Category Archives: Technology, computers & software
Things you should know about technology & the internet.
This is part one of a three part review and mini guide. I find blog pieces more easily digested when delivered in short bursts; as all human beings are essentially the same, I figure you might as well.
Our Linksys WRTG53GS started to show its age. We saw the NETGEAR N900 (R4500) Wireless Dual Band Router at Costco (check your local Costco for availability) for a fair price ($120) and indulged. The following quick review is a summary of my overall impressions of the router after owning it for a month accompanied by a short guide to help you quickly set up and secure your home network with this router.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth review of this product try this one at PCMAG by Samara Lynn. It is more detailed and has benchmark testing for both the 2.4 Ghz and 5GHz bands.
Ever since I built my new Windows 8 PC I’ve been having trouble getting it and our Windows 7 laptop to see each other and share files on the home network. I figured the WRTG53GS had something to do with it but was never able to pin the problem down and resolve it. When in doubt, buy a new router… Well, not really. The WRTG53GS has served us fine during the 8 years we’ve had it, but technology has moved forward and you know what they say; for every 1 year you own a piece of tech 7 years pass in the technological world… Or is that dogs?
The router is the most important piece of your home network. Modern routers come with the latest security standards, better range, convenient family friendly features, ironed out software interfaces and more. If you’ve had your current router for more than 8 years it might be time for something new. To get a faster wireless network your other devices will need to be up to snuff as well. Any device (smart phone, laptop, tablet, game system, etc.) you wish to connect to your wireless router needs to be capable of Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, and–as in the case of this router–capable of dual-band. This is not going to be a problem if you’ve purchased your most recent tech within the last 5 years or so. In my case the only additional purchase I needed to make to facilitate a faster network was a wireless dual band USB adapter for my PC (at a cost of $25, which I will review at a later date).
First, lets clarify something that may be confusing for folks that just want to plug and play and don’t have the time to be as tech savvy as they would like.
Dual Band does not mean your device will use two connections to connect to your router to make one faster connection. Dual band routers use two different frequency bands; 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
- 2.4 GHz properties: Greater range. More channels, but you should only use channels 1, 6, and 11 due to signal over-lapping. This frequency also succumbs to interference and crowding.
- 5 GHz properties: Much shorter range. Practically no interference.
Most of the time you are going to want to use the 2.4 GHz, especially if you are in a large house. In my case, I’m in a small apartment and the router is in direct view of my USB Wireless adapter on my PC, thus my 5 GHz wireless network connects at twice the speed (of the 2.5 GHz) to my PC.
Remember, NOTHING IS FASTER THAN THE ETHERNET CONNECTION. If the primary use for the router is gaming or movie streaming those devices should be close enough to the router to plug in an Ethernet cable.
I previously talked about how I use Dropbox to guarantee I’ll never lose any of my fiction to catastrophic hard drive failure. Today we’ll discuss how I go about backing up our family photos, movies, MP3’s and various other files we value.
I built my PC with 3 Western Digital Cavier SE 160GB hard drives. Two of these drives are set up as a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) 0 (zero) array and therefore act as one big drive of around 300GB. In a RAID 0 array, data are broken into blocks, called stripes, and alternatively written to each drive simultaneously to increase speed. This increase in performance is barely noticeable during normal desktop operations until you need to copy or move large files around (making RAID 0 far more suitable for folk that use their PCs to edit video).
It’s worth mentioning here, for the ultimate in backup plan redundancy and mindless, worry-free operation it would have been more logical for me to go with a RAID 1 array with all 3 hard drives in it. With RAID 1, data are copied seamlessly and simultaneously, from one disk to another, creating a replica, or mirror. If one disk gets fried, the other(s) can keep working. Doing this would end your backup woes in one fell swoop and eliminate the need to further utilize a backup program to secure your data.
My decision to implement RAID 0 in my recent PC build was purely whimsical. I’ve never done one before and wanted to test drive it to try and squeeze the most speed I possibly could out of the new PC. I use the third hard drive for regular daily/weekly backups and an external USB drive once a month for extra redundancy. The following diagram shows how it all works together.
