07/04/15

Permalink 08:23:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles
  1. Say you find yourself in a cheap motel on the wrong side of the tracks.  There's no ethernet signal available but you can pick up a mobile phone signal.  You can use your smart phone to make the internet available to other devices - tethering - can be done using Wi-Fi, USB or Bluetooth depending on what cables and sockets are available.  If your phone came from your network provider they may disable this but it should work on all sim only phones.  Also note that data transceived this way is usually expensive, so you may want to temporarily turn off program and anti-virus updates, disable Flash, block images, and browse using Opera in Turbo mode.  Also consider running your phone off mains electricity as this will drain a battery faster than a broken sieve.  Now enable Personal Hotspot on your phone (in the Settings menus).  Note that tethering via USB will be faster than Wi-Fi and much faster than Bluetooth and limited power will be available to the phone.  
  2. Set up your laptop as a  Wi-Fi hotspot by joining it to the Ethernet socket with a Cat5 cable you have handily placed in the bag while packing.  Now you just need to create an Ad-Hoc network (NOT infrastructure).

    • In Windows 7  go to Manager Wireless Networks > Add > Create an ad hoc Nnetwork.  Now on the hosts wireless adapter go to Properties > Sharing and allow other network users to connect through this computer's internet connection.

    • In Windows 8.x the option is hidden so you need to go via the command prompt.  First Win+R > ncpa.cpl  now right click the wireless adapter and choose Properties > Sharing.  Next from an admin CMD window 
      netsh wlan set hostednetwork mode=allow ssid=”MyNetwork" key="Pa$$w0rd" netsh wlan start hostednetwork netsh wlan show hostednetwork

    • On a Macintosh you need to click the Apple menu > System Preferences > Sharing and have it share the connection from the internet. Now enable Wi-Fi sharing and in the Options window enter the SSID and encryption key.  Now just 'on' the service.

    • On Linux you need to find the NetworkManager tool and follow your nose.
  3. Possibly easier than the above for Windows users would be to download a free virtual router that can wirelessly share any internet connection (Wifi, LAN, Cable Modem, Dial-up, Cellular, etc.) with any Wifi device (Laptop, Smart Phone, iPod Touch, iPhone, Android Phone, Zune, Netbook, wireless printer, etc.)  Get this from
    https://virtualrouter.codeplex.com/  

  4. Carry a portable mini-router in your travel bag.  This can be used to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal or multiplex to several Ethernet enabled devices.  Make sure the router has a WAN input socket as you will not be using a DSL signal from the phone line but an Ethernet signal from a static hotel provided socket.   Other routers are available - Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi for example - this needs to be able to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot and create its own Wi-Fi network at the same time. This would circumvent artificial limitations on single MAC address connections.

  5. A portable satellite connection is possible but an expensive option. On the assumption that few readers will be that far from civilisation I'll say no more.

  6. A Bluetooth Personal Area Network is another option but the signal distances are very limited and both devices would need a Bluetooth adapter. 

  7. Multiple wireless network adapters (one could be a UDB dongle for example) would enable one to be used for regular connection to a service while the other was used to create a hotspot as described above.

03/04/15

Permalink 04:33:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles

When I am given a laptop to repair I always ask for the power adapter.  This is not because I don't have a perfectly good universal adapter of my own, but so that I can measure the voltage and check the current.  It's a bit like air dusting and vacuuming the internals and alcohol wiping the screen - little extra services that usually go unnoticed but differentiate between the mass market behemoths and the little guy who cares.  Ok, enough self promotion already, why does the power matter ?

When you need to replace your power supply any one will do.  All you need to check for are the following 

  • The acceptible input (alternating current) voltage matches that of your supply.
     
  • The physical shape of the plug must be such that it fits in the socket.  It must be a snug fit so even the slightest wiggling around is not good as arcing accelerates decay.  And if you need too much force to get it in you will be damaging either plug or socket.
  • The polarity must match.  Typically the outer ring is negative and the centre pin positive.  If you get this the wrong way around you will probably trash the computer and adapter.  If you hear a pop and the computer only works on battery power, you got this wrong. 

