Computer Troubleshooting Guide

So, down under, here in the Southern hemisphere, it’s the first day of Spring, although looking outside the office windows at the dark and gloomy day and remembering the drive into work this morning through rain, one wonders if the powers that be are playing a cruel joke on us.

Anyway, I digress, but sometimes on days just like this one things go wrong, with either your own or a family member’s computer and since you’re probably (like me) one of those in the family or circle of friends that knows more about computers than the rest, you’re the one they come to.

I’ve been working with computers for about 24 years now and yet you still find times where you’re completely stumped as to what the problem could be and either give up, throw it out, or find an even smarter tech-savvy person to help you out.

As long as the computer boots into the operating system and has an Internet connection (or you have another Internet enabled and working machine to use) you can probably find helpful answers by Googling the problem, as demonstrated by the following XKCD comic.

tech_support_cheat_sheet

But sometimes you don’t have a separate machine or Internet connectivity or Google just doesn’t come up with the right answer. Or maybe you’re fed up at reinstalling the OS over and over again, to no avail.

Well, today on Boing Boing they posted a diagnostic flowchart (well, a set of 8 of them) to help you fault-find computer hardware/software related problems. For most of us who’ve been working with computers for so long a lot of these are part of our own fault-finding processes but it’s still a handy guide to keep and refer to.

video-thumb-flowchart

Foner Books has a set of interactive flowcharts that can be found here which allow you to click on the various steps to take you to the correct next step/flowchart to help guide you through the process of troubleshooting. There’s even a 30″ x 30″ printable poster you can download here. Or a handy PDF e-Book for you to download and keep here.

Robotics: Be afraid, very afraid

This is both fascinating and scary at the same time. Fascinating that they’ve managed to make robotic devices not only so smart but now very fast too. That T-1 can kick your ass they claimed – you bet your ass it can! Check out the video below. [via Boing Boing]

You can find out more about this type of robotics and view other videos here.

Kids and technology

It’s a topic that’s been in the news for a long time and almost always with negative connotations. Kids playing games with violence in them turning violent and becoming disobedient. But there are positive outcomes too.

I was watching in amazement at my youngest daughter, yesterday, as she was playing Mahjong Solitaire (not to be confused with the actual Mahjong game). But it’s just a pattern-matching game, you might say. Except there are quite a number of various patterns on the tiles, some look similar to others and in various colours, so not always so simple to find the matching tiles.

But it’s not only the fact that she can manage to finish some of the levels on her own but that she has already figured out how to navigate the various menus to start a new game or exit the game and start another one. I think we need to be worried once she figures out how to use Windows Explorer!

Oh, did I mention, she only turned 3 last month? Yup. Think back to when you were a kid at that age. Would we too have been able to so quickly grasp those concepts that some just can’t get. Remember it’s not just the fact that she manages to find the matching pairs but at the same time she’s moving the mouse around which in turn moves the mouse cursor to where she wants it to be as well as clicking the mouse button at the right time.

I’ve been working with computers for the last 24 years and pretty much take the act of using a keyboard without looking at the keys and using a mouse to navigate around a website or application for granted. But take two minutes and just think about all those neurons firing in your brain to be able to make all those connections and make us do the things we do and then think of all of that happening in a three year old’s brain.

Our eldest was also a semi-pro using the computer when she was her sister’s age. Now that she’s in grade 1 and quickly learning to read more and more her computer use is going to get better and most likely more frequent. Good thing I’ve been systematically keeping tabs on the various technologies out there which I will have to implement once the kids start using the computers more regularly. As technology advances I think too our kids are getting smarter and smarter. One of these days we’ll have a generation of toddlers that will be re-programming our VCRs (sheesh giving away my age there), erm, I mean PVRs and understanding what they’re doing not just randomly pressing buttons or hiding jam-sandwiches or keys where they shouldn’t go!

VOTD: Finally, Google Opt-Out feature

Google ensuring they abide by the “don’t be evil” guideline are now offering users the option to opt-out and ensure their data is kept private. It’s a simple trip in the back of a van to an undisclosed location in the mountains. Check out the detailed report in the video below. [via Onelargeprawn]

LED Graffiti

As technology advances, so does graffiti. Now instead of vandalizing public property, graffiti artists can get an LED spray can and with a friend and a camera with a long-exposure function you can take pictures like these below. Tag it, using light, instead of paint.

It’s in the shape of a spray can, with a pressure sensitive LED and a coil and magnet so that you can shake it, just like a real can, to recharge it. You can find out more here. [via Cherryflava]

led-spraycan

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VOTD: World Science Festival – Pentatonic Scale

It seems there are a lot of cool things we miss out on not being in the US. One of which is the World Science Festival that takes place each year.

This year Bobby McFerrin demonstrated the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus” event, on June 12, 2009. Just take a look at the video clip below to see how he uses the audience and how quickly they learn to acompany him. [via BoingBoing]

You can take a look at some more short clips from the event on their site here and full clips here.
Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus”, from the 2009 World Science Festival, June 12, 2009.

Layars: Augmented Reality Browser

No, not a spelling mistake – Layars is going to change the way you browse, with your mobile phone.

Forget the new iPhone 3G S with it’s amazing (cough) copy/paste, video recording and MMS sending capabilities. Layars are the future.

