Category Archives: Education

Decibels Explained in 3 Steps

Part 1: Decibels are just a ratio:

Decibels are a ratio, just a number to multiply by. While decibels are often shown as a negative value, the ratio is always positive. The ratio can be very tiny or huge, but always positive. For example, 3 decibels means about 2x the power, but -3 decibels means half the power. ‘Drop by 3 decibels’ means power is one-half of what it was. Drop by 90dB is -90dB and means power is one-billionth of what it was. One-billionth is tiny, but still positive.

Part 2: “to the power” from math, the logarithmic scale  part of decibel:

A decibel is 1/10th of a bel. A bel means “power times 10 to the power __” so a decibel means “power times 10 to the power __ / 10.” Therefore, every 10 decibels is a change by a factor of 10. 10dB is 10x, 20dB is 100x, 30dB is 1000x, -10dB is one-tenth = 0.1, -20dB is one-hundredth = 0.01, -30dB is one-thousandth = 0.001 and so on. Always positive, but ranges from tiny to huge quickly.

Part 3: the “power from physics” part of decibel:

Where the math ‘power’ is the second ‘power’ in the dB description, the first ‘power’ means decibels are assumed to refer to the ratio of power of whatever it is describing. Therefore, don’t try to make physical sense of what a decibel actually is, just know that it means more or less power from any of a variety of other units that describe actual physical phenomena that produce power. Negative decibels means power has diminished (but is still positive). Positive decibels means more power.

Common Examples

The most common example of decibels is to measure sound level. I don’t know what the power reference is for sound decibels, but there must be one and I know the power of 3dB of sound is half the power of 6dB of sound, which is one-tenth the power of 16dB of sound and so on.

Another common example is signal loss in a cable. Since a cable is not powered, these are always “negative decibels,” and usually written as “signal loss per length wire,” which means multiply by something less than one. 3dB per 100 meters of signal loss really means -3dB / 100m and the signal loses about half its power every 100 meters. If the signal travels through 500 meters, it has lost 15dB, which means about 1/32nd of the original power.

TV Signal Power Units Explained

TV Signal Power

How strong is the signal in the air where I am? Since the government wants you to watch TV, the FCC provides this handy tool online:

FCC TV Channel Signal Power Tool

“dBμV/m”, Decibels, Signal Strength, and Confusing Units

The FCC’s site uses the unit dBμV/m or “decibel microvolts per meter amplitude” for signal strength. This is really a debacle of a unit. Units like this prevent people from understanding physical concepts, make people hate science in school, and even prevent technicians and probably many engineers from understanding the underlying concepts of their daily work (in my opinion). The proper way to write this unit is “dB (re: 1μV/m)” which means ‘decibels of power relative to a signal of amplitude 1 microvolt per meter.’ The unit “dBμV/m” further explained in 8 steps across two posts:

Step 1: your frustration at the many layers of confusion here are justified. Accept it and move on.

Step 2: Volts per meter. An electric field in the air is measured in volts per meter (V/m). For example, air breaks down at about 3 million V/m, very visible when lightning strikes. You might also say ‘3 megavolts per meter’ or ‘3 MV/m.’

Step 3: Amplitude. Any radio signal generated by an antenna for communication vibrates the electric field in the form of a sine wave at a specified frequency* and amplitude. The amplitude is the maximum at the peak of the sine wave.

*The frequency determines what channel the signal is and must remain within a tight range to not interfere with other signals in the air. Frequency is measured in Hz, MHz, GHz, etc. For example, 88MHz to 108MHz for FM radio. This is separate from the signal strength discussion.

Step 4: μ = micro. Being a Greek letter that looks like a ‘u.’ this is often written with a ‘u.’ It means ‘micro’ which is one millionth, so we are dealing with millionths of volts per meter, i.e. one-trillionth (1 / 1,000,000,000,000) of the unit used to measure air breakdown for lightning.

Step 5: Decibels Explained here.

In our case dB appears in front of μV/m, so you would think you would multiply by 10^(__ / 10) to get the μV/m amplitude of the signal. Nope, see the description of decibels and … in our case here, 100dBμV/m is a common strong signal level for TV stations and it means a signal with a power of 100dB above a signal with 1 μV/m amplitude. 100 dB  = 10^(100/10) = ten with ten zeros = 10,000,000,000 = 10 billion. Does that mean 10 billion microvolts per meter or 10,000 V/m??? No. Since the power of a signal is the amplitude squared, the actual amplitude in volts per meter only has to multiply by ten with five zeros to reach 100dB power above a signal of amplitude 1 μV/m, or 100,000 microvolts per meter = 0.1 V/m. Very manageable.

