Category Archives: Helpful Tips and Tricks

Tips and tricks for users – Not on the level of How-Tos.

Battery Life – I just can’t go on livin’ no mo’… Where’s that charger?!

Time for something we all have to deal with in one way or another. Battery Life. Batteries power our favorite electronics from our phones to our laptops to our remote controls to even our cars to that battery-powered electric cat food can opener/flashlight/MP3 player (patent pending) you saw on TV at 3:00 in the morning.  The biggest issue with batteries is something we’ve been accustomed to but always still hate.  The fact that they die.  How do we make them last longer?

Well, usually it depends on the electronic item itself.  For these examples, we will use consumer products that have screens like cell phones and laptops, as that’s where battery life is a primary concern. Sorry cat food can opener… We’ll get to you later.

CanOpenerCatGif

Electronics use electricity in a number of ways.  Some of the electricity is used to power the processor.  Some is used to power the screen. Some is used to power the hard drive (if applicable.)  Some is used to power the radio antennas so you can connect to the Internet.  But most… most of the power is used to power the screen.

Brighten Up Your Battery!  Turn the brightness down.
Your screen has a series of LEDs behind it or on the side of it like in the picture below.  These LEDs are what brighten and darken your screen.  If these LEDs were turned off, but your screen still remained active (that is, the LCD part still remained active) you could shine a bright light in front of the screen and still see your work, but just barely.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 360

These LEDs are the biggest battery hog of all the components.  They generally pull the most power and the more light needed, the more power needed.  Much more.  This puts a significant strain on the battery.  If you want to save yourself some battery power, lower the brightness on the product you are using.  It may be a little less convenient, but it’s a whole lot more convenient than being stuck somewhere without an outlet and charger to connect to.

Put a pause on that processing power.
The next biggest culprit, on average, is processing power.  I should put this in with a star, as it is actually the most powerful and prominent puller of power, even more so than your LED screen, but your device is not using its full processing power most of the time, it’s not as much a strain as your screen is.  Processing power takes a huge amount of electricity.  Our devices in our pockets are mini computers – all more powerful than the computers we used to launch our astronauts to the moon.  These little computers take millions of calculations, gives out a result and sends it to a visually stimulating representation on the screen.  All of this takes a huge amount of power, particularly if your device has to work harder than normal. The best way to save this power is to not use it at all while on battery, but if that is unavoidable, then more often than not today’s devices have battery saving features built in.  With one click, you can change your product’s processing speed by dropping voltages applied to the processor and RAM which means less power is used.  This also makes your processor slower, so things may slow down a bit, but only if you’re trying to play a game or something that makes that little computer of yours work harder.

Power Saving

I hate listening to the radio… too many commercials.
Well, not that kind of radio.  A “radio” in the case of a computer, phone, laptop or tablet is a device that connects you to external communications bands in some way.  The more common known ones are Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, and Cell radios.  These radios are constantly blasting out or searching for frequencies on its band hoping to either hear or be heard.  This blasting sucks up battery life at a fairly considerable rate.  Turning off any radios you don’t have a use for, such as Bluetooth if you’re not near your car or have a headset or WiFi if you’re in the middle of the jungle, will save you a good amount of power down the road.  Often, if you are in a remote area and you are barely receiving any cell service, it is also a good idea to simply turn your phone on to “Airplane” mode, which turns off all radios.  Turning off the cell tower when you barely have reception will save your battery a lot of strain because when a phone cannot get a good enough signal, it works harder to try and keep/amplify the one that it has.

hidden-cell-tower-2

Tomorrow, we will talk about battery conditioning and how to make your battery have a longer overall life.

Digital Cables – DVI-D, DVI-DL, DVI-I, DVI-Ayayay!

Wires… wires everywhere a wire.  Connecting all the electronics breaking my mind… Well, I tried to make it to the tune of a popular 70s song.  There are many wires and cables out in this world today, and one the has a lot of people confused is the infamous DVI cable. This cable, one of the first all-digital consumer video transfer cables, comes in many forms, and not many people realize it.

DVITypecropped

 

Let’s go down the line on what those different little sets of pins mean:

DVI-D – The “D” stands for “Digital.” Has a single bar on the left, 2 sets of 3×3 smaller pins on the right hand side.  This is used for pure digital connections.  You cannot plug an analog connection (like a DVI to VGA adapter) into a plug like this.

