A Dark Shadow is Cast Over the Good Work Robots Do

b2ap3_thumbnail_manufacturing_robot_mistakes_400.jpgThe point of living in a world where technology takes over everything is that it’s supposed to make life easier. Although, keep in mind that imperfect humans are responsible for creating these technologies. Therefore, technology is flawed, maybe even to the point of putting people in harm’s way. This fundamental truth makes for an uneasy trust between man and machine.

Take for example a tragic incident that occurred last month at a Volkswagen plant in Germany, where a robot was actually responsible for the death of a worker. This robot was designed to piece together cars by moving and manipulating auto parts. According to The Guardian, the error occurred while the robot was being set up by a team of technicians. Due in part to a human error (supposedly), the robot grabbed the worker, instead of an auto part, causing critical injury.

A second example of why we should be suspicious of robots comes from the road. Led by the efforts of Google, several major technology companies are developing and testing self-driving cars. As great as it sounds to sit back and play magnetic travel chess while a robot chauffeurs you around town, the high number of reported fender benders from the testing phase gives us good reason to be a little nervous. Think about it, how do you feel about being on the same road as fast-moving, metal-death traps that are vulnerable to hacking attacks?

Buried deep in the human psyche, connected perhaps with our survival instincts, is a mistrust to give up too much control to something (or someone) that we don’t fully understand. When it comes to machines and computers, just how much do you understand about how they work? Unless you’re a computer programmer or an IT technician, it’s likely that you don’t know enough about these machines to totally erase the fear that robots will one day rise up and enslave us all. This is why science fiction movie franchises are exploring this narrative in fantastic detail, like The Terminator and The Matrix, have connected so deeply with people’s imaginations (and wallets).

Just how safe are you from the technology that you’re dependent upon? While it’s unlikely that you work with battlebots equipped with saw blades and flamethrowers, or that you play traffic roulette with a driverless car, you’ve got a lot riding on your company’s data. In fact, it would take just one major disaster for your system to crash, causing major data loss. This kind of a data loss disaster can potentially ruin a business, and by extension, your livelihood.

A disaster like this can happen at the hands of an incompetent user, an error from an imperfect machine, or even something else entirely, like a random act of nature. One way to gain peace of mind while living under such a looming threat is to learn more about the machines that you trust with so much responsibility, and it’s unlikely that you’ve got the time to analyze and understand the inner workings of your computer network. Alternatively, you can outsource the care and maintenance of your machines to the knowledgeable IT professionals at Amaxx.

Because, at the end of the day, who do you trust more; man, or machine?

Tip of the Week: How to Take Back Your Website From Comment Spammers

b2ap3_thumbnail_comment_spam_400.jpg“Wow. That was a great article! I make $500 a day working from home and you can too! Click the link below to learn how!” This is an example of comment spam. You may have seen it before. You may have even fallen for it. How does one deal with such an annoyance?

Comment spam is much more than an annoyance. If your company’s website or social media account is filled with comment spam, it gives potential customers the impression that you don’t care about upkeeping your website and it will discourage them from leaving valuable comments of their own.

There are several tools and settings that can help you decrease the amount of comment spam on your website, but none of these tools are perfect, and all of them require a commitment from a real person to oversee the comments and delete the spam. Here are four tools that will help in your battle against spam.

Disable Your Comments
This is a weapon that you have in your arsenal, but like the “nuclear option,” you don’t want to use it unless you absolutely have to. The reason you don’t want to disable your comments is because authentic comments are valuable–even the negative ones.

Comments give the impression that many people view your website as a resource that’s worth visiting. Search engines pick up on comment-generated web traffic and give your website a higher search ranking. Even the negative comments are good because they give you the opportunity to directly respond and set the record straight professionally and publicly. This will communicate to others that your business cares about a customer’s experience. The only reason why a business should disable comments is if they never do any maintenance on their website–ever.

Approve Comments Before Posting
This is a nice setting that makes sure a moderator is first laying their eyes on the comment before it’s posted. This is a sure-fire way to filter out spam–unless the spammer happens to be clever enough to fool you or the person tasked with moderating your website. If you are fooled by a comment spammer by letting one slip by, then take solace in the wisdom of former President George W. Bush, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me… you can’t get fooled again.”

