Tag Archives: connectivity

The Internet Thingy’s not working

I don’t know the answer to any computer problems! I keep telling my family this, but it doesn’t stop them phoning me constantly when their computer stops doing what it should.I mostly leave them disappointed. This is because I am not good figuring out the right answer, first time over the phone. If I start to ask questions, there always seems to be a slightly disappointed voice on the other end saying, “it’s OK if you don’t know, I’ll ask the guy at work”.

Now this is quite unfair because the guy at work has the same problem as me: he doesn’t know the answer, but he has one major advantage over me – he gets the opportunity to solve the problem.

That’s right, I don’t know the answers to any computer problems. What I do know is a way of quickly working out answers.

Problems like not getting internet access, which is normally described to me as “the internet thingy’s not working”.

The problem could be with:

  1. The program you are using (eg, Internet Explorer).
  2. Your network adapter (the service that allows you to communicate with your network).
  3. The firewall software on your computer.
  4. Your network card (the piece of hardware with flashing lights that your network cable plugs into).
  5. Your local area network (normally the blue cables running around your office).
  6. Any hubs or switches on your network.
  7. Your gateway to the internet (the ADSL modem, router or firewall).
  8. The connection between your gateway and your ISP (the telephone lines).
  9. The connection between your ISP and the internet.
  10. The cables between Australia and overseas.

How am I expected to figure this out first time over the phone? Computers are complex things. Just because things have become easier to use doesn’t mean they are simpler.

Remember, an automatic car is more complicated than a manual, even though it’s easier to drive. Simplicity of user interface comes at a cost behind the scenes.

But here’s what I nomally do when faced with “the internet thingy’s not working”. I could call it a binary search skewed by expert knowledge, but it’s probably easier to call it a checklist.

1. Ask someone else on your network if they can access the internet.

If the answer is yes: aha, the problem is probably in your computer. If no, your network guy should be brought in to solve the problem.

2. Check whether the blue cables plugged into your computer are actually pushed in and have “clicked”.

3. If you are connected to the rest of your network via a hub or switch, make sure there are flashing lights on the front of it. (Powercords regularly get kicked out).

4. If you are working from home, check to make sure your ADSL modem or router has lights flickering on the front of it.

5. If everything is OK at a physical level, check to see whether other programs can access the internet. Can you still get email?

6. If nothing can access the internet, try this: restart your computer. This does wonders in a Windows environment.

7. There are lots more tricks up my sleeve to solve the problem, but if you have got this far and still can’t figure it out, then ring for the computer guy.

Unless of course you are a member of my family. In that case take a breath, remind yourself that Brendan doesn’t enjoy providing free computer advice over the phone and needs you to be really specific if he is going to help you.

Its cool and its free

Here’s a cool piece of software that can save you money.Most small office networks have a file server. Now you can buy a monitor for that computer, which will rarely be turned on, or you can use remote control software to operate the computer, without having to have a monitor or waste time moving over to the computer to operate it.This remote control software is also handy in situations where you may want to have a look at a computer that you are nowhere near (or even your home computer). It’s a great tool for troubleshooting.

Anyway, the product, PCAnywhere, has been around forever. What you probably don’t know is that for small solutions, you can use a product called VNC for free. That’s right: free, as in it costs you nothing.

Why would VNC do this? So if you want to use their bigger solutions, you will be already on their path and be happy to pay for an upgrade. But for most small users, this isn’t going to happen.

When installing VNC, you have to install it on two computers (kind of obvious). One is the server – the one your want to control. The other computer is setup to be the viewer – the computer you use to do the controlling.

Now you can achieve the same solution using Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop in Windows. Windows Remote solution under Windows XP is accessed via Control Panel>System>Remote.

However, both computers have to be using the correct version of Windows, and it’s a lot harder to connect up this solution when the computers reside on different networks. Effectively, it means that you are unlikely to get it going without assistance.

VNC, however, works across any TCP/IP network. Yes, the internet is a TCP/IP network. Plus it comes in lots of different flavours, including Windows, Linux and even a Java-based version that runs on almost anything.

VNC is available at www.realnvc.com

Chuck your Monitor

Here’s a cool piece of software that can save you money.

Most small office networks have a file server. Now you can buy a monitor for that computer that will rarely get turned on, or you can use remote control software to operate the computer, without having to have a monitor or waste time moving over to the computer to operate it.

This remote control software is also handy in situations where you may want to have a look at a computer that you are no where near (or even your home computer). Its a great tool for troubleshooting.

Anyway the product PCAnywhere has been around for ever. What you don’t probably know is that for small solutions, you can use a product called VNC for free. That’s right, free as in it costs you nothing. Why would VNC do this? So if you want to use their bigger solutions, you will be already on their path and be happy to pay for an upgrade. But for most small users, this isn’t going to happen.

When installing VNC, you have to install it on two computers (kind of obvious). One computer is the server, the one your want to control. The other computer is setup to be the viewer, the computer you use to do the controlling.

Now you can achieve the same solution using Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop in Windows. Windows Remote solution under Windows XP is accessed via Control Panel -> System –>Remote. However both computers have to be using the correct version of Windows, and it’s a lot harder to connect up this solution when the computers reside on different networks. Effectively it means that you are unlikely to get it going without assistance.

VNC however works across any TCP/IP network, yes the Internet is a TCP/IP network. Plus comes in lots of different flavours, including windows, linux and even a java based version that runs on almost anything.

VNC is available at www.realnvc.com

Real time metering, now that’s smart

I read last week that the accelerated rollout of smart meters is on the table at the federal-state COAG summit (click here to read the news story).

Smart meters gauge electricity use every 30 minutes, unlike most existing meters that are read every three months. A friend who works for an energy retailer seems to think this is a fantastic idea. This new technology is considered to be smart because you can tailor your electricity use exploit cheaper tariffs.

What’s frightening for me is that in today’s climate change environment, we are rolling out technology that should have been installed 25 years ago and calling it smart.

Now a couple of weeks ago I went to a luncheon discussion some of the technologies that were being rolled out in Springfield, Queensland. Steve Outtrim, the entrepreneur behind Sausage Software, is heading a team installing a whole heap of cool gadgets into homes there. The thing that interested me most was the smart meters they are using.

Their smart meters are networked, meaning you can look at your electricity costs in real time (exactly how much is that grunty new air conditioner costing you?). It also means the electricity sales companies can be sent your consumption in 30-second segments (rather than 30-minute segments). Guess what? No meterman tromping through your property, and no dodgy electricity bills. And the meter can be remotely turned off the moment you finish your tenancy, so you don’t get hit by bills that belong to other parties.

Smart meters are also able to monitor how much electricity you could potentially “sell back to the grid” if you had devices such as windmills on your property.

It also appears that there is a company in Europe that is trialling using smart meters paired with smart controls on devices in office blocks.

Effectively when the power grid approaches peak load, their control systems turn down power use in the office blocks by putting some pre-agreed systems, such as air-conditioners, into a lower electricity use setting (such as only running air-conditioning half the time and letting the temperature go up by two degrees).

Their customers get a cut of the savings made, by delivering megawatts of what is effectively green, cheap power into the grid. No need to build new power stations!

That’s what I call smart metering. And any company can access this type of technology if they are interested in managing their own power usage and costs.