Friday, July 31, 2015

The Windows 10 Giveaway

As of Wednesday Microsoft started giving away Windows 10.  What would you be giving away if you upgrade?  Privacy?  Security?  Performance? #UpgradeYourWorld

According to the Free Software Foundation1:
  • Windows' 10's privacy policy asserts the privilege to sell almost any information it wants about users, even creating a unique advertising ID for each user to sweeten the deal.
  • Microsoft announced that, starting with Windows 10, it will begin forcing lower-paying users to test less-secure new updates before giving higher-paying users the option of whether or not to adopt them.
  • Microsoft is reported to give the NSA special security tip-offs that it could use to crack into Windows computers.

"What am I supposed to do about it?" I hear you ask.

Close Windows, Open Doors
Close Windows, Open Doors


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Undo the Default App Selection in Android

Here's the scenario....  Your Android device presents you with a choice of apps to complete an action with.  You're supposed to select the app and then select either "Just Once" or "Always."  Either way the app opens to complete the action.

If you selected "Just Once" you'll have to choose again the next time you need to complete that same action.  That might seem annoying.  But what if it's the wrong choice?  If you choose "Always" you won't get to choose again, at least not easily.  And if the app cannot complete the action successfully, what then?

According to many lame blog posts and webzine articles, it's "easy" to change your mind after choosing "Always."  They say to just press the app's "Clear Defaults" button.  Here's one such article on AndroidCentral.

Fortunately AndroidCentral is swarming with brilliant users who are much more sophisticated than the folks who write the articles.  I say "fortunately" because when I needed to change the option of using Photos for downloading an image file attachment, the article's advice was useless because Photos' "Clear Defaults" button was greyed out.

A user called Siddhartha Gupta suggested that to remove Photos as the default app, it's necessary to change the setting for Google+.  That didn't work, either.

A user called ChromeJob pointed out that there's "a 'reset app preferences' in the action overflow button. This appears to reset ALL default app choices at once."  If only it were that easy for me.  It didn't work.

The thing that finally worked for me was to revert to the factory version of Photos by pressing the "Uninstall Updates" button.  After doing that, I was presented with a choice of two other apps to use.  The idea to alter Photos' version came to me after reading a comment byGrillMouster who stated that "when any of those apps receive an update the ["Just Once" / "Always"] dialog will pop up again, even if you had previously set an app as the default."

If you want the very gory details of why Photos didn't work, please read on to find out what I was trying to do.

I had used Firefox to log in to an Exchange Server using an Outlook Web Access (OWA) client hosted on a web page.  I then opened an e-mail that had a JPG file attached to it.  When I attempted to download the attachment, OWA again wanted me to provide my username and password.  Photos was unable to handle that request (and neither was Firefox).  It was only by completing the action with ES File Explorer File Manager that I found out about the need to provide username and password.  I've included this detail in case there are others who are having trouble downloading attachments with OWA.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

My Recent Repair of a Laptop AC Adpater

Yesterday, my laptop wouldn't charge when I plugged it in.  The battery had drained overnight, so the laptop was unusable.  I quickly figured out that the AC adapter has suddenly stopped working.

My nearby Staples had a universal adapter in stock at 20% off, so I picked it up and was soon back in business.

But then I wondered why the "old" adapter had failed. The technician at Staples said that most fail due to a broken wire near the connector that plugs in to the computer.  I know that if you flex any wire enough that it will break.  But this computer was kept in the kitchen at home, and the cable stayed in one place most of the time.  I decided to take it apart and fix it.

Most of the repair guides for Laptop AC Adapters resolve a break or short in the wire at one of the ends of the DC cable.  One even recommends that you cut off the connector, and splice a new connector on, which is silly given that no casual user has a spare connector lying around.  This same guide says that if there's no voltage after cutting off the connector, the adapter is dead and you have to buy a new one.  Turns out, that's not true at all.

My repair approach was different.  I decided that I would crack open the adapter housing and then verify continuity from the circuit board to the connector with a DMM.  But as soon as I removed the housing, I saw the problem: Cold Solder Joints.  Whoever soldered the wires to the circuit board failed to thoroughly heat up both the pad and the wire.  So the solder didn't flow down the via hole and fully coat the wire.  This never would have passed inspection at my company.

I fired up my soldering iron and reflowed the three connections in less than two minutes.  It took at least five times longer for me to break open the housing.  Message to manufacturers of consumer electronics: If you won't bother to assemble the electronics properly, at least design the housings so that they're easy to take apart and put back together!  I glued it back together with RTV, and it's curing as I write this.

I've fixed several items with this type of reflow repair, including a fairly expensive audio receiver.  A soldering iron and the ability to use it can keep you from throwing out perfectly good electronics.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Free Excel Tutorial

I'm still using Excel 2003 at work.  It does all we need it to do.

And at home, Open Office's Calc is so compatible that I can forgo Excel completely, although I still use the Excel Viewer.

But there are some really neat features of the latest Excel.  I especially like Data Bars and Color Scales.

To learn more about them, I studied this Excel Tutorial from Udemy.

Some of the other tutorial sections were helpful, too.  For example, Pivot Tables have been updated.  What used to be Page Fields is now Filter.  And unlike Page, Filter allows you to choose more than one value.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Reverse the Order of Worksheets in an Excel Workbook

Today I found myself wanting to reverse the order of sheet tabs in an Excel file.  The VBA code snippet below does just that.

