Category Archives: #Computers

Adding a batch script to the Windows Context Menu

With my previous article on How to remove the metadata title from MKV files I discussed methods for using a simple batch file to process a folder, removing metadata from individual files, plus an option to do this recursively; this got me thinking how great it would be to add that to the right-click menu for Windows folders.

As it turns out, it’s really easy, and using the example of recursively processing all MKV files in a folder structure, this is how…

Save the following to a file called MKVCleanup.bat, place this in your Windows folder (Usually c:\windows). You can download a copy by right-clicking here, and selecting “Save As”.

@echo off
cd %1
for /r %%i in (*.mkv) do (
echo processing "%%i"
"C:\Program Files\MKVToolNix\mkvpropedit.exe" "%%i" -d title
)
Echo Done.
pause

The next step, actually adding the right-click command is a registry addition; save the following text into a file on your desktop called MKVCleanup.reg, then right-click on it, selecting “Merge”. You can download a copy by right-clicking here, and selecting “Save As”, you’ll still need to right click on it, selecting merge. This makes an entry in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shell – it just includes a title, and one command which points to the batch file.

It takes advantage that the environment automatically starts in parent of the folder indicated by your right click, and passes the target folder as a command line parameter.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shell\MKVCleanup]
@="&MKVCleanup"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shell\MKVCleanup\command]
@="\"C:\\Windows\\MKVCleanup.bat\" \"%1\""

If you’re actually using this, you’ll also need the MKVToolNix Program (Backup link to 64 bit installer, since their site seems to be down a lot). Go download and install. It’s free, and doesn’t nag.

That’s it, no reboot required, as soon as you’re done, you’ll have a new & shiny right click option in Windows Explorer for folders called “MKVCleanup” – simples πŸ™‚

How to remove the metadata title from MKV files

mkvYou may have come across the need to remove the metadata, or extended title information from an mkv file downloaded from the internet.

Not all files are equal – in the case of regular files, for example .jpg and .mp4 files, you can simply right click in Windows, select Properties, and happily click away at the Details Tab, then “Remove Properties and Personal Information” – provided you have the right permissions, it’ll all work fine. MKV files will give you a permissions error, which is a lie, a dirty stinking filthy lie – don’t believe the lie.

Windows just doesn’t know how to deal with an MKV file title.

You need a 3rd party tool, and a small amount of knowledge.

The tool you need is MKVToolNix (Backup link to 64 bit installer, since their site seems to be down a lot). Go download and install. It’s free, and doesn’t nag.

Then you need to understand how to use the command line.

The basic command you need is: “C:\Program Files\MKVToolNix\mkvpropedit.exe” *mkv file name* -d title

When run, it will simply empty the metadata title from the file, no fuss, and it’ll only take a second.

Update: A number of people have asked me how to automate this to make it recursive, i.e. start at the top of a specified directory (Folder), and go through all sub-directories, processing all files.

This is how:

​@echo off
c:
cd \users\USERNAME\downloads\*.mkv
for /r %%i in (*.mkv) do (
echo processing "%%i"
"C:\Program Files\MKVToolNix\mkvpropedit.exe" "%%i" -d title
)

The For loop goes through every file in the folder structure (Given the *.mkv spec), and executes the mkvpropedit command on every file found in the list. Simples.

Feel free to nick the code above, and use it for your own purposes, but remember to change the relevant path names to those on your own system.

If you would like to know more about batch files, and how they (Plus the command line) work in Windows, please visit the excellent Wikibook: Windows Batch Scripting which should get you started, or go Google it πŸ™‚

Batch scripting (Or otherwise known as Batch Files) enable simple yet powerful processing of almost anything in the DOS or Windows environments, however the batch-language is largely superseded by the more powerful Windows Powershell; but in my opinion it is still very much a valid and ultimately useful tool, for it’s ease of use and simplicity.

This article (Click here) shows you how to add this to the right click context menu in Windows – even easier!”

iOS: 10 Top Tips which aren’t so well known

This article details some ideas to reduce annoyances, and improve your iOS 10 experience on your iPad and iPhone, plus gives you new features to play with.

These are little tips I’ve picked up over time when using my iPhone, features that are, in some cases, just not publicised during the iOS upgrade & launch. It’s almost like they don’t want you to know πŸ˜‰

Either way, it’s the little things which make iOS superior to Apple’s competitors, and we should all know about them!

Before and AfterDevice going slow? Clear some memory quickly.

For this one, your device needs to be powered on and unlocked.

Simply press your power button until the power slider appears, then press and hold the Home Button until the screen returns to normal.

This has the effect of dumping some of the cached memory and freeing up a chunk of working-memory for applications to use. If your device is performing poorly, this is a quick alternative to a complete reboot of your device, which can typically take a few minutes, and interrupt your work.

Save some power.

Save power by turning off AirDrop, whilst keeping Bluetooth on.

Bluetooth on an iPhone / iPad isn’t a bad thing, and you can keep it on permanently without using too much power – the only instance where this uses a ton of battery charge is when you leave on AirDrop. Simply turning off AirDrop will enable you to just leave Bluetooth on, without using all that precious power – this is useful, for example, for people who use their phone in and out of the car all day.

