Permalink 02:22:00 pm by Brendan, Categories: Uncategorized, Article

217The oldest and most basic computer input devices is the qwerty keyboard. In the decades of its existence programmers have incorporated all lot of keyboards functionality into all the different program, or at least most of them. But this functionality is often shared across so many different programs that programmers can forget the need to tell you about it.

The first un-secret to reveal is the special keys at the bottom of the keyboard. The oldest special key is the Shift key, dating back to the typewriter. When you hold down shift, it will capitalize any letter typed, or swap any number with the alternate character shown above it on the key - like 2 becomes @ when the shift key is pressed.

The extra keys Ctrl, Alt, and also have the ability to function like this. Indeed, whenever any instruction/tutorial/ FAQ uses a term like Ctrl+C, it means hold down the Ctrl button then press the C key to activate it's alternative function, Copy.

The three keys X C and V are the almost universal clipboard shortcuts. The clipboard is basically like a space where any one thing can be stored at any time. Pressing Ctrl and X will remove whatever you've selected and while copying it to the clipboard, while Ctrl and C will copy it to the clipboard without removing the original.

Then control plus V will put a copy of whatever's in the clipboard wherever your computer is focused. Together these functions are known as Cut (Ctrl+X), Copy (Ctrl+C), and Paste (Ctrl+V).

Less well known is the shortcut one key to the right, Undo (Ctrl+Z). Almost every program supports this function to some degree. It reverses the last action you've takes, restoring deleted content, erasing inserted content, moving moved content back where it had been, etc. A lot of programs record multiple undo steps so that you can press undo several times to backtrack multiple steps, but a few programs only record one undo step, thus limiting undo to one step.

Some programs also allow Ctrl+Y undo the undo command.

Other common control shortcuts include Ctrl+P - the Print command, Ctrl+S the Save Command, and Ctrl+F the Find command. Ctrl+F works in most web browsers and is a good way to quickly search for a specific name or term on a long webpage.

They Alt key has far fewer standard commands associated with it. The most common usage is that by holding down both Alt and Ctrl and pressing the Delete key, the computer will open an options dialog including the task manager. This is a very useful if the program you open it is not working right because the task manager can close programs that aren't shutting down properly.

Also the Alt key is frequently used for special keyboard shortcuts in programs with a lot of functions. And besides the usual shortcut Alt+ approach, if you just tap the Alt key, it will prep the menu for keyboard manipulation. So for instance, instead of using the mouse to click File then Print to print a page, (Or just hitting Ctrl+P), you can hit the alt key, then File to open the file drop down and P because that's the underlined letter for Print in said drop down menu.

Finally there's the Windows key, or the Start key. On keyboards for windows based computers it usually has either the word Start or a slightly curvy diagonal square divided in 4 parts. It's primary purpose is to open the start menu, which shows programs, settings and folders for you to open. In Windows Vista and 7, it also opens with a cursor in the main system search menu, so if you want to search for something on your computer you can just hit Start and then type it in.

Since the search includes all the programs installed on your system, this also acts as a way to quickly open any program installed on your computer, just type in the name, and hit enter when it comes up.

Recent Windows versions have also added more uses for the windows key. In 7 for instance, you can rearrange windows by holding down the windows key then tapping the arrow keys.

With over 30 years of development, the keyboard has a lot more it can do. Search keyboard shortcuts on google to learn more, identifying specific programs because many have unique keyboard tricks.


Permalink 12:24:10 pm by Brendan, Categories: Upgrades

There are a few ways to upgrade your computer?s hardware, but Memory is both the easiest, and the most likely to improve your system's performance.

Of course, you should know in advance whether or not more memory will aid in your system performance. Fortunately it's not that hard to find out. First open the start menu, then the control panel in the right column. Among the options in the control panel will be for System. The system menu has a lot of options, but what's important is that it will open to a summary page. Here you'll see information on your processor, your memory, and some details on your OS.

Which are interested in is a wine labeled Memory(RAM). This will be on number followed by either MB or GB. If it's MB, then additional RAM will definitely improve your computer's performance. In the GB range, additional memory will improve performance, but the degree of improvement will diminish with each GB.

Basically, if you're running Windows XP, 1 GB will be plenty to get by with most tasks. Though more intense applications will run better with more memory (My mother upgraded her Ram from 1 GB to 2.25 GB and found the improvement to XP's voice recognition software was noticeable and quite appreciated.)

