Lots to think about when diagnosing a slow Internet

Occasionally I get a tech question in the inbox that is quite common. So much so that it makes sense for me to put and answer the question here where more can read and benefit from it.  By the way, if you’ve got something you’d like to ask, feel free to drop me a line through my contact me page.

So, the question deals with Internet speed, and this one is pretty complex because there are quite a number of factors that contribute to the ‘perceived’ speed of the Internet on any given computer:

Q:Hi, my laptop’s internet runs really slow.  I use firefox and internet explorer (they’re both updated). I have tried my laptop on quite a few different internet connections and have run multiple virus and defrag tests with no problems I have 24% free space on my hard drive.  My internet runs really laggy, and i want to sign up for a mobile / stick plan but if my computer can’t run fast there isn’t a point.  is there anything I can do to fix this?

Ok, there’s a lot in those few lines but not really enough to diagnose the problem completely.  Sadly there are a number of things that could impact internet speed, including;

  • the sites you try to connect to,
  • other running applications competing for network or system resources,
  • virus / trojan infection (though in this case the computer was scanned quite heavily),
  • the amount of RAM memory in the system,
  • the age and version of the operating system in use and the age of the computer — this one is important as a 6 year old computer trying to run a modern operating system may have issues as drivers are outdated,
  • hardware no longer supported, or it’s simply not capable of performing modern multi-media tasks that didn’t exist when the computer was originally designed.

As you can see, there are a number of potential issues here, and all of them require more information. So, in this case my recommendation was to consult an expert — giving them access to the machine so they can bring all their experience to bear on the problem.

Since at this point, we’re  not experiencing proper internet speeds, call your internet service provider, and discuss the speed issue with them.  They’ll likely ask a number of questions and have a few tests and tweaks you can perform while on the phone.

Then, if there’s nothing more they can do, perhaps find a trusted service tech or tech-savvy friend and have them help you out, since there’s so many variables that could cause the problems.

Bottom line, good instincts in searching out help. Giving your consulting tech a lot of information or access to the machine will likely generate a number of possible improvements.

And, since I mentioned it above but you likely skimmed over it to get to the meat of this post, if you’ve got a tech question that you think I could help you with,  feel free to drop me a line through my contact me page. I’ll give it a shot 🙂

Protecting your tech

When ever I get a new tech device, especially one that’s small, portable, and has a display screen, I immediately look to protecting that screen and device. I’m kinda clumsy at times, and anything that can protect my hardware from *me* is a worthwhile investment. I dropped my iPod Touch down the stairs last year, without a case, and the screen developed a hairline crack that killed about 2% of the pixels. The Touch works fine otherwise, but it’s annoying to have to deal with that flawed display part.

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Protection
On my camera, I protected the view-screen with a clear adhesive protector.

In the past, with my various Palm devices, I’d gone with an aluminium-lined leather book-style case, and a clear adhesive plastic screen protector.

For my iPod Touch, I have a simple leather pouch