Friday, September 17, 2010

Rechargeable Batteries: What you need to know

Almost all of us out there have gadgets that run on batteries.  Whether it be a wireless mouse, a flashlight, a radio, or something else.  While a lot of our battery operated tech now use proprietary lithium ion blocks that only fit that device there are still a lot of electronic gizmo's out there which still take good old AAA, AA, C, or D cells.  Alkaline batteries have fallen in price to the point where you can buy a big block of them for $10, but with the whole green push we're all starting to feel it's worth taking a look at rechargeable batteries.

Now I know what most people think about rechargeable batteries.  I recently decided to give them another shot due to all the batteries I'm buying for my game system controllers, remotes, toothbrush, and wireless mouse.  I had held out until now to switch from cheap alkaline because back in college I tried the Rechargeable Alkaline.  While I did get enough uses out of each battery to make them more cost efficient than standard batteries at the time the reliability was terrible.  I felt like I was charging the cells every other day and barely getting any time out of them.  On top of that if the batteries were exposed to freezing temperatures even fully charged batteries would die, and die permanently.  Even new batteries if frozen would be permanently dead and could not be recharged.  Needless to say this technology did not remain on the market long here in Michigan.

Now rechargeable batteries are making a big comeback.  We already use them in our phones and various other devices, we just don't seem to think about them for devices that take traditional batteries.  Well we sort of do.  Case in point anyone who has a Wii or a Xbox 360 knows that the controllers use batteries.  Many of us buy an additional play and charge kit or proprietary rechargeable battery to use with the remote.  These are handy, but for the price you could buy a traditional battery charger and rechargeable AA's.  Not only will you have a charged controller, but you'll have batteries that can be used in anything and you don't have to hunt down special batteries to work with your charger later as you add controllers (People who've added a 3rd or 4th controller to a Wii should know this pain).

So after my last experience I decided to do some research before going out and investing into any particular battery technology.  Here are the types of rechargeable on the market right now.

