Friday, August 1st32.8°C
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Getting Along With Your Computer

Up or down?

Have you ever wondered if a website is available for everyone except you? I’ll show you how to find out. And if you’ve ever encountered the weird “Your PC is offline” error in Windows 8, you’ll want to see how to get past that. Read on.

 

“Is Facebook down, or is it just me?”

Some days on the Internet are better than others. If you’ve ever tried to get to a major website --- Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, Twitter, Google --- only to wonder if it’s not loading for anyone or just for you, here are two handy ways to check.

A new site to me, isDownOrBlocked.com (http://isdownorblocked.com) lets you type the name of any site into a search box to check the site’s availability. That causes isDownOrBlocked to query the site from two different network servers and show you the results. If typing is too much trouble, click on Top domains near the top of the page and then on the site you want to check.

The site I’ve been using for sometime now is called DownRightNow (http://downrightnow.com/). DownRightNow lists the major websites and shows the status of each. They get the status by monitoring official announcements and user reports. You can see a performance graph for sites you’re trying to reach. And because DownRightNow relies on user reports, you can generate a trouble report when you’re having a problem. Follow DownRightNow on Facebook and/or Twitter to stay up to date, assuming Facebook and Twitter are working!

 

“Your PC is Offline. Please sign in with the last password used on this PC”

One of the stranger errors we encounter on Windows 8 is the one that informs us that our PC is offline and instructs us to sign in with the last password used on this PC.

Wait. What?

Possible causes and fixes:

You are typing in the wrong password. Type in the correct password for your Microsoft Account. If you don’t remember your password, go to another computer (or login to another account on that computer), point your browser to http://login.live.com/ , click on “Can’t access your account?” and follow the instructions to reset your password.

If you’re sure that you’re typing in the right password, and you can go to another computer and login with that password at http://login.live.com/, there is an excellent chance you have CAPS LOCK turned on. (Or off, if you created a password using all caps.) Get that straightened out and try again.

If that’s not the problem, something might have changed the keyboard language. Check the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Do you see the correct language there? (For most of us it will be ENG). If it’s wrong, press the WinKey and Space bar simultaneously, select the proper keyboard, then try your password again.

Finally, an extremely annoying cause of this problem is no connectivity. That’s right. If you’re not connected to a network, Windows 8 sometimes doesn’t let you login. Good grief. Make sure you have a working internet connection, then try again.

 

Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along!

 

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna (http://computercarekelowna.com/) a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].

You can read previous columns here: http://rlis.com/column.htm . If you'd like to subscribe to this column by email, please visit this link: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Sub=20618 . It's easy, and free. If you'd prefer the RSS Feed, click here: http://rlis.com/rlis.xml.



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Beat the heat

People who know me well suspect that I am at least one third lizard --- I love the heat. But hot weather does have its downside, and that’s why you need to protect your computer and other electronics from power surges and spikes. Bonus: If you’re so hot you need to think about something cold, watch live streaming bears catching salmon in Alaska.

 

Why you need a surge protector

As I was putting the finishing touches on last week’s column, the power went out for a minute. It came back on for ten minutes, and then cycled again. It did that five times in 25 minutes. The power company blamed a combination of “nature and high demand.” Really. Who could have anticipated a high demand for power at 5:30 PM on a very hot weekday? Certainly not the power company.

That said, all our computers (even the laptops), routers, modem, and TVs are plugged into surge protectors. That certainly didn’t keep the computers or the network up, but on the plus side, nothing here let the smoke out of itself from the electrical spikes and surges.

Electronic devices count on a steady voltage. When power spikes or surges, this can damage the devices because a standard electrical outlet can’t cope with the extreme voltage fluctuations. A surge protector diverts excess energy to a circuit within itself, protecting your devices by allowing only the safe amount of electricity to pass through.

You’ve got hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars of electronic equipment. A surge protector costs anywhere between $25 and $75. It just makes sense to protect your important stuff with surge protectors.

