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Blackberry vs. iPhone: One Technoman’s Experience

It may go with saying that I’m one of those individuals who waited outside AT&T for my new iPhone. But this was not just a simple switch from one technology to another.  My Blackberry has been a godsend over the years. I truly loved the mobile device. Email and calendar couldn’t have been easier. The device had always been stable.  But what was it that made me want to switch? Before I answer that, let me back peddle a bit!

Luckily NikNik got the iPhone at the same time!

Luckily for me, NikNik and I got our phones at the same time.  Although mine had terrible reception from the start.  But the issue was strange; I would go from 5 bars to no service very quickly.  When I compared it with NikNik’s, the difference was night and day. Her iPhone had great reception.  I immediately went to AT&T to let them know that I had a defective phone. However the salesman at the counter told me it was a bad SIM card. So he added a new SIM card and sent me off on my way. Within 5 minutes I knew my iPhone was not fixed. I still had “NO SERVICE!”  So now I’m back at AT&T for the 3rd time in as many days so we could take a closer look at my iPhone reception problems. This time the sales associate tells me that [Read more...]

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Go Ahead, Touch the Screen

It made me feel so naughty. It is so ingrained in me to not touch an LCD screen for fear of marring the surface that using the new HP Touchsmart PC made me feel like I was breaking the rules. That feeling subsided quickly.

The HP Touchsmart PC is the latest all-in-one computer system to hit the market. Much like the Apple iMac, Dell XPS One and Gateway One, the HP Touchsmart PC incorporates the entire computer into the monitor housing. No need for a separate CPU cluttering your desk or floor, this class of computer is a dream for those with limited space.

What separates the Touchsmart PC from the competition is the inclusion of a 22″ touchscreen monitor. As tablet laptops have done for years, the Touchsmart PC allows you to interact directly with objects on the screen. Better than a tablet laptop, though, since it was designed to be used with your fingers instead of a stylus.

The similarities between the Touchsmart PC and a laptop computer go well beyond just the touchscreen technology. Looking at the specifications [Read more...]

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Your Edge in Real Estate is Getting Sharper

If you’ve been clamoring for an up to the minute mortgage rate widget for your real estate blog….it’s time to dry your eyes and head over to Zillow.  There you’ll find four brand new Mortgage Rate Widgets that you can freely leverage for your own blog.  If you’re looking to foster greater online interaction via your blog community and provide readers with a knowledgeable tool, this may be just what you need. Not only are these widgets radiating rates…but they look nice too!

If you thought the Mortgage Rate Widget was the only new candy in Zillow’s goodie bag, it’s time to reach in for a second helping. Did you feel that? It’s Zillow’s FREE co-branding! With it, your blog readers will have access to Zillow tools and features while being reminded who sent them there in the first place.  With Zillow’s co-branding individuals or companies can utilize this free service just by adding any of the following to their blog or Website: individual Zillow URLs, mortgage rate widgets, links generated by the Zillow API, new profile badges.

Here’s how it works:

Before you can take advantage of Zillow’s free co-branding, you need to take care of the following: (1) sign up for a Zillow account, (2) add a Zillow URL to your blog or Website and (3) include the following code at the end of your Zillow link “/?scrnnm=YourZillowScreenName”. Then, when readers select the Zillow URL on your blog and a new Zillow page opens, you’re picture, contact information and link to your Website will appear at the top of that page.  Wherever your blog reader travels on Zillow during that session, your branding will follow too. Click here to learn more about Zillow Co-Branding.

In this market, any edge, ledge, step stool or leg up you can get to boost your blog community and market freely to your target audience is worth checking out. And if you’d like to get up close and personal with the Zillow team AND you’re planning to go to REBarCamp and the Inman Connect, you won’t want to miss Beer with Bloggers. The venue is Café Du Nord (from 6-8pm), which just happens to be right above REBarCamp on July 22, 2008. See you there!

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Save Money on Your Electric Bill

My computer speakers are always on, whether being used or not. This is because the manufacturer failed to add a power button. Since climbing under my desk to plug or unplug them is unrealistic, the speakers remain on all the time.

This lack of ability to power down isn’t uncommon with technology. Many scanners, printers, external hard drives and speakers are very difficult to shut them off.

The push for being green and the need to save money in this real estate market calls for a [Read more...]

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Print Contracts And More from Your Car

For nearly 2 years now, I have been trying to write a post on mobile printers. The idea has always intrigued me. The ability to print contracts or a listing flier from your car or a coffee shop seems like the perfect fit for the mobile real estate agent.

The problem that I have had in writing the post has come that my experiences with mobile inkjet printers. Poor print quality and speed, and fragile [Read more...]

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Have You Outgrown Your Router?

Let me guess, the oldest piece of technology in your home office is the router. Am I right?

This holds true for most real estate agents. There just doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason to invest in newer technology. That is what I thought until I did a little research. Since then, I have retired my trusty 802.11g router for a new, cutting-edge model.

Originally, you probably bought your router so that multiple computers could share a broadband connection. Plus, the added benefit of a wireless signal gave you the freedom to use your laptop from the couch. For these simple needs, that old router is fine. I’m here to tell you that your needs have grown beyond those simple tasks.

Ask yourself these questions to identify how your home network needs have changed:

  1. Do you work primarily from home?
  2. Has your broadband connection speed increased (10 Mbps compared to 1.5 Mbps)?
  3. Do you have a network connected printer, external hard drive or maybe even a new Windows Home Server?
  4. Have you used VOIP (Skype) to make phone calls and video chat?
  5. Are you a YouTube junkie?
  6. Have you filled up your iPod by downloading music from iTunes?
  7. Have you conducted an online meeting (GoToMeeting)?
  8. Are you or your child known as a master of Worlds of Warcraft?
  9. Have you remotely accessed your home computer (GoToMyPC)?
  10. Are your recent vacation photos on Flickr?

I was going to come up with a scoring system to provide a numerical value, but that would be too much like Cosmopolitan magazine. Just know that if [Read more...]

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When It Is Time to Call in a Professional

In my article, “Do You Treat Your Car Better Than Your Computer?”, I provided 8 ways that real estate agents can keep their computer performing at its best. There are times when simple maintenance isn’t enough. This is when you need to call in a professional.

Remember that you are a real estate agent and not a computer technician. Top agents know the value of an hour of their time and realize that spending 4 hours trying to fix their own computer costs more than having the system repaired by a technician.

From experience, trust me when I say that while your brother-in-law, cousin or neighbor may have good intensions, don’t turn to them unless repairing computers is what they do for a living. I have seen countless instances where matters were made worse by someone offering free assistance.

Where do you turn when you need a professional computer repair technician? Luckily, there are several options from local computer shops to big box store in-house repair to online support companies.

Here are just a few of the options available to real estate agents:

  • Local Computer Shops and Technicians – There is something satisfying about supporting a local business person (especially if they will be buying or selling a home in the future). Many times, you can find a technician with much more experience than those working for the big box stores. There is more risk, though, since you don’t have a large corporation backing the work. Check out Chris Pirillo’s article and video, “Find Local Computer Repair” tips on finding a reputable local technician. One example of local support would be Loren Nason of Future of Real Estate Technology.
  • Geek Squad – Probably the best know of the big box store services, the Geek Squad is Best Buy’s in-house computer repair team. You can have a “geek” fix your computer in 1 of 3 ways, you can bring your computer to a Best Buy, a “geek” can come to your house, or they can take over control of your computer remotely and repair many problems using your Internet connection.
  • Firedog – Not to be outdone by Best Buy, Circuit City has created it’s own version of the Geek Squad, called Firedog. Their services and pricing are very similar to what the Geek Squad offers.
  • Staples – Staples is now also offering its “EasyTech” computer support service. They can assist with repairs, maintenance and upgrades by phone, mail, in-store or at your home or office.
  • Plum Choice – The grandfather of online computer support services, Plum Choice repairs your computer by taking control of your system remotely. Plum Choice is such a dominant player in this field that they provide online services for other companies, such as Firedog.

Just as having an attorney and CPA that you can rely on and trust is essential to the success of your real estate business, so is having a computer repair technician. As the saying goes, “time is money”, and time without email or the MLS is costly.

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Do You Treat Your Car Better Than Your Computer?

Many real estate agents have beautiful cars that get pampered. They are washed weekly. They get an oil change every 3000 miles and the recommended service calls are never missed.

Why do very few real estate agents treat their computers with such loving care?

In my experiences, most real estate agents use and abuse their computer until it crashes or slows to a painful crawl. Using my car analogy, that would be like driving your car, doing nothing more than filling it with gas, until it broke down and needed to be towed.

A computer is no longer a real estate technology nicety, it is a necessity. A real estate agent without a computer is without email, the MLS and marketing pieces. It is time to pamper your computer as you do your car. Bare in mind, you can rent a car to replace yours, but you can’t rent a replacement computer with your programs and data ready to go.

Here are 8 ways to pamper your computer that are equivalent to an oil change, wax job and 20,000 mile tune-up.

