Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

A Good Guy Sings The Blues

Loyal friends of this site will tell you that I have a couple of “pet” topics which I return to, and they will remember that once a month, like clockwork, I used to run an article on the Windows disk cleanup and defrag tools, (such as, Revitalize Your PC With Windows’ Utilities*) and say that this is the proper way to “speed up your PC” and make it run like it did when it was new.

Sad Also once a month – like clockwork – I would polish up and re-post some article describing how many fewer unpleasant conversations I would have as a computer tech (my real job) if, and I repeat, IF the person had made a backup copy of their files.

Once a month, I would remind people that perfectly good hard drives will occasionally up and die for no apparent reason.

Once a month, I would remind people that some of the “infections” they can get hit with are now so nasty that the only trustworthy “cure” for them is to erase the hard disk and start fresh (called a “reformat”) which is much less of a big deal when you have a clean backup copy of your stuff.

But about six months ago, or so, I gave up that monthly reminding.

Those articles didn’t get reads – real ratings bombs, they were – and… well, let me put it this way: about a year ago I mentioned that in all the while I’ve been running Aplus Computer Aid, only one client had answered “yes” when I asked if they had a backup. (I’m up to three now.. three!)

Once a month, like clockwork, I used to ask people if they didn’t have irreplaceable photographs, music they had paid for, tax records, etc., on their machines, and was that their only copy? Hard disks malfunction and die, you know!

Sometimes, I think I managed to write so convincingly that at least two readers said to themselves, “he’s right. I really need to burn some CD’s”. But did they actually ever get around to it? I don’t know. I wouldn’t bet on it.

So, folks, what about it. Have you made a backup copy of your hard disk in the last .. oh.. say, two weeks? Two months?
Yeah. I know. There aren’t enough hours in the day…

Maybe these articles will help.
* How To Use Windows Backup Tool
* Enable ShadowCopy On Home Editions / XP
* Save Thousands With a Free Tool (You Already Have)
* Backup, Backup, Backup With Free DriveImage XML

Because, perfectly good hard drives will occasionally up and die for no apparent reason, and you may surf to the wrong site and have to do a reformat.

Note: alert readers will notice that I missed posting yesterday. That was because I was busy with an “emergency call” for help. Can you guess? Yup. Vital files. Hard drive failure. I mean.. mission critical files. In the end, all I was able to do was refer the client to a data recovery service, which would disassemble their drive inside a clean room and use sophisticated and expensive equipment to try to recover the 1’s and 0’s… which you can guess doesn’t come cheaply. My guess is they are looking at very close to $1,000.. if not more.

Last week, I bought a 50 pack of blank CD’s for $4.99.

Automatic “online backup” services, like Mozy or Carbonite are quite reasonable too… under $100/year.

If you have read this far, thank you. As a reward, I ask you – have you made a backup copy of your files in the last .. oh.. say, two weeks? Wouldn’t you feel better knowing there’s a copy somewhere should your computer die, or get stolen? Yes! You would! Get busy!

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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April 24, 2010 Posted by | advice, Backups, computers, file system, how to, PC, security, tech | 8 Comments

You have received an eCard.. WOT?

Have you installed the safer surfing WOT (Web Of Trust) toolbar yet? I install it on all my friend’s and family’s machines because its red – yellow – green “traffic signal” warning system is simple enough even for young children.

In this screenshot, it’s warning of a dangerous hyperlink embedded in a phishing email that’s attempting to get me to open what it says is an “eCard” (hoping I won’t look at the odd URL or “.zip” file type, as most people don’t). This screenshot shows a Hotmail account.

eCard_scam

..and should you be so foolish as to ignore (or.. simply not notice) the red circle, and click on the link anyway, and try to go to the website..

totalprotectwot

A warning ‘curtain’ (overlay) intervenes. It tells you why the website has “earned” the very bad red rating. You must click “Go to site” to proceed to the website itself.  [note: sample shown is not a download-able eCard, but a virus!]

