Friday, December 30, 2011

As the Year Turns...

Plugging in...

The Tutor's words of wisdom are universal and won't change in 2012:

READING is fundamental.
Many computer problems/challenges are "solved" by careful, methodical reading.

ELECTRICITY is fundamental.
Check to make sure things are plugged in, turned on, and/or charged.

BATTERIES are fundamental.
They need to be replaced for wireless devices to properly work. Think MOUSE, KEYBOARD.

Most importantly, YOU are fundamental.
Nothing happens, correctly or otherwise, without YOUR input or lack thereof. Check and re-check what is going in, whether via typing, voice or touching before saving or sending.

Enjoy all the technology that will serve to challenge us in the new year!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, did you check the FUNDAMENTALS, and is it turned on?


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Since When Does Windows Wear Socks?

Plugging in...

The error message?

"An error occurred while renewing interface Local Area Connection : An operation was attempted on something that is not a socket."

The result? No internet connection, wire or wireless; can't repair internet connection, can't do squat on the internet! Client panic, client phone call, Tutor begins testing and researching.

The solution in this particular client's case was to reset winsock. Can it get more obtuse and technical? Winsock? Really?

The command:

netsh int ip reset resetlog.txt

The acronym: Windows Sockets API (Applications Programming Interface)

Basically, Ms/Mr Winsock is the communicator to the internet. And you thought that was the browser, didn't you? And all you really care about is getting the dang thing to work so you can skip the technical mumbo jumbo, and if you get a similar sockets error, know that someone out there (The COMPUTOR TUTOR) can fix it!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why Don't You Remember Me, Hotmail?

Plugging in...

You know the drill. You check your Hotmail email account several times a day, easy-peasy. Then one fine day, the Hotmail sign in box loses all sense and sensibility and asks YOU what is your email address and, good gracious, what is the password.

What causes the loss of memory of your good friend, Hotmail? The Tutor is here to tell you that it most likely was an update that changed the security settings in the Internet Explorer browser. Not that it says that anywhere. And not that you can easily reach a real person (or even an email robot) at Hotmail to wade through this murky swamp.

The fix? Open the Internet Explorer. Click on Tools on the menu at the top, click on Internet Options at the bottom of the menu. Now your'e faced with a "multi-tabbed diaglogue box" and too many choices to read through without great gobs of patience. So read on... click on the Advanced tab. Look near the bottom of the window in the section titled "Reset Internet Explorer Settings". Look for the reset button in the window at the bottom, right and click on it. Close any windows left open, and close the Internet Explorer for good measure.

Now the big test: open the Internet Explorer again, (yes we did just close it), navigate to your Hotmail page, type your hotmail email address and password, click on the REMEMBER ME box. Close the Internet Explorer again. Open it again, navigate to your Hotmail page, and voila, Hotmail should remember you, at least until the next update!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, does Hotmail remember you, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Plugging in...

Shamelessly mixing the two seasonal holidays by giving thanks on the other holiday's card stock!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Thursday, November 17, 2011

That Nice Man from Microsoft Phoned Me...

Plugging in...

WHAT?? First of all, no one from Microsoft will ever call you. If one was thinking rationally, how would Microsoft have your phone number (and why?) to begin with... and how would they know anything about the computer in your household?

A client was phoned this week (Nov, 2011) by an Indian "gentleman" who claimed to be from Microsoft and "noticed the home computer was running slowly" and wanted to help solve the problem, for a mere $ 199.00. The client was very skeptical, but the caller was a pro and utterly convincing. The client's radar was up, they asked many questions; they received a phone number to call them back, and a website address that looked legitimate (not that hard to make a professional website). The client did call them back and a person answered (did the Tutor mention these scammers were professionals?) and hence the scam commenced.

Suffice it to say, the client not only gave the caller access to the computer, but also gave them a legitimate credit card number after spending 2 hours on the phone with them. One might ask, what exactly were they doing to the computer for two hours anyway? As luck would have it, the client had no personal or confidential information on the computer. The caller tried to walk the client through many steps, but the client was such a novice, that thankfully, they were unable to perform anything they had been asked.

The client finally hung up and immediately called the credit card company to report the fraudulent charge, and put a hold on any charges for the next several days (subsequently, the client called to request a new card number). Then the client called the Tutor, asking for help. A cyber crime report was submitted online and a detailed letter was penned to the credit card company in support of the fraudulent claim. The Tutor ran some tests and some security scans to ensure that the computer had not been compromised. A pricey lesson in security.

The very brassy "technician" called the next morning, immediately asking "is your computer on?" at which point the client hung up and attempted to call them back. Of course, no one answered the phone. Caught in the act? Doubtful this can be traced. It is easy to hide in cyber-world.

How the credit card company will handle this remains to be seen because the consumer willingly gave the caller the credit card number.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, did YOU initiate the support telephone call, and is it turned on?


Monday, October 31, 2011

iTune, uTune, duplicateTunes?

Plugging in...

iTunes can, on occasion, make the audiophile downright irritable when the music library shows duplicates of their songs.

Once upon a time... a hard drive crashed. Don't cry yet, the adult in the household had previously made a copy of ALL the music. Phew. The owner of the music, a teenager, was pleased as punch that the money spent at the Apple Store was not in vain. The adult was the "hero" of the moment.

