Tech – for Everyone

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

Improve Your Wireless (Signal) Strength For Mere Pennies

How can I boost my wireless signal strength?

Folks, in the past few weeks, I have been asked many times about what can be done to improve the wireless signal produced by a home router/WAP. A weak signal slows you down, can cause “connectivity issues” (aka “disconnects”) and – if you have roommates streaming videos/”downloading” – make your “web surfing experience” an exercise in frustration. So I think it’s time to repost this How To article..

Like so many things in life, there is no one, single, best answer; but, methods for achieving a stronger wireless signal, at a greater distance, include:

  • Replace your router’s firmware with a Linux-based system that allows for “antenna gain” adjustment. (Advanced) — free (some risk).
  • Add a “reflector” (Simple) — free. (and.. today’s video!)
  • Replace your antenna with a “signal boosting” (aka “range extending”) antenna, or a directional antenna. (Simple) — $25 -$50. (ths assumes your WAP has external, removable antennas.)
  • Upgrade to a Wireless N router. (Simple) — $100 (or less).

I recommend the last option. Wireless N routers are quite reasonably priced now (as low as $40). But, if you have some tinfoil, scissors, and glue, I can tell you that a parabolic reflector will improve your signal (aka “gain”) .. in one direction, and it won’t cost you much more than a few minutes of your time to try it!

This short video tutorial demonstrates:

And the template is here, http://www.freeantennas.com/projects/template2/index.html

And, you may want to look around the Internet some. There are, literally, thousands of these wireless signal boost “hacks” and tips. (No.. I never did try the Pringle’s can..)

Today’s quote:The important thing is not to stop questioning.” ~ Albert Einstein

Am I wrong? Something is kinda funny with that one? A little.. suspicious?

Copyright 2007-2012 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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March 26, 2012 Posted by | advice, computers, gadgets, how to, Internet, routers and WAPs, tech | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Computer? Decrapify it! (A How To)

If you are one of those lucky people and you now have a shiny new Laptop or Desktop computer, congratulations! There are several things one needs to do with a brand-new computer: the first will be to visit Windows Update, and get the machine ‘patched’ with the latest security Updates. (Click the Start button, click All Programs, and then click Windows Update.)

Then of course, you will spend some time “personalizing” the system — say, giving it your favorite “wallpaper” (or Theme), and installing your favorite programs. And then you want to de-crap-ify your machine.

What I mean by that, is remove (aka “uninstall”) the “trial” programs, and Polar Penguins Bowling games, and “Connect to AOL” crud that the computer manufacturers insist on loading onto the units they sell. This software “free trial” stuff can cause that new machine to slow to a crawl, and sooner or later, fill your screen with annoying pop-ups! (trial is over, buy now!)

Every year I tell you guys that the tool for that is the wonderful PCDecrapifier utility. This little tool gives you a simple and easy way to sweep away all that junk in one action, which saves you from the normal, one-at-a-time, method of Control Panel > Programs and features > Uninstall a program.

Click on image to read PC Decrapifier's "How It Works"

This year, I am also going to tell you that instead of re-inventing the wheel, I will refer you to an illustrated How To on a rival site (How To Clean Up your New Computer With PC Decrapifier). Which means even those of you with not a lot of confidence in your abilities can (read+follow) use this tool.
And I highly recommend you do.

And, if you have simply never gotten around to cleaning that trialware off of your not-so-new machine, well.. it’s not to late.

Today’s (other) reading reco: 2011: A year in review

“The year 2011 saw Android and Apple battling for mobile domination, with patents rivaling technology as the weapon of choice. We watched HP’s soap opera, RIM’s decline, and Netflix’s crash. We said goodbye to Steve Jobs. And the answer to most every question continued to be “the Cloud.” Read more..

Today’s quote:The more sympathy you give, the less you need.” ~ Malcolm S. Forbes

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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December 26, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What to Look for When Buying a New Computer

My Computer Shopping Guidelines

Some of you will be shopping for a computer this holiday gift-giving season, so today I will re-post some advice on what to look for in a new machine. I’m not going to get into a Mac versus PC debate. I am going to focus solely on hardware (the ‘capabilities’) options of a non-Apple desktop or laptop PC — though I understand that all anyone wants this year is an iPad.

Tip(s) of the day: What to look for..
* Laptop computers. Most of what I am going to recommend today applies equally to laptops and desktops with very few exceptions. Today’s portable machines (notebook and tablet PC’s) very nearly rival the hardware capabilities of a desktop (or “tower”), and some models market themselves as a “desktop replacement”. They have large hard drives for storage, can ‘burn’ dual-layer DVD’s, have nice large screens, can access the Internet wirelessly, and are fast. Some have high-end graphics adapters that can keep up with the latest games.