To turn off AirDrop, just swipe up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the control-centre, then tap until it’s off.

Reopen Closed TabsClosed a web page by accident?

Did you know, if you’ve closed a web page in Safari on your iPad / iPhone, you can simply and easily re-open it?

Just hit the button for a new tab, and when the “+” symbol is displayed, press and hold it. This will reveal all of your recently closed tabs, from where you can simply open them back up!

Is that scrolling background causing you a problem? Want to see the text more clearly?

If you’re anything like myself in this instance, the answer will be yes! The good news is that Apple have provided a couple of things to make this better. Firstly, you can turn off that annoying scrolling of the background, and secondly you can make all the text bold.

Simply hit Settings > General > Accessibility, scroll down a little, turn on Bold Text, then Reduce Motion. This will give you an easier to look at and read home screen.

Do you have an ad-blocker installed? Do some pages fail?

Ad-blockers are essential when browsing the web these days, I never venture on to the web without one enabled, however they can cause severe problems with some sites.

Rather than diving into the settings, and turning off the ad-blockers, then reloading the page, … and turning them back on again later on, did you know you can simply and easily reload the page without the ad-blocker?

Easy to do – simply press and hold on the re-load symbol in the address / search bar at the top of safari, this will pop up a menu, which will allow you to either reload the page without ad-blockers, or request the desktop version of the site (As opposed to the mobile version, for example).

Do you ever miss alerts?
Do you have difficulty hearing people during calls?

If the answer to either of the two questions is yes, I have some good news for you!

When you’ve accidentally flicked the switch on your phone to put it into silent mode, and it’s just lying there, vibrating, but you can’t feel it… You can turn the camera’s flash on for the alert! This is also useful in especially noisy environments, and you’ll see it alert, giving you another chance to notice your phone is demanding attention.

To access this feature, select Settings > General > Accessibility > Scroll down to the Hearing section, turn on LED Flash for Alerts.

In the same section as mentioned, you’ll also notice Phone Noise Cancellation – this is absolutely fantastic – this feature, almost magically reduces the background noise, making those all important calls much easier to hear.

Save your home-button

One of the most used physical features of the iPhone and iPad is the home button, which also doubles as the fingerprint scanner in later versions of the devices. This button has been known to fail with excessive use, this problem has been made worse recently as it’s used to wake-up, and unlock you phone in the later instances of iOS. There is a new setting you can enable to reduce the usage of the button.

For example, where you wake your phone with the home button, then want to unlock via a fingerprint, you have to press the button a second time – enabling this function will allow you to simply rest your finger / thumb there and unlock without actually pressing the button a second time. You can save even more button presses on this one, if you wake your phone with the power button instead.

To enable the function select Settings > General > Accessibility > scroll down to Home Button, and select this. Inside the Home Button select Rest Finger to Open.

This function also allows you to use the device almost silently, for example if your partner is sleeping next to you, and you’re catching up on Facebook in bed πŸ˜‰

Firefox: Prevent Unicode Phishing Attacks

IMPORTANT

This is concerning an extremely troubling phishing attack vector for the Firefox browser (Also impacts Chrome), which could leave you wide open to handing over login details to virtually any site, yes even those sites with the little green padlock (Which is supposed to be a sign of security).

The attack works by taking advantage of the unicode feature to display a false web address in tbe address bar, complete with working SSL certification. I won’t go in to further detail here, however you can read about it from the Wordfence Blog Entry, complete with an in-depth explanation.

The fix, for Firefox, is to set the variable network.IDN_show_punycode in Firefox about:config to True – setting this will reveal the real web address, instead of the phishing version for any domain.

The moral of this is not to hide the address bar and other bits of the browser which are slightly technical – this is a problem with technology which is wider than this specific example – programmers hide things, supposedly to make the experience more user-friendly – well, the world isn’t user friendly, and users should damn-well learn to deal with it!

Greater e-mail control & privacy with Google Mail

gmailThis is one of those “Did you know” articles which will become more useful the longer you remember to use the knowledge.

Have a GMail / Google Mail account? Yes – Good. No – Go get one.

You register for gmail, and have a gmail address, for example e-mail@google.com, but did you know that you can actually have as many as you like?

Now you say, “Why would I want more than one address?”. Well, say you don’t like spam, and you register for a website, one which gets hacked, or plain plays dirty and gives that address out – you can then easily filter anything to that address to the bin. The problem is that it’s hard to do when you only have one address, hence the need for multiple addresses. Previously this was one of the bonuses available to domain name owners, or geeks with a million e-mail accounts, but now this can be yours for a few extra key presses with any GMail account.

Simply add dots in your e-mail address, or a + symbol, followed by numbers or letters before the @gmail.com part of the address.

Examples:

So if your address was e-mail@gmail.com, you could automatically just use:

e-ma.il@gmail.com, e-mail+spammywebsitename@gmail.com, e-mail+reallyspammysite@gmail.com

You’d get all of the mails, the same as if you’d just used e-mail@gmail.com – get it?

When you register for websites, just use your-e-mail+sitename@gmail.com, then if they spam you, you can simply autofilter anything to that address into the bin. Simples.

As a side-note – this will also enhance security as often hacked account details are circulated, now as this almost always done via an automated process, a unique e-mail address for a site is by definition going to make the job of the “hacker” more difficult when using an automated process.

Further along the security lines, often phishing e-mails, for example claiming to be from your bank, are spammed at random e-mail accounts. Say you’d used your e-mail@gmail.com address with your bank, it’d be quiet hard to tell if it was legit – but (Not 100% foolproof, but goes a long way!), if you’d used e-mail+banknameyourname@gmail.com, it’d go a long way to telling you if the mail was genuine or not.

Remember though, in general – if you get what you think may be a dodgy e-mail from a financial institution, CALL them on their publicly known numbers and verify it – BEFORE you click on links!

Problem solving flowchart…

Found this one drifting around the interwebs – so true!

01884043afe2afdc03b8b529e441c4663579f9f146

Never forget the basics of diagnostics.

Win10I fix a lot of computer problems, it’s a part of my daily life, my occupation, job etc… Sometimes it’s the really simple things which trip you up – it’s a problem in my profession where we tend to sometimes skip the really simple steps of problem solving and go straight for the solution, assuming (The mother of all fuckups) that the simple things are all OK.

IMG_1431
I fell into the trap this weekend, installing Win 10 on my main desktop machine… I know the machine is a beast of a bastard of a machine, and the build isn’t simple – for start it has five physical hard drives in the box, three DVD writers, two other USB3 drives attached, plus capacity for more when I’m performing system backups. The primary reason for the diverse storage is to eliminate bottle-necks – with everything having dedicated physical storage, even under very high workload, this thing doesn’t slow down. Anyhow, when upgrading the existing Win7 64bit Pro install to Win 10, I had the error “Something Happened. Sorry, we’re having trouble determining if your PC can run Windows 10. Please close Setup and try again.” Now, I did the usual simple fix, and turned it off and on again, with a more basic software config loaded, e.g. no VPN. No luck. This is where I dived off the deep end.

Welcome to the deep end. I Googled it. Probably a partition thing. OK. Storage management, and set the active partition to the OS Part, not the sys part, re-ran the setup, and got past that error – easy I think, so I set the system partition active again, continuing with the install.

IMG_1432No such luck, along came the next error, “Something happened. We can’t tell if your PC has enough space to continue installing Windows 10. Try restarting Setup”. Oh Noes! So… I KNOW the free space on my system, I’d just backed up and cleaned it out to make sure this process was smooth – there is enough physical space – after all, as part of the system design, there is a 500mb fast hard drive dedicated to the OS and apps, only about 60gb used in total.

To cut a long story a little short – I went though the system, even down to the BIOS to power off all internal storage, save for the OS drive… Even unplugged all other devices – in the end the only thing the installer could see was the OS drive, and still nothing. Insert Win7 Setup Disk – ran through the automatic fix it options, even hitting the BootRec command, and replacing boot-sector, mbr etc… No luck, still the same error.

Then it smacked me firmly in the face. Space – what is the free space dependent on – the file system. What if the file system is broken in some subtle way, not impacting any other process on the system – after all I’d had zero warnings from anything, even the drive mirroring program used to backup the system. Enter chkdsk. Chkdsk the saviour of everything. Simple first step fix which I’d skipped over due to the lack of file system warning messages.

Ran chkdsk /f, rebooted, let it do the job.

Rebooted. Upgrade through with no problems.

Check the simple things.
Check the simple things.
Check the simple things.

I tell you three times.

.m3u playlists and Winamp…

winampRemember WinAmp?

Do you still use WinAmp?

Do you have a load of favoured, lovingly built .m3u playlists?

Would you like the files copied to another folder, without having do them manually one by one, to play on another device?

If the answer to all of the above is yes (This means you’re old!), look no further. Below is some batch file code in Windows which will allow you to do exactly that. Run it from the command line with the single parameter of the playlist.mu3 filename (Filename cannot contain spaces).

When run the batch file will create a folder in the current location named after the .m3u file, go through the .m3u file, then copy all of the tracks to the destination folder for you – from there all you need to do is reorganise them to your own preferences – you could use DBPowerAmp to convert the formats, and Mp3Tag to do the filenames / ID3 tags πŸ™‚

I’ve recently used this to extract my playlists from my PC, copying the files, then setting the ID3 tags with Mp3Tag as a compilation, then shoving over to my iPad with CopyTrans Manager.

Have fun with the code, feel free to use and modify, however you are forbidden in using it in any form of commercial project without significant modification. If you do find the code handy, please comment, and link back here!


@echo off

if "%1"=="" goto NoFilename

if exist "%1" (goto continue) else (goto FileDoesntExist)

:continue

echo Extracting filenames from %1

find /V "#" %1 > tempfileextract.txt

set DestTemp=%1
set Dest=%DestTemp:~0,-4%

mkdir %dest%

for /f "delims=" %%a in (tempfileextract.txt) do (

echo Processing %cd%\%%a
copy "%cd%\%%a" %dest% >nul

)

goto end

:NoFilename
echo No Filenname specified
goto end

:FileDoesntExist
echo Cannot open %1
goto end

:end
echo.
echo Cleaning up.
if exist tempfileextract.txt del tempfileextract.txt
echo.
echo Done.