Suffice it to say, that although the music was backed up, the irritable teenager ended up with duplicates of every piece of music on the iPod and in the music library on the computer. Grrr and worse were uttered. You can imagine.

There were two solutions to this problem, one time consuming if there were many songs and their duplicates to address. The other? Slick, and quick. One could delete every duplicate by marking each one, then deleting them as a group. However, and this is a bigee, one of the songs played, the other didn't. So, each song had to be opened to see if it would play before deleting the offending song. Score one for mega time consuming - there were over a thousand songs. More muttering from the teenager.

Slick and quick works IF there is a clean backup (no duplicates) of all the songs, in another folder, or on an external drive such as a flash or hard drive. That we had. So, into the music library we went via iTunes and quickly deleted every song. We then closed iTunes and copied the music from the external source to the computer. When iTunes was opened, it politely asked if it should locate ALL music files on the PC. Why, YES, we answered, what a concept!

Within seconds a clean, no duplicates music library was restored. Happy ending.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, are the SONGS backed up, and is it turned on?


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Psssttt... it's a BIG file

Plugging in... 

How many use the Outlook email program? Yes, I thought so. Millions. So what happens when one needs to transfer the address book, and ALL the email messages saved in Outlook? Microsoft made part of this easy and straight-forward. Everything, and the Tutor does mean everything, is contained in one file, called the PST file. Copy, paste, success, right? Not that quick...

A client bought a new laptop to replace the aged one at the office. The "aged one's" USB ports hadn't worked in years which meant we couldn't use a USB flash drive or an external hard drive to transfer the file. We had hoped to accomplish this in one visit, without having to purchase additional hardware or software to complete the transfer. Usually, that is not an unreasonable goal.

Challenge #2: The Outlook file was TOO LARGE to send via email to transfer it AND it was too large for many of the free transfer websites that promote handling the transference of large files. So much for straight-forward and easy. The Tutor advised the client to sign up for the PAID Dropbox website ($9.99/month) which would allow up to 10GB (giga-bytes) of storage space. We then copied the PST file to Dropbox. On the new laptop, the Dropbox software was downloaded and installed and it quietly sat in the corner waiting for the Outlook.pst file to make an appearance. And it waited, and waited and waited. The client went home and left the computer on overnight. In the morning? Still waiting...

Although this solution was eventually successful, and the large Outlook file was transferred and operational at its final destination, it was not done in a timely manner. The copy procedure from the old laptop to the Dropbox location took almost 24 hours. Yes, you read that right. TWENTY-FOUR hours. The file was 5GB in size. The transfer began at 3:00pm on one day, and finished the next day, around 3:00pm. The Dropbox solution worked, the client paid the $9.99 fee then canceled the Dropbox subscription. The client, knowing the broken USB ports caused all this brouhaha in the first place, was very appreciative.

COPIER BEWARE: slow, slow, slow; start the process late afternoon if the file is large, and don't be alarmed if it's still transferring many hours later. Patience is a virtue.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, do the USB ports work, and is it turned on?


Saturday, October 15, 2011

It Shouldn't be This Hard

Plugging in...

How hard is it to buy a book these days? What happened to the good, old days when you found the book you wanted, chose hardcover or paperback, paid for it and had a story waiting in the wings to read? Technology happened, and the options can sometimes boggle the mind.

A client bought a new, Nano iPod, successfully synced it to their computer via iTunes, logged into the Apple store with their known Apple ID and password. The client was quickly able to find several desirable books, bought the books and downloaded them to the iPod Nano. The books, however, would NOT sync to the iPod Nano. They clearly appeared in the iTunes library on the computer (sounds a bit like the game of Clue), but not on the Nano, nowhere, no how.

The key word here is BOOK. Books cannot be listened to on an iPod. That's right, a book cannot be listened to on an iPod. The mistake the client made... was purchasing the BOOK versions instead of the AUDIO BOOK versions! Dear reader, book buying online now requires a bit of education and, more careful reading.

There are books to read with one's hands - hardcover and paperback; audiobooks to listen to in the formats of MP3, WMA and others; books to read on a bookreader (such as a Kindle) or on a computer in the format of ePub (and others). If one wants to listen to a book, it must be in audiobook form. Comprende?  Careful reading of how the books are being offered will lead to obtaining the proper formats for the proper technology devices.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it in AUDIO format, and is it turned on?


Friday, October 14, 2011

Refreshing, isn't it?

Plugging in...

Does the reader know anything about refresh rates on monitors? Does the reader HAVE to know about them? Not usually, except, of course, when they do need to know about them.

When all is right with a computer monitor, the type, and graphics appear stable, crisp and easy to read. Games play fast and animation is smooth. But a Tutor client reported something not quite right in monitor land: wavy, wiggling, jiggling occurring on their desktop monitor. It didn't happen all the time, and the condition could not be intiated by the user.

The monitor was unplugged, the cable pulled out and both reconnected to no avail. The monitor shifted the entire contents of the screen ever-upward with little, jiggly movements. Whacking the monitor on the side did no good either, the client reported!

