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I have been Twittering a lot recently about my Nokia cellular phone which needed repairing. I had my backup phone an iMate sp3i which my brother Jeremy, CEO of First Contact UK supplied me with in my time of need (Cheers Jeremy .. oh yes: First Contact they do so much more than this, Website design, content management, SEO, IT and IT ROI).

Finally, I had the time to take the Nokia for repair two days ago and for the nominal fee of 100-150 NIS (approximately $25) they told me it would be back fixed today.

Why not settle for the iMate? Several reasons, I do like it and Windows Mobile really does rock but it is an older phone with little support, limited functionality and a few hang-ups (no working speakerphone, no Hebrew font support and compared to the Nokia contacts well, it doesn’t stack-up; the Nokia allows me to personalize each contact to a greater level). However, the Nokia doesn’t use ActiveSync but Nokia’s own program thus Outlook may be supported to sync but not directly whereas the iMate with Windows Mobile on it obviously does.

Anyhow, this morning I trotted merrily to my cellular provider to get my repaired Nokia back. A sincerely sad customer support rep informed me that the on/off button was broken (tell me what I didn’t know) rendering the phone irreparable and for a small (but larger fee) I could purchase an identical Nokia and finish my contract happily.

As you can imagine I was torn between annoyance at the provider for failing to fix a wear and tear issue and at Nokia for making what should be a simple problem unfixable. Obviously I have no intention no matter how much I liked the phone of having the same issue occur in another several months so I declined her offer.

Perhaps a brief email to Nokia regarding this might help but I doubt it.

Oh well, one more reason to hold out for the when the G-Phone becomes available in Israel.

Technorati Tags: ,,Consumer dissatisfaction,,,,,

Technological progress is a great thing. We want our devices smaller, faster with longer lasting power and so forth but what do we do with the stuff from before the great techno-leap?

One example is the jump from IDE to SATA Hard drives and the changes in the motherboard and connectors.

Pragmatically when I upgraded my PC several years ago I didn’t really think about being able to mate my old IDE Hard drives to the new, speedy-fast SATA PC.

With time the older PC sat around and as the little guy came along I found it necessary to do away with what became excess hardware. The only thing I really kept from the old PC was two 80 GB IDE Hard Drives.

What’s the problem? I can’t connect them to my existing PC as it is SATA technology and my external hard drive is a generic box with IDE to USB .. Windows XP just can’t recognize it and handle the driver.

So I was left with a dilemma; either disassemble and destroy the old disks or get creative and find a solution.

I was in my local PC store to get a RAM upgrade and happened to mention to the owner about this and he smiled and rummaged in his desk. Laughing about he had just had the same problem himself he hands me an 80 NIS ($20) printed circuit board with two connectors IDE and SATA.

It was very similar to something I had found online for sale off a website for a PC hardware company in Taiwan (if I remember correctly).

Anyway, tomorrow I will be hooking up at least one of the old IDE Hard Drives to format and subsequently use as additional storage space. Results to follow installation and some testing.

Technorati Tags: ,,Practical Technologies,,,

Today I popped down with my wife to our parking space just to check the water and oil on her car.

I had borrowed the aging Renault Megane  several days ago and for some reason suspected the radiator was a little low.

One popped bonnet/ hood later lo and behold the water level was showing a dire need for refill.

The Megane has a nice little plastic reservoir that feeds into the radiator but the cap would not open. I looked at it, the cap was plastic with six large teeth, if I tried to use a wrench it would probably snap off or at least get damaged .. what to do?

Inspiration struck and I whipped off my leather belt, looped it over the cap so that the steel belt buckle locked over one of the teeth and the leather loop provided a nice contra and with very little effort I was able to open the cap and have my wife on her way; all the while whistling the tune to MacGyver.

Feeling suitably pleased with myself I went back upstairs to finish my coffee and start the day.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,Practical Technologies,

If you haven’t guessed it I’m a tools guy. Not gadgets but tools. Like the blog name says, it needs to be practical.

I’ve written in the past about folding tools like Leatherman, SOG et al and different tools for the PC but I was at the tool store, Home Depot the other day to pick up a few things with my wife and I took my nearly 3 year old son for a trawl around the tools section.

It’s never too soon to explain to the little guy what each tool does; when I was just a little older than him I started running around the house trying to take everything apart to see how it worked. This was probably the starting point for my career in QA.

