Saturday, March 6, 2010

In Between Jobs In Michigan

 Most of us hate to even think about loosing a job, but it happens to all of us. And it is important to know the ins and outs of the process of unemployment so that when the unexpected strikes, you are prepared to make it through to your next career. Here, I will explore the particularities of the Michigan unemployment system and what is available to those who have been hit by the record unemployment in the state.
The Day After The Pink: Filing For MI Unemployment Benefits
Fortunately, our Great State of Michigan is very tech savvy. Almost all of the things you have to do to start, stop, or modify your unemployment can be done online, or at any "Michigan Works!" location. In order to start your unemployment benefits, make sure you file for unemployment benefits as soon as possible after becoming unemployed. Even if you are receiving severance pay, have a part time job, etc., you may still be eligible for benefits. Details on this policy can be found here (pdf).
In order to claim your unemployment benefits, go to http://www.michigan.gov/uia. This will bring you to the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency website. This is where you will be able to fill out any forms you need in order to start your benefits. Before you get started, you will need a few pieces of information:
  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your driver's license, or State ID, or PIN from a previous unemployment claim, or Alien Registration Number
  • The Names, addresses, dates of employment, and wages paid by your employers in the past 18 months
  • Your financial institution's Routing & Account Numbers (If you will be using Direct Deposit for your benefit payments)
Once you have your information, simply fill out the form here anytime. Or to file by phone you must follow a schedule based on the last two digits of your social security number. Call 1-866-500-0017.
UIA will send you important information in the mail including an information booklet, a Monetary Determination telling you the amount of benefits you qualify for, and your unemployment claim PIN. In order to receive benefits you will have to maintain your resume on the Michigan Talent Bank website, and visit a Michigan Works! location to verify this. Other requirements may apply. See here (pdf) for details.
Call MARVIN The Unemployment Claims Computer
MARVIN stands for Michigan's Automated Response Voice Interactive Network. He's essentially a computer that takes your call when you need to certify your bi-weekly benefits claim. You can call MARVIN anytime if you have questions about your claim. However, in order to call MARVIN for your bi-weekly benefits claim you will have to follow a schedule based on the last two digits of your social security number. To certify your bi-weekly claim, make sure you have:
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your unemployment claim PIN
  • Information on any earnings you made in the week
Then call MARVIN at 1-866-638-3993.
It is much easier to file with MARVIN online though. You can file anytime between 7am and 7pm on your scheduled day, unlike the phone system. You can register to use MARVIN online and also sign in to certify your bi-weekly claim here.
The amount of benefits you qualify for can vary greatly depending on how many dependents you have, the size of your wages, and other factors. The amount of time it takes for you to receive your benefits money may vary too, depending on the method of payment you choose:
  • Direct Deposit (Usually 2 days after certifying)
  • EBT Card (Usually 2 days after certifying)
  • Check (issued a day after certifying, but must be mailed)
Additional Benefits 
You may also be eligible for additional benefits from the State, including:
You can find details on these programs at the links above.
Extensions And Back-To-Work


Any extensions you qualify for will be automatically sent to you in the mail. Simply fill out any necessary forms and send back. In some cases, you may even be able to provide the needed information by phone.
Once you have found new full-time employment, simply report it during your bi-weekly certification along with any earnings you have received in order to begin the process of closing your unemployment claim. You can call MARVIN any time to check the status of your unemployment claim. Full details can be found in the
Unemployment Benefits Handbook.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Starter's Guide To Google Voice

 Google Voice is a relatively new Beta service from Google derived from a company they acquired, GrandCentral. It allows its users to apply for a telephone number based almost anywhere that can ring many other phone numbers. It also includes its own voicemail and texting service that can be accessed from the internet, by phone, or on a mobile device. It allows you to make free calls anywhere in the nation, and internationally for very low rates. And has many, many other features to guard your privacy, reduce annoyances and extend the functionality of your telephones.

