many many other themes for Windows XP.  I downloaded 3 before I found the ‘vista’ one I liked.  So now you are free!  the way it should be!!!

I will put in a brief disclaimer in this post, which is really only common sense…  I test this software I write about and it works for me.  I can’t accept responsibility for anything that doesn’t work or if something screws up your system…  But at least I tried it on my CPU and it worked well and without problems, which is better than you just trying it on your own!   And that disclaimer really applies to all my blog posts. 🙂

Defragging Your Way to Speed!

Posted in disk, Disk and File Mgt, Utilities on November 20, 2008 by Ethan Dickenson

kaleidoscope_7I have tested several defraggers and have finally found a product that has won my heart. Ultimate Defrag is fast, it gives you the ability to store data where you want it on your drive, you can schedule, and do pretty much anything you can think of related to the subject of defragging (at least for a single user…) In fact, I have to wonder what the paid version of their product does (I’m thinking that it’s a tool designed for an administrator in charge of managing disk resources…). There are several wonderful things about this product, but there are two things that really stick out for me. First, we’ve all run the Windows defragging software that comes with NT or XP and I’m pretty sure that it’s the same software that came with Windows 3.1 and earlier. When you run that old program you select a drive, hit the ‘defrag now’ button, and wait for, God only knows, how long. I’ve had it take days and sometimes (about 50% of sometimes) it just hangs. But Ultimate Defrag is so much better, it gives you a clear visual that shows how the data is moving on your disk so you know exactly where it is in the process. It’s also much faster, it allows you to structure your defrag (I’ll explain more about ‘structure your defrag below) so you can get the job done in a few minutes. So that’s wonderful improvement number 1 and wonderful improvement number 2 is that it allows me to select where I want to put my data. For those of you who don’t understand what defragging does, and the average user doesn’t and, in my opinion, shouldn’t have to understand such a technical detail, running a defragging program lines up all the data on your disk. Let me explain… when your disk saves data as you are working it doesn’t do it as efficiently as it should because it is doing 100 other things at the same time and it puts your data wherever it makes sense at the time you download it. Therefore, you end up with data scattered all over your disk and between your data there are many spots on your drive that have nothing stored on them. This slows down your disk because when you want to save something large your disk is forced to put it in several of these little spots or someplace where it isn’t convienent to get at quickly and it slows down your computer and it can even cause your hard drive to crash. In fact, I would bet my bonus check, that it’s the most frequent cause of hard drive crashes. OK, now back to the second reason Ultimate Defrag is so freaking great… it allows you to select where you want your data stored. I save a lot of stuff that I don’t use very often, I just like to know it’s there and keep it around and if I do open it up it doesn’t matter if it takes an extra couple of seconds to pull it all together. So I’ve selected to store all my previous data on the inside track of my disk (‘inside’ meaning as close to the center as possible) Your disk can retrieve data most quickly from tracks on the outside of your disk, I want all the new stuff that I will continue to save to populate that area. Now, if I work in the ‘data field’ and I have many large databases that I need to get to on a regular basis, I might select to put that data on the outside of my disk where it could be gathered quickly. The point is, Ultimate Defrag gives me the flexibility to do just that. It’s such an improvement over the old crappy defragger that is part of Windows and it’s so much better than all the other freeware defrag programs I’ve used…, I believe it should be part of the Windows operating system.

Some advice for users like myself. If you’re a user that is a lot like me (not operating with a lot of databases that I need to do queries on all the time and I’m not terribly short on disk space) then you may find some value in reading about how I have used the product. There are several options this product gives you for 112008ultimatedefragrunning a defrag session, I just want to get the job done… and I’m sure you do to… When you open the product you will see a list of 6 ‘types’ of defrags you can run on the left side. I chose Auto, when you open the options you can select what percentage of your ‘frequently used’ data you want to be placed on the outer (faster accessed) tracks of your drive. The greater the percentage, the looser (and more wasteful) your defrag. I’m disk rich right now so I’ve got the slider at 75% over on my left side, on the ‘faster’ end. If I were cramped for disk I would slide it to the right towards the ‘optimize’ end. I did run all the defrag processes offered. The only problems I ran into involved creating an archive. This is not an option in the ‘auto’ defrag so don’t worry about it unless you’ve decided you need more and if you have ventured into that area then you might want to try all the settings but from what I’ve learned I will stay away from the ‘respect the archive’ button (because the program has hung whenever I’ve run the process with that option selected) but I will select the ‘place data close to MFT (the directory table) and respect the folder ini archive.

That’s everything I want to know about defragging and then some and my guess is that you probably feel the same way. Ultimate Defragger makes it as painless as possible. So, go to this site, download and run the product and I bet you find that your system speeds up and you can scratch that todo off your list!