The downside about depending on a moderator to filter comments is that it can turn into a cumbersome task. If the content on your website is popular, it can generate a lot of comments that need to be approved. Also, a user knowing that their comment will have to be moderated before it’s posted may discourage them from commenting. Some people simply prefer to see their comments instantly display, like with instant messaging.

Use Recaptcha
Recaptcha is a helpful tool that makes sure actual people are posting. When a user leaves a comment, they will be shown a picture of some numbers (like from the side of a house). They will then be asked to enter the numbers into a form. This will filter out spam bots that automatically spam websites, as well as a percentage of human spammers that aren’t in the mood to fill out a few extra forms in order to post their spam. However, this tool isn’t 100 percent effective because a dedicated human comment spammer will fill in the required Recaptcha numbers.

Block Spammers’ IP Addresses
If you happen to come across a spammer, your website platform should allow you to block the user’s IP address from accessing your website. By looking at some spammer statistics from Imperva, you will see how blocking a comment spammer’s IP address will go a long way toward taking care of the problem:

80 percent of the comment spam originates from less than one-third of the spammers, and a mere 17 percent of comment spammers actually account for a majority of the comment spam traffic. Imperva also found that nearly 60 percent of comment spammers are active for long periods of time.

Vigilance is the Key
You can think of fighting spam like fighting a battle. The key to winning any battle is vigilance. You have to stay on top of your company’s website maintenances; letting a few spam comments slip through due to negligence can cost your business dearly by potentially turning away customers.

Spam has many forms and all of them are harmful. Spam shows up in the inboxes of your employees and drags down productivity, as well as causes wicked computer viruses. Staying on top of your Internet marketing means staying on top of spam. What are some of the most annoying spam comments that you’ve come across? Let us know in the comments… actually, don’t.

6 Free Blu-ray Disc Burning Software Apps

Looking for a way to burn Blu-ray discs? After Blu-ray won the battle with HD DVD, more and more people are starting to buy computers with Blu-ray burners built-in or buying external burners. Either way, as Blu-ray becomes more common like CDs and DVDs, the time is going to come when you are going to burn your first Blu-ray disc!

Note: You can also check out my other posts on how to burn CDs and DVDs on Windows and how to burn a CD or DVD on a Mac.

You can also purchase commercial software to burn Blu-ray discs or you can use free open source Blu-ray burning software. In this article, I’ve written up a list of free apps you can download to burn Blu-ray discs. There are a lot of freeware apps out there, but only a couple are high quality and time tested.

BurnAware

burnaware

BurnAware is a very simple and easy to use CD/DVD/Blu-ray disc-burning app. You can use it to create data backups, audio CDs and to create or burn ISO image files. The free version also lets you create bootable discs, which is really handy. Another really handy feature of the free version is the ability to burn across multiple CDs, DVDs or Blu-ray discs.

CDBurnerXP

cdburnerxp

CDBurnerXP is another good freeware app to burn CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs. Like BurnAware, you can create and burn ISO images and you can create bootable discs. The only other unique feature it has is the ability to convert NRG/BIN image files to ISO format.

ImgBurn

imgburn

ImgBurn has been one of my favorite CD/DVD burning apps for a long time and now it also supports Blu-ray discs, which makes it even better! It has a bunch of other features that make it popular, including supporting the latest drives, the ability to batch create images, support for a wide range of image file formats, and lots more. The other unique feature of ImgBurn is that it can be used to create playable DVD and Blu-ray discs from VIDEO_TS and BDAV/BDMV folders, respectively.

StarBurn

starburn

StarBurn is a nice full-featured CD/DVD/Blu-ray burning app. It has a nice GUI interface that splits your burning options into audio, video, and data. You can burn images and build ISO images also. Unique features include the ability to erase a disc and to compress audio.

Tiny Burner

tiny burner

Tiny Burner is an excellent freeware app that works with CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. The installer also comes with a 32-bit and 64-bit version and will install the appropriate version automatically. Just load your disc into the drive, drag and drop the files you want and click the Burn icon to burn the disc.