  • The voltage must match exactly.  Yes I know a < 5% difference between that stated on the computer's label and that of the adapter will probably work most of the time but you are not leaving any scope for an unclean supply or cheaply assembled components that are intolerant of deviation from the reference value.  Too low a voltage and the machine just won't work.  Too high a voltage and it will at best show a warning in the system tray or event log while the protective circuitry lasts, and at worst go bang and leave you with an expensive repair bill - probably more than the value of the computer.  Both will accelerate the demise of the battery.
    There are some high end (often Dell) laptops that can cope with a small deviation by design, but these are few and far between.
     
  • The amperage of the power adapter must meet or exceed that shown on the laptop.  If it does not then depending on the amount of difference you may smell melting rubber as the cable heats to dangerously high temperatures; or you may find there is just enough power for simple tasks on the running PC but it will not charge the battery or may fail abruptly when heavy duty computing is required.

Ignore the wattage (volts multiplied by amps) this is only of import to the electricity bill payer, and only then if they are the king of parsimony.   The moral is therefore if in doubt about the quality of a power adapter measure it before use or find a man who can.

26/03/15

Permalink 10:15:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles
One of the items on my suggested housekeeping tasks is to check the state of your surge protector.  Some people don't bother or worse, don't even have one.

All mains connected electrical equipment worth more than about £10 (the cost of a cheap surge protector) would benefit from having unusual power events (spikes, brownouts, & surges) diverted from them to extend their lifetime or even protect them from total failure.

Surge protectors work by flattening out our irregular power supply usually by use of a metal oxide varistor (MOV) which degrades with each hit it takes.  Each 'suge' above a threshold amount of energy (the clamping voltage) is absorbed by the MOV which acts like an overflow tank to protect equipment from the flood of excess energy.

Surge protectors are sold with an amount of protection - typically perhaps 1000 Joules where one Joule is the energy needed to pass an electric current of one ampere through a resistance of one ohm for one second.  That means they can function for just one hit of 1000 Joules, or 10 hits of 100 Joules, or zero hits in excess of 1000 Joules.

So the quality and price of a surge protector is partly determined by the number of Joules it can absorb.  Once that number has been received the protection is useless - IT DOES NOT FAIL SAFE.  That is why it is essential to periodically confirm how much protection is currently being offered.  

Many protectors have amber lights to indicate that power is flowing, and also green ones the brightness of which indicates the amount of protection.  No bright green light = impared protection.

The other main factor determining quality and cost of a protector is the amount of time it takes to recognise a power event - the fewer milliseconds the better.

So the lifespan of a surge protector is not measured in time but in the number of hits it has taken multiplied by the cumulative size of those hits.  

Also, most surge protectors are power strips with maybe 4 - 8 sockets.  But not all power strips are surch protectors.  The time to check is now.

21/03/15

Permalink 12:19:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General

It is easy to get poor service through lack of experience when selecting a provider for your broadband service.  On behalf of clients I deal with most of the main providers and have developed a good feel for what's below par.  The 'best' ISP can vary from one street to the next depending on the location of the infrastructure equipment and so my recommedations are based on the specific address as well as the following things.

  • Cost. While the lower the monthly cost the better, other factors can lessen the significance of this.  There are constant offers available and so to get a fair comparison I take the cost of the first year and divide by 12 to get average monthly costs.  We must also factor in the cost of activation, fault processing, supply of modem/router equipment, and bundling in of other features.
  • Technical support is close to my interest.  I know from dealing with many providers for clients that this can be a nightmare when a fault develops.  UK based 24 hour support that is technically knowledgeable is essential in my view.  Length of hold times and ticket resolution statistics give a good indication of staffing levels.
  • Speed of broadband can vary.  Some (generally the cheaper) providers will throttle speeds through traffic management, usage caps, limiting upload speed to artificially boost download, and ‘fair use policy’ so as to even out the demand spikes.  I try to get the contention ratio and upstream capacity information to see how many addresses you would be sharing a common line with.
  • Reputation among independent technicians gives a good feel for age and fault tolerance of equipment, and responsiveness of field service staff.  Frequent drops or noisy lines can cause much disruption.
     
