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9 years

cute dog wearing a party hat

Well, we’re 9 years old this month.
Not really much to show for it, as every time we should be celebrating something we are reminded that Life is a complete arse.

These Days

we’ve been running for 9 years now, and beginning to wish either I gave up earlier, or got a proper contract more than a few weeks for a bigger company.
Now with everything being digital, and the COVID Crisis pushing for more remote and quickly fixable solutions, it’s thrown my onsite deployments and repair sector into disarray.

I thought my health was bad before the Crisis, getting exasperated by the constant non starters. The mental aspects of dealing with some terrible people’s idea of asking for help really puts me off attempting to help anyone.

I have this box appear and its really annoying.
‘What does it say?’
I don’t know I close it and carry on..
‘…’

An Interaction I don’t want.

It also causes Anxiety that I waste energy to get over to place to diagnose a odd sounding issue to find out that there’s a cable out, or something not set right in software. Which is why I want to write more guides, but then who reads them?
Granted, I do tend to overdo the information bits.

The old Plan

In my early days, I planned to have an income which could support an in-town office/shop where it should have been easier to deal with people, offer advice and generally get more repairs done with more staff.
This was in the middle/end of a recession so property prices were still high, which still haven’t recovered now that we are heading into another, this plan didn’t go ahead due to lack of income.

Ideally, this would have been a supply hub for local and online orders, I got contracts with distributors and an idea for the site to adjust its stock from suppliers.
By the time I got all this working and learnt how API’s work, the stocks declined and many more resellers appeared all over the internet. This is something I want to get back to now I know how to automate most of it.

Yea so, that pretty much sums up my motivation nowadays. Hardly anything to post about.

Objectives to do

  • Redesign site
  • Make more posts, try to sort their tone out.
  • Stabilise products supply to list.

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Quick Guide to Printers

We are often asked ‘what’s the best printer?’. Well, that’s a tough question with the 1000’s of models, brands and technologies out there. We’ve had a think and worked up a quick guide to what to use for certain scenarios.    
Pages
Cost per consumables

The main factor in choosing a printer is how much it costs to run. You would of seen the offers in the shops of ‘This fantastic printer for £29.99!’. Months later you can’t find the cartridges for less than £40 a set.

First, look at what you will use a printer for and for how long. Constant use will be better off with Laser based solutions, as you will get up to 1500 pages from a £40 toner, whereas inkjets will only give up to 500 if high capacity for almost the same price. 

Seems worthwhile that if you see any interesting Printer sales, is to check the consumable price before buying.

1-5 users online/digital work or rarely prints

If you are rarely printing, Inkjets aren't a good choice. Inkjets tend to dry out after months of no use.

If occasional letters or finance tracking, We recommend a mono laser. If you require Photo Quality prints, then an Inkjet is the way to go, but be prepared for expensive cartridges.

For multiple users, most inkjets and lasers have network and wireless as options.

If scanning to more than 1 computer, then network enabled All In Ones is best to use.

1-10 Heavy duty printing

You may want to consider high end Laser printers, or network photocopiers may be cheaper to run.

Other advantages is secure print systems, sorting programs, saving templates to the machine's Hard drive to print off without sending from PC. Supports multiple paper sizes, simultaneous printing and scanning to and from multiple machines.

Best idea if looking at this setup is to contact a photocopier specialist who will help you choose to rent or buy, and support with maintenance.

Specialist Printing

When you look at other industries, more options appear.

  • A1 sized plotters for design work, prints from rolls of paper.
  • Vinyl printer and integrated cutting systems for Posters and merchandising.
  • Label printing for Postage and archiving, Usaully thermal so you only pay for the special rolls.
  • Wax/Oil printing for fabrics and art.

As you can imagine, some of these can be a bit insane in looks, features and price.

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Worth using Windows 10?

We have a quick look at whether it’s worth using Windows 10 for free before it jumps in price.

End of July 2016 will see the nagging Windows icon on your taskbar finally disappear. If you are putting it off until the last-minute, probably best start now. We’ve seen a few machines upgrade by themselves, and an aborted one loose its hard drive. If such a thing happens, we recommend letting it finish and reverting back in System Recovery.

Not many like the idea of the default Microsoft account, store apps advertised on the start menu and a few other odd little options.

Positives

  • Much faster interaction with Programs, Apps such as Office 2016.
  • Multicore support, additional support for over 64gb of ram.
  • Currently free to Existing Windows 7/8 users, full installs can be done with your existing Windows 7/8 key. (you might need to install the windows 10 upgrade first to put a Windows 10 flag on key).
  • Continually improved and regularly updated.
  • OneDrive integration.
  • Blocks currently identifiable virus/trojan files and entry methods.
  • We’ve found it to outperform Windows 7 and 8 on multiple scenarios. Games are much faster as well as multi-program working.
  • Recovery options such as ‘fresh day one install’ or ‘refresh system’ gives users the ability to repair Windows easily.
  • Don’t like it after upgrading? you have a month to roll back to Windows 7/8 directly in System options. Your old system is imaged.
  • If your hard drive goes bad, your activation info is saved to PC’s motherboard, meaning easy and quick replacement.

Negatives

  • If not customized during set up, program crash reports, location and search/page prediction automatically sent to Microsoft.
  • Though not needed, a Microsoft account can be registered to the machine to log on.
  • Some of Microsoft’s motives for a unified operating system across a range of devices can be seen as ‘dominant’, Windows 10 phones and Xbox services should talk to Windows 10 PC’s easily.
  • Doesn’t support some odd resolutions or odd hardware. For example 1xxx by 900 resolution monitors, Nvidia nForce IGPUs.
  • Far too much focus on Internet and Cloud services rather than local machine applications/storage.

Some tips for trying and reverting.

If you want to try Windows 10, you have a few options. You can create an image of your current windows with Veeam, Macrium Reflect (both free) or Acronis (premium). You can restore using the same software or using a BootPE environment.

Disable or uninstall Antivirus/security software, they have a chance of jumping in on the reboot and stopping windows dead.

Opinion

Personally, with the speed and efficiency in web applications, we find Windows 10 worth using. If your Hardware came with Vista on it and you’ve upgraded to Windows 7, I’d recommend against trying Windows 10. Several originally Vista PC’s are not up to the task of running Windows 10 fast enough and proven to not be practical to upgrade.

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Docs.com, A fancy tool from Office Online

Docs.com was possibly released a while ago, but only just noticed this week by us.

Docs.com is much like Sway (another stealth product from Microsoft we wanted to cover), it’s free to use and we plan on using it to spice up our blog posts. Not only can you post your powerpoint style sway’s to it, you can put up pictures in collections (using Onedrive to help organize things), documents such as guides and portfolios.

You can also build and customize an About page to act as an Online CV, though you’d want to leave off information to stop identity theft.

A fair chunk of Office is free to use Online, For example, simple basic versions of Excel, Word. Onenote is another mobile based component allowing us to write quick notes for blog ideas when we’re out and about.

For an example of the journal system in Docs.com showing a Sway post.

 

Looks good and works nicely? Yes, we thought it was odd too. Try it out at
Try it out at Sway
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API Battle: Woocommerce vs ePOS

API was supposed to make life easier, not infuriate techs to the point of madness.

I’ve looked into API for product and channel control before, gave up after reading one page which described what it does in several directions with no information on how to start using it. No simple ‘this will talk to your office database and import products’. Nothing about what technologies can be used to call/push data.

We’ve come across another company with the same WooCommerce nightmare as us. Stock management across several channels and keeping it all current. So it’s time to do some more in-depth testing.

In theory, this should allow multiple services to talk to each other, such as invoicing and parts ordering. Reading all the API’s functions, and testing a simple integration, proves its nowhere near finished nor easy to use.

Our current development tests have run into similar issues since our client doesn’t see any logs or debugging information. We see Response 401 (unauthorized) on attempted writes to the API’s target, which makes no sense on Authentication. We’ve triple checked credentials on most of the tests. This one’s really a mind boggler, and has given me a few possibilities:

  • are the permissions carried across wc-api folders? Surely this would be controlled by the APIs keys?
  • Bug in the APIs code? webhook not implemented properly for /products/categories?
  • Server misconfiguration? Possible as there are lots of HTACCESS rules for bot and spam prevention. May be worth spinning up a new instance on development VPS?

Not really sure how to continue with my own tests. I can’t test the clients any more than looking at responses, as they already have a development and big multichannel looking at it. Localhost testing has worked with adding products, with basic authorization disabled. Something not possible on external servers.

I will look at accelerating work on the VPS to get some tests done. This API lark, in theory, should make my life easier, if it works. If all goes well, this leads to our next major project.

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Microsoft Scams still doing the rounds.

These Microsoft scams are still going about.

And they shouldn’t be..

Recently we attended a client who fell for a Microsoft scam, made me think about what can be done to prevent and cure.

Microsoft will not call you out of the blue. They have no reason to. Same for any major company. Even if you request support with one of their products, they will deal with it over digital means.

How to prevent these calls;

  • Try to limit where your telephone number appears, Google it and see what comes up. If entries appear with your name and/or address, contact the website owner for a take down. It’s also possible your number will be in a list on random websites. Contacting the owners will likely to be useless. ICO/Google might try a Right to Forget on it.
  • ex-directory will stop in country callers who use updated phone books.
  • Not answering the phone. Using caller display and number lookups will help determine whether the call is valid.

What happens if  you stay on the phone;

Microsoft, or any big company, WILL NOT call you to fix your computer.

The person will use Social Engineering techniques to find a  Computer they can compromise. A problem with it they can ‘help’ with. They’ll convince you to download their remote access tool (usually TeamViewer or VNC).

They’ll run through some basics troubleshooting, run commands and check Windows Event logs. Before locating version numbers, keys and possible password lists. Some will try to steal documents and cover their tracks by deleting history, and logs.

When they finish looking for an issue they try to use ‘Syskey’ to lock access to the computer. When they’ve locked it they demand payment, which is where most people tell them to bugger off.

If it gets this far, you should contact the Police and report it!

Contact ActionFraud to report the intrusion and get advice on what to do next.

We can help with our tools to unlock the Computer and clean up anything else leftover.

Targeting

Unfortunately the people who fall for these Microsoft Scams are either  busy, or elderly. There is some tricks to prevent these people getting in and doing damage, this is all theory and can be complex.

  • Set security permissions on Syskey.exe to another system account. This can prevent the scammer attempting to use it to lock the computer.
  • Install Teamviewer and other remote tools. add them to the blocked programs list under Policy Management or your Firewall rules.
  • Backup and Encrypt documents to an external drive.
  • Install a decent Firewall and pre block any remote access tools you can think of/find.

We’re looking at making a tool what can close weak points, tell users and much more.. But that feels like it should be bigger companies should be doing it.

Repairs

Luckily, the system we looked at didn’t have its recent Registry backups removed. Which was great as our password removal program couldn’t spot the Syskey flags. Once we got into our PE and copied the backups to the correct folder, the system recovered.

future proofing and infrastructure level prevention

We hope the Telecoms industry will pick up the pace. Help find the people behind these Microsoft Scams stop them.

The Investigatory Powers Bill could help track and stop these people. But technical, ethical and sensible questions aren’t answered. It’s long reaching, blanket like national surveillance seems fixed upon terror. Nothing about crime detection or protection of vulnerable targets.

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Manage your contact lists

Making contact lists is easy, using a variety of programs will manage them with ease.

A good example of contact lists is a manageable Christmas Card mailing list!

Best place to start if you’ve never used Mail Merge or want something built quick: Microsoft Word’s Mail Merge Wizard. Not only will it help explain the process, it’ll start off a recipients database for you to add to later. This will give you an easy way to print addresses directly to envelopes, letters or label sheets.

contact lists, mail merge Clicking ‘Start Mail merge wizard’ will display prompts on the right hand side of the screen to follow. If you have a database or list of names to add in a document, you can load it with ‘use an existing list’ and select the data inside the wizard.

If you are starting a new contact list, when the wizard asks for source data, click ‘type a new list’ and ‘create’. This creates a preset database (which we can create a form for later) in ‘user/documents/data sources’. You can directly add information under the columns in the next dialogue.

Future proofing

You can add an input form to the access (.mdb) file by opening it in Access and using the form wizard. This will allow you to add new addresses to the contact lists quickly and distraction free.

Notes

  • If you are using Continuous feed or dedicated label printers, page orientation might be wrong. You will either need to create a custom copy of the label, or change the text direction on each label merged (Word 2013 on wards hides this feature).
  • Google Sheets has something similar which can allow you to use a web-based to input details, or have people sign up to your contact list their-selves.
  • Add additional fields in your database by opening in Access and editing the table design.
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Excel basic tips and tricks

Excel seems daunting to use at first, here’s some tricks to turn it into an automated tool for pretty much anything!

Funny thing about Excel is once you’ve worked out the basics, you are opened up to a growing list of functions and controls, pushing Excel’s usability much further. From Basic accounts to label printing contact lists..

Basic terminology

To try and explain the examples, rather than delve in and say “here works :+-*/… etc” I’ll just put FUNCTION and try to explain it in a brief example. Majority of it will be maths/numbers related.

To test your functions, you can run the Function Checker (fx button) which will give you a result if its valid.

Here’s some easy functions.

SUM

Usage in cell ‘=SUM(valueFUNCTIONvalue)’ or ‘=SUM(valueFUNCTIONvalue)FUNCTIONvalue’

Valid values: Cell ID’s (A1, Sheet1!a1) solid numbers, calculated numbers

Valid Functions type: Maths

Examples: ‘=SUM(A1:A6)’ will total up all numbers in cells A1 to A6. ‘=SUM(A1:A6)*1.20’ Will total up numbers in A1 to A6 first and then times that total by 20%, Ideal for VAT calculation.

Uses: Calculating totals or prices. Account tracking/ spending forecast/tracking.

ROUNDUP

Usage in cell ‘=ROUNDUP(valueFUNCTIONvalue,value2)’

Valid values: Cell ID’s (A1, Sheet1!a1) solid numbers, calculated numbers. Value2 would be what you want to roundup to, 0 will be the closet whole number.

Valid Functions type: Maths

Examples: =ROUNDUP(14.5*1.2,0)

AVERAGE

Usage in cell ‘=AVERAGE(value,value,value,…)’

Valid values: Cell ID’s (A1, Sheet1!a1) solid numbers, calculated numbers.

used to find the average of a set of values.

COUNT

Usage in cell ‘=COUNT(value)

Valid values: Cell ID’s (A1, Sheet1!a1) solid numbers, calculated numbers.

Used to count the amount of times Value appears in selection

Much more…

There’s a lot more stuff you can do with Excel sheets, More than I can ever teach anyone before understanding myself. lots of guides all over the web if you are curious.

For troubleshooting, run the Function helper/builder in the input bar. Common errors are #REF which will be invalid cells, #VALUE will have cells what don’t contain numbers usually.

 

Photo by AJC ajcann.wordpress.com

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Excel, Access tips and tricks introduction

For years I’ve worked with Excel creating complex looking sheets what makes work simple, from basic finance tracking to product code lookup and pricing, and looking at making basic guides for the people who ‘hate excel’ enough to not use it to any advantage to quickly pick up on.

Same goes for Access, it’s very useful if you actually use it. Though in Form management, queries, reports and mail merge directly to Word.. The ideas start flowing. For example a contact list can be built in Access, a form view will allow details to be input quickly, a query will find relatives, a mail merge will print your Christmas card envelope labels.

I’m going to try to do a post every two weeks with examples of Excel and Access applications and explain how it works and what use it can be.

A fair chunk of these formulas will also work with Google Sheets which will also allow you to create more online based apps, forms and web apps.

Keep a lookout for the tutorials on these, planning some fancy interaction tricks to show them off.

Photo by AJC ajcann.wordpress.com

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Network Attached Storage temper tantrums – RN104

Network Attached Storage, we install a ReadyNAS104 for a client

 

Sometimes manufacturers try to make things so simple, they confuse Network Attached Storage systempeople like me who’ve seen the happy medium of descriptive and useful settings.

Before Network Attached Storage drives/enclosures came to the market we had FileServers what handle backup tasks. I remember the ones I built, still going after 4 years. I’m beginning to think I should build more.

Most Network Attached Storage devices on the market are powered by Linux, with a simplified interface what constantly changes to meet new users needs.. This is the issue.

We recently installed a ReadyNAS 104 solution for a client, looks like, easy to set up hardware wise.. To get it to do its job however is a different story!

Complicated networking?

Instead of browsing to a specific folder on the network in its setup share interface, you have to type it (despite the browse button next to it).. now Linux is particular over its uppercase/lowercase’s in names, yet the front end doesn’t! And it’s not documented with any information on-screen or in book. A little ‘Please type the exact source network path’ would help instead of ‘Path’.

You are allowed to test a connection to the pathed folder on the network.. It returns a ‘Yes I can see that!’, doesn’t confirm if it can reach or copy items from it. The errors are fairly basic and non helpful, such as ‘cannot mount source on system’ which I guess means wrong file system selected (despite Network File System covering NTFS/SMB based shares to SAMBA style SMB) or Cannot find source.

after spending 20 minutes each time for the Network Attached Storage to index the source then report a fail (Source not mountable on system.. Well shouldn’t it check that first?) I’m beginning to think a timed .bat file would be better with Xcopy. After testing it eventually played fair (and after discovering Windows Timestamped is preferred over SMB/NFS) and backups were done, which brings me to the next sore point..

High speed drives, responsive software, low-speed writes.