In this diagram you can see I have my backup drive (DISK 1) divvied into three partitions:
- One partition at the beginning of the hard drive for the Windows Page File (P: 9GB, I’m not sure if this practice is necessary in Windows 8. I always did it with my XP installs and figured it couldn’t hurt. If anything it always helped keep the hard drives from becoming too fragmented).
- A 90GB second partition for backup (B:).
- A 50GB partition for a nifty new feature in Windows 8 called File History (F:).
Using the free and very reliable backup software FBackup 4.8 I run the following backup jobs:
- A mirrored back up of the individual user directories (C:\Users\******) every Monday at 3:50PM to a folder on the Backup drive (B:) called Documents Backup.
- A mirrored backup of the public directories (C:\Users\Public\Documents, …\Music, …\Pictures, …\Videos—basically all our shared documents) every Monday at 3:40PM to a folder on the Backup drive (B:) called Shared Files Backup.
- Additionally, I run a manual mirrored backup of the entire B: partition to an external USB hard drive once a month.
WINDOWS 8 FILE HISTORY, A WRITER’S BEST FRIEND
On top of all this backing up and Dropbox file sharing/protection, I’m using Windows File History as well. File History is designed to back up your files on a continuous basis, so you can easily revert to a previous version of a file or restore a deleted file. It’s an added layer of protection that runs in the background once you set it up.
I have it set to use the 50GB F: partition of my backup drive. It saves copies/versions of my personal files every 3 hours and will keep the oldest versions of my files until space on drive F: is needed.
I’m pretty meticulous about my files. I don’t tend to delete things I need but it has happened and File History will be there for me should I goof or just need a previous version of a story I was working on.
And there you have it folks, a completely foolproof, utterly redundant backup plan for you to emulate! If anything, what I want you to get out of this is backing up to the same drive your operating system is on is NOT a backup plan. I’m sure many of you are thinking, ‘Well thank you Captain Obvious,’ but you’d be surprised at how many people do this.
BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP…
Noun: redundancy n’dun-dun(t)-see
(electronics) a system design that duplicates components to provide alternatives in case one component fails.
Repetition of an act needlessly.
There is no reason to not have a near foolproof backup plan for all your data these days. Hell, I still remember using slow and overpriced tape drives to back up my data and 5GB hard drives that cost $500 or more. You kids today have it easy.
NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE BACKED UP
You start by coming to grips with what needs to be backed up. The average computer user does not need to backup everything on their C: drive. Any truly catastrophic hard drive failure is going to result in you reinstalling your system no matter what, and reinstalling to your computers previous state is not going to happen from a simple backup of your entire C: drive. That would involve creating an image of your C: drive which is beyond the scope of this article.
The only files you need to backup are those files which you create. For writers this is obviously all your stories plus the notes and research for them. For artists it would be the image files you’ve made. The average user needs to throw in the family photos, videos and music collection. Out of all these things, as an artist, writer or both, the files that need to be backed up the most are those that you have created. Family photos are important, but they don’t need to be backed up on a daily or even weekly basis.
A GOOD BACKUP PLAN STARTS WITH THE FOLDER HIERARCHY
The easiest way to explain this would be to illustrate my own backup plan. For starters, I use Dropbox for my documents. By my documents I don’t mean the entire obligatory My Documents folder indigenous to Windows. Every program and its distant relative places a bleeding folder or file there. By my documents I mean those files I have created.
Having an organized, clear and well defined folder hierarchy will make backing up what’s important a whole lot easier. In My Documents folder are the following subfolders:
- Art – where I keep any artwork I’ve created in GIMP, either for this blog or personal goofing around.
- Cyberlink – F—k knows why this was created.
- Dropbox – my Dropbox folder where I keep all my fiction, non-fiction, useless blathering and anything else I deem far too important to loose.
- DVD Profiler – a program that catalogs our extensive movie collection stores its data here.
- GALLERY CLIP ART – clip art I’ve downloaded off the internet for use in various projects such as my gaming cheat sheets.
- Gaming – this is where I keep all the gaming cheat sheets and various other gaming related projects of mine.
- My Received Files – this is where various programs store files sent to me.
- My Shapes – a folder Visio creates.
- My Weblog Posts – a folder Windows Live Writer uses.
