CNET to the Rescue: Computing in a crowd

Every year we go to CES, and every year we have problems: not enough AC power, failing Wi-Fi, press conferences where we can't find a place to sit and do our reporting. This week, we reveal how we (try to) get around these constraints, and how the lessons we learn can help you compute at any crowded event. Plus: your questions answered, of course.

Every year, CES breaks Las Vegas' Wi-Fi. So we bring mobile hotspots. And they break. CNET reporters try to cover live events, but we run out of AC power. And we can't find a places to sit and do our reporting. If you've ever attended a big conference or convention and tried to work at it, you may sympathize. So this week, we reveal how we (try to) get around these constraints, and how the lessons we learn can help you compute at your crowded events. Plus: Your questions answered, of course.

If you have a tech question for CNET to the Rescue, e-mail rescue@cnet.com or call us to get on the next show: 877-438-6688. No question is too basic.

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Episode 30: Computing in a crowd

How Josh and Rafe survived CES
First, what you can assume: no power, no bandwidth, no place to sit, no way to think.

Gear: Laptop and software. Get a traveling notebook with long battery life. (Josh reviews the Macbook Air.)

For taking notes: Evernote, Word, Notepad, whatever. As long as it works offline. Google Docs? No.

Power: Want to make friends? Bring a long extension cord and a multi-way adapter. Also: Duct tape.

Where to sit: In the front row center if you have enough battery power, or front aisle if not. This isn't grade school.

Communications: Never, ever rely on Wi-Fi. Bring a cellular connection. Best bet is Verizon (usually) or Sprint (2nd choice) direct-connect USB dongle. Or MiFi/Overdrive plugged in to your laptop (avoid the Wi-Fi mode). If you can, bring two phones, on different carriers.

Josh notes that at CES, 4G seemed to work better than 3G, though it's obviously a little early to tell how well that holds true in other places. On the iPhone, if you can't do anything, switch to Edge-only (switch off 3G).

Be sure to bring a backup memory card if you taking photos.

Heterogeneity is your friend. On a Mac? Your teammate should be on a PC. On Sprint? Have someone on Verizon.

Bonus: Bring a good pair of headphones. If you're actually trying to get work done at some point, or simply want to tune everything out and keep people from bothering you, headphones can be quite handy. Rafe: I recommend in-ear noise-isolating. Cheap and effective. Electronic noise-canceling 'phones are not what you want.

Your questions answered
Q: Voicemail from Ted the Teacher: PS3 Move reviewed. Question: What's a good way to get a bunch of drives on the LAN?

A: Pogoplug will work

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Alex: Something I've never been told is what exactly are the differences between adware, malware, and spyware. Do they each require their own specific types of cleaners? I have Kaspersky antivirus, and Windows Defender and Firewall as well as Advanced Aystem Cleaner. Should I add more protection, and should I disable and go elsewhere for my firewall and whatever Windows Defender is classified as? What are your recommendations? I'm looking for protection but i don't want to drastically decrease the speed of my computer.

Josh: There's some fuzziness on these terms considering their overlap. But the long and the short of it is that:

Adware--software that displays advertisements on your computer

Malware--any software that has access to your computer without you knowing it

Spyware --watches what you're doing with your computer--gives that information to a third party

Seth tells us: His setup is fine. But most reputable AVs today provide combined antivirus/anti-spy/malware, Kaspersky is one of the better of these although Norton, Trend Micro, Panda, AVG, and Avast are also excellent.

Depending on which version of your AV you're using, it also may come with a firewall. Windows 7's Windows Defender, the default firewall, is actually quite good on blocking incoming traffic. It offers no protection against outbound traffic, which is only necessary to block identity information from leaving your computer. The default firewall in Vista and XP requires some assistance. Personally, I use Windows Defender for firewall on a W7 computer. For more advice, see Seth's Security Secrets .

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Chris: My wife and I have differing opinions on how to maximize laptop battery life. Hope you can give some info on how to care and feed them and, of course, maximize their life/duration.

I rarely use my battery and almost always keep my laptop plugged in. When I do use it, the battery lasts a OK time--3+ hours (HP laptop--about a year old). My wife however uses her battery like it's O2. As I type this, I look over and see her laptop unused and unplugged (standby mode I'm guessing - laptop lid closed). Her battery lasts minutes (perhaps 30, but that's more of a second-hand guess based on what she's said). She looks at it as something that just gets replaced frequently. Her laptop is a 2-year-old Dell.

What's your take on batteries--use them frequently, only when needed? Charge all the time or doesn't matter? Any advice you can give would be great. Even if she's OK with her practice, this would be helpful, as I'm sure I'll be getting her a battery soon, so if this is something I need to start saving for on a yearly basis--it'd be nice to know.

Rafe: The real issue is the charing software on your computer. Li-Ion batteries don't like to be run down all the way nor be charged up to their max and held there. Smart laptops (in my experience this includes ThinkPads and Macbooks) manage this. And you're right that batteries do decay over time. Good software will change the charging amount based on measure battery state. Failing that--if you have a laptop with horrible charging software--if you're going to use your laptop mostly plugged in, what you can do is charge it up, use it for a little bit, then remove the battery and let it drain down on its own.

Josh: Some manufacturers, like Apple also offer specific instruction on battery care, particularly letting it run all the way down once a month. Apple notebooks also have a calibration process where you let it get to the end of its charge, then let it sleep for several hours, which resets the battery's on-board counter. There's also the issue of storing a battery that will be out of use for more than six months, which Apple says to keep at a 50 percent charge.

Dell's battery info FAQ page says you should not run down the battery to make it work better, though.

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James: I starting a new business, and trying to figure my new business tech. I am planing on using Google for Business to host my e-mail, calendars, docs etc. I am looking for an online backup system for my new company. I will have few users, but lots of files. I was trying to figure out using Amazon's S3 for my server, but I am not exactly sure how it works. Can I get software to put on each computer that could act like drop box or even mount a virtual drive that goes to my little storage area on the S3 server. Basically have it operate like a cloud version of NAS? I am looking for a solution that is inter-operable with Mac & Windows. Any tech tips for small business start-up would be appreciated! Love they show!

Rafe: Try Nasuni, and let us know. Other options include Dropbox itself, or Sugarsync.

Josh: There's also Box.net, which can be linked up to your Google Apps account and has a desktop sync app.

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Martin: I am looking for a backup solution where I can image my entire C: drive to an external USB drive and have this external drive bootable, as if it were my C: drive. So in case of disaster I plug in the USB drive and just continue with it until the issue with the main drive is fixed. On my Mac that's a piece of cake with either Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner. It's no big deal to boot from an external USB drive to which I have imaged the main drive. But how can I do the same for Windows?

Rafe: Look at Acronis True Image. Or Norton Ghost. There are many apps. Another: Shadow Copy Cloner.

Josh: There's also Easus' Disk Copy, which is free.

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Michael in Akron, Where the weak are killed and eaten: With all the concerns about password dumps by Gawker et al, I have the urge to change my passwords. However, how can I delete the old passwords which are stored in firefox on my laptop and update them to the new? Also, in the last show, you mentioned a password manager. How do they work and what would you recommend?

Rafe: In Firefox, there's a buried option to erase stored passwords. From the Tools menu, navigate to Options... Security... Saved Passwords... Remove All.

For a password manager, Lastpass is my current pick. I have also used Roboform.

Josh: Lastpass has instructions on importing from Firefox's password manager. Remember to do so before you erase your passwords...

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Remember to send your tech questions our way. Mail us at rescue@cnet.com, or leave a message at 877-438-6688.

 

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