The signal received by an antenna is very weak compared to pretty much all signals powered by electronics on-site. The problem with receiving a weak signal is usually not that the signal is too weak to amplify, but that the noise has to be amplified with the signal and the signal can’t seen over the noise. There is always some level of noise and the signal has to be strong enough to be distinguished from the noise.

Internet from Bottom to Top: What is it?

Physical Computers in Physical Buildings on Physical Real Estate: Server Warehouses

Examples: AWS, …

With terms like “internet” “internets” and “cloud” it is easy to forget that there has to be something physical somewhere.

Amazon Web Services is currently the largest server owner in the world. They have huge locations around the world. You may have never actually seen one of these buildings. They are extremely high-security, so much so that they are often built in rural locations. While they cannot be completely incognito, their specific physical locations are not advertised. Physical access to these buildings is strictly controlled.

A server is just a computer with a specific purpose: to “serve” websites. Server warehouses are really just giant computer labs with rows and rows of man-sized computers (called servers), but the human users are remote. Anytime you are on the internet, you are trading information from a computer in a large server building.

Server Operating System

Examples: Linux, …

Personal computers typically run Windows or whatever Apple’s OS is called. Some geeks use Linux at home. Servers almost always use Linux as their operating system.

Physical Cables

Examples: underwater fiber-optic cables, …

Forget satellites and over-the-air smartphone data. Data transmission requires energy and transmitting data through the air is extremely inefficient. Satellite internet will never take over and the 5G on your phone goes through a fiber-optic cable all the way to the base of the cell phone tower. Intercontinental data transmission is done by underwater bundles of fiber optic cable, not satellite and not magic.

By now you have probably seem workers installing underground fiber-optic cables. They go under roads and through neighborhoods.

Physically Connecting the Cables: Routers and Core Routers

Examples: these are not common to know about or see.

Core routers are a lot like servers in that they require extremely high security. They are also typically located outside of cities but they have to be near cities, for example in the suburbs, to do their job. Core routers also look like servers. They are man-sized. Core routers have hundreds of fiber cables plugged into them. Cisco Systems is the most famous manufacturer of core routers.

There are various smaller routers throughout cities. They might be located, for example, in the small utility buildings under cell phone towers.

Routing Software Directing the Traffic: TCP/IP

Internet Protocol is the language the hardware uses to communicate to each other how to send information over the cables and routers that make up the internet. IPv4 was the original and is still dominant. IPv6 began deployment on the public internet in 2006.

Web Browser to Server in a Warehouse: Physically Finding a Website

When you type a web address into your browser, your computer takes several steps to be connected to the appropriate server that delivers the website information.

The first source of information is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN keeps the official list of who owns what site and therefore the owner of the site has the right to define where the traffic going to a domain name is directed. ICANN is the “global phone book” of the internet. Your web browser sends an internet address request to ICANN and ICANN responds with Name Servers. The Name Servers are servers maintained by a large hosting company to manage all of the websites hosted on their many servers. Name servers are like the “local operator” who further directs your call based on your request. Each request contains all the required information for the entities to respond with further routing instructions. As a website manager, you set your Name Servers through your host who forwards them to ICANN and it can take a few hours to “propagate” because it is a global system.

The lowest readable level of an address is an IP address, for example . The IP address is used by all of the physical hardware from cables to routers to servers to physically make the connection and transfer information between the correct two computers, usually a personal computer or phone to a server.

Computers Talking

To continue clearly, we will specify the two definitions of “server.” “Physical server” is the physical man-sized computer mentioned above. Each physical server can “serve” hundreds or thousands of different websites to thousands of users simultaneously. Often, the physical servers are internally compartmentalized into “virtual servers.” Each virtual server can be maintained by an individual user, managed remotely, and rented from the physical server who performs the service for hundreds of “virtual server” renters. The virtual server renters collectively pay for the physical server they never see. So a virtual server is a physical server or at least contained on a physical server.

Once your web browser is connected to the name server, the name server uses Domain Name System to further direct the traffic. Example DNS record entries are “A Record” and “CNAME” for example. These are maintained by the hosting company. They do not take long to “propagate.”

