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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tech Talk: Things to avoid when caring
for those new high-tech Christmas gifts

Owen Sutton
KyForward columnist

 

Merry Christmas. I hope your holiday is going great and your family is well. If you had the opportunity to unwrap some gifts this morning hopefully you’re reading this before it’s too late. Read below for advice on what not to do with your holiday tech gifts.

 

Hanging a TV over your fireplace

 

Unless you plan to watching the screen only occasionally and almost never using the fireplace don’t do it. This is especially true if you are burning wood in that fireplace since you can count on higher temperatures and increased soot, neither of which are good for your television. Ever place your hand against the wall or brick above your wood burning fireplace after several hours of burn time? The surface is warm to the touch. While this may not have an immediate effect it will decrease the device’s overall life expectancy. You should also be concerned about soot from fires that can keep a screen dirty and cause problems with internal circuitry.

 

Even if you never burn a fire there are good reasons to avoid over the hearth television mounting. Ever sit in the first row of a movie theater? Depending on the layout of your room and the height of your mantel, you could be setting up viewers for that same level of discomfort. If you’re convinced that height isn’t an issue, be sure to consider the viewing angle as well. If you must wall mount over your fireplace, get hardware that will allow you to tilt the unit down towards viewer’s eyes. Watching even the best televisions off-axis decreases the picture quality.

 

Leave your wireless network unsecured

 

If this is your first experience with a wireless router I promise you’re going to love it. It’s going to untether you from the desktop. By next Christmas you’ll have all sorts of wireless enabled devices connected to the internet in your home. Probably some of which haven’t even been thought of. If you leave your wireless network unsecured anybody in range of your network will be able to access your home’s internet connection. Even worse they may very well be able to access your files and information that is stored on connected devices.

 

Many wireless routers will work out of the box with zero configuration. However, in most cases, this means that no security at all has been enabled. Securing a wireless network is really pretty simple. It’s just a password that will need to be entered on any connected device before it can access your network. I can’t give exact step-by-step instructions here because every router is a little different. Your user manual will give you the details and it’s important that you do it right away. Don’t use your router unsecured ‘for today’ thinking you’ll worry about it after the holidays. You won’t. Nobody thinks about making changes when everything is working fine. For good measure, consider also disabling your routers broadcast of the SSID. This will make your network even harder to find.

 

Buy an HDMI cable at a big box store

 

Almost every audio/video device requires an HDMI cable for connection and they can be quite expensive. If you’re of a certain age you may remember the “printer cable not included” of the nineties. This isn’t much different. Just like then, your local big-box retailer will be happy to sell you this required accessory for an arm and a leg. As long as you have a little patience there is a better option. You really should be buying all of your AV cables online. We’re not talking about a couple of dollars, the mark-up on locally purchased cables is gigantic, and you can save a lot. The cheapest 6’ HDMI Cable from Best Buy and available locally is the somewhat generic Dynex for $19.99. The 6.5’ AmazonBasics High-speed HDMI cable from Amazon is around five dollars and has a 4.5 star customer rating.

 

There is a very good chance of a local sales person telling you why a more expensive cable is better. They are wrong. With the exception of a few ultra-generics, every HDMI cable really is created equal. I could write a whole column on why this is true, but I’m not going to. It would be 1500 very boring words that no one would read. If you don’t want to take my word, check out this January article from tested.com. They compared a $5 cable to a $200 cable. There was zero difference in picture or audio quality.

 

Leave your devices in the cold or heat

 

Leaving your new laptop, smartphone, or tablet in the car in the winter or summer is a bad idea. You can significantly decrease the overall life of your device and in some cases even cause immediate damage. Plus, shouldn’t it be inside where you can play with it? It was a gift for goodness sake, have some fun.

 

Heat is bad for tech. It can fry the processor, shorten battery life, and even make the hard drive expand. If you live in a particularly humid area you should also be concerned about condensation, which can build up on the inside of your device. When the temperature is above 90 you need to start thinking about keeping your device out of the heat. Don’t forget, your car gets a lot hotter inside. It might be a pleasant 75 outside, but the interior of your locked car can get well into the triple digits on a sunny day.

 

Cold is equally bad for your devices, especially extreme cold. Leaving your tech gear in the cold and its battery will die or you may see issues with LCD screens. You should also be concerned about condensation. Bringing a previously cold device into a warm room can cause a lot of liquid to build up inside. It’s pretty easy to understand why water inside your laptop is bad news.

 

Trash the receipt or packaging

 

It’s tempting I know. After all, who isn’t in a hurry to get all the Christmas mess cleaned up in preparation for the New Year? I’ve been guilty of it myself. In the event you need to make a return, an exchange, or a warranty claim, life will be much easier if you have retained the register receipt and original packaging. Do yourself a favor. Place the receipt, manuals, and packaging materials back in the box, tape it up and store it in the garage for a few months. You can thank me later.

 

Owen Sutton is the lead consultant and founder of Maximus Technology LLC, a technology consulting firm in Lexington. He was born and raised in the Bluegrass, graduated from Tates Creek High School and earned an associate’s degree from Bluegrass Community & Technical College. A combat veteran, having served in Afghanistan, Owen spent 10 years in the Kentucky Army National Guard. He is a technology expert with over a decade of experience in businesses small and large. He lives in Lexington with his family and can be reached at owen@maximusky.com or on Twitter.

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