San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

Services and Advice

Oh, that 'ol Line.
Ever hear static in the background while you are talking to a friend on the telephone? That's line-noise. If you connect a telephone to the cable that you use to connect to the internet, you can listen to the dial tone and press any number other than #,*, 1 or 0. By pressing a number you silence the dial tone and can hear what your telephone line sounds like. If you hear absolute silence your phone line is clean, but if you hear a hiss or static then you have a "dirty line" and will have either connection problems, slow access speeds or various random disconnections. If you have this problem, try replacing the telephone cable. If you still have the problem, call Telnor and report it. I don't know about Mexico, but north of the border a phone company is obligated to guarantee you at least a 28.8K dial-in connection speed.

Make sure that your modem is V.90 or V.92 compliant. Most modems are now, but some of the first 56K modems were either Flex technology or X2 (U.S. Robotics) technology. The V.90 or 92 standards make both modem types able to connect to one another at 56K maximum bandwidth. Before V.90/92, if you had an X2 modem and were connecting to an internet provider who only supported Flex technology, you would never get better than 33.6 connections. This is still the case if your internet provider supports Flex V.90 and your modem is X2 but not V.90/92.

If you are using a Winmodem or Soft modem, you may want to buy a different modem altogether. Winmodems and Soft modems do not have a UART controller chip on the modem and rely on software emulation and Windows drivers to control the data flow. These modems work great under ideal conditions but a good hardware modem will be more reliable and generally faster if conditions in your location are less than perfect.

Possible problems & Fixes:

  • Wires connected by being twisted together. (Should be soldered or on a TIGHT screw terminal )
  • Worn lines from the back of the Modem to the wall. (They should be new and/or not flexed around too much)
  • Outside terminals dirty, wet, corroded or worn.
  • Beware of long extensions between the computer and the wall outlet. (6ft max)
  • Extension wires chewed on or played with by pets. (or walked on by anyone, even a little bit)
  • Try to keep your telephone cable for internet connection away from other cables and never twist two or more cables together.
  • Two extensions linked together with a plastic connector (union) is a source of line resistance.
  • Defective or older Fax's or phone's connected to the "phone" connector of the Modem.
  • The line to the wall connected to the "phone" port of the Modem and not the "line" port.
  • Disconnects can be caused by Fax software, some email clients, ping daemons and NNTP emulators.
  • Large files sent through or attached to email (Larger than 500k) can sometimes cause time-outs and possible disconnects. FTP files larger than 500K whenever possible.
  • Make sure the phone cord from the back of your computer to the jack is as short as possible. Cords over 10-12 foot can lose a lot of speed due to resistance in the tiny wires.
  • Environment problems. (High humidity and temperature can degrade performance and reduce component life).

A Teaspoon of Medicine
In another arena, the inconvenience and damages inflicted by viruses and malware can really be a blood-pressure-altering experience. Shadetree Computer Services has a great deal of experience reviving machines that suffer from virus or malware infection. When a machine with sufficient resources to operate at a decent speed gradually slows down over a period of time, it is a good (re: bad) indicator it is laboring under the burden of a virus or worm infection. It's sheer insanity to practise POP3 email or open attachments these days without a good antivirus program in place with a frequently updated virus-definition file. Throw into the mix all the trojans, worms, browser hijackers, logic bombs and hoaxes rampant on the internet these days and you have a veritable minefield that most computers are ill-equipped to navigate. Damages from these malicious programs can slow a computer to a crawl and the job of extracting the pernicous culprit(s) can be long and arduous, at times leaving a crippled operating system in its wake. In-place protection and infection-checking software such as Norton AntiVirus, Trojan Hunter, Adaware and Spy Bot are absolutely essential to a computer's Immune System. An ounce of prevention never applied more than to the less-than-hygienic and highly communicable waters of today's Internet. PCWORLD offers an analysis of various anti-virus programs, electing the best one in terms of speed, smoothness, and detection of malware and viruses. You can also use an online anti-virus service to diagnose your machine. TrenMicro has a free service called Housecall that does a good job of detecting and eradicating resident viruses on your machine.

Watch what you download. There's nothing free on the Internet. You pay for it one way or another. Many freeware programs, P2P programs like Grokster, Imesh, Kazaa and others are among the most notorious, come with an enormous amount of bundled spyware that will eat system resources (memory and cpu usage), slow down your operating system, clash with other installed software, crash your browser or even pull down Windows itself. Avoid installing any Internet speed boosting software. This type of software is often spyware and integrates with your Internet settings and browser. If you use a spyware program to remove suspected spyware, you will likely remove the Internetspeed boosting spyware and can cripple your Internet connection.