This unwelcome behavior could have been caused by several things: the monitor was failing, the video card adapter that the monitor plugs into was failing, or... the REFRESH rate was too low or high. A quick way to test the monitor and video card is to try another monitor, should a spare one be available. Surprisingly, many people do have spare monitors from older computers that haven't been disposed of. This client did NOT have any spare monitors to try, so the Tutor looked for a software setting, AND found the solution: the refresh rate was set too low for the monitor.

The refresh rate (most commonly the "vertical refresh rate") is the number of times in a second that a monitor draws the data. Set too low or too high, when the monitor is "refreshing" the screen, it can be seen by the user, resulting in wavy lines, blurriness, flicker or faint lines on the screen.

In less than a minute, the annoying screen motion was contained by changing the refresh rate to a higher setting. The client was pleased the sea-sicky feeling was gone when looking at the monitor, no draminine required, stable text and graphics were back on the horizon.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the REFRESH setting OK, and is it turned on?


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Empty, how can they be empty??

Plugging in... 

PDF documents (Portable Document Format) are a great thing. The format allows documents to be created in any program, saved in PDF format, allowing anyone with a free PDF reader program to open them. Most computer users don't even think about them and why they work, until they don't work.

A recent client was sent several PDF documents not only to open and read, but to fill in on-screen and email back to the sender. The first PDF opened as expected, allowed the user to type directly on the document on the screen, but, and this was a BIG but, it wouldn't allow the typist to save the typing and email the document back. It clearly stated that it wouldn't save, but in very tiny print at the top of the document which went unseen by the client. The harm done? The client thought the form was filled out, saved and it was emailed back to the sender, EMPTY.

Perplexed, frustrated and aggravated, the client now fully understood that the free ADOBE reader program does not allow filled-in forms to be saved. The pressing question was why, then, would it allow one to fill in the form in the first place, if one couldn't save it? In Adobe's defense, one could then print the form, scan the filled in form (provided one has a scanner) and email it back. Too much work? You bet it is!

The solution to saving PDF filled in forms is NOT to use the Adobe Reader program to view, type and print PDF documents. Nitro, an alternative FREE PDF reader AND creator, can be downloaded, installed and then used to easily open, read, print, type on forms AND save the typing for convenient emailing!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the typing SAVED, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Unmountable Boot Volume... WHAT??

Plugging in...

Blue screen of death, anyone? That's what it is called when Microsoft Windows has a serious problem. The computer in question was humming along nicely, albeit quite elderly (8 years) in terms of computing life. And after a short struggle starting, the bright blue background with white letters halted the poor thing in its tracks.

The computer's owner was perplexed as the message indicated something new had been attached and Windows balked at the new attachment. This turned out to be a misguided error message, but the message was still loud and clear: I'm not starting.

After some cajoing by the Tutor (going into setup, starting from an original Windows CD), a much clearer message surfaced as to the problem: unmountable boot volume. Oh. That didn't clear it up for the reader? It didn't clear it up for the computer owner either!

Unmountable boot volume means: the area on the hard drive the computer looks at when starting, failed. A bit of diagnostics revealed an unrecoverable hard drive failure. The diagnostic software was able to repair 25% of the area, but was unable to continue. Not good news. The hard drive needed replacing.

Replace or buy new? Depends on age of computer, computer owner's financial situation, cost of hard drive and installation and potential cost of data transfer, if recovery is at all possible from the failed drive.

Lesson: make sure there is a current back up of the computer's data at all times. The blue screen of death doesn't always give notice in advance of appearing! And for the record, it doesn't always mean a hard drive failure, but BACKUPS are critical all the time: fire, flood, theft, failure, etc.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is there a clear error message, and is it turned on?


Sunday, October 2, 2011

On Guard II

Plugging in...

The reader may remember the battle with Comcast's Constant Guard in a previous post. When it overtook a keyboard and caused all the number keys across the top to type as the last letter pressed on the keyboard? Don't remember? To refresh your memory, read the previous On Guard! post.

Constant Guard is back with yet another keyboard fiasco. A Tutor's student (Salem State University) came to class with a baffling internet browser problem. In both the Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers, typing would not appear in the search box while on the Google website. The cursor moved across the box while typing was occurring, and the search box had an eerie light blue background with a series of dots as each key was pressed on the keyboard. If one pressed either the ENTER key on the keyboard or clicked on the Google Search button below the search box, the browser did indeed search for whatever was typed into the search box.

This was maddening for the student as they went about learning all the intricacies of Google searching without the capability of making sure the typing was correct in the search box. Interesting fact: the Chrome browser (by Google) did NOT have this strange invisible typing problem.

A bit of research brought about a quick answer: uninstall Comcast's Constant Guard and the keyboard's invisible typing will magically re-appear. Seems Comcast might have released their security suite a tad too early, and without thorough testing. Comcast used to provide a free copy of McAfee, then they switched to providing a free copy of Norton, both tried and true security products. Now they are offering their own product which was released sometime in August, 2011. Not everyone is encountering these problems, but if you do, remember where you read about the solutions - NOT on the Comcast website!!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is CONSTANT GUARD installed, and is it turned on?


Thursday, September 15, 2011

On Guard!

Plugging in...

The Tutor encountered the strangest keyboard problem this week. A client had a laptop and an external wireless keyboard that were working flawlessly... until something happened to cause the numbers keys not to work properly on both keyboards. By not working properly, the Tutor means this: the client began typing their email address into a signin box for a web-based email program. After pressing the @ symbol (shift & 2), instead of the @ symbol appearing, the character "n" appeared. Not only did the "n" appear when pressing the @ symbol, but it appeared when pressing ANY of the numbers keys on the keyboard.

Scratching head, a very puzzled Tutor opened Word and tried the numbers. THEY ALL WORKED fine. More puzzling, and more head scratching. What in heavens name was going on? The keyboard wasn't broken, though the client had been advised by two other technical support people to replace it. Knowing that the keys worked in Word, we could have typed the email address in Word, copied and pasted it into the email signin box and that's when I lost my client's attention. The client just wanted the keyboard to work again, no work arounds.

After much fiddling (technical term) about, the Tutor realized that the numbers keys would take on the last character typed on the keyboard before a number was pressed. That didn't help solve the problem, but now the Tutor knew where the "n" came from - it was the last letter of the client's email address before the @ symbol was pressed.

Search engines to the rescue. The Tutor found an answer, but first had to figure out a way to describe this problem so a search engine could locate a solution. After a few attempts, BINGO - an answer appeared and as the solution was applied, thankfully, it worked. Aren't you dying to know what the problem was??

It was... Comcast's new Constant Guard software program. It has a known problem of affecting some keyboards (not that Comcast fessed up, or posted this online). Once the offending program was uninstalled, the keyboard problem vanished into the night and the Tutor's client was able once again to get email and have full use of all the numbers on the keyboard.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is there a NEW GUARD in town, and is it turned on?


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where has the Tutor been?

Plugging in...

March 31, 2011. The last post. A sickness, followed by the death of a much-loved father will make blogging about computers take a back seat for several months.

The Tutor is slowly moving forward and has plenty of pent up tales to blog, so please, stay tuned.  The fall of 2011 should be full of education and amusement.

Death may take center stage at times, but life has a way of going on all around us.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Attached Are You?

Plugging in...

Outlook 2003. Attachments. Once you get the gist, it's easy to send attachments, until ahem, it isn't. Case in point: a client attempted to send the same Word attachment to one email address seventeen times. Why seventeen? Because the recipient never received the email, the SENT folder never showed the email was sent, AND the email was never bounced back with "return to sender".

After trying all the requisite actions: recipient put sender's email in safe senders list; sender copied and pasted attachment into body of email (still a no-go); checked known file types that Outlook 2003 blocks as attachments and Word is NOT one of them; sender emailed without attachment - success. Well, how does THAT help?

The Tutor went on-site and opened the offending Word document. A short, two page document that appeared perfectly fine. As a matter of fact, it was emailed as an attachment not long ago, and it went through. The Tutor noticed there were clickable website links in the document and disabled them by right clicking on each and selecting Remove Hyperlink. The Word document sailed through as an attachment! So the "live" links were the culprit. But why now, and not in the past, are the links causing the problem? Therein lies another Outlook 2003 mystery.

Researching the problem turned up this: the problem happens suddenly, has no apparent reason for the blockage, won't block all documents with "live" links. Myriad fixes were suggested, none of which solved the problem. The client didn't really care if the links were "live", they were in the document for informational purposes. That's fine for this particular scenario, but what if someone wants the links to be clickable? The Microsoft response online went something like this "we realize that blocking can at times be inconvenient, but ultimately security is more important". They claim any blockages are preventing potential malicious activities (phishing).

We used a work around, one which included NOT using a Microsoft product - Dropbox, a file sharing online product that does not prohibit any type of file from being shared, and not through email!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, does it have "links", and is it turned on?


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Going Loopy

Plugging in...

How many people have had to replace any of their electronics power cords due to failure (not loss or animal consumption)? Laptop users are especially prone to power supply replacements. Know why? It's all in the wrist.

There is a product-saving technique involved when wrapping up the dangly power supply cords for transport or storage. Most people grab the cord and begin wrapping the cord around whatever larger piece is available, then secure it with either the attached rubber strap, the ever-sticky velcro strap, or slide an elastic around it. Mind you, the Tutor is referring to laptop power supplies at the moment.

When one bends the cord too close to its attachment point on the power supply itself, sometimes referred to as the "brick", the fragile, tiny wires coated in rubbery plastic also bend. And they bend every time the cord is re-wrapped. Those little wires really are fragile, and with enough wrapping and unwrapping the wires snap inside the coating (sometimes they visibly snap) and the power supply no longer can deliver power when plugged in.

The correct way to wrap the power cord is to create a small loop (as if going to hang it from a hook) where the cord meets the supply, then start the wrapping process. This prevents unnecessary stress at the power cord's most fragile point. Keep this in mind for ALL dangly cords that need wrapping from hair dryers to toasters to iPod cables. Since you are creating a small loop, the cord(s) can now be hung for easier storage.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, did you leave a loop, and is it turned on?


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Movin' On Up

Plugging in...

