maintaining PCs from software point of view

in most places I have worked, and when supporting people on private basis people want to upgrade or replace their PC when they get performance issues but dont always understand the root of the problem with their system.

I find PCs tend to run slow because of software problems, and getting the sandtimer appear and the hard disk is being accessed for a long time to do something as simple as getting the start menu to appear.

Its fact that its often necessary to reinstall Windows on your PC every now and then as the systems get slow, clogged up and unstable.

You can use a defrag program, repair registry, clear browser settings and check for spyware and viruses, but expecting on special application to get the machine working like it was when it was new, is a bit like asking the chemist a drug to cure cancer.

Im experimenting with imaging my PCs like I do in my work. Installing Windows XP and service pack 2, then put on drivers (I dont put a live internet connection on yet) install antivirus and antispyware tools, a few favourite applications, MS office or Open Office, Adobe reader, etc. Then plug in network cable and put on all windows updates. I think take a snapshot of the hard disk in its current state as I have everything the way I have it, so it can be restored back to this point. Its worth considering that the work to install everything before this point can be around 3 ours worth of work.

The PC needs to be managed so all work can easily backed up, in terms of all documents, not forgetting mail, address book, internet favorites needs to be saved in such a way that they can be backed up so they can easily be re-added when the system needs to be reinstalled.

Buskers and music in the high street

Often lately when I go into Commercial Road in Portsmouth, I get treated to some music being played by the fountain.  Often it used to be panpipe play South American who are think are from Peru or Chile.  Lately it has been Chinese or Native American music.

The Chinese band was particularly interesting with two unusual instruments played by the two gentleman, one was something across between a harp and a xylophone which has strings and played with a pair of hammers, the other being a kind of upright violin leaned onto a table.  The music was superb and unique.  I regret buying a CD off them now.

Am curious to know where these bands get checked out by the council to get permission to play, is there a way of finding out where they are playing next?   Can someone out there from the council tell me where anyone can get information, if they have a web site?

switching off analogue TV

I hate my freeview box.  Its some piece of junk made by Tatung (who used to make quite good monitors)

Its not that difficult to use, its just it often takes a few seconds to action any command from the remote control, it sometimes freezes or crashes and requires me to cold restart it (ie: yank the power adapter out and put it back in)  I dont think its any physically wrong with the hardware, I think its just the software the makes it all work together was made on a friday afternoon.  Theres a serial port on the back of the unit which is not documented in the manual, a call to Tatungs technical support would not tell me what its used for, and told theres no firmware updates for it.

Now if I struggle to operate it, how is a retired person supposed to use it?  I do not honestly think we will be ready for big switch off of old style aerial television, despite big campaigns elderly people are going to be baffled by a screen of fuzz when the big day comes.  Reminds me, seems you wont be able to use a small portable camping telly either, as my local market still sell 5″ black and white units for £20 or so.

I dont have any interest in cable or satellite TV, as I dont think I watch enough telly to just to justify the cost.  With regular telly, BBC has the business model of a yearly subscription, ITV and Channel 4 use adverts.  So it seems that with Sky and co, having subscription and adverts seems like a con that you are paying twice?  Hmmm.

It seems a lot of electrical items focus on having a lot on putting as many features as they can and little effort is made to the whole user  interface experience.  Mobile phones are good example of this.

I would quite like to get one of those boxes that record TV to hard disk.  A few things worry me about this.  Do the manufacturers take into account things like ability to restore the software on the hard disk itself?  or, how to defrag or scan disk the disk when a large amount of programs are in a big jumbled up order?  Such an item could be a huge disappointment if you are not able to manage the structure and files on the drive, or put on a firmware update to take advantage of newer channels etc.

Repetitive strain what?

We are always advised when using computers that, we make sure our keyboard is comfortable so we dont get repetitive strain injury, which is quite true. My Compaq laptop comes with a big warning sticker above the keys. Health and Safety is preached everywhere, that you can go on a work training day on state-the-bleeding-obvious type things like how not to fall of ladders and trip of electrical cables, and I am just referring to regular office workers rather people who handle machinery and chemicals.

What I want to know is did people get this illness before computers?  In the days of heavy mechanical levers on typewriters which required a lot more effort to type, did people get this problem then? I have always wondered that a lot of modern complaints seem exactly that, modern, they just didnt seem to exist despite similar equipment and practices, decades or hundreds of years ago.

I say this as I tend to get pains in my hands if I write more than a 2 sides of A4, my handwriting has always been bad, which is one reason why I took an interest in IT, as it seems less effort and gave neater results typing. I was slow to learn how to hold a pen properly at school and probably still don’t do it correctly now. Did people in ancient times, like writing the Bible get this problem?

Lots of people are allergic to nuts these days, but 10 years ago, or at least when I was at school and college, I am sure this type of food intolerance wasnt heard of.