Where laptops are different is: they are comparatively more expensive, they (often) depend on a battery, and they’re limited in terms of “expansion”. Expansion, quite literally, is room to “add stuff”, commonly referred to as “upgrading”. For this reason, I advise (when purchasing a notebook/laptop/tablet) differently than when buying a tower/”box”/”desktop” – buy the most machine you can afford. (that means, faster CPU, bigger “Gigabyte” numbers..)
Also, I advise buying the battery “upgrade”.

If you have to penny-pinch, reduce the RAM and/or go with a smaller hard drive… because these are the two components on a laptop that it is relatively easy to “upgrade” at a later date, when your finances have recovered. The other things – CPU, graphics, motherboard, sound, etc. — are not so easy to swap out/upgrade. In a Desktop PC (“tower”) there is practically nothing you cannot replace: in a laptop you’re kind of stuck, so buy as high up the scale as you can. Not just what you think you’ll need today, but buy for tomorrow as well. Because that’s the way the machine will be for its lifetime. I would look for an i3/i5/i7 CPU.

When deciding which model laptop, do not forget to compare battery life (these stats are published). Also, and I can’t stress this enough, if buying for yourself, do not buy a laptop that you haven’t typed on. Yes, you can make your purchase online or out of a catalog, but go into a store and touch it first (sorry, all you Best Buy salespersons out there). Each keyboard and touchpad is different. Make sure you like the layout and “feel” of typing on the keyboard. There’s nothing worse (in laptop computing) than trying to work on a keyboard that just isn’t “you”–IMHO.

Considering a netbook? The portability of the compact netbook computers would certainly appeal to the student. For those who go this route, I would suggest the addition of an “external” hard drive (for more storage) as well as a DVD reader.

* Desktops: When considering which tower/desktop to buy, there’s basically three categories of machines; budget/student, workstation, and “performance”/gaming. Low, middle, and top-end. You can spend as little as $300 $250, or as much as $8,500. (Yes. $8,500. But, those systems are cool!) I have mentioned before that to do it right, you can get everything you want/need for $700 – $1,100 $399 – $899, and that even the budget machines have the “good stuff”.

My advice for what to look for in a desktop, is a little more flexible. First, decide roughly what you’d like to spend. If you really are in the $300 -500 $250-400 range, do not rule out “refurbished” machines. Factory rebuilt/refurbished machines are an excellent value. Any negative stigma they may have is largely unjustified.

Get the most RAM you can.I would not buy a PC today that had less than 4 GB’s.

If your machine is coming with Windows 7 (and most all of them are), you should look for 64-bit.

Go with a mid-to-high end CPU. The quad-core CPU’s from Intel are very good, and are my current preference. But you can save some dinero by choosing an AMD equipped machine. If it is in your budget, go quad-core.

Optical drives. Unless you really need a ‘high def’ burner and you want it right now, hold off on going for a “Blu Ray” burner just yet. Blu-Ray readers are available and should suffice. Two optical drives, while nice, is not a necessity. Do, however, make sure your “combo drive” can burn (”write”) to a dual-layer DVD.

Graphics. Most people do not need a $800 graphics card (only us hard-core gamers, and other boys-of-all-ages, do) nor do they need an “SLI” set up. However, whenever your budget allows, it is almost always better to have a “graphics card” than “onboard graphics”. Onboard graphics chipsets are built into the motherboard, and while they do a quite adequate job, they “share” your RAM … and by that I mean “steal” your RAM.
Please note, you can buy, and install a graphics card at any time..

Power Supply. Do not forget to check the Wattage of the machine’s power supply. Here is another area where more is definitely better. It constantly surprises me how many seemingly unrelated computer ‘glitches’ and quirks turn out to be caused by an inadequate or failing power supply. Shoot for one that’s rated in the neighborhood of 350W, unless you’re going for a more “loaded”, high-end performance machine — in which case 500W, or higher, is not unreasonable.

* Is space an issue? Consider a “small form factor” (aka “mini tower”) size. These smaller boxes fit on (or under) a desk much easier than a normal size. You can find some “bundled” with a 17″ LCD monitor.. perfect for the dorm.

Well, that should get you started. Buying a new PC should not be a stressful thing. It should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Just remember to test drive before you buy, and do a little comparison. It really doesn’t matter if you decide upon a no-name, a HP, a Sony, Dell, or whatever (see, Which is Better, HP or Dell? and/or Tech’s Most (and Least) Reliable Brands).

