KC News

Slim Down Your System Tray

Got a lot of programs running in the system tray on the right end of your taskbar? Want to prevent some of them from loading every time Windows starts up?

These days every program seems to put its icon in your system tray. The icons do more than just fill up the taskbar. Each system tray icon represents a running program that's using system resources.

To identify a program, hold the mouse over an icon until a title pops up. Ask yourself if you need that program running all the time. If it's a firewall or an antivirus program that does something constructive while in the background, yes. But if it's a little AOL icon or something that helps ou launch something, you can do without it.

Right-click the icon and examine the menu that pops up. There's often an Exit or Close option. When you select this, you may be asked whether you want the program to restart the next time you restart Windows; tell it you don't. (You can turn off AOL's system tray program in this way.)

If that doesn't work, examine the pop-up menu for an option named 'Preferences' or 'Options'. Or open the program itself and check its menus for an option that will prevent it from loading on start-up.

It the program doesn't include a way to turn itself off, you can do so through Windows.

In Windows 98, Me, or XP, click on Start, Run, type msconfig, press Enter, and select the Startup tab; uncheck the box for anything you don't want starting up with Windows. Recheck the box to change it back again.

Want to learn more? Read these articles:

Reduce Windows Clutter, Improve Performance


System Resources Tune-Up


Keep Your PC Purring: More Troubleshooting Tips



Distributed computing grows and grows

The original idea was brilliant in its simplicity: why not harness the unused capacity of personal computers for some productive purpose?

In a time when scientists often struggled - and were sometimes unable - to find sufficient computer time for their computationally intensive research, it seemed like a logical idea.

Untold amounts of computing power lay dormant in millions of homes and offices around the world, ready to be used, if only one knew how to reach them... But until five years ago, no one did.

Then came SETI@home. Launched in 1999, it quickly became a huge international success. Within a few months, millions of personal computers that had been launching flying toasters across dark screens in their spare time, were displaying the famous dynamic power-bar graphics of SETI@home.

Not only did SETI@home users make possible the most sensitive search for extraterrestrial intelligence ever conducted, they also demonstrated the power and potential of distributed computing. SETI@home became - by far - the largest and most powerful supercomputer ever assembled, accomplishing within months calculations that would normally take years or even decades.

Scientists in other fields were quick to take note, and look for ways to make use of the enormous potential of distributed computing in their own research.

The first to follow SETI@home's lead were scientists working on specific research programs, who set up distributed computing programs tailored specifically for the project at hand. The most famous of these was folding@home, a Stanford University-based project investigating patterns of protein folding, which published its first scientific results in October of 2002.

The problem with such projects was that it was extremely difficult for research teams to set them up. Setting up a distributed computing program is a challenge even for professional computer scientists, and for scientists in other fields it is a truly daunting task. Reaching enough users who will run the program on their computers can be even harder. Most research programs that could potentially benefit from the approach wouldn't even attempt to use their limited resources on such a venture.

To address this problem, a new generation of distributed computing programs is now coming on-line. BOINC - the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing - provides a platform that any project can use. Scientists in any field can now sign up for BOINC and with only minor modifications immediately become part of an established and successful program of distributed computing.

Not only are they freed of the need to set up this complex system themselves, they also gain access to the millions of users who are already processing data for other BOINC projects. Users who participate in BOINC can choose which projects they wish to run on their computers and how much processing time they devote to each.

Launched earlier this year by the same team that created SETI@home, BOINC has gotten off to a fast start. It already has five projects signed up, researching topics ranging from climate prediction (see climateprediction.net) to gravity waves and protein folding.

Anchoring the BOINC family is the tried and true SETI@home, which is currently moving from its - classic - format to the new BOINC platform, bringing with it millions of devoted users.

BOINC now has company: Earlier this month IBM launched its own - World Community Grid, which like BOINC is intended to provide and easy-to-use distributed computing platform for scientific projects. IBM's Grid is powered by software developed by United Devices for their own distributed computing platform (www.grid.org), which focuses on research in the biological and medical sciences.

As of now the World Community Grid has only one project - the Human Proteome Folding Project, conducted by the Institute for Systems Biology to help predict the shape of human proteins. But with IBM's power and reach behind it, the Grid has the potential to expand quickly.

While both projects are intended to help researchers launch distributed computing projects, BOINC and the World Community Grid differ in some important ways. BOINC is an open source program, which means anyone can access its programming code and adapt it to their specific needs. The Grid code, on the other hand, is only accessible to IBM programmers and engineers. BOINC, furthermore, is not centrally controlled, and there is no one deciding which projects will or will not be included. In principle, any interested researcher can launch his or her own BOINC project. The Grid, by contrast, is controlled by IBM, which decides which projects to accept into its family and which to reject.

