Category Archives: Technical

Chkdsk /r

One day you will sense that something does not seem to be going right with your notebook.
It could be any one of the following symptoms:

1. A sudden strange sound from your audio.
2. Your mouse becomes very unresponsive and may even freeze.
3. You cannot even shutdown and CTRL-ALT-DEL is not responsive.

All the above could indicate a progressively failing disk drive, starting with a bad sector.

Take urgent steps as follow:

1. Hold down the power switch to force shutdown.
2. Wait a while, then reboot.
3. Hopefully you are able to reboot into a working desktop. Scroll through the apps, go to Windows System, Command Prompt, right-click to Run as Administrator.
4. At the Command Prompt, type chkdsk /r
5. May have to shutdown, for the computer to execute on restart.
6. If the computer at some point, seems to hang or freeze at say 19% or something like that, give it time to complete. It may take a very very long time ( hours or overnight) but it should eventually overcome the bad sector that caused the problem.

Now the notebook will behave well, but quickly go change the hard disk and save the data while you can.

How To Watch Netflix USA Outside USA

Well, you have heard so much about Netflix, the largest video streaming company in the world. And yesterday, they announced the launch of Netflix in a few more countries including Malaysia. However, it can be expected that some contents in Netflix USA may not be available in Netflix Malaysia. Then there’s the question of censorship; again it can be expected that certain contents in Netflix Malaysia may be censored.

So before you subscribe to Netflix Malaysia, you may want to know how to subscribe to Netflix USA instead.  Read on…..

To register with  or subscribe to Netflix USA, you need to access it from USA. Or if not, you need to fool the Netflix USA server into thinking that you are accessing from USA. To do that, you use a VPN (virtual private network). You install the VPN software on your device (PC, notebook, iPad, smart phone) and connect with a server in USA that is part of this VPN. From there, your data traffic to any other server/website will appear to have originated from the VPN server in USA. That way, Netflix USA will accept your registration/subscription. (Rates about the same as Netflix Malaysia).

A very good VPN is the PureVPN, shown in the image above. Click on the image to go buy the VPN. There’s a New Year offer currently on…. a 2-year subscription is only USD2.08 / mth. It comes with free SmartDNS as well.

In addition, because you are running the VPN software on your device, you can access the Store (Playstore, Apple Store) to download the USA Netflix App.

Now that you able to access the Netflix USA movies/TV shows, you quickly lose the thrill if you have to continually watch shows on the small screen of your device. Why not stream it to your large screen TV? You can do that easily by using the Google Chromecast, a media-streaming device whose shape/size is like a retro thumb-drive. It fits into a HDMI port on your TV and it acts like a transceiver to receive your Netflix video streams and displays on the TV.

You can get the Google Chromecast now through the Lazada store ( see the advertisement on the top-left of this page). The price varies from RM170 to RM140 depending on the current promotion. Just click on the advertisement to access Lazada to buy the Chromecast.

That’s it! Enjoy!

Updated: 28-Jan-2016

I found that my Chromecast was unable to cast all movies and many TV shows from Netflix. In spite of trying all the fixes documented in the Internet ( update Chromecast, use VPN, use SmartDNS…) it remained problematic. That forced me to try the Roku Stick instead. Luckily a close friend has both the Roku box and stick and he loaned me his Roku Stick. I removed my Chromecast and stuck the Roku Stick in its place ( on an input  HDMI port of my AV Receiver ) and almost instantly, the Roku logo displayed on my TV and after a while the homepage with the Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go (and many others) options appeared. All the movies and all the TV shows that previously could not be cast by Chromecast magically work now.

Note: my ASUS router came with a link to SmartDNSProxy.com and I registered for a 14-day free trial. It works very well. My account homepage displays on the same page:
Account activation
DNS Setup
IP Activation
Region Summary

The IP Activation is very useful in that each time I log back into my ISP, the dynamic IP address changes. By clicking the IP Activation, it whitelists whatever is the IP at the moment.
So in one page, I can re-establish my SmartDNS setup and then my devices are all now “USA” devices.

-end of update-

How To Protect HDMI Inputs From Being Toasted By Lightning

So you have a super duper Home Theatre system complete with a jiffy HD Projector and a top-of-the-line AV Receiver linked by a 50-foot (15-metre) HDMI cable that snakes overhead in the ceiling. One end is connected to the HDMI input port of your overhead HD Projector while the other end is connected to the HDMI input port of your AV Receiver across the room.

What happens when there is a severe thunderstorm and there is one or more lightning strikes nearby? Does your system go on the blink? If yes, then you share the same bad experience as I have. The close proximity lightning strike has induced a large voltage spike  in your long HDMI cable that completely toasts your HDMI ports. If you’re “lucky” then maybe only either the Projector’s or the AV Receiver’s  HDMI port gets toasted. More likely, both will be zapped.

After that has happened to me 3 times in as many years, I decided to be proactive as I was getting embarrassed submitting my home insurance claim every year. Not to mention the inconvenience of the downtime pending repairs. I installed my solution early this year and having survived 2 severe thunderstorms since the installation, I am confident this is a viable solution. Read on.

hdmi-switchThe solution calls for two HDMI Switches. I searched for a simple 2-to-1 HDMI Switch but the simplest I found is this 3-to-1 HDMI Switch. I wanted a mechanical switch but finally settled for this electronic switch because it has a remote. This makes the switching convenient when the switch is mounted at the Projector, ceiling-high.

projector-hdmi-switchInstall one of the HDMI Switches to the HDMI Ouput of the AV Receiver. In my case, I connected Port 3 of the switch to the AV Receiver’s HDMI Output. The switch’s output port is then connected to the long HDMI cable. The other end of the AV-receiver-hdmi-switchHDMI Cable connects to Port 3 of the second HDMI Switch mounted at the overhead Projector. The output port of this switch connects to Projector’s HDMI Input port. That’s it. When the system is on, I use the remote to switch to Port 3 of both switches. When I have finished viewing, I switch to the un-used Port 1 of both switches, before shutting down the system.

The cost? Only RM80.00 (USD24.00) for each HDMI Switch.  I reckon that in the event of a really bad lightning strike, it’ll be a USD24 fuse. But so far, neither switch has failed.

Does this help you? Share your experiences here.

Rip, Compile and Burn Audio CD

Rip, Compile and Burn Audio CD

At some time, if you are a music buff, you may want to compile your own awesome playlist on an audio CD. And I don’t mean the MP3 compilations as you know MP3 is a lossy format. No sir, you want a compilation of the original lossless tracks, which means you have to rip or download or copy a track in either FLAC or WAV or WMA, which are lossless formats. Now, at this point if you start asking which of the three formats is the best to use, you’d be opening up an endless debate. But if you were to ask which one I use, I’d say all three but for the last-but-one stage I use WAV. Why WAV? And what about the final stage? Read on….

Disclaimer: What follows may not be the best or optimum way to rip, compile and burn an audio CD. However, it documents the methodology that I have finally settled on, after countless coasters made from useless CDs. Hopefully this will spare you the frustrations that I had endured up to now.

The free Tools I use:

1. Ashampoo Burning Studio

2. VLC Media Player

3. aTube Catcher

4. Audacity

5. iTunes

6. Windows Vista Acer Notebook with CD/DVD player/burner

1. To rip an audio track from a music CD, I use Ashampoo Burning Studio and rip it in the lossless WAV format.

2. To get lossless FLAC high quality audio tracks from the Internet, use Bit Torrent to search and download.

3. Use aTube Catcher to record streaming MP3 tracks and convert to WAV (yes, I know…the MP3 tracks are already lossy…but if no choice, then MP3 will do. Convert to WAV just to keep all the files in same format).

A great website to download MP3 songs is http:/grooveshark.com/

4. Two ways to convert FLAC to WAV.
Use VLC Media Player to convert the downloaded FLAC files to WAV.
Media->Convert/Save->Add (the Flac, MPEG4 files)->Convert/Save as Audio-CD (WAV).

5. Or use Audacity to tidy up the files (cut off excessive silence front and back; and also to normalise the track to avoid clipping due to excessive amplitude). Open the FLAC files, edit and Export Audio as WAV.

6. Steps 4 and 5 convert the tracks to WAV as iTunes does not recognise FLAC. Transfer the final WAV tracks to iTunes’ Library as a Playlist.

7. Use iTunes (the icons at the lower left corner) to burn Playlist to CD as Audio CD.

8. Caution:

a. Check capacity of the blank CD and the total tracks size. iTunes does not check this and will give an error (the dreaded 4450 code) at the end!

b. Avoid the “Burn At Maximum Speed Possible”…..again iTunes only gives the error at the end, if your CD brand cannot handle the high speed. After iTunes has made me a bundle of coasters, I wised up and throttled the burn speed down to 8X, which worked for me.

c. If you want the track names to be displayed by your CD Player (if it has this feature), then be sure to check “Include CD Text” before burning.

Footnote:

Why not just use Ashampoo Burning Studio to rip tracks from CDs to WAV or WMA format and burn the compilation as WMA (or WAV)? Unfortunately not all CD player plays WAV/WMA formats. That’s why I use iTunes to burn an Audio CD for full compatibility in all CD players.

If your CD Player supports FLAC, WAV or WMA, and you don’t intend to play your CD anywhere else nor share with anybody else, then just use a Burn Software (eg. Ashampoo Burning Studio, Nero, etc..) to rip the tracks into WAV or WMA format and burn the CD with either one of the formats to cut down the complexity of all the foregoing convoluted steps.

Remove a WiFi Network From Your Computer

One day you may suddenly experience a jerky, intermittent streaming of your favourite FM station on your PC. What happened? After all you have the whole 10Mbps bandwidth to your greedy self in your home castle. Read on for a possible scenerio.

Now you recall…a week ago, your service provider failed and your kind neighbour offered you the temporary use of his WiFi, which you can access from your house. One week later, you may have forgotten and your PC still automatically latches on your neighbour’s WiFi because depending on where you are sitting in your house, your neighbour’s signal may be stronger than your own WiFi. Now recall further that he subscribes to a different service provider and he has a slower connection ( 4 Mbps? ) compared to your 10 Mbps. Ah, so that’s why you experience such poor audio streaming of your favourite FM station. So how to remove that slower WiFi Network?

1.  Go to your Windows Control Panel and click on Network and Sharing Centre.

2.  Click on “Manage Wireless Networks” on the left hand menu.

3.  Right-click on the wireless network that you want to remove.

4.  The pop-up context menu offers you the option to “Remove Network”. But hang on….maybe you should just click on “Properties” and remove the automatic connection. Then you still have the option to manually connect if you need to.

Time to have tea now.

 

 

 

Hide Site Title

WordPress is now an incredibly popular way to build a fully functional website from the traditional blog base. In fact WordPress.org is now a full-blown CMS in its own right. With lots of templates, many of which are free, it is easy to see why it is so popular.

header-text600opt

Let’s assume you now use a template (say, Twenty Twelve) to create your website. While it allows you to write your Site Title and Site Description (Figure 1), chances are that you will want to replace it with a snazzy logo title image (Figure 2). Why would you  want to do it? Well, the most compelling reason is there for you to see. Which one looks better?

header1-logo600opt

But why don’t you just select the desired font type and size and colour instead of creating an image? Simple answer is that you want to be sure that all visitors on all machines with all browsers (ok, ok….almost all) will see the same  snazzy logo title image. If you just changed the text font type….some machines and/or browsers may not have that font installed and they may end up seeing your title in (probably!) boring Arial or Times Roman! Certainly not what you intended in your site’s design.

OK, now you have replaced the text title with your image logo-title. So that’s simple enough, what’s the problem? Well…you soon learn that without the text site title, your SEO sucks. For your SEO ranking, the appropriately named site title and site description are critical because they are picked up in the meta title tags. So what’s the solution? An easy obvious way is to choose (in the template) not to display the header text. That way, the  site title is hidden and yet it is still picked up in the meta title tags. But the tagline is part of the header text and gets hidden as well. The solution is simple! Display the header text (site title and tagline) but hide just the site title instead. How? Colour the site title text the same as your background (eg. white, or whatever). The search engines’ crawlers do not care what the colour is, they will still pick up the site title text. (Figure 3). So you can have your cake and eat it too! By choosing to display the header text, the site’s tagline or description remains visible, which is normally desired.

header2-logo-text600opt

 

Of course, you should customise your template using a Child Theme and the code chnage in its CSS style sheet as follows:

.site-header h2 a {
color: #ffffff;
display: inline-block;
text-decoration: none;
}

 

Remove the visible edge around a transparent box

You create a nice logo using a fancy font (eg. Papyrus) on a rectangular banner box, say 960p x 105p.

You save as a JPEG and open in Photoshop, mode RGB.

Then like a maestro that you are, you use the magic wand, lasso or magic eraser to make the background transparent, with only the text as your new logo. Simple enough, right?

Then you save as transparent GIF or PNG and upload to your WordPress website, and …. you don’t get what you expected. Or rather, you get more than what you want: the rectangle edge is clearly visible.

Before you spend hours reviewing what you may have done wrong in the transparency procedure….check your Theme’s CSS! It’s likely that the Theme designer has added a border to images by default.

You know how to add a customised CSS to your Child Theme to remove the border, right?

Another simple tip that may save your hair.

How To Change Photo In Your Skype Profile

How to change your photo In your Skype Profile?

That should be obvious enough, right? But I’ve learnt that sometimes the best tip is also the simplest one.

Over the weekend, my sister complained to me that after upgrading her Skpe from version 5.xxxx to version 6.xxxxx, she suddenly cannot change her photo in the profile anymore.

What she meant was that in the Skype profile, when she browsed her computer for the replacement photo and clicked to use the new photo, ……nothing happened. The new photo just refused to get uploaded by Skype.

A quick check with various online forums showed that she was not alone with this peculiar problem. Various people complained that this only happened after upgrading their Skype from version 5.xxxx to 6.xxxx. Someone claimed that the problem diasappeared after he/she reverted to the older version. The Skype support page did not help either…it says that Skype will automatically resize your photo to fit. Well,yes and no.

I took a quick look at my sister’s collection of photos in her PC and discovered that they were all massively large photos of zillion pixels. And that will probably be true of most digital camera enthusiasts…just snap and save in the highest resolution. It turns out that Skype just cannot swallow too large a picture; it will choke.

I saw that she didn’t have any photo editor on her PC. So the first step was to download and install the free Paint.net for her.

Next, I just cropped her picture to a square to highlight her closeup profile, I chose resolution 96 pixels/inch, and cropped to  about 400p x 400p. Went to Skype profile page and tried again to change her photo. Browsed the PC to pick this cropped photo, and viola! It worked! 

So the simple tip is: crop your photo to an acceptable size that Skype can accept….then it will resize to the 97×97 profile image. I do not crop to 97 x 97 because that would be too blurry. 

A simple tip that may help someone.

 

Printing Full-Sized Colour Pages

YouTubeCover2Sometimes an e-guide is so good that you just have to print it to retain a hard copy. Then you see its cover page with a full-page full-colour graphic (or full black page with white wordings) that’s just mocking you to go ahead and print-if-dare and let me suck your ink cartridge dry. At that point you have the following choices:

1. No cover page
2. Just type the title page yourself.
3. Go ahead and print the original cover page and get ready to buy new ink cartridges sooner than later.
4.  Or follow my suggestion below….read on.
What you need:
a. Microsoft’s free (yes, F-R-E-E) excellent tool called “Snipping Tool”. If you don’t know what this is, read about Snipping Tool here.
b. An image editor like the free Paint.NET ( any decent image editor will do ).
c.  Your colour printer of course.
1. Open the e-guide and display its cover page. Enlarge or reduce to display    the full page on screen.
2.  Start the snipping tool. Click new if required.
3.  Select the cover page and save as your Cover.jpg
4.  Open the image editor and display the Cover.jpg
5.  Resize for Print Dimensions, say 2.5 inches width x 3.xxx inches ( maintaining the aspect ratio. Save as Cover2.jpg. Select the YouTubeCover3whole new image and copy ( Control-C ).
6.  In the image editor, open a new blank file with Print Dimensions for A4 paper ( 21cm x 29.7cm). Paste ( Control-V ) the image Cover2.jpg on the blank page and move to suit.
7.  Now print the page and voila! You have a cover page with a reduced image of the original cover that will not drink your ink cartridge dry.

So You Want To Be A Webmaster?

So You Want To Be A Webmaster? Let me tell you a story.

Back in 1996-97, very few people, where I live, had any inkling of the new-fangled thing called Internet (say, World Wide What?). I was a young hot-shot Manager then, in-charge of an Engineering company marketing high-tech T&M and Analytical instruments. A question popped-up from Top Management: “Any worthwhile new business we can go into?” We belonged to a multi-billion conglomerate, so the new business must be large enough to be worthy of consideration. A light-bulb (incandescent bulb; no blue LED at that time, hence no white LED light. Go figure…) lit up in my head and I thought, “Why not a wafer fab to make ASIC?” (that’s Application Specific Integrated Circuit for those of you too young to know), since that industry was in its infancy and I foresaw a growing demand for customised chips in low-volume, high-value goods.

How did that outrageous thought germinate in my fertile mind? Well, my ex-Prof was the head of this Government research body and I knew that he was planning a wafer fab for research purpose. I figured that it would be a good idea if we collaborated to build an even bigger wafer fab where the R&D could be the back-end, while a commercial production floor could be the front-end. My ex-Prof was keen and now the critical part: how to put together a business proposition/plan for Top Management’s approval? What the heck do I know about wafer fab? Geez! It was a classic case of youthful enthusiasm moving faster than the mind can shout a cautionary “Wait!”

Now my ex-Prof is keen, my immediate boss is keen, and I’m dead. Picture a young manager slumped over his desk with his head in his hands. In comes a hot-shot techie. He was my brightest techie who threw me a lifeline….a complete dossier of the whole process in a Wafer Fab, complete with actual photos of the equipment. My gawd! I knew from my University Engineering days that this sort of report would require really really extensive research to gather all the required information from various texts and journals (if available) in the Library. I gawked at the report, gawked at my techie and managed to croak my question, “Where….how…?” He nonchalently waved, “Oh, from the MIT Lab”. Say, where? The MARA (our local institution) Institute of Technology? I asked incredulously. “Nay, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They have a working setup of a model wafer fab,” he replied matter-of-factly. So how did you get the information? Is it legal? “Sure! From the Internet!”, he smirked. Duh….Inter-what? “Come, let me show you…in the lab,” he offered. In the lab, he switched on his PC and then activated a noisy box, which he called Modem, and then launched what he called Mosaic (the forerunner of Netscape and the present Firefox). On the screen, it looked like I was really flying through space.. “It’s Cyberspace,” he grinned. After a few clicks of his keyboard, we found ourselves as guests touring MIT’s famed engineering lab. That day in 1997, I saw the future.

I was hooked, really hooked, on the Internet. My techie helped me sign up for an Internet account with the only service provider in town, which happened to be the R&D body controlled by my ex-Prof. My handle was ” trekker ” (I hate the term Trekkie; I’m a closet Star Trek fan, you see), and there was no looking back. I spent my free time and wee hours in the morning exploring the World Wide Web and all that it offered. To me, who loves books and libraries, it was like the Great Library In The Sky is now accessible by me. Then it was only logical that I wanted my own website. I read and read all the books that I could get and articles on the ‘Net..but there was always a stumbling block that took too long to clear by myself. That’s when I realised that an instructor/mentor/support group could help me up the learning curve much more effectively and in a shorter period (not to mention with less hair-pulling frustration). I signed up for my first online course with ZD (Ziff-Davis) University. It was fun! The students were all like-minded people from all walks of life…all with a burning desire to make his/her own mark in Cyberspace with a self-designed website. Oh, we all became HTML-savvy, eventually, and all websites were coded from scratch. Today, if you click on www.zdu.com you will find that the domain is for sale. The ZD University is no more. So sad!

So the first lesson is…. join an online class; it will save you a lot of grieve and time. A great one which is extremely user-friendly is Open Source Training, which offers Joomla, Drupal and WordPress Training , the top 3 content management systems (CMS) engines to drive your website. There’s no reason to be a hard-core HTML warrior anymore. Open Source Training offers training classes in video (very good instructors, I might say!) backed by a great Forum for you to post any question. The moderators and administrators are really friendly and helpful, so there’s no need to fear asking anything you’re not clear about. You need that quick help to get past the road-block or it’ll just make you all frustrated. I know. And there’re tons of resources at the website too. Wait…..you need to know at least a bit more than a smatterng of HTML, CSS, PHP, SQL and Linux. You can find training classes in HTML, CSS and PHP in Open Source Training too.

Oops! Take a step back. You need a domain name first. I have tried quite a few different registrars and I was always on the lookout for the cheapest deal. Until one day, my low-cost registrar went bust and had to be rescued by GoDaddy . For sure, GoDaddy is not the cheapest registrar in town, but bitter experience has taught me that RELIABILITY is the most important criteria when you choose your domain name registrar, and for me GoDaddy is my preferred choice. 

While we are at your domain name, we might as well discuss your e-mail address now. You get your e-mail addresses from various sources. Your internet access service provider would have given you an e-mail address. Never use that for your Internet related work, as you definitely do not want your primary e-mail to be cluttered by spam and what-not. Keep that as your special e-mail address for registering important services which will not get displayed or passed on to others. Go register with Google, Microsoft or Yahoo! for free multi-gigs of e-mail storage space. Then forward your domain name e-mail ( eg. yourname@yourdomainname.com ) to your G-M-Y e-mail account, for ease of access and management. Don’t forget to apply the ” catch-all ” option to your domain name e-mail address (since you will most likely be qualified for only 1 email account per domain name). Now you will receive ALL mail addressed to your domain name. This is a must-have option and GoDaddy gives you that catch-all for free. Why are we dwelling on e-mail when we are discussing webmaster skills? Because you need an admin e-mail address as the webmaster of your site. And before you get e-mail savvy…. you can count on your e-mail account to be messed up by spam of all kinds.

 And finally you need a place to host your website; your home in Cyberspace. As before, I’ve tried a few hosting service providers, and yes, I was searching for that elusive, “Best Deal in Town”. I’ve learnt that reliability and responsiveness are even more important. You simply cannot afford downtime. And you’ll definitely have questions and need help….you don’t want to wait forever, just to get tech support to reply to you. I have using  Acenet Hosting for over 10 years and they have never let me down. Acenet Hosting offers 5 GB of space at a reasonable price and the cPanel offers Fantastico and Softaculous for easy no-brainer installations of great apps on your website. Acenet Hosting may not be the cheapest in town, but they are certainly the most reliable and responsive in my opinion.

Other skills you will need to learn include FTP, SSH (if your hosting service provider allows you) and some graphics knowledge.

Update:

So now you have your own website and hopefully with lots of useful and interesting contents.

You need not be shy about monetizing your website by having advertisements in strategic places on the various pages.

One way is to be an affiliate to promote someone else’s products/services. You could search for companies that offer affiliates program for their products/services but an easier way is to join an organisation like ShareASale which aggregates hundreds of companies which offer affiliate marketing. You can join ShareASale for free, and start promoting products online right away.  

 

More to come….