Today’s free download: For those of you lucky folks who will receive a brand new PC… Whenever you buy a new computer, it will come preloaded with all sorts of trialware (as it’s called) that most of us don’t want. If you have just purchased a new PC, download and run the wonderful PC Decrapifier and clean off that *stuff*.

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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December 15, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, shopping for | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Win 8 Part 2 | Restore the Menu Bar | PC Giveaways | More..

After I got Windows 8 DE installed (a quick and – for me – painless process) and got past the (painful) ‘bump’ that was my introduction to the Metro “interface” (see, My First Day With Windows 8 (Part One)) it was time to start doing the post-install steps, and also my “customizations” to make the computer “more me” – things like setting a Desktop wallpaper, and configuring some settings to my liking.

I was able to skip right to “tweaking” (aka “customizing”), as Windows 8 detected all my hardware and installed the appropriate drivers automatically.. even my old webcam (impressive) .. and even the wireless network printer (not directly connected)(even more impressive). There was only one ‘glitch’ – even though the printer was detected and appeared to be “installed”, it would not get out of “offline mode” and actually print. So, I “deleted” it, and then clicked on “Add a printer”, then on the device, rebooted, and badda-bing, badda-boom – working printer. Just too easy.

So the first thing I did was to get rid of a ton of those Metro “secret squares”, as they are utterly irrelevant to me, by right – clicking on each one and either choosing “unpin” or “remove”. Then I simply dragged the remaining squares into an order/arrangement more to my liking. I had found that I had to research on the web how to interact with Metro, so I had read Paul Thurrott’s 8 Is Enough: Post-Setup Configuration.
Learn about the new Task Manager, and more – click the link.

Today’s Quick Tip: I am just “old school” enough that I prefer just having my menu bar visible in Explorer.. having to press Alt is not “cool” and “neato” to me. So.. “tweak that”.

In older versions of Windows, the menu bar was always visible in Explorer. In Vista and Windows 7, the menu bar is now hidden by default, and you must press the ALT key to see it. These simple steps will cause it to always be visible.
(The “menu bar” gives you the familiar File | Edit | View |Tools | Help ‘drop down’ menus)

1) Launch Explorer by opening Computer (or Documents, or Pictures..), then press ALT to access the menu bar.

2) Click on Tools and then on Folder options.

3) In the Folder Options window, click on the View tab, and click to place a check in Always show menus.

menus

4) Click on Apply and then OK.

That’s it. You’re done. (Should you decide you prefer the “more screen real estate” no menu bar look, simply repeat the steps and un-check the box.)

Today’s free download and first giveaway: (an “oldie but a goodie”) It has been a while since I have mentioned one of my fave little computer protection apps – WinPatrol.

Clean up your Taskbar, ActiveX, Brower and Startup programs. WinPatrol monitors and exposes adware, keyloggers, spyware, worms, cookies, and other malicious software. This program puts you back in control of your computer with no need for constant updates.
Download WinPatrol (Window XP, Vista, Windows 7 including x64 support)

To help celebrate Scotty’s 14th birthday, BillP is giving away – PRIZES to Thank you for your support

Happy Birthday Scotty!

On November 19th, 1997 the first release of WinPatrol was made public and generated 1252 downloads. This year is the 14th anniversary of WinPatrol and we’d like to celebrate it with a bang and plenty of prizes.

Click here for the 4-1-1.

Here’s another sweepstakes you might want to know about..

Perhaps we’ve gone a little overboard this holiday season? Nah, we didn’t think so either. Enter the Windows and Southwest Airlines® Holiday Sweepstakes for a chance to win:

  • A Windows 7 PC…every day
  • One of 10 Epson® Artisan® 730 printers
  • Or the grand prize of free flights for a year on Southwest Airlines®

Click here for the 4-1-1.

Sure they did….

Today’s quotable quote:The thoughts of Plato and Machiavelli… don’t seem quite enough armor for a world beset with splitting the atoms, urban guerrillas, nineteen varieties of psychotherapists, amplified guitars, napalm, computers, astronauts, and an atmosphere polluted simultaneously with auto exhaust and TV commercials.” ~ John Fischer

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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November 16, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, free software, how to, Microsoft, PC, software, tech, Windows 8 | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

It’s a cat’s life…

This morning was one of those mornings I came out to find the Windows “welcome screen” waiting for me, instead of my work-in-progress (and open websites), which meant that Windows Update had reboot-ed my machine; which is a pretty good indicator that yesterday was Patch Tuesday.

No, I didn’t lose any work.
Because now we have cool built-in “save my bacon” things like “autodraft”; and modern browsers will remember my “tabs”, and offer to “restore” my “session” – etc..