Google Voice is currently what they call a “closed beta”. In order to use the service you must have an invite from someone who is already using the service. Once you have an invite, simply sign into your existing Google account or create a new one. Go to http://www.google.com/voice and select a new telephone number. Your telephone number can have almost any area code, but you can currently only apply for one number per Google account.
During account setup, you can tie your other telephone numbers to your new Google phone number. For instance, you can set the service up to ring your home, work, and mobile phones simultaneously if someone calls your Google number. Google Voice also supports SIP or Gizmo5 VOIP numbers.
One of the benefits of this feature is that your Google number is independent of your telephone numbers, so you can change your telephone numbers as much as you want but still keep the same Google telephone number. This can come in handy if you move, or change wireless phone providers since you don’t have to worry if your telephone number changes. Your Google number stays the same so you don’t have to hand out new numbers to friends, family, and business contacts.
You can also personalize this feature quite a bit. For instance, you can set your Google number to ring only your home phone by default, ring all of your phones if your friends call, and only ring your work phone for business contacts. This is handy because it allows you to hand out one number and route calls to the phones you want.
In order to use this customization, you must set up an online phone book so that the service knows what phone numbers to route where. Fortunately, this can be relatively easily imported into Google Voice from many other address book providers and programs such as Windows Live Hotmail, AOL Mail, Yahoo Mail, or Outlook. There are instructions posted on how to do this in the “Contacts” section of your account.

Your Google Voice number comes with its own voicemail account. At first, you might think this is redundant. But the benefit of the Google voicemail account is that you receive all of your voicemails in one place. You don’t have to check messages on all of the phone numbers you have tied to your Google number. Also, your Google Voice messages can be played over the phone, on the internet, and even transcribed into text so that they can be sent to you as a text message or email. This way, you never have to worry about not receiving an important message. No matter where you are, your message can be delivered.

You can also record telephone conversations using Google Voice. In case you don’t want to forget a thing, you can dial 4 at any time during a phone call made to your Google number and it will record until you press 4 again. To maintain privacy, the person on the other end of your call will be informed when you are recording.

Your google number can send and receive text messages also, whether you have a mobile phone or not. Text messages can be read from the internet, or can be forwarded to a mobile phone. If you don’t have a mobile phone, your text messages can also be forwarded to email and once again, can always be read from the web. There are limitations, however. At this time, you cannot receive or send media over Google Voice. No picture, music, or video messages. Only plain text.

You can make calls using Google Voice. These calls are free to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada plus are very cheap when calling other countries. For instance, you can currently call most of Mexico for 2¢ per minute. You can make the call from the internet by typing in the number you want to call and then selecting which phone on your account to route the call to. This will ring that telephone and allow you to pick up and continue the call normally. You can also initiate a call from your phone by calling your own Google number, dialing 2, then the number you want to call.

There are many other features in a Google Voice account. It can block unwanted numbers making it a safe number to hand out publicly. You can place a button on your web site allowing your readers to call you or leave you a voicemail without disclosing your phone number. You can screen your calls; blocking calls that have had their caller ID hidden or requiring a caller from an unknown number to record their name before the call rings you. You can also trick the caller into thinking they are leaving you a voicemail while you listen in. You can conference call, switch active calls between the phones you have registered with your account, even access free telephone directory service from Goog411.

Google Voice aims to be the ultimate companion for your telephones. The central place that you go to get all of the messages you need, the gate-keeper that guards your privacy and blocks annoyances, and an inexpensive way to make calls. And with the recent acquisition of Gizmo5, Google has positioned itself to add even more functionality to Google Voice in the future.

Data On The Go: Build An External Hard Drive


Everyone knows that they should back up the data on their computers, but external data drives can be pricey. Larger external drives, called external hard drives, can cost as much as a couple hundred dollars. But don't fear for your bits! (Data bits, that is...) I'll help you weigh your options in creating your own external hard drive in this article.

External hard drives can be used for several purposes. The most obvious is to back up the data that you already have on your internal hard drive inside your computer. But they can be used for a couple other purposes too, such as extending your computer's storage capacity easily without the need to open your computer. This can be handy with Macintosh computers since they have no easy way to upgrade hard drive capacity, or on computers still under warranty. They can also be used as a way to easily copy data between two or more computers, such as a desktop computer at work, and a desktop computer at home. With certain network routers, such as the
Apple Airport Extreme, an external hard drive can even be shared as a storage device between all of the computers in your home and business, and can be easily upgraded and replaced.