DVI-A – The “A” stands for “Analog.” Has 4 pins around the single bar on the left with scattered pins all throughout the right.   This is used for analog connections.  Most DVI connections have this ability built into other modes, such as the next configuration…

DVI-I Single Link – The “I” stands for “Integrated.”  Like the DVI-D, it has the bar on the left, the 2 sets of 3×3 smaller pins on the right but it also has 4 pins surrounding the bar.  Those 4 pins, in addition to others, transfer the analog signal and can be used with an analog adapter (like DVI to VGA.)

DVI-D Dual Link – Much like the DVI-D Single Link, except now the entire middle is filled in with 9 more pins, giving all 27 slots a fill for a full dual connection.  A dual link card can operate 2 individual monitors out of one DVI port.  You will need a special adapter to take advantage of this feature.  Because it is pure digital, an analog adapter will not work with this type of connection.  To do that, you will need the last type of connection…

DVI-I Dual Link – Just like the DVI-I Dual Link, but you can use it as an analog output as well.  A DVI to VGA adapter will work just fine on a card with this output.

Heat – It’s getting hot in here so take off all your… CPU fans?

Actually, don’t take off your CPU fans.  That would be bad.  But that does bring us to our next topic:  Heat!  We all know heat.  We all run away from it when it gets too unbearable.  We all cower from it in a source of cool water when we can hide from it.  Sometimes, we just go full Simpson and rely on a simple fan:

Reminds me a little of my family in summer…
giphy

But what can’t run away from heat?  Your electronics.  Your cell phone, your laptop, your desktop computer, or anything else with a circuit board and electricity, really.  Heat also happens to be the number one killer of electronic components… next to dropping it in the toilet (don’t ask) and “accidentally” taking a hammer to it.

Keeping your electronics cool is critical to keeping them alive. Electronics can’t really get too cold, so don’t worry about freezing them.  Ways to keep your electronics cool include:

Make sure they have enough air flow around them
Consistent air flow is a good thing.  It keeps cool air moving in and warm air moving out.  Stale/stagnant air is caused by poor circulation, and the only thing that happens is the heat that is dissipated away from the hot box is stuck in the air, giving no cooling advantage.

Ensure that any cooling fans aren’t blocked
If your electronics cooler has a fan/grill on it, make sure it is not blocked.  If the cooling device doesn’t have access to cooler air to push onto the component in question, like a CPU fan on a CPU, then that product has a good chance of overheating.  This is also true if the fan itself is covered in dust.  This is why technically people regard “dust” as the killer, but the real reason is the heat that results from it.  Be sure to give your electronics a good blasting with some canned air periodically.

Uncover those vents
Many electronics have heat vents at the top that allow heat to travel up and out under normal airflow conditions.  This is passive cooling as they simply need to not be covered to allow the air to flow.  If these vents are blocked, heat can and will build up inside the device, slowly destroying it.  Want a good example?  Look at the top or back of your flat panel TV.

Pixels – Full Ultra HD BD HDDVD Hi-Res 1080P 4K OMGWTFBBQ?!

We’ve heard it all before.  1080P.  4K.  Ultra High Resolution. Full HD.  What does it all mean?  These expressions define resolution.

What is resolution?  Resolution is the number of pixels, or spots of color/definition, on a screen.  The higher the resolution, the more pixels on screen.  A black and white pixel is defined as turning a screen section black/”on” or clear/”off”.  This can be seen on old Game Boys or other non-numeric digital displays.  A color pixel is usually defined by 3 colors, red yellow and cyan.  Any combination of brightness and selected color can make a near-infinite number of colors.  This is the kind of technology used on televisions, smart phones, and computer monitor screens.

So what do all these numbers mean?  When you look at a resolution list, you may see a long list of options ranging from 800×600 to 3840×2160 or even higher.  The first number in the pair is going to be how many lines of pixels there are going to be from left to right.  The second in the pair is going to be how many lines of pixels are going to be going up and down.  In the first example, the 800 represents 800 lines of pixels going across from left to right, and 600 represents 600 pixels going from top to bottom on your screen.  This equates to 480,000 visible pixels on the screen.  Take that in comparison to the higher number set we gave you earlier of 3840×2160 with its 8,294,400 pixels and you’ll see how it pales in comparison.

With higher resolution comes greater detail and sharpness.  This is because there are more pixels per sq inch.  If you squeeze more pixels into a single spot, the less you will notice any “block” effects caused by individual pixels.  It also gives you more visible room on your monitor for your applications and icons.  Most programs and images are designed with a certain “pixel height” meaning that your icon is designed to be 90 pixels high, for instance.  If you have a super high resolution monitor, those 90 pixels take up a lot less space than they would on a lower resolution monitor.  In the example above, a 90 pixel square icon would take up over 11% of the screen from left to right and 15% of the screen from top to bottom.  Compared to the 3840×2160, where that same icon would now take up 2.3% and 4.1%, respectfully.

Below is a list of common terms/marketing phrases and their associated resolutions:

640×480 – 480i, CRT TV resolution

800×600 – low resolution, default resolution, fail-safe resolution

1024×768 – recommended resolution, minimum resolution

1366×768 – 720P, 1080i

1600×900 – minimum widescreen LCD computer monitor resolution

1920×1080 – 1080P, Full HD, HD

3840×2160 – UHD, 4K

Below you can see a chart of all the resolution types available.

Bits vs. Bytes – What your Internet provider isn’t telling you.

So today I was asked “Why aren’t I downloading at 10 megabytes per second! I’m paying for a 10 Mbps connect speed! The fastest I’ve ever seen 2.1 megabytes! What gives?”

Well, he was actually paying for 10 MegaBITS per second. In the world of computing, capitalization matters. 10 Mbps = 10 Megabits per second. 10 MBps = 10 Megabytes per second. In this case, he’s paying for 10 Mbps instead of MBps. So ok, you’re wondering what’s the difference? Well, a lot actually.

A bit is a digit. 1 or 0. A byte is a set of 8 digits grouped into one. 01100110. Now the bigger difference is that when you download something in bytes, it takes 8 times longer to download 1 byte as it does 1 bit (because you’re downloading 8 bits in one byte.) When you’re downloading something, you’re looking at your KiloBYTES per second or MegaBYTES per second. When you’re buying internet, you’re looking at the MegaBITS per second. Why do they do this change? Because “Bits” allows them to use a much higher number than “Bytes.” It’s a marketing tactic. 10 Megabits per second sounds a lot better than 1.25 Megabytes per second, right?

So, theoretically, to get the real number of MegaBYTES your 10MegaBIT connection can download, you take the number of MegaBITS and divide it by 8 to get the MegaBYTES you will be downloading at. In this case, 1.25 Megabytes is your theoretical average. Reaching 2.1 Megabytes on a 10Mbps connection as a download speed probably isn’t a far stretch either, since most companies will give you a speed boost if you’re downloading a larger file.

Wow… this whole bit has got me wanting a bite..

Viruses – Bot Nets

I’m going to side track a bit from the original map and explain a bit about what the different viruses are.

The first one on the list is something called a “BotNet”. It’s not necessarily a virus, but instead a concept that can play host to viruses or have been infected by them. If your computer has been infected with an attacker’s BotNet code, your computer is now part of a massive collection (Robot Network) of other infected computers to do pretty much anything the attacker wants.

The things the attacker can do with all of these computers are endless, from stealing information to coordinating cyber attacks. The list of the most common items is:

1. Using the computers to create a massive DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. This means that your infected computer sends out malformed packets of information that a website can’t understand and normally refuses. However when you do that 100,000 times 20 times a minute per computer, it can shut down an entire website.

2. Using the computers to distribute viruses, illegal material or other items. They can dynamically add software and files to your computer without your knowledge and use your computer to host them. Should an organization come after the hosts of the illegal files, they would be looking for YOUR computer, and not the attacker’s, and you would never know.

3. Using the computers to distribute spam. This is a lovely little trick that enables the attacker to send off countless messages to anyone in any application you use, including email, instant messages, and other social networking tools. This is used by more unscrupulous spamming companies (a step above just sending you pointless junk emails.)

4. Using the computers to access websites that the attackers are affiliated with. Sometimes, attackers create affiliate accounts with websites that will give them money if someone visits their website through the affiliate link. What a BotNet attacker can do then is have 100,000 computers access the website through the affiliate link they own and they make money for each computer that visits it, even if someone is not at the computer!

Viruses – What do they do?

If your body gets infected with a virus, you’re not in for an easy trip. You have to take medications to cure or alleviate the symptoms, you’re in pain, you feel weak and you’re contagious to others most of the time. The same thing happens to your computer.

What a virus does can be a number of things. It can be small, unnoticeable, and does absolutely nothing. It was just created as a prank to infect, spread, and create some “Lulz” for the creator. Others can be huge, national security-risking abominations that can invade our very economy’s infrastructure, attack our military secrets, or cause havoc in a nuclear weapons facility. Of course, there are always the in-between, of which most people are familiar with.

Most viruses today do one of four things in today’s computing:

1. Infect the host computer to add that computer to something called a “BotNet”
2. Infect the host computer to install key loggers so that personal information put into websites can be captured and sent to the creator
3. Infect the host computer to give the creator complete control of your computer (this means they can turn on the webcam remotely, access files, and do whatever they want as if they were sitting right in front of your PC.)
4. Infect the host computer to install a false program to coax the user out of money (Malware/Scareware)

Viruses – Care and Prevention

There are days when even the best antivirus software still isn’t good enough at picking up viruses. When those days come, that is when you become a computer guru. Very quickly. There are a couple of tricks to employ before doing a total reformat or learning how to live with the virus.

