All posts by Computers Made Simple

My day as a network troubleshooter or ‘How I Wasted Time by Being an Idiot’

The desktop computer in the living room wasn’t connecting to the Internet. Kathleen was home for a few days from her summer job, had left her laptop at camp and was kind of lost without a connection to FB and whatever else she uses on the Internet. Dad sprung into action!

We’re not wireless everywhere yet. I like to keep the desktops wired for security, although all of our laptops are wireless. James uses his laptop in his room and, to start my troubleshooting, I asked him if he was connected ‘wire or wireless’. He says he told me ‘neither’ but I heard wired. Since he was wired and he seemed to be on the Internet, I assumed that the problem was the computer itself. Reboot a couple of times, no go. ‘IPCONFIG’ at the command/dos prompt, no go. Typing the router IP address into a browser, no go. Must be the network card.

I have a couple of spare computers so I lugged one upstairs and was all ready to fire it up but I realized the it only had digital out for the video. When I went to get an VGA/digital adapter, I passed my desktop and decided to see if it was online. No go for it either. My son was at work then so I didn’t have a chance to ‘talk’ to him about his mumbling and I headed off to the network mess in my workroom. All of those desktops are fed from a switch in my incredibly messy workroom. The switch was alive but had orange lights across the bottom row of LEDs. Turned out that these were fine, thanks to checking the specs on my laptop which was still on the Internet.

Hmmmm. That switch is fed by another switch in the laundry room. It took a few stops and starts of the power bar to figure out that this other switch, that I got for a dollar at a thrift store, had given up the ghost after three years of hard work. God, you can’t get good stuff for a buck anymore!

The troubled switch had 8 ports, the good switch had 5 and the router itself had 4. Somehow I had to rewire everything to bypass the big, dead switch. I had 5 computers to feed and I desperately needed to sort out the wiring mess.

Half an hour later, all network cables were disconnected and piled in a heap. I had 5 good 50 foot cables and I spent a lot of time sorting them out into neat rows across the basement. Hey, why not label them so I know which cable is which? Good idea, Brian. Masking tape and a Sharpie did the job, lickety scoot. What a genius I thought I was!

Now to get the bundle of wires over the center hallway from the laundry room into the workroom. More masking tape. Wind, wind. Oooops! I had two ends of one cable taped together with the single ends from four cables. Unwind, unwind, get the right ends, rewind, rewind the tape.

I had to take a ceiling tile down in the downstairs washroom for access to the space between the joists. Dust and crap falls down on my head. I can see the workroom through the joist space so I get a long piece of molding, tape the ends of the cables to it and pass the whole thing through the gap. Then I race around to the workroom and tug the molding and attached cables through.

Happy as a pig in poop, I unwind the tape off of the piece of molding and unwind the tape that holds the cables together. I didn’t see that the tape I was taking off of the cables was stuck to the tape that had the cable names on each piece! All of my genius was lost at that point. Thankfully two cables were still named and I was able to identify the ends of the others because the connectors were different. No big deal. I had a big laugh about it, though.

Next step was to pass the bulk of the cable through the joist space so that only a bit was in the workroom, just enough to connect to the router/switch combination. Tug , tug, suddenly it was easy. Suddenly ALL OF THE CABLE was in the workroom. I had pulled it all through. Second big laugh of the day at my stupidity.

Out comes the piece of molding again and the rest of the day went well. I have a definite talent at making simple things very complicated. I figure that if there are two ways to do something, I will always do it the wrong way first. Trust me on that!

Hauppauge HD Recorded Video – How to convert to XVID and other formats

For about a year, since the last Summer Olympics in Beijing actually, I’ve had some Hauppauge HD video stored on my computers. Why were they stored? Simply because they were too large to put on a DVD, for one reason. For another, I couldn’t do anything with them in order to move them. If I put the raw,  recorded video, which is in Mpeg4 format, onto any other medium, including moving them to another folder on my hard drives, nothing would play them.

I tried many programs in an attempt to convert the files to either DIVX or Xvid or FLV in order to make them smaller which would allow me to archive them. I didn’t have all of the Olympics, mind you, just the equestrian events which I saved for my daughter and the opening and closing ceremonies which I saved for posterity. Say what you will about the Chinese government but the Olympic ceremonies were incredible.

Fast forward to yesterday, July 4, 2009, a day that will rest in memory forever! For me anyway. I followed a link from a forum I am a member of to a piece of software called Format Factory.  Here is the link in proper form : http://www.formatoz.com/

Format Factory is totally free, and works better than anything I have every used before to convert video. It also converts audio and will automatically convert your saved videos to the format which fits your particular mp3/audio/video player, just in case you don’t know which format your player uses. Format Factory has other uses, too, but once you download the software you can figure all of this out for yourself.

If you have any sort of Hauppauge HD video tuner, you’re stuck in the same situation I was in before I downloaded Format Factory. Nothing can touch the recorded HD video. Even the Hauppauge website FAQ mentions that you cannot make a DVD out of the recorded HD video. Well, Format Factory proved them wrong.

Not only is Format Factory free, it’s very fast. I have been using the free DIVX converter in the past and I have also tried SUPER, among others. Super works well but it still would not convert the Hauppauge videos to any other format. Both Super and the free DIVX converter crashed when I tried to convert the Hauppauge HD videos, with no way to resolve the error or find a solution.

From time to time I will rave about a particular piece of software here but I think Format Factory wins as the BEST EVER converter available on the Internet. At 15 megs, it’s not a small download but it’s certainly worth it. Get it. Use it. Love it!

