Mar 29

Standby PC

A recent poll on MakeUseOf suggests that most of now have at least one computer in the house, and many of us have three or more! Admittedly, MakeUseOf readers are perhaps a little more tech savvy than others but I’m pretty sure the poll isn’t too wide of the mark for most of us now.

So you’ve bought a shiny new desktop PC, laptop or tablet and your old PC or laptop has been forgotten and consigned to a dusty old corner. Well it might just be worth pulling it out and putting it to use, particularly if it’s still reasonably fast and has a network card installed. David Pierce suggests using one machine for work and one for leisure and that’s pretty good advice. If you’re a freelancer and work from home, you rely on your primary machine to earn money! So it’s a great idea just to keep one machine solely for work, i.e. avoid too much surfing and downloading which may lead to a malware attack. Leave all this to your older secondary ‘leisure’ machine.

But if your old PC is just too old for everyday leisure use, at least make sure it’s ready to go in the event of a major issue on your main machine. So before you consign it to a corner, run some maintenance tools (eg CCleaner and Malwarebytes) and make sure all program updates have been downloaded and installed. There’s great peace of mind for a freelancer knowing that you have a standby machine ready to help out when your main PC or laptop has a problem (failed hard drive, failed power supply, malware attack, etc). You can work away on your standby machine as you run malware scans on your main machine, or indeed if the repair is too much for you, your standby machine should see you through while your primary machine is at the repair shop.

Mar 23

Sites like for example make file sharing real easy but if you’re sharing an important file (e.g. sensitive financial data), just passing a shared file’s URL to your recipient isn’t very secure – anyone can get at your data if there’s no password protection or encryption at the sharing site. If you’ve emailed the link to your recipient, that can have security issues as Lifehacker explained in a post today. You have no control over the recipient’s server and they may download your attachment from an unencrypted HTTP connection (i.e. not HTTPS). Clearly for the most sensitive data there’s no substitute to passing it on in person if possible, but failing that there’s a couple of options you can try to improve security during file sharing.

Password protected file sharing

There are a number of sites which offer password protected file sharing and I’ve just picked out a couple. For example Wikisend

file sharing1

The service is free and you can share a file up to 100MB with password protection. Obviously sharing the link and the password in the same email is not the smartest idea so you should really try to send the password to your recipient by a separate route for security.

Another service is divShare

file sharing2

With their free account, they offer up to 5GB of storage and 10GB downloads/month.

File encryption

Another route to secure file sharing is to email the encrypted file to the recipient but again sending the password separately. The encryption plus the need for a (strong) password to decrypt it should deter any snoopers on hosting servers.  I use the free utility AxCrypt to encrypt all sensitive files on my computer. And when you right click on a file to encrypt it, you get the option to Encrypt a copy to a EXE. This creates a password protected self-decrypting exe file which you can email to your recipient. They don’t need to have AxCrypt installed to decrypt the file, just the password. Again, send the password separately. Another possibility would be to use the archiving utility 7-Zip to create a password protected encrypted archive with your file or files.


The Lifehacker article mentioned above notes that Dropbox offers encrypted transmission for file storage and sharing. You and your recipient can set up a shared Dropbox folder. Anything you put in that folder would travel encrypted from your Dropbox folder to Dropbox’s servers to your recipient’s Dropbox folder. In a blog post today on Download Squad, they note that can let you create public or private shares of your Dropbox folders. Private shares are only accessible to people you invite via email, and you can see and edit who has access right from your shares list.

So there’s some thoughts on secure file sharing… or at least securer file sharing. It’s clearly not perfect with distribution of passwords to access shared file an area of concern. So do you secure your shared files in any way? Drop a comment below with your thoughts.

Mar 14

Google Reader Filter is an excellent tool for filtering out blog posts with keywords that aren’t of any interest to you in your RSS feeds. But if you use the utility CCleaner for your PC maintenance to delete temporary internet files, history and cookies etc., perhaps you’ve noticed that it also strips out all your carefully entered keyword excludes and highlights from Google Reader Filter.