*UPDATED – Call Management, ‘Google Style’ – Free, Useful, RevolutionaryD

Posted in Download Management, Frequently Updated, phone, System Monitoring on April 25, 2008 by Ethan Dickenson

11.15.08. Google is not granting access to new beta testers through the Grand Central Website.  It has been several months since they did.  However, you can go to this link

and request to be included in the beta test.  Give it a try!!  I have been using the GC interface and I’m very pleased with all the call management functions.  When Grand Central opens it’s site for ‘production’  use to the masses,  it will revolutionize the way people use their phones.  More soon…   You can read my original post on this subject below.

Grand Central is a company that was purchased by Google about a year ago. It is the greatest new addition to phone management on the market and it’s free! Everyone should check this out. It is currently in Beta but I signed up a long long time ago and, while supplies last, I’ll send you an invitation if you leave a comment asking for one on this article…

When you sign up for Grand Central you get a new phone number. It is the last phone number you will ever need. It assigns you the number and then, through an intuitive GUI, it enables you to forward all your phones so they ring on that single number. You might think, why would I want to do that? It’s a little hard to explain all the advantages but there are many. I’ll do my best to outline the basics but to really understand things you should go to Grand Central’s website and check it out there. For one thing, now all your calls are logged on your computer, so you have a historical database of your incoming calls in a manageable format. It replaces your answering machine so you also have a historical database of all your incoming messages… It allows you to leave ‘group defined’ greetings for the incoming calls that you miss. This means that if you have someone you’ve been dying to get a hold of and you want to tell them something if they get to your answering machine, you can leave a customized message that will play as your announcement just for that phone number. This is a really impressive feature for both business and home use. You can have calls coming from certain numbers sent forward to certain phones. This way, if you always want your Mother to ring your home line instead of your business line you can assign all her phones to ring on your home line! As well, now you only have to remember one number and everyone can contact you via that one number and you set up the rules so when the call comes in it is sent to whatever number you would like it to be sent to. There is even a way to put a web call widget on your blog so anyone can call you and you don’t have to worry about them abusing the number because you have total and complete control when your calls come in! There are a hundred other great things that Grand Central can do to make managing your incoming calls more efficient so check out their website and if you want to give it a try, let me know and I’ll send you an invitation to the beta so you can get your own Grand Central Phone Number!

Legal and Free Music Downloads- Qtrax Still Not Allowing Downloads

Posted in Entertainment, Free Music Downloads, Freeware Download, Music, peer to peer with tags on January 28, 2008 by Ethan Dickenson
I wrote this post January 28th 2008 yet the Qtrax site still does not allow downloads.  It says “downloads are coming soon”.  I’ve downloaded Qtrax’s client and have it on my system.  Which I won’t advise you to do, at this time because downloads are not yet available. However, they claim they are coming so we are all waiting and hoping that some day soon, Qtrax will enable the downloading of free music via their peer to peer network.

Original Story Starts Here:

Beavis & Butthead As Butthead might say, Free music downloads rule. I was surprised and pleased to see this article come across the wire.
Apparently, the music industry has caved into the demands of consumers, powered by technology that makes sharing and transferring files between people and devices a snap, to offer free and unrestricted access to nearly every song available. This time it’s no joke because the music companies have signed on with an organization that has developed a peer to peer network which will earn income through advertising and pay the music companies a fee based on ‘use statistics’. Hopefully, this will trickle down to the musicians who wrote the songs. I knew, the first time that I downloaded a song, this day would come. The ability to search archives, download single tracks, and transfer them from computer to mobile devices, is a technology that is far better than the old system of music distribution. It was obvious to me that the music companies and the

Dancing Bear

musicians would need to reinvent the way they made money. Being a ‘DeadHead’ (The Grateful Dead allowed recording and encouraged the distribution of their music from shows), I’ve always felt that musicians should make most of their money from performances and not from the copyrights of their songs. I wrote to my senators and congressmen when I first saw the technology in an effort to explain why things would change but copyright protection has been in place for hundreds of years and it took some time (about 7 years) for the reality to sink in with the music industry. This demonstrates and confirms my theory that, legalities can not stand in the way of practicality because the best solution will always become ‘common sense’. BTW, don’t steal that phrase or I’ll sick my copyright attorney on you! No really, I’m not kidding, but I don’t demand money just credit… 🙂

This is the link to the new peer to peer music service. I’m sure there will be other services like this one working to sign deals with the music industry, but hat’s off to Qtrax because they ‘broke the ice’. I will write another post after I have a chance to try out the service and review it.