  1. Rechargeable Alkaline:  Yes these are still on the market.  Rayovac gave these a try in the 90's, and after having them fail on the market wisely decided to kill the line.  The draw of these is that they deliver a higher voltage than most other rechargeable battery technologies out there and will work in devices that specify not to use rechargeable batteries.  The only thing here is that there are very few devices on that market now that specify this.  Flashlights and camera flashes are pretty much the only devices that benefit from a higher cell voltage.  For these devices there are better technologies on the market.
    • Pro:  Higher cell voltage
    • Con:  Limited life cycles.  50-500 charges per battery depending on how you treat them.  The total storage does decrease over time per charge rather quickly.  Current batteries may have overcome the temperature short comes of earlier models, but I personally won't invest in the tech to test them out.  
    • Suggestion:  If you really need a higher cell voltage for a device that says it won't work with a rechargeable battery look at the NiZn battery technology.
  2. NiCad:  Not going to say much here.  One of the earliest rechargeable battery technologies out there for small cells.  Does develop a memory effect if you don't use the total capacity of the battery.  Useful in the 80's, now there are much better technologies out there.
    • Pro: erm... Many chargers that can charge NiCad are able to charge NiMh?
    • Cons:  Too numerous to list.  I don't care if someone gives you a set of these.  Recycle them and go straight to a NiMh formula.  Check if the charger they give you is universal before you recycle it though...
    • Recommendation:  Skip
  3. Lithium Ion:  One of the two major techs you've probably heard of now.  Currently used in all portable electronics, cars, etc.  The formula is excellent, but expensive and difficult to find in traditional size forms.  For a standard battery you're better off currently going with Hybrid NiMh.
    • Pros:  High capacity, high voltage, excellent life
    • Cons:  Difficult to find.  Requires special charger.  Expensive.
    • Recommendation:  For traditional battery sizes you're better off with Hybrid  NiMh.
  4. NiZn:  One of the newer battery chemistries.  These provide the higher voltage of Alkaline batteries, but they provide the constant voltage over time associated with NiMh batteries.  They have a very low internal resistance meaning they charge quickly and can be used in high power applications like professional camera flashes.  
    • Pros:  All the benefits of a Alkaline battery's voltage with the power curve of a NiMh.
    • Cons:  Only available in AA size.  
    • Recommendation:  These are great for the 5% of devices that absolutely require a Alkaline battery.  
  5. NiMh:  One of the two major techs you've probably heard of now.  The other being Lithium Ion.  NiMh came about in the 90's and was widely used in Laptops, phones, cars (the EV1 used NiMh batteries, the Prius still does), and many other locations.  The technology is still around and new capacities are coming out all the time.  A Quick note:  When you get a Wii / Xbox 360 controller rechargeable battery pack this is the kind of battery in it.  Usually these are not the largest batteries on the market so loose rechargeable AA's should last longer than the pack.
    • Pros:  Available in all common sizes including 9V squares (honestly who still uses these outside of clocks and smoke detectors?  Don't use these in your smoke detector!).  Sizes are ever increasing and due to the way they produce voltage over time they have far more available voltage to your device than a standard disposable battery.  
    • Cons:  Self discharge.  You know how people say that they always find their devices with rechargeable batteries are in need of a charge?  Things like remotes, flashlights, radios, etc you leave in a drawer until needed and when you turn them on they're almost dead?  This is the culprit.  These batteries loose 25% of their charge over a month just sitting there.  
    • Recommendation:  Don't write NiMh off just yet.  I wouldn't buy new standard NiMh cells, but if you have a charger hold onto it!  Look at the new LSD (Low Self Discharge) NiMh cells!
  6. LSD NiMh:  A new twist on NiMh batteries.  These work just like the old NiMh batteries without the huge loss of charge over time.  The neat thing about these is that they use standard NiMh chargers.  So if you already have a NiMh charger you only need the new batteries.  You loose a little total charge storage vs a standard NiMh, but the difference is minimal.  They still provide more usable voltage than a disposable cell.
    • Pros:  Basically these are the perfect replacement for disposable batteries for 95% of your power hungry devices.  Rayovac has a great package with 2 AA, 2AAA, and a over night charger for $10 you can get to try these out for yourself.  If you like the technology pick up a bulk pack of the Tenergy LSD batteries and a larger quick charger.
    • Cons:  All the common battery companies have different names for this technology making it hard to purchase in stores.  Honestly what is the problem in standardizing this?  Yes calling them LSD NiMh might wind up causing some druggie idiots buying them up in bulk for a while but for the standard consumer it would be a real boon.  
    • Recommendation:  Definitely pick these up.  Far cheaper than even disposable batteries over the long run.  Bulk packs are pretty competitive with disposables and the life cycles are in the 1000's of charges per cell.  Spend a little more now and you'll not need new batteries for years.  When looking for this type of battery you need to know the brand names.  Rayovac and Duracel call these 'Precharged Rechargeables' while Tenergy uses 'LSD'.  I recommend the Rayovac charger if you want to try these out, and then the Tenergy charger and batteries if you decide you want to stick with it.  A quick note about cheap chargers.  Small quick chargers are fine as long as you remember to unplug them.  Most don't have 'Smart' charging functionality where they stop charging when the battery is full.  Do look for small chargers with this function!  It's worth the extra money for one.  The rayovac charger below does not have this, but it's essentially a $4 charger.  If you decide you like your batteries get the Tenergy station and keep the Rayovac charger for when you're on the road!
As for chargers, you will need one.  NiZn is unique enough I would recommend buying the charger that comes with the batteries.  While the universal charger I recommend may charge NiZn, it's more of an "At your own risk" scenario.

For NiCad, Lithium, and NiMh batteries I've switched completely over to a Foxnovo 4S.  It not only charges various types of batteries, it does so uniquely to each battery.  Unlike other chargers where you may have to pair individual cells this intelligently charges each cell independent of the rest, and does not over charge a cell.  Once done it beeps to let you know when each cell is finished.
So here are my recommended technologies:

For Hybrid NiMh:

    For NiZn:

    For a Charger:

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    How to Buy a Computer for the Tech Newbie: How to get Software

    Today I would like to cover how to get software for your new computer. In the last article I covered how to buy a computer. I also told you to avoid basing your computer purchase decision based on what software is on the computer. Now I'm going to cover why.

    Now that you have a working machine in your home you need the software to make it useful. Most of you will probably be nervous thinking about how you should have gotten Microsoft Office and Antivirus when you bought your machine. The reason I recommend buying them seperate is that the markup on installed software is absurd.  Lets break down some of the common programs that people need with their computer right off the bat.