Moving can be a good/great thing, right? New condo, house, address, phone number, etc. How many of us think about the online accounts we've created with our old contact information? Does it matter if we don't change our contact information? Read on...

Windows Live (also known as hotmail) bounced a client's email password. The client was adamant: no, it had not been changed, no the caps lock key wasn't locked, no to a host of other typing issues that sometimes cause erroneous typing in the password box. The client had tried to type the password so many times that Windows Live "blocked" the account, assuming it was a hacker guessing at passwords to access the account. Fair enough. The client should have clicked on "forgot password" after several tries, but was unaware of the dark, foreboding place they were entering. To the client's point, they HAD NOT forgotten the password, it had been the same since the account was established years ago.

The first inkling of a more severe problem was the next suggestion from Windows Live: we'll text you on xxx-xxx-xxxx phone number. Oh no. The phone number was from a former residence, and, it did not allow anyone to type in a new or alternate phone number. The next and only suggestion: customer support. We are starting to feel the pain of moving...

Windows Live doesn't have "live" people to discuss email situations with. No. They have a private forum, and they have a list of questions they ask to establish your identity. They also REQUIRE an alternate email address to converse with you. If you don't have one, they handily suggest you create another Windows Live email address. A sampling of the questions they ask: full name, zip code, phone number, last couple of subjects you emailed about, a couple of names from your address book, the answer to your original secret question. They will use these to prove you are who you say you are, provided, and this is the kicker, they MATCH the original information the account was established with. And, they will get back to you within a 24 hour period.

The client blew out an audible sigh. No memory of what information the original account might contain, though the client was fairly certain we couldn't match the information in the original account. The client's address, cell phone, landline, had all changed, and the secret question answer? Windows Live said no, your favorite pet's name was NOT what you typed in. More audible sighing.

The quick solution to this problem was to create another email address which we did, while we hung on to the slim hope that Windows Live would get back to us in their stated timeframe. But that left the original address book in limbo and all exisitng or saved emails locked up tight, without access.

So, when you do change addresses, phone numbers or any other information that is used to identify your online presence, make sure you visit, at a minimum, your email accounts and change the information!!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the INFORMATION current, and is it turned on?


Friday, March 25, 2011

Can You See Me Now?

Plugging in...

Oh yes, the Outlook 2003 email could easily be seen at this gi-gantitron size of 300%, from across the room! It only took on this enlarged appearance when the Tutor's client clicked the Reply button. No email recipient received the email at 300% either. Nor did it print in this behemoth size.

Hmm. No view buttons in Outlook changed the email size. No Options in Outlook were selected to change the font size of all replies. Hmm. Outlook 2003 has more than one option for what program is used to create and send email. And if a user wants their composed email to look all gussied up (fancy name for formatted), using word processing style features, then Outlook isn't using what is commonly known as an email editor. No siree Bob, it's using one of it's own: Microsoft Word.

And lo and behold, if using Word 2003 as the email editor, not only do all the Word features make themselves available to use in the email, but Word has its own view menu item that controls the size of the on-screen text only, zooming, as it is usually called. Once 100% was chosen from the menu (after clicking on reply), the client's email life was pretty much back to normal: too many emails, too little time, but just the right size for replying.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it ZOOMED, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Novel Support

Plugging in...

Not novel as in original and of a kind not seen before, but novel as in hard cover book, not ebook, not audiobook, just plain, ordinary book! A client, who is also a published author, was in need of some stitch-witchery. The sixteen chapters of the book were typed into individual Word documents, but paginated as though they were already combined.

Word has a nice feature which allows the insertion of one file within another. Do once, and repeat fifteen times. But for the one glitch... three individual pages that required inserting at three different locations, but without page numbers. Word again, to the rescue. Word has another useful feature referred to as section breaks, which allows for different headers and footers to repeat on different pages. Stop page numbering, insert breaks, start page numbering, repeat two additional times. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

Last but not least, the agent required the book to be in PDF (portable document format) form. Word 2003, the version the client was using, does not have the ability to save as a PDF (Word 2007 and 2010 do). One more trick, find and download a free PDF creator, save the Word document as a PDF, and email the PDF attachment to the agent. The Tutor chose the free version of Nitro PDF reader because it's small, easy to use, and less prone to assault by computer hackers than the free Adobe PDF Reader software.

The Tutor's client longed for the good old days, when one typed the book on a typewriter, collated the pages, and mailed them to their agent. The days when authors did not also have to be "tech savy" to get their work published.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the file in PDF form, and is it turned on?


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Space Invaders

Plugging in...

Sometimes technology fails us. Period. Like when you're suddenly asked for the"network" password when attempting to send an email. You may think "I don't have a password" (you do, though), because your email program conveniently remembers it for you. So this is what happened...

A client was prompted for the network password when sending what should have been an ordinary email on an ordinary day. And why can't the message just ask for the email password anyway? But the Tutor digresses. The client filled in the TWO prompted pieces of information on the screen: user name (which is the email address) and network password. The client filled in their Comcast email address and guessed at the password. And continued guessing as the email would neither send nor receive and the dang prompting box would not go away.

Compound the issue with a little check mark that told the email program to REMEMBER the password and we have a "situation". The Tutor, via telephone, instructed the client to change the password through the Comcast website. Changing the password was only one third of the battle. 