It wasn’t always like this.
Long ago, now, back in what I call the Jurassic Period, whenever I was working on a computer I would end each sentence I typed with a period and a Ctrl + S (the “keyboard shortcut” for the Save command).
That was because Windows 95 might freeze, “lockup”, spontaneously reboot, or just BSOD at any given – totally random – time, for no (apparent) rhyme and no (apparent) reason. And seemed to like doing it.

By the time Windows 98 Second Edition came along, things weren’t quite so bad, and my habit softened and mollified itself to typing Ctrl + S at the end of every paragraph.
I maintained this habit right up through the second “service pack” for Windows XP.
With that release, “Windows” and the word “stable” (in Geekspeak, “stable” means “doesn’t crash too ofen”), could actually be used in the same sentence..

Where am I going with this..? Oh. Yes. I remember: some time ago now I wrote two articles I would like to put in front of you again.. in case you missed them.

Finding my computer reboot-ed this morning didn’t bother me because I know a rather important fact – updates are our friends, and we want them. Please see Learn to love the pop up.

And I realized just how long ago it was I dropped my Ctrl + S habit.. and I marveled at the fact that my (main) Windows 7 computer has not had a single BSOD. (And I’ve been running Win7 since the RC.)
Not a one! Please see, It is time to face facts and finally dump Windows XP

Today’s free download (reader submitted): MAGIX Xara Xtreme Photo & Graphic Designer 5 Silver Heads up! The free download is only available until November 24, 2011. (retail $90)

Do you enjoy photography and love photos? Do you want your photos to look flawless and give them a versatile, creative design? Then Photo & Graphic Designer 5 is the optimum solution for you.

Note: Just make sure you UNCHECK the Magix Ask Toolbar if you don’t want it (you probably don’t want it :) And you have to register to get the code so use an email you don’t care about. (I will go further: you do not want the Ask toolbar.)
Thank you, Dear Reader (you know who you are).

More reco’s:
* Six Ways to Protect Yourself from Duqu

Security blog Dark Reading features a post today by Kelly Jackson Higgins called “Five Things To Do To Defend Against Duqu.” Some of the suggestions make more sense than others. PCMag.com Lead Security Analyst Neil Rubenking adds a sixth rather important suggestion.Read more..

* Jason Hiner’s 10 best tablets of 2011 [Updated]

New tablets have hit the market week after week throughout 2011, but here are the 10 best that are worth your attention, and your money.Read more..

Today’s quote:It isn’t so much that hard times are coming; the change observed is mostly soft times going.” ~ Groucho Marx

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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November 9, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, gadgets, mobile, tablet PC, tech | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fix Windows 7 Blackscreen (a How To)

Why is my screen black when I start Windows 7?

Video adapter problems are the most common cause of this issue. First, try to find out if there’s a problem with the cables you’re using or the way they’re connected. If you have an alternate way of connecting your monitor to your PC, try it. For example, if your monitor is connected using an HDMI connector, try disconnecting it and then connecting with a DVI or VGA connector instead.

Note

Note:Always turn off the power to your computer and all external video devices before plugging them in or unplugging them.

If you’re using multiple monitors, try using just a single monitor. If this solves the problem but you’re not using the cabling options you ultimately want, attach the cables back to the way you want them, remove all floppy disks, CDs, and DVDs from your computer, and then try the following troubleshooting procedures, in order. If the steps in the first procedure don’t fix the problem, move on to the next procedure.

Use the “Enable low-resolution video (640×480)” startup option, and then update your video adapter driver

Boot into Safe Mode

  1. Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, click the arrow next to Shut Down, and then click Restart.
  2. Do one of the following:
    • If your computer has a single operating system installed, press and hold the F8 key as your computer restarts. You must press F8 before the Windows logo appears. If the Windows logo appears, try again by waiting until the Windows logon prompt appears, and then shutting down and restarting your computer.
    • If your computer has more than one operating system, use the arrow keys to highlight the operating system you want to start in safe mode, and then press F8.

Next

  1. On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight Enable low-resolution video (640×480), and then press Enter.
  2. Log on to your computer with a user account that has administrator rights.

If you can see your desktop, there’s a problem with your video adapter. Try updating your video adapter driver. For more information, see Update a driver for hardware that isn’t working properly.

If these steps solve the problem, you’re done. If not, go to the next set of steps.

Start the computer in Safe Mode and disable your video adapter

  1. On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight Safe Mode, and then press Enter.
  2. Log on to your computer with a user account that has administrator rights. When your computer is in safe mode, you’ll see the words Safe Mode in the corners of your monitor.
  3. Open Device Manager by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Security, and then, under System, clicking Device Manager. Administrator permission required If you’re prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  4. In the list of hardware categories, expand the Display adapters category. Make a note of your display adapter.
  5. Right-click your display adapter, and then click Disable. When prompted for confirmation, click Yes.
  6. Close all open windows and restart your computer normally.