These ratings are determined by you, me, and other Internet surfers… not some faceless giant corporation or government agency. It is “people driven”, and you get a vote. I urge you to check it out. Visit http://mywot.com today. Gain another layer of protection from online scams, “phraud”, “phishing”, and “rogue antivirus” programs .. like TotalProtect2009.
(See, Is that anti-spyware program really spyware?)

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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April 22, 2010 Posted by | cyber crime, Internet, Phishing, phraud, security | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Meet Someone Online

I overheard a conversation between two ladies the other day. One was expressing her frustration/anger due to her discovery that her new online friend was much older and heavier than showed in his photo…

Capture (2)

(note: I would gladly give proper attribution for this v.cool picture if I could figure out its source. It is [I believe] a spin off of the popular Demotivators posters..)

She seemed to be surprised by the discrepancy. Me? I always use a Tom Cruise picture… All joking aside: I hope this will remind you (and it might be a good idea to remind your children) that everything is not always as it appears.

And other times, they are: can you say “junk”?

spam folder

The Netherlands Lottery Says I've Won $2.5 mil

April 21, 2010 Posted by | Internet, security, spam and junk mail | | 6 Comments

Download and read Kindle books – no Kindle required.

For those of you who still actually read (a dying art), I thought you might like to know that Amazon has come out with Kindle e-Book reading software that you can download free.

The software (still in beta) can be installed on PC’s, Macs, iPads and iPhones, and BlackBerrys, with more “coming soon”.

With this program, you can…

“The Best Reading Experience for Your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, or BlackBerry

  • Shop the Kindle Store for over 480,000 Kindle books, including 105 of 112 New York Times® Best Sellers, starting from $9.99. If you are a non-U.S. customer, book pricing and availability may vary.
  • Read thousands of free books, including popular classics such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, and Treasure Island.
  • Get free book samples – read the first chapter for free before you decide to buy.
  • Whispersync technology saves and synchronizes your last page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights across your devices.
  • Adjust text size to make reading more comfortable.
  • Download and read Kindle books – no Kindle required.”

The “reader” software is free, the eBooks are not. This can be a good way to take reading material with you when you are on the go.

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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April 20, 2010 Posted by | computers, Portable Computing, software, tech | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What To Do When Your Mouse Plays Dead

Or Your Keyboard.

A PC without a functional mouse or keyboard is next to useless. So, I have assembled the steps to help you troubleshoot and repair your computer when the keyboard or mouse will not respond, and acts dead.

Step 1: Check Your Connection
If your mouse or keyboard used to work, begin by ruling out the most likely problem first — disconnection (for new devices, scroll down to Step 2). Believe it or not (BION), it’s fairly common for wired USB or PS/2 plugs to work loose, or detach from their port on the back of the computer. (A kitten is a likely culprit.. though I have had cases where the perpetrator was an inquisitive canine.) [BTW, the Troubleshooter’s Step 1 is (almost) always “Is it plugged in?”]

PS2_mouse_keyboardWith a USB device, you can simply unplug and reinsert the connector and see if your computer detects it. With an older peripheral that features a PS/2 plug (PS/2 mice have a round green plug, while PS/2 keyboards have a round purple plug), you need to shut down the computer before you reconnect the device.

[IMPORTANT: With a mouse or keyboard that uses a PS/2 connector, you need to turn the PC off before reinserting a plug into the port. Failure to do so could damage your computer.]

After the plug is firmly inserted into its port, turn on the machine again. Your “dead” mouse should work just fine.

Another connection problem is a malfunctioning USB port. To test your USB port, attach the mouse (or keyboard) into a nearby free USB port. If the device works, connect a “known good device”, such as a USB thumb drive, to the original port to see if it’s really broken.
[Note: it is advisable to plug “input devices” directly into a USB port on your machine, and not a hub.]

If the mouse or keyboard does not work in the second (or third) USB port, you may have a “driver issue” (which is fixable) or the device may be kaput. Keep reading, I’ll get to driver issues!