It’s a new type of browser that uses your mobile phone’s camera, GPS and built-in compass to add more detailed mapping and information about the area you’re seeing through your mobile phone’s camera.

What is Layar?
The World’s First Augmented Reality Browser. Layar is a free application on your mobile phone which shows what is around you by displaying real time digital information on top of reality though the camera of your mobile phone.

What are layars?
Layars are the equivalent of web pages in normal browsers. Just like there are thousands of websites there will be thousands of layars in our application. A layar is the digital view that is added to the camera view. This is the first time that so many brands use one application to provide an augmented reality service on the mobile phone.

They’ll be releasing their product in the Netherlands first and only on the Android platform on the G1 and HTC Magic. They say they will be targetting the iPhone 3G S next and what ever other mobile phones come to market with the required capabilities.

Still interested, want to know more, then check out the video demo below and go take a look at their website, blog or follow them on Twitter.

[via Cherryflava]

Review: Browsershots

BrowserShots-Logo

As a web developer I’m almost always tasked with ensuring that websites and web applications I build not only work but look good in the popular browsers for the target platform. Sometimes you may get a client with some obscure version of a browser (not necessarily Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome) and you don’t have that platform available to test it locally to try and replicate the issue and hopefully fix it.

browsershots-search

Along comes Browsershots – a website with a very simple front-end. Type in the address to the page you wish to view (obviously needs to be hosted online already and not a password protected site) and select as many or as few browsers (and platofmrs) to test, whether or not JavaScript and/or Flash is required or not (even which version must be avaialble) and even screen resolutions and colour depths. Click the button, and sit back.

browsershots-browsers

browsershots-options

Through what I’m assuming are multiple virtual machines on their servers which are instructed to browse to the site you requested and then a screenshot is taken of that browser and added to your screenshot queue.

It will notify you of the progress, whether or not the browser screenshot will be available or approxiamtely how long it will be before your screenshot is queued and taken.

browsershots-queuedetails

The site even allows you to download all the screenshots in a single ZIP file – how handy is that.

I’m definitely bookmarking this site for my next browser-compatibility issue resolution!

Google Chrome, the need for speed!

Back in September last year I told you about Google entering the browser wars with their own web browser, Chrome.  Then next day, I gave you my first impressions. If my job didn’t require me to develop web sites in Internet Explorer and Firefox I’d have long since set Chrome as my default browser. Although, for my own day-to day use I almost exclusively use Chrome as my browser of choice.

Today, Google have announced and released the latest stable version of Chrome.

stable-google-chrome-about

Some of the improvements and new features include:

Improved New Tab Page: The most requested feature from users was the ability to remove thumbnails from the New Tab page. Now you can finally hide that embarrassing gossip blog from the Most Visited

Ha, ha, I was wondering when this would be implemented – not that I have to worry about this but still a nice added feature. Watch the video later in this post to see how this works. I find this new tab page very useful for quickly getting back to pages I use frequently.

Full Screen Mode: If you’ve ever given a presentation or watched a large video using Google Chrome, you might have wished you could use every last pixel on your screen for the content. Now you can hide the title bar and the rest of the browser window by hitting F11 or selecting the option in the Tools menu.

Although I don’t use this often, at times I’ve found myself needing to maximize the window and this will now come in handy – in the beginning I often found myself looking for this feature since being used to it in IE and FF.

Form Autofill: Filling out your information in forms over and over again can be tedious. Form autofill helps by showing information you’ve previously entered into the same form fields automatically. If at any point you want to clear out your information, that’s easy to do from the Tools menu.

This is actually something I’ve often found very useful when filling in forms over and over again while testing – or similarly named fields on various websites (like your name, email address).

Increased Stability: Google Chrome is more stable than ever–we have fixed over 300 bugs that caused crashes since launch.

I’ve only ever experience one or two crashes while using Chrome but they’ve been isolated incidents and always only a plug-in or tab crashing.

Increased Speed: Making the web faster continues to be our main area of focus. Thanks to a new version of WebKit and an update to our JavaScript engine, V8, interactive web pages will run even faster. We’ve also made sure that JavaScript keeps running fast even when you have lots of tabs open. Try opening a bunch of web applications and then running your favorite benchmark. You can read more about V8 in our JavaScript scalability post on the Chromium blog. – source Google Chrome Blog

I’m going to see in the next few days/weeks whether this improvement is more apparent.

You can take a look at some other Chrome-related posts here. Are you not using Google Chrome yet? Why not? Go and download it now and try it out for yourself.

Tilt-Shift AIR Application

TiltShiftGeneratorToolbarEarlier this year I posted about the Tilt-Shift Maker website which allowed you to create your own tilt-shift photographs online.

Adam, from Lifehacker, has just reviewed another website with an Adobe AIR application you can use online or (like I did) download it to your machine and create your own tilt-shift photographs offline. 

It’s a powerful yet simple application with an intuitive interface that allows you to quickly create those tilt-shifted photographs without needing to spend thousands of dollars on a real tilt-shift lense for your camera.

Simply click the Open button and load one of your favourite photographs, click the point on the photograph you wish to focus on (a crosshair will appear on the photo) and adjust the settings accordingly and you’ll see the adjustments in realtime. When you’re don’e simply click the Save button to save your tilt-shifted photograph. [via Lifehacker]