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.

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.

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