Aug 28

Lightning on the Columbia River

You’re working away on your laptop and your online. There’s a rumble of thunder. What would you do? Turn off your machine and unplug it or just keep working. Thankfully it’s not a big problem where I live in Scotland – we might get two or three thunderstorms each year. What’s the best advice? I read a great forum thread on PCMech on computing in thunderstorms. There was a good spread of responses ranging from unplug everything, to get behind a UPS, to just keep working.

If it’s storm force winds, a UPS with surge/spike protection will give some protection during voltage spikes, but I would unplug the PC/laptop and router from the mains, and the router from the telephone line, during lightning when there’s a chance your building could be hit by it. A surge protector won’t protect your equipment in the case of a direct lightning strike. But if you have a laptop and you really must keep working, it can be done. Just unplug it from the mains and work off the battery, unplug your router and work offline if you can. Of course if you have a tablet, smartphone or old netbook lurking somewhere, use this. If you must work online, use a wireless connection rather than ethernet and make sure your router is behind good UPS with surge/spike protection. But it will get fried in a direct lightning strike. If you have an old wireless router, get it out and plug it in during the storm. If it gets fried, at least you’ve saved your good router. Obviously, if you buy a new router it’s great to keep the old one as backup for this sort of situation.

Well that’s what I would do. If you live in an area with frequent thunderstorms, I’d love to hear what you do.

Image Credit: Lightning on the Columbia River

Aug 24

Reliability Monitor1

I occasionally post about how I try to resolve any unusual happenings on my Windows 7 PC so it may help others in the same boat. Yesterday, my son was playing a YouTube video when the PC shut down abruptly. I wasn’t there at the time. He restarted it again okay but he didn’t reopen the browser as he thought the crash was caused by a virus. After he told me what had happened, my first thoughts weren’t a virus but either overheating or a hardware problem, possibly the hard drive or the power supply. I’d installed my 1 TB hard drive with Windows 7 in November 2009 so it’s almost 3 years old now. The power supply must be at least 6 years old.

So fearing the worst, I booted up the next day and figured I’d check it out with some free utilities – Acronis Drive Monitor, Windows Reliability Monitor and Windows Event Viewer to see if they might give a clue to explain the Windows crash.
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Aug 20

I still enjoy listening to tech podcasts, particularly in the car or when out walking and occasionally blog about the tech podcasts I enjoy. I thought I should update the list as my last post on this subject was over a year ago and I’ve discovered some great new ones since then.


Ask Lifehacker podcast has been going since about February and covers tech tips and advice, great downloads and answers listeners’ questions. A great tech podcast and well worth checking out.

Technophilia podcast features three writers from the MakeUseOf team, and has been running since November last year. It covers tech news, tech tips, gaming  and some tech discussion. A bit more banter and discussion here than in the Lifehacker podcast, and if it bothers you, some profanity.

Experts Exchange

The Experts Exchange Tech News podcast covers the latest tech news and often has a guest expert who contributes on the Experts Exchange Q&A forums.

I’ve started listening to a couple of others but don’t know if they’ll become regulars yet so I’ll leave them to the next tech podcast update. Finally, a mention again for Tech-Vets. This tech podcast with Carey Holzman and Mike Smith is one I try to listen to soon after downloading it. These guys dispense great tech tips and advice and is well worth checking out. There were a couple of great shows recently when Mike reinstalled Windows 7 and added an SSD. There’s lots to pick up on in there.

What tech podcasts do you listen to? Any great ones I’ve missed?

Aug 14
Life and Sport after London 2012
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 August 14, 2012| icon32 Comments »

Olympic Athletics 2012

We’ve all just had a thrilling 2 weeks of Olympic sport. In Beijing in 2008, Team GB finished fourth in the medal table with 19 golds and with Russia ahead of us in 3rd place. In London, Team GB finished third in the medal table with 29 golds, ahead of Russia this time, although they pushed us hard towards the end finishing with 24 golds and more medals overall.