When your computer restarts, if you can see your desktop, there’s a problem with your video adapter. Try updating your video adapter driver. For more information, see Update a driver for hardware that isn’t working properly.

If these steps solve the problem, you’re done. If not, go to the next set of steps.

Start the computer in Safe Mode and run System Restore

  1. On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight Safe Mode, and then press Enter.
  2. Log on to your computer with a user account that has administrator rights. When your computer is in safe mode, you’ll see the words Safe Mode in the corners of your monitor.
  3. Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, type “system restore” in the search box, click System Restore, and then click Next. Administrator permission required If you’re prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  4. Choose a restore point when your PC worked as expected, click Next, and then click Finish.
  5. Restart your computer normally.

If these steps solve the problem, you’re done. If not, try repeating the steps and selecting an older restore point (if one is available). If that still doesn’t solve the problem, contact your computer manufacturer or technical support for further assistance… such as myself (shameless plug).

Today’s free download: Fences Your tool for a clean desktop. (requires .NET Framework)

It wasn’t five minutes after installing Fences that I realized I’d be using it for the rest of my computing life. It’s that good.” – PC World
To learn more, click here.

Today’s quote:Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.” ~ Unknown

Bonus: Does anyone know why I am still getting these?

A: because, hard as it may be to believe, some of you out there are still responding to them. Ah, that P.T. Barnham was so, so right…
Sorry, “Vladimir”. I never open emails which have “!” (nor, “!!!”) in the Subject, so I guess you’ll have to try someone else.. maybe someone named “mark”?

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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November 7, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, Microsoft, PC, software, tech, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which Portable For My Daughter?

A Reader Writes In With A good Question..

Q: hi, I am trying to buy a tablet/ipod/multimedia machine for my daughter for christmas.  She is 7, so usage will be music, games a little surfing on utube and various online games! I am getting such mixed reviews and when i go into a store they are all trying to sell me a note book – this i do not want! (we have laptops etc) So which should I go for? the Samsung galaxy s multimedia player 8g or a ipod touch or a budget tablet such as Arnova10 G2?? Please help! i am not techy and need some advice from someone in the know!
Many Thanks, L

A: L,
All three would work.

That isn’t what you wanted to hear, I am wagering.. so let me opine a bit.

I think of those 3 choices, the first and last are more “likely” – as the iTouch screen is a bit on the small side, and so use for it is more like the hand-held gaming consoles (PSP, Gameboy) and music players (iPod), and less for Netflix and YouTube watching.

I think all you need is what is sometimes called an “Internet tablet”.
I think you would prefer a 7″ screen, as the 10″ are big enough to be awkward and .. well, less ‘portable’.
You would want Flash (for YouTube).
And Wi-Fi.
8 GB’s holds lots of songs.. but not too many movies.. probably 8 is “big enough”.

So.. something like your 3rd would be my inclination – and I like the idea of cheaper, as your daughter is still rather young and things happen.. less of a loss. But that’s just me. My “logic”.

Unfortunately/Fortunately, almost everybody and their brother is producing a “budget” (or.. “basic”) 7″ tablet, so you’ve many to choose from. Sony has one. Acer. Samsung. Etc., etc..
As to which of  those to choose, my own personal drothers is the one that’s on sale. But other people have other criteria.. maybe one has a pink case? (Just a “what if”. I am not presuming your daughter likes pink.)

Perhaps this web page will help: http://tablets.findthebest.com/ at least maybe in a “comparison” way. But if the unit has those things I mentioned: Wi Fi, Flash Player, 8 GB’s it should cover the bill.

Also.. If you are trying to decide between two basically identical units .. I would go with the one that has the recognizable name brand.. or, more RAM.

Hope I helped somewhat. Perhaps folks who have recently made such a decision as the one you are facing will Comment (below) and help out, so check back here..

Today’s free download: PDFCreator

“PDFCreator easily creates PDFs from any Windows program. Use it like a printer in Word, StarCalc or any other Windows application.”

Today’s quote:Most people know more about their congressmen via smear campaigns than they know about their own neighbor via conversations, and a lot of people know more about Britney Spears via tabloids than they know about their own congressmen via voting booklets. Does anyone else see the problem here?” ~ Brock Fiant

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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October 29, 2011 Posted by | advice, Android, computers, gadgets, hardware, Internet, iPhone, mobile, Portable Computing, shopping for | , , | 10 Comments