No wires? Wireless Mice get disconnected too!
Wireless input devices need three things to work properly:
1) a receiver/transmitter. Usually this is attached to the PC by USB, so refer to the advice above inre USB ports – make sure it’s plugged in to a working USB port.
2) power. A non-functioning wireless mouse or keyboard is 99% of the time caused by dead (or weak) batteries. Put fresh batteries in and…
3) a receiver/transmitter-to-device sync. connectWireless keyboard/mouse units need to “connect” to the the transmitter, and there will be button you need to press (sometimes this “connect” button is well-hidden). Do so. Some devices require you to hold down a button on both the receiver unit and the device — consult the manufacturer’s FAQ page if you need to.

For devices that are new, and have yet to work, or if the above did not fix the issue…
Step 2: Device drivers:
The place to look at your devices in Windows is Device Manager, which is fairly simply to get to .. if your mouse is working.Windows_key But since you’ve read this far, I have to assume it’s not. If it’s possible, borrow a mouse from another computer, or a friend to proceed with a driver reinstall. If that’s not feasible at the moment, and your keyboard is working, read through steps (below) first, then…

1) Press the Windows key and “R” to open Run.
2) type in devmgmt.msc, and press Enter. [note: Vista/Windows 7: use the left arrow (<– ) key to select “Continue”, and press Enter (If necessary).]
3) Hold down the Tab key and hit the down arrow key until “Mice and other pointing devices” is highlighted (selected).
4) Press, once, the right arrow key ( –> ) to “expand” that list, which will show the installed mice (and other pointing devices, like a notebook’s touchpad). A yellow triangle with a black exclamation point symbol will indicate a problem with the device.
5) Use the down arrow to highlight the troublesome mouse. Now hold down Shift and press the F10 key — which will open the context menu. Use the down arrow to highlight Uninstall, and press Enter. Answer “Yes, I’m sure.”
6) Reboot (restart the machine).

What happens next will vary. During the startup process, Windows will “find” that there is a mouse (or keyboard) installed, and it will try to automatically find and install the appropriate driver in a process called Plug N Play. Sometimes this works flawlessly, and you will see a balloon window tell you your “new device” is ready to use. If so, you are doing well.

Other times, Windows will not find the right driver (or a suitable generic) and it will prompt you to provide one – usually prompting you to insert the disc that came with the device. Locate the discs that came with your PC (or that you made when you first got it) and look for the appropriate CD. Fancy wireless multi-function mice (or keyboard) may have their own Install CD. Or there may be a disc that says “drivers and utilities”. Put it in and follow the prompts. [note: the keyword is “drivers”. Do not use the CD labeled “recovery”.]
If you cannot find the right driver disc, you may need to go to another computer and download the driver from the manufacturer’s website and copy it to a flash drive, and then carry it back to your malfunctioning unit. My series of articles on device drivers starts here, Plug-and-Play Doesn’t Work, Pt 1*

Hopefully, by this stage you have seen the “your new device is ready to use”. But you (probably) aren’t done.

7) If you did not download the driver, return to Device Manager, and highlight your mouse again, and open the context menu again, but this time select “Update driver software“. Let the “Automatic” search do its thing. This will give you the latest driver, and all the capabilities of your device.

Congratulations!.. or not?
Either you have now brought your mouse (or keyboard) back to life, or it’s still acting dead as a doornail. If it is, repeat the entire list of steps above. Surprisingly frequently, things work the second time around.. though that may seem illogical (hey, your dealing with computers, and they’re just goofy).

If after the second run through your device still doesn’t work.. well then it’s time to bring in a replacement. Fortunately, you can buy new mice (or keyboards) for well-under $20 — even wireless ones. Laptop owners who need new touchpads or keyboards, well that gets pricey and you may want to have a tech do the work, so most people buy USB or wireless and plug it in instead.

Related: DriversPlanet
From site: “DriversPlanet.com provides an easy way of finding drivers in one spot.”

