Latest Entries »

OK, normally I don’t complain on my blog, but I am (as well as others) at my wits end with one particular internet service provider: WINDSTREAM! Windstream’s DSL has been so freaking slow and problematic, especially at night. This has been going on far too long and needs to be fixed NOW!

Windstream just so happens to be my ISP, and has been since 2007. When first signing up, Windstream was fairly decent. I never had any problems with them with the original 1.5 MBPS speed. Sometime later, a Windstream representative came knocking on my door and gave me a deal that allowed me to upgrade to 3 MBPS for the same price. There were no problems at the time and I still had trouble free internet from that point on.

Sometime in 2012, Windstream started getting slow during the evening hours and speedtest.net was telling me that I was getting about half of my 3 MBPS download. This lasted for about 3-4 months until the problem was fixed. Then, in March of 2013, I noticed that my download speed was once again about half of what it should be at night. For an additional $5.00 a month, I upgraded to 6 MBPS hoping that the download speeds will improve at night. Instead, I was getting the same result as the 3 MBPS download speed. Even less that at times.

Over the next few months, the download speed eventually got worse and speeds started falling to 2 to 1 MBPS. YouTube videos started defaulting to 360p or 240p resolution, even 144p if congested. Download speeds were unstable and were jumping all over the place, sometimes taking a time-out for a few moments before resuming. Websites would load incompletely and would not display styles or some pictures until a refresh was performed. Other times I could not access a site at all. However refreshing would always load the page with no problem, almost as if Windstream didn’t feel like loading the first time.

Within the last 3 months, Windstream has been absolutely atrocious! I started getting outrageous pings like 300ms and download speeds equivalent to a 56k modem, even slower at times with ridiculous speeds like 10 to 20 KBPS.

Now, here’s the thing. There is nothing wrong with my phone lines or my modem, they are all fine. After a quick Google search, it turns out that I’m not the only one experiencing these dog gone speeds. Windstream customers from states like Texas, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia are ALL experiencing iffy download speeds, even with speeds as high as 12 MBPS. Some are even complaining about long term outages. Go to Windstream’s Facebook page and just about everyone complains about their slow download speeds. An employee usually replies to customer’s posts. Visit a “slow Windstream” topic on dslreports.com and you might find that a Windstream representative (if that really who he/she is) replied to someone’s thread. However, both of them give me the impression that they don’t know what they are talking about or they are trying to hide the real problem that is plaguing the download speeds that so many are complaining about. With all the complaints that Windstream has received, it appears that the employees are completely clueless or suffer from short term memory loss. They tend to say the same thing for every complaint.

I can point out one reason why Windstream’s DSL speeds are so abysmal. I blame those Roku boxes and internet TV’s that allow you to watch video from sources like Hulu, YouTube, Netflix etc. Video is very demanding and a high speed internet connection that is 3 MBPS or higher is a must for most of these services. (It appears that many customers don’t realize the demanding part). As people ditch cable/satellite services for cheaper alternatives, they are often turning to internet streaming devices. These devices have obviously exceeded Windstream’s DSL capabilities and have done so very quickly. Some of the earliest “slow internet” complaints started appearing back in 2011, which was about the time when Roku boxes first became available. Now you have all these Roku boxes and internet TV’s that many Windstream customers cannot use because of slow speeds that would cause constraint buffering or low resolution/heavily compressed video. If I used a Roku/internet TV religiously and had to put up with slow download speeds, I’d be very P.O. as many Windstream customers with these devices already are.

So in conclusion, Windstream should get their act together and provide us with the speed that we are paying for. They should stop selling DSL to customers with speeds that they cannot offer and they should refund/deduct a percentage off of our bill until they can provide us with acceptable DSL.

Advertisements

As of spring of 2013, I’ve seen hundreds of Westinghouse solar lamps (item number 577105-08W) being sold at my local Wal-Mart for .97 cents apiece. The value of the components (battery, solar cell, LED) well exceeds the cost of the product, so I decided to pick up a few of them and see how well they perform.

When night fell, I noticed that the Westinghouse lamps were not as bright compared to my existing lamps, and for .97 cents, I really shouldn’t complain. I removed the light cap from the Westinghouse and from one of my existing lamps and laid them side by side for comparison. Both lights were outputting the same brightness. When holding the Westinghouse lamp over my existing fixture, the brightness was comparable to the other existing lamps that I had in my yard.

I believe I had the same problem with my existing fixtures when they were new. What happens after a couple years is that the plastic lens deteriorates from being in the hot sun. When it does, the lens develops a foggy look. The fogginess of the plastic acts as a diffuser and evenly distributes the light in all directions. LED’s shine in one direction, and that direction is down when used in most solar lighting applications.

