The Turbo Button

March 4th, 2011 2 comments

A friend of mine recently asked what the purpose of the old “Turbo button” was on old computers. Many today won’t remember a time when PCs were a fairly new concept and there used to be a button on some systems that changed the speed of the system.

Now, the question arose for obvious reasons: why would you ever want your computer to not be turbo? Isn’t the big push always for more speed in computers?

The answer requires us to go back to the beginning. The original compatible PCs had such speeds as 25 MHz (my first Windows 3.1 PC). Video game programmers used to make shortcuts in their programming, relying on the limitations of the CPU to set speed boundaries. In games such as Wolfenstein, one would hit the “walk forward” button, and the animations and movement speed were limited by the CPU processing power.

The problem came when processors started speeding up. It was not long before 100 or 133 MHz CPUs became available, and suddenly hitting the forward button would turn the game into an approximation of “the Flash” and you would launch at impossible speeds into death because the game was scaling faster with the processor. 4x faster CPU translated into things happening 4x faster (or more) in the game.

The Turbo button was a solution that allowed computers to scale back their speed to enable compatibility for these older games.

It may seem counterintuitive to have a button labeled “Turbo” whose purpose is to hobble a processor’s ability, but when you consider that when the button is pressed, the system is at full speed and when inactive the CPU is in the limitation mode, it makes more sense.

Today, systems have software solutions to such problems to virtualize ancient software environments to play such games. One such example is DOSBOX. Lucasarts’ SCUMMVM is another example of legacy gaming software virtualization.

Categories: Hardware Tags:

Resetting the Lamp Timer on a Toshiba DLP 52HM84

November 24th, 2010 No comments

I recently had my second DLP replacement bulb(not including the original OEM lamp) blow this evening. The self-respecting tech that I am, I was aware of the diagnostics mode and thus wanted to confirm the lifetime of this lamp (I’d been expecting it to die for quite some time), and I was pleased to find it reached nearly 8700 hours, which is almost twice what the last two lamps lived through.

However, in order to keep accurate future track of my most recent bulb replacement, I knew I must reset the lamp life timer. I have done this at least twice before, and every time I do it, I think to myself “Self, you should document this for future reference”. And I do. And then promptly forget where I document it. This time I’m putting it where I think I’ll remember it. Online.

First, to get into diagnostics mode:

With TV turned on:

  1. Press "mute" on the remote – 1/2 mute appears on the screen
  2. Press "mute" on the remote again – mute appears on the screen
  3. Press "mute" on the remote and hold the mute button –
  4. Press the "Menu" button on the TV’s front panel. "S" will appear in the upper right corner of the screen.
  5. Press the "Menu" button a second time and the "S" will disappear. On the left side of the screen you will see "RCUT" followed by two numbers.
    You are now in the service mode (this is where you can scroll through the options using the up and down channel keys shown above).
  6. Press "9" on the remote and you will access the diagnostics page. In the right hand corner is the lamp time in hours.
  7. Press “Recall” on the remote, followed by “Volume Down” on the TV to reset the timer. You may need to press the “Volume Down” button twice.
  8. Press "power" button on remote to exit the menu and power off the TV.

I ought to remember it this time.

Categories: News Tags:

Computer Myths

September 13th, 2010 1 comment

As part of a presentation I had the pleasure of giving to a group of professionals recently, I’ve decided to post the highlights here.

1) Apple Mac is more secure than windows.

Untrue. Every year, the hacking community comes together for an event called the Pwn2Own Hacking Challenge. For the last three years preceding 2010, Apple’s OSX was the quickest to be breached – within minutes. In 2009, one of the competitors hacked a MacBook Air in under 5 seconds. And on the other end of the security scale, this year, many of the same hackers fully expected Windows Vista to last at least 24 hours before being compromised.

2) Apple Mac is immune to viruses

This is simply untrue. The security measures are different, and OSX enjoys "security by obscurity". The majority of business and consumer computer market share is Microsoft Windows, and so hackers and malware-writers seek to have the greatest impact as possible by creating viruses, trojans etc tailored to infect Windows machines. Apple is happy to ride this misconception until the unhappy reality hits. However, there are currently available antivirus solutions available for OSX (further proving the myth to be false).