True Burner

true burner

True Burner can burn standard, multi-session and bootable CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. It’s got a very simple user interface and not a whole lot of settings. It doesn’t have a lot of advanced features like ImgBurn, but it gets the job done and it works well.

If you know of any other free software that can burn Blu-ray discs, feel free to post them in the comments! Enjoy!

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How to Speed Up Logging Into Windows

Even with fast hardware and the newest operating system, logging into Windows can become painfully slow if there are a lot of programs that startup when Windows starts up. Note that I am not talking about how long it takes to boot Windows because that is a completely different beast.

I’ve already written previously on speeding up Windows boot times, speeding up Windows 7 and speeding up Windows 8. Just reading those articles will help you speed up Windows guaranteed. One common theme you’ll see in those articles is managing startup items.

As mentioned before, your Windows 8 or Windows 10 machine might be able to boot up in 10 seconds, but once you type in your password to login, it could take more than a minute to get to a fully functional desktop because of startup programs. I’ve already written a detailed article on how to disable startup programs in Windows 7 and higher, which you should read first.

However, there are situations where you simply can’t disable everything. Maybe you working in a corporate environment and are required to have certain programs startup when you login. If you’re a business owner or professional, you might have certain business applications that you want to start up when you login.

In this type of case, you need something different. One interesting solution to this problem is to delay the loading of the startup programs by the few minutes after you login. In this article, I’m going to talk about a program called Startup Delayer, which does exactly that.

Startup Delayer

Once you download and install the program, it will show you a dialog the first time you run the program. Here you have to choose how you want Startup Delayer to behave.

startup delayer behavior

Note that you can change whatever settings you picked here later on in the program settings. The dialog has a slider where the far left means you want your programs to load as fast as possible and you don’t mind your computer running slow or sluggish. There really isn’t any point to using this application if you choose the far left because all the programs loading immediately is what’s happening by default when you log into Windows.

As you move the slider to the right, you’ll see it’s pretty much the same except for the CPU and Disk Idle values. By default, its set to 30%, which means the program will wait till your computer is at least 30% idle before launching the delayed applications you have chosen.

Moving to the far right means your delayed applications will start later, but smoother. You might have to wait a minute or so before the application will launch. Startup Delayer manages all of this and will automatically launch the applications when the desired idle value is reached.

Once you click Save, you’ll get to the main program interface. Here you will see 3 tabs across the top: Startup Applications, Running Tasks and System Services. As the name of the first tab implies, any startup applications that start with Windows will be listed here.

startup delayer gui

The startup items are broken down into three different categories: Delayed, Normal Startup and Disabled. You can simply drag and drop the items to the section you like. To delay an application, just drag it from Normal Startup to Delayed like shown below.

delayed startup items

The first item you drag and drop will be given the first priority when loading. As you add more items, they will be added to the queue. When Startup Delayer loads the programs, it will launch then in the order listed. You can change the order of the items by dragging and dropping the items.

When you select an item, you will see that Automatic Delay is selected and the default values for CPU and DISK idle are listed. You can change the idle values for each application individually if you like also by simply selecting the item and typing in new values.

If you double-click on any of the delayed applications, you can configure the advanced settings. The General tab lets you edit the target in case you want to add any command line parameters to the program.

launch details

On the Delay tab, you can again edit the idle values or choose to do a Manual Delay if you like, but the program developers don’t recommend using manual delays.

delayed program wait

On the Wait tab, you can check a box to ensure that the application has completed loaded before Startup Delayer continues loading other applications. You can also set it so that Startup Delayer will wait until the current program is terminated or a user gives confirmation before launching the next application.

delayed program advanced

On the Advanced tab, you can configure options so that the program launches on certain days only, doesn’t launch if another instance is already running, or launches if an Internet connection is detected. This option can be useful in certain situations. For example, do you really need Skype to launch if there is no Internet connection?

Finally, going back to the main screen, you can click on the green Add New button to add a program that is not already listed. This can be really useful for things like launching a web browser or a MS Office application or any other program that may not automatically startup when logging into Windows.