I used to get around this by copying and pasting my keyword excludes and highlights into a text file so I could always paste these back into the filter later. After all, it takes time to build up a good comprehensive list of filter keywords and it’s annoying when you lose them. But this is also a little time consuming to have to repeat this each time you run CCleaner.

So I had a look at the settings in CCleaner to see if there was a way to preserve the Google Reader Filter settings. After a bit of trial and error, I came across the answer. If you open CCleaner and go to Options and choose Cookies:


In the left column, you’ll see a list of cookies which will be deleted next time you run Cleaner. To prevent Google Reader Filter settings from being removed just move all the google cookies (in my case,,, to the right hand Cookies to Keep column as shown above.

Now, when you run Cleaner (the top option in the image above), then reopen Chrome or Firefox, all your Google Reader Filter settings should still be present.

On a side note, in CCleaner, you can also save any other important cookies you want to keep, for example to prevent deletion of specific site log in details after you run CCleaner.

Mar 9

There are quite a few screen capture utilities out there including the basic Windows Snipping Tool which comes with Windows Vista and Windows 7. This is fine for a plain screen capture but if you’re a blogger, sooner or later you’re going to need to be able to annotate and obfuscate (blur) text in the image so an alternative utility has to be found. Here are some points to consider when making your choice.

Able to capture anything on your screen, not just in a browser window

This is the first problem I came across with a number of utilities including Awesome Screenshot, Aviary Screen Capture and other browser extensions which offer screen capture. You may occasionally want to capture part of an image from a file on your computer (not in your browser window), a Word or Excel screenshot, etc. and these in-browser utilities won’t work outside the browser window. Utilities like the Windows Snipping Tool, Greenshot, Shotty or PicPick will be fine here.

Launch from hotkey or delayed launch

Occasionally, you’ll want to capture a pop-up window or a drop-down menu in your screenshot. If you launch your screen capture utility with a mouse click, these windows will disappear. You’ll need to launch from a Hotkey like the Print Screen key so as to retain the pop-up window or drop-down menu on screen. Utilities like the Windows Snipping Tool, Greenshot, Shotty or PicPick will be fine here. Greenshot, Shotty and PicPick launch from Hotkeys and here’s how to  launch the Windows Snipping Tool from a key combination.

Screen capture 1

Annotate image and obfuscate sensitive text

A utility that doesn’t do this isn’t much use for bloggers. You’ll occasionally need to be able to draw text on the image, highlight parts of the image, draw arrows to point out certain features, and obfuscate (blur) any sensitive text. Utilities like Greenshot or Shotty will mostly work. However, Greenshot has to annotate with text in a text box which you don’t always want. Yes, you can set the box outline to zero width but the text box still obliterates underlying features. Sometimes I just want to add text without a box and without hiding the underlying features. On the other hand, Shotty will do this, but there is no facility to draw arrows in Shotty. However, PicPick is able to annotate text directly on the image, obfuscate text and draw arrows. Here’s a screenshot of a screenshot in PicPick showing blurring, text annotation, box highlighting and arrows.

Screen capture 2

Of the screen capture utilities I’ve looked at, PicPick is able to do all that I want.

Update (7 April 2012): PicPick can also capture a scrolling window which can be very useful. I understand this was buggy in the past but seems to be working fine on the current version.  Use the Screen Capture utility of PicPick and select Scrolling Window. Move the mouse until the window you want to capture has a red outline border, click the left mouse button then let go and be patient as it scrolls down through the window to the bottom. Then it opens the complete window in the PicPick editor.

Which screen capture utility do you use?  Drop a comment below.