The first fight of the battle was the CAPS LOCK key was on when the password was reset. Once the Tutor figured that out, the second fight was OUTLOOK, the email program of choice by millions worldwide, had to be told the new password as well. The client did NOT want the password that was reset with the CAPS LOCK key on and was too frustrated to re-set the password again. At this point, the Tutor knew a site visit was in order. Score? Technology 2, Client 0.

As a temporary stopgap, the Tutor instructed the client to fetch and send email via the Comcast web-based email program, which worked perfectly. The Tutor then made a site visit only to find the real fight wasn't the password at all, though the Tutor did re-set it to the original password. The penultimate fight: the client had typed a SPACE in their email address in the original window that prompted for the username and password of the "network". The password was NEVER the problem! The client finally won the Technology battle of the day, albeit a bit battered, but more knowledgeable.

The remaining question is why did the email prompt for the username and network password to begin with? A technology mystery? Not really. If one researches the problem, the most viable reason is there was an update that caused the prompting. Could have been a windows, registry or Outlook change. Feel better?

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is there a SPACE where it doesn't belong, and is it turned on?


Monday, March 7, 2011

Music to the Ears

Plugging in... 

GarageBand, the Apple darling of recording music. Who uses GarageBand? Everyone and anyone who has a MAC (not available for PC users); a client, who received a fabulous Yeti microphone as a gift and plays a brilliant baby grand piano.

The desired outcome? Record baby grand piano playing through GarageBand on a single track for burning to a CD or DVD to share with friends and family. The stage was set: baby grand open, music on stand, Yeti microphone plugged into Macbook Pro, turned on and positioned on top of the piano, the pianist, and the recorder (the Tutor). After several takes and many guffaws, a couple of songs made their way toward Grammy night in under two hours!

For anyone who has spent the time with Apple Loops, software instruments, mixing sounds, adding and deleting tracks, it can be very entertaining and quite possibly the largest consumption of your time since the advent of the Internet! Not that it has to take that long to record, but the options. Oh my. The options to create, edit, mix, playback, and enhance sound are endless. How much time do you have? How good are your ears? Vocal, guitar, piano, podcast, songwriting all from a one-stop virtual recording studio.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the recorder ON, and is it turned on?


Technology Transition Planning

Plugging in... 

Now this was an organized, on-the-verge of retirement client! The Tutor spoke with a CPA who is retiring in May, 2011 and wants a technology transition plan for leaving the work environment and going without an IT department, without an Exchange server (Outlook, for those unfamiliar), centralizing ALL billing with one vendor, changing email addresses, buying a new cell phone and an small, light computer for the hoped-for travel adventures.

Whew. Where to start? The goals were already listed, but what to attack and in what order? There were a couple of known items: a Verizon iPhone will be the new phone; Verizon will be the vendor with the bundle that offers phone, Internet and TV.

Action Items:

Find out the contract date from the original TV/Internet provider.
Determine the monetary penalty for canceling the contract early.
Contact Verizon for the "bundle" pricing and installation date.
Purchase computer and desired software.
Test the online software (cloud) software to make sure it works.

After Verizon services are in place:

Create new Verizon email address(es).
Ask Verizon and/or Apple how the iPhone syncs with Outlook on the MAC.
Ask Apple if Mobile Me works with the Verizon iPhone.
Have Verizon or Apple set up the phone to work with Mobile Me and transfer phone data from the current AT&T iPhone to the Verizon iPhone.

CALL THE TUTOR, it's time to retire and move the technology forward!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is there a Plan, and is it turned on?


Monday, February 28, 2011

The Tutor Wears 3 Hats

Plugging in...

Although the Tutor was originally called for a visit to explain the unusual behavior of the MacBook trackpad, you know, the little glassy-like rectangle that substitutes for a mouse, the visit quickly turned into an all things electronics visit.

After the trackpad was explained, from using two fingers to scroll, two fingers to pinch, tapping and double tapping, tapping far right for a right click, and changing the sensitivity, the Tutor changed hats when asked "can you fix the audio on my new HD TV and Bose sound system"? Umm, OK.

The audio problem was simple - the incorrect INPUT had been selected from one of the three remotes required to run the TV, Cable and Bose sound system. The owner chose TV, a logical choice. But the TV wanted HDMI 1. Through a quick process of elimination, we started at the top of the list, and chose each option in order until the sound burst out of the speakers.

TV hat off, third hat on: "can you show me how to set this new alarm clock from A Sharper Image"? Thankfully, the client had kept the single, tiny sheet of paper packaged with the alarm that masqueraded as a manual. The three buttons on the alarm were simple enough to operate, but without the paper explaining which one to hold, for how long, then move the other, etc, etc. I think you get the drift. A wind up Baby Ben would have been easier... but do they make them anymore??

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, do you have the remote, do you the manual, and is it turned on?


Friday, February 25, 2011

The Trojan War

Plugging in...

Not the war with Joan of Arc, but the insidious war of computer hackers who are constantly re-writing their little nasty programs to sneak into our computers without our express permission. More often than not, they are able to invade one's computer because the computer's security hasn't been kept up to date (service packs, weekly updates, anti-virus software, etc). Basically, a compromised computer immune system. Vitamin C can't help here.