    1)  Antivirus:

    Antivirus programs are too numerous to count, and truthfully there are only two I'd consider. Microsoft Security Essentials which is free from Microsoft's website and NOD 32 which is about $50 a year.
      The reason I recommend these two specific programs is that they don't continually bother you with pop up messages asking you to upgrade or buy additional services like some of their competition do.  Also since they are not the two largest antivirus programs on the block most software is not targeted to defeat them.  Much like how all Viruses are written for Windows and almost none exist for the Mac most Windows viruses are written to attack Norton and Macafee as soon as they are on your system.  Finally I've found Microsoft Security Essentials protects me as well enough from stuff floating around on the Internet that I can rely on my computer not garbaging out.

    2)  Microsoft Office:

    Back when I was in college I used to sell computers at two of the big box retailers.  I can't tell you how many people would come in and immediately wanted to only look at computers that have Office on them.  They wouldn't even look at a computer without Office even if it saved them hundreds of dollars.  I'm going to tell you now what I used to tell them.  Office is a program you can purchase separate from a PC.  Also you will most likely get a better bundle of office apps.  Microsoft Office consists of multiple programs that make up the suite.  These are Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, Project, OneNote, and a few less known apps.  Most computers that are bundled with Office only have Word and maybe Excel.  Forget Powerpoint which is actually more expensive on it's own than buying the best version of office that has it included!  While full retail pricing for Office is usually more expensive than buying it as an option on a computer, you can get Office for a reduced price or even for free legally depending on your situation!

    • Students in college, and in some cases high school are able to get the full Office Suite directly from Microsoft for about $70 (this price changes by the year).  This year it was called the 'Ultimate Steal'.  Google 'Ultimate Steal Microsoft Office' to find it.
    • Teachers can get special pricing on Office a number of ways.  Contact your school office to find out what deal your district has.  If nothing exists (this is very rare!) you can contact Microsoft directly.
    • Office workers for many companies may not be aware that Microsoft Office, and various other Microsoft products are available to them at greatly reduced costs.  Contact your HR department and or your IT department and ask them what deals you have available to you.  In my current company I can get the full version of Office for $10!  
    • Various Internet bargain sites have the Office OEM edition available for dirt cheap. and Amazon offer Office for a far reduced price than you can buy it in retail.  The Home and Student version includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote which are all the apps a home user is likely to need.

    Now this covers most all people who are reading this blog.  If you still find you cannot get Office because you can't afford it or don't qualify for a discount then here are some very viable alternatives.

    •  This is a open source application suite developed originally by Sun Microsystems as a competitive package to Microsoft Office.  I use this on my own computer as I don't need the latest and greatest version of Office to type up a simple document or look at the occasional presentation or spreadsheet.  Now it can open Office documents (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) with about 90% accuracy and save back to Office formats that you can send to others.  There is nothing wrong with trying this out on your new computer before you spend money on Microsoft Office.  Try it out.  If it fulfills your needs then don't spend the extra money.  If not then grab office.
    • Google Docs:  If you have a gmail email account you might have noticed the 'Documents' link in the upper left.  Google has their own online only office suite that can do most basic tasks of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.  Documents are stored on your google account so even if you have your computer die in front of you your data is still out there and can be accessed anywhere.  Just be careful not to give out your user name and password!  You can export Microsoft Office docs to email for work or friends straight out of Google.
    3)  Money Management Software (Quicken)

    This is one of those fluff packages that was included with PC's when I was selling them.  You either had Quicken or MS Money.  Truth be told these are both more or less dead despite Quicken doing a good business still.  For managing home finances I recommend a web based service called  It's been purchased by Quicken because they were loosing business to Mint.  The UI is very clean, easy to use, and friendly.  It's available from your computer and it will even run on your smart phone!  All for the low cost of free!

    4)  Various other utilities

    There are a ton of other programs available to you.  PC manufacturers would load up various junk programs that were either free or ad supported and sell them as a feature.  Most of these have far better quality free alternatives available to you online.  The best place to start exploring is  When you open their site you're presented with a sorted checklist of open source / free applications with brief descriptions of what they do.  After you check what you're interested in you can download a small program to your computer.  When you run the program it starts installing all the programs you selected saving you hours of downloading and installing individual programs.  I recommend going to their site as soon as you get your PC.  You can get your Microsoft Security Essentials AV,, and many others installed this way without any effort!

    All in all business software and productivity software have been done to death.  Most boxed software on the shelf have free alternatives online that are of better quality done by groups of programmers who like to share their work.  It's all free and legal.  Just use google to search for the type of software you're looking for, or use osalt to type in the name of the retail software you need to find a free alternative.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    How to Buy a Computer for the Tech Newbie

    Please note that this article is severely out of date.  I'm leaving it up for reference purposes, but a new one exists on the site.  Please head to and take a look!

