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

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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

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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?

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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??

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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?