If you're running Vista, the system has a lot more going on in the background, so it's usually a good idea to consider upgrading if your memory is below 2GB.  But if you?re thinking of a major memory increase, make a point to look at the OS information on the System menu.  If it doesn?t say 64, then you?re using a 32 bit OS, which means it can?t use more than 3.5 GB of RAM. 

As to what memory to buy, that varies from motherboard to motherboard, so you always have to do a little research. If your computer is brand name, then the odds are it's make and model are printed right on the front. If your system is more handmade, just open the side panel, and look at the motherboard to record it's make and model. Then when you go to wherever you're shopping for more RAM, either online or at a local source, there's pretty much always a location where you can input this data and get a list of the memory that fits it's requirements.


Here?s the underside of a stick of DDR2 Memory (Pretty common now, with the current advanced machine memory being DDR3).  While all the sticks of modern RAM are about the same dimensions, each standard is made with a differently located ofset slot.  This serves the dual purpose of both allowing the memory card to only be inserted into it?s slot the right way, and preventing incompatible memory from being installed in a machine. 


Once you have your appropriate RAM card, Installing is straightforward.  Open your system, and look for the memory slots on the motherboard.  The number of slots vary from board to board, but their design has been consistent through several generations of RAM cards.  Each slot has two latches on the side.  Besides clicking into two notches on the sides of each memory card, the latches also hook to small levers at the bottom of each slot.  This means that if you need to remove a memory card, pushing down the two latches will also pop the card from it?s slot.

In addition, this means that once you have the memory sticks lined up so the slot in the card matches up with the slot, pushing the card down into place will also close the two latches on the side.  And there will be a soft click when the memory card is fully in place.

That?s it.  Just reconnect your power, turn your machine back on, and it will recognize the upgrade and should handle memory intensive programs a bit faster now.

Of course, sometimes defective memory will be shipped out.  It?s not common, but when my mother upgraded her system?s memory, a few weeks later irregular instability necessitated a memory diagnostic that found an error on one of the sticks of RAM.  Though of course, the manufacturers warranty meant we simply identified the defective RAM and exchanged it for a new one.

The free tool for diagnosing RAM can be found at http://www.memtest86.com/.  Download the ISO file, use any cd burning software to burn it onto a blank CD, then have it in your computer?s optical drive when it reboots.  It will open into a simple window showing very basic data as it? runs a series of memory tests.  Let the tests run for about half an hour, and if they haven?t reported an error, you know that there probably isn?t one on your RAM cards.  If they do report an error, to find what?s defective you?ll want to power down your computer, remove all but one of the Memory sticks, and reboot the memory tester, repeating until you?ve identified which RAM stick is defective.  Since virtually all memory has a manufactures warranty, it?s just a matter of trading it for a working stick of RAM.


Permalink 08:18:05 am by Brendan, Categories: Cleaning Tricks

Basic physics says that when electricity flows through any non-superconductor, it generates heat in the process.  Computers need to get rid of this heat in order to keep working, so cases are built to maintain an airflow across hot components to cool them.  Of course, another side effect of flowing electricity is that it generates an electromagnetic field, and electromagnetic fields tend to draw dust.


This photo of my mother?s computer is actually not the dustiest system I?ve ever cleaned out, that would be my older brother?s system which hadn?t been cleaned for several years when I opened it up.

Dust isn?t just an aesthetic problem for computers, it?s potentially much more serious.  First of all, dust can act like a heat barrier, reducing the effectiveness of your computer?s cooling systems.  Overheating makes a system less stable and more error prone.  Plus it pushes the fans harder making the system noisier.  Also, some dust is conductive, which means that exceptionally dusty systems actually have a risk of short circuits forming.

To clean your system, you?ll want to first power down and unplug your system.  And considering how much dust can be thrown into the air, it?s a good idea to consider moving your system someplace with good ventilation. 

P4030004In the case of my mother?s system, I was able to use the deck behind our house.

The first step is to open the side panel of your system.  The how varies from system to system, but the majority of computers made today try to simplify the process, securing the panel with either thumbscrews or some form of latch mechanism.  Once you?ve opened the computer, it?s time to start using the compressed air to blow away the dust.  Keep in mind, this is going to be blowing a fair bit of dust into the air.  Many sources recommend using a cheap dust mask you can buy at any hardware store.

