31/08/15

Permalink 09:13:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

It's been publicly available for a month and in public beta test for several before that so all the teething troubles that are going to be found and removed probably have been.  So should you upgrade ?  

If you are reasonably competent with administering your computer then I suggest you should as the benefits are certainly worth having.  There are, however, a few points to follow before the upgrade to save yourself a pile of pain.

  1. Run the Upgrade Assistant.   This will draw attention to any incompatible hardware or software.  The Assitant will appear in your system tray as long as you have the fiollowing updates installed: for Windows 7 (KB3035583 and KB2952664) and for Windows 8.1 (KB3035583 and KB2976978).

  2. Perform routine housekeeping.  You do this every quarter anyway, right ?  The key things would be to uninstall any programs and browser helper objects that you no longer use.  Now delete the contents of the %Temp% folder, browser cache files, and the recycle bin. Perhaps the Downloads folder too.

  3. Take an image of the system partition - something I have had cause to be thankful for having on several occasions.  Also check that your last regular file backup is recent, complete, and recoverable.  Ensure these potential saviours are not on the disk that Windows 10 is to be installed on, and physically disconnect the media after they're written.

  4. Uninstall internet security, anti-virus, and firewall software just as soon as you have confirmed you have the installation kit, product keys or online account details necessary to enable it to be reinstalled in a later step. 

  5. Record the activation keys or serial numbers of any programs that require them.  Make sure you have a note of any passwords necessary to reinstall an application should it be necessary. 

  6. Save current device drivers.  It is unlikely these will be needed as Windows 10 does a good job most of the time, but it is always prudent to stash these somewhere. 

Now you're ready to kick off the upgrade.  Make sure the power cable is connected and if possible, provide a wired internet connection to speed things along.  There are a couple of screens to go through but after 5 - 10 minutes you are ready to get on with something else and pop back in 1 to 2 hours depending on the speed of your computer and the internet connection.  After the task is complete you have a few post upgrade tasks to complete.

  1. Reinstall your internet security, virus protection, and firewall software.

  2. Go to Settings and update Windows then restart when instructed. 

  3. If you have wigets or gadgets they will probably need to be installed again.  You may like to check that the most important programs are working as they should.  
     
  4. Check that the default programs are as you wish; make sure network folders are accessible; and confirm that System Restore is active.
     
  5. Take your first backup of the new system.  If coming from Windows 7 see if File History is better than your old program.

Now you're ready to check out the new features and have some fun with them.  Note that to get anything from the Windows Store - even the free apps - you will need a Microsoft account.  This is also necessary to make use of the (free) 15GB OneDrive storage that can be used for sharing photos etc.  You can use your existing email address to do this.

 

02/08/15

Permalink 02:44:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Having now installed Windows 10 several times a few gotchas and tips are ready to leave my fingertips.  Things normally (anecdotally 85% of the time) go well but I have personally encountered several failed installs so it is essential to take an image of your system partition before you begin.

  • Virus and firewall protection is removed as part of an upgrade.  Make sure you know your account details or license key ready for a clean install (not repair) after Windows 10 upgrade completes. This must be your first job after the last automated reboot.
  • Similarly Gadgets and widgets are likely to be messed with.  Simple to fix but preparation can ease the resolution.
  • Video drivers - If you have a second (or third) monitor prepare for all bar one to be disabled.  Also, screen resolution may be changed.  The (Nvidia 353.62) driver update I tried to resolve this failed.  However, sit back and bide your time: Windows will automatically get a default driver soon that works just fine.
  • One PC with an (AMD Radion) graphics card hung for 2 minutes at boot time.  Disabling the graphics driver removes the fault but causes lousy display.
  • Wallpaper may be messed with.  Under 10 you cannot use a library so all images will have to be moved to a common root.
  • Roboform password manager does not work in Edge - a second browser is therefore essential.
  • Internet Explorer is well hidden on a clean install - you can get to it fom the setup menu of Edge.
  • On at least one PC the taskbar got locked open and could only be rejeuvenated by restarting Explorer (from task manager) two or three times a day - there is currently no fix that I am aware of.
  • If you already have a Win7 or Win8 PC you must upgrade BEFORE doing an clean install - the activation key will not work otherwise.  Subsequent clean installs are not a problem as keys are now held in MS servers.
  • Some default programs are reset to their Modern equivalents, you may need to reassign after the upgrade.
  • System Restore may be left off and need to be manually enabled.
  • Although we lose control over updates we don't have to put up with loss of control over restarts after they are installed - Settings > Updates > Advanced > Notify to schedule restart.
  • Access control on shared and network folders can be reset to defaults so needs to be checked.