The first trick is an oldy but a goodie. System Restore. If you go to your control panel, you will find an option called “Backup and Restore.” In most cases, System Restore has been working in the background, silently saving your computer’s settings as you worked. In some rare cases, it will have been turned off by the virus itself. If this is the case, this trick will not work for you. If it was not deactivated, then continue reading. Well, continue reading anyways.

Once you are in System Restore, click on “Recover system settings or your computer” and click the “Open System Restore” button. Click the next button, then find a restore point that is BEFORE the time the infection struck. If you can’t see one, click the “Show more restore points” checkbox. A good rule of thumb is to jump back 3 days prior to when you think you got the infection. Sometimes a virus can lie dormant for a day or two or you may not have restarted the computer to trigger the infection for one or two days. Select the one of the restore points, then next, then finish. Your computer will go crazy for a while, restart a couple of times, and hopefully, when you come back in, your computer should not have the virus floating around on your machine. The virus FILES might still be there inert, however, so you should then scan your machine with every virus-locating program imaginable.

If System Restore is disabled or you don’t have a restore point good enough (example: the virus wiped out all the restore points that were there at the time of infection) then the next step is manual removal. First off, figure out what kind of virus you have. Do internet searches. Research it. Make sure you know all about it before tackling it manually. This step usually involves editing the registry, so unless you are confident in your skills, it is not advised to attempt anything that requires a registry removal. Because of the multiple variations of viruses out there and how they are handled, there is no way I can easily describe how to remove them. As stated before, once the virus has been manually removed and you’ve restarted your computer, scan your system with every antivirus program you can AND turn on System Restore again. Once you have confirmed that you are virus-free, create a restore point right there (after scanning) and call it something indicative of being clean.

Viruses – Get it off me get if off me!

So now you’re covered in viruses, and you’re wondering how to get rid of them. Most of the time, you have to consider what it’s worth and how long it’s going to take. You could reformat and that would set you back at square one. You could also spend some time removing all the viruses through anti-virus programs and manual removal. It simply depends on how infected your computer really is.

The first and foremost thing to do when you are infected is back up all your data. The second thing to do, if possible, is to update all your anti-virus software, either through the self updaters built within them or by manually updating them using update files from their websites (usually done if the virus prevents internet connection.) If you don’t have any anti-virus programs, this is a good time to get one.

The only antivirus program we at AA Computers use is Avast! Antivirus. It has a proven track record for reliability, speed, and virus-catching. It is very easy to install, does not require a reboot, and has many features found in high-end, professional antivirus programs for none of the cost. That’s right, it’s free!

Avast! Antivirus

Once your antivirus program is installed, updated and executed, start scanning your system. Do a full scan, and enable any huesristics mode available to you. Also install antispyware programs after the antivirus program has finished scanning to clean up or find other viruses that your antivirus may miss. One good one to use is Spybot: Search & Destroy. This program is also free and is also very easy to use.

http://www.safer-networking.org/

Now, sometimes these viruses aren’t picked up by antivirus programs and they will need to be removed manually, or even have your system rolled back. These steps will be explained in tomorrow’s blog. Check it out!

Viruses – Determining if you’re infected

So how do you know when you’ve been infected, anyways? Well, that’s the funny part. Unless you have a big message on the screen saying you have 80 viruses on your machine, you’ll probably never know. Most people don’t until they look for it.

Some of the easier ways to tell if you’re infected are the somewhat obvious ones. Your computer gets slow or sluggish. You have errors when you load up your computer. You have friends messaging you telling you to stop sending them your darn IQ score. You get a random email from a person in your address book asking you what in the world web site you sent them. These all can mean that your computer has been infected. The only definite ones are the hijacked IM and email boxes. The other ones could be other computer issues.

Some of the other telltale signs of a virus on your machine might not be signs on the computer at all, but rather those from the real world. Phone calls from creditors or companies calling to confirm a recent purchase. Phone bills showing 1-900-SEX-LINE being called 40 times a day. Letters from companies you’ve never heard of or signed up for. These may all be legitimate (though I would worry about you if the 900-number was you…) but sometimes they could be indicative of a virus being on your machine, stealing your information and compromising your security.

Oh, of course you’re also infected if you have a huge thing on your screen saying “YOU’RE INFECTED!”