The Running Tasks lists out all of the current processes running on the system. Again, if something is not listed in the main tab, you can go to Running Tasks, select a process and then click the small round plus button. I would be very careful about adding anything from here to the delayed section because many of the processes listed are Windows processes.

Luckily, they have a filter that lets you hide all the Microsoft processes so that you see only processes created by third-party programs. Just click on the Filter button and then click Hide all created by Microsoft.

hide microsoft processes

The last tab is System Services, which lets you stop, start and disable Windows services, but for the purposes of this article, you should just leave it alone unless you know what you are doing.

Before we get into whether this program actually works well or not, there are a couple of other small items to mention. Firstly, you can click on the Options button at the top right of the main interface to change how the program behaves. I personally haven’t had to mess around with any settings here, but if you want more information during the login process, you can click on the Launch Process tab and select Show always during Startup and check the Show Launch Process Window on Startup.

launch options

By default, the program keeps itself very well hidden and only pops up during the login process if something goes wrong. Otherwise, you won’t even know anything is going on. What’s nice about the program is that it has a plethora of options so you can see more info if you like.

Secondly, you can click on the Tools button to do even more stuff like create startup profiles, view the last launch log, view the last performance graph, create a backup of all your settings, etc.

startup delayer tools

Performance Results

So does this program really work? Well, when I tried it out back in 2008, it didn’t work all that well. Back then, it simply did a manual delay, which didn’t work very well. However, in the ensuing years, the program has gotten a lot more advanced and in my tests on Windows 7, it made a significant difference in the user experience.

Instead of sitting around waiting for the desktop to become clickable or waiting for the Start menu to appear after clicking on it 10 times, Startup Delayer can make everything seem snappy. You obviously have to wait a bit longer for some programs to load up, but I have never once felt I needed one of those startup programs to load immediately after logging in.

It’s also worth noting that the program becomes more useful if you have a larger number of startup items. If you only have a couple of things loading up on startup, it’s probably not going to make a major difference. Let us know if the program helped on your system or not. Enjoy!

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How to Combine Multiple PowerPoint Presentations

Do you have multiple PowerPoint presentations that you need to combine or merge into one presentation? I’ve had to do this myself a couple of times and one of the most important aspects when merging presentations is whether you want to maintain the format and theme of the inserted presentation or have it match the theme of the main presentation. The second most important factor is whether you need to maintain any animations and transitions that might be included in the inserted presentation.

Depending on how you want the inserted slides to appear in the main presentation, you will need to choose between two different methods for joining the presentations. In this article, I’ll mention both methods along with the advantages and disadvantages for each method.

The first method uses the Reuse Slides option in PowerPoint and the second method uses the Insert Object option.

Reuse Slides Method

If you want the inserted slides to match the theme of your main presentation, then you have to use the Reuse Slides option. The inserted slides will simply take the slides exactly as they are in the external presentation and add them to the main presentation.

However, there is one big caveat: none of the animations or transitions will be carried over. Whatever you see on the slide in the normal viewing mode is what will get imported into the main presentation.

If you need to maintain all the animations or transitions, then skip down to the Insert Object method.

To get started with this method, open the main presentation and then click between the two slides you want to import the slides into. It’s worth nothing that this method also lets you pick and choose which slides you want to insert from an external presentation, whereas the Insert Object method will insert the entire presentation.

insert slide

Now click on the Insert menu and then click on the words New Slide and you’ll see a menu appear. At the very bottom of that menu is an option called Reuse Slides.

reuse slides

When you click on that, a tab will appear on the right hand side. Click on the Browse button and then select Browse File. Check the Keep source formatting box if you want keep the theme and text formatting of the external presentation.

If you uncheck that box, then when you go to insert the slides into the main presentation, the original formatting will not be kept. Instead the slides will use the theme and formatting of the main presentation.

insert slide from

Select the PowerPoint Presentation you want to insert and then click OK. Immediately, you should see a small thumbnail and the title of each slide displayed.

insert slides from ppt

As you can see above, the second presentation has a different theme than my first presentation. There are a number of things you can do at this point. Firstly, if you just want to insert one slide or a couple of slides from your external presentation, simply click on the slide and it will be inserted!