While the two programs differ in their approach, they share a common goal: to expand the reach of distributed computing, and make use of the untapped resources of personal computers in scientific research.

As SETI@home has demonstrated, untold millions around the world are ready and eager to donate their computer time for the advancement of knowledge and the benefit of humankind. The story of distributed computing is only just beginning...

Source: http://planetary.org/html/UPDATES/seti/SETI@home/Update_112404.html


poolandspa-1.gifA Guide to making your Web site a means for great customer service and communications

By Pamela Mills-Senn, Contributing Writer

Although a web site can never take the place of great in-store or over-the-phone customer service, it can be a highly effective way to supplement the service you're already offering. The Internet allows business owners to easily communicate with potential customers as well as assist existing ones.

However, in order to reap the maximum relationship-building benefits from your web site, you need to take a very calculated and thoughtful approach, says Alex Kahl, president of Kahl Consultants, a small business web design and Internet service firm located in San Rafael, California. Otherwise, your efforts could backfire, causing people to not only shun your site, but your business as well.

"It's important to know how you're going to use the Internet to help your business, rather than just throwing up a web site for the sake of getting something out there," he explains. "When you build a site, you're opening a virtual door to your office or store, and you have to maintain control over this and be able to respond. You wouldn't let a customer walk around your business unattended. The same is true for your web site."

This touches on two key components when it comes to using the Internet as a customer service tool: design and responsiveness. You have to make your web site inviting and easy to navigate, and you need to react, in a timely fashion, to customer questions and complaints.


"When we first put our site up, in addition to the marketing aspects, we did think about customer service," says Noel Spilbor, service and retail manager for Atkinson Pools & Spas, a pool and spa builder and retailer with two locations in South Carolina (one in Pleasant and the other in James Island). "We wanted to give customers another way, in addition to phoning or stopping by the store, to get in touch with us. We also wanted to provide a lot of information on the site, the same as what they could get in the store. This makes it very convenient for people. They're not locked into our store hours. They can communicate with us from their desks at work."

But at the same time, he continues, they wanted to keep the site simple. "There's nothing more annoying than going to a site and finding hundreds of things you have to click on, or having the site take forever to load."

This is one reason why they're still mulling over the inclusion of a repair request form on the site. Although they currently have a "request quote" button that users can click to obtain brochures or service quotes, their initial goal was to have a form that would collect detailed information about repairs or problems in an almost interactive manner.

"But we don't want to just throw forms up on the site if what we have is working, which it seems to be," says Spilbor. "The goal of enhancing customer service would be defeated if the site was difficult to use, and we're just not sure this complicated of a form is necessary, even though it was a big part of our original plan."

This is also the reason behind John Anderson's decision to focus on e-mail as a way to communicate with customers about repairs, rather than though a form posted on the site.

"We had a repair form on our first site, but this didn't work for us," says Anderson, president and owner of Anderson Pools & Spas, Inc., a pool and spa builder and retailer (he also builds and retails supplies for wild bird stations) located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. "My experience with forms on the Internet is that they give you more information than you need. Instead, our customers email us with questions, sometimes including a phone number asking us to call them about a problem. This has proven to be a much better method."

It's smart to be judicious in your use of forms, script, graphics, and bells and whistles in general, says Kahl. "One of the most common mistakes that people make is forgetting whom they're designing the site for. People get excited about all the technology that's available. They want flash this, and frames that, but you have to always keep the users of your site in mind, and use the technology that's most appropriate for them. You have to concentrate on creating a site that people will want to visit again and again. Once way to do this is to keep the wait time to load down. People are sometimes willing to wait 30 seconds or even a minute for a site to load," he says, "but when it crashes because the site is overloaded, they tend not to revisit."

One highly attractive feature to design into a site is a FAQ section, says Darlene Cary, co-owner of Mind's Eye Presentations, a web-design company also located in Murfreesboro. Cary, who designed Anderson's site, says that this is the most accessed page on his site.

"It's by far the most popular," Anderson agrees. "What we try to do with this section is give people an education and make them wiser buyers, no matter where they decide to do business. I think this gives us a great deal of credibility."