Make sure your security updates are recent. Go to IE > Tools > Windows Update > Product Updates and install all Security Updates listed. It's important to keep current with the latest security fixes from Microsoft. Install the patches for Internet Explorer and make sure your installation of Java VM is up-to-date. There are some well known security bugs with Microsoft Java VM which are exploited regularly by browser hijackers.

Go to Internet Options/Security/Internet and click Default Level, then OK. Now click Custom Level. In the ActiveX section, set the first two options (Download signed and unsigned ActiveX controls) to Prompt, and Initialize and Script ActiveX controls not marked as safe to Disable. Now you will be asked whether you want ActiveX objects to be executed and whether you want software to be installed. Sites that you know for sure are above suspicion can be moved to the Trusted Zone in Internet Option/Security. Why is ActiveX so dangerous? When your browser runs an ActiveX control, it is running an executable program. It's no different from doubleclicking an exe file on your hard drive. Would you drink anything a stranger handed to you?

Don't download browser enhancements, helpers or toolbars. The enhancements and BHOs are often spyware and are detected by anti-spyware programs. When the enhancement or browser helper is detected and deleted, your browser could be rendered useless. Un-installing and re-installing Internet Explorer is difficult if not impossible. Reformatting may be the only way out.

Feel it in the Air
There's a lot that can go wrong with your computer. Shadetree Computer Services can diagnose most physical ailments and put your machine on the path to recovery. For example, San Felipe is not the most tender environment for a computer. Winter winds stir up tons of abrasive particles into the air, damaging magnetic heads and laser pickups on floppy drives, DVDs and CD ROM readers/burners. Case fans create a negative pressure around the motherboard that sucks in these particles through vent openings and deposits them on the circuitry and expansion boards. Add to this airborne dog and cat hairs from pets and the inside of a San Felipe computer can often resemble an ad for a felt hat. Airflow is important to a computer and when the inside surfaces are covered by dust and hair, heat is prevented from escaping and problems arise. Installing an extra case fan or two is a good idea, especially if you remain here for the summer.

The Body Electric
A potential health sinkwell for your system is CFE's (local power company) tendency to keep their transformers set to higher voltages than the average appliance is rated for, which is about 120v. Some San Felipe homes can have voltage readings as high as 135v. It's been said the transformers are set high so the voltage will drop to normal limits when the air conditioners are switched on in the summer months. Of course this doesn't contribute to the longevity of light bulbs or appliances during the rest of the year. And cheap power supplies in some computers, whose job is to convert AC input from house plugs into the various DC currents required by the motherboard, often fail during line surges and voltage drops. Sometimes the power supply fuse protection remains intact but the motherboard never recovers from the ten count. A good UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and, if your data is sacred, a Voltage Stabilizer, will go a long way in the battle against unpredictable voltage levels and the need to replace power supplies.

Meeses to Pieces
The venerable track-ball style of mouse is a thinly disguised lint digester. Cloth-covered mouse pads support a buffet of fibers and dust that roll up the ball and happily braid themselves around the axis rollers. When a sufficient mass has collected near the center of these rollers, your curser starts to behave like a sailor on shore-leave. It's important to drop the track ball out and clean these rollers regularly. A better way to address the problem is to purchase an optical mouse. They do not have a ball to collect debris.

Assault and Battery
Wonder why your clock is losing time? Or why the year suddenly changed on your calendar? It's likely your CMOS battery is fading to black. The life span of a dime battery (most motherboards take a CR 2025 battery, about the size of a dime) varies. But they normally last at least two years. Never replaced your's and the computer is five years old? Well, as long as your clock keeps the right time. If it doesn't, then a transplant is in order.

What's all that racket coming from the printer? That shuddering, squeeking sound. Well, have you ever oiled the rail that guides the printer heads? A light coat of sewing mcahine oil may just rejuvinate that old inkjet workhorse. After all, you change oil in your car don't you? You don't? Hmmm.

A Lead Balloon
Ever wonder why it took forever to send that digital camera photo to your daughter/mother/sister/cousin? Well, somewhere on the front of the camera or in the manual will be the maximum resolution rating (1.3 megapixels or 4 megapixels, for example). When you take a photo at the highest resolution, the camera saves it at an increased pixel density. You can see by the pixel numbers from the chart below that the image of a photo printing out at 4 x 6 inches would overfill a monitor set to an 800 x 600 pixel resolution. You would have to scroll back and forth to view the image. And the size of a file from a 2.1 megapixel camera set at its highest resolution would be around 300k. This is a fair chunk of information to squeeze through your modem line and if the person at the other end is similarly equipped, a long wait to download. What you want is something the recipient can see readily without scrolling about like a clerk at a microfiche machine. And to do that, you will have to set your camera at the email setting (640 x 480). This will produce a compressed file size of about 35k, a significant difference in bulk.