  1. Plug every piece of technology into a quality surge protector. Notice how I used the word “quality”. Surge protectors are rated to handle different levels of power surges. These levels are measured in joules. The higher the number of joules, the better protected you are. I have seen power supplies, motherboards and processors get fried because a cheap surge protector succumbed to a powerful burst of power.Bonus Points: Purchase a battery backup with a built-in surge protector. This will protect your system from power failures that can corrupt your Windows installation. My desktop computer has been protected for several years using an APC battery backup devise.
  2. Install a security suite, keep the definitions up-to-date and run system scans weekly. It doesn’t matter whether you like Norton, McAfee, Panda or any the other security programs, just make sure you have one. I recommend a security suite instead of just an anti-virus program. The threats out there require the extra protection.Just having the software installed isn’t good enough. New viruses, Trojans and worms hit the Internet everyday. You need to make sure that your security suite is downloading new definitions as they become available. This usually isn’t an issue until the subscription expires. You will know when this happens as daily reminders to renew your subscription will pop-up in your face. When this happens, renew your subscription or upgrade your software immediately.Lastly, your security program is going want to scan your computer completely on a weekly basis. Make sure that happens. That scan could identify and remove a dormant threat waiting to strike.
  3. Run Windows Updates. There is something like 40 million lines of code in the Microsoft Windows operating systems. Anything that complex is going to have flaws and holes in it. To compensate for this, Microsoft continuously works to improve on the performance and security of Windows through patches and service packs.These patches and service packs are made available through Windows Update. Your computer will most likely download these updates automatically. When ready to install, a yellow shield icon will appear in the lower right corner of the screen. Click to install these.You can also get to Windows Update from a link in the Start Menu.

    Bonus Points: Go to Windows Update and click on the Microsoft Update link. The Microsoft Update system combines the Windows Updates with other Microsoft software updates. This means that your Office suite will get patches and fixes as they are released.

  4. Install software and hardware updates. In my last article, Windows Vista for Real Estate Agents: Part II, I provided a list of websites for the major computer manufacturers’ download pages. You should become familiar with the page for your computer’s manufacturer. As hardware and software updates come available, install them.Several manufacturers have gone a step further by placing software on your computer that notifies you of updates and patches. A prime example of this is the Dell Support program.Software also needs to be kept current. As flaws are identified, program manufacturers will release updates to correct the issues. Many programs will periodically check for updates and notify you when they are available. Other programs require you to select an update option from a menu or you will need to go to the manufacturer’s website to look for updates.
  5. Clean your computer. Sounds obvious, but this chore seldom is done. This doesn’t mean just wiping the monitor and keyboard down. You need to open the case and clean out the dust that accumulates thanks to the computer’s intake fans.The best way to do this is unplug everything and take the case outside (it is going to get messy). Open the case and vacuum out the bottom of the case (be careful to not touch any parts with the vacuum).Next, take a can of compressed air (available at any computer or office supply store) and blow out dust from the different components. DO NOT blow directly on any fans. It can be fun to watch the fan spin from this, but that is a quick way to damage the fan.

    When dust accumulates, it acts as an insulator, making your computer run hotter. The dust can also clog fans making them stop. An overheated computer can lock up or crash.

  6. Place your computer in a well ventilated place that is off of the floor. Heat, dust and static electricity are the enemy of your computer, you need to place your computer in a location that is as void of these elements as possible.Computer running in closed cabinets can quickly overheat. Floors collect dust and carpets generate static electricity. If your computer must be placed on the floor, use something to prop it up a couple of inches. Many computer stores carry inexpensive stands to serve this purpose.
  7. Use System Tools to give your computer a tune-up. Windows comes equipped with tools to boost system performance. Here are 3 that I use regularly and links to directions on using them.Disk Cleanup: Temporary files and other junk can accumulate on your system. This system flushes it all.Disk Defrag: When files are added to your computer, they aren’t placed in an orderly fashion. Windows will break up the data into chunks that fit the gaps on your hard drive. This makes it a chore for Windows to locate each piece when you want to use the files. Disk Defrag organizes your hard drive in a most logical, efficient fashion.

    ScanDisk: This system tool scans your hard drive for problems caused by hard disk failure, improper shut-downs, viruses and other issues.

  8. Remove unused programs. Look into your computer’s Add/Remove Programs menu (located in the Control Panel). If you see programs that you don’t use and you have identified that they aren’t critical programs for aspects of your hardware or other software, remove them.Many computers ship with “bloatware”. This is software that companies pay to have put onto new computers. Many of these are trial or free versions of paid software. If you don’t plan on using those programs, get rid of them.You might find other programs that were vital to you in the past, but worthless now. One example I see a lot is software for an old Palm device that has since been retired, but the Palm Hotsync Manager is still active.

This computer maintenance checklist is simple to complete and should be manageable for any real estate agent. There are going to be times when you need to call in a professional. I doubt you fix your own car (that is what a mechanic is for). My next article will cover options for onsite, offsite and remote computer repair.