Thursday, 29 July 2010

Back soon ...



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Sunday, 16 May 2010

TIP - Backup or Synchronise-2

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I haven't forgotten! It has taken a lot of time to 'test' out two or three pieces of software. I also made the mistake of running THREE backups at the same time (on different days of the week, of course!), and the result was that my 1TB external drive filled up so fast that it got to a point where it could take no more and gave up trying. Bummer!

All is back to normal after I deleted the backups I no longer required. Hopefully the programme I have selected to use will now pick up where it left off and continue to do my backups on a Sunday without whingeing again. I will tell you which one I settled on in a moment.

My intent was to point you at a FREE backup programme that would do the necessary tasks for you, one which you could download, install, schedule and forget about. The good news is that there is such a beast - two, actually! The ones I've been testing are:

  • Acronis True Image Home 2010  - (paid version $49.99 - WinXP, WinVista, Win7)
  • Genie-Soft Genie Backup Manager - (paid version €39.95 - WinXP, WinVista, Win7)
  • GoodSync (from the RoboForm stable) - (paid version $29.95 - WinXP, WinVista, Win7)
  • Microsoft SyncToy - (FREE - make sure you choose the right download - 32-bit or 64-bit - WinXP, WinVista, Win7)
  • Karen Kenworthy's Replicator - (FREE - I've been using her software for years - WinXP, WinVista, Win7)

Those were MY choices, but there are several out there that you can still take a look at. I will briefly discuss the two free ones in the next post.

I have elected to go with True Image for several reasons, not least of all because I paid for the damn thing. It was a heavily discounted offer and after a bit of research amongst the tech-smart guys on the web it appeared to be a wise choice. It may yet turn out to be a lemon, not least of all because Acronis seem to be building an appalling reputation for after-sales service.

We shall see ...


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Wednesday, 25 November 2009

TIP - Backup or Synchronise

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Continuing the theme of hunting for a reasonably competent backup tool, and building on the two links I provided in the previous post to some of Gizmo Richards' superb freeware, I have stumbled across a couple more that might be of interest to you. But those will only be revealed to you in the next post.

First, let me put to bed some misconceptions about backups. My whinge in a couple of previous posts was that those dumb-asses at Microsoft appeared to cripple their backup solution by neglecting to backup .EXE, .DLL and .JS files on the grounds that they are executables and that the built-in backup programme is designed to backup only DATA.

Well, yes and no!

Microsoft, in its 'Big Brother' guise chooses to do this, because if you use their built-in proggy that is all you are going to get. Independent manufacturers ALSO choose to do this, for the reasons I shall mention next, but you have a choice of telling the programme that you use (if it isn't a Microsoft offering) that you want EVERYTHING backed-up. An option that would be nice in Windows if M$ allowed the choice!

Here are some reasons why it makes good common sense to exclude 'executables', assuming your installation is a standard one where your C-drive is the one on which you have installed your operating system. And to keep it from getting boring, it is the only drive I shall discuss here ...

  • Drive C:\ has all the Windows system files, 10GB at least. If Windows crashes and has to be reinstalled, all these files will be redone and rewritten by the Windows installer. So it is a pointless exercise backing them up.
  • Drive C:\ has a lot of temporary files, including all the cookies, temp folders, page files, system restore points, prefetch folders and other garbage you've picked up on the Internet. Maybe even some dormant viruses and malware. You want all temporary files to disappear when you reinstall Windows, so backing them up is not only useless, it could be harmful.
  • Boot sector and certain boot-related files ought not to be backed up. Your computer will require the new installation of drivers for its hardware and the old boot files will be of little use.
  • The folder C:\Program Files\ contains executable and graphics files of the programmes you installed. The folders in it are huge and not worth saving, because if you have to reinstall Windows, you have to reinstall all programmes that you installed in the first place (see below).
  • The Registry contains all your programme settings and more. Unfortunately it is a waste of time to back it up either, because the Registry is the first thing that gets irreparably damaged by malware and/or other malfunctions. A Windows reinstall has the specific goal of getting a new uncorrupted Registry.

I have just re-read the preceding 'advice' and I am not surprised that the average user is often confused as to what they should do. Allow me to reiterate: it is pointless backing up the WHOLE of Drive C:\ for the reasons I've laid out above. However, there ARE certain things that are essential to backup on that drive:

  • My Documents
  • My Pictures
  • My Music
  • My Videos
  • e-mail Accounts, Settings and saved Mail

Those are only a few of the things that require your attention, so my advice is to go through Drive C:\, folder by folder, and make sure you manage to identify EVERYTHING on that drive that is of a personal nature that won't be restored by a Windows reinstallation.

If you have more than one drive, or if you have partitioned that large single drive that came with your computer, then it goes without saying that you will need to look at those drives too to ensure you don't forget anything! In the case of multiple drives, the chances are that you needn't worry too much about the drives that don't hold your operating system. On the other hand, if you have partitioned a single drive, please remember that during reinstallation of the OS that there is a very good chance that Windows will require you to reformat the drive, possibly even demanding the deletion of any partitions you may have built. In which case EVERYTHING on that drive will be wiped clean!

There is a great deal more to this subject, but I think that is enough 'first-aid' to get you sorted in case you have to face the inevitable.

Inevitable? Sure!

Take another look at that computer that is sitting quietly by you (some aren't that quiet), and consider this; there are only two or three elements of that computer that are 'mechanical', and the hard drive is one of them. The platters spin at a phenomenal speed, typically 5,400 (desktop) to 10,000 (enterprise) rpm. The two speeds you are most likely to come across are '5400' or '7200'. The latter speed is achieved by using smaller platters, so you can expect the drives to be of a smaller capacity.


Anatomy of a Hard DriveAnatomy of a Hard Drive © Wikipedia 


To achieve the performance demanded of these fragile units they are sealed during manufacture. They all have a filtered 'air hole' to equalise the air pressure when they are spinning at their highest speeds, and the filter is good enough to stop any ingress of dust or debris.


It is when dust, measured in microns, manages to infiltrate the defences that things go dramatically wrong. The most miniscule of particles is capable of dislodging the super-light read/write head resulting in a 'head crash', almost the equivalent of a family car hitting a huge boulder at 100 mph, head-on!

No contest!

The next post will discuss a couple of FREE backup solutions.

Until then, take care ...


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Friday, 20 November 2009

Win, WIN7 …

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Windows 7 installed. Windows 7 working without a hitch. Windows 7 is a winner as far as I am concerned!

If you are still hesitant about taking the plunge, agonising about moving from XP or Vista to Windows 7, let me encourage you to do it now.

You will NOT regret it.

This is a brief update on my trials and tribulations concerning the disk failures I suffered, something that is of really no great importance to you. However, there are a few 'discoveries' I've made during this disaster (why is it that all personal problems appear to be disasters?) that might warn you about following a similar line of laissez-faire (French for 'leave it alone'). The old adage of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is fine under most circumstances. I am here to tell you that adopting that attitude with your computer is bound to eventually give you grief.

A lot of it!

You are probably totally bored with the advice about backing up your system, and I don't blame you. It is a chore that I find mind-numbing in the extreme, although I follow the experts' advice and do a regular weekly backup. Usually on a Sunday. Scheduled for the time I feel I will not be using the computer, which allows the system to backup without any hindrance from me. And without the backup process slowing the computer down to a crawl when I am trying to use it. Makes sense, huh?

Oh, don't forget to backup to an external drive that isn't going to go TU if, or rather when, your hard drive fails. It is a pointless exercise backing up your disk to a partition on the SAME disk. Laughable? You might think so, but I recently read a tech newsletter where a 'professional' confessed rather shamefacedly that he did just that (a temporary measure, he said) and lost everything when his hard drive failed. Huge capacity drives, 1TB or more, are very reasonably priced these days, but it really depends on what value you attach to your personal data. Hiring a commercial company to retrieve your lost data would cost you five or six times the price of an external hard drive. No-brainer!

Next step in the backup process, equally boring, is to make sure that the system is actually doing what you asked it to do. How do you do that? Easy. Select one of the backups and 'Restore' it. I did that with my last computer.


Yep, a huge gotcha! I really didn't pay close enough attention as to HOW Microsoft does its backups. They tell you all the good stuff like how you can restore backups from an old computer to a new one with their built-in functionality, or transfer all your data and settings with one click, or how they have anticipated what you the idiot-user might need. But they don't tell you sufficiently clearly enough that the backup is less than complete. In some respects a total waste of time and space.


They consider these as 'executables', although they DO tell you that the backup is for your DATA only. Sadly, to my simple mind, the promise of a backup and the ability to restore it to how it was was, speaks volumes as to my ability to do just that, expecting my programmes to run seamlessly. Unforunately that isn't so!

Bummer! Had to find that out the hard way!

So in my case it became a 'double-whammy'! I managed to claw back bits of the backups from the unaffected backup disk (Maria doing the hard work of unzipping them), but they were less than complete, missing the executables. My earlier 'tests' to check that the backups could restore worked fine, because the backups reinstalled themselves into the folders that already had those executables in the folder. In those 'test' circumstances, running a programme after restoring a backup doesn't flag up any irregularities. So a dumb-cluck like me is happy that everything is working as it should!

When my web hosts had their concurrent RAID failure and advised all users of the server to reinstall their programmes, I didn't flinch too much. Even when they dismissed my attempts to get them to restore the backups that they ostensibly make on a daily basis. They took delight in informing me (at least, that is how it seemed!) that backups of my sites and databases was my responsibility (read the small print, Sir!). I quickly uploaded all the folders I had retrieved from my own backups to the server using FTP.


And I didn't know it until I started to see evidence of broken scripts on my website and blogs. Things that worked perfectly before the double failures suddenly didn't want to do what they were asked to. Graphics, which were unaffected, wouldn't display because the scripts that ran them weren't available. Mouseovers and pop-up boxes behaved similarly.

It has been a long, tedious process tracking down all these little devils, but I think most have been restored.

Moral of the story? Use a backup programme that backs up ALL your information. Here are a couple of links so that you can take a look for yourself.

Did I mention they are all FREE?

I shall be trying out some of these little gems to see which suits me best, but you needn't wait to go get one that appeals to you if you feel it is an absolute necessity to get into the backup habit.

And you should, you know! So, off you go ...

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Monday, 5 October 2009

Double Disaster …

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Areal 'cracker', this one. First, my hard drives failed without warning. For the geeky, they were set up as a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent [or Inexpensive] Disks) array which, in non-geeky terms meant that everything written to one disk was mirrored to the other. A RAID setup (there are many levels) is a bit of overkill for a home computer and is normally found on a commercial server. But that is the way it was configured when I bought the computer about 18 months ago, and I didn't see any reason to change things.

Effectively this should mean that one never loses information when a disk fails, because the computer should automatically stop reading and writing to the failed disk and continue operating (seamlessly) using the second!


So what happens when both fail at the same time? I guess that's a rhetorical question and needs no answer. I am sure everybody understands what the implied consequences are.

The failure, which I still haven't analysed, forced a trip to the local computer shops and I ended up with a new beast with all the bells and whistles. Never mind that there are still 3 perfectly working computers in the house.

I WANTED A NEW ONE (lying on back and kicking heels in air like a spoilt child).

So I bought it, even though the timing was a bit off. The release of Windows-7 is only three weeks away and I have pre-ordered my copy which will necessitate a 'clean-install'. That isn't such a big deal because I would have backed-up my data before installing and then copied the old stuff across.

But when you find yourself in a situation where you didn't have time to save all the important 'gubbins', you are faced with restoring from your latest backup. Something I do religiously, and on a Sunday, too! The most I am likely to lose is the stuff I've added between Monday and Saturday.

But worse was to come.

The new computer rejected the backups with total disdain. The new computer is a 64-bit OS; the old computer ran 32-bit. That shouldn't have mattered because 64-bit will run 32-bit perfectly well under normal circumstances. My circumstance was obviously 'abnormal'.

Much 'too-ing' and 'fro-ing', with the assistance of Maria who slowly but inexorably unzipped old backups to see what was where, and I've managed to put back some of the more important stuff. But my attempts have been rather listless, knowing I will have to do this all over again in a couple of weeks.

To add to the gloom my web hosts informed me that on Saturday they had a massive RAID failure (where have I heard that before?) and that all user accounts on that particular server would need to be set up from scratch. That would be OK under normal circumstances, but my circumstances at the moment are not. I'm sure I have relatively recent backups of the various accounts I run from that server (this is one of them), but there are a few things missing. And I really can't be bothered chasing down missing files.

So if this blog and Paradise have a graphic or two missing, please bear with me until such time as I can track down the little bleeders and restore them.

One 'positive' that has come out of this is that I was determined to reinstall Windows Live Writer (WLW). Cath had already contacted me, before the failure, to say that she had discovered that WLW didn't work with a 64-bit OS. I sympathised, looked for solutions and forwarded them to her, but couldn't help any further because I wasn't running 64-bit.

I am now. And Cath, I have to tell you that all I did was go to the download page and after checking the system requirements …



… I hit the download button and the programme installed itself without throwing a single 'hissy-fit'!

That's it for now …

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Thursday, 1 October 2009

David Has Left The Stage …

has left the stage. David has abandoned blogland (authorblog) to concentrate on his writing. The last I heard from him he had submitted his second novel to the publishers and was quite a way through the second novel!

No, you didn’t read that wrong. Nor did I mistype it.

His second novel was to be 'The Jadhu Master', but it looks like his publishers managed to convince him that he should complete his THIRD novel, 'Muskoka Maharani' ahead of schedule, which he obligingly did.

And we all know how obliging he can be!

This post is to update regular visitors to his site that one of his featured articles, "The Sunday Roast" will not now succumb to his departure.

The good news is that fellow blogger, Eddie Bluelights of Clouds and Silvery Linings will be picking up where David left off (at David's request I might add), and will continue this feature starting mid-October.

I have bookmarked Eddie's site so that I can follow the feature. Why don't you do the same?


Catch you later …


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Friday, 28 August 2009

TIP - FotoSketcher

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Another delightful little programme, FREE, that will enhance your blogging experience.

But it needn't stop there, because this little beauty will allow you to exercise your artistic skills to the full and produce prints that you could use for cards 'n' stuff to send to your family and friends!

FotoSketcher is completely free and does not contain any adware, spyware or virus. It runs on any version of Microsoft Windows (sorry, no Mac version available).

If you want to turn a portrait, the photograph of your house or a beautiful landscape into a painting, a sketch or a drawing then look no further. FotoSketcher will do the job in just a few seconds.

Don't believe me? Here is an example of something that I completed in less than 30 seconds. Honest!

It was a simple case of fire up the programme, pick a photograph, import it with a click, select the type of output you want, click another button that says "Draw it!", and you're done!

I chose this pic of one of our favourite bloggers, Shrinky (in preference to one of the delectable Anna Kournikova, in full tennis gear, scratching her bum), not least of all because of the strong contrast between the light and dark areas, which usually causes graphic software major headaches ...




... and turned it into this ...




... using the default settings!


The author, David Thoiron, has even produced a YouTube video to walk you through the various steps. It is interesting, but not  necessarily a 'must watch', because the programme is so easy to use that you will probably find yourself converting tons of your digital photographs into cheeky little works of art in no time at all.

Don't hesitate. Go get FotoSketcher now!

Another fine addition to your blogging arsenal ...


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Saturday, 8 August 2009

TIP - MoJoZoom

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Here we go. I've collected all the bits of code, and the explanations, so it shouldn't cause you any headaches incorporating this stuff on your site.

Please remember that there are other 'zoomer' scripts available, but I've chosen 'MojoZoom' over the others for a variety of reasons:

  • Easier to install
  • Easy to configure
  • Fits limited Blogger window space
  • JavaScript and CSS files hosted by me

You are going to add stuff to your template, so ...


1. Find ...

Add the following (copy/paste) just above it ...
<link href='' 
rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'/>
2. Find ...

Add the following (copy/paste) just above it ...
<script src='' 

These two bits of information will let your HTML know where to go to fetch the JS and CSS information when you include it in your post. Please note that both point to a folder on which I host the Playpen so, as long as the Playpen exists, you will always be able to call up the information. I am not planning to go anywhere soon!


3. Select the image you want to display. Make sure it is of a reasonable size, preferably no less than 800 x 600 pixels. This will ensure that the zoomed image, when you mouse-over the smaller image, will be instantly viewable as an enlarged replica.

4. Open your image in IrfanView or a similar photo-editing programme and reduce the image size to approximately 200 pixels in width. Let the programme automatically adjust the height. Now save the smaller version as a 'new' (renamed) image.

5. Upload your images to Blogger or via 'Windows Live Writer' (I've used the former for this example). Here is the code returned by Blogger for the large image:

<a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href=""><img style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 320px; height: 320px;" src="" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5367672029780454514" /></a>

And here is the code returned for the smaller one:
<a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href=""><img style="cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 200px; height: 200px;" src="" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5367676225132569218" /></a>

The bits you are interested in are the bits in RED, completely ignoring the rest of the blogger code, but DO NOT forget to delete the bit that says ...


... which I have demonstrated by striking it out in the example.

Nearly done.

6. Now for the post itself. Not difficult if you copy/paste all the code and substitute your own image 'links' for the ones I've used for my pic!


<div style="border-bottom: black 1px solid; position: relative; border-left: black 1px solid; width: 175px; float: right; height: 175px; border-top: black 1px solid; right: 3px; border-right: black 1px solid" id="pepper2_zoom"></div> <img style="padding-bottom: 0px; border-right: black 1px solid; padding-left: 0px; padding-right: 0px; display: block; float: none; border-top: black 1px solid; border-bottom: black 1px solid; margin-left: auto; border-left: black 1px solid; margin-right: auto; padding-top: 0px" id="pepper2" src="http://" width="175" height="175" data-zoomalwaysshow="false" data-zoomsrc="http://" />


Some points to note about the code above:
  • As mentioned, my pic links are highlighted in red and will need to be substituted with your own pic links. Just ensure that you insert the SMALL pic FIRST and the LARGE pic SECOND.
  • I have set the width and height parameters (picked out in blue) to 175 to accommodate the width of this particular template's post window. Your mileage may vary, so try slightly larger or smaller sizes if things don't work out from the get-go.
  • You have to give the pics an ID (purple). Use a short name that is meaningful to you.
  • I have set the parameter zoomalwaysshow to "false" (in brown) so that a window isn't displayed until the small image is moused-over. You can set this to "true" if you prefer to have the zoom window displayed at all times.

Now I shall demonstrate what a brave little hacker I am (drum roll, please) by copy/pasting that code above into the 'Source' window of WLW to make 100% sure that if you do the same thing the sky won't fall in on you ...



"By Jove, I think he's got it!"


BTW, if you think this album cover is the same as the one in the previous post, take a CLOSER look. You should at least be able to spot Bill Clinton and Osama amongst quite a few other surprise 'faces', including one or two blogger friends!

That's it.

If it doesn't work first time, don't despair. Compare the various bits of code carefully to make sure that you got everything as you should have. If you still have problems, come back and ask. I am always ready to help!

Can't say fairer than that ...


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Friday, 7 August 2009

TIP - Zoomers

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I have another Blog called Paradise Discovered which is not constrained by the content I have elected to post on this site. But it doesn't mean that I do not use all the 'tips-n-tricks' I throw up here. Indeed, anything I mention here can almost certainly be found in use on the other Blog. Makes sense, huh?

I recently found myself hunting through the Formula One Official Website looking for information on the freak accident that racing driver Felipe Massa suffered during the second qualifying session (Q2) in Hungary on Saturday, 25th July 2009.

I was lucky. They had a fairly detailed explanation of the 'what', 'when' and 'where', and even had an artist's interpretation of what had probably happened. The TV cameras had caught the incident, but it all happened so fast that it was impossible to tell precisely how things had panned out. I am sure that there were other cameras trained on the event that the officials studied in great depth. The point is that the graphic was so tiny that it was impossible to make out some of the points (arrows) that the explanation invited the reader to look at.

That's when it occurred to me that a 'zoomer' window that allowed the viewer to see parts of the original small graphic 'enlarged' in another window would have been a nice touch. So I went looking for a script, preferably FREE, that would accomplish the task on a blog post.

I struck pay dirt on my first search. In fact I found a page that listed FIVE 'zoomer' scripts, four of them FREE! Some are pretty geeky, and I've discounted the paid-for script, which left me with 'MojoZoom' as the clear favourite for use on a Blogger platform.


(reminder to self - must remember to make a small PayPal donation to the author!) - DONE!

The script requires you to be able to host the JavaScript (.js) and CSS (.css) files on a server, but if you wish to use the script, I can provide that hosting - free of charge! All you will need to do is to point the link to the one I provide you with, and you're good to go!

I will give you the details in the next post, but here is an example of what you can expect. The image on the left is the album cover of the iconic Beatles album, 'Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band', which was ground-breaking when it was first published for using 'pop art' in preference to images of the band or individuals. In short, I used this image because it is busy, busy, busy!

Simply run your mouse cursor over the pic to see a magnified version of the area under the cursor that will appear in a hidden window to the right of it almost like magic ...



If you think you can make use of this bit of JS-magic on your own blog, come back for the detail in the next post.

Watch this space ...

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Thursday, 30 July 2009

TIP - Additional Profile

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I am not partial to 'exposing' ME to the WWW but, on occasion, others might find this an easier way to introduce themselves to their visitors. It manages to put a 'human' face on things (you could add a really sexy picture - one that you wouldn't include on your normal blogger profile!), and allows you to disclose stuff that isn't included in the standard 'Profile'.

For example, I've added a bit of information on this blog so that you can get an idea about what I am trying to encourage you to do.

Click on the "... and the rest!" link in the sidebar to see what I mean.


Additional Profile


This requires you to fiddle with the HTML of the template so, before you answer the poll below, think seriously about whether you want the hassle!


Will you use this tweak?


The reason I've added the poll is to ascertain whether it is worth going through the trouble of recording each step. There aren't that many, but it involves a bit more fiddling with the HTML than other tweaks that I have posted before.

Complete the poll and I will accede to the majority view.

Can't say fairer than that ...

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