Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Curiosity Killed the Console

Several hours have just been spent putting a PS3 back together again, and it has prompted me to remind folks of a few things to think about when taking computers/electronics apart. My boyfriend, in his excitement to play Dragon Age II, got tired of waiting for me to clean the lens on his PlayStation 3 and decided to do it himself. He's never done anything like that before, and he's about as tech savvy as my grandma, so needless to say I wasn't surprised to find a baggy of "spare parts" and a very funny looking PS3 when he was done.

Before you go on an electronics disassembling adventure, take heed the following tips:
  • Set aside several hours of time. You may think that you'll remember how that piece fits tomorrow, but given enough time and distraction people are prone to forget. Also, leaving something disassembled on a hard work surface is just begging for something to get lost. I personally have a cat that collects screws in the middle of the night. He steals them, plays with them, and drops them in his food or water dish. True story.
  • Do your homework. Have manuals, links, and instructions on hand before you start. A quick Google search will most likely uncover a video of somebody doing exactly what you're doing. Watch it, take notes, and save it for later.
  • Make sure you have all of the proper tools, cleanser, etc on hand. Stopping in the middle to go to the store is a drag.
  • Keep a pen and paper on hand and document each step. Remember, it's a lot tougher to reverse engineer something to try and figure out where that missing screw goes than it is to write it down as you take it apart.
  • Keep several containers (shot glasses or sandwich bags work well) to hold screws/parts from different parts of the machine in and label them. For example, drop the screws for the outside case in a sandwich bag and label it "outside case." If they are different sizes, note what size goes where.
  • Don't be afraid to seek out help. If you're not exactly sure how something should come apart, look it up or call somebody. Muscling a fragile part will lead to much shame and embarrassment.
It took some time, but all is well with Mr. PS3. Dragons Age shall be played, and I believe I've earned a free pass on dishwashing for a couple of weeks for my efforts and his embarrassment. Time well spent, if you ask me!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hard drive filling up? WinDirStat to the rescue!

It's hard to believe how much hard drive space we use up these days. If you're somebody who has a lot of video and or audio files, you can find your drive filling up fairly quickly. Cleaning up to make more room can be annoying and time consuming when done manually. WinDirStat is a cute, simple and free application that analyzes how much disk space files are taking up. Simply download it here and follow the simple installation instructions.

To run it, select a drive and let it scan. The scan is fun and has little pac man guys darting across the screen as they analyze your data. There really isn't much on this computer so the scan only took a few seconds

Look at that! Free AND shiny! You can drill down and see more details about what's taking up space in your files, by clicking on individual files.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Up and Down Wireless

Wireless can be fickle. One minute it's giving you all of its 802.11N love while you watch a Dexter marathon on Netflix, the next it's down filling you with the agonizing pains of Internet withdrawal. Then, moments later, it's back up with no apparent rhyme or reason. Let me give you a little rhyme for your reason.

Unless you live in the wilderness, it's extremely likely that your neighbors wireless network(s) extend into your wireless domain. Many consumer routers are set to broadcast on the same wireless channel (often channels 1, 6 and 11) which can lead to multiple networks duking it out for airtime in a relatively small space. The way I see it, you're left with two options. Make tiny matching foil hats for yourself, your laptop, and your router...OR you can change the channel. While the former is definitely more fashion forward, it's not very effective. I just wanted to see if I could get you to rush into the kitchen to grab some foil before reading the rest of this. Let's change the channel.

Signs (2002)
Now I'm banking on the fact that you understand how to make basic changes to your router. I'm going to assume that when you got it, you logged in to set up an SSID (your network name), set a security protocol and passkey, and hopefully changed the standard administrative password of the router itself. If you haven't done these things, you need to locate the make and model number of your router and Google it to locate the manual. Breaking into unsecured wireless network is about as easy as going to the fridge for a snack so it's important to do these things to keep people from leeching Internet access from you, or even worse, accessing your personal information.

Now let's take a look at what channels your neighbors are using. Download and install an application called NetStumbler. When you run it, you'll notice it removes you from your wireless network and uses your wireless card to scan local wireless networks. In order to return surfing, you'll need to close the application. NetStumbler couldn't be easier to use, especially for the information we're trying to access. Simply double click it and let it run for a minute and you'll see a neat little list of local networks and what channels they are on.

As you can see from our list here, some channels are quite packed. This is most likely because this was the default channel the router was set to and it was never changed. All you need to do to avoid this traffic jam is to set your network to one that is not being used, or at least, not being used very much. Just log back into your router, find the wireless channel settings, put yourself on a traffic free channel, and enjoy smooth wireless surfing.