Tech – for Everyone

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

Firewall Causes Connection Problem

Yesterday I received a call for help from someone who simply could not regain their connection to the Internet. My questioning revealed that they had recently followed some advice they had read on the Internet and installed a firewall on their computer. So I’d like to review for you some “firewall basics”, and share how I resolved the problem.

Firewall BasicsFirewall
1) You want a firewall.
2) You want ONLY one firewall running (this was the cause of my caller’s problem). Two will interfere with each other.
3) A firewall’s job is to allow, or deny, incoming and outgoing Internet connections, by instance, and so it must “learn” – from you – what programs to “allow” and which to “deny”. To avoid repeats, you will see a “Remember this answer?” checkbox. Use this feature sparingly.
4) Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows come with a firewall. These firewalls are adequate, but not necessarily the “best”. Their main advantage is that they function without hardly ever notifying the user of their existence, or asking questions. (In fact, most people are unaware that they already have a firewall.)
5) Almost every Internet Security “Suite” (every?) comes with a firewall. Also, there are many “3rd party” stand-alone firewall programs available.

Okay. Firewalls are “good”, and you want one. Unless your operating system is very old (older than XP SP2, and OS X) you have one… if it’s an old edition, get one.

When you install a new security suite, or 3rd-party firewall, the vast majority of them are ‘smart enough’ to turn the existing firewall off for you.. but occasionally they don’t — as what happened to my caller. The way to check is to open either Security Center or Control Panel (Sharing Preferences in OS X) and look at the Firewall status — there will be an option to “Enable/Disable Firewall”. Make sure the OS’s firewall (aka “Windows Firewall”) is off. (This simple act restored my caller’s Internet.)

[note: when troubleshooting Internet or file sharing problems, one of the first things to try is turning off your firewall (BRIEFLY). Misconfigurations can cause slow speeds, failures, intermittent failures, and other misc. weirdnesses.]

Today’s free download(s): The two “best” 3rd-party” firewalls are generally considered to be Comodo and ZoneAlarm. If you are not running a “suite” already, and would like a more robust and effective firewall, I would suggest one of those two.
The Comodo firewall is for the more advanced user, and is highly configurable. The ZoneAlarm is for those who simply want the protection and is my reco’ for most users.
Both these firewalls are “chatty” and will query you as they “learn” — Allow this? Deny this?
But this is good — when you see “Trojan.B_dwnldr.exe is trying to connect to the Internet. Allow or Deny?” — you’ll know to click “deny” and that you’ve been infected, and it’s time to get busy.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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May 12, 2009 Posted by | advice, Apple, computers, how to, Internet, Microsoft, troubleshooting, Windows | , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What Do The Dolby Numbers Mean?

Dolby 7.1 Must Be Newer Than 5.1, But Is It Better?

A reader wrote and asked me for some advice regarding a sound card.

Q: Paul — My son has been pestering me to buy “Audigy sound” for his computer. He is very much involved in some kind of online gaming world  and he says he needs this for better results. I have asked Capturehim to explain to me how this Audigy will make things better, but all I have been able to really grasp is that the item he wants is “Dolby 7.1”.

I am reluctant to purchase this additional item as only two Christmases ago Santa took special pains to make sure that my son’s computer could play all the latest games. I have checked, and his PC has Dolby 5.1.

Can you tell me why my son thinks he needs Dolby 7.1 to play today’s games?

A: First of all, a disclaimer: I am by no means an audiophile. I will do my best to provide a solid, computer geek answer (but I will also ask my more knowledgeable readers to assist and/or correct me) but I won’t dare get involved in parenting advice. I’ll try to be brief.

SBAudigy is a model name (a family of products) of Creative Labs—  a company practically synonymous with computer sound cards .. and it’s the company responsible for me becoming a tech, as they forced me to learn about IRQ’s and memory address spaces back in the early days.

Dolby is a audio format known for “noise” reduction, compression, and the ability to separate out discrete “channels” — which gives us the ability to create “surround sound” environments. It is this latter where the Dolby numbers come in.

The numbers represent the number of “channels” available. A “5.1” is a six channel ability and a 7.1 is an eight channel. The first number is ‘normal’ channels and the 1 is for a special, bass-heavy “sub-woofer” (designed to add psychological effect to thunder, and .. explosions).