Gmail Drive – a great way to store even more stuff

GMail Drive is what’s known as a shell extension for Windows. Since I don’t know what a shell extension is, you don’t have to either. Just use GMail Drive as I do and you’ll have seven gigabytes and counting of free online storage.

1. Download GMail Drive from here This is the url, in case you are paranoid :http://www.viksoe.dk/code/gmail.htm

2. GMail comes as a zip file so unzip it and install it, then reboot as per the instructions. You have to reboot because GMail Drive actually adds a virtual drive to your computer. More on that later.

3. Once you’ve rebooted, start up Internet Explorer. Don’t ask me why this is one of the steps but it is. GMail Drive does not work unless you have Internet Explorer running in the background. If you don’t have Internet Explorer running, you will get an error message on login which suggests that gmail has changed it’s permissions. This is NOT the case. GMail Drive still works, you just have to have Internet Explorer running in the background.

4. Now for the cool part. Right click START, then choose EXPLORE. Down at the bottom left side, under your hard drives, DVD/CD drives and removeable drives, you will see GMail Drive. Right click it and choose Login As. The typical menu pops up and you enter your gmail account name as well as your password, then click AutoLogin if you are on a secure computer and you’re done.

5. GMail Drive is now, essentially, part of your computer. Go back to your desktop and right click a picture, or a song, or a document. Under the Send To option you will now have a GMail Drive choice. If you are logged in to your gmail account you can now right click a file and ‘send it’ to your gmail account.

6. There are some limitations to all of this. First the file has to be under 20 megabytes. Officially the limit is 20 megs but unofficially the limit is about 24.   Second, you can’t send every mp3 on your computer to your gmail account at one time. Select a few, send them up and wait. Lather, rinse, repeat, right?

Now, thanks to GMail Drive, you can share pics, music or just about anything with friends or just with yourself. One of the way I use my gmail accounts is to share tunes with friends around the world. Say I meet Etsuko in Japan. If she wants to listen to my tunes and I want to listen to hers, then we get a new gmail account and share it. Etsuko uploads her tunes through GMail Drive while I upload mine the same way. One of the terrific benefits of gmail is that you don’t have to download an MP3 to play it. Gmail has a player built right into it. Click on a tune, wait for a second until gmail scans it for viruses then click PLAY. The MP3 plays right there in your gmail account.

GMail Drive is a quick and easy way to access your gmail account from your computer. Try it! You’ll like it!

Sorting out the gmail mess – Part Two

Since we now have our hotmail (or yahoo or any other account that allows this) account added  to our gmail account, every time we log into gmail we get our gmail and the new messages from the other account. In my case, I get my gmail and all of the messages from two other hotmail accounts.

My inbox only shows my gmail, however. All messages from the other accounts are still there but they are ARCHIVED, or saved in the general folder. How do I see them? Well, there are two ways.

On the left side of your gmail page, under Inbox there is Sent Mail then Drafts then All Mail. All Mail is the toggle that will show you All of your mail, including any other accounts you receive mail from and your gmail. If you select Inbox, you just get the gmail or any mail that you have selected to go to your inbox. If, as I showed you last time, you selected Archive Incoming Mail, then all of your mail from any other account goes into the All box.

Now the cleaning up part. How do you get to see JUST the email from one of the other accounts? Look on the left side of the main page and click on the email address that you would like to see the mail from. This is new, by the way. Yesterday, July 2 of 2009, you had to Manage Labels to see the email from one account. Today, the account is showing on the left side. Click on it and you will get just the email from the one account. Simple and efficient.

There are other ways to organize gmail and I’l be writing about these in future entries. Stay tuned here for a piece about Gmaildrive, an amazing piece of software that makes better use of your gmail account.

Sorting out the gmail mess

Recently, because of a problem with accessing my hotmail accounts, I set gmail up to receive the email from the three accounts so that I could view my mail in gmail without using hotmail. It worked quite well, although mail reception isn’t instantaneous as it is on hotmail. Gmail picks up 200 messages every time it logs into my hotmail accounts so, after a bit of time, all of my hotmail messages were in my gmail account. Having the messages in two places is handy for me since I use my hotmail accounts for family letters, billing from my hosting company, etc. and I want to have copies of all transactions and family stuff for posterity.

When you set  gmail to fetch mail from another email source, there are a few settings that will make the subsequent actions a lot easier for you.

Step 1: Click on SETTINGS then ACCOUNTS then, beside GET MAIL FROM OTHER ACCOUNTS, click on ADD A MAIL ACCOUNT YOU OWN  (I wonder who writes for gmail? This seems like bad English to me!)

Step 2: Type in the email address in the box that comes up then click NEXT. This box is where you get to choose the settings that make your gmail inbox a whole lot cleaner, much less messy.

menu

Here is the menu, full-size so you can read it more easily. Add the password and then make sure you check the settings which I have chosen. Since I want a record of all email in the account in two places, I chose ‘Leave a copy of retrieved messages on the server.’ The messages are still in hotmail, unopened and safe. The next box is checked automatically so just leave it. Then, I chose to ‘Label incoming messages : antique &&@hotmail.com.’ This is very important and make sure it is checked BEFORE you click ADD ACCOUNT.  Since I don’t want my inbox full of messages from gmail AND my hotmail account, I have chosen to ARCHIVE INCOMING MESSAGES. From now on, messages from my hotmail account will only be visible when I choose ALL in my inbox settings.

I’m going to publish this now and then I will continue it later. If you have questions, please make a comment.