Power bars are not necessarily surge protectors. Be sure to check the packaging to make sure what you have is a surge protector. It will tell you the level of protection in Joules. (Higher numbers are better.) Good surge protectors from reputable manufactures will have a warranty. It’s a good idea to replace the surge protector when the warranty period is over, usually somewhere between two and five years.

Check this detailed article about How Surge Protectors Work if you want to know more: http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/everyday-tech/surge-protector.htm.

Do you have a laptop? Get some airflow under it! Check out the third item in this column to see how: http://rlis.com/columns/column458.htm.



Brown Bears vs. Salmon

The Explorer.org website is a portal to live cameras broadcasting animals. My current favourite is the Brown Bear Salmon Cam from Katmai National Park in Alaska, because it’s nice to think about Alaska during a heat wave.

According to the website:

Every year over a hundred Brown Bears descend on a mile long stretch of Brooks River to feast on the largest Sockeye Salmon run in the world.

And you can watch that happen. It’s light now in Alaska from 5:30 in the morning till 11:30 PM. Point your browser here: http://explore.org/live-cams/player/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls. It’s a little safer than watching the bears close up like this guy: http://youtu.be/MVhrN2pI2X8.


Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along!

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna (http://computercarekelowna.com/) a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].

You can read previous columns here: http://rlis.com/column.htm . If you'd like to subscribe to this column by email, please visit this link: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Sub=20618 . It's easy, and free. If you'd prefer the RSS Feed, click here: http://rlis.com/rlis.xml.



CAPTCHAs and new tabs

Do you hate guessing what those weird-looking letters say when you fill out a form online? I’ll tell you how to make it (a little) less painful. Also, what’s up with the Firefox New Tab Page?

 

Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart

When you sign up for something online, take an online poll, make an online purchase or perform any other number of online tasks, you often encounter a much-hated test. That form containing illegible characters is a CAPTCHA, and that stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart.

Why would you need to test for this? Because a CAPTCHA is one defence against computer-generated problems like spam. CAPTCHAs - You can read more about that here: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/captcha.htm.

How many times have you tried to open an account or buy a ticket to something and been unable to decipher the mangled letters?

Me too.

But here’s a trick: When you can’t figure out what the CAPTCHA says, click on the link that says “get a new code” or the little circle that will refresh the picture. Keep going until you get one you like. Tedious as that is, it beats squinting and guessing and typing and getting it wrong!


Firefox New Tab Page is still confusing

Firefox introduced the “New Tab” page layout several versions ago. I never did figure out how it was supposed to work, and when a customer needed some help with this I finally made time to do a little research. According to the Firefox support site:

When you create a new tab, Firefox shows your top sites to make getting where you want to go easier than ever.

I have no real idea what they mean by “top sites” because my New Tab page just looks like RECENT sites, not TOP sites. The first question I usually get is “Then what?” Just click on a thumbnail to be taken to that site.

The next question from most people is either “How to I make them stick in the same place?” or “How the heck do I turn that off?”

Make a site stick by clicking on the little pin icon in the top left corner of the thumbnail. That “pins” the site to the New Tab page. You can then click and drag it to any location on that page.

You can cause the page always to open blank by clicking on the square icon in the top right corner of the tab. (If you hover over it, it will say “Hide the new tab page.”) To turn it back on, click on the icon again.

Deleting thumbnails you don’t want is easy. Just click on the X in the upper right corner of the thumbnail.

The question that got me looking into all this was, “How do I add a site?” and it turned out I had no idea. Here’s why: It’s outrageously complicated to do. But I’ll tell you how anyway. To add a site to the New Tab page, you must first bookmark it.

I’ll wait patiently while you take that in.

Yep, that’s the key to the whole thing. Add the site to your Bookmarks. Then click the Bookmarks button, then on Show all bookmarks. Then find the bookmark you want to add and drag it to the New Tab page.

This explains why I’ve never figured that out on my own. Instead of simply being able to click and drag or even right-click and select “add to new tab page” we have to click several times, scroll, and click and drag. Who’s designing this thing, disgruntled former Microsoft employees?

You can read more about how to use the New Tab page here: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/new-tab-page-show-hide-and-customize-top-sites.

Are the images missing? Do they vanish every time you close the browser? That might be due to a setting in Firefox. Check the documentation here: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/thumbnails-on-new-tab-page-are-missing. Or it might be due to aggressive settings on CCleaner or other temp file/registry cleaning utilities.

 

Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along!

 

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna (http://computercarekelowna.com/) a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].

You can read previous columns here: http://rlis.com/column.htm . If you'd like to subscribe to this column by email, please visit this link: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Sub=20618 . It's easy, and free. If you'd prefer the RSS Feed, click here: http://rlis.com/rlis.xml.



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Google is not a browser

Many people are confused about browsers and search engines. They are not the same thing. A car and a map aren’t the same thing, either. Your browser is like a car, transporting you to your destination. A search engine is the map you need to find your way.

 

Browsers

A browser is a program on your computer that allows you to visit places on the World Wide Web called websites. You’ve been using browsers all along, even if you didn’t know it. For instance:

Internet Explorer is a browser made by Microsoft. It comes installed on Windows computers. If you’ve ever clicked on the lower case blue “e” with the gold line through it, you’ve used Internet Explorer.

The Firefox browser from Mozilla is a good alternative to Internet Explorer. It is safer and generally faster than IE. You might recognize the orange fox wrapped around the blue earth Firefox icon. You can download Firefox here: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/. I like Firefox a lot. I’ve been using it for years, and I strongly recommend it. It’s highly customizable.

Chrome, from Google, is now more widely used than Internet Explorer (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/9280254/Google-Chrome-beats-Internet-Explorer-to-become-worlds-most-popular-web-browser.html ). It’s fast. You can download it here: http://www.google.com/chrome. There are other browsers as well, notably Safari from Apple (but it will run on Windows): http://www.apple.com/safari/ and Opera: http://www.opera.com/.

Each of these browsers is a little different, but the thing they all have in common is that they exist for the purpose of guiding you through the World Wide Web. For the best brief explanation of this I have ever seen, visit this page (in your browser!) from Common Craft: http://www.commoncraft.com/video/web-browsers. Get to know your browser; it’s one of the most important programs on your computer. And yes, you need to keep it up to date. Which browser should you choose? It’s entirely up to you!


Search engines

A search engine is a site on the World Wide Web that finds and organizes information for you, based on what you tell it you’re looking for. You get there using --- wait for it --- a browser!

If you want to find the answer to a question, or you want to find some websites about a particular topic, you open up your browser and you use a search engine to find what you’re looking for. Any search engine is just a place on the Web, and you get there with your browser.

Google has the overwhelming lead in the search engine market (http://www.statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-share-of-search-engines/), but there are plenty of other search engines. You might be familiar with Yahoo! search and Bing, which is Microsoft’s challenge to Google search. If you are concerned about a lack of privacy with Google, Yahoo! Bing, or anything else, try DuckDuckGo (https://duckduckgo.com/). It’s a good, fast, rich alternative that doesn’t collect or share personal information, and does not track you.

You can use any search engine you want in any browser you want, either by visiting the page for your search engine of choice or by adding the search engine to your browser. I’ll show you how to do that in an upcoming column.

Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along!

 

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna (http://computercarekelowna.com/) a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].

You can read previous columns here: http://rlis.com/column.htm . If you'd like to subscribe to this column by email, please visit this link: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Sub=20618 . It's easy, and free. If you'd prefer the RSS Feed, click here: http://rlis.com/rlis.xml.



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About the author...

Cate Eales has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible and fun for over 20 years. She lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric, and her dog, Sandy. Cate is a partner in Computer Care Kelowna, helping individuals and small businesses with virus, spyware and malware eradication; personal computer training and management; digital image management; music transfer; and website design, hosting and management.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with your comments, suggestions, or questions. To browse the column archives, visit the Real Life Internet Solutions website at www.rlis.com.




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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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