The “channels” are assigned to an area — center, left front, right front, left rear, and right rear, and are intended to go to corresponding speakers. A “5.1” configuration is shown here.

In gaming, this can aid the player when audible clues are provided by the game designers.. for instance, stealthy footsteps may be sent to the left rear speaker, but not to any of the other speakers, and this could alert the player that an enemy is behind him (and to the left)… and it will probably be his only clue, before the enemy strikes.

A “7.1 configuration” allows the addition of two more speakers, as shown below.

What should be obvious now is that you need speakers (6, or 8) physically placed to take advantage of these “channels”. If all you have is two rinky-dink little PC speakers that came free with your system, or built into your monitor.. well, you really aren’t going to notice any difference between plain-old stereo, 5.1, or 7.1 .. so you need..

.. as I have written and explained to Santa a few times now.

Okay, maybe you won’t need an ultra-deluxe get-up like the GigaWorks, but you will need a really high-quality set of headphones, or a multi-speaker + sub-woofer speaker set.. and you’ll need 7 normal + 1 sub-woofer to make an upgrade from 5.1 to 7.1 really pay off.

Perhaps, instead of a new sound card, you might consider, instead, a “gaming speaker” setup to take full advantage of the 5.1 you already have, like the Logitech G51 Surround set.

Today’s free link: for those who found my explanation of Dolby inadequate or confusing, click here for the Wikipedia page which describes “Hertz” and “bit rate” and “lossy” and junk like that much better than I did.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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March 11, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, gadgets, hardware, how to | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Which Is Better, Ethernet Or Wireless?

This networking question was submitted by a reader recently, and I think it may be of interest to “everyone”.

Q: Paul, I am hoping for some guidance. I will soon be moving, and will have to set up a new network. I have three computers, a laser jet printer and a photo printer. My old network was wired and homenetworking worked well, but I have heard that the new wireless is faster.

Which is better these days, wired or wireless?

A: I hate ambiguous answers, but in this situation I really must answer, “that depends”. And I must also say that it really isn’t a case of one being “better” than the other.
In my experience, a “blended” network (both wired and wireless) is the most common.

Consideration #1: Mega-bits-per-second:
1) Wire “speed” is typically either 10/100, or 1,000(Gigabit).
2) Wireless “speed” is either 54 (g) or 270 (n).
… and your Internet is coming into your home at.. 1.5? 3? 6 Mbps?
(My point here is that, as far as sharing your Internet is concerned, even a very old 10 Mbps network is “fast” enough.)

Consideration #2: Stringing cable:
Most newer homes are built with Ethernet wiring, and so your network is already there (to a large degree), but for older homes a very real concern — should you choose to go Gigabit wired — is WirelessHomeNetwork where will the wires go? How will you get them upstairs?

This is not an insurmountable issue (and, you could hire a professional) but it may be that wireless is the best for you.

General advice:
* Networking gear defaults to the speed of the slowest component.
What that means is, let’s say you go and buy a brand-new Wireless -N router (technically, a “WAP”) that runs at 270 Mbps, and the adaptor on your 2 year-old laptop is a “G”, your connection will be at 54 Mbps.
And if the port on your Desktop is Gigabit, and your cable is Cat 5e or better (Gigabit capable), but there’s no Gigabit port on your router.. your LAN is running at 100 Mbps.

The trick is to make sure everything ‘matches’. For instance, in the first example (laptop), buying a Wireless-N PCMCIA card, or USB dongle, will now give you the 270 you bought the fast router for. And for the Gigabit example, a new router that has Gigabit ports will make things ‘match’ and give you a Gigabit LAN.

Last bit of advice: Buy the fastest gear you can afford. You may not get full advantage of it today, but it won’t be a bottleneck tomorrow.

Today’s free link: In today’s article I mentioned that there are alternatives to drilling holes in your wall/floor/ceiling, and one method is EoP (Ethernet over Power lines). This uses the electrical wires already in your home to send your 1’s and 0’s from device to device. Fellow Tech Blogger Bill Mullins has an informative article on this topic here,

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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November 16, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, gadgets, hardware, how to, Internet, networking, PC, performance, routers, routers and WAPs, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments