Dell DVD Driver fix for Windows 7

December 8, 2010

Todays minor annoyance was found when trying to burn a CD from iTunes after upgrading to Windows 7.

My DVD+-RW (Optiarc AD-7580s to be exact) was not recognized by my system, at all.

The Dell provided firmware upgrade would not run as it would not recognize the drive (and I didn’t think it was a firmware thing anyway). There were no drivers to be found, even after scanning a handful of sketchy ad-laden driver sites.

Eventually I arrived at this page, and a quick registry edit later I was on my way, burning up a storm.

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Dell Inspiron 530 Wireless Network Repair

May 7, 2009

The problem: Customer installed wireless network card not detecting networks. Should be working fine as a few months ago I had removed this card from the machine and installed it in another machine from the same house (apparently the kids needed to move the computers around)

Everything looks fine from the outside:

What horrors lurk within?

What horrors lurk within?

Before even thinking about booting it up, I pop the case open and discover this:

Just tuck it in there, it'll be fine.

Just tuck it in there, it'll be fine.

I would have thought that the white slot would have been a pretty obvious place to plug the card in. Guess not. They also somehow managed to unplug the front audio jacks - you can see the yellow connector behind the card. Here is what it is supposed to look like:

That looks a little more technical-like, doesn't it?

That looks a little more technical-like, doesn't it?

Maybe I am taking this sort of knowledge for granted – I have been messing around with hardware like this for almost twenty years, after all. It has been interesting to watch computers gradually transition from something that would be meticulously researched before purchase to something that you pick up at Walmart for a few hundred bucks. I guess the same thing happens with most technology – automobiles and radios spring to mind, I’m sure that there are other examples. This must be that “better living through science” that they’ve been telling us about.

After installing the card, I plug the machine in and power it up. Nothing happens. I take an educated wild guess that for some reason on this particular machine I need to have the card in slot one, so I move it over:

Maybe the card will play nicer with this slot.

Maybe the card will play nicer with this slot.

Success! A computer shop would have charged at least $50 for this repair, which took about five minutes, start to finish (including my initial wrong slot choice). My client claims that she spent four hours on the phone with tech support last night. I doubt that they have a menu choice for this particular problem.

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Protect your computer using Deep Freeze

April 30, 2009

I often have people ask me about specific problems that their computers are having such as an application that won’t open, programs freezing or websites not loading properly, among other things.

The thing about our standard Windows-based home PC’s is that they aren’t very “robust”. Over time, after enough little doodads and applications are installed, things can get bogged down and finicky. Windows has never been very good about preventing applications from messing with other applications, or cleaning out unneeded debris that may affect how your system runs.

99% of the time, the best fix for a computer that’s acting up is to reinstall the operating system from scratch. The time taken to troubleshoot and attempt to repair any of the multitude of potential problems with your machine is time wasted, really, as you can never be sure that you have fixed things 100%. 

If you have an external hard drive, this can be relatively straightforward - copy all of your data over to the external drive and reinstall Windows and all of your drivers and applications. This can be a fairly time consuming process, so it’s not something that you want to have to do every month.

I have used an application in the past that can keep your PC in a perpetual “brand new” state. This software is called Deep Freeze. What it does, essentially, is completely refresh your system every time you reboot the computer. You can literally install every virus laden piece of software known to man on your computer, format the hard drive, mess with system settings or any number of damaging things – reboot your computer and you’re right back to a brand new install. You can set the software to leave your documents, pictures, music or movies alone, or you can have it wipe everything, every time.

I installed this software on a pair of public computers at a convenience store and they ran with zero maintenance for 8 years. This is truly a “set it and forget it” application.

This software would be perfect for anyone with kids using a computer, or even for any less experienced user – this takes away the “what if I break something” issue completely, as salvation is only a reboot away.

Deep Freeze isn’t free – it costs $45 bucks and you can download it directly from the website. There is a free 30 day trial that you can download if you want to see if the software will meet your needs. If you decide that you might go this route, I really recommend that you have you computer wiped and refreshed before you install it for maximum computing enjoyment.

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Mitre Saw Brush Replacement

April 27, 2009

I recently inherited a sliding mitre saw that needed a bit of work. The motor would no longer turn, alternating between doing nothing and arcing and sparking from the end of the motor when the trigger was pulled.