Facebook Photo Syncing – the end!

0.1 FB Moments Article HeaderOr not! Facebook is moving the photo syncing feature which we all love, to an independent app called “Moments“.

0.2 FB Moments Article FeatureThe app replaces the in-built photo syncing feature of the Facebook App, moving it outside, and greatly enhancing the functionality, including undeniably creepy facial recognition features…

The blurb from the app store (With minor translation)…

Here’s the magic (Read: Creepy shit): The app groups your photos based on who’s in them, and when they were taken, which is ideal for the average stalker. In one tap, you can sync your photos to victims you choose. Then, the victims can add their photos to the creepy online virtual gathering. Now, all the stalkers and “authorities” have all the photos you took together, this will aid greatly in online-stalking and investigations.

  • Keep all your photos organised in one private place (My Precious!)
  • Sync multiple photos at once – no need to text or e-mail individual photos (Speed Victimisation!)
  • Easy stalking feature search to find photos of yourself and your victims
  • Save photos other victims sync to you on your phone’s stalking roll
  • Share victims directly on Facebook or Instagram, and send in Messenger if you want

OK… So I may have been a little harsh, but face it (No pun intended), this is the ideal tool for a bunch of stalkers (Not that Facebook isn’t already this!).

The app in itself isn’t bad – once you get past the initial setup, where you’re asked to identify some victims for the facial recognition, it’s very smooth. I’ve never really been a fan of the “moments” function, even when Apple introduced it, I stuck to the normal camera roll, or “All-Photos” as it’s currently know. If I want to group some photos together, I’ll use an album and do it manually. One tip, for when trying to install the app – if you click on the notification in the Facebook app, and get the spinning circle of doom, then go update your Facebook app first, then try again.

Not saying that the auto-stalking features aren’t good, but just not for me. It’s great that Facebook still provide the facility to auto-backup your photos (Read: Visual Memory) – after all, you can’t have too many backups, even if they aren’t the original quality you took (The iCloud can backup original quality photos, so can the Google Photos app, if that’s what you’re after).

So you know what to expect – here’s a gallery with some shots of the whole process, and using it to share a photo on Facebook:

Windows 10 – it’s time, don’t be scared.

Win10When a new version of Windows comes along, I’m always cautious, waiting for a couple of service packs to go by, and the initial load of bugs to be hammered into submission. I think we’ve reached that point!

So, I installed Windows 10 as an upgrade to my existing Win7 Pro install on my laptop, which is Lenovo T420 with 8GB ram, an Intel i5 processor, and a normal HD, plus an add-in drive with the aid of a tray to replace the now next to useless DVD drive; it also has a USB3 card installed. Anyhow I downloaded the Media Creation Tool from Microsoft and made myself a USB installer to ease the transition, after all the worst thing when installing a new OS is that the network will go down half way through or something. Whilst the tool was downloading I also imaged the operating system drive – One of the most important things when building a system is to have a completely separate OS drive, well, OS and apps.

So backup done, and USB upgrade stick ready, I took the bull by the horns and hit upgrade; one hour later (ISH, I wasn’t paying that much close attention), the process had finished, and I was logging into the new OS for the first time. I’m pleased that the upgrade process kept a lot of my settings, including the taskbar position, and preserved my QuickLaunch bar – I love this feature in windows, and quite frankly it’s all you need to launch apps efficiently – the tiles, whilst nice, are a little overkill on a PC, although in a tablet environment, I can see them being very useful. BTW: If you want two add this back in, super easy – right click the task bar, Toolbars > New, then paste in “%userprofile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch”.

Anyhow, some settings preserved, time to move onto disabling the shite, and beating the “Features” into submission with a finely tuned LART. When asked about Cortana in a PC / Laptop environment, say NO. Again, one of those features which could be useful in a tablet environment, but on the PC platform, just say no. There are good reasons to say no, with Cortana enabled, there are massive privacy leaks to Microsoft, not that for a moment I’ve pretty much anything to hide, but without protection, these companies will take over the world. When you go through the initial settings, just turn everything Cortana related off, it’s easy enough, and will not only increase privacy, but reduce any system and network overhead used.

Many things still exist, for example, you might expect Control Panel to have gone the way of the dinosaurs – be comforted that it’s still there, so are many of the other Windows 7 features – in fact when you don’t use the “Full screen start menu”, it’s almost Windows 7, so if you’re comfortable in the Win7 environment, then there’s nothing to be afraid of – take the plunge today, and go do the upgrade. It’s worth mentioning that the upgrade is free to legit users of Win7 and Win8, it does however expire at the end of July, a scant two and a bit months time, from the date of this article – after that it’ll cost around Β£100. You will eventually need to upgrade, as MS will cut off support for Win7 sooner, or later.

solThere are some annoying features – there are a bunch of apps installed which you’re never going to use, especially if you already have custom software on your system which performs that function. The XBox and Skype packages are two examples. The Win10 Games are the worst, like Win8 they’re hideous mutations of the Win7 and older versions of the old classics. You can download the Win7 games installer from Winaero.com, however in case that vanishes, here is a backup link.

win10menuTiles. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re here to stay. I think they come into play more with the tablet platforms, than with a PC or laptop, however I have made some use of ’em, but I think they need to be set to the smallest size, and on the laptop, I’m very much just using them as an extension to the start menu, instead of the normal “Pin to Start Menu” function of Win7, which I loved – I wish we could just have that back on the PC and get rid of the tiles, but there we go. As you can see by the screenie, they don’t (To me at least) look that hideous, well when shrunk down a little – I’ve left a “Medium” tile in there for comparison. An important thing to note here: In Win10, you’ve lost the ability to randomly click anywhere in the OS and “Add to Start”, for example – if you have a handy shortcut on your desktop, it won’t always let you add it, so you have to move it to your start menu (See further in the article for more details), then reboot, for it to be visible in the start menu, and only then will you be able to add it as a short-cut tile!

Some of the quick shortcuts are missing, for example when you right click on the “This PC” icon in the “All Apps” menu, you don’t get the usual menu you’d expect, and for that you’ll have to open up the “File Explorer”, and right click on “This PC”, for functions like “Manage”, and “Properties” etc.

Talking of “This PC”, MS are trying to shove OneDrive down your throats, however whilst I don’t actually think this is especially a bad thing, for me it won’t work – I use VPN – I simply don’t want my ISP spying on me, so my machines pop onto the interwebs from anywhere on the globe; not that I have anything to hide – I’m just not going to make it easy for our overly curious numptard overlord politicians (Read: Civil-Masters) to keep me under the thumb – the point being that OneDrive really doesn’t like VPN, and for me this is now a broken function – and come to think of it, I don’t think I’d trust MS with my stuff anyhow – so OneDrive – thumbs down from me. As a point the Apple ICloud works fine on VPN (After the initial logon) – someone tell me why I trust Apple more than MS again… there you go, I’m human after all.

You will need more information before diving right in to Windows 10, for that, plus some detailed tech guides, I’d recommend having a look through the Windows 10 guides on the How-To Geek page, also their Windows 10 FAQ – very handy reading! I’ll be doing the main desktop PC soon enough, however will leave it for another weekend, as doing the laptop, whilst not hard as such, was a steep learning curve.

As a general point – I only ever install an operating system on a computer the once – once it is installed and working, IMAGE THE DRIVE, that’s right, go spend some money on a USB3 drive, and use some software such as Ghost or Acronis TrueImage to take a snapshot of the drive, do this monthly. If it all goes tits up, you’re looking at a half hour restore operation, instead of spending all day reinstalling the OS and all those applications (Of which you probably won’t be able to remember most). The motto is BACKUP BACKUP BACKUP, it will save your stuff and time.

If you don’t want to splash the cash on commercial tools to backup, you can always download Hiren’s Boot Disk, and burn to a CD or USB device – Hiren’s contains many free utilities which do just as good a job as their commercial equivalents. If the official site for Hiren’s is down – you can use this backup link to download the disk iso, which is around 600mb in size.

As a general point, go have a read of my Basic Windows Security article, don’t get caught with your pants down…

… This is turning into a monster article, so if you want some tech instructions regarding removing the crap / bloatware which comes with Win10, then click more, as below:
Continue reading

Basic Windows Security

SecuritySome of the things I’m asked about constantly, being a general geek, and in the I.T. industry, are “What is the best anti-virus”, and “how do I get rid of spyware”, “how do I avoid it in the first place?”

In this article, I’ll outline the basics of security, both in terms of software to install, updates, home networks, and every day techniques to avoid any infections. This article isn’t intended to be a granular set of instructions, but is intended to guide you in the right direction – there are lots of in-depth articles covering all of the individual topics out there, Google is your friend πŸ™‚

Software

Windows is the most targeted platform out there – Windows runs on most PCs, therefore it’s simply a larger target for the virus / spyware authors to attack – at the end of the day, it’s a numbers game. Windows also has a large number of vulnerabilities, which if left unpatched allow systems to be taken down easily.

Software – make it legit – any pirated software carries a high risk it has been compromised – this goes for the operating system, and every program you run.

P2P (Peer to Peer) – this is a tempting source of free stuff, however it’s also a massive vector for infection, as is the same for any streaming software – the moral of the story is that unless you’re 100% sure you can cope with the threats out there, stay legal and legit.

Defence software – As in Harry Potter, we all acknowledge there are Dark Arts, and we need a Defence against the Dark Arts class, i.e. Antivirus / Anti spyware. The good news here is that you don’t need to spend any money. For Windows 7, download and install MS Security Essentials. For Windows 8 and above, it’s built in – just go into your settings and turn it all on.

Before installing MS Security Essentials, or activating Windows Defender, be sure to deactivate and/or uninstall any other products which may be left on your systems, I’m talking about the Symantec / McAfee type anti-virus programs. Having more than one of these products, doing the same thing, at the same time, on the same system will result in the system slowing down and eventually breaking.

One of the worst things I find in performing maintenance on private PCs is the left over anti-virus products fighting it out for supremacy – when you buy a PC, often it is bundled with all kinds of ‘helpful’ software, and people will just give the authors money for renewals after the trial period, because changing products is seen as effort / work. Trust me, the free products out there do a damn fine job, don’t get ripped off with massive costs for anti-virus software when you don’t need to be. ALL Antivirus software will let threats through, none of them are infallible – it’s common sense precautions which are your true line of defence.

Shields up!

spybot

In addition to Antivirus, there is also Anti-spyware and Anti-malware which needs to be accounted for. Windows Defender and MS Security Essentials have the basics covered in this area, however you may wish to expand your level of protection a little. Again, you do NOT need to spend money on this! One of the best products out there, and one kick-arse line of defence is Spybot Search and Destroy, a free product which can perform an in-depth scan of your system, remove infections, and most importantly immunize against infections!

You can also splash some cash on Spybot, and others, such as MalwareBytes, however the free versions are usually enough to get the job done. The rule is don’t get infected to start with!

Network

Assuming that you’re not completely stupid, you’ve gone into your router, disabled the UPnP function, and changed some of the defaults over – such as setting a custom SSID, and changing the default passwords to something better! UPnP can hand over the keys to the inside of your network to any miscreant program which makes it past your shields. UPnP = BAD. Talk to your ISP if you’re unsure of how to turn off UPnP, or change the security defaults; or get a geeky mate round to have a fiddle. No, don’t ask me. πŸ˜‰

Not changing the default details for connecting to your network / wifi / router is plainly stupid – anyone can get hold of these details, and get into your network, opening up inbound paths for further penetration. Remember, your PC holds the keys to your life, your bank, your e-mail, everything – keep it behind a nice big wall with spikes on – when configured correctly, your network is just that.

The Internet

We wouldn’t need half of the security out there if it weren’t for the Internet, without a network connection, unless you connect an infected device, your computer is an island, and quite secure by default, the minute you connect to the internet, you’d better be sure it’s protected to the max. Software, and network protection measures are only a small part of your solution. Believe it or not, common sense and avoiding the common vectors for infection play a bigger role than anything else. There are a few simple points to keep in mind:

  • Don’t use Internet Explorer, ever.
  • Use Chrome or Firefox.
  • Install an ad-blocker, such as adblock-plus – this will turn off one of the biggest potential vectors for infection.
  • Keep your software legit – pirated software is a massive and avoidable risk – these days there are many free alternatives to almost all paid software.
  • Only use trusted sites, rule is that if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  • If you’re going to go hunting for porn, which a lot of people do, spend some money, use a legit site, and gain some small measure of protection.
  • Keep your software up to date, up to date software is patched to armour it against infection vectors.

Whilst this article won’t come close to covering off everything, it does cover the basics, and if you take care of the basics, you’re 99% sorted, the rest is a learning curve, and experience. The best defence against any security threat is you – don’t be an idiot, think before you click, read warning boxes and pages before you click / agree to stuff. Don’t be a sheep πŸ™‚

Distilled iOS wisdom

The Spabbit is wise in the ways of iOS, and passes on some wisdom, specifically referring to iOS 9 on the iPad and iPhone, plus dealing with music & ringtones sans iTunes… This article targets the less mundane challenges encountered when using iOS, you can find hundreds of other articles on the regular problems, this one aims to be that little bit different, and useful in other ways…

copytransTip 1 – CopyTrans Manager

Have music, hate iTunes? Me too! Use CopyTrans Manager. CopyTrans Manager is a free product which enables simple drag’n’drop operation from your PC to your iPhone or iPod. iTunes needs to be installed, but you never need open it up πŸ™‚

MP3-300x300Tip 2 – Free Ringtones & Txt-tones

Do you have a huge music collection already? Is most of it in mp3? Would you like to have some of the tracks as ringtones?

If the answer is yes, you need two pieces of software, the first being Fre:AC, the second being Audacity, both of which are free. The next thing you need is a bit of knowledge.

An apple ringtone is a .m4a (mp4 audio) file renamed .m4r, i.e. songname.m4a renamed to songname.m4r, it’s that simple. The rule is up to 30 seconds, the device will read the file as available for both txt-tone and ringtone, over 30 seconds it’s a ringtone only.

How to you get .m4a files from your .mp3 files – use a converter, such as Fre:AC, you can convert the file to .wav first, edit the .wav file in Audacity (Trim the file to the right length, and you can play with the volume etc), and then convert the file from .wav to .m4a; finally just rename to .m4r and copy over to your device using CopyTrans Manager.

Sounds complex, but once you’ve done it once, and mastered the process, it’s a 2 minute job. Never pay for another ringtone again πŸ™‚

iTunesTip 3 – Free your music from iTunes

Have a lot of music in iTunes, want to manage it with a product such as CopyTrans Manager, or just want it as .mp3 files instead? Easy!

Bring up iTunes on your PC. Resize it so it’s not taking the entire screen, then drag and drop an album / single from the iTunes window onto your desktop (Or any other folder you’ve made), and iTunes will copy the .m4a files over for you. Easy. If you want to convert to .mp3 then you can use the afore mentioned Fre:AC, or a commercial product such as DBPowerAmp. Personally, I think that DBPoweramp is a great product, and well worth the money, but if you’re on a budget, stick to the free software πŸ™‚

icloudiconTip 4 – iCloud Drive

iCloud is a wonderful thing, it can save your arse in a pinch, store all your stuff, and be available cross platform. If you install it on your PC it’s a nice easy way of transferring files (Think PDFs, Docs, Excel sheets etc); you can even keep special collections of pictures in the iCloud Drive – really anything you want. It’s cheap online storage as well, check out the Storage Plan pricing here, at the moment, in the UK, 50gb of online storage costs only Β£0.79 a month – Very Cheap!

You can use iCloud from your e-mail on your apple device to store e-mail attachments straight to the drive – just press and hold on the icon for the attachment and select the iCloud Drive > Export to this location options (When you’ve selected a folder), and it’ll save right there – the file will then be available on all devices you’ve logged into with iCloud, all your iDevices and your PC / MAC etc.

Restore1Tip 5 – Item Restoration for accidental erasures

Restore the automatic backups of Files, Contacts, Bookmarks or Documents from the iCloud at any time. It’s a little known thing, but Apple introduced automatic timed snapshots for your files, contacts, bookmarks and documents a while back. This means that when visiting the iCloud website, and hitting settings (As pictured), you can select to restore any of the items.

Restore2Further to which, if you dive into the items, you’ll get further options to restore from which snapshot. However, be aware that the restored versions will completely replace your current ones, so if you’ve made changes since then, the changes will be wiped from your device; however saying that – the current version of the item you’re restoring will be stored as a snapshot. For those Windows users who have experienced Shadow Volume Copy Restore – it’s almost the same thing.

One really important thing to note with the iCloud website, is that when opened on an iDevice, you won’t get into it – it will eventually redirect you back to your device settings, which means it’s hard to use the restore function directly from your iPad, or iPhone, which is where, ironically, it would be most useful. Fear not – there is a way around this silly restriction of the website – this is to visit iCloud.com, then hit the “Share” icon, selecting “Request Desktop Site” from the options available – the site will then reload as it would on a PC – and you can use the restore options from there – handy πŸ™‚

ctcontactsTip 6- Backup your Notes, Messages & Contacts

My one wish with the automatic backup in tip 5, is that Notes should be covered as well – I have a metric fuckton of notes, and am always wary about losing ’em. On the topic of Notes, there is a third-party backup solution by CopyTrans called CopyTrans Contacts – whilst you do have to pay for this piece of software, it’s more than worth it for piece of mind – CopyTrans Contacts not only performs a backup all your contacts, notes from both your devices and the cloud (All of the cloud, not just iCloud), but also all text / iMessage messages, in several formats, including attachments.

The message backup function is excellent and goes above and beyond Apple’s own offering of a blanket backup. It will allow you to export to a range of formats, including a spreadsheet, based on conversation order, and individual html files, again including the attachments.

In Summary

I hope the few tips above will be useful, they’re things which I’ve gathered and noted down over time, however I make no claims of the list other than it will take some time to read. If you’ve discovered something else, and think other readers would like to hear about it, please make a comment πŸ™‚

TalkTalk: The Fibre Saga

TTFOfferWell… We recently decided to believe the advertising (Silly, I know), and upgrade our TalkTalk Broadband package to include the new ‘Fibre’ package, which claims to be 5x faster than the standard ADSL2 which we had.

Well… Fibre isn’t fibre, in this case it’s VDSL2, and whist there may be a fibre somewhere along the route, probably to a green box at the end of the street, there is no fibre to our house. Kind of misleading there, TalkTalk. To add insult to this, there is a Β£50 upgrade fee, now I’m not sure what this is covering… An Openreach engineer visiting the box at the end of the street and changing a cable over, or some other operation, OR the new ‘Super-Router’, either way the “Free” bit of the offer isn’t.

HG533So the upgrade went smoothly enough, the line speed is excellent, the VDSL2 speed is excellent and works as advertised (You can tell there’s a ‘but’ coming, right?)… BUT their ‘SuperRouter” isn’t super, well, apart from super-crap. Plugged this in ahead of the VDSL2 upgrade (Can’t really call it Fibre!), as it also functions fine on ADSL2… Problems:

To start with, it didn’t play with the rest of the network here, the rest of the network being 2 unmanaged gigabit switches, a wifi access point, and the usual devices. It wouldn’t connect using the existing cabling to the ‘core’ switch on the network, this being 30ft away along cat5e cable, the previous Netgear router connected just fine at 1gig. I actually had to go buy another unmanaged switch to sit next to this thing.

Secondly it has only 100mbs ports, not gigabit ports… Really I know, as this device sits on the periphery of the network, and isn’t in this case a core component, that it wouldn’t be too much of an issue – however it was a disappointment, especially when I knew the previous model given out by TalkTalk was a HG635 model, with gigabit ports. I really feel for those who use it as a network core without knowing how much it will knock their speed and capacity. Still, I tried to make it play nicely.

Daily reboots as it managed to kill the network, and I didn’t even give it any work to do, the work of the DHCP server and the Wifi access point already being handled flawlessly by the other devices on the network, ALL it had to do was provide an interweb connection via NAT. Somehow it managed to kill the network daily, and had to be rebooted before anything else would work.

It took me a week of the super-shit performance, and settling for a second (?) best device, plus reading countless horror stories of this device before getting to the point of spending money on another router. I didn’t even bother to contact TalkTalk, as most, if not all, of the horror stories make it perfectly clear that the only thing it would do is raise my blood-pressure.

D7000Enter the Netgear Nighthawk D7000 – I paid Β£130 for this router, and I have to say worth every single penny, and a lot more (In fact, upon checking, it’s now Β£170!). The D7000 is an amazing device, boot it up, connect with the details on a small sticker, and run through a connection wizard which asks what ISP you have, and it just works, perfectly.

There are ample configuration options, and of course the usual ones need to be changed from their defaults, including the wifi access point ssids, passwords etc. There are options to lock down the network with MAC filtering, the various encryption options etc. The router has gigabit ports and a USB3 socket if you wish to share a storage device with your network. Also, unlike the ‘SuperRouter’, it communicated just fine with the rest of the network, at gigabit speeds, and doesn’t need a switch of it’s own lol… The uptime is awesome, not a single reboot has been required in a month, and the rest of the network is rock steady.

The D7000 also boasts Quality Of Service features, both for ports, and devices. With the ports option, you can chose from a large list of predefined services, or input your own; the device options will allow you to set one of four priorities for the traffic – importantly both sets of rules can be live and functional at the same time.

The Wifi is excellent delivering on 2.4 and 5ghz, with separate IDs and passwords per network, both for a ‘core’ network and a ‘guest’ network. The device has three aerials, and it is capable of ‘beam forming’ where by it just doesn’t transmit blindly in a dome, but is able to focus the signals to the devices physical locations, which seems to work very well, for me at least. AND it looks like a space-ship πŸ˜‰

Overall the TalkTalk ISP is great, IF all you want is a broadband wire – it is truly unlimited, the speed is excellent, we’re getting what we pay for. Don’t believe the hype of their ‘SuperRouter’, it’s anything but super. Do go buy a Netgear D7000, it’s worth every penny.

// EDIT

TalkTalk came back to me on Twitter today, no offer of an apology, no offer of a refund for supplying a piss poor device, only an offer to tell the team LMAO! This is the reason I didn’t contact them in the first place, would’ve been bashing my head against a wall by now!

Love the bit where they call the device ‘free’, bet you one way or another, we end up paying for it!

Don’t let me put you off TalkTalk as an ISP, they have a brilliant wire service, just supply shockingly bad devices, and don’t really do customer services, in my opinion…

#fail

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Have I Been Pwned?

Pwned

You know, we all rely on our e-mail accounts for a host of other systems, and a compromised e-mail account could realistically hand over your entire life to a hacker.

Put it this way – in this age, your e-mail account is the keyring to your life; look after it well, and don’t let it fall into the wrong hands!

I became aware of have i been pwned? recently, and have taken some time out to vet the addresses and domains I use against the pwned lists – fortunately I’m safe, however I know of a few who haven’t been so lucky.

Either way, go visit have i been pwned? now, and make sure. If any of your accounts have since been compromised, you can take some remedial action and get ’em under control quickly enough.

As a general rule of security, always use a two step verification process, most of the bigger providers offer this now, Google and Facebook to name two. And don’t use stupid password, OK? πŸ™‚

Logitech Z533 2.1 Speaker System – Sleep problem solved!

Z533-1These Logitech Z533 Speakers are fantasic, got them on offer for Β£60 from PC world… One of the shop-peons kindly allowed me to plug in and have a demo, and from a minute of killing all conversation in the shop with some tastful music at volume, I was hooked and had to have ’em.

Installed and at home in their native environment, they’re even better, the sound from these 2.1 is crystal clear over the frequency range, and I can now take full advantage of the highest quality DSP I own at the moment, built into my PC Soundcard. However, there is a commonly reported issue / problem with these speakers, which is largly made up, from lack of understanding…

Sleep. These speakers, like cats, like to sleep; see, they’re smart, not just regular speakers, but smart speakers. When they don’t detect enough signal on input, they turn off. This is a good thing.

The way people tend to use PC speakers is to set the volume knob on the speakers at a standard level, and then use the PC volume control to vary the actual sound produced, with dumb speakers it works fine. These speakers need a minimum level of signal coming into them to realise they’re needed and stay awake, without this, like cats, they sleep.

The trick is to turn up the PC volume level (After all, in most instances, the PC-Out is designed for headphones, it’s not a line-out), and turn down the speaker’s control knob a little; it won’t hurt the amp on the sound-card to do a little extra work… Only increase the actual volume knob if you want loud, which the Z533 handles with the ease of a jet fighter thundering through the sound-barrier. πŸ™‚

End of the line statement about these speakers: Super-Awesome, but don’t be an idiot when using ’em.