Jun 28

Perhaps you don’t defrag your hard drive anyway, it’s kind of a geeky thing and is supposed to speed up file access by collecting fragments of files together in one place on your drive. Trouble is, many articles on the net I’ve read don’t make it clear that you don’t really have to defrag your drive if you’re running Windows 7 or Vista. Why? Well it’s not because these operating systems do anything differently in terms of writing data to you disk, it’s just that defragmentation is automatically scheduled to run in Vista and Windows 7 so you don’t have to bother about it. But, strangely, a lot of people seem unaware of this and are running third party defraggers to duplicate what Windows is already set up to do.

I talked about Windows Task Scheduler in my last post and mentioned some of the tasks scheduled to run in the background. To check if disk defragmentation is scheduled on your system, go to the Windows orb at the bottom left of your screen, and type schedule in the search box. Task Scheduler should appear in the list so click on that. Click the little triangle next to Task Scheduler Library to open the subfolders. Then click the triangle against Microsoft and then against Windows and you should see a folder called Defrag in there. Click on that and you should see something like this in the top half of the screen:


From this you can see that, by default, the task ScheduledDefrag is queued to run at 1am every Wednesday. Because I power my PC off at night, it rarely runs at that time, so you can see it actually completed at 12.56pm that day and is scheduled to run again next Wednesday. We can learn more under the tabs in the lower half of the screen. Under the first tab (General), we see that it will run whether the user is logged on or not and will run with the highest privileges. Under the Triggers tab, we see that the status of the task is Enabled. The Actions tab shows the location of the defrag program that will run at the scheduled time. The Conditions tab is interesting and mine shows:


So we can see that defrag will run only after the PC has been idle for 3 minutes and it will wait for this to happen for 7 days, that is until defrag is scheduled to run again the following week. Defragging will stop if the computer ceases to be idle. So looking back at the first screenshot above tells me that defrag ran and finished when I was taking lunch because it was idle for long enough then for the task to complete. The Settings tabs shows that the task will run as soon as possible after a scheduled start is missed.

Finally, when I launched Auslogics Disk Defrag program the day after the Windows defrag task had run, without running Defrag in this program, the graphical representation of allocated/fragmented files was:


Defragmented sectors would be shown in red, and there are none, so no defragging is necessary. So next time you go to run your PC maintenance routine on a Windows 7 or Vista PC or laptop, check if Windows Defrag is scheduled to run, if not enable it and forget having to do this task again.

Jun 20

Hard drive LED

Have you noticed this? You come back to your PC after a coffee break and the hard drive LED on your PC is flashing away constantly and you can hear the sound of your hard drive working away furiously. Try to do anything on your PC or laptop and it will crawl along slowly as if doing something really CPU-intensive in the background. What is it doing? Is it secretly part of a botnet, carrying out someone else’s dirty work despatching spam emails, is someone secretly accessing the hard drive and stealing all my data? Well possibly, but if you’re following a good PC maintenance routine, your PC should be secure. So if it’s not that, then why all this activity when I’m not actually typing anything?

This had bugged me for some time. But the penny started to drop a few weeks ago when I was looking into scheduling to run batch files automatically at set times to back up my data to the cloud. I had never ventured into the Windows Task Scheduler before and was surprised at how many services are actually scheduled to run at different times. They’re all listed there.

To access the Task Scheduler in Windows 7, just click the Windows orb at the lower left corner of your screen and type scheduler into the search box. Then click on Task Scheduler and give it a chance to load its information. The bottom of the opening summary screen actually shows the Active Tasks, tasks which are currently enabled and have not expired. There are 46 currently running on my system

Task Scheduler5

Double click on any of these and you can learn more about them – what triggers them, what programs they run, when they run, if they wait till the computer is idle before they run. Then have a look at the complete library of scheduled tasks in the left pane of Task Scheduler. For example, if you open the Windows folder, you’ll see just how many Windows tasks have been automatically scheduled to run, most probably way back when you installed Windows or bought your PC. A good example is system restore points. The scheduled task is called SystemRestore and on my system, it’s scheduled to run on startup and at midnight every day, and it’s status is Enabled. Other scheduled tasks that will likely slow your PC at various times are things like software updates.