Printing photos is an entirely different matter. You want a lot of pixels involved. A good resolution for a printer, one that results in a reasonably high quality printout (300 dpi or dots-per-inch) is reflected in the chart below. So a person receiving a 640 x 480 email quality photo must realize that printing it out at 300 dpi will render a photo approximately 2 x 1.5 inches. Not understanding dpi numbers, screen resolutions, etc will leave one wondering why something that filled a monitor screen will spit out of a printer like a passport photo.

2.1 Megapixel
3.1 Megapixel
7 Megapixel
13 Megapixel
4 x 6 inches
1200 x 1800
5 x 7 inches
1500 x 210
8 x 10 inches
2400 x 3000
11 x 14 inches
3300 x 4200

Strobing for Asprin
Ever wonder why you have a headache after an hour at the computer playing solitaire? This is most likely the result of a screen refresh rate set at a low value. High refresh rates help eliminate screen flicker. For most people, a rate of 72Hz to 75Hz is enough to achieve the desired results; a rate less than 70Hz will result in obvious flicker and can lead to eyestrain and headaches. Some cards support refresh rates of up to 120Hz. If you need this kind of rate to provide an extremely clear and stable image, make sure that your monitor can support it. Before you rush to the store to buy a graphics card, look carefully at your current system and how you use it. Consider your color depth and resolution requirements. If you have a 14 or 15 inch monitor, you'll probably use 800x600 resolution. The preferred resolution for a 17-inch monitor is 1024x768. Power users with a 21-inch display will want 1280x1024. The higher the resolution you want, the more video memory you'll need. If you just put in a new $200 video card and want to crank up the refresh rate, make sure your existing monitor supports the change. More importantly, make sure you have the proper drivers loaded for your monitor. Windows doesn't recognize every montior on the market. It will automatically install default drivers for montiors that aren't in its supported hardware list. Look at the front of your monitor for a make and model, or look for a tag on the back of the monitor. Go to the website of the company and download the drivers for your Operating System. This will ensure that only the supported refresh rates are listed when you go to change it (Control Panel/Display/Settings/Advanced/Monitor).

Stick it to Them
You may have noticed that floppies are quietly going the way of the dodo bird. Many new computers don't even have a floppy drive. So when you want to show your friends your latest photos or a song you want them to hear, you try emailing the enormous file(s) or burn the data on a CD and shake your head at the wasted space left on the disc. Instead of these less-than-efficient answers, why don't you invest $20-$30 on a USB Memory Stick? Called USB Flash Drives, these things can be as small as AAA batteries and have as much as 2 or 3 gigs of storage memory. When you plug one into a USB port on an ME, 2000 or XP machine, they are automatically recognized and a new mass storage drive letter is created for it. You can then do anything on it you would normally do on a hard drive. Drag-and-drop files or folders, rename, change attrtibutes, format, erase, create folders, copy songs or photos to it, etc. Then simply unplug it, take it to your friend's ME/2000/XP machine, plug it in and access whatever you put on it. Quick and simple. And it is not susceptible to scratches or dust like CDs or floppies. If there is anything on it you want to keep, THEN burn it to CD and erase the stick's content to free up its memory.

BackUp Against the Wall
You turn on your computer and a blue screen comes up with a bunch of sinister jargon and something about something being unmountable. Is that a bad thing? In a word: yes/maybe. The worst case scenario is that your hard drive has flat-lined. You buy a new one, have someone install it and then... what about all those photos/documents/music on your old hard drive? You never made backups?

It's important to have a good backup strategy. Whether you manually back up your data to CD, a hard drive partition, a second hard drive or a USB Flash stick, the important thing is that you DO backup. XP Pro has built-in software to help you back up your entire drive or specific information and allows you the option of differential or incremental backups. The Home Edition of XP also has the backup utility but it is not installed by default. You have to pull it off the installation disk. Simply insert the XP Home Edition CD and run NTBACKUP.MSI (it might look like just "Ntbackup") program from the folder D:\Valueadd\msft\ntbackup where D: is the letter of your CD drive. This will launch the Windows Backup Utility Installation Wizard, which will install the utility automatically. When it is finished, just click "Finish."