Tech – for Everyone

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

Troubleshooting the Blue Screen Of Death

BSOD’s, spontaneous reboots, freezing, and “incorrect password” lockouts. Bad computer. Bad.

bsod.jpg

Ah yes, the Blue Screen of Death. I sincerely hope you never see this rascal. The BSOD, or more properly, the Windows Stop Message, occurs when Windows detects a problem from which it cannot recover. The operating system halts and ‘diagnostic information’ is displayed on a blue screen as a series of hexadecimal numbers (there actually are a few humans capable of understanding, and using this information to effect repairs…but as far as I know, they all live in Seattle) which, frankly, will be of little use to the average user. Usually, a simple reboot resolves the issue. But sometimes it doesn’t–you reboot, Windows loads, you get the Welcome screen, and bingo! BSOD. Wash/rinse/repeat. Aargh!!!

If this happens to you, the odds are pretty good that you have (quite recently) added a new device (or card) or memory module to your machine, or installed a program that your machine just doesn’t like.
If it was a module, device, or card, try removing it and restoring your machine to the way it was before the install. If you run for a day or so with no BSOD’s, then you can be fairly sure you’ve found the culprit. It may be that the device is defective. It may be that you didn’t install it exactly correctly [maybe it didn’t “seat” all the way into its slot?], or maybe your machine was being fussy the day you installed? Don’t give up on your new card/device/module just yet. Go to the manufacturer’s Website and download the latest device driver for your version of Windows, and “unzip” and install it (by double-clicking on the downloaded file). Then reinstall your card/device/module–taking extra care to fully seat it, and double check your wires and cables–and reboot. If it is a defective unit, it will not be long before our friend the BSOD revisits…return the unit to the seller (or manufacturer) for exchange or refund.

If you suspect a recently installed application (or…Microsoft Update) is the cause, then use the Add/Remove Programs tool to uninstall it. (XP+older: Start> Control Panel> Add/Remove Programs, Vista: Start> Control Panel> Uninstall a program.) [Note: in Vista, uninstalling Updates is done through Windows Update itself, not Add/Remove.]
If you are unable to get into Windows, reboot and start hitting the F8 key to get into Safe Mode. [For more info, click here] Again, run for a day or two, and if you do not experience any BSOD’s, you’ve (most likely) found the perp. Again, you need not despair and abandon the program. It may have simply been an incomplete or corrupted install that was causing the stop errors. Try reinstalling it, but first make sure that there are no other applications running–turn off your AV, your IM, and close IE. You will soon know whether it is simply an incompatible or poorly written application.

I am going to stop here, but I want to acknowledge that this is far from a complete discussion on all the possible causes (nor cures) for BSOD’s and the other woes mentioned at the top of this post. I will return to this topic again, and I invite your comments and critiques, and suggestions. I close by suggesting you also read my article on the Windows System Restore tool (click here) and reminding you that — should all your efforts fail, my services are available at http://aplusca.com.

Today’s free link: Sandra Lite from SiSoft. This is a benchmarking and system analysis tool that shows you a wealth of information about the workings of your computer, and detects areas that aren’t working as well as they should.

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

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May 3, 2008 Posted by | advice, BSOD, computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, Plug and Play, removing Updates, Safe Mode, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Geek+Spyware*

I want to apologize to you in advance for a word I will use in this blog from time to time, and that word is “geek.”

When I was a boy–many years ago now–“geek” was a completely pejorative and insulting word. A “geek” was typically a socially inept, small, quiet, know-it-all (who usually wore glasses) kid who couldn’t connect his bat with the softest-thrown baseball or catch a football to save his life…and he used big words all the time. Perhaps in your day you referred to ‘him’ as a Pointdexter, nerd, dork, or wimp. Back then there was no doubt or question about it–“geek” was a put-down: a derogatory statement. Period.

Today, I proudly declare: I am a geek. When I do, I am not broadcasting my pride in my inability to catch a football. (I can catch; and, even throw a tight spiral.) I am saying that I’m “into” computers and electronic gadgets, and I know a little about how they work.

At some point and time our common usage of the word “geek” has changed. It is no longer used strictly as a ‘slam’ and a put-down (however, if that is your intent, I believe the other words I listed above are still 100% negative…although Bill Gates may have softened the word “nerd” some…). If, in the course of reading this blog, you see me use the word “geek”–please rest assured that I am always using it with the nicest of meanings. I even use “geek” as a compliment. Really.

Tip of the day: A reader mentioned in a comment to yesterday’s post on defragmention that spyware, if it gets onto and runs on your machine, will cause it to (amongst other unpleasant things!) suffer performance degradation and make it run slower. I intend to spend a fair amount of time discussing malware, and spyware in particular, and how you can combat and remove it. I will return to this topic in the future. But for today I just want to make this point: If you connect to the Web, you need to run anti-spyware programs. Notice I that I wrote programs. Plural.

That fact is, no one anti-spyware application is 100% effective at stopping and removing spyware. There are many anti-spyware programs available and some are more effective than others. Some are great at stopping keylogger’s but fall down when it comes to Trojan Horses, and others are visa-versa…as an example. So I strongly recommend running two anti-spyware’s, in the hopes that one will catch what the other missed. (There are many free anti-spyware applications [and some are adware disguised as anti-spyware, (called “rogue apps“)] available. For my more detailed descriptions and a fuller listing of free anti-spyware tools, click here.) I cannot stress to you strongly enough to install and run some kind of anti-spyware program…and preferably, two. In that vein, today I will provide not one, but two, Today’s free links.

Today’s free link #1: AdAware SE Personal from Lavasoft. “Ad-Aware 2007 Free remains the most popular anti-spyware product for computer users around the world, with nearly one million downloads every week. Our free anti-spyware version provides you with advanced protection against spyware…”

Today’s free link #2: SpyCatcher Express from Tenebril. From site: “Allows novice PC users to remove aggressive spyware . Stops next-generation, mutating spyware. Blocks reinstallation of aggressive spyware. Removes spyware safely and automatically.”

*Original posting 6/13/07

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

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May 2, 2008 Posted by | advice, anti-spyware, computers, how to, Internet, PC, ransomware, rootkits, security, tech, Windows | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Run your defrag tool for a faster machine*

I am continuously surprised at how many PC users have let a year or more pass since their last defrag, or never have defragged at all. “Why is my machine slower than it used to be?” That is a very common question. It is a question with no single, or simple answer. Yet there is a single and simple step you can take which will improve the speed at which your machine reads and writes data, and which, if done regularly, will keep it at near the speed it had when it was new–it’s called “defragging” (short for defragmentation). Defragmentation remedies file fragmentation, which occurs, invisibly to you, over the course of time.

Tip of the day: It is commonly suggested that you run a defrag at least once a month. I recommend that you schedule your defrags to run automatically using Windows Scheduled Tasks tool. Set it and forget it, as the old saying goes. Here are the steps to do it:

1) Start>Control Panel, click Performance and Maintenance and then click Scheduled Tasks.
2) Double-click Add Scheduled Task to open the Scheduled Task Wizard, and then click Next.
3) Follow the wizard to set a schedule for when to run the defragmentation program (I recommend running it late at night, as it can take a while to complete), and be sure to supply a password for the account on which you want the task to run, and mark the checkbox “wake the computer to perform this task.”
4) Check the box for Open advanced properties for this task when I click Finish. On the Run line, add the drive letter for the drive to be defragged. For example, %SystemRoot%\System32\Defrag.exe c:

(This example is for XP, but you can do it in earlier–all the way back to Win 95–versions as well)

Another thing you can do is get rid of the files on your hard drive that you no longer need: such as emptying your Recycle bin and deleting your temp files (a quick, safe, and simple way is Windows Disk Clean Up tool) and there are some nice applications to automate and/or simplify this for you, such as today’s free link. Also, use Add/Remove Programs to remove applications you no longer use. Go to Start>Settings>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs and wait for the list to “populate”. Click on those programs you are certain you have no more use for and click on the Remove button.

Today’s free link: CCleaner CCleaner is a freeware system optimization and privacy tool. It removes unused and temporary files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster, more efficiently and giving you more hard disk space.

* Yes folks, I have posted this article before. I remind you that you should run defrag once a month at the minimum.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

jaanix post to jaanix

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April 30, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, PC, performance, tech, tweaks, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Leopard wins title of "best"

You might be aware of the long-running debate known as Mac vs. PC (personified by Justin Long + John Hodgman on the humorous “I’m a Mac” commercials). And you may be aware that there’s a debate whether XP isn’t a better OS than Vista. And, you may be aware that there’s a free OS, known as Linux, which has a few proponents who claim theirs is the best.

Which one’s the best? There’s an awful lot of opinions out there (and if you agree with mine, you’re really smart!), but has anyone every done a true, impartial test to determine which one really is the safest/fastest/most features/cost-effective/easy-to-use operating system today? Well yes, someone has– and the latest comes from PC Magazine‘s March issue.
[Yes, PCMag has long been accused of being a Microsoft puppet and/or shill. Look at the name, though: it’s “PC”, not “Mac Magazine” (and, yes, there’s one of those, too). But how do you write about personal computers and NOT write about Microsoft? Hmm?]

The article compares Mac OS 10.5.1 (the latest “Leopard”), Windows XP SP2, Vista, and Ubuntu 7.10 , and it compares them in these areas:
*Price
*Installation (ease)
*GUI (the graphical ‘look’)
*Bundled Software
*3rd Party Software
*Drivers/Hardware
*Networking
*Security

As you might expect, each OS won some categories, and lost in others; for example, Ubuntu is free, so it will clearly win the Price category, and since it doesn’t have a huge budget for graphic artists (and Linux folk aren’t afraid of the command line) it loses the GUI category. To see the results chart, click here.

The scores in each category were totaled to produce a winner, and the “Microsoft shill”, PC Magazine, proclaims Leopard the winner. (And, perhaps more interestingly, XP and Vista tied.)

My two cents: There are a few flaws in this comparison ‘test’ that shouldn’t be overlooked.
*Vista was tested before Service Pack 1
*The first three categories are largely non-factors: Price and Installation are largely irrelevant to most people. Most people buy a new computer, not an OS Install CD/DVD. And a GUI is a GUI– how pretty it looks has nothing to do with your computer’s operation.

I believe the most important factors are Security and 3rd Party Software.. followed by Drivers/Hardware.
In Security: Leopard wins.. not because its armor plating is more bulletproof, but because less than 3% of the world’s computers are running it and so hackers ignore it.
In Drivers/Hardware: XP SP2 wins.. but time will move Vista ahead as more drivers get written and pass MS’s WHQL.
In the all-important 3rd-Party Software category: XP SP2 wins.. but again, time will move Vista into the lead.

So clearly PC Magazine is wrong. XP SP2 is the better OS.. for now.

How can I say that? Games, baby. Games. There aren’t any for Macs.
And of course.. other programs. Walk into a store that sells software some time and look at the size of the Mac section and then the size of the PC titles. That tells you all you need to know.

OS’s and you: But which one is best for YOU? I agree totally with the author of the article in PC Mag (Eric Griffith): it depends on what you use your computer for.
If all you do is surf the Web, and you’re on a budget, Ubuntu is probably your best choice. If you’re a cutting-edge gamer, you probably will have to struggle with Vista for Direct X 10 titles. If you’re a network admin.. Red Hat is probably your OS (are you ready for Server 2008?).

But the fact remains, the OS you use will be the one that came with your computer. And as I mentioned in “Mac Myths“, which brand you decide to buy will probably be decided by which ‘camp’ you joined.. way back in the early days.

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

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April 25, 2008 Posted by | advice, Apple, computers, Gaming, hardware, Linux, Mac vs PC, PC, shopping for, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment