Tips Galore: Silence Laptops, Make Posters, and More

Looking for a dirt-cheap way to add art to a wall? Sure, you could take a page from my buddy Dave Johnson (who writes PC World's Digital Focus) and create tasteful masterpieces with your digital camera--or you could blow up your pictures to fill an entire wall. And what about that noisy laptop of yours? This week I'll tell you how to turn down the volume. Read on for those tips, plus a cool Web site that tells you if you're getting your money's worth from Netflix.

Turn Photos Into Wall-Size Posters

Rasterbator is a free tool that turns any image into mammoth posters.

There are two ways to use Rasterbator: You can upload an image to the site, or you can download the Rasterbator app for Windows (which requires Microsoft's .NET Framework 1.1 and a PDF reader). The Web version is actually the better of the two, as it lets you choose your output size by dragging frame handles instead of entering the numbers manually.

Whatever method you choose, the result is more or less the same: A blown-up image that gets printed on multiple sheets of paper, which you then assemble in proper order and mount on your wall.

Needless to say, the larger the poster, the more ink and paper you'll consume. If you're working with a color image, you could easily blow through half your inkjet's ink! Of course, there's much to be said for black-and-white posters; you can achieve some great results with a laser printer (see the Rasterbator gallery for examples).

You may have to do some trimming if your printer can't output to the very edge of each sheet, though sometimes you can get a neat look by leaving that thin white border around each page.

This is a fun tool, and your only costs are paper, ink/toner, and whatever consumables (tape, glue, foam board, etc.) you use for mounting. Talk about design on a dime!

Fix a Noisy, Overheated Laptop

For the last month or so, my wife's laptop has been noisier than you'd think possible for such a thin, compact PC. The culprit: The cooling fan, which seemed to run non-stop and at the highest possible speed.

If you've ever opened up a desktop, you know how much dust can get sucked up in there. Laptops, though seemingly sealed up tighter, are just as susceptible. I could tell without even looking that dust was clogging up the fan and the space around it, causing it to run loud and hot. It was only a matter of time before the machine would start overheating and locking up--or worse.

Fortunately, this is incredibly easy to fix. All you need is a small screwdriver and a can of compressed air (or an air compressor).

Power down the laptop, flip it over, and remove the battery. (Unplug the AC adapter, too.) Look for an air vent on an outer edge of the laptop; there should be a nearby access panel on the bottom. Unscrew the panel and remove it. You should see the fan right underneath. (Your mileage may vary, but the three laptops I have here all have panel-accessible fans.)

Now it's time to blow out the dust. (You may want to do this outside.) Hit the fan in short bursts from lots of different angles, making sure to blow most frequently in the direction of the air vent. If you're using an air compressor, as I did, keep the pressure relatively low, and don't get too close with the nozzle. You don't want to damage the fan or anything else, after all!

After blowing a fairly substantial amount of dust out of my wife's laptop, I replaced the panel and battery and powered up the system. Result: quiet as a mouse, just like it used to be. If your laptop is more than a year or two old, it's probably overdue for a similar cleaning. (Same goes for your desktop.)

See if You're Getting Your Money's Worth From Netflix

Ever wonder if you're getting your money's worth out of Netflix? Free Web service FeedFlix aims to answer that question: It pulls rental-history data from your Netflix account to show you the relative cost of each movie you'e renting. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

FeedFlix provides an informative history of your life as a Netflix subscriber: How long you've been a member, the average amount of time you keep your DVDs, the plan you're currently on, and even the cost-per-movie percentile you fall in compared with other FeedFlix users.

Meanwhile, the site shows you what movies you have at home right now, what movies you've streamed using Instant Watch, and what's in both your queues (Instant and DVD). Cooler still, FeedFlix will highlight movies from your DVD queue that are now available for instant viewing, and show you when they'll expire. That should help you skip the shipping for some titles, thereby lowering your overall cost per movie.

Ultimately, though, FeedFlix answers the all-important question: Is Netflix worth the money? If you find that your relative cost per movie is in the $3-4 range, you might just be better off with your local video store. But if you're batting a buck or less, Netflix is definitely a winner.

This terrific little service is free, easy, and absolutely positively worth a look.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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