A manual copy put files on the drive at around 300kb/s over wi-fi and around 1mb/s over wired. Looking at around 30gb to back up and secure, it wasn’t a fast job. Ideally I’d set an incremental backup (scans for changes to files/folders and copies new) for jobs, but with critical data a snapshot (fully dated, time stamped backups) system will be needed.

The silly thing is, the features are nice and there, In theory it should work! But there so much conflicting inputs and odd things not documented clearly. For a target audience of ‘setup and forget’, it’s going to take a long time to set it up right, and that’s not good for anyone!

The operating system and it’s menus seem completely ‘unfinished’.. For example you’d expect local users to also have their folders available via Readycloud or ReadyRemote (acts as a VPN?), instead they have to be setup separately. Under Linux or even Windows server they can login using the same account. No where does it tell you how to connect accounts or add new ones.

Lessons have been learnt, I think I’ll stick to my own built Linux-based solutions. That way I can update the paths on the fly and not trawling through several screens. When a Client wants features added, I can add it myself than asking the manufacturer if they have an ‘app’ to install such a thing.

Part of the issues experienced could be me expecting it to work the same way as a scripted SAMBA install, or Netgear’s incoherent method of pumping out changes and updates without updating their guides, FAQ’s or documentation.. Which reminds me of the ‘quick start guide’ being 2 pages in English.

In Closing

In my view, this was too much of a pain to deploy. Netgear Network Attached Storage devices are now on our list to avoid.

Where possible I’ll be quoting clients who request a Network Attached Storage type file server for a custom-built linux box or something proven and available, like Synology or D-Link enclosures. The advantages of a dedicated Network Attached Storage over that is less maintenance and less power usage, as essentially a linux solution will be a mini PC.

 

 

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Broadband liberates small village from ‘NoSpot’ Tyranny

2248253762_c893df7b34_fibre-internet

“I bloody hate this no internet lark” Used to hear that every few weeks or so when I pop over to a client in a nearby village. They had to pay for their own Internet solution after BT refused put in any technology for decades in their exchange, claiming it’s not worth the cost. The only choice other than a very expensive ‘Leased Line’, was Satellite, which works out more to set up, but around the same cost per month. For most Applications, it’s not easily possible. The download ability is high, the upload reliability is very low and unresponsive.

It’s a sight I see quite often around here, Film lovers who can’t get even watch a YouTube video without it being interrupted. Tech Buff’s who show me their new expensive gadget, then ask me how they can use it without using the intermittent/non-existent signals for 3G technologies built-in.

 So anyway, Welcome to Fibre (To The Cabinet) Internet Prickwillow!

Its been a while for Prickwillow, with a telephone network population of around 300 premises has waited a very long time for any sort of connection. Private enterprise had a go early in the ADSL years when Local Loop unbundling came in, and found it’s not so easy.

Thankfully, with encouragement of government and localised funding, BT has started upgrading most of its infrastructure around the country, including the smaller villages what were ‘not viable’ before.

To check if Super-fast, or any sort of broadband is available in your area, check OpenReach’s tool.

Photo by disoculated

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Windows 10 Preview – What we know and think

So the next one is Windows 10, all the goodies we’ve seen from the Windows 8.2 update sneaks have been Windows 10 apparently.. Lets have a quick look at Windows 10 PreviewWindows 10 Preview

Even though it seems to be following Windows 8 out of the door very quickly, the Windows 10 Preview kit is freely available which usually means it’s around 6-12 months before we start to see it on new PC’s.

What’s it like? How does it look? Quick look at the features in Windows 10 Preview spotted around the Web

(Sorry, I don’t have time nor a spare system to try it myself!)

Continue reading Windows 10 Preview – What we know and think

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Down with that sort of thing! (Spider season)

Been busy last few weeks sorting out site stability after a WordPress 4 update 6167255518_7949376c48_web-crawler-spidercaused issues, at least I thought it was WordPress 4 causing it…. Spider Bots

Did you know there’s 1000’s of bots like Google uses to trawl sites.. Some of them legitimate, a huge number aren’t.. All of them tie up resources and are annoying. Why would China’s top search engine want to know what I do for this town?

Continue reading Down with that sort of thing! (Spider season)

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Labels, users and strange going on’s..

Currently working on modernizing a clients systems to a suitable standard is tough..

Especially when the things they want aren’t supported properly.. Darn Label systemslabel printer photo

Dymo Label Printers are fantastic things.. Postage labels, folder naming systems, Courtesy labels for the boxes of customers new PC’s. The software with them and cross platform support?.. Not so fantastic..

Continue reading Labels, users and strange going on’s..