Via physical cables and routers to ICANN to name servers to the hosting company to DNS records to the individually-managed server, there are now two computers talking to each other. We have arrived at the software level. The personal computer web browser software speaks to Apache on the server running Linux. There is one more type of traffic direction, the 301 and 302 redirect. In Apache, the redirect is usually located in the .htaccess file. The .htaccess file gives all visitors higher access to the server and so is therefore not enabled by default.


Like your own computer, the operating system doesn’t do much by itself. Linux on a server by itself cannot “serve” a website. There has to be software to receive a request for a website over a cable and send the appropriate data to internet users. The most common server software is called Apache. So a server manager installs Apache on the server using Linux commands and then the websites are installed on Apache and served through Apache

  • upload files to var/www/html/site-name
  • create site-name.conf file in etc/apache2/sites-available
  • enable the site with sudo a2ensite site-name
  • reload apache2 with systemctl reload apache2


  • What a “host” is
    • The one we will use is
    • The host stores the files for your website and sends it to users when someone goes to your site. Bluehost costs ~$12 per year to maintain the site
    • Pick your domain name
    • Others are,, …
  • What a web design platform is
    • WordPress is the one we will use, available at
    • Removes the necessity to work with actual code, like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP
    • Others are squarespace, tumblr
  • What a theme is
    • “theme” = “template
    • I use Twenty Eleven for my store. It’s very simple and you can customize all the colors and have a heading image.
  • How to present items for sale
    • WooCommerce is the plugin that we will use.
    • What do you want to sell?
  • Make your site searchable on google and other search engines:
    • Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) is the name for this
    • WordPress SEO is the plugin we will use.
    • What words do you want to be searchable on your site?
    • You can customize how your site looks when somebody searches it, particularly on Google
  • How to measure, categorize and track the traffic to your website
    • Google Analytics, set up a free account
    • Plug-In: Google Analytics for WordPress, makes implementation easy
    • Important to be able to profile your customers
    • The traffic you generate may become valuable to advertisers and you can sell to them
  • Make a separate website for free using a subdomain
    • You already own the main domain, adding subdomains is free.
    • It doesn’t take customers completely off your site.
    • For example, you can make be the place where you actually sell products and it can be separate from where you advertise and describe the products.
  • Set up e-mail at your own domain name, and send and receive e-mails using your existing webmail.
  • How to receive somebody’s money
    • PayPal
    • Amazon is another option.


Zero to Hero in Audio Tech Class

Price: $200 for a group of up to 4

Pretty much all audio tech revolves around the idea that a sound wave can be converted to an electrical signal and converted back to sound we hear. In just two hours, see and understand how this is done and be a smarter audio tech consumer for life.

You will be presented demonstrations of the following during the class:
  • sound waves
  • microphones
  • electric analog audio signals
  • digital audio signals
  • speakers
  • headphones

Besides learning the underlying concepts, you will learn the standard terminology and how it applies to everyday consumer products:

Sign up today by calling or sending an email.

Audio Terminology

Stereo Versus Mono

Stereo sound means left and right can be a different audio signal. Usually the two signals are nearly identical, but sometimes the difference is very noticeable. A stereo signal is two mono signals. Most people are familiar with this concept.


When buying mixers, pay attention to what “channel” means. Each stereo input is two channels. Therefore a “four-channel” mixer or recorder can often only properly handle two inputs. Indeed each channel is a separate audio signal, but if configured as stereo, there will only be one volume control for two channels together, for example, among other inconveniences. The mixer I bought is 12 channels, 4 microphone (mono by their nature) and 4 stereo inputs for a total of 8 separate volume controls. 8 has been plenty for me and I expect to never exceed it in my whole life.

Balanced Audio Signal Versus Unbalanced Audio Signal

Balanced audio uses two separate conductors carrying the same audio signal with opposite polarity. There is also a third conductor called ground or shield. The advantage is any noise picked up by the cable is picked up equally on each of the two conductors and therefore the noise cancels itself out leaving only the audio signal. The most common example is a microphone connected to an XLR input. See the XLR pin diagram below as the archetypal balanced audio example.

Unbalanced audio uses a single conductor to carry the audio signal, plus a ground. The most common example is headphones. There are three conductors because of stereo sound but each of the signals is a single unbalanced audio signal to the headphone speakers.