External hard drives can be created in many shapes and sizes. But the first thing you should consider is the amount of data you need to save to your external hard drive. If you are going to use your drive to backup a computer, or computers, you need to make sure to pick a capacity that is large enough to backup the entire capacity of your computer, with a little capacity left over for odds and ends. For instance, if you have two computers that have hard drives with a capacity of 250
GB, an external hard drive with the capacity of 1TB (1000GB) should be more than enough to cover both of your computers. If you plan to use the external drive for any other purpose, you can be more flexible on what capacity you pick.

The second factor to consider is the physical size of the external drive. There are generally two sizes of hard drive. One is 3.5 inches, the size of a desktop computer hard drive. The other is 2.5 inches, the size of a notebook computer hard drive. The 2.5 inch hard drives are much smaller and more compact. You can fit it into a briefcase or purse easily. These hard drives can sometimes be powered by your computer instead of having to plug them into the wall. However, they have a limit on their capacity that is lower than the bulkier 3.5 inch hard drives. Pick the size of the drive you want based on how you plan to use your drive. Will it be used to back up important files on a laptop computer? Then perhaps the 2.5 inch size is for you. Will you use the drive as a backup for a desktop computer? Then perhaps the 3.5 inch drive with larger capacities is right for you.

Next, consider the connection that the external hard drive will use. There are two things to think of: the speed of the connection, and whether the computer(s) or other equipment you will use your drive with support the connection. There are generally four major contenders in this field. The first is the most ubiquitous,
USB 2.0, created by Intel. It is on nearly every PC produced and has a decent transfer speed of about 200Mbps in real-life use. Another option is Firewire, created by Apple Computer. This connection is less common and comes in two flavors. Firewire 400 is faster than USB, transferring at a speed of about 393Mbps in real-life use. Firewire 800 is faster yet at 786Mbps, but uses a different shaped connector than Firewire 400. And finally, a newcomer to the field is ESATA which can blaze at speeds of 3Gbps (3000Mbps). However, this connection remains rare in computers as of this writing.

Now that you know the capacity, size, and connection that you want to use with your new external hard drive, you'll need the parts to build your drive. There are three: The enclosure, the hard drive, and the connection cable. You can pick any 3.5 inch or 2.5 inch "internal" hard drive to put into your enclosure. Simply make sure that the connection between your hard drive is compatible with your enclosure (
PATA or SATA). An enclosure is simply a box that you place your hard drive into in order to convert it into a device you can use outside of your computer. They can be bought through many specialty computer stores and websites. Simply make sure that your enclosure has the connection that you want to use with your computer, and the connection it needs for the hard drive you have chosen. Finally, make sure that you have a cable to connect your external hard drive to your computer.

Open the enclosure, connect your hard drive to the enclosure, close up, connect any power and data cables. Most hard drives come formatted in
FAT32, a universal standard that can be recognized on all computers. However, I recommend that once you connect your new external hard drive to your computer, you format your drive in a more more modern, efficient file system. This can actually increase the capacity of your drive and improve reliability. NTFS works for Windows computers. HFS+ is better for Apple Macintosh computers. ext3 may be better for Linux.

Rock out! You have your own, custom external hard drive now! Have your own tips for Noobs making their own hard drives? comment below.

Legendary Mobile Phones: The Evolution of Communication

There have been countless mobile phones made in the past two decades, but some phones rise above the rest as pivotal for the entire communications industry. Unlike landline telephones, mobile phone sales have been driven by handset design since the beginning. With a nearly endless array of shapes and sizes, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate the advantages of one phone over another. But once in a while, a revolution in research and development will catapult the industry forward.

Unquestionably, the
Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (image by Redrum0486) was one of the most important mobile phones ever made. Affectionately nicknamed "The Brick" by the public, it was one of the first mobile phones ever developed. Released in 1984, it weighed 2 pounds, had a half hour of talk time and sold for nearly $4000. But that didn't stop it from selling like crazy. As most new mobile phones start out, it was seen as a status symbol and a fashionable gadget. But there was much more to come.

