Recently, I was watching a performance and noticed a woman in the row in front of me taking photos from time to time with her iPhone. Each time she wanted to take a picture, she:
- Pressed the on/off button to show the Lock Screen.
- “Slide to unlock”
- Typed in her 4-digit code
- Found the screen with the Camera app (as it was not in the permanent bottom row)
- Clicked the Camera app
- Took her picture.
All of this took several seconds and I could tell that often she had missed the picture she wanted to take. Some time ago, Apple recognized the benefit of quickly accessing the Camera app, so they have created a shortcut, starting from the Lock Screen:
- Press the on/off button to show the Lock Screen.
- Press and swipe up the Camera app icon in the bottom right corner. (see image)
- Take the picture.
This procedure takes only seconds because it does not require the passcode nor all those steps. This means that even someone who doesn’t know your passcode can take pictures, like at a family gathering and your phone is on the table in the kitchen but you’re outside playing and the perfect photo opportunity presents itself.
For the security minded, the iPhone will *not* let you look at the full Camera roll of the phone, only the pictures that were taking using this method, this time. This means, if you use this method and take two pictures and then the phone turns off again, when you use the method again, you will not have access to those two photos without the passcode.
I’ve replaced the hard disk in numerous iMacs over the years. It’s a fairly straight-forward repair, although not for everyone. But, in 2-3 cases recently, I would replace the disk, re-install the Mac OS X, restore all user data from the old disk (or a Time Machine backup), and return the computer to the user only to have them call me back in the following days, saying “The microphone doesn’t work.”
I would think to myself, “Oh, I must have missed a cable when I was mucking about inside” and I’d tell the client the same. But, time and time again, that wasn’t it.
Google to the rescue. I found many people with the same problem. And many “this worked for me” replies. Some people said, “Hit it like the Fonz.” Others suggested resetting the PRAM. I tried every suggestion I could find, but to no end. I did learn that people couldn’t be heard on Skype when speaking with a normal voice, but if they spoke REALLY LOUDLY, the other party could barely hear what was being said.
Now, I was really anxious, nervous and worried about the work I had done. Had I done something that broke the microphone? Was the design of the iMac such that merely opening the case could damage the microphone?
I realized at one point that the LED flashlight that I would use to prop up the screen from the case had a magnet on the bottom. Did that come into contact with the microphone and damage it?
I tried and tried and tried to find a solution, but could find none. So, I had to give back the computer with no working microphone and apologise profusely and promise to keep looking.
This happened last year. And again this year. And then with an iMac that a client let me keep since they had moved to a MacBook Pro. I was getting to the point that I was nervous whenever someone called me with an iMac problem, just in case I had to replace the disk.
Well, it happened again. But, this time, I was paying attention. Before doing any work, I turned it on, using my own boot disk, logged in and verified that the internal microphone did work. Check.
I went through the repair: turn it off, unplug everything, carefully disassemble the iMac, replace the hard disk, re-assemble, boot (“standard Apple chime” – yay!), install Mac OS X (while waiting, I put little labels with the client’s name on the old disk and on the top of the iMac), log-in, test the webcam and microphone, and ….no sound. Same damn result.
But…. I was so careful! I painstakingly went over every step. Took it apart again. Confirmed that the cables that I touched/detached were 1) not related to the microphone and 2) reattached. I look closer at the webcam/microphone assembly. Found out they were separate. I removed the webcam assembly and saw the microphone attached behind it. A little round metal piece firmly secured to the top and with two thin wires snaking around and behind other bigger devices in the iMac case. In other words, in order to damage this, you’d really have to make an effort. Which left me really dumbfounded.
I’m not sure why I did it, but I looked up the original (“Welcome to your new iMac”) documentation that Apple included with the iMac I was working on. I found it out there somewhere. The manual pointed very specifically to the various devices: iSight camera, iSight camera “On Air” indicator, ambient light sensor were behind the front panel. The microphone was on the top. Not facing the user, but facing up like the audio version of a Hollywood Klieg light. So, I looked there, to see what I could see.
I saw the little label that I had affixed there to identify whose computer it was, but…. I had put it dead center. Right on top of the microphone. I let out a barbaric yawp and wondered if it could really be this simple. Surely, a little piece of tape would not block the microphone so completely and utterly….would it?
Yes, it did.
I removed the label, turned on the computer, and the microphone was perfect. I did the same on my iMac and its microphone works great, too. Still waiting to hear back from the two clients I had left hanging. But, I’m sure that’s all it is.
If you are dealing with a similar problem with the microphone, please check to make sure that there is no tape, sticky-note, or anything else on the top of the iMac case blocking the microphone. You should be able to easily see where the microphone is.
Recently, I heard about someone who was away from their computer long enough that it went to sleep. This is both to reduce energy use and to protect the computer from other people prying into your stuff. The latter works by requiring the user’s password when the computer is woken from sleep. Granted, that’s more appropriate for an office, but the feature is often enabled by default even for individual, home users.
The person knows her password, uses it all the time, and yet today, she was unable to regain access to her account. She tried over and over and over again. Even tried variations — all lower case, first letter capitalized, older passwords for good measure — but nothing worked.
My first thoughts were:
- the keyboard layout has been inadvertently changed.
- a Shift, Control, or Num Lock key is stuck in the “on” position.
I have had a lot of headaches with Windows, because the login screen doesn’t always keep the same keyboard layout the user as chosen and it doesn’t always indicate which keyboard layout is in effect. So if your password has letters that have different locations on the keyboard depending on the layout (QWERTY vs. AZERTY vs. QWERTZ, etc.), then you should try (by memory) typing in your password using one of keyboard layouts that might be defined on your system.
There are other options, sometimes, such as pressing Alt-Shift (Windows) to invisibly toggle between available layouts. In some cases, there will be a small, almost unnoticeable indication of what keyboard layout is in effect. Clicking on this might give you other options to choose from. Lastly, you can also try to find the Accessibility options that are available for those who have various disabilities (sight, hearing, missing or unusable limbs, etc.). These options include an On-Screen keyboard which allows you to use the mouse to press keys, but more importantly, it lets you see the keyboard that’s currently defined.
This is the first in what will surely be a an ongoing series. Yes, I am a big Apple fan. I have been using their products since 1986. While I have some issues with some of their products and software, the list in no way compares to my list of grievances on the PC/Windows side of things. In many cases, the reason I find it necessary to comment is because at least one other manufacturer does it better/right/smarter, etc.
So, here goes:
1. Incomplete or Useless Information provided
I’m sitting here looking at a client’s HP/Compaq laptop and I’d like to know the size of the hard disk – which failed the internal Hard Disk Diagnostic – so I can tell the client prices for a replacement. I need the size so that I can make sure the replacement is at least as big as the failing one.
I’ve looked in the BIOS information, the 2-3 various Diagnostics screens, and the “System Information” screen available at startup. That information is simply not to be found. I do know the Model Name, the Product Number, Serial Number, Warranty Start Date, Product Configuration ID, BIOS Version, Total Memory, Processor Type and Speed and even the Battery Serial Number (really?!) but nothing at all about the hard disk. Useless!!! The only options are to either actually start Windows and find out there, or to open the system and look at the disk. Incredible!
Many PC and BIOS manufacturers do provide this information, so it’s quite frustrating when one model doesn’t. And I can’t understand why they would omit something so basic, especially since it’s one of the things in a computer which can be replaced so easily.
2. There are no Standard Keys during boot up
Every time I look at a client’s computer, I want to first look at the BIOS. So, what hot key do I use? Delete? Escape? F2? F9? F10? F11? F12? Something with Alt? That IBM/Lenovo blue button? Something else? On many computers, it used to be that during the first few seconds of startup, the various hot keys would be listed, but these days it’s not shown by default.
It would be so nice if all manufacturers could just agree to use the Escape key to interrupt the normal boot sequence and provide an on-screen, textual menu of options (BIOS Setup, System Diagnostics, Boot Device Menu, Create Recovery Disks, etc.). Even better would be that each of those options would have a standard F-key default so those who knew could go straight to the desired menu option without needing the Escape key first.
3. Windows Drive Letters
The fact that Windows continues to use letters to access drives/disks continues to astound me. I don’t care about backwards compatibility with 1985. It used to be that accessing anything beyond F: was not possible without modifying the CONFIG.SYS file (remember that?!), but that self-made problem has apparently been rectified.
But, what about A: and B:? What, you don’t have two floppy drives in your system? Why not? Your BIOS certainly gives you the option to have floppy drives. Wow. So, that’s two wasted drive letters.
Now, I don’t know anyone who will actually use the remaining 24 letters for disk volumes, but that artificial barrier is only there because our alphabet has 26 letters. What if we spoke Rotokas? We’d only have 12 letters, i.e. disk volumes, available.
But, here’s a real world scenario which illustrates the idiocy of this letter-based naming scheme: I had a client call me saying he didn’t think his automatic backup system was working. I had a look and saw that the Backup Job was defined to synchronize files from a directory on C: to a directory on his 1.0 TB external disk E:. It had worked before, but no longer.
So I looked at E:. It was an 8 GB USB key. Oops. Order matters. And that’s just stupid.
It seems that at some point, the client had disconnected the external disk and before reconnecting, he had connected a USB key, which means it was now E: and the external disk was F: So, the backup system failed, because the external drive was no longer E: as previous defined/assumed.
That’s it for now. But, I’m sure I’ll be back with more.
A client called me recently saying that she couldn’t load web pages, and she couldn’t access the Post Finance e-banking page to make some payments. She told me that she entered the login information on the first page, she would this:
And then the browser would redirect to the Google home page after about 3 seconds (not three minutes).
This is a trojan horse/virus/whatever that was trying to gain access to the bank account, do whatever it wanted for three minutes and then would “fail”.
Luckily, PostFinance (and most other banks) have a two-step login process, so the criminals didn’t gain access to the bank account.
I scanned the computer with an anti-virus program (found 3-4 infections) and an anti-malware program (4-5 infections) and tried it again, but this “Bitte Warten” (“Please Wait”) message was still there. I told the client the best/fastest/surest way of cleaning out the problem would be to re-install Windows after backing up all data.
I also contacted the Post Finance people with a description of the problem, and a screen shot. They actually called me back within 30 minutes and told me they know about this trojan and they have been recommending to their clients to re-install Windows.
So, today, the system is clean, the data was saved/restored and the bank account was verified to be untouched.
As I’ve said many times before, there are 2-3 things that can be done to mitigate / avoid this kind of problem.
- Don’t use an Admin account every day for personal accounts.
- Make sure the Admin password is very secure
- Scan the computer regularly with both an anti-virus (AVG, Avast and Avira are great and free) and an anti-malware program (I use MBAM or Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware) to be safe on all fronts.
If you do this, you should feel good about the security of your system and the minimal likelihood that your computer will be compromised from afar.
Amazon will never call you. Facebook will never call you. Apple will never call you. Samsung will never call you. Google all never call you.
Simply put, no company that makes products related to your computer will ever call you.
The other day, I got a slightly panicked call from someone. She had received a call from “Microsoft” (see their laughable site) about security issues with her computer. They were very professional, very kind, had very good manners. And with that, they were able to lead my client through several steps, including a step to download TeamViewer which is used to remotely control a computer.
Once this software was installed, the “Microsoft” rep browsed the computer. Looked at emails. Tried to see Facebook connections, but client doesn’t use Facebook, so nothing there.
I don’t know what else was done, but when I checked the computer, there were no viruses, no malware, no hidden software, history had been erased. Teamviewer had been removed. etc. It appeared clean. In and out.
But, it’s impossible to say it enough:
No computer company will ever call you. Never. Ever.
Last night, I gave a ride to two volleyball teammates while returning from our match (we lost 1-3, grrr). J told me that his laptop had recently been stolen. I hate hearing these kinds of stories, because it’s too late, but there is something helpful to say for the replacement computer…
It’s a free service that helps you gather information *after* your computer has been stolen. As soon as you think it’s gone, you log into your account on their website and mark it as stolen. When next the computer is used, the software will take pictures of the user with the webcam, will geo-locate the computer, will collect the names of nearby wireless networks, will log any documents or websites that are accessed and send you the information.
With this you can go to the police or the insurance company, and at least they have some information to go on.
My iPhone is the 16 GB model. My iTunes library is over 100 GB. Clearly, I have to pick and choose what music is on my iPhone at any given time. During the season, I sync’d all my Christmas music to the phone. And I go through phases of listening to new music by new artists and listening to old favorites (recently, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”, The Eagles, Cock Robin, or some comedy).
But, I recently noticed that when I looked at my iPhone’s music library, I didn’t just see a selection of my library, I saw the entire library. But, since I knew it couldn’t all be there, I knew there must be something else to it, namely that little picture of a cloud to the right with a downward-pointing arrow: “Download from the Cloud”
This is actually pretty cool. If you are ever on the go and decide that you suddenly have to listen to Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” well, you can find it in your list of songs, download it and listen to it. Yay!
But, if I just want to open the Music app and play a random shuffle of what’s available, it’s harder (well, without Siri it is….), because I have to first find something that’s already been downloaded, play it and then make sure shuffle is on.
Today, I found out there is a way to hide the items that are not actually on the device, and it’s really easy.
Settings > Music > Show All Music > Off (the last button in the image)
That’s it. Now, when you look at your music, you’ll only see what’s on the device.
Disks Will (Likely) Fail…Eventually
I’ve been repairing and upgrading computers for years now and one thing I do a lot is replace the internal hard disk. It could be for any number of reasons: the laptop was dropped and the disk is damaged, the disk is getting full, the disk is simply old (4+ years) and showing signs of deterioration.
Deterioration of older disks is not uncommon. It might happen after 2-3 years. It might not happen for 5-6 years. But, with a high degree of probability, it will happen. The reason is because a hard disk is a mechanical device, with a metal platter (or platters) that spin at least 5400 rpm. Whenever the computer is on and actively being used, the disk is spinning, spinning, spinning. Over time, it will take its toll.
After I’d done this for a few years, I had a stack of old hard disks, so I decided to group them by brand. There are roughly six manufacturers of hard disks: Hitachi/IBM, Fujitsu, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital. And, while not at all scientific, what I found was pretty interesting.
Brands: Good, Worse, Worst
By a factor of 4 or 5, I had replaced significantly more Hitachi and Fujitsu disks than any other brand. Toshiba disks were also a significantly sized group, but only 2-3 times more than the other three brands. I had far fewer Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital disks that I had replaced.
Now, when I visit a client I always check the brand of the disk and I tell them what I’ve experienced and, especially if their computer’s disk is made by Fujuitsu, Hitachi or Toshiba, I make sure they are backing up their computer’s data regularly, preferably with something like Apple’s Time Machine.
Disks in Apple Computers
But, the most surprising thing about my little study was that many of the bad disks came from Apple computers. As much as I like Apple computers, as much as I think they are excellent computers (hardware and software), I’m quite disappointed that they use inferior hard disks. What’s worse, I’ve had several cases of clients with Apple computers who took their computer to the Apple store to deal with disk issues and they always replace a bad disk with a refurbished one by the same brand. Invariably, these don’t last very long.
What Do I Have?
There are numerous ways to find out what brand hard disk you have.
With Mac OS X, use Disk Utility. When you select a disk, you’ll see the Disk Description near the bottom of the screen.
With Windows, you can use programs such as Speccy, or Disk Management (Start > Run… > diskmgmt.msc > select a disk > Right-click > Properties).
Once you have information for the disk displayed, you need to look at the Disk Description or Disk ID. You’ll see letters and numbers, but usually the first few letters will be the brand.
WDC is Western Digital. HTS is Hitachi. ST is Seagate. Fujitsu, Samsung and Toshiba appear to use their full name.
The Good News
Replacing a hard disk is not terribly expensive, if your computer is relatively modern. You see, hard disks have what’s called an interface, which is how it is connected to the computer itself. For the last decade (?), SATA has been the common interface. This was preceded by IDE.
SATA is still quite common and is readily available in computer stores; IDE is being phased out of stores, but can still be found online at places like Amazon or NewEgg.
If your computer is taking forever to startup or to launch programs, or you get spinning wheels of death, or you dropped the laptop and it won’t start, or if your disk is just getting full – consider replacing your internal hard disk. Chances are excellent that you can replace it with a bigger one (laptops go to 1 TB now, desktops can have 3 TB) to have more room for your photos, music, videos, downloads, etc.