Microphones: Dynamic, Condenser, Electret Condenser, MEMS

Dynamic microphones use a magnet and coil to produce the audio signal. Advantages: do not require phantom power as the moving coil produces the electric signal, no self-noise, better at loud sounds, usually rugged and durable. Disadvantages: not as good at capturing detail. The most common example is the Shure SM58 performance mic.

Condenser microphones are delicate studio microphones that require phantom power to charge a “backplate.” While they produce some self-noise, they are better than dynamic mics at capturing sound detail, especially with with quality phantom power and using balanced audio signal. The most common examples are studio music recording mics and tech nerd podcasts. There are large diaphragm and small diaphragm condenser mics but if you care about that you are reading beyond this post.

Electret condenser microphones cheap and small. They don’t match professional mics in quality but they are very good and make up for the quality with small size and price. They are condenser microphones because they use a capacitor (charged plate) to produce the signal, but they do not require phantom power because the “backplate” is chemically charged in a way that does not decay for hundreds of years – pretty much permanent charge, like a permanent magnet. Note: I have had little success connecting these microphones to an audio mixer. While the description says they do not require power, I have also heard that they require 5V or 12V or 3-12V that is provided automatically by the computer or phone they are connected to. … ?

Cell phones use MEMS microphones (MEMS = microelectro-mechanical systems) because MEMS microphones are etched directly onto a silicon chip, often together with required circuitry, and they require very little power.

Phantom Power

Condenser microphones require phantom power to charge a backplate.

  • Music mixers provide phantom power on their XLR inputs.
  • Phantom power is almost always de-selectable with a switch on the mixer.
  • Although dynamic mics do not require phantom power, most will not be damaged by it. Many musicians use phantom power with dynamic mics all the time without knowing what it is and the only result is a barely-audible hum.
XLR Input and Pin Diagram

An XLR input is a dedicated balanced input typically designed for microphones.

Male Versus Female

I don’t need to explain “the birds and the bees” here, but pay attention with XLR because it’s not immediately obvious especially when buying cables. Pictured above is female XLR that would require a male cable to connect.

TRRS Diagram

TRRS stands for “tip ring ring sleeve.” The only use I know for TRRS is stereo sound plus microphone:

*Note: some TRRS diagrams show the microphone as a ring and the sleeve as ground, but I believe this was probably an old standard now obsolete that was abandoned because the audio signal could interfere with the weak microphone signal.

TRS and TS

TRS is “tip ring sleeve.” The standard example is stereo headphones:

Notice the two signals on standard TRS headphones are unbalanced, therefore unbalanced stereo. Unbalanced sounds “bad” but it is just slightly more susceptible to noise than balanced audio, an effect less important than many other factors in most cases.

TS is, you guessed it, “tip sleeve.” The most common TS example is a mono audio signal. The tip is the audio signal and the sleeve is ground.

“Phone Plug” Sizes (“Phone Plug” = TRRS, TRS, & TS)

I quote “phone plugs” because although it may be the official term, you will have better luck searching TRRS / TRS / TS. “Phone plugs” come in the following sizes:

  • 1/4″ = 6.3mm = “phone plug” = “the big ones”
  • 1/8″ = 3.5mm = “mini-phone” = “normal headphone”
  • 2.5mm = “sub-mini phone plug” = “the tiny little ones”
Balanced Audio on TRS

TRS can be used to carry a (mono) balanced signal (not common). For example, see the female 6.3mm TRS input on the XLR diagram above. The TRS input says “BAL OR UNBAL” beside it. A TRS balanced signal looks like this:

Signal Levels: Passive, Powered, Amplified

These are not “official terms,” but I would say there are three “signal levels.”

A passive signal is the signal a microphone produces for example. The signal is generated by the physical movement of the internal parts of a microphone. These signals must be amplified and are therefore sensitive to noise because any noise picked up will be amplified along with the audio signal. For this reason, passive signals often use balanced audio. Passive signals cannot even drive headphones.

A powered signal is the most common type. Once any electronics are involved, there are small amplifiers to drive the signal. Any powered signal can drive headphones, but usually not a speaker without external power.

An amplified signal can by itself drive a large speaker that does not have external power. Notice, with mono audio, some amplifiers will output an amplified signal via TS capable of driving a large speaker. You must use a robust TS mono cable to carry this signal to drive the speaker and not all TS mono cables are capable of this.

RCA Connectors

RCA connectors are common enough to warrant their own heading. They usually carry unbalanced mono signals and come in color-coded pairs for stereo.

