Monday 29 September 2014

A Sort and Battery

One of the most common questions we ask regarding mobile phones is "Why doesn't my battery last very long any more?"

This is particularly the case with smart phones, and when you look at the industry at the moment, we would guess that over 95% of phones sold on the market now fit this category.

So why does the battery seem to fail so quickly? Are you finding that you're having to charge the phone every night, or even partway through the day ?

While there are items on the market to help with this issue (We have stock ourselves of emergency phone batteries that you can carry in your bag to charge your phone up while you're out and about) it doesn't answer the question "WHY?" 

One of the things to remember with smart phones is that they're no longer just a phone.  They contain GPS systems to work as SatNav, they collect emails, connect to your social networks, take pictures, videos, messaging systems, train timetables, internet viewing, music processing systems and that's just the START of some of the apps that people most commonly have on their phone.

People say that they close the apps down after use, but what is commonly forgotten is that a lot of the apps run in the background, as system services.  Some of these services include "location services" a way that the phone can tell the app exactly where it is. This might be to stamp on a photo the location where the picture was taken, or might be so that it can post your location when you update your Facebook status.

Some of these might be important, especially if it's the core reason you have the app installed - like a SatNav. But we certainly need to ask if it's vital for this service to be constantly running if we don't particularly NEED that feature on that app. Do we really need people to know exactly WHERE we were when we posted a comment? Could that be a security risk for example (i.e. comment posted when we are not at home, means our home is empty?)

By going through the settings of the phone and switching off some of these location services, this will greatly increase the life of the battery.

Other tips include switching off PUSH notifications, on emails (particularly if we prefer to check for messages, instead of the phone pinging at us every time we receive an email).

Screen brightness is another feature we can reduce. You might not notice a small drop in screen brightness for most of the time you use the phone, but this will greatly increase the battery life.

The way we charge the phone is equally important. Regular charging a battery when it's not necessary can actually reduce the life of the battery. Installing a battery charging app can be a valuable way to ensure that the battery gets the charge at the correct rate and receives a proper schedule of charging.

Why not go through the apps that you currently have in your phone and ask yourself how many times you've used that app in the past month or so.  By good housekeeping, we can all improve the service life of the device that could be a life saver - if treated with care.

Tuesday 2 September 2014


I hope I'm not the only person that was a little sceptical about "The Cloud" when it arrived.  I'll confess that the thought of all my data being out of my control, possibly open to attack, made my hair stand up on the back of my neck.

I won't say that I'm stuck in the 80's or 90's, but I guess I like to ensure that technology is going to work as it says it will before I jump in with both feet. 
Is that a lack of faith in the tech? Maybe it's just I'm getting tired of spending late nights trying to repair the damage caused by the early leaping.

As an example, we've been using a Dropbox account to synchronise data between two offices.  Two servers have their own accounts and share a folder so that work we create on one server is available moments later on the other. It's not instant, but it's quick enough for the purpose of the documents we're creating, and gives us the confidence we needed to rest our hopes on the backup element too.

Interestingly, we had an email from Dropbox to say that our account had been upgraded free from 50GB storage, to 1TB.  This made me sit up.  Currently, we make backups of our server onto 1TB USB drives which are on rotation. Now, with a little folder re-organisation, we can throw all the slow and static data into the Dropbox folder, which gets synchronised within moments.

Suddenly the need for the backup drives is dying.  The worry that the drives will fail, the concern that the backup software didn't do the job, the risk of a fire, the worry of the drives being stolen off site....

Is my view being clouded? Maybe. Maybe in this case, that's a good thing after all.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

DNS Its All in a Name

We use them every day, and yet behind the scenes things happen pretty quick to disguise what's really going on. What is it? 

DNS - Domain Name Server.  This is a computer that sits on a network (in this instance the internet) and converts a fancy domain into a slightly harder to remember IP Address.  Confused yet?

Basically, every computer that sits on a network is assigned an IP Address. IPv6 is the newest standard, but for today's purposes we'll look at the IPv4 version, which is a set of 4 numbers separated by a dot.  Each number can go from 0 to 255 so an IP Address might take a format like this -

As you can imagine, with each set of numbers ranging from 0 - 254, you can have a lot of numbers. 4,294,967,296 in fact.  You can't have duplicates, so each computer has a unique address on that network.

Now, lets say you want to look at a web page on one of those computers.  I'd like to search for a new watering can, so I might typically go to Ebay to have a look. 

So I go into my internet browser and in the top I type

Ah, browsing Ebay is so much fun. I must Google and find some news to read. Google is http://173.794.41.83

Oh, look out the window, there is my window cleaner. And on the side of his van he has his web site

Wait a minute. That's a bit hard to remember, isn't it? And to make matters worse, tomorrow I might find that Googles IP address has changed as one of their servers might be down for maintenance....

Surely it's easier to remember or ?   This is where a DNS Server comes in.  It's job is to keep record of domain names (i.e. and remember which IP address they point to. When you type in your browser, a Domain Name Server will quickly translate that into the correct and current IP address and your browser will find the web site there.

The importance of a Domain Name Server is apparent, without them running in the background, the internet would be a totally different experience.

Monday 23 June 2014

What A Difference A Drive Makes

One of the questions we get asked the most is "How can I make my computer run faster?" 

This is obviously a very open question as there are so many things you can do to speed up your computer.  Much of which depend on time and budget.

However, while a fast processor and ample memory is key to a speedy machine, often one of the factors that get forgotten is just how quickly that processor or memory can access your data.

Opening up a picture of Uncle Fred with his snorkel on his holiday in 1969 is hardly something we'd be concerned at when it comes to the speed of the hard drive.  However, when you drum your fingers on the desk after pressing the "ON" button, waiting for the operating system to fire up, or while you wait for your office suite to start, or your graphics software, it starts becoming a necessity.

In a recent machine upgrade at work, I was pleasantly surprised at the difference in speed in which my new PC got to the log in screen.  In the past, I would switch the computer on, go make a cup of coffee and return to it waiting for my password.  However, on the new machine, I am prompted for my password in a little over 30 seconds. Why?

Instead of the typical Hard Drive installed as drive "C", it has a SSD (Solid State Drive) installed.  This is a drive that takes similar technology from the USB stick, memory banks that can remember the information even without power.  The advantages are that the data can be retrieved in a flash, without waiting for the hard drive platter to start spinning, or the arm to whizz to the location where the first sector of data is stored.

While it can be argued that a standard hard drive is faster when it delivers a large chunk of data, strung together on the drive, fragmentation of the drive often means that this data is scattered around the drive thus slowing it down.

Fragmentation does not affect SSD, as the technology requires no moving parts at all, the access is almost instant.  This means that booting up windows, firing up office, and general opening of applications and writing away of data is lightning fast by comparison.

Downsides? Well, typically cost is the main set back. For £49.99 you can either get a 128gb SSD or a 1024gb (1TB) Hard Drive.

My answer was to keep a regular hard drive in my computer with my unique data on it. The O/s and all associated programs are on the SSD.  On my home computer, a slower machine than my work, I can still get booted up in under1 minute. I'm pretty impressed with that. 

So, how do you make your computer run faster? Get SSD when you can next afford it, and you'll see a speed difference almost instantaneously. 

Friday 14 February 2014

What A Scam

Share This! Pass This On! It's Not Going To Be Free!!

It surprises me just how many of these kinds of messages I see posted on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsap etc.  Messages that really do amount to simple and basic scams.

How often have you seen a message that requires that you share the post, or like to post or forward the post so that something truly amazing will happen? 

Lets analyse some of them..

"We will send out a free pair of 'x' brand trainers to everybody that clicks 'like' if we reach over 150,000 likes"

Really? You only have to click "Like" ? You don't have to provide your full name and address, or your shoe size? These trainers retail for over £50 + p&p per pair and they're willing to send out 150,000+ pairs? At a cost of over £7.5 Million ?  If you really believe that - then you best click 'like' straight away!

"<Insert Random Picture of Some Poor Child in Hospital> Share this and the more people that share this, then top businesses will donate large sums of money to cure <insert awful illness name here>"

Sigh - This is sad because people tug on our heartstrings and we just feel we want to share or click like. But which businesses have been named as offering money? No names? Oh, so are they aware of this? How are they going to keep track?