P4030050Or you could improvise if you don?t think to pick one up.

Anyway, try working in short bursts, starting with the visible clumps of dust.  Next, you?ll want to go to work on the the hidden dust surfaces.  Look over the power source (The big box that your system?s power cord plugs into) and alternate blowing puffs of air into the openings both inside and outside the case (The changing airflow should help dislodge more of the dust.)  Now look at the CPU cooler.  It?s the big fan and assembly at the center of the motherboard.

Take a little time to look it over to figure out which direction the metal fins are lined up in (Note, if the style of cooler has the fins exposed, don?t touch them, their sharp.)  Direct a few shots of air from both sides to dislodge as much dust as possible.

Then you?ll just want to give a quick once over to the motherboard and peripherals with your can of air to blow off the remaining dust that you can?t see.  Then angle the air on the bottom of the case to blow the dust there out and you can close up your case, return it to it?s normal resting place, hook the cables back up and power it on. 


Permalink 12:23:56 am by Brendan, Categories: Cleaning Tricks

In addition to routine cleaning, keyboards are often subjected to spilled liquids. If this happens, the very first thing to do is to disconnect your keyboards power. If it plugs into the back of your system, pull that plug immediately. If it’s a wireless keyboard, remove it’s batteries immediately.

Ok, now that you’ve unplugged the keyboard, you can take a moment to consider the problem. Spilled liquids bring two threats to the table as far as keyboard functionality is concerned. First of all, there’s the threat of a short circuit. This threat is the reason you want to immediately cut power to the keyboard. It’s also the reason that whatever other cleaning you do, you’ll want to let the keyboard sit afterward for at least 24 hours (longer on humid days) to ensure its internals are completely dried out.

Your other concern is residue. If the liquid you spilled was just an ordinary glass of water, residue will not be much of a problem. If it’s unsweetened coffee, tea, or diet soda, residue might give you problems, but the danger is not as severe as if there was sugar dissolved in it.

The key to blocking residue is to dissolve it with water. Since your keyboard is only vulnerable to short circuits when its plugged in, putting it in your shower and spraying down the keyboard is a very good precaution against residue. If you have a keyboard that was disabled by a spill, there’s a chance you might be able to clean out the residue using your shower like this.

I’ve even heard that some people has successfully cleaned out a spill disabled keyboard by running it through their dishwasher. I’ve never tried this myself, so I can’t offer any personal input on it. But rationally this would probably work best if whatever was spilled on your keyboard contained a fair bit of fat like ice cream. The most important thing to remember would be to put your keyboard on the top shelf of the dishwasher, since the plastics making it up are vulnerable to melting.

Now whatever method you use to wash the residue out of your keyboard, you’ll need to let it dry out afterward. Be sure that you let it dry at least 24 hours, and be sure to reposition it a few times during that drying period. Repositioning it will help ensure the keyboard doesn’t retain small pools of water inside it that could wet things again when you plug it back in.

And once you’ve waited the recommended 24 hours (if not a little more), you’ll want to plug it into your system and give it a test run.

Permalink 12:16:05 am by Brendan, Categories: Cleaning Tricks

As the components of the computers that gets the most direct contact with you, your mouse and keyboard will have the most need for regular cleaning. Though when I say cleaning, I also mean disinfecting. Your keyboard and mouse can pick up significant volumes of bacteria through handling, and rubbing alcohol wipes do perfect double duty at killing the bacteria and cleaning whatever’s stuck to the plastic making up your keyboard and mouse.

The first step is to dislodge the large stuff (It’s surprising how much there is.) Take your keyboard, turn it upside down, and shake it side to side and backward and forward for a minute or two. Afterward, direct your can of air into the cracks between the keys, and spray in short bursts to knock loose the smaller dust. You can likewise use your air to blow dust loose from under the buttons on your mouse.

Once you’ve dusted your mouse and keyboard, you then take an antibacterial wipe, and gently wipe the keyboard and keys. Then wipe down your mouse and it’s buttons. Once finished, give your keyboard a few moments to dry and it should be good as new. If you don’t have antibacterial wipes, you can use a paper towel, dampened with a very small amount of rubbing alcohol.

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