The first thing to look at with any motorized tool in this case are the brushes. Simply put, the brushes help transfer the electricity from the stationary part of the motor to the spinning part. Since the carbon brushes are constantly being worn away, eventually they will shink to the point where they are no longer able to apply enough pressure to transfer the electricity. This is why you get the arcing and sparking.

Thankfully, replacing brushes is one of the simplest repairs you can undertake on your tools. You will notice two round screws on opposite sides near the end of the motor. These screwcaps hold the brushes in.

One of two brush caps on my mitre saw

One of two brush caps on my mitre saw

I removed one of the caps and found a number stamped in the side. From here it was a quick ebay search with my saw’s model number and I had found my new brushes. The Tool Dude from thetooldude.com had the parts that I needed, and thankfully he shipped to Canada as well. For around $12 I had my new brushes purchased and on the way.

After about a week of waiting patiently, my new brushes showed up in the mailbox.

Replacement brushes

Replacement brushes

Here you can see how worn the old brushes were – over half of the material is gone! It is interesting to note what appears to be a thinner spring and copper wire on the replacement brush – they must be saving a fraction of a penny on each brush.

Old brush is on the left, new brush on the right.

Old brush is on the left, new brush on the right.

It was a simple matter of removing my brush caps, removing the old brushes and sliding the new ones in, and I was back in action.

Removing the brush cap screw.

Removing the brush cap screw.

The only part of this operation that you could possible do wrong would be to not properly line up the brass contact end into the slot that it goes into – on some motors this won’t matter, on mine I had to line up the protruding pieces on the side of the contact.

Inserting new brush.

Inserting new brush.

Along with a brand new blade, the saw is cutting as good as new! I’m glad I was able to delay the $750+ hit a new saw would have been. I will get a few years out of this saw, I think.

Next on the shopping list is a nice standfor my saw – no more fiddling around on the ground for me! Any stand that I buy will be universal, so I can continue to use it even if I upgrade my saw.

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The basics of PA selection for bands

April 26, 2009
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photo by sparktography

I see many bands, young and old, starting out without a clear idea of the sort of equipment that they need to get started with some basic gigging. I decided to write up a quick guide to the bare minimum you will need to get started. My opinions are based on shows that I have done over the past dozen or so years of my life, both as a performer and as a sound engineer.

I’d advise against renting, as the markup is extreme – the sooner you buy the stuff yourself the sooner you can start making it pay for itself through gigging. If anything, try to borrow and scrape together enough gear to get some gigs that pay enough to reinvest some money back into equipment. If the band is tight, everybody could chip in at first, but make sure that you have an agreement in place for when things go south, or a member quits (because this will happen).

What I am outlining below will get you through a standard pub/small bar/wedding gig. It won’t be thunderingly loud, but then, it shouldn’t be, really – your main priority is an even mix with the vocals on top and audible. If your singer sucks, get a new one – don’t think that you can just turn them down in the mix. The audience will notice.

Here’s what you need:

A Pair of “mains” speakers – 15″ woofers with 2″ compression driver tweeters (I have these Yamaha S115V’s, and they’re a nice speaker.) – but there are dozens of brands to choose from – try to get something with similar specs. These speakers have mounting sockets on the bottom, and you will want to get some speaker stands to get them up off the ground and closer to ear level.

A pair of or three “monitor” speakers – 12″s are fine here to start. Three gives you two up front and one for the drummer, which is nice. This is the monitor version of the above – same speaker, just in a wedge shape so it will sit on the floor. Monitors help all of the band members hear the singers and guitarists. This will greatly increase the comfort level of all members. It’s easy to get caught up with the monitor mixes, but I don’t think it’s worth spending a ton of time on at this level. When you make it big, you will have somebody whose job it is to make sure that every member has their own monitor mix. Until then, just suck it up and make it work.

A mixer with 8-16 channels (8 will do fine to start, more will give you more flexibility in the future). Nothing too fancy is required here. As long as you have XLR inputs (which anything but the cheapest dollar-store mixer will), you’ll be fine. You get what you pay for, of course – higher end mixers will have nicer EQ sections and more options for monitor mixes.

Power amps to drive all of your speakers – anything with more wattage than your speakers can handle will be fine.  (not enough watts can lead to distortion and damaged speakers). Stereo sound is not really necessary, and can sound odd in small rooms anyway. A two channel amp to start with will let you run your mains on one side and your monitors on the other. There are speaker impedance (ohms) matching considerations to be made, but it’s pretty tough to end up with something that won’t work.