Have we in todays society become more fussy, get ill more often, or have our bodies changed?

coming soon…

My friend Paul talks about web site usability on his blog, making web sites look pretty but also make everything clear and simple.

I want to cover usability as well, from the point of an IT helpdesk engineer, I see far too much poorly designed software which is awkward to support, not adaptable or intuitive to the end user.

In short, I like computers to adapt to the way people think, rather than the other way round…

please also check out my friend Ed’s IT support blog

racism

I dont like racism, but I also dont like the weak and feeble efforts authorities try and tackle it.

Why? The police and the Council are always going on about way to embrace Britains multicultural society, but a lot of the time sometime people miss the point.

At Christmas for instance, theres always a lot of fuss that decorations are too Christian and could be offensive to Muslims.  Its well known that the Muslim community (as far as I am aware) doesnt mind Christians putting up things that reflect the birth of Jesus which the very point of this festival that evolved into something quite different today.   Newspapers (see my other thread why I dislike national journalism) will often mention on their front pages that authorities are abandoning Britain’s Christian ethics to accomodate other faiths.  This circle has entirely the opposite effect.  By the beauricrats trying to be “multicultural” in the worst possible way this leads to resentment with some people in turn putting the blame on our Asian community when it was never their intentional to upset or change our Christian festival to start with.

My stance on foreign immigrants.   I like the New Zealand government’s approach, the Kiwis let you move to their country on the basis you have something useful to offer, ie: qualifications in something teaching, medicine, engineering, IT, etc, etc.  Something that demonstrate you are helpful to their society and economy. People from Eastern Europe have embraced a lot of unskilled labour which has been hard to fill which more indigenous Brits would rather claim benefits than be prepared to do.  Also the media doesnt take into account that a lot of Brits leave the country, France and Spain are popular places to retire to.

Theres no doubt an UK employer like the NHS has an enormous amount of talent from people from a huge different ethnic backgrounds, and we would be completely screwed if say, the BNP had their way and asked them to go away.

On the other hand I dislike the fact people can suddenly arrive in Britain unannounced with no background checks or willingness to adapt to British life.  The council do leaflets in various Asian languages.  Wouldn’t council’s money on translators for this thing better going on English lessons for some people who havent grasped a skill for which they need to get by in doing pretty much anything?

I worked with this Polish guy in a car parts factory in summer 2006 when I was in between jobs, I got on really well with this chap and I find all the Eastern Europeans I have met to be warm, genuine kind people, he mentioned he was also doing some forklift driving here for some other temping roles, he told me he got his forklift licence on the black market in Poland for £50.

Someone please tell me how do we guarantee qualifications gained in other countries are credible and without accusing another country of having a corrupt education system, if these licences seem legit for this country or should they have to take them again?  Is their a sex offenders register in other countries and does it work the same way here?  Should the means of checking people that new to this country ought to be a bit stricter?

Theres some people who live near me that have cars with Eastern European registration plates, they have been here a year and clearly seem to be staying here but they have no car tax.  Why is this, when I pay £179 for my road fund licence and they havent yet?  Surely a vehicle with foreign plates involved in an accident could be something of a paperwork nightmare for insurance people to work out.  Do they even have an MOT or insurance?  They should have the car re-plated surely, and have a temporary tax system for vehicles in the UK for the short term.

It always seems when talking about racism and how other peoples cultures authorities are always feeling like they are on eggshells and dont always tackle issues which are more important. If a strict yet welcoming approach was made to people thinking of coming to live in Britain then I am all for anyone coming here.

womens football

something briefly caught my eye on the TV this evening.  There was a quick preview of womens football game on later this week.  I have no interest in football whatsoever, nor do I go for sporty loving females, but if this little known alternative league of this sport took off, this could shake up this game enormously.

People are always complaing footballers are overpaid, (in addition to getting big licencing products on the telly) ticket prices are too expensive and players are bad mannered in terms of getting sent off.

Lets say large cities all get womens footballs team and tickets sales and TV licencing contracts get going reasonably well.

I reckon women could show regular male counterparts not to be overpaid wussies that roll around cry when they get a little graze on their knee, not to spit or swear, give a good impression to the youth who look upto them.

My argument has nothing to do with sexism.  Im a believer that when you have competition, as in a similar themed alternative to something popular, this always makes the offerings from both parties vastly superior and people work harder.  Look at the space race, the Americans versus the Russians, Pepsi vs Coke TV commercials, etc.  Take one brand away and the lone player gets a bit slack as they have no incentive to get the quality control up a bit.

20 years ago it was unknown that women would take an interest in football like it is now, think of the possibilities for old habits to disappear and new things to appear in this game….

Open source software could have a paid for option?

I once asked at work if I could use a free PDF maker application which works as a simple generic printer driver, I have installed on my laptop Im using now and works perfect although I dont have any use for making PDFs at home.  Exactly the same application which does the same task normally costs £50 or so per licence, or a great deal more if you want the proper Adobe application, which it a lot of cases may be an overkill, when you just want to save a Word file as  a PDF, the simple printer driver job works like a dream.