Analog Versus Digital

All signals I refer to here are analog. USB is a good example of digital. Digital signals can be manipulated by software and digital can travel lossless over long distances. Digital has its advantages, but the conversion to digital and back to analog means delay even locally so once you are dealing with digital signals, you cannot listen to locally-produced sounds in real-time because you can perceive the small delay.

Bluetooth Transmitter

Once you have an audio signal on a standard headphone TRS, notice how versatile a Bluetooth transmitter can be with battery-powered Bluetooth speakers. Search for a Bluetooth transmitter and find many options, very affordable.

Bluetooth Receiver

If you want to mix in a pre-recorded track, a Bluetooth receiver is a great option to connect a music-playing smartphone or other digital device to your mixer. Many options, very affordable.

Surround Sound

I don’t know! I’m sure a home theater system salesman can talk for hours about it for free though!

Online Conferencing Studio Using Music Equipment

For a quick guide to all audio terminology you have heard and halfway understand, click here.

The #1 most important aspect of online communication is the internet connection. #2 is the sound and once you have a quiet location, the best audio situation you can set up is with music equipment. Here’s how. I will progress in the following order:

  • Capturing your local sound with microphones
  • Using headsets and splitting microphones from speakers
  • Expanding and mixing multiple local participants, nearly unlimited, including musical instruments, who hear each other locally in real time
  • Connecting all local sound into the computer
  • Hearing the remote sound from the computer
  • Mixing the remote sound from the computer into what all participants hear
  • Mixer recommendations
Microphones Capturing Sound, XLR Inputs!

XLR XLR XLR! Microphone = XLR input.

The most important rule when using microphones with music equipment is the microphones should be plugged into XLR inputs. If you are new to music equipment, XLR inputs will appear obscure, complicated, expensive, and you will subconsciously try to avoid using them. Use XLR! XLR inputs are designed for microphones and once you accept that you must plug microphones into XLR you will buy the appropriate microphones and headsets for future purchases and you will happily buy the converters for any equipment you already have.

Committing to XLR is most difficult when selecting headsets. Fortunately, the difficulty can be summed up and solved by answering one question at the time of purchase:

“Can this headset be connected to XLR for the microphone and TRS for the speakers (headphone)?”

Headsets: Split Microphones from the Speakers

Many headsets are designed to be “plug-and-play” with one plug, often a 3.5mm TRRS (TRRS is a standard headphone jack with one extra ring). This is great for one person with no instrument. Sure, video chat with grandma at the click of a button. Not set up, go. However, as soon as you add any second device or a second participant, you are going to wish the microphone signal were split from the speaker signal. Also, of course, you want the microphone to terminate in XLR.

I recommend the Audio-Technica BPHS1. The headset audio is split exactly how you want it, XLR plus TRS. Some of the reviews I read were written by podcasters, indicating that the headset is often used with professional audio setups.

Expanding to Multiple Local Participants

If you have committed to XLR for your microphones, expanding is pretty much already finished. Plug in and go.

The only thing mixers may lack is enough headphone jacks for everybody. Fortunately that problem is solved for under $50 with a simple headphone splitter, for example the Behringer HA400

Locally, Better than In-Person

Music equipment mixing is so smooth and high-quality that you can have a normal conversation even talking over each other and the sound of multiple voices in a conversation will be arguably better than without the equipment. Elderly people or anybody who uses hearing aids may prefer headsets on a mixer to just talking! Mixing multiple sound sources is exactly what music equipment is designed for. Podcasters use mixers and routinely have natural conversations over headsets with four or more people. Delay? There is no delay. There is no processing and electrical signals travel faster than sound.

Connecting to the Computer, Local Sound Into Computer

The critical point of success when interfacing with a computer (in my opinion) is to keep the ‘in’ and ‘out’ signals analog and physically separate from each other all the way to the computer. This means your locally-generated mixed sound signal should enter the computer through a sound input TRS receptacle. Maybe it will be labeled ‘mic in’ on the computer, maybe ‘audio in.’ At a minimum, you should be able to separately identify the sound signal in the computer’s settings independent of what software you are using.

Connecting to the Computer, Remote Sound Out From Computer

The sound coming from the remote person (or people) from the computer must be fed into the mixer to be heard by all the local participants. The tricky thing here is, the remote sound should be heard by the local participants, but NOT mixed into the sound fed to the input on the computer. If the remote sound is fed into the computer, the remote person will hear himself on the internet delay, or “echo,” which most of us have experienced and we know it is nearly intolerable depending on the volume of the echo.