The formatting will depend on whether you checked the Keep source formatting box like I explained above. As shown below, I inserted just one slide from the external presentation and kept the source formatting.

powerpoint inserted slides

It will be inserted wherever you had clicked earlier with the red line. If you want to insert all the slides, just select the Insert All Slides option that comes up when you right-click on any of the slides.

Lastly, you can apply the theme used in the external presentation to your main presentation by right-clicking and choosing Apply Theme to All Slides. This will apply the external presentation theme to the main presentation.

As mentioned earlier, you lose all animations, effects, transitions, etc when using this method. Now let’s talk about the other way to merge two presentations.

Insert Object Method

The second method will insert the entire external presentation into one slide as an object. You then have to configure some settings so that when you run your slideshow, it also runs through all the slides in the external presentation.

There are a couple of things that need to be mentioned before we get into how to use this method:

1. When you insert the presentation as an object, it is not a link to the presentation, but an actual full copy into the main presentation. This means that if you open the external presentation later after inserting it into the main presentation and make changes to it, those changes will not be reflected in the imported version inside the main presentation.

2. If you do want to make changes to an already inserted presentation, you can edit it inside the main presentation. Again, those changes are only made to the version inside the main presentation.

In my opinion, this method is better than the Reuse Slides method because it lets you keep all your animations and transitions and it allows you to change or keep the theme of the inserted presentation.

To get started, open the main presentation and then insert a new slide. Make sure to delete any default text boxes or anything else on the new slide so that it is completely blank.

add new slide

Now click on the Insert tab and then click on Object.

insert object into slide

Select the Create from file radio button and click the Browse button. Select the external presentation you want to insert into your main presentation.

insert 2nd powerpoint

You’ll now see the first slide of the presentation inserted as a selectable object. All of the other slides are there, but you just can’t see them.

stretch window to slide

The next step is to move your cursor to the upper left corner of the inserted object until it turns into a double sided arrow. Click and then drag the corner to the upper left corner of the main slide. Now do the same thing with the bottom right corner of the object and drag it to the bottom right corner on the main slide.

Now the inserted object should be the exact same size as the slide that it was inserted onto. You want to do this so that there won’t be any change in the size of the slides when you are playing the presentation.

Once that is setup, we have to configure the second presentation to play when we hit that slide that we inserted the presentation into. To do this, select the object, click on the Animations ribbon, click on Add Animation and then scroll all the way to the bottom where it says OLE Action Verbs.

ole action verbs

Another dialog will pop up and you want to choose Show. If you were to play the presentation at this point, you would notice that when you reach the slide with the inserted presentation, it will show all the slides in the inserted presentation, but it will also include a still slide of the first slide at the front and back of the inserted presentation.

add show action verb

This was kind of annoying to me and luckily you can almost get rid of it. First, click on Animations again and then click on Animation Pane, which will show up at the right.

animation pane

In the Animation Pane, you will see the inserted object listed as Object 1 or Object 2, etc. and when you select it, there will be a small black arrow you can click on. This will bring up a few options and then first one you want to select is Start With Previous.

start with previous

Now when you play the presentation, it won’t show you that still image of the first slide but will actually play the first slide from the external presentation. To get rid of the still image at the end of the presentation, you have to select Effect Options from the menu above and then select Hide After Animation from the After animation dropdown box.

hide after animation

It’s not perfect because it still shows you the empty slide that the inserted presentation was put once before the presentation ends. Luckily, I found a simple hack for this too that works really well. Simply add something to the slide that has the external presentation object like a text box or whatever you like and then right-click on the object and choose Send to Back.

send to back

This will effectively hide the object behind the presentation object. Now when you play your presentation, it will hide the presentation object after the last slide because that is what we chose in the After animation option. When the presentation object is hidden, you’ll see any content that was hidden under it. It’s a great way to avoid having that blank slide show up during the presentation.

One last thing I wanted to mention was about editing the inserted presentation. You can right-click anywhere on the object and choose Presentation Object – Edit to edit any slide in the inserted presentation directly within the main presentation.

edit presentation

Hopefully, this was a detailed enough tutorial for anyone wanting to merge, combine or insert one PowerPoint presentation into another. If you have any questions, feel free to comment. Enjoy!

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