This little devil, known as the Alureon.A trojan, infected a Windows XP computer which did not have the latest service pack (3) installed. SP3 was released in May of 2008. In July of 2010, Microsoft announced if anyone was missing the free SP3, they could no longer obtain the regular and systematic security updates. Even though the Tutor was able to download SP3 and update the antivirus software, run several anti-spyware programs, the trojan horse was already in the barn, and the door was closed, so to speak.

With a bit more research, the problem surfaced: the master boot record (MBR) was infected so each time the computer restarted (rebooted), the infection [trojan] returned. The solution required the original Windows XP disk, use of the repair and recovery console and the fixmbr command. The fix took seconds, the research and diagnosis took at bit longer. And of course, there is no substitute for experience.

Deep breaths all around as the computer was re-started after the fixmbr was done, and miraculously, the infection disappeared. Like magic. Like how quickly an anti-biotic can make a very sick person feel so much better!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it up-to-date, and is it turned on?


Stand by Your Modem

Plugging in...

While Tammy Wynette is famous for Stand by Your Man - a recent client was singing the Comcast blues while standing by the modem. It all started with a visit from a Comcast technician to fix a digital TV problem. Who knew that when the tech left, there would be an Internet problem!

The TV problem was a minor issue, quickly resolved. The TV though, was located in the same room as the Comcast Internet modem. Usually not a problem. In this case, the technician moved the modem out of his way while working on the TV, then put it back when he was finished. Nothing was unplugged, yet the modem failed to connect to the Internet. Of course no one thought to check the Internet connection before the technician left the premises. Note to self: always check Internet after a tech visit.

First line of defense was taken without the Tutor on-site which was: unplug the power to the modem, wait 30 seconds for it to recycle and plug the power back in. Didn't do anything to reconnect to the Internet.

The problem? The modem was in STANDBY mode. It got that way when the technician accidentally pressed the standby button which is located on TOP of the modem (hard to see - same color as the modem) when he moved the modem out of his way to fix the TV problem. With one tiny push of the button, all the lights on the modem came back on, and stayed on. The Internet was BACK!

While in standby mode, there is only one light lit on the modem and it is amber. If one recycles the modem, as described above, all the modem lights come on briefly, then turn off... except for the amber light. It does say standby near the light, too.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the modem in standby mode, did the tech test the internet before leaving, and is it turned on?


Thursday, January 27, 2011

When is an UNINSTALL not uninstalling?

Plugging in...

Canon. HP. Both popular printer manufacturers. So what happens when you buy a new Canon or HP printer replacing a previous one, and part of the all-in-one printer doesn't work, like the scanner, for instance?

A Tutor client spent several hours working through this scenario with a telephone tech support person from Canon. Old printer died. New printer purchased. Old printer software "uninstalled" via Canon's uninstall software. New software installed. And almost everything worked, but not the scanner. Canon is baffled. They have the Tutor's client uninstall, re-install, unplug, replug and do the hokey-pokey. No dice, it still doesn't work.

The problem was, the uninstall software only uninstalled the PRINTER DRIVER, but left behind all the old all-in-one software which confused the new printer installation. Since it saw some of the same software already there, it did not install all the software for the new printer. SHAME on the manufacturer for using the same names and same folder for the software installation.

It took the Tutor less than 10 minutes to solve the problem. There was a Canon folder and ALL the software in sub-folders stored on the computer's hard drive. Once the Canon folder and all its files and sub-folders were manually deleted, the new printer software and printer driver installed quickly and every piece worked perfectly. Printing, scanning, copying and faxing all now working. Maybe the Tutor should tutor the Canon tech support people...

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is the old software really UNINSTALLED, and is it turned on?


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The January UNPLUGGED Curse

Plugging in...

Is it the Tutor, or is the January electrical demon unplugging everything computer-related?

Unplugged Award number four goes to the HP Media Vault used for backing up. Connect, Protect, Simplify. The HP StorageWorks Media Vault Pro provides a simple solution for small businesses for secure, automatic on-site backup and file sharing – without IT personnel, so says the website.

When the backup software went looking for a place to backup to, it came up empty, and hence the unclear error message. The Tutor asked to see the backup vault and wondered aloud, how can one tell if it is on? That led to looking all around the unit and finding the rear-facing, round power button. The unit is so dark when turned off, one cannot see there are little led lights on the front of it.
When the little blue lights aren't flashing on the front of the Vault, an unclear error regarding the NAS path appears on the screen. What, you ask is NAS? Network attached storage. Unplugged? No, not this time. More like shut off. With the power button. On the rear of the unit. Accidental? Cleaning personnel? Not sure, but a quick punch of the button brought flashing blue lights (thankfully not police lights, even though the backup is very speedy), the unit beeped back to life and the backup proceeded as usual.

Power to the people.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Sunday, January 16, 2011

How SLOW can you go?

Plugging in...

The client noticed a serious time lag in starting up the computer. A full ten minutes of serious lag. That startup time was confirmed by yours truly. All the normal sorts of things that can cause startup delays were checked: programs loading without necessity, too many temporary and/or temporary internet files, miscellaneous and unnecessary services running, scheduled tasks that check for updates every hour. NONE of those was the culprit. In fact, the computer was relatively "clean" and usually very fast.