Sub Worksheet_Reverse_Order()
Dim MySheet As Worksheet
Dim i As Integer

For Each MySheet In Worksheets
Debug.Print MySheet.Index, MySheet.Name

For i = 2 To Worksheets.Count
Set MySheet = Worksheets(i)
MySheet.Move before:=Worksheets(1)
Next i

For Each MySheet In Worksheets
Debug.Print MySheet.Index, MySheet.Name

End Sub

I had been maintaining weekly status updates as Excel spreadsheets, all grouped into one XLS document.  Each week I'd add a new sheet to the right of the previous week's worksheet tab.

But due to a change in workflow, I now have to copy the new sheet into that workbook rather than create it in the workbook.  In order to keep placing the new sheet after all the others, it's necessary to scroll to the end of the list of sheets and select "(move to end)".

"It would be so much easier if the sheets were in reverse order," I sighed to myself.  The thought of dragging them into reverse order manually was, well, unthinkable.  And thus this VBA macro was born.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

When Flourescent Lights Go Bad

Fluorescent lights produce a lot of light for little power.  My kitchen lights, which use two T9 bulbs, are rated at 32W, 2400lm and 22W, 1400lm1.  The bulbs are expensive and not easy to find, but they supposedly last five years.

The problem is that the performance and longevity of fluorescent lights depends on the ballast.  This is an electrical module that conditions the current, and it's not 100% efficient.  Also the ballast will degrade and eventually need to be replaced.  Sometimes a faulty ballast makes itself evident when the light flickers, or when the light doesn't turn on immediately and you need to flip the light switch off and on to get it to light.  At this point the bulbs will burn out quickly.

The ballast is even more expensive and harder to find than the bulbs.  And replacing the ballast isn't meant to be done by the consumer, although a home owner who can replace a light switch or electrical outlet will be able to replace a ballast in about ten minutes if the fixture is designed well.

I mention all this because I again find it necessary to replace the ballasts in the two kitchen lights.  In fact, I was thinking of replacing these fixtures with new fixtures that have multiple sockets for standard (Edison screw) bulbs.  I figured this was a better long-range solution because it would allow me to use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs today and then eventually graduate to LED bulbs.  Never again would I need to search for the expensive ballasts and replace them.

But I did manage to find the ballasts for quite a reasonable price.  So it didn't make sense to replace them this time.  But in ten years, if I'm still in this house, I think I'll be buying new fixtures.

1 For a comparison of the lighting efficiency of various types of bulbs, please see

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Trials with an Old Computer

About six years ago, I mused about what to do with an old computer, a 500MHz Pentium III.  My idea was to reformat the hard drive (20GB) and install one of these operating systems: Windows 2000 (already obsolete); Windows XP (facing obsolescence); and Linux (Ubuntu, although I don't recall why I decided on that flavor).

I tried all three plus Dyne:bolic, a Linux variant specialized for music and video production on under-powered computers.  Here's how I fared....

Dyne:bolic was easy to try out, and I didn't have to reformat the Window NT drive to do it.  So I tried it first.  After downloading version 2, I burned the ISO image to a CD.  It booted up just fine and I ran it from the CD.  It performed well, but it was set up for a single root-level user, and it wouldn't "play" Flash content.

Next was XP.  The first problem I had was that I couldn't activate the OS, even though I had a valid key.  But I played around with it anyway during the evaluation period.  Just twenty minutes was enough to know it would be way too slow.

Then I installed Windows 2000.  This involved a lot of tedious business with multiple CDs for the OS itself, then Service Pack 6 and then more CDs with security software and utilities.  Everything went well until I installed the antivirus program and updated it.  After that, the OS would not start.

Finally I decided to give Linux a try.  Rather than download images files, I decided to search the local public library system for Linux books that had accompanying CDs.  And I limited my search to old books, too, since I really needed the installer to be on CD-ROMs and not a DVD.  There were some Red Hat Linux books, so I got one and tried it.  It installed and ran really well except for the web browser, Mozilla, which had me pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del and longing for Task Manager to come up so I could kill it.

Of these four options, Dyne:bolic was clearly the best.  Unfortunately, by the time I got around to realizing it, Jaromil released version 3.0.0, whose 1.6GB image now must be burned onto DVD, not CD.  (I can't find the CD that had version 2 on it. And booting from USB is not an option in this computer's BIOS.)  This latest Dyne:bolic is totally awesome -- I tried the Live CD on my main home desktop (a P4), and I created a small virtual machine on my work computer, which boots the image file.

In order to run D:B3 on my PIII, I need a DVD drive.  Since I had two on my main desktop, I removed one and installed it on the PIII.  But, alas, it didn't work.  The computer detected the drive, but it won't boot from it, and Linux won't mount it.  So I think the laser is shot.  I've encountered a few non-functioning DVD drives in this manufacturer's computers, so I really do think the drive is defective.  In fact I wasn't able to boot from the drive recently when it was in the P4 that I took it out of.

So this is where I am now.  I need a working IDE DVD drive, which are expensive and/or refurbished.  There are adapters that can convert a SATA drive to IDE, but that's an extra expense I didn't want to pay.  Plus, I'm not sure this small form factor case will have any room for it, although I can put the new SATA drive with IDE adapter into the main desktop and move the working IDE DVD drive from the main desktop to the PIII if I really had to.

If / when I clear this hurdle I'll check in again.  Hopefully D:B3 will still be available!