- Notes – a Windows Journal thing I haven’t experimented with because I don’t own a tablet.
- Publisher Projects – this is where I keep various projects I’ve created in MS Publisher.
- Technology Notes – this is where I keep my Technology Scratch Pad (a notepad I record various issues I’ve had with my PC and how I solved them as well as other tech tips and tricks) and various other Batch Files I’ve created.
Because there is just myself and my wife in this household I store all our music and pictures in the Public folders to eliminate unnecessary duplication. This also allows our Sony Blu ray players and Xbox 360 access to these files and can therefore display/play them on our televisions. Out of all this data the only files I would absolutely go bat-shit-crazy over losing are those in the Dropbox folder; my stories.
The key to a foolproof backup plan is redundancy. Using Dropbox creates a level of redundancy that is more than adequate for our needs. Dropbox works like this: You install Dropbox on every PC you own, there is even a phone app for it. Dropbox then creates a folder called Dropbox on each PC and device you installed it on (I change the default location of the Dropbox folder to C:\Users\**********\Documents\My Documents\Dropbox).
Any file you place in the Dropbox folder will be duplicated and synchronized with every Dropbox folder on all the devices you installed Dropbox on. Not only that, but if you can’t get to your PC or laptop you can still access your Dropbox files so long as you can get on the internet to access the Dropbox site.
You now have up to date copies (backups) of your most important files on every device you own plus the copy that resides on the Dropbox servers (offsite backup). Best of all, you can get up to 6GB (with a little song and dance) of Dropbox storage space for free. I have 6.9GB of free storage space, more than enough for simple text documents.
Now, if you really wanted to simplify your life and make backup a total breeze, you could always pay for additional space from Dropbox and store everything from family photos, videos to your entire MP3 collection with no worries. Their rates are pretty reasonable, 100GB for $9.99 a month (you can save 17% by paying $99 for the entire year). 100GB is a whole lot of space for the average user, especially if you don’t have many home movies to worry about.
In my next installment I’ll discuss how I go about backing up the rest of my important files. Thank you for reading and stopping by.
One day I’m getting my research done in a reasonable amount of time and the next I’m having nightmare flashbacks to 56k modem days.
Part of the reason for my extended absence from the blogosphere (oh look, I used a trendy word… Stop it, b33m3R, stop it right f—ing now) was due to our old desktop PC. Windows XP and an AMD Athlon XP 2800+ processor simply can’t handle all this new fangled fancy math these younger and more “hip” programs throw at them these days; freezes up quicker than a conservative being reminded it was Ronnie Raygun that said “deficits do not matter.”
We picked up Windows 8 for $40 from Micro Center and this barebones kit from TigerDirect. With the exception of the CPU cooler (no way was that bloody thing going to fit in that case) they sent, it was a pretty easy build, albeit a boring one. So, lets talk Windows 8 instead.
Metro is a nice place to browse the news and read your mail while you drink your coffee in the morning but when you get down to business you won’t be seeing it much.
So what’s the skinny on Windows 8?
Some people are acting like Windows 8 is the new Windows ME and it’s just not so. I think most of these people weren’t around when ME was released and even more of them do not understand the technology. Windows ME was trying to be Windows XP built on the code from Windows 95–which ran on top of DOS–Disk Operating System–and most computers back than still ran a paltry 256MB worth of memory. It was a nightmare.
As far as I’m concerned, and coming from an aging XP machine, Windows 8 is a vast improvement. We have a laptop running Windows 7 and the only real difference between Windows 7 and 8 (visually) is the Windows 8 Metro interface that is meant to work better with touch screens. And I suppose it does, I wouldn’t know, I’m not a fan of a touch screen in a desktop productivity environment.
METRO, the APP Store and widgets…
The new Metro Start screen is refreshing. I’ve been staring at that Start button since 1995 and welcome the change. I’ve always been one to eschew the cluttering of desktop icons in favor of organizing my start menu with folders labeled ‘PRODUCTIVITY,’ ‘GRAPHIC,’ “AUDIO/VISUAL,’ etc. and filling them with the appropriate app shortcuts. The new Start menu not only makes this task much more simple, the programs are easier to navigate. The new Start screen is a much more efficient Start menu.