As we looked at Drills, Hammers, Screwdrivers, Spanners etc and I tried to teach him how to say each thing I was struck by a memory from childhood; my late grandfather was a very hands-on guy, he built his own house, had a factory and in his split level garage had a large workshop in the lower level.

As a kid this place was the magic kingdom to me; work benches, real cast iron clamps and an assortment of tools and projects he was always working on. One tool stuck in my memory, he had this beautiful, yes beautiful ratchet screwdriver about 60 cm long with a red varnished wood handle and chromed steel parts. I was forever hunting loose screws everywhere just so I could borrow the ratchet screwdriver and pump away at the handle and watch mechanism turn and rotate the screw back into its hole.

A couple of years ago I was on Route 17 in New Jersey near Paramus and I saw an old style tool store, after horse trading with my wife that I would gladly go round Nordstrom with her she agreed to stop, no doubt fearing that I was going to either start drooling over every tool in the shop or want to buy stuff that I would have to schlep back home to Israel.

We walked in and I roamed the aisles taking in everything and I went to chat to the ubiquitous old guy behind the counter. Remembering my grandfather’s ratchet screwdriver I asked him if they had such a thing in stock to which he replied just a little sadly that no-one makes tools like that anymore and if they do then the are made with plastic not wood. If they did make tools like that they would simply cost too much for him to hold in stock and frankly these days everyone uses a Cordless Drill/ Screwdriver.

He was kind of surprised that a guy my age would prefer mechanical over electric and we got to talking about the underlying philosophy of the sheer pleasure of using a tool like that even when an easier option might be available.

Empty-handed but cheered up from the conversation we drove on to Nordstrom where thankfully at least the coffee was superb (frankly they have some of the best Espresso ever); and yes I had a good time shopping with the Missus.

Technorati Tags: ,,Practical Technologies,,

For those of you who don’t know, I am a hands on sort of guy. I like to get my hands dirty whether it be replacing parts inside my PC (when needed), under the hood of the car, those really cool IKEA sets (it’s like Lego for grown-ups only more fun) or anything else that needs me to use my tools.

Two years ago I decided along with my wife to simplify Succot. Instead of building my own wood-frame Succah I went out and bought a Succat Nechalim made from an aluminized frame.

This takes me no time at all to build but somehow leaves me feeling just a little cheated. The only tool I needed was my Leatherman to cut the rope that ties the drop-cloth wall on.

While I was doing this a guy in the next building was sawing, hammering and screwing together a beautiful wood Pergola and I envied him the task and pleasure of a job well done.

The sheer joy of planning and implementing a task like this .. it brings a smile to my face just thinking about it. Obviously, jobs like this make the pleasure of sitting, sipping a cold beer afterwards even better.

Perhaps my wife will think of something around the house for me to do like this before I find a new job.

Following on from my article about Bit Comet and using Torrent downloads for software updates Software Updates and Bit Torrent I made an interesting discovery …

As some older readers of my blog will know, several months ago I changes from ADSL to Cable broadband after a series of poor QOS and support issues from my ADSL ISP. Then I procured via my brother a LinkSys Cable WiFi Router.

I wasn’t really paying attention but the download speed via Bit Comet dropped after the transition. I started paying attention to all the Bit Comet bells and whistles and discovered that the Listen Port was being blocked by the Cable Router NAT Firewall. OK, no big deal. I opened up the Router Admin and approved this port; everything should have been okay, correct?

Well each time since I have restarted the PC the problem recurred unless I login to the Router Admin first.

Not a huge problem but something I am going to have to test thoroughly.

I can’t say I am too upset as this just means that LinkSys have strong spec for security and I do have my workaround to solve this. Maybe I will check for a firmware upgrade for the Router and see what happens then.

When I find the permanent fix for this I will be sure to blog it.

Technorati Tags: ,,Peer to Peer (P2P),

Quick Launch has to be one of my favorite XP features. For those of you who don’t know, Quick Launch is the neat little toolbar to the right of the Start button at the base of the screen.

The double arrow-head >> hides a pop-up menu/ toolbar containing a variety of standard shortcuts to launch e-mail, browser or return to the desktop (toggle button).

Many programs offer the user during installation the option to add their program shortcut to Quick Launch. Of course many of us have been seduced into adding a lot of shortcuts here which frankly has a two-fold effect: –

  1. It diminished the usefulness of having a shortlist of your most popular/ most used applications in one place.
  2. The more shortcuts the heavier the load and longer the lag to Quick Launch  opening (unless you have invested in top of the line hardware).