Another good move, says Cary, has been creating a link from Anderson's site directly to that of the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Visitors can click on this link and be immediately connected to the BBB where they can obtain a report on the company. This feature, she explains, is open to all BBB members in good standing. It allows prospective customers to confirm that a company is reputable, which makes people much more comfortable.

Other design features you may want to consider include:

· Having full contact information and clickable email located on every page. "People should be able to go to any page and find contact information," says Kahl.
· Locating your most favored form of contact ("Do you want phone calls? Do you prefer email or faxes?" Cary asks) at the top of each page, and displaying your most valuable information "above the fold" (the area that is immediately seen without having to scroll down the page).

And be sure to test and retest your site, under the conditions of the average user, says Kahl. Find any bugs before you start promoting your site. Also, keep track of site statistics, says Cary. This will allow you to determine what pages customers are visiting the most and what may need beefing up.

If you're using your site in a customer service capacity, you have to be certain that you have the manpower to respond to questions and requests whether these arrive via phone, fax, or email (the likeliest route). You also have to specifically designate this responsibility, rather than approaching it on a "whomever, whenever" basis.

A good design can cut down on the amount of email flowing into your computer, Kahl says. If it's hard to find information on a site, the tendency is to just dash off an email-the high-tech equivalent of calling 411 instead of looking the number up in a book. But even an efficient web site will bring you more email simply because more people have access to you. And not all of these will come from current or even potential customers. Anderson for example, says he gets a lot of email from people in other states asking him questions about their pools or inquiring as to how they can find a builder in their area.

"The emails come to a central computer," he explains. "We look at the web site daily and route them to the appropriate department, although," he adds, "I'm usually the one to answer the questions. This is the only downside I've seen when it comes to using the Internet for customer service. You've got to answer the email, and sometimes this is at 10:00 at night."

This task can be made easier, says Kahl, by creating a variety of standard responses that can be personalized as necessary. He also suggests:

· Using an automatic reply ("Thank you for your email. We will get back to you in x number of days"). This lets people know immediately that you've received their question or comment, and at the same time, gives you more control over your response schedule. He advises including an emergency number in the automatic reply in case people need immediate attention.
· Listing several different email addresses on the site that will allow visitors to route requests themselves, for example to service, sales, or technical support.
· Keeping replies as brief as possible. Not every email requires a long involved answer.
· Knowing when a phone call would be best. There are certain levels of support where email simply won't suffice.

It's important to monitor both response time and the quality of the information being provided. "You don't have to stand over people's shoulders," Kahl says. "You can either spot check or have all the replies that go out sent as a blank carbon copy to your computer so you have a record."

In spite of the occasional late night correspondence, Anderson says his site is a timesaver. "Let's say a prospective pool customer calls us and we end up making an appointment to come out to see him In the meantime, he can visit our site, see what we're about, and get some questions answered. By the time we get out to his house, he's better educated and has a higher level of trust in us. This makes my job a lot easier. It's almost like a pre-sales call. It's been a great customer service tool."

Online Printing - Good and Cheap!

Time to print some business cards? Or maybe some flyers?

You could do this at to a local Print Shop, but check out these online deals!


First let me mention these eco-friendly printers:


Greener Printer is based in Berkeley, CA. We have used their services and they are great!

En Masse Media

Green Solutions Printing

Print Net Inc.


Now on to some other popular options:

1) VistaPrint.com

The BIG KAHUNA! VistaPrint offers FREE color business cards. And they do postcards, fridge magnets, and other stationery with your name on it. You get high-quality card stock, sharp text and vivid color printing, and some colorful templates.

FREE?? Well not exactly, but almost.

First catch: you have to pay postage, so 250 cards will set you back less than ten bucks.

Second catch: there is a small ad for VistaPrint on the back

Not professional enough for you? VistaPrint premium business cards get rid of the ad and let you upload your own logo or picture for about twenty dollars per 250 cards, plus postage.

Note: VistaPrint may not be the best of the online printing companies for custom jobs, they have gotten rather low reviews on epinions.com


2) OverNightPrints.com

Use OverNightPrints for competetive overnight services in premium quality. Create your order online. Choose from their designs and customize or upload your artwork. Prices start at $15 for 100 single sided cards.

So next time you need some business cards save yourself time, money and a trip to the printer and try an online service!

But wait!

Here are many other online printing companies - and we've posted some reviews to help you choose:

Epinions Reviews

Found only a few reviews online, but all were positive!


Epinion Reviews


Epinions Reviews

Epinions Reviews

And these have also received good reviews:



Let us know if you have found another online printer that deserves to be mentioned for quality, price, environmental impact or some other unique feature.