Mar 1

Recently, my son accidently dropped his Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop and cracked the screen.  I’m not a computer repair tech but I’ve listened to a few Podnutz computer repair podcasts and got the impression this wasn’t a difficult replacement job. A quick search on Google uncovered an excellent video of the 1545 screen replacement on YouTube which convinced me I should have a go at it. I’ve written this post to give some tips on the procedure I used and my experience with the repair.

First I had to find a supplier of a replacement screen. I’m in the UK and Google came up with Laptop-Power UK but the first problem that website pointed out was that the screen could be one of two types – CCFL or LED. I wouldn’t know which until I’d removed the cracked screen and checked the part number on the back of it.

Screen replacement

So first I unplugged the laptop from the mains and removed the laptop battery. Here are the screwdrivers  I used for the job together with a pen for scale:

screen replacement1

They’re actually jeweller’s screwdrivers – part of a set I got years ago for Christmas. I see similar ones on sale at Amazon UK. They have magnetic heads which are almost essential here otherwise the tiny screws could fall into the laptop keyboard if you’re not very careful. They also have a swivel top. I used the flat head screwdriver to carefully prize off the small black covers over the six screws on the front of the screen (four on top and two at the bottom). They’re just held in place with glue. Here’s a picture with the caps removed and showing the cracked screen.

screen replacement2

Apologies for the poor photo but I’ve arrowed the position of the 6 screws to be removed, four along the top and two at the bottom. Put them into something like a small bowl for safe keeping along with the plastic caps – you’ve still got to order and receive the replacement screen so you don’t want to lose them in the meantime.

Next you have to remove the black bezel or frame around the screen. It’s just clipped in place so starting at the bottom of the screen just get your fingers inside the inner, upper  edge and gently pull away. It should unclip. Then do the sides and finally the top. Take care not to bend the bezel too much or you’ll stress the plastic and have to order that as well! Here’s a shot with the bezel removed.

screen replacement3

Next remove the three (even smaller) screws along each side again shown with red arrows in the picture above. After they are out, be careful now as the screen is just sitting in the metal outer frame and only held in place by the two cables indicated in the picture above – the data cable and the backlight cable.

Next, you have to unplug the red and white cable with the white backlight connector plug. Here’s a close-up of that:

screen replacement4

I found I had to remove the screw shown with the red arrow before I could get the white plug out. Remember that when you put in the replacement screen, the white plug should connect with the red wire at the top and the white wire at the bottom.

Now you should be able to lay the old screen carefully forward onto the keyboard but take care not to pull or stress the data cables where they connect into the laptop. Once you’ve laid the screen down, you’ll see the data cable connector on the back of the screen:

screen replacement5

It’s held in place with transparent tape. I had to peel this tape back from the grey edge as shown above. Yours may be slightly different and peel in the opposite direction. Once peeled back you can unplug the connector. Just note how it’s connected. When you get your new screen you’re going to have to plug this back in and it’s a little fiddly. Next, carefully peel the data cable from the back of the screen. Mine was held in place with adhesive. Once this is done, your old screen should now be free leaving behind the data cable attached to the laptop.

Then check the maker and part number on the back of the screen. In my case, I had a Samsung screen LTN156AT01 so from the Laptop-UK website guide linked above, I knew I had a CCFL screen. I ordered the part and it arrived in 2 days, very well packaged.

Fitting the new screen is just the reverse of the procedure already described and is really straightforward and quite quick. I couldn’t believe how simple the whole procedure was. The most important thing I could see was to be careful not to stress the connection where the data cable connects to the laptop when you are disconnecting the cable from the old screen and connecting up the new screen.

Once I had fitted the screen, I plugged the battery back in, connected to the mains and powered up. Surprisingly, the machine resumed straight away in the application my son had been using before the accident. Of course he hadn’t been able to see the screen to shut down the laptop because the crack had rendered the screen useless. He had just disconnected the battery.

So if you accidently break your Dell 1545 screen, have a go at replacing it yourself and save yourself some money. Leave the repair techs to tackle the harder jobs!

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