These are just the issues I have personally encountered.  The forums are full of other problems that some people have bumped up against.  However, as time goes by it is expected that Microsoft will address these issues by way of updates.  It is probably wise to ensure you have a clean system before you start by following the process described in an earier blog.

18/07/15

Permalink 08:07:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

A decent new printer/copier/scanner will cost about £65 currently so should you ditch the old printer at the first sign of a missed line ?

No.  Although it is not worth spending too much time trying to resurrect a typical domestic printer there are a few things worth attempting before sending it to landfill.  

Particularly with printers that are not used frequently, ink that is jetted through tiny holes will coalesce to form a barrier.  The best way of keeping the channels open is to run a printer cleaning cycle (off the menu of the printer itself) every month when you do your normal computer housekeeping.

If you notice problems and have been through the deep clean function of the printer the next step would be to take the offending cartridge(s) out and, after carefully protecting your local environment, blow air through the hole at the top; if no ink drops out it is time to replace the cartridge.

The next step on all bar the cheapest of printers is to remove all cartridges and get access to the print head.  This is often removable and is now ready to be dropped in an empty margarine tub with a little rubbing alcohol or white spirit.  Woosh it around and give it a gentle polish up with cotton buds.  Now take it out and dry it off with paper towels.  If you have a can of compressed air squirt some of that through the orifices.

Reassemble the  head and cartridges then run another cleaning cycle.  If it doesn't work now, it really is time to reach for your wallet.

17/07/15

Permalink 08:06:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Windows 10 (the last such release of Windows - the '10' to be gradually dropped) is due for release at the end of this month and will be a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8.1 users.  I have a pre-release beta test version running on a PC here in my workshop and am quite happy with it.  It is the start of a programme of delivery that sees 'patch Tuesdays' [one day a month when all updates are downloaded and installed] replaced with a 'software as a service' model whereby updates arrive whenever they are rolled out.  

There are quite a few changes but we are becoming increasingly accepting of change I think (or is that my Peter Pan persona talking).  It has been reviewed well and tested widely but as it is to remain free for a year I am suggesting that people hold off from installing it until others have had a chance to find the inevitable teething bugs.  

When the time to upgrade does arrive it is important to have an image of your system disk before any changes are made, as should any problems ensue it make reverting a whole lot easier. This is in addition to the regular backups that all right thinking people will be taking and testing frequently.

29/05/15

Permalink 04:58:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General

There could be many explanations for a message not being where expected.

1. It was never actually sent.  Many people do not notice that a message is sitting in their outbox, unable to be sent perhaps because of

  • a typo in the address or
  • malformed header or
  • blocking earlier message or
  • changed credentials?

2. The mail client successfully sent it to the SMTP server, but the SMTP server has not been able to forward it on to the next hop.

  • The SMTP server might be so busy that it has a backlog of messages to process, there might be a delay of several hours.
  • The SMTP server might have tried to send it, but the receiving server ?could not/would not? immediately accept it (deferral). The sending server will continue to attempt delivery, and most servers will do this for up to two days or more before bouncing the message back to you as undeliverable.
  • The receiving server may have rejected the message outright (blacklisted, spam scan, mailbox full, non-existent user) and the sending server either cannot or will not send a bounce message back to you.

3. The message was accepted by the receiving server, but?

  • The receiving server is backlogged and the message is sitting in a queue waiting to be processed/delivered.
  • The message was flagged as spam and dropped. This is bad practice since the message should have been rejected outright, but many servers do this.
  • The message was somehow undeliverable and either the server is configured to not send a bounce message, or the bounce message itself is undeliverable.

4. The message was delivered somewhere in your account, but?

  • Your e-mail client has not properly synced with the server
  • You are not looking hard enough
  • Most usually one (of potentially many) spam filters trapped it
  • Also perhaps the email is not ordered in the way you expect it
  • Perhaps someone else got to it before you, or 
  • You have another client (e.g. phone) that is setup to use POP and deleted it after collection

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.

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