A Shure SM-58 microphone and a stand and a long cable for each singer. Accept no substitutes here – the SM-58 is the one you want.

Cables to hook up each speaker. Instrument cables and speaker cables are not the same, even though they may have the same ends! The speakers I linked above use Speakon connectors along with 1/4″. I would recommend that you get cables with Speakon ends as they are a more durable, electrically superior connection. For cheap and long cables, buy some 100′ extension cords, cut the ends off and solder on some Speakons.

Cables to hook mixer to power amps. These will either be XLR or balanced 1/4″ (three conductor). Nothing special here, a cable is a cable in this case.

Power bars and extension cords. Bring more than you think you’ll need, especially if you are playing somewhere that you have never played before. Mark them all with your name or the name of your band, and be vigilant about rounding them all up at the end of the night. It is nearly impossible at times, but try to balance out your gear so that you aren’t running every piece of equipment off of the same circuit.

Eventually you may want to add more mics in order to mic the instrument amps, but that probably won’t be necessary at first, and will only make it difficult on whoever has assumed the role of sound engineer. Guitar amps are very directional, so if you are going to mic anything, make it a guitar amp. Try not to make it any louder, just fuller – the PA speakers will help to spread the sound over the room, as opposed to a single laser-beam of sound pointing at some unsuspecting audience members head.

Your main priority for these gigs is getting the vocals audible over the rest of the instruments (particularly the drums. This depends greatly on your drummers ability to moderate the volume of his playing). Try to make sure that all players are on the same page with regards to what the group should sound like. Don’t let a loud drummer or guitarist dictate the sound of the band.

Above all else – practice your sets and sound good! If you’re getting paid, you owe it to the owner and your audience to work for your money.

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Backing up your digital pictures and other data

April 23, 2009
External Hard Drive by misbehave
photo by misbehave

I have had a few conversations lately regarding digital pictures and the desire to back them up.

As we all know, if your hard drive crashes, you may lose all of your digital pics – and there are no negatives to save you! Data recovery is sometimes possible, but it can be expensive, and is never a sure thing.

In the past, backups (if they were done at all) have been done by burning to CD’s or DVD’s. This is an effective but time-consuming process, and it can be tricky to keep track of what has been backed up and what has not. You can only fit so many photos on a disk, and if you have lots of high-resolution pics you will need many disks.

In my opinion, a more efficient and effective method of backup is using external hard drives to make a complete copy of your data.

This page contains a wide selection of external hard drives, starting at around $70.

Anything with storage capacity over 80gb would be large enough to store all of an average user’s pictures. The external hard drive is something that would plug into your USB port and let you simply copy your entire “My Documents” folder over for a complete backup. You could do this as often or infrequently as you feel necessary. Once you have completed backing up your data, you should unplug and remove the external drive and store it somewhere safe.

In the data backup industry, a backup is not considered fully effective until there are multiple copies, and at least one of them is located “off-site” in order to protect your data from fire or theft. If you want to take things this far, it would be a pretty simple matter to buy an additional drive and keep it at a friend’s house or in a safe deposit box. (Not something that I bother with, but I do like to live life on the wild side)

Backing up your data is one of those unglamorous things that nobody thinks about until they lose valuable pics or data. Don’t let it happen to you!

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Beginnings

April 22, 2009
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I’m not the type of person to write about my daily experiences. I have much respect and a tinge of envy for those that are able to write about the things that they do and have happen to them in such a way that they jump off of the page and form pictures in my mind.

Perhaps I am overly critical of myself, but I find that whenever I try to do that sort of writing it ends up feeling flat and forced. This is the same problem that affects me as a musician – I can perform other peoples material, but have never felt that I had anything to say lyrically that was worth committing to song.

What is the purpose of this blog, then? I am going to try to use this space to document some of the innumerable projects I have going on at any given time. I love working with my hands and solving problems, and I like to think that saving some of my techniques and processes in this space may help out a future googler working on a similar project.

I actually have a backlog of material that I will post here over the coming weeks and months. Some projects are completed, and some will provide details of ongoing efforts.

I hope that you will find my writing informative, inspirational or even entertaining.

Talk to you soon.

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