  • Flexibility – have staff the authority to be reasonable when discussing test requirements at the time of a fault, or when negotiating contract renewals.  Length of contract is itself a factor in a market where changes are rapid.
Broadband plans and service levels change so I urge people to [have me] review the market and negotiate robustly at the end of each contract term - normally that's every 12 - 24 months.

20/03/15

Permalink 07:58:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: 1ComputerCare related

When your computer becomes slow or your disk drive fills up or you upgrade to a new computer because of failure, you may want to copy things to the new faster disk drive.  Clearly the copying of documents, photos, and music is relatively straight forward but there are other things to be copied: saved email and the matching accounts, favourite bookmarks from your browsers, address books, and sometimes programs.  It’s not that straightforward.

With the plain data files such as documents and spreadsheets you need to be sure that the access control data that accompanies them matches the account(s) of the destination.  Music may need to be de-authorised then authorised and catalogued. 

Usually programs cannot be copied (unless designed as portable) as they rely on registry entries and dynamic link library registration and maybe also a programming framework.  There is an exception though: where nothing except the disk drive is changing it is often possible to migrate programs by duplicating the disk signature.

The way that all the main software suppliers prevent loss of income by people sharing their programs and only paying once is to cause them to check for a duplicate product key or activation code.  But how do they know when a product is legitimately reinstalled on the same computer ?  The answer is that they record details of the computer that cannot easily be replicated; so if the MAC address of a network card is different or the serial number of the motherboard has changed they will know that an attempt at piracy is afoot.

But when nothing other than a disk drive is being changed it is possible to duplicate the disk signature to allow the programs now residing on a different device to work as before without the need to buy a new license.  Not doing so may seem cheaper in the short term, but when the cost of additional licenses is factored in it turns out cheaper to have a copy operation professionally done.

However if simply adding a new disk drive to an existing one the opposite is true: disk signatures must be confirmed to differ as if a collision occurs Windows will become unbootable.

14/02/15

Permalink 07:39:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles

So here’s the thing – if you are kind enough to invite me round for dinner and afterwards place a cup of coffee before me I will feel bad.  I’d appreciate the gesture but I don’t drink coffee so I would either have to drink it (yuk) to avoid upsetting you or cause embarrassment by asking you to throw it away.  If only you had put water before me – something that everyone drinks and there’s no problem tossing it down the sink.

It’s the same with email attachments – if you assume that the recipient can read your chosen format you may be wrong.  Far better to convert to a universally recognised format such as .PDF - a format that, unlike editable documents (such as Word.DOCx or Ability Write.aww) is very hard to inject an infection into.

Also, it is polite to make it clear whether you are emailing a distribution list (or mail merge) to a large group or just an individual.  Replies to an individually addressed person are polite, whereas a mass mailing does not warrant a reply from everyone merely to acknowledge receipt.

Mailing several people ?  Use the BCC: field to hide the addresses from other addressees.  That way a single virus infected computer cannot harvest all your correspondents’ addresses in preparation for spear phishing attacks.

Wanting to send a few photos to someone ?  Have a thought for their time and download capacity.  Rather than attaching many individual files just upload them to a free cloud store (e.g. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox) then share the link.

Too busy to reply to a message within 24 hours ?  Send an acknowledgement of receipt – save the other side from wondering whether it was lost in transit and having to decide when to send you a pester note.

Please comment below about the above or any that I have missed.

P.S.  Although not strictly on topic, when you make a post in a forum think about the subject and how anyone visiting later would be searching.  Titles such as "another problem" or "what causes this" give no clue to the subject under discussion, will get far fewer people bothered to go to the trouble of reading through to help in your case, and give no regard to later generations trying to avoid reinventing the wheel. 

01/02/15

Permalink 11:08:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General

The regular Google Earth has been free for ages and given users the ability to get views of most places from the Google satellite down to the Google car.  It gives 3D images from your street to Mars.  Now though the Pro edition has been made free.  You still need a license but that comes by email a minute or two after you sign up at

https://geoauth.google.com/gev0/free_trial.html

I recommend the flight simulator mode of travel.  You can get tutorials from http://www.google.com/intl/en_uk/earth/learn/  

This is good for both Windows and Macintosh computers although your experience will be enhanced with a modern good quality computer.

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