Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Seasonal Advice

April 2003

By Mike Gould

April always gets me thinking about spring cleaning, so here's an assortment of items swept up from the cabin-fevered land of cluttered infobits. We've got some advice, some warnings, and some fun facts to download and interface with, so dig in and dig it.

Don't overload your monitor
This is a problem that is going away as LCD screens replace clunky CRT monitors on the desktops of the land. Many people don't realize it, but you can overload and sometimes burn out your CRT monitor if too may people are watching it at the same time. On the back of every monitor, usually in tiny print, there is a rating that looks like: MSA: 12A/6C.

This is the Maximum Supported Audience number, and the one above is rated for 12 adults or 6 children. (Children overload monitors quicker, due to shorter attention spans.) This is rarely a problem for small businesses, but something to be aware of if somebody is surfing and attracting a crowd at the next office party.

Monitor Placement
Recent research has shown that computer monitors are very sensitive to small changes in placement relative to magnetic North. It seems the enormous magnets found in the older CRT monitors interact in surprising ways with the magnetic bands of force that make our compasses and migrating geese work. Try slowly moving your monitor back and forth on its swivel and you will see the screen's focus change and the overall brightness dim. This even works with LCD screens, which seem to be more sensitive to position relative to the East-West axis. There are sites on the Web where computer Feng Shui experts will advise you on the best way to orient your particular monitor.

Ones and Zeroes
Here's a quick fix for annoying slowdown problems: straighten your wiring. As everyone knows, all this digital didgeridoo we're playing with depends on ones and zeroes to do the dirty work. These ones and zeroes depend on wiring to allow them to carry your bits and bytes on their appointed rounds, sort of like peas in a pipe. The problem happens when these bits and bytes bite the bight and get tangled inside your wiring. What happens is that the zeroes, being round, can pretty much make it through whatever spaghetti you've got growing back there behind your monitor. But the ones, being straight, tend to get hung up in some of the tighter turns and can slow the whole flow to a standstill. A good abrupt right-angle bend in a Cat-5 ethernet cable can trap a one for hours, wedged in tight like a paperclip in a garden hose. The cure is to carefully arrange your wiring so the wires arch in graceful curves, free of the kinks and knots that can trap the ones and slow down the zeroes. (This is also better computer Feng Shui.)

Special magnetic ink for printing checks
The popularity of inkjet printing has spawned a lively marketing niche that just won't quit. The latest breakthrough is a way to print your own bank checks, using a program called "CheckFiller". Unfortunately, the checks don't always function with some bank scanning systems, which require special magnetic ink to work. The work-around for this is to magnetize the ink yourself. To do this, get yourself one of those ink cartridge refill kits and hold a magnet up against the filler needle when filling an empty cartridge. Or, you can do it science-project style by wrapping a few turns of #10 magnet wire around a piece of baby carrot, and hooking the wire ends to a 12-volt battery. This makes a crude electromagnet. Stick the refill needle all the way through the carrot perpendicular to the wiring, turn on the juice (so to speak) and you're happening.

Coriolis force and mouse balls
There is a force of nature called the Coriolis effect, and it relates to the way the spin of the Earth affects various moving objects upon it. This is why things seem to flicker when you're watching the Aura Coriolis near the Earth's Poles. While researching ball bearing precession modulation (don't ask) at the University of Downwitit in Prepostria, Illinois, Dr. Carl Peripheral discovered that computer mouseballs can develop instability when moved in a clockwise direction. The reason is the same as why water drains in one direction in the Northern Hemisphere and in the opposite direction Down Under; Coriolis effect. So if you're having mousing problems, you may be unconsciously moving the mouse in the wrong direction. Try moving the mouse in the other direction, or using your other hand. Or get an optical mouse. Or move to Australia.

Missing Any Key
People are often mystified and made the butt of cruel jokes because they go looking for the "Any" key when instructed to press it by the helpful onscreen directions during a software installation. The inside joke here is that there really are keyboards that come with an "ANY" key. These special keyboards can be used to invoke all sorts of extra features that are hidden in various applications. In MS Word, for instance, hitting ALT-CONTROL-ANY changes all the instances of a single "etc." to "etc., etc., etc.", a feature that gets used a lot among the technically vague.

This keyboard is called The Special Keyboard, and is available only to the deeply geeky. The only way you can buy one is to go to your local computer store and tell the salesperson that you want The Special Keyboard (make sure you pronounce it properly), and then nudge them in the ribs 3 times really hard and wink with your right eye. The salesperson will then nod, wink back, and reach under the counter to get you one. CompUSA is a particularly good place to do this. Or Circuit City. Any of those guys.

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, wishes you a happy April Fool's Day, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Fac•, and welcomes comments addressed to

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