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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April 19, 2010 Posted by | add device, computers, gadgets, hardware, how to, keyboards and mice, PC, Plug and Play, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Fix A Stuck LCD Pixel

“Stuck” screen pixels are usually a white, or red, or green, or blue, colored dot on your LCD screen, that remains “stuck” (fixed) with that one color. (Where as “dead” pixels are black, and generally cannot be fixed.) stuck_pixelStuck pixels frequently fix themselves (go away) with time – be that an hour, a day, a week, or a year.

If you have grown tired of waiting, and want to try to unstick the pixel, the standard method is to use a program to “flash” colors repeatedly to the area, forcing the pixel react. This is not always successful, and you may need to contact the LCD’s manufacturer, and discuss a replacement.

udpixel

UDPix screenshot

The program I use for this on computer monitors is UDPix (UnDead Pixel) which applies rapid display changes to a selected area for a period of several hours. You launch it, and drag a small, flashing rectangle over the problem pixel(s). You can continue using your computer while UDPix is running.

Today’s free download: UDPix
“UDPix is a simple program that helps you locate and possibly fix stuck pixels in your LCD display.”

For those of you who might want it, there is a good tutorial for using UDPix here. [note: I really do not recommend the alternative method mentioned at the top of the article under the title “UPDATE 1:”]

Related download: I have not personally tried this application yet, but another such tool is JScreenFix.
“JScreenFix is a software solution that can fix stuck pixels, reduce screen burn-in and improve the quality of images displayed on a screen.”

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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April 17, 2010 Posted by | computers, dtv, hardware, tech, troubleshooting | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Free Online TV

This week the number one download on ZDNet is Free Online TV Player 2.0.0.8.

The Internet is awash in video content, both the kind that originates on TV and the kind only intended for online viewing. The amount of content available on the Web makes the hundreds of cable TV channels we’ve all come to expect look like a drop in the entertainment bucket. Free Online TV Player is an easy way to access streaming video in a variety of genres from around the world.”

Which doesn’t really surprise me – “free” and “TV” and “online” all being rather popular words. String them together and you have a winner, surely.

I am not a fan of TV (IMHO, it rots your brain) but I went ahead and downloaded this program anyway, so I could test it out for my readers. Since it says I can view channels from around the world, maybe I would find some show worthy of my time and attention?

Publisher’s description:
Free Online TV Player uses proprietary technology that took us over one full year to develop. Our technology locates and plays over 750+ free online TV channels right over the Internet. You get live TV broadcasts daily from around the world. No TV card or hardware to install. Just live TV streamed directly to your PC via your Internet connection.

I found that it is true that there is a huge selection of channels to choose from, and out of the 6 that I tried, 5 didn’t work and one (the SciFi Channel) showed me a commercial that I could not skip, mute, or fast-forward through. While I liked the large selection of channels, and the ability to sort through the multitude easily (by sorting them into categories.. such as genre), I do have an odd quirk, I want to see the listing by shows, not by channels, and telling me what’s-playing-right-now would be good, too.

Now I admit that my very quick testing and poking around is hardly a fair assessment. I found it installed quickly, and uninstalled smoothly and properly. Small and lightweight, it looks sharp and the menu is easy to figure out. Popular channels are listed, as well as obscure titles. C/Net’s Editors give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, and as I said, it’s this week’s top download, so.. here you go: Free Online TV Player 2.0.0.8.

If someone is looking for an easy online TV viewing solution, this one is very good.” — Rick Robinette, What’s On My PC..

(Might be a great app for travelers and other road warriors… help pass the time waiting for the plane/train to board..!)

Related download: XBMC

Unrelated download:
Are you looking for a good way to sync your Outlook on multiple machines? One solution is SYNCING.NET.
PC syncing made personal

“With SYNCING.NET, keeping a desktop, laptop and notebook up-to-date in real time has never been easier or more cost-effective. We offer unique solutions for every type of individual and business. Secure data exchange solutions for your personal needs – and all without a server. 30-day free trial.”

  • Full Professional Edition functionality
  • 30-day free trial with no further obligation
  • Simple, user-friendly installation

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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April 16, 2010 Posted by | computers, dtv, Internet, PC, software | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments