Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Windows 8(.1)’s missing Start Menu!

When users complained about the lack of the Start Button in Windows 8, I think they were really complaining about the inability to bring up the Start Menu of Programs. So when the Start Button was partially restored in Windows 8.1, yes, it was now easier to get to the Control Panel, Task Manager, and Shut Down, but, really, who cared?

Sometimes things nag at me, such as…  Installation programs still ask if I want to send a shortcut to the Start Menu.  I say “Yes” for old-time’s sake and maybe because, in the same way young children believe in the tooth fairy, I had hopes that a real Start Button would magically appear. But, what was happening when I said “Yes”?  Did Windows simply ignore the instruction?

For reasons I’m not sure, one day I decided to search for StartMenu…and I found it!

Here’s how to create the Start Menu on the Desktop!

·        Right click on Start Button.  Choose File Explorer.
·        Click on View and then check the box that shows Hidden Items
·        Click on drive C:, then Program Data (not Files!)
·        Click on Microsoft, then Windows, then Start Menu
·        RIGHT-CLICK on Programs and Send to: Desktop.

All done!  You might want to move the Shortcut to the lower left hand corner next to the Start Button and change the icon to something distinctive.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

micro SD cards: exFAT to NTFS

A form has two boxes so that respondents can enter "Age in years", which works fine until the 102 year old person comes along.

That's the idea behind different file systems. In the beginning, there was FAT16. As disks got larger, there were more files than FAT16 could handle, so FAT32 was invented. Disks got larger still. Welcome NTFS. But, wait! Microsoft doesn't own NTFS! So, there is also exFAT!

I like to use the Everything Search Engine utility from Voidtools. It works only with NTFS disks. I just got an Asus T100TA Transformer Book with 64 GB of its own storage and a micro SD slot that can accommodate a 64 GB micro SD card. I got a 64 GB micro SD card, which came unformatted. However, when my computer asked if I wanted to format the card, the only choice I was given was exFAT.

The solution:

  • Attach unformatted card to computer.
  • Go to Device Manager. (Win-Pause/Break followed by clicking on Hardware, is one way to get there.)
  • Right click on SD card. Choose Properties.
  • Policies tab. Choose Optimize for Performance.
  • Go to the Command prompt. Assuming Z is the drive letter (but be sure you get it right or disaster could strike!), type
    format Z: /fs:NTFS

This helped me better understand when and why one has to be careful removing USB drives.

Drives can be set up two ways:

  • Optimize for Quick Removal: This setting disables write caching on the disk and in Windows, so you can disconnect the device safely without using the Safely Remove Hardware notification icon.
  • Optimize for Performance: This setting enables write caching in Windows to improve disk performance. To disconnect this device from the computer, click the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the taskbar notification area.

NTFS is optimized for performance. exFAT is optimized for quick removal. While no drives should ever be removed while an operation is in progress, it's easier to be sure there's nothing waiting in the wings if a drive is optimized for quick removal. Since I expect to rarely be removing this card from the tablet, the advantages the NTFS system provide more than outweigh the convenience of quick removal.

Windows 8 tablet?!?!?!

I do all of my computing on Windows machines, if you don't count Android smart phones and tablets. I have a bunch of Android tablets, mostly as a result of my search for just the right device to hold and display 1,000+ PDFs of song lyrics. I often wished there were one device that could do it all.

There have been Windows tablets, but they suffered from two serious handicaps. The first was price. The early ones cost more than $1,000, which I could never justify for just another tablet. The second is Windows itself. (Note the intentionally careful use of "was" and "is".)

I'm writing this on an Asus T100TA Transformer Book--a full Windows 8.1...well, you tell me. Is is a 10.1" tablet with a docking station or a 10.1" computer whose screen separates from its keyboard? Regardless, the whole package--with 2 GB of memory, 64 GB storage and a micro SD slot that accommodates cards of up to 64GB and a licensed copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition--went for $399 at both Best Buy and the Microsoft Store.

As a computer, it feels just like a 10" netbook with chicklet keyboard. I really like it, but I really like netbooks. Nice screen. Anyone who cares can look up the epecs. Windows 8 gets a well-deserved bad rap, but it can be made to function a lot like Windows 7 for ordinary tasks.

As a tablet...at the moment it suffers from Windows 8.1. It works smoothly enough, but the variety of available apps is nothing like what's available for iOS or Android. A nice file manager would be welcomed.

Still, it's a nice device overall and has become my new default go-to computer when I don't need a desktop. Updates will follow if anything changes.

Last But Not Least Department: It comes with a 32 bit version of Windows 8.1!!! I'd heard rumors that such a thing existed, but never thought I'd actually get my hands on one! Most people won't know what I'm talking about, or care. Some will find this a real turn off. It means that the device cannot run 64 bit programs, which are the "wave of the future"...just as they've bee for a long time now. But, it can run old legacy programs, of which I've many, that won't run under 64 bit Windows! For those who really care, the processor is 64 bit, so presumably a 64 bit version of Windows could be installed if one were hell bent, determined, and wanted to undergo the expense.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Backup and Sync...months later

I went back to have another look at the synchronization services I reviewed last year. I felt overwhelmed! Everything has a more polished look. Each service has its own fans. Maybe there's now one among them that would put all of the others to shame. I don't know. I've found a system that works for me, so I now leave the task of further reviewing to others. I'd love to read it, but not to do the basic research myself.

As of the moment, there are three services I find worth considering.

  • The first, no surprise, is Dropbox. It's the service that defined the category. It seems to work almost flawlessly. It not only synchronizes files across devices but also backs them on line, to be there should disaster strike.

    It has a few shortcomings, however.

    • Everything has to go into a single Dropbox folder.
    • The Android app. Because Android devices often have limited storage, the Android Dropbox app behaves differently from the desktop program.
      • With the desktop program, all files are automatically synchronized across all computers.
      • With the Android app, the names of files and folders are synchronized automatically, but files are not downloaded automatically, to avoid taking up all available space.
      There is an option to designate favorite files that do get updated automatically. However, unless things have changed, there's no way to update the contents of a folder automatically. There is an Androd app, DropSync, that adds this feature, but it is not part of Dropbox, itself.

The other two services I like allow users to designate as many folders as they wish for synchronization. Different folders can be synchronized across different sets of devices. My work files might get synchronized across all of my devices while my personal files never appear on any computer owned by my employer.

  • Cubby allows any folder to identified as a Cubby. Think of each Cubby as its own Dropbox. You can have as many as you want and synchronize each Cubby over as few of many devices as you choose. Data are backed up on the company's servers. A paid account includes Direct Sync to synchronize as many Cubbies as one wants without having the data backed up online. Direct Sync protects privacy and has no size limits. The annoying thing about Cubby is that it is constantly using 3 to 6% of the CPU when it should be idle. Others have reported higher numbers. I imagine some polling is necessary, but I don't see anything like this with other services.
  • BitTorrent Sync (BTSync) is like Cubby's Direct Sync. Any folders can be designated for synchronization on as few or many devices as one wishes. There is also a Read Only option, so that changes made on that device are not reflected on other devices. I use this for folders of song lyrics on my tablets to guard against accidental erasures. BTSync is free. The downside is that there is no option for online storage, so you need your own disaster plan. Mine is an automatic weekly (soon to be daily) back of my desktop computer.

Right now,

  • I use Dropbox for sensitive files where I want the security of online backup copies.
  • I use BTSync for everything else.
  • I'm not using Cubby at the moment due to what appears to be an excessive use of resources. However, its ability to make any folder a Cubby and provide online backup keeps me from crossing it off of my list entirely.
I'm not arguing that this is what everyone should. It's merely what I do, and why. Please leave a comment if you've got what might be a more effective approach. I'd love to read about it and consider it for myself!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Get your cholesterol checked!

[We interrupt the usual series of tech related posts for an important message.]

Get your cholesterol checked!!!

Without going into TMI, high cholesterol poses a serious threat for me. As evidence of a whimsical higher power, I am unable to tolerate statins or any other substance that improves one's lipid profile. In fact, I could make a living as a test subject. If I can't tolerate it, it's probably effective at controlling cholesterol.

Back in late 2004, my profile was total cholesterol(TC) 263, HDL 47, TC/HDL 5.60, LDL 186, triglycerides 152. At my sister's suggestion insistence, I tried Joel Fuhrman's Eat To Live diet. Six weeks later, TC 189, HDL 45, TC/HDL 4.20, LDL 128, triglycerides 82!

I knew what I should do to maintain the improvement. I was successful through 2008, when I had a test that showed that things hadn't changed since 2002. I also decided to stop having my cholesterol checked. Since there were no drugs I could use to manage it, there seemed little point in worrying about it.

That seemed like a sensible decision at the time. "My cholesterol will do what it will do. I'm already doing everything I can do. Why let myself panic and ruin my quality of life should things change?"

In retrospect, it was stupid. It assumed I would continue with healthy behavior! However, I'm human and, as one of my colleagues who ran an obesity clinic, once remarked, "Fear is good for about a year." It was certainly true of me. Over time, I got sloppy. I let the occasional exception (luncheon meetings, social get togethers) become the rule rather than the exception. The wake up call came this summer.

My lipid profile at the end of July was curious. While my TC was only 219, the way it got there was not good at all. HDL 34, TC/HDL 6.44, LDL 145, triglycerides 201. Very ugly HDL and triglyceride values. I decided to back to Fuhrman. What else could I do?

While I knew the Fuhrman diet would lower my cholesterol, I wasn't sure what it would do when the total cholesterol, while high, wasn't off the chart. I got rechecked after only 5 weeks rather than 6 because the sixth week would have taken me over the Labor Day weekend and I was afraid I might stray. The numbers are enough to make me wish I'd waited the additional week. TC 201, HDL 39, TC/HDL 5.15, LDL 135, triglycerides 135! (Not a typo. LDL and triglycerides were the same.)

There was movement. It was not as much as 9 years ago, but I'd only gone 5 weeks instead of 6. My plan now is to get retested at the start of October and again in early November before a cardiology appointment.

So, what have I learned from this that I would like to pass on?

  • It's very easy to think of treatment in terms of medications. I couldn't take medications, so I couldn't be treated. Wrong! As my lipid profile shows, now twice, diet alone can do much of what medications do.
  • If I'd kept on top of my cholesterol levels, I would likely have seen hard evidence of the effect of what my so-called exceptions were doing to me, long before my wake up call.

Anyone in a similar situation--cholesterol levels are an issue and medications aren't an option--shouldn't give up. If I can do fine with careful monitoring of diet and lipid levels, then anyone can!

Monday, July 8, 2013

My final words on backup and synchronization...really!

...in any organized fashion. If I comment further in the future, it will not be because I am trying out many services simultaneously to assess pluses and minuses. It's too stressful and I'm at a point where I've found something that works for me.

So here they are, those final words:

  • Every system has strengths and weaknesses that change from moment to moment. Just recently, Copy managed to break the system that worked for synchronizing folders outside of the Copy.com folder. Will it get fixed? I won't be following it. If you're curious you'll have to check their website, this link in particular.
  • Many of these systems are new, with even more systems coming online as they sort themselve out to determine who will survive, who will fail, and who might dominate. It is almost impossible for a single individual to keep up unless that person is either compulsive about it (I'm compulsive, but not that compulsive) or being paid to do it. (I am not.)
  • Dropbox works just fine. If it will meet one's needs, use it. The only downside for me is that everything to be synchronized must reside in the Dropbox folder it creates. This means that I can't separate my work files from my personal files. Also, anything being synchronized is backed up online. Since charges beyond the initial 2 free GB are determined by the total number of bytes, Dropbox can be expensive for large music or photo libraries.
  • Having gone through its startup stage, LetMeIn's Cubby continues to have its fans for two reasons:
    • It allows a user to synchronize any folder, not just the My Cubby folder.
    • The paid version allows unlimited syncing between any number of computers without having to store the files online.
    I like it myself, but there are things that drive potential users away.
    • One is that it does not use delta sync for individual files. If a large file is modified, Cubby uploads the whole file again rather than just the parts that have changed. (Actually, I like this having been burned by Dropbox's delta sync when it failed to recognize that a file had been changed. However, I might not feel the same way if I were dealing with file sizes in the GBs.)
    • Another--the one that got me to abandon Cubby--is that that Cubby appears to be constantly grabbing 3 to 10% of a CPU's processing power. There has never been a good explanation of what it is doing.
  • I'm currently using Bit Torrent Labs' Sync to sync whatever folders I choose on whichever computers I choose. I have some folders synchronized between my work computers only, others synchronized between my personal computers only. and others synchronized across all of my computers.
  • BTSync does not provide online backup. If I accidentally erase a file or folder from one computer, it is erased from all of my computers. I set up an external hard drive attached to my home desktop computer, which is backed up automatically on a regular schedule. This drive is not linked to BTSync, so I'll always have a backup that is current to the last time it was run.
  • I am becoming more and more paranoid about the ultimate disaster that might take away all of the drives at once. For example (knock on wood), there might be some kind of a natural disaster. I'm considering some form of online backup, if only of the most important files that I'd never be able to recreate. Even though I have never used it, Carbonite seems to be a viable option, although if Cubby would get its act together... I'd much prefer having a single service than many services running simultaneously.

So, here I stand. I'm always open to other options, but now it's time for other projects, such as Windows 8.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Windows 8 (mis)adventures: (Re)starting grinds to a halt!

When you get a Windows 8.0 computer, you will undoubtedly be asked to install updates...and your system may grind to a halt whenever it is (re)started. It *will* (re)start, but it may take 20 minutes or more. No, it's not your computer. It's Windows 8. The problem has been around for quite a while. It's a crime that Microsoft hasn't fixed it by now, but presumably it will go away with Windows 8.1 this August.

The problem is with one of the updates. The KB2770917 update will appear to stall at about 13%. Wait 20 minutes (or more? Go to dinner.) and it will eventually appear as though everything is updated, only the update has failed. The computer will now be sluggish to (re)start to the point where you'll be tempted to return it as defective.

Here's a work-around from the Microsoft Answers website that worked for me.

  • Press windows key + R at the same time to open Run command.
  • Type in "msconfig.exe" (without quotation marks) and press enter
  • Go to the Services tab on the top.
  • Check the box on the bottom that says hide all Microsoft services (This will allow you to disable all non-Microsoft services easily.)
  • Click Disable all (This will disable all third-party services but allow all Microsoft services to run.)
  • Restart the computer
  • Install update
  • After installation, follow the same instructions but click enable all instead of disable all and restart again and everything should be good.

Good luck!