So what is this all coming down to? Well, if you read my post about the Compaq Presario Power Light, you already know that I placed a piece of matte finish Scotch tape in front of the extremely bright power light to act as a diffuser. So why not try it with the Westinghouse solar lamps and see if it helps improve their visibility.

The lamps have a small amount of “neck” below the LED. This neck is perfect for applying some matte finish Scotch tape around it. I wrapped the tape around the neck twice making sure the tape completely covers the LED. (2/3 of the tape should cover the LED). When done, the tape resembled a straw with a LED in the middle. All I had to do now was wait until nighttime.

westinghouse_lamp_1 westinghouse_lamp_2

The tape definitely helped, and the light looks brighter and can be seen from farther away. I was happy with the results, but the bottom-half of the lamp was still not well lit. I decided to improve the lamp by adding a straw inside the lens in order to help carry the light towards the bottom of the lamp. What I used was a clear wide straw from a fast food restaurant. (The Arby’s straws seem to work the best). I measured and cut off about 1¾ inches of the straw and then wrapped matte finish Scotch tape around the entire length of the straw in sections. Then I used some tape to hold the straw onto the base of the lamp, just below the LED.

westinghouse_lamp_3 westinghouse_lamp_4

When night came, I was surprised at what I saw. Although the straw allows some light to reach the bottom of the lens, it does give the lamp a cool fade effect, kind of like a flame. The straw makes the solar lamp look almost like a bug zapper with a long thin line in the middle of the lens. Overall, the modifications were worth the time and effort.

westinghouse_lamp_5 westinghouse_lamp_6

Those pop-up balloons usually become a nuisance while browsing the internet on certain sites. When you accidentally hover over a green double-underlined word with your cursor, a pop-up balloon, usually displaying an ad, is displayed. You can prevent most of these pop-up balloons from appearing by adding the following websites to your browser’s block list.

  • intellitxt.com
  • vibrantmedia.com
  • kontera.com

When you visit a page that contains content from the above sites, the tagged words will no longer be green and double-underlined, preventing the pop-up balloons from appearing.

If you have a Compaq Presario with that huge bright green power light, it probably drives you crazy. Here are some tips for customizing the power light and making it less distracting.

Make a Diffuser Using Scotch Tape
When the power LED shines though the plastic lens, it may not distribute the light evenly, or a beam of light may hit you in the eye at a certain angle. To fix this insert a diffuser made of Scotch tape in between the LED and lens. (See picture 1)

  1. Remove the computer cover and the front panel.
  2. Using Scotch tape with a matte finish, pull out about 3 inches of tape.
  3. Fold the tape in half with both sticky sides together. Make sure there are no creases or air bubbles in the tape.
  4. Remove the last screw in the first row of spare mounting screws and line up one end of the diffuser to that screw hole. Make sure the other end completely covers the power LED and clears the power button.
  5. While holding the diffuser, take a toothpick or a small screwdriver and punch a small hole though the diffuser and screw hole.
  6. Insert the screw though the diffuser and reinstall the screw back on the computer case.

Can’t See HDD Access Light
The hard disk drive access light may be hard to see because the brightness of the power light beams down into the access light lens, drowning out the access light. To fix this, you need to cover the HDD access lens with electrical tape. (See picture 2)

  1. Remove the computer cover and the front panel.
  2. Cover the entire HDD access lens with electrical tape. Do not cover the part where the HDD access LED shines directly into the lens.
  3. Apply some additional tape at the base of the lens.

Changing the Power Light
Replacing the power LED is very easy to do. You may want to replace the factory LED with one of a different color or brightness. The power LED is held in place with a fan connector, making replacement or upgrading easy. (See picture 3)

  1. Remove the computer cover and the front panel.
  2. Remove the retaining clip that holds the power button, power LED and HDD access LED.
  3. Remove the old power LED by straightening the one leg sticking out from the rear of the plug.
  4. Install the new LED

If the LED doesn’t light up when the computer is turned on, remove the LED from the plug, rotate it 180 degrees and reinstall it.

On April 24, 2012, Microsoft updated its free anti-virus software from version 2 to version 4, jumping over 3 in the process. Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE)  has been a good alternative for Norton. It is very fast and uses very little resources. Version 2 has been my favorite so far, and after the update, it still is.

That’s because I am disappointed that Microsoft degraded the look of MSE in version 4. The background image is gone, leaving a rendered gray to blue background in its place, similar to the first version.  The icons in the tabs are now gone, and the status bar at the top is now a solid color bar, with no gradual fading or “glossiness”.

  

Under the history tab, the same options remain. They are, however, moved around a bit.

   

Under the settings tab, the real-time protection section is now left with one setting; turn on real-time protection. The scan all downloads, monitor file and program activity on your computer, and enable behavior monitoring have all been removed. I don’t know if the removed options are integrated into the real-time protection option. The Microsoft SpyNet has been renamed to MAPS.

  

Finally, MSE now refers “computer” to PC. Other then that, MSE 4 works the same as version 2.

Most media players allow you to insert the album art for your digital music collection through its library. If you can’t find the album art on the internet or the album art that you find is of poor quality, the next step is to scan the album art from your CD collection. In the following, I will describe how you can scan your own album art and give you tips on how to make the scan look professional.

(By album art, I mean front cover.)

Requirements:

  • A color scanner capable of scanning at 600dpi or higher
  • A graphics program that is able to crop, resize, features a cloning/stamp tool & has an auto color corrector feature (enhance, auto adjust)

First scan the album art at 600dpi. When scanning is done, save the image as a bitmap (.bmp)

Open the image in a graphics editor with the following features as described in the requirements section above. Using the crop tool, adjust the mask to cut out any edge marks (white area) that may still be present from the scan while keeping the length and width of the mask at the same amount. (2200×2200)

After cropping, resize the image to 500×500 pixels. If your graphics program has a maintain proportions option, make sure it is selected. After typing 500 in the width box, the height box should automatically display 500. If it displays a number other then 500, undo your crop and repeat the previous step.

Using the cloning/stamp tool, touch up dirt spots and scratches for a cleaner image. Refer to your program’s documentation on how to use the cloning/stamp tool.

Use the auto corrector feature (enhance or auto adjust) to auto adjust the color of the image for a more vivid look. In most cases, auto adjust should give you satisfactory results. If it doesn’t, you can manually adjust the color.

Save the image as a JPEG (.jpg) with a medium-low compression setting. The size of the saved file should be around 90 – 140 KB.

Insert the image in your library with the associated music.

Activation is a technology used by Microsoft to ensure that you are following the end-user license agreement (EULA). Activation makes sure that the software is installed on the number of computers allowable and minimizes piracy from copying and lending installation CD’s. Here are some questions about activation.

Can I install a Microsoft product that has already been activated?
Yes, but you have to uninstall the software from the original computer and wait at least 90 days from the last activation before activating again. If activation fails, you can try the activate by phone method. (OEM copies are NOT transferable).

Can I activate a Microsoft product on more than one computer?
That depends. You should read the EULA to determine how many computers that product can be installed and activated on. Windows 7 and some Microsoft Office editions offer a 3-user license which entitles you to install the software on up to 3 computers at a time. Some editions of Office allow you to install a second copy on a portable device, as long as you ae the primary user of that device.

What happens if Microsoft detects the same activated product key on two or more computers?
The software may “phone home” at times to make sure that the same product key isn’t actively being used on more than one computer or what the EULA/product key allows. If it does find a violation, the software may ask you to re-activate the software on both systems. At that point, you must decide which computer you wish to activate the software on.

Is Windows Genuine Advantage the same as activation?
No. Windows Genuine Advantage verifies that you are not using a counterfeit copy of Windows, although it can send activation status of Microsoft products verifying that the software isn’t actively being used on more than what the EULA/product key allows.

My Dell Dimension 4600, a really good, stable and fast computer that I got for an incredible price! Before I go on with my story, I want to list its original specs.

  • Intel Pentium 4 processor – 2.66 GHz, 533 FSB, 512 KB cache
  • PC3200 memory – 256 MB total (2 sticks of 128 MB)
  • IDE hard drive – 40 GB, 5400 RPM
  • CD drives – 1 DVD/CD reader, 1 CD-RW
  • Power supply – 250 watts
  • 3 PCI slots
  • 1 AGP 8x
  • 56k modem
  • Integrated peripherals – PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, printer port, serial port, video port, 5.1 sound card, network interface, and 8 USB 2.0’s (2 in front, 6 in back)

Back around March of 2008, I found the used Dell Dimension at my local Goodwill store. The price… $3.00! Don’t get too excited, a lot of parts were removed from the system. Main parts that were still included with the system were:

  • The two original optical drives
  • The CPU (surprisingly was there, but not in the socket)
  • The motherboard (plastic bracket that held the heat sink on the processor was broken)
  • 56k Modem

The computer was well worth $3 dollars for the two CD drives, assuming that they worked. If the motherboard didn’t work, then I would just throw the whole machine out. So I went ahead and bought the computer.

Back at home, I removed the CD drives from the computer and hooked them up to my IDE-to-USB adapter. Both CD drives worked perfectly without any problems. After I was done with the CD drives, I wanted to see if I could get the entire computer working. If I could, it would be a nice replacement for my aging and not-so-upgradable Dell Optiplex GX100. I didn’t have the available parts that were compatible with the motherboard, but I was able to barrow some parts from school (college).

After getting permission, I was able to barrow some memory, a heat sink, and a power supply. I was also able to keep a heat sink bracket (to replace the broken one) and a Dell-style fan. During installation, I noticed the CPU had a few bent pins, possibly from laying in the case. Carefully, I was able to bend the pins back into place. I removed the old heat sink bracket and installed the new one before installing the heat sink. After making all the connections and installments, I was able to boot the computer to the BIOS. I installed an old hard drive and attempted to install Windows XP on it. After installing Windows and the drivers, the computer seemed to work fine with no problems.

After running the computer for several days, I decided that the motherboard was in good shape. I returned the parts that I barrowed and spent about $50 on memory, a power supply, and a copper heat sink. Since I didn’t get the fan assembly with the shroud, and the motherboard had only one fan connector, I had to buy a fan adapter that tapped into the power supply. I was able to request the recovery CD’s from Dell so that I had a licensed copy of Windows XP on the computer. I was also able to find a spare hard drive that I had lying around.

Success! All that hard work and I got a decent computer working again! All for under $60! For over 3 years, it has been running perfectly. Very fast and powerful. After being used as a secondary computer, I decided to replace my main desktop with the Dimension to help stay up-to-date with newer software. I also decided to upgrade its components…

Current Specs (As of June 2013)

  • Intel Pentium 4 processor with Hyper threading – 3.00 GHz, 800 MHz FSB, 1 MB cache
  • 2 GB of memory – PC3200 400 MHz
  • 160 GB, 7200 RPM, 8 MB cache hard drive – Serial ATA (1.5 GB/s)
  • Both optical drives write to DVD double layer discs, one has Lightscribe
  • NVIDIA GeForce 6200 AGP video card with 256 MB of memory, VGA and DVI out
  • Internal floppy disk drive
  • Creative Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 Value (CT4780) Dell OEM

The other day I was having an issue with the Windows XP AutoRun feature. When inserting a disc that utilizes the autorun.inf file, the drive acted like it was going to launch the program on the disc, but never displayed anything on the screen. Discs without the autorun.inf file worked fine displaying the AutoPlay dialog box. (Note: There is a difference between AutoRun and AutoPlay. Scroll down to the end of this post for more details.)

After using Microsoft’s AutoFix program, verifying registry settings and such, I wasn’t getting anywhere with the problem. After restarting and logging into Windows, I immediately inserted my disc. The autorun feature worked fine. But after a few moments, I reinserted the disc and got nothing, just like before. That told me that there was a startup program that was possibly interfering with the AutoRun feature.

Using Sysinternals’ Autoruns program, (which has nothing to do with the AutoRun feature) I disabled one startup entry at a time and restarted the computer until the problem disappeared. Sure enough, I found the conflicting program.

As the title of this post suggests, the problem was a startup program related to PowerDVD.  PDVDDXSVR.EXE was the program blocking the AutoRun program from executing. Although it is still disabled on my computer, PowerDVD DX seems to run fine without it. I’m still not sure what the purpose of PDVDDXSVR.EXE  is other then blocking AutoRun feature.

AutoRun – A program that automatically executes when a disc or other removable media is inserted.
AutoPlay – A dialog box that lists a number of commands based on the content that’s on the removable media.

NOTICE: The following has been tested with a HP & Compaq machine, both manufactured in 2003. Later years and systems with Windows Vista/7 most likely won’t work due to software changes.

IMPORTANT! For the following to work, the computer MUST have the original recovery partition from the factory. Recovery partitions created from a recovery disc do not include the additional files needed for disc creation and will display a “partition not found” error message when the CD creator program is launched.

If your HP or Compaq system has a recovery partition, you are usually notified to create a set of recovery disc in case of hard drive failure or corruption. However, HP permits the user to create only one set of recovery disc due to licensing agreements. If you lose your recovery discs or acquire a used system that already has a set made, your best bet is to contact HP and hope that they have recovery discs lying around somewhere in their factory. Or you can try this little trick that allows you to create a second set of recovery discs.

The first step requires you to unhide hidden files and folders:

  1. Start Windows and open the Control Panel.
  2. Open the Folder Options applet and select the view tab.
  3. Select “Show hidden files and folders” and uncheck “Hide protected operating system files”.

The second step requires you to delete a file named HPCD that is found in two locations:

  • C:\WINDOWS\SMISNT
  • D:\ (Recovery partition)

Tip: You may have to right-click on the recovery partition and select open in order to view its contents.

Once the file has been deleted from the above locations, run the Recovery CD creator program. The program should now permit you create a set of recovery discs.