Mobile phone networks were gaining more and more data capabilities by the year, and when networks went digital, so did phones. The
Handspring (later, Palm) Treo was the first successful "Smart Phone" released in 2002. A cross between a PDA and a cellular phone, the Treo had a large touch screen display with a small keyboard built in under it. It ran the Palm OS and was very popular with business users. By todays standards, it was very bulky and an odd design but it reigned supreme over Smart Phones. However, over time the device stagnated and it was overcome by a very similar device known as the Blackberry, created by a Canadian company, Research In Motion (RIM). Palm has risen again, however, with the recently released Palm Pre and Palm Pixi.

Our next entry in the mobile phone hall of fame wasn't a Smart Phone like the Treo, but it refined the vanilla cellular phone down to a fine art. A descendant of the first commercial mobile phone, the
Motorola Razr, released in 2004, was a stunningly designed, stylish mobile phone. Named after the shaving device, the Razr was an amazingly thin flip-phone with a small color main display and an even smaller display mounted on the outside of the phone with a digital camera. It had no trouble differentiating itself from other mobile phones at the time. It alone catapulted Motorola to the second place mobile phone manufacturer behind Nokia. However, Motorola found it difficult to follow up its success.

And finally, what legendary mobile phone list would be complete without the Apple
iPhone. Released in 2007, the Smart Phone was completely revolutionary, not necessarily for its capabilities (It lacked several common features for years), but for its interface and business model. Hailed as having the highest customer satisfaction rating among mobile phones, the iPhone featured a large, beautiful touch screen display and only a single physical button on its face. The iPhone OS created an extremely easy to use, intuitive, and standard interface that shot along quickly on the powerful hardware of the device. Often compared to a PADD from the science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was no denying that the iPhone was far ahead of its time. At least five years ahead of its time, as a matter of fact, according to Apple's CEO Steve Jobs.

It has been a wild ride for mobile technology. With the expansion of the internet into mobile devices, the continued refinement of wireless technology, and new paradigms in user interface, there is bound to be many more wonders in communication in the future. Welcome to the new decade.

Defrag: Spring Cleaning For Your Hard Drive

Looking to squeeze every last drop of performance from your computer? Who isn't? There are probably thousands of programs and utilities that promise an instant fix to a sluggish thinking machine. Many of these software programs "defragment" your hard drive in order to increase performance. But what is this "defragment" thing and why do we want to do it?

Whenever you install an application or save a file directly to your computer, it is usually stored on a data disk inside your computer called a hard drive. Sometimes, if a hard drive is filled to near capacity, it will start to have a hard time finding new space to put any new or changed files. So it might break those files into pieces and store them in any little nook or cranny it can find on the disk.

The reason this is bad is that once your files or programs are in pieces all over your disk, instead of going to one spot on your drive and simply reading a file, your hard drive must search all over your disk to find all of the pieces of the file in order to read it. This takes time and can slow down your computer as the hard drive searches for pieces.

The word "defragment" means "to do away with fragments". Essentially, when you defragment your hard drive, you are taking all of the pieces, or "fragments", of your files and putting them back together again in one big contiguous file. And you don't even need all the king's horses and all the king's men! All it takes is a defragmentation program.

All Microsoft Windows based computers come with their own defragmentation program, usually named "Disk Defragmenter". Simply open this program, select the hard drive you would like to defragment, and press the "defragment disk" button. If you're really inquisitive, you can press "Show Details" in order to watch a graphic representation of your hard drive as it sorts itself out.

There are some exceptions to the benefits of defragmentation, though. Macintosh users need not fear fragmentation.
According to Apple, the file system that Macs use, called HFS+, is very good at keeping your files complete on the disk without defragmentation programs. OS X, the operating system on Macintosh computers, is programmed to avoid using recently freed disk space for as long as possible in order to keep files neat. The only time Apple recommends defragmentation is if you use your computer for heavy video editing like a video professional, which uses very large files that may be deleted, altered, and moved often.

Also, with newer Windows based computers, hard drive capacities are very large, so your hard drive may not fragment as much as older computer models. Newer hard drives contain a feature called "caching" which allows a hard drive to overcome some of the negative effects of fragmentation. Those of us with
really new computers that contain solid state drives (or SSD) which have flash technology should never defragment our disks. Flash memory has no moving parts and has an extremely fast seek time, so any fragmentation would have no effect on performance at all. And defragmenting an SSD could also reduce its life since current flash technology can wear out after a number of times being rewritten.