I’m old enough to remember great Olympic performances in the past from the likes of Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis, and even further back to David Hemery in Mexico and Ann Packer in Tokyo 1964, but for me, London 2012 has really been the most memorable Olympics of them all, probably thanks to a fantastic all-round performance from Team GB and of course to the great sportsmanship and grace of all the participants, barring just a couple. Humility in winning (for example, Sir Chris Hoy), grace in accepting silver or bronze (Tom Daley), respect for their rivals, all after 4 years of supreme dedication and sacrifice to their sport, is what makes the Olympics a really special sporting event. There were a few ‘on the day’ performances when someone can just have a blinder and take gold beating the favourites for the title, as opposed to the ‘inevitable gold’ where heroes like Usain Bolt easily triumph. I think if the 100 metres had been run again the next day, there would still only have been one winner. It’s difficult to pick out special performances, but three stand out for me – Sir Chris Hoy in the keirin and Mo Farah in the 5000 m, both showing terrific determination to successfully hold off the opposition on the final lap to claim well deserved victories. And a supreme performance from Andy Murray in the tennis.

We’re now faced with ‘Olympics withdrawal’, and returning to the inevitable humdrum daily sporting fixtures that the media think we want to see and hear. In the UK and especially Scotland where football (soccer to some of you) is king, we’ll be smothered with previews, live commentaries and radio phone-ins from now through until next May. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more regular coverage of the Olympic sports we rarely see here like, say, Taekwondo and handball. To finish, I thought I’d pull out a couple of aspects of sport post-Olympics that could do with an Olympic facelift.

Football – From players feigning injury, play acting and arguing with the referee, to managers trying to argue that black is white, or that grey is black or white, to radio commentators and spectators moaning about referees’ decisions, we could all learn a lot from the Olympic ethos. Guys, incorrect or marginal refereeing decisions will probably even out over the season, just accept them with grace and get on with it. Wouldn’t it be nice to see some of the Olympic sportsmanship in football, particularly grace in defeat. But then perhaps football has a different audience from an Olympic audience. Joey Barton has written a post on what the London Olympics might teach football in the UK, echoing some of my sentiments.

Boxing – So why do all boxers have to perform that mean stereotypical face-off at weigh-ins? Wouldn’t it be so refreshing if they were friendly and polite with each other at the weigh-in. Keep your aggression for the ring.

So time now to unplug post-London 2012, get my old bike out of the shed, and wait patiently for Rio 2016. How are you going to get through the next 4 years? Are you taking up a new sport? Are you in training for competition? What puts you off or annoys you in sport post-Olympics? Drop a comment below.

Image credit: Olympic Athletics 2012

Aug 9

If you’ve been following my series of posts on scheduling automatic backups to the cloud, you’ll have read how it’s possible to select just the daily, changed files for backup. It occurred to me when setting this up that what I also needed to be able to do is delete files older than a certain age from the backup folder.

Why delete files?

Well for me, my main backup location is my external hard drive. As a secondary backup, I backup all important daily business files to my cloud storage until a client job is satisfactorily completed, then I can delete them from this secondary storage. Another reason for deleting files is when a business client specifies that I delete them a certain number of days after job completion. Finally, most cloud storage providers only give you a limited amount of free storage, so it’s useful to be able to delete files older than a certain age to prevent going over the free quota.

Batch file to delete old files

A quick Google search revealed that Windows includes a program called forfiles which will do this job – I had no idea about this! Here’s the basic line you’ll need to add to your backup batch file:

forfiles.exe /p “C:\<directory with files>” /s /m *.* /d -<number of days> /c “cmd /c del @file”

Looks daunting, but it’s just the program name followed by a number of parameters. What follows /p is the path to the files to delete; /s tells the program to delete from subfolders as well; what follows /m specifies the file types to delete; what follows /d is the key parameter here and selects files with a last modified date earlier than or equal to (-) the current date minus the number of days specified, e.g. /d –45 would delete files older than 45 days; what follows /c runs the specified command on the path specified earlier. Command strings are enclosed in quotation marks.

I’ve added this to my scheduled batch file given in the earlier post so it now backs up encrypted daily files and also deletes all files older than 45 days. These changes are then synced to my cloud storage.

Finally, a word of warning. Deleting files is dangerous, especially when you are setting up scheduled automated deletion. Be sure to back up all you data before testing and implementing this routine.

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