Note: some conference software may automatically cancel the echo but it’s better not to rely on the software.

Fortunately, many music mixers are designed to allow musicians to listen to a recorded music track that they don’t want recorded – because it’s already recorded and that’s how they are listening to it. This is perfect for conferencing because the remote sound can be fed into this input and deselected on the mixed output that is connected to the computer. The mixer then only sends sound produced locally, but the local participants hear the remote sound as though they are “recording over it.”

Mixer Recommendations

Almost all mixers will have XLR, phantom power, TRS inputs, at least one output, separate volumes for each input, etc. Being able to deselect one input from mixing to one output to eliminate the echo feedback into the computer is a bit unique. Below are two recommendations that have the capability.

On the Behringer XENYX 1202, you can plug the computer remote audio into the “2-TRACK” RCA input, deselect “2-TR TO CTRL ROOM” and use the “CTRL ROOM OUT” to send to the computer as it will include all audio except the remote audio. Local participants then hear everything over the headphone out. Perfect.

The Behringer XENYX 502 has a similar setup, but notice only one XLR input.

Cables and Adapters

The variety and number of cables and adapters is as many as there are combinations of plug types. See the cable requirements in an example setup below:

[setup diagram]

Expanding Notes

Internet conferencing lives and dies by the sound. Minimum quality sound is absolutely necessary to make online conferencing viable and really good sound can often make video nearly unnecessary in many situations.

Most people shy away from using music equipment for computer sound because it appears complicated and it is “not made for conferencing.” I think that’s why anyway? Maybe people feel like using professional equipment makes the online situation permanent? Maybe they assume it’s expensive? Really though, why not?

Regardless of the reason, musical sound equipment is the highest quality and most versatile, especially for the price. As an electrical engineer and amateur musician, I believe music equipment is the overall best solution to online conferencing sound. I would caveat that with the following statements:

  • You should commit to using music equipment and analog electric signals entirely up to the point where the sound enters the computer. The sound should be completely mixed before it gets digitized.
  • Attempting to take short-cuts mixing in the computer will complicate to the point you regret the attempt.
  • The primary complication is interfacing the music equipment with the computer, but if you commit to separating the signals, you simplify this.
  • A secondary complication is interfacing microphones of headsets that are often designed to connect to computers and conferencing and not music equipment. See the XLR / microphone discussion above.
  • Music equipment produces near perfect sound and being the analog electrical equivalent of real sound, your set-up does not “go obsolete” like digital equipment and software does. Computers must interface with analog audio at some point and electrical audio signals cannot become obsolete. (Watch me eat these words somehow? Never say never?)
  • Regardless of purpose-made conference system marketing, online conferencing set-up is always complicated.

Picking your Friends in Computer Software

1. Why the club:

Click here for the CATC About page.


2. Why this subject first:

  • Your computer software largely determines your experience with the computer.
  • I have helped people with their software to keep their computer working fast.
  • The people who make your software know what your experience looks like. It is those people and their motivations that determine your experience in the long run.

3. Vocabulary for Software

4. Discussion Structure

  • We are going to discuss software by its function first.
    • I want to offer a solution only if there is a problem.
    • Define the problem! (software often offers bells and whistles that do things we don’t really want to do).
    • This is a comprehensive list. A key to this idea is that all other software should be uninstalled and add-on software should be carefully selected.
  • We will categorize software by “open source vs. closed source” and “free vs. costs money.”
  • A dollar sign ($) by the software mean the software company is for profit. An ‘ad’ symbol (ad) means that mining and selling user data is a major revenue source for the company.
  • Last, we’ll meet the people and companies and discuss their motives.

5. Software Functions List

  • Operating System
  • Word processor (includes many office functions)
  • Web browser
  • E-mail / contacts / calendar
  • Internet search
  • Media player
  • Video chat [or use your phone]
  • PDF Reader
  • Printer and scanner
  • Video editing
  • Gaming

Operating System

Word Processor

Web Browser

E-Mail / Calendar / Contacts

Web Search

  • DuckDuckGo is a good search engine that maintains user privacy.

Media Player

Video Chat


PDF Reader

Printer and Scanner

  • How much does an ink cartridge cost?
    • Can a printer physically continue to print in black and white if the color runs out?
  • How much does a printer actually cost?

Video Editing

6. My Start Menu

7. Settings

  • When you set up a computer, your question should be, “what is this computer doing that I need it to stop doing?”

8. Bloatware

  • When I buy a computer, I don’t install software, I spend most of my time un-installing software.
  • Your computer manufacturer may include software pre-installed. You probably want to un-install it.
  • I include “anti-virus” software under bloatware.
  • Desktop weather display is another example.

Click here to see which software I use and recommend in each category.

I made this presentation for the Columbus Area Technology Club. Click the logo for the CATC website:

All the Software you Need

Your computer can be fast and clean and stay that way if you know what software to use. It won’t slow down and you won’t get malware. This is your comprehensive list of software. I do mean comprehensive. If it is not on this list, do not install it unless you need it for something specific.

Operating System

Windows. It’s Windows. I tried Linux for a brief trial (Mint and Ubuntu), and it is indeed lean and fast, but it is just not for regular people. It’s for programmers. Windows is still my choice.

Word Processing

Microsoft Office. It works. When Microsoft changes Office, they do so knowing that they can’t mess with the core of the product. I use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I do not LOVE Microsoft, but Office is still the best.

Internet Browser

Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla is a non-profit software company, and they are good. The Firefox browser isn’t tracking you or advertising to you like many of the others.

Download Firefox here and learn about Mozilla as well.

Privacy Badger. I recently started using this anti-tracking software, and I like it. It is super-small, and requires no time or input from you. It runs within your browser and blocks sites from tracking you. It is made by another non-profit, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Download Privacy Badger here.


FastMail. I recently switched to FastMail, because I decided to take action against the more traditional e-mail providers using my personal information to advertise. FastMail costs $3 per month, and it is the best subscription I pay for.

Check out FastMail here.

*I did not have to change my e-mail address to switch to FastMail because I own my own e-mail domain. I teach how to get started with a basic website as a service, click here. A domain and website cost about $5 per month depending on how you do it. Worth the $$.

If you switch to FastMail without your own domain, your e-mail address becomes or one of several other choices that they own.

FastMail’s smartphone app is super-fast and super-lean also.

Media Player

VLC Media Player. It is free, and in my ~10 years using it, it has supported the most file types, which is especially important with the plethora of video formats out there. It is made by VideoLAN, which is a non-profit software organization.

Download VLC Media Player here and learn about VideoLAN as well.

(I also use Windows Media Player because it integrates well with Windows.)

Video Chat

Skype. Yes, I still use Skype. As with most video chat clients, video chat within Skype is free, but that’s not why I still have Skype. You can add credit (real money) and call real phones around the world. Calls to US phones are cheap in a pinch from any Wi-Fi in the world. Microsoft owns Skype now, which is pretty annoying, but I still use it.

PDF Reader

Adobe makes PDF and Adobe is very much a for-profit company, but they are good, and they have a vested interest in you, the consumer, being able to read PDF very conveniently. They sell the PDF editor only to those who create the PDFs. As long as you read PDFs and they remain convenient, Adobe continues to sell the editing software for big bucks.

Download Adobe Acrobat Reader here.

*When you download, uncheck the McAfee “anti-virus” boxes and the Chrome Extension!!! You don’t need the anti-virus software if you stick to these simple products! Also, turn off the auto-update on the reader. They update so often it is a nuisance.

Printer and Scanner

Most companies making home printers now make their money on the cartridges (not surprising) AND by advertising through their “printer software.” Steer clear! Spend a little more money for a real printer and save over the long-run! Also, as expensive as printing is, it’s actually not a bad idea to find a good printing store near you and just go print there when you need it.

I have a Brother MFC-9330CDW. At ~$350, it wasn’t cheap, but I have to be able to print. The cartridges aren’t cheap either, but the pages-per-cartridge is much higher than with an inkjet. It is a real printer, and it’s worth the investment.

Video Editing

I said I do everything you can do on a computer. Video editing requires serious software and it costs money. There is no free way around it. I use Adobe’s Creative Cloud. It is a little glitchy now and then, but Adobe’s support is really solid when you need it. I highly recommend, but only if you really need it, and only if you have a computer that can really run it. It is expensive. I pay for it in lieu of cable TV.

Click here for Adobe Creative Cloud.


What a waste of time. I don’t.


Porn and other downloads or nefarious sites will of course ruin any safety you have with this very clean software. Also, trying to find free-ware and installing unknown software is well, …

If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product!

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