Still we each choose how we use or System and what works for us. For me I have no more than 8 shortcuts there but there is another solution or an additional work-around: –

  • Create a folder on your hard-drive and give it a unique name (keep it short as this will be the toolbar name and will take up precious real estate on the System bar)
  • Optional: create sub-folders by type of application e.g. Security, System, Games
  • Add the relevant shortcuts (again don’t go overboard, these menus affect OS load/ stress/ refresh)
  • Move your mouse down onto the System bar (the horizontal bar at the base of screen between the Start button and the System tray)
  • Right-click on some vacant real estate on the bar and from the menu select Toolbars

sysmenu1

  • Select from the next menu New toolbar and browse to your recently created folder
  • This should then appear to the right of the System Tray with the name you gave it
  • Right-click the System bar again and select the option to Lock the toolbar

One word of advice, there is one bug with this. If you manage to crash Explorer.EXE or Windows then you will suddenly discover Quick Launch and your toolbar gone. Have no fear simply go back the same Toolbar menu and select the menus you want and redo the steps above.

Oh yes, these toolbars do not have to be locked to the System bar but can be left to float anywhere on the Desktop. if you drag them to the edges of the Desktop they will create a linear toolbar displaying all the shortcuts and snapped to the relevant edge. Happy customizations.

I am a huge fan of tools that allow me to keep my OS clean, deal with my browser cache and prevent temp files from overwhelming my Hard Disk.

Pretty much every activity you perform on your PC leads to something being saved there; browsing, productivity and so on. It’s not always easy to track where all this stuff is being saved by the applications and system. These tools identify the locations and allow you to select what and where you get to clean up.

Three that I favor are Windows Washer, NCleaner and CCleaner. The first is an excellent tool, robust and stable with several updates per year but should be purchased. The other two are free and each does things slightly differently.

All have functionality that can affect the registry and contents of your hard drive so read carefully and backup files and registry (NCleaner and CCleaner have reg backup built in) prior to running a clean.

I would say that NCleaner has the broadest suite of options but with this perhaps the most potential for complications. The Tweak system option is for super-users who know what they are getting themselves into when they make these changes and the Real-time monitor keeps an eye on your CPU and Memory load/ stress.

I am somewhat circumspect as to their abilities to maintain a cleaner registry for me but that all depends how much Freeware/ Trialware/ Shareware you test as to how much your registry is affected. If you are a heavy software test user and want to keep the OS clean then think of either using VMWare as a test environment or Symantec Ghost to rollback to a clean OS and registry.
There I was minding my own business, surfing the web when suddenly my IE freezes on me.

I assumed that it was no big deal at first and tried to figure out if it was a particular site with a particular embedded technology (e.g. ASP, PHP, Java ..) but no, at random IE would freeze, hang and require me to exit via the Task Manager.

I tried a series of diagnoses and fixes to see if things would resolve: –

a) Clean the cache and history + the cache of JAVA and any other Add-ons.
b) Start IE without add-ons and then add one after the other to see if a particular add-on is guilty.
c) Uninstall programs I had upgraded that day before the freeze began and then re-install if the problem re-occurred.
d) IE7 has a neat reset button in the Internet Options, this literally sets everything back to default.

None of these resolved the problem so I decided to run an in-depth anti-virus and anti-malware scan during my lunch and yes it was a long lunch. I was beginning to think that I was going to have to backup all my data, inventory programs, drivers etc and then format and reinstall from scratch.

I decided that this was the option of last recourse so I ran my VMWare and used the stable IE6 that sat there to look for similar problems online; talk about information overload.

At some point I reviewed the plethora of tests I had run to diagnose the problem and decided to try a simple solution; I downloaded IE7 from the Microsoft site and installed it anew. This seems to have repaired the problem. Still I would love to know what actually affected IE7 to cause this problem.

For now though I have my IE7 back with my IE7Pro Add-on working nicely.
Much of what is written here is as a result of some idea that percolates up thru my brain during the day or an experience I have had.

Of late I have been giving thought to the fact that maybe I am sometimes writing what i want to read and not what you want to read.

To resolve this I am going to suggest this … if you are having a tech problem and cannot find a solution then send me a Comment to this blog and I will try to post you the answer in the blog within 48 hours.

Naturally then the article will speak to at least one of you out there 🙂

So let me know and we will see where this goes from here.