Unless they have an active live tile that actually updates itself the Start apps are all but useless in a desktop productivity environment. You can only open one at a time and switching between tasks is a chore in Metro, especially with a mouse. I can see why a lot of people are frustrated with this aspect of the OS. The desktop widgets in Windows 7 made more sense.
The People app is a fantastic idea and it works well for the most part and live tiles are a wonderful addition to see when you start up your computer, however, Metro is a nice place to browse the news, see fleeting pictures of your kids, and read your mail while you drink your coffee in the morning but when you get right down to business you won’t be seeing it much. It is not the deal breaker that many make it out to be though, if you miss the old Windows look that much you can always get it back.
F—k Charms learn to use keyboard shortcuts…
Windows 8 will make you learn keyboard shortcuts. This is a good thing. If you’re still fussing with a mouse to get to the control panel instead of hitting the Windows + X keys you’re wasting a lot of time.
Setting up multiple monitors is a breeze now…
Windows 8 does a lot of things really well. Dual monitors for instance. You used to have to install a third party program to properly set up multiple monitors in Windows. Windows 8 handles all this on its oddy-knocky and it is entirely customizable. Each monitor’s taskbar will show the taskbar buttons on the monitor where the window is open. I’m very pleased that Microsoft has integrated these mechanics into the core of their OS, I’ve always felt this is where this functionality belonged.
Backing up is second nature…
As a writer File History makes backup a breeze. Backup is no longer something you need to loose hair over. Sure, it’s not as simple as turning on File History, and I’m not saying it should be your only plan but Windows 8 eases the pain. I plan to blog more on efficient backup plans for the working writer at a later date so I’ll leave it at that for now.
The best features are under the hood…
Technically speaking Windows 8 is much more efficient than its predecessors. It’s better at preserving battery life on laptops and tablets. You no longer crash coming out of Standby and Sleep modes. The biggest improvement under the hood is the way Windows 8 handles memory now. Applications open up in memory sandboxes and only that specific application can play in that sandbox. This makes your PC much more secure and an errant application will only crash itself and not your entire system.
All in all, from the easy-peasy install to its performance thus far I am very pleased with Windows 8. The best part about it–and this has reined true with our Windows 7 laptop as well—is gone are the days of having to reinstall your operating system every 12 months or so.
Now for some Windows 8 resources:
I recently built a brand new Quad Core (AMD Athlon II X4) PC with Windows 8. I might do some blogging about the build later on. For now, I wanted to let people know about a problem I encountered while installing the system. I should mention the graphics card I am using is an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4500 Series with the default Win8 (Microsoft Corporation – WDDM v1.1) drivers installed. Note that the crash happened with both these drivers and when I performed this workaround in an effort to restore OpenGL functionality and use my card’s older drivers.
All was going fine and dandy until I installed my Epson printer software. That’s when the Metro Start menu acted up. I would go into the Metro Start/Search menu, and it would crash, freeze and/or all the app icons would disappear.
I was able to solve the problem by uninstalling the Epson Event Manager.
I’m 100% positive it was this program that was crashing the Start/Search menu. It was a fresh and meticulous install and the problem only showed up after the Epson software was installed and promptly disappeared after the Event Manager was uninstalled. Consequently, the wireless networked printer is working fine without it.
If you are having trouble with your Windows 8 Metro Start/Search menu and own an Epson printer you should try this solution before pulling your hair out.
While Gina keeps me very busy these days, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I want to do with this space.
THE ENIGMA OF GAMING… I’m just not that into it anymore.
Nothing has garnered more hits on this blog than my gaming articles. On December 17th 2011 I posted Can’t connect to EA Servers? SOLVED… maybe. Since then it has had 17,656 views. That’s almost 20,000 people who have had a problem with Electronic Arts’ servers in the past 8 months (mostly connecting with FIFA 12 from what I can tell by the search stats) and somehow managed to find my little backwater hole in the darkest depths of the world wide web to try and find a solution. That’s roughly 20,000 people that could not find a solution directly from EA. That’s roughly 20,000 people who will undoubtedly purchase FIFA 13 despite the precedent EA has set with them. On January 1st 2012 I posted FIFA 12 Control Reference Sheet for Xbox 360. It has had 13,266 views and counting. More than half that number downloaded the reference sheet. Only two people (so far) have bothered to take a moment of their time to thank me for creating something useful for them. I posted it on reddit and gamers bitched that I hadn’t done a PS3 version and gave me the thumbs down. Are gamers so bleeding stupid they lack the common sense to correlate the buttons from two distinctly similar controller layouts together?
I grow more jaded and disillusioned with every exercise of corporate pomposity and bureaucratic nonsense I read about, with every nauseating example of fan boy sycophancy I come across, with every ass kissing rim job article by so called “professional” gaming journalists I have the displeasure of uncovering. I no longer feel much of the industry deserves the love, loyalty and respect someone like me is capable of giving. Developers are ego-driven tyrants (all corporations are these days), the journalists all graduated Summa Cum Laude from Rupert Murdoch’s School of Unscrupulous Reporting and, with the exception of roleplayers, most of the community leaves a lot to be desired. I’m done wasting a majority of my efforts in this area. In the future the focus around here will be less on games. I’m still a gamer, born on the Atari 2600, will be till the day I die…
THAT BEING SAID… recent gaming experiences!
In Fallout 3 I couldn’t blow up Megaton no matter how nice the apartment in Tenpenny Tower. I can’t play a bad guy, it’s not my nature. At least not these days, I don’t think I’ve ever been a bad guy in my lifetime, definitely an asshole from time to time–but never a bad guy. Got my wisecracking “red-headed, punk stepchild of the wastelands” up to level 20 before I realized I was utterly bored with him. I padded his stats (sacrificed his charisma at creation) and by level 20 he was just sneakin’ around the wasteland one shotting everything with bad ass lasers he found on an alien spaceship… So I re-rolled, didn’t pad the stats and went for a more charismatic approach to the game. Called him J.T. Kirk because I really couldn’t think of anything better at the time and got him to level five before I became preoccupied with something else…
For my b-day I picked up Driver: San Francisco for $18. Best f—ing driving game I’ve played on the 360 yet! I’m only an hour or two into the game (thank you Gina!–joking, anything you need doll face, anything at all, you’re more important) and I’ll be doing a brief write up on it in the future. It brings to mind the great time I had playing Interstate ’76 on the PC back in the 90′s. It also brought back faded memories of playing the original Driver (another all-time great driving game, but overshadowed in my recollections by I-76). And because my wife is a gem that I certainly do not deserve, she gave me Batman: Arkham City GOTY for my 43rd, another game I’ve been salivating to play but can’t talk too much about right now because I’m only about an hour or two into it.
No, I’m not giving up gaming. Just relaxing a bit on the love I show it around here.
WRITERS NEED TO READ…
Something I have not been doing much of for a while now. I’ve been reading a lot of web related material, shorts and stuff but I haven’t opened a book in a while. I promised my good friend, Eric Swett, I’d read and review his first novel Apocalypse Rising. I read it piecemeal when he had it going on his blog and now I get the chance to just sit back and enjoy it in its entirety. So you’ll all have that to look forward to soon.
Unlike most gamers, writers are kind and encouraging people. I started a Twitter account (@ajbeamish) to ask Electronic Arts why all the official servers disappeared on Battlefield 3 when they implemented their rental servers even though I knew the answer was “because we’re a bunch of greedy twats and you’re stupid enough to keep throwing your money at us,” and thanks to the charming and rather witty Nicole Chardenet (@nchardenet) giving me a wee bit of undue praise (gaming guru, Nicole? like I need to be pigeonholed!) I have 18 followers, most of whom I don’t know from Adam but I’m sure they are writers so they can’t be all that bad.
That brings me to Michael R. Hicks (@KreelanWarrior) a kind soul who has decided to give us all a couple of his works absolutely free. I’m looking forward to reading them over the coming weeks (after I get done with Eric’s Apocalypse Rising first, of course). Get your copies from Michael’s web site.
AND NOW THE PLAN IS…
Self publication (after I get the first drafts up). Eric, Nicole and my other new found writing buddies along with the many courageous souls who have decided to brave self-publication in this digital age have inspired me. I’ve already started putting up more of my writing on this blog and there are more draft posts waiting to be edited and cued up. My fear of getting published, whether it was of failure or actual success is diminishing. Exposing my talents (or lack thereof) here has helped me with that, along with the likes, comments and subscriptions they garner.