    Here I am planning out the articles I am going to publish to my blog and trying to decide what comes first.  As I'm looking at the various options a para-pro in the local school district calls me up and makes up my mind for me.  She's someone who's grown children would come home from school with their computers and she would get cable high speed internet only during the summer for them.  She's now found that she needs to learn how to use a PC for her job, and the only hardware she has is a old broken down PC her youngest built and abandoned at her place full of viruses.  She suddenly finds that she needs a computer and gives me a call.

    Ok, so here is the low down on buying a computer.  Back in 1999 -2002 this was a major decision.  Computers were priced anywhere from $850 on up and you sill needed to add on the monitor and printer minimally if you were buying off the shelf.  The computer would be rated in terms of the processor, speed, amount of ram, hard drive space, other hardware features, and included software.  You would have to gauge whether the software you wanted would run on the hardware you chose by comparing the specs on the software to the specs on the box.  Not only that but after a year everything changed so much that by the next release of your operating system you might need a whole new computer to run it.

    Now this really is not the case.  For the last three years or so hardware has become such a commodity that what came out three years ago is still on the market.  If you're looking to get a computer that can get online, type papers, edit video, and watch shows most anything out there will fill the need.  Truthfully unless you have a special need for a computer such as a home theater pc or a heavy duty gaming pc you can skip most of the specs you used to have to torture yourself with.  The trick now is knowing what you want the computer for, what your skill level is, and whether you want a desktop or a laptop.

    Here is the dirt simple set of rules for buying a new computer:

    I'm starting off with this one because the woman from the start of this story did just this, and I see many teachers do the same thing.  Basically they are looking to save money and figure the same wisdom that serves them well while buying a car will do the same in buying a computer.  The only problem here is that you really can't map the two.  Buying a used car is something most people understand.  There are many books out there a lay person can rely upon for assistance, and pricing guides such as the Kelly Blue Book to ensure you're not being cheated.  Unfortunately no such guide exists for computers.

    Most used computers are from the time before hardware became such a commodity.  As such you might wind up overpaying for something that can't run most modern software.  Especially any computer that comes with Windows XP installed.  The biggest annoyance with used computers is that most of the time the seller never gives you the original software that came with the machine.  You'll get a computer that turns on and runs, but if the thing ever goes down from viruses or drive failure you have nothing to restore to.  The cost of a new hard drive and a copy of windows 7 as well as office is easily as much as a new basic computer if not far more.

    Add to it that you don't get tech support from the original company and you quickly see why most used tech is either donated to schools who have technology departments to handle this type of thing or is simply recycled.

    2)  What are you trying to do?
    There are few tasks that need specialized hardware.  If you're not looking to use your new computer to knock someone's socks off in Call of Duty 4, or recreate your own version of Jurassic Park from scratch almost any hardware will do.  The main questions you need to answer are:

    • Are you going to be using your computer to talk with family in chat?  If so you should look for something with a webcam and microphone.
    • Are you buying this computer to work with anything special for work?  If so check with your IT person to find out what they require.  Take notes!
    • Do you listen to alot of music or watch a lot of videos?  You'll want really good speakers.  Speakers really are not optional anymore but are still sold separately.  Never trust a built in speaker in a monitor as they usually sound rather tinny. Always buy self powered units and remember you get what you pay for.  Good speakers usually cost $50-$300.  Just remember that unlike computer technology speakers have not changed much in the last 10 years so what you buy now will still work years from now.
    • Who is this computer for?  If you are buying a computer for a parent or grandparent who wants something to view photos of you or your kids with you might want to get something really simple to use like a Mac or a Ipad instead of a pc.
    3)  Laptop or Desktop?
    This is a simple question.  Are you looking for something you can take with you or something that you want to live at home and use in one location.  There isn't much of a difference between the two now anymore other than a desktop costs a bit less, and that it's easier to have a much bigger screen.  If you're looking for something you can throw in your bag and go you can go with a laptop or the new formfactors of a netbook or tablet.  Netbooks are laptops with a smaller screen, longer battery life, and no DVD drive.  Great for papers and internet surfing but lousy as media machines.  Tablets are a new type of device out there.  More of a consumption device like a kindle.  You can view photos, read books, surf the web, and read email, but creating things like documents is limited because you have no real input device other than the screen.