Now these are interesting because they often come with headed pictures of what looks like a letter, or an email or some authority confirming that it's true... what to do? what to do?

Well, what really IS the purpose of all these "scams" ?  Mainly to get YOUR details. WHAT ? Did you just say... yep. To get YOUR information. It's a marketing scam really. Because if they can get you to click "like" or "share" or even worse, get you to TAG your friends in the posts, they get the opportunity to bypass your privacy settings and get a scam message through to your friends, and target them with additional information or scams.

So before simply clicking "like" or "share" or spreading the word and continuing the chain letter on, why not look up the information on a web site, see if it's really true or if it's just a scam, and make an informed decision before posting it on your timeline.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Let's Talk

There was a time when your communication options amounted to telephone, fax or letter. (In fairness, there was a time when your options were papyrus and horse but moving on). We now have any number of options including mobile, text, messaging apps and social networks. Many bemoan the lack of personal communication, feeling that 'nothing beats a phone call'.

The telephone is an incredibly rude device. It's the equivalent of walking into a room and saying "talk to me now, talk to me now, talk to me now." Understandable in an emergency but fairly inexcusable otherwise. The other modern means of communication have the advantage of saying "I would like to tell you something, when you're ready."

The perception may be that a phone call will get a quicker answer and there is some truth in that, although not always. It is possible to phrase a greeting, question and sign off in three or four sentences in an email, circumventing a phone call involving a greeting, generic enquiry about life, prelude to the question, question, asking the question a different way, discovering the answer to that question is not possible straight away, an arrangement on how to find the answer, a wishing of well and saying goodbye three times. Even worse when the phonee has just come back from holiday and wants to describe it to you in detail. I'm looking at you Brian.

That is a two-way street. Personally, if I get asked a question out of the blue on the telephone, I can hear myself explaining it extremely poorly without the possibility of editing it. I can hone an email down to a work of art. It's almost Shakespearian. No really.

Of course, we are not anti-phone. This is largely about using the right tool for the right job. Still, discounting email or other electronic means of communication in the 21st century is short-sighted at best. Disagree? Let's talk about it. Text me.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

"I am invincible!"

We often hear an all too common expression "I have an apple.. ergo, I am immune to viruses"

It often makes me want to grab their face and slap them a few times in the hope of waking them up a little.

I am sorry to burst your bubble, but an apple is just another computer. It runs the same way as a PC. It has a processor, memory, hard drives, graphics chips.. it's the same.   It has an operating system which is one huge program that allows other programs to run on it.

And there, my friends, is the whole issue that tends to be ignored.

Anything can be hacked today. Anything.  We've heard of big companies being attacked by hackers and they've been running their own bespoke operating systems.  Corporations are starting to get more concerned because of cyber terrorists that could essentially hack into pretty much anything that affects our day to day living.

So why don't Apples get viruses?  *slap* They do. The fact is that they are equally as vulnerable as a Windows or Linux machine in getting a virus. The reason they don't get as many is because, like it or not, Microsoft still have about a 90% hold on the market. And thus because of this, hackers who want to have the biggest impact will have a go at the biggest market share.

Sadly, because Apples are becoming more and more popular, hackers are turning their attention toward these devices and writing some nasty code. Soon, there will be more viruses spreading around.

However, now is the time to wake up and realise that your system is not impervious to being hacked. All the time you have your head buried in the sand, your system could be getting data taken off it, or information ruined.

Get yourself protected. Do it now. Have a firewall set up on your router and have a highly rated anti virus running.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

How To Not Get Cut By The Cutting Edge

By virtue of the industry we work in, we're quite keen to keep ourselves up-to-date. That obviously means ensuring our operating systems, anti-virus and other software are the latest versions. Updating will often add new features and fix problems, whether obvious or behind the scenes. Generally, it's a good idea, although not without exception.

Most modern phones also run operating systems, likely iOS or Android. One of our programmers recently updated his phone to the latest Android version, only to find it slow to a crawl and become dangerously close to unusable. A little research established he was not alone and it took about a month for a fix to be issued. The problem traced back to the phone manufacturer rather than Google but it was a frustrating few weeks.

So regular updating is valuable, but it's often worth not being in the very first wave of up-takers. Waiting for any early reports of problems may save you a lot of difficulties in the long run.