3) It is better to leave your computer running all the time

This myth seems to have stemmed from the idea that – like an airplane – most failures happen on takeoff/starting and landing/shutdown. However, when you boot up your computer, there are a number of self-diagnostics that a computer performs which can alert you to potential issues (hence the misconception) so in fact it’s not a bad idea to turn it off regularly. And aside from ventilation issues (which aren’t common in modern computers), there’s no issue at all shutting your computer down nightly.

4) It is normal for a computer to take 10 minutes to start

No. It is possible on newer computers to have a computer booted up and running in as little as 30 seconds. If it takes more than 2 minutes for an older computer to start, there is likely something wrong.

5) Adding memory (RAM) is the best way to speed up your computer

This is a half truth with many exceptions and variables. RAM does not speed up your computer per se. The three core components to a computer are the Hard Drive (data), CPU (processor) and the RAM (memory). If you were to imagine your computer as a big sandbox, the sand would be the data, and a bucket would be the processor – the memory would be the shovel. If you have a tiny shovel (limited memory), you keep having to go back and forth shoveling sand into the bucket, which is terribly inefficient. Increasing the size of the shovel (or memory) will allow you to fill the bucket in one move.

So really, adding RAM doesn’t speed up your computer, it just helps prevent it from slowing you down with inefficiencies. However, once your computer has enough memory to run efficiently, adding more memory will not speed it up further.

6) Your computer will get faster when using high-speed internet

No, it won’t. In fact, if your computer is old enough, it can actually hinder your high-speed internet experience. But in no way can having high-speed internet make your computer faster.

7) Internet "cookies" are evil

Rarely. "Cookies" were demonized for a time in the 90′s when internet security was new and a lot of misinformation was spreading fast (ironically through the internet). This was due to the fact that the "cookie" contained information that tracked what pages or sites you had visited and sometimes personal information available publicly. But a "cookie" is a legitimate piece of technology. Whenever you tell facebook to "remember me" or "keep me logged in", each of those corresponds to a cookie. In other cases, a "cookie" is kept to cycle advertisements to prevent you from seeing the same one over and over. Neither application is malicious. Cookies can be used maliciously, but no more than any other piece of computer technology.

8) A screensaver protects your monitor from burn-in

Yes, but they are not usually necessary anymore. This was definitely true of old CRT and early-generation plasma screens, due to the phosphor coating on the inside of the screen. Even modern LCDs can suffer from "phosphor burn" but it would take several days showing a still image. Most modern computers and monitors have standby modes that are enabled automatically.

9) The only way to remove a virus from your computer is to wipe it clean and start over

False. With knowledge, persistence, and patience, I firmly believe any virus can be removed without "throwing the baby out with the bathwater". However it can be a time consuming and expensive endeavor. Unless you have the expertise (and inclination) to do it yourself, it is entirely possible and perhaps cost-effective, but otherwise it is price-prohibitive.

10) Your antivirus says you have a virus: that’s bad

Maybe. Catching a computer virus is never what I would qualify as a good thing. I often am contacted by people in a panic that they have a virus, because their antivirus told them so. In 99% of cases, this means the antivirus has already caught and dealt with the threat. In business cases, it’s good practice to have someone confirm that the threat has been eliminated if only for peace of mind.

11) Popup: You have a virus! Download this program to remove it

Don’t do it! I’ve seen this more frequently in the last couple of years. What it wants you to download will install, look, and on the surface behave as if it is an antivirus program protecting your computer, but in the background it will be doing things like infecting you further, hijacking your internet browser and potentially stealing sensitive personal or financial information. No legitimate antivirus provider will ever advertise like this, so don’t fall for it. They can look very convincing.

12) Your computer turns off randomly and you’re losing files: you must have a virus

Not necessarily. Viruses can do a lot of odd things to a computer, but there are a vast number of other potential issues that can cause a computer to misbehave that don’t involve viruses.

13) All viruses are destructive

It is exceedingly rare for Viruses to be destructive. Often you now see viruses that redirect you to internet pages that you don’t want or they plague you with popups. The scary ones are the ones that don’t visibly do anything. They’re the ones that can capture personal and financial information. They also are virtually undetectable by those outside the IT profession.