    4)  Mac or PC?
    Seriously this question is still around, but it's a more interesting one than it used to be.  10 years ago only the most die hard mac fans really wanted the platform because you were limited in the amount of software it could run..  The Ipod has changed this pulling the Mac along for the ride.  Now Macintosh computers can run their happy virus free OS alongside Microsoft Windows.  Meaning you can run anything you can buy.  I will usually recommend a Mac to people who are afraid of catching a computer virus and to anyone who wants a computer that just works without having to learn the ins and outs of a pc.    You will be paying a premium for a Mac desktop or Laptop.  The same PC hardware will cost anywhere from 50% to 25% the cost of a Mac, but for some the lack of frustration is worth it.  Now a Mac won't protect you from user stupidity.  You still need to remember to not give out your usernames and passwords when someone asks you for them.

    5)  Software
    I'm going to go in depth with software in my next article, but for now I'll give you the brief you need.  Don't limit your PC choice by the included software!  Most of the stuff that the manufacturers put on their machines is junk.  They'll include the microsft works pack with a year of antivirus and various other junk you don't need or want.  Most of the time you will be removing that software and replacing it with more functional alternatives.  Antivirus is one of the biggest ones!  You don't want a PC with Norton or Macafee.  My own experience with these two has been terrible.  Not knocking or slandering their products, but the problem is that they are so well known and popular that they are the targets to beat for virus writers.  You're better off with a free alternative such as Microsoft's Security Essentials or if you want to pay for a product NOD 32 is the best pay AV out there.

    Here are some simple recommendations:  

    If you want a desktop PC that will do the basics check out the EEE PC from Asus.  It's a solid piece of hardware that is inexpensive and covers all the bases.  I've included a monitor link below because this does not include a screen.

    If you're looking for something desktop based that's all in one, check out the Asus EEETop PC line.  The monitor, PC, speakers, microphone, and webcam are all built into one unit.  This makes setup a breeze and a very friendly PC for everyone.

    If you're looking for a full fledged laptop you can't beat what Asus has put out in the N61jv-x2.  Good power, good performance, built in webcam again and all in all a descent powerhouse.

    If you're looking for a more price consious laptop look at the EEE PC netbook series.  The only thing to remember here is they do not have a optical drive.  As such they're better suited for web surfing, email, and college papers.

    Finally if you're leaning towards a Mac option I recommend either a iMac for a desktop, or a iBook for a laptop.  The screen size for the iMac has two options, 21.5" and 27".  The iBook you will need to go to Apple directly to look at.

    This concludes our little jaunt into purchasing a new computer.  Next time I'll cover software options in depth and how you can save major money here by exploring your alternatives!


    In the months since I first published this article a new laptop has come out that more or less blows away my recomendations here.  If you're looking for a laptop that has the battery life and weight of a netbook, but the screensize, keyboard, webcam, and DVD drive of a laptop this is the ultimate machine for the general public:

    This machine is based off of AMD's Zacate platform.  It was placed to blow intel's Atom out of the water in terms of price and performance and with this machine AMD has done it! I've purchased one for a friend and loved it so much I'm replacing other laptops in my home with it as they go out.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010


    Greetings all! This is a site that has been knocking around in my head for a long time now. I'm someone who most would consider a geek. Technology is both my hobby and career choice. Over many years I've put together knowledge ranging from computer hardware, Operating systems, home theater, and other areas of expertise mostly through trial and error as well as tapping friends for knowledge. The thing that I've always found strange is that this was never gathered all in one place. A repository where someone who doesn't have a geek next door could go for advise, step by step instructions, or little tidbits of knowledge only geeks seem to hold onto.

    That's the purpose of this site. I will be posting articles on various tech areas with impartial views. Since I'm not being funded by individual companies you can get what you need without pressure towards a specific product to meet a sales quota, but I will occasionally recommend a product. The site will be supported through the Google Ads you see about the page, as well as the occasional recommended product plug on the site. Not all products I will recommend will help fund the site, but some will.

    Basically if you asked a friend to build you a computer you might pay them another $50-$100 for their time and trouble. That's all I'm doing here. If you like an article and find the content helpful click on an add or two. Or if you're buying products for your home and were going to order through Amazon anyway, click the link to the product on that page. I'll strive to keep links on all articles up to date, and I will update articles with fresh information as technologies change.