ADVENTURES IN TECH…
We took a leap into uncharted territory–for us anyway. My wife and I went out and got a couple of smart phones. The HTC Amaze to be exact. While I was doing research for peripherals and appropriate apps for my new phone, I noticed there wasn’t any dependable information out there for much of it. Any blog I found regarding accessories for the device seemed to be a cut and paste “Amazon will pay me if you click this link” job rather than an objective, independent review. And there is no decent documentation regarding many of the apps and utilities you need to run on the phone. Expect to see me writing some useful (I hope) pieces on this.
The wonderful thing about doing a clean install on your system every now and then is you can be reasonably sure about what should and should not be there. When I discovered a bunch of files on my recently formatted and clean backup drive I was a little dismayed. I don’t like it when guests show up uninvited and utterly fail to bring the obligatory bottle of liquor that makes such unwarranted visits a little more bearable.
- vcredist.bmp (blank bitmap image)
- VC_RED (windows installer package)
- VC_RED (Cabinet file)
I noticed the same files on the C drive on my laptop. Right away I was pretty sure they were the offspring of an installer program gone awry. I was right. They are temp files from the Visual C++Redistributable Package for Visual Studio 2008 RTM. You can safely delete them.
This has been a minor irritation on my XP machine for a while now. I figured with a clean install I wouldn’t see it again. I was wrong. Microsoft says it’s a problem with a faultykeyboard.log file or it’s because you remapped a key and the solutions you find for it require you to jump through flaming hoops while doing the Funky Chicken naked.
I don’t like doing the Funky Chicken, I especially don’t like having to do it naked. Or near flame.
After perusing tech forums for a few hours I finally stumbled on a viable, working solution that anyone can perform.
, read through the succinct step by step instructions then download the HotFix at the bottom of the page. Go back and follow the instructions to the letter and everything should be right as rain. It’s safe, simple and quick.
Long story short… PC slowed to a crawl thanks to Firefox and Flash (more on this in another post.) Microsoft office corrupted yet another of my wife’s personal files. Computer needed dusting out anyway.
Enter the obligatory hard drive wipe and operating system reinstall.
With the exception of not being able to get USB 2.0 working on my aging motherboard the initial install went well. Driver updates for my graphic card and web cam installed without a hitch. A good thing because the drivers I was using were 3 years old. I’m not entirely sure USB 2.0 is not working, it could be the card reader that’s fubar. Doesn’t matter now anyway. I gave up on the card reader when I realized the refurbished wireless printer we picked up for $50 has one on it.
So neener that now defunct and disconnected card reader still sitting uselessly in the tower!
I made a conscious effort to K.I.S.S. and only install the programs I know I’ll be using. I had a twenty minute discussion with my wife about how Microsoft Office will never get it’s grubby little, resource hogging, file corrupting hands on our system(s) ever again and she will just have to leave her “safe place” and deal with using the far more superior OpenOffice for all her administrative needs. I braced for a fight but surprisingly she didn’t put up much of one this time. Phew!
Being a gamer, back in the days of Windows 95 it wasn’t unusual for people like me to wipe their 5 GB hard drive and reinstall every 3-6 months. Installing an OS is second nature at this point in life. My computer is running XP and to be honest, because I no longer game on the PC it’s more than adequate to perform the tasks I need. The problem I’m seeing these days is as Windows XP ages the programs get newer and incompatibility issues arise. This is where the install floundered into the fiery gates of hell.
When I started this project I did it under the precedent that’s simply what you have to with older Windows operating systems after a year or two of use. You install programs, you uninstall programs and after a while the registry gets more bloated, slow and fat than Rush Limbaugh at an all you can eat doughnut shop on free prescription drugs Tuesday.
As my install came to fruition I soon discovered that the reason my PC had slowed to a crawl had more to do with Firefox than a gradually corrupting XP operating system and introduced a whole new set of problems for me… I’ll blog about the specifics in a few days.
So, that’s what I’ve been up to. Fun, eh?
Did you guys miss me?