Anyway I was told we use commercial applications and its not policy to use freeware ones.

It seems the ethos of free and open source applications isnt widely known in a lot of the corporate IT world.  I think managers are worried about small print in the EULA legal stuff or that there could be adware or other undesirable extras included.

Heres an idea, could the open source world have paid for packages offered for popular apps like Firefox, Open Office, Audacity, etc
The idea that you can pay a fee,  and get technical support by a trained team  (by timeframe or by a number of incidents) so you have the peace of mind you can pick up the phone and speak to a knowledgable support team, in the event that application goes wrong.

The French Police now use Firefox on every desktop, I wonder how governments deal with any support scenarios here?

new laptop

woohoo! Im on a new laptop!!

lots of fellow IT professionals I know dont understand why I play with old and broken hardware.

My passion for IT gear is normally from handmedown hardware and stuff previous owners are bored with. Why? I look it in the same way as mechanics drive old cars. Because its cheap and I like getting my hands dirty and seeing the satisfaction of getting it working again.

I got a real find in August, a Compaq Evo N800c laptop, it has a 2.2Ghz P4m processor and already had the memory bumped upto 1Gb. When I got it, it refused to boot, just made a repeated clicking noise because of a failed hard disk, a battery that wont hold any charge at all. A few boot CDs meant RAM tested all ok, and motherboard and screen were functioning, there was no sign of impact damage, just a piece of plastic missing from the lid of the screen, which covers a proprietry Compaq wireless card which was absent.

A quiet saturday afternoon later and I got a new 80gb hard disk from novatech for £37, a non genuine battery off ebay for £25 and I have a really superb performing laptop. I have it dual booted XP and Ubuntu, I have been practising imaging PCs more to enable I can quickly reinstall everything in a shorter time span, so XP and 83 odd updates, drivers and applications installed.

Its not yet completely running ideal, Im using a cheapo PCMCIA wireless card which is a bit clunky, bother asthetically and software wise, as it takes an age to pick up the signal after you have booted into XP. I would like to obtain the genuine card and the plastic trim to make it all look and operate ok. Its a world away from my ancient 1999 model Celeron based Toshiba Satellite.

I really like this machine, it has a 1400×1000 screen, quite loud and good sounding speakers, a few quirks though, the DVD combo drive is on the wrong side, on the left, and USB ports reside behind a rubber flap in the middle of the back panel which is really awkward to get at. I replaced the battery as I got fed up knocking the power supply cable out of the back causing it to go off. Im using a non-genuine Chinese made replacement battery which is working well and gives well over 2 hours of run time.

Im pretty pleased with it and it should serve me well.

the horrors of dealing with Virgin (nee NTLworld) internet

I am former customer of NTL and Virgin when they were seperate internet providers.

Virgin.net were pretty good, I liked the straight forward honest pricing, none of this “its cheap to start with, than its more expensive once youve been using us for months” nonsense.

NTL are a different matter, they have the advantage of being the only (IIRC) ISP which you dont actually need a telephone line to use, so keeps costs down if like me you have no need for a landline and associated line rental. NTL’s customer service was legendarily bad. But to be fair there are horror stories with every ISP.

What annoyed me in the past, the registration process seems disorganised, and things like transfering ownership of my broadband to my dad when I moved out seemed impossible after several phone calls and forms I had got me and my dad to sign, it took several attempts to get it right.

Anyway this was 3 years ago, so I thought this week should get better.

My friend (Mrs W) wanted to get broadband and already had TV package and phone, after signing up got a box with the cable modem and wiring, included about 25 metres of network cable, as the cable modem connects with a 2 way adapter to the back of the Cable TV box. This is a little unorthodox but I managed to set this up all ok.

The main issue was there was meant to be a letter (which arrives seperate from the rest of the package for security purposes) with a PIN number. This has not arrived.

I tried installing the CD, which wanted this number, after calling customer services they told me it would be 1234. Nope it wont take that. She then said 67… No that wouldnt work either. Then told me to ring technical support on 0906, I told theres no way Im ringing a premium rate technical support number when the issue isnt technical. I decided to give up that evening as it was getting late.

The next time I was round my friends house, I rang earlier this time, I got there as soon as finished work, still no letter with PIN number. Customers services lady sighed and said speak to sales they will sort you out. Sales said we cant help you, customer services are always putting calls to us, we cant help you. I demanded to speak to manager, who told me the person I spoke to the previous day shouldnt of given me the PIN number, and said he would not give me the details by email (we had an ntlworld account which had been used by my friend for the last 6 months) but said it had to be sent out by letter.

Another day wasted, and useless staff that arent trained properly and just completely incompetent arghhh!

Still at least I got my friends printer set up and installed.