So this will give you some idea why your PC is working so hard at times when you don’t actually expect it to be. You can also check the processes running at any time using a great utility called Process Explorer, but if you don’t want to install any additional third party software, just go to the Windows orb again and type resource. Then click on Resource Monitor. This will give you an instant overview of what’s happening on your system. Click the CPU tab for more details.

In the next post, I’ll have a look at a scheduled task that many seem unaware is actually running in Windows Vista and Windows 7 and then duplicate what it’s doing unnecessarily using third party utilities.

Jun 14

If you’ve used MS Word, you’ll be familiar with search for/find words and phrases. To bring up a search dialogue box in older Word versions (pre 2007), press Ctrl-F. In newer versions of Word, Ctrl-F will work but the Advanced Find box is harder to get at. It can be accessed by clicking the down arrow at the right end of the search box. I’ve written a post about Advanced Find in new versions of Word here.

That’s fine but what about finding duplicate paragraphs in your document? This could occur when there are a number of collaborators on a document and they independently paste in repeat paragraphs of the same text. Well I’ve discovered that there’s a way to find repeat paragraphs. I had to edit another author’s document last week. After getting most of the way through it, a paragraph sounded very familiar. I checked back though the document and sure enough, he had used the exact same paragraph earlier – they had probably both been pasted into the document on different occasions. I then found further obvious repeated paragraphs, and then it occurred to me, what if I’ve missed less obvious duplicate paragraphs? Can Word find these repeat paragraphs for me automatically?

I searched around on Google and found one answer that seems to work and I’m indebted to Klaus Linke who commented on the Wordbanter forum. Go to the top of your document and open the Advanced Find box as outlined at the start of this post. Paste the following into the Find what box: (^13[!^13]@^13)*\1 (I’ve no idea what it means!) and make sure Use wildcards is checked

Find repeat paragraphs

When you click Find Next, the first repeated paragraph it finds will be the paragraphs at the beginning and end of the selection. Delete the last selected paragraph, then return to the top of the document and repeat the procedure until all the duplicate paragraphs have been removed. Remember that this only works if the paragraphs are exactly the same (same capitalization, same word spacing, etc). And there must always be one paragraph (or at least a double carriage return) between the repeated paragraphs.

I admit, it’s not the most elegant of solutions but it works for me. I’m running Word 2010 but the routine should also work in older versions or Word. Have you found a better solution to find repeated paragraphs? Drop a comment below.

Jun 2

Roger Federer

In the UK, May-June is the time of year when we usually turn our gaze from seemingly endless football (soccer) to summer alternatives like cricket, tennis and athletics – though not this summer as Euro 2012 is all over our screens. Northern Scotland is a great part of the world, but it’s so hard to get to world-class sports events from here – so much takes place south of the border. Yes, I could get down to Glasgow or Edinburgh to watch international football or rugby but they’re just not my sports. I was lucky enough to take in a day at an England-Australia Ashes test match at Trent Bridge back in the 1980s, and saw the great Ian Botham in action, and I’ve also been to an All-Ireland Football final at Croke Park in Dublin, but that’s about it. I’d love to get to an NFL match and that may be possible as they now have the occasional game in London.

Before it’s too late, I’d really like to get to see some more world-class sporting events, two in particular. A day at the races – I’d love to see the Derby at Epsom, or a day at Royal Ascot, but most of all, a day on Centre Court in the second week at Wimbledon is my ultimate sporting choice. Ironically, Epsom and Wimbledon are only about 10 miles apart, but a plane journey away for me. For Wimbledon, I’d have to book well in advance. I’ve seen some recent advice on getting advance Wimbledon tickets here.

What major sporting events do you intend to get to in your part of the world? What have you managed to take in already? Drop a comment below.

Image Credit: Squeaky Knees

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