Aside from pouring Geritol over the keyboard to give it an energy boost, the Tutor stuck her head under the desk and traced a multitude of cables and power cords to their respective devices. With one quick yank, the startup lag disappeared. Can anyone guess what was disconnected with the thoughtful yank? A USB four-port hub which had four USB cables plugged into it. Once the hub cable was disconnected from the computer, the startup woes went away.

The client was perplexed as the USB hub was not new, nothing outwardly appeared to have changed from fast day startup time to slow day startup time. Nothing different was plugged in or unplugged. We chalked it up to the "we don't care if the problem is solved" arena and let it go at that! And the client agreed to plug the hub in only when the devices attached to it were going to be used (or to plug it in AFTER the computer fully started).

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, are TOO many things plugged in, and is it turned on?


Unplugged: Third Tale's a Charm?

Plugging in...

Can it be possible, a third unplugged story so early in the newborn year, 2011? It can, and it was.

A client called and left a message "Verizon said my computer must have a virus". Oh really?

The Tutor needed to know just a tad more than that so the investigation began. The client spent more than an hour on the phone with a technical support person from Verizon. The sympton was a blank monitor. Hmmmm.

After an hour, the client still had a blank monitor and contacted the Tutor but was frustrated and was able to provide little more than  "Verizon said my computer must have a virus", please help. So off the Tutor went to the client's home (who was not there for the visit) and lo and behold... the monitor cable had let go from the back of the computer. It was mired in a bunch of other wires (you all know how many wires each computer has in a tangle on the floor) and not easy to reach or even to see. Many people can't tell if something isn't right even when they look, unless they have labeled each cable - a great idea, by the way.

Usually, monitor cables are screwed into the back of a computer so they don't fall out because they are top heavy. Over time, a computer can get moved back and forth or left and right, and if any cables aren't fully screwed in, or tightly pushed in, they are prone to eventual dis-engagement. Such was the case.

It was an easy, fast fix for the Tutor. And a classic case of UNPLUGGED! They are not all this easy...

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, and is it turned on?


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unplugging: Another Classic

Plugging in...

Unplugging, not quite the same thing as unplugged, but close...

How 'bout those wireless printers, eh? Printing from the sunny deck, printing from in front of the cozy fireplace, printing, um NOT - what happened? Three people were happily printing photos, documents, and emails until, a lovely Lexmark printer message came bounding across the screen - can't find printer.

Well, everyone could see the printer, it was powered on, the little green wireless symbol was lit up light a Christmas tree, the internet was working perfectly, so what the heck?? The way a wireless printer works and behaves is directly related to the wireless router which not only provides wireless internet capabilities, but also allows printers to be used without cables tethering them to computers - like the cutting of an umbilical cord: the printer child is alive and well and functions on its own without the cord. Usually.

A wireless printer gets assigned a number, like a street address, from the wireless router, when first installed. When the printer failed to print (in this instance), it lost its address and there wasn't any particular reason why, nor did any of the three people using the printer directly cause the problem.

When the printer squeaks out messages that defy the printing Gods and Goddesses, what is a lowly mortal to do to get the printer to print again? UNPLUG the power cord from the printer and wait several seconds before reconnecting the power cord. This resets the printer internally and almost magically (unless there are BIGGER problems) finds the wireless router, locates its address, and voila, the printer once again prints when asked. Isn't that just like a human? Sometimes it does nothing when asked, and sometimes it does everything when asked...

 ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, was it unplugged and re-plugged in, and is it turned on?


Classic "Unplugged"

Plugging in...

There is a reason the blog is titled : "UNPLUGGED"

Typical client call comes in, a distressing situation; this one relates to the My Essentials backup unit. The blog readers all know how the Tutor hounds everyone to have a backup plan in place and to use it. Well, this backup plan was in place and was being used, until the backup tab at the top of the software was unclickable (commonly called being grayed out).

Not only was the backup tab unavailable, but the software was hounding the Tutor's client to update the software. And the client tried, wasn't sure what to update (it's never easy - firmware or software or both) so the call was placed to yours truly. The Tutor attempted to advise the client via the telephone (some people still use the phone to communicate, imagine?) but to no avail.

Knock, knock. Tutor arrives and sees the same situation the client described over the phone. Except for one, tiny difference. When asked about the backup unit for the Tutor could not see it, the client showed the Tutor it was next to the desk, and when picked up had the tell-tale light of power clearly on. But as most of you know, some things not only have a power cord, they also have a cable...

The USB cable which connects the backup unit to the computer was dangling like a ripe banana from a tree. Like magic, when connected, the backup tab was illuminated and the backup was initiated immediately, without updating software or firmware.

We didn't let it go at just the backup. When software has an update, it is generally for your own good to have it. When the unit has a firmware update (firmware is still a software program but is stored INSIDE the hardware in ROM (read only memory), it too is usually a good thing. So we did what all good users should do, and we updated. Took several deep breaths, chanted a couple of oomms and made peace with the computing world.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is there more than one thing to plug in, and is it turned on?