14) All your friends just got an infected message from you – your computer must be infected

Again, not necessarily. It is true that some programs will hijack your email program (such as Outlook or Outlook Express) and send mass-emails to all your contacts. But it is just as likely if you use a hosted free email service such as Gmail or Hotmail that your account has bee hacked, and you may simply have to change your password/secret question. Another possibility is what’s known as "spoofing". Because e-mail doesn’t have any built-in security, anyone can send an email out claiming to be someone else. The message may not have stemmed from any account breach at all. A networking or computer expert can help determine which case yours happens to be. Again, in the case of businesses, it’s always a good idea to have it checked.

Categories: News Tags:

iPhone 4 Visual Voicemail Loses Password and Greeting

September 8th, 2010 No comments

I recently upgraded my ancient Blackberry Curve 8310 with a shiny new iPhone 4. I never believed the hype about the grip of death or whatever they called it, and I’ve never had that problem so my disbelief was justified, I think.

However, when I first got the phone, I activated the visual voicemail option, configured it, and enjoyed it’s functions for some time.

Until I reset the phone.

The phone then lost my visual voicemail settings. No customized greeting, no password. This continued happening every time I rebooted the phone, which you can imagine would be quite annoying to keep having to re-record my message.

I made a call to my provider who claimed it was a known problem that Apple was working on an update for. And stupidly I believed him, not that I had any other choice at that point. Google had revealed no real gems initially, since the phone was relatively new.

Eventually I stumbled across a solution. I wish I knew where it was I read it so I could refer to it, but basically it was this: recover your iPhone to factory defaults, then synch it to iTunes as a new device.

It was a drastic move, but fortunately everything I needed was already synched. Music, contacts, images. So all I really had to do is set it up as a new device and wait until it was done synching.

Since performing this fix, Visual Voicemail functions perfectly and has lost no settings.

It was a weird issue but I hope this helps someone somewhere.

Categories: News Tags:

September Update

September 8th, 2010 No comments

I must apologize profusely for leaving my tech blog unattended. 3 months with no updates is appalling to me. For the past several months, my energies have been focused on starting up my own IT Consulting business. Ironically, the more focused I’ve been creating this business, the less opportunity I’ve had to get into the technical side of things since the business side is so consuming.

However, recently my labours are starting to see fruitage. I have a number of high-quality clients that I maintain and I’m sure lots of opportunity will arise to explore issues and present fixes, hacks and other solutions. I loathe getting sucked into the business side of things, but it’s got to get done somehow.

Anyway thank you for visiting.

Categories: News Tags:

New Hardware

May 30th, 2010 No comments

I’ve been meaning to pick up a rack for my server for a while, but could never find an affordable option. I didn’t feel like spending $500 on a 4-8 unit box when I only had the one server so far. So when I came upon an ad on UsedVictoria for a 42U Server Rack for far below the asking price of a unit 1/10 the size, I could hardly pass it up. Granted instead of overshooting my current load by four times, this overshoots it by about twenty times, but you can’t beat the price. The enclosure would have been approximately $1500 new.

You can view the specifications here but the gist of it is that it weighs in at around 350 lbs, and stands 6’10” tall.

In the long run I’m hoping to fill it with servers for various purposes: storage, hosting, backups, media streaming. In the short term I’ve loaded in my hardware and it doubles as an excellent sound dampener.

On another front, a good friend provided me with a brand-new 46” Sony Bravia that I had placed on my office filing cabinet for a time, but now that I need more space, I wanted to put up a wall mount. I managed to do so and I’ve been enjoying it as a secondary PC display for my office system.

Finally my office is coming together. It’s got a long way to go but I’m starting to see it develop.

Categories: News Tags:

Out On My Own

April 25th, 2010 No comments

I was just browsing through my last few months of posts and realized two things:

1) That I haven’t written nearly as much as I should… as usual…
and
2) That I haven’t said anything about my work situation since I had a “positive” interview back in mid December.

Well, let me tell you.

I had three more interviews at the same venue over the course of a little over two months. Then they decided to go in another direction. At first I shrugged it off and said to myself “better luck next time”, but honestly – that was just rude. Don’t waste two months of my life if you’re not fully intending to follow through.

Disillusioned, I decided the only person I could rely on professionally was myself, so I decided to strike out on my own. Right now the focus of my business is mobile tech work, which I will write about (and have written about already) as it comes along. Programming will likely be less frequent but it’ll still happen.

In the meantime I’m keeping very busy promoting my business by day and delivering pizza by night to fill the gaps.

Categories: News Tags:

Password Protected File Sharing Issues

April 22nd, 2010 No comments

I recently had the pleasure of working on a particularly stubborn issue between a Windows Vista and a Windows 7 PC.

I used Microsoft’s “Easy Transfer” program to capture the profiles from an older XP system, then applied it to their brand-new Windows 7 system. Easy as pie.

The problem presented when I tried to reconfigure the printer and file sharing that had existed on the XP machine previously. I tried to connect via the network browser on a Vista laptop to the Windows 7 box, but was presented with a password dialogue box. I couldn’t very well leave it in a state where the printer doesn’t work over the network until you login first, so of course I immediately went to the “password protected file sharing” option in the “Network and Sharing Center”, and disabled it.

The problem persisted.

After a while I was getting annoyed. They were both in the same workgroup, no firewall issues, nothing came to mind. After a bit of reading on Google it appeared as if the Guest account may have somehow picked up a password (which was a possibility since the XP  machine was a bit of a mess). So I went in and reset the password to blank.

Still, the problem persisted.

I knew it had to have something to do with the profiles I migrated over. I could feel it instinctively.

What I eventually realized was that the laptop I was currently on had the same username as one of the accounts on the PC did, however they both had different passwords. So when I tried to connect, the remote system recognized the user but not the password, and so prompted me to fill out my username and password.

There wasn’t much on Google that addressed my situation but I now suspect that it must be fairly common, so I felt obliged to document my experience.

Categories: News Tags:

Form Submit Var Doesn’t Exist When You Use Enter Key To Submit Form

February 24th, 2010 1 comment

I hope the title is clear enough to help people search for this.

I’ve spent the last few days creating an application for myself to keep track of services performed and clients. I was making a simple “client search” form when I found I was getting inconsistent DB results. Sometimes the results would show up, sometimes not. I won’t go into the full story and how ridiculously long it took me to notice that I wasn’t submitting the form the same way every time. Sometimes I clicked the submit button, sometimes I just hit Enter.

I was invoking the search function based on a cfif tag.

Originally I’d coded this:

<cfif isDefined("FORM.Submit")>
     <cfinvoke component="client_tracking.functions.dbactions" method="searchclients" search=#FORM.search#>
</cfif> 

I did a relatively extended Google search since I wasn’t entirely sure how to word the question properly, but eventually I discovered a better way of checking if the form had been submitted.

Namely:

<cfif structKeyExists(form, "search")>
     <cfinvoke component="client_tracking.functions.dbactions" method="searchclients" search=#FORM.search#>
</cfif> 

This new code checks the form structure and the search key to check if it has value. It works both clicking the submit button and hitting the enter key.

Thanks for Ray Camden for having this figured out ages ago.

Categories: ColdFusion Tags:

Microwave VS Wireless Network

February 17th, 2010 No comments

One of my favorite perks of my job is that I am constantly learning something new. Even the most seasoned computer expert will never be short of new material.

Today, my lesson was that yes, a microwave can bring a wireless network to its knees.

It was hard to believe at first, but after a few tests it was most certainly the microwave to blame. It seemed to me that this should be a cause for concern and that this sort of radiation could be a sign of something perhaps dangerous. Later, I began some research. According to this article, tests indicate a Microwave oven can degrade network performance by up to 85%. In the case I experienced today, it killed it entirely. However, the article also notes that Microwaves operate at a fairly narrow frequency range, which allows us to alter the WIFI frequency channel to compensate. Often, routers do a scan themselves to see which channel is the clearest, but unless the microwave is running while it does this scan, this will not help.

Some cordless phones are known to interfere with the spectrum as well. Wireless b products operate on the same frequency as older cordless phones (2.4 GHz – close to the same frequency as Microwave ovens) and thus can cause heavy interference. Newer “digital band” cordless phones are available in the 6 GHz range to combat this phenomenon.

Wireless N routers – the newest wireless format available and undoubtedly the best – can eliminate this issue by operating in the 5 GHz range instead of the 2.4 GHz, but all devices in the home would have to be Wireless j technology. Unfortunately, the technology is so new (the technology standard was only officially ratified in October of 2009) that most consumer devices are still b or g technology unless manufactured late 2009.

Most modern wireless routers should have an option to change the frequency channel. For information on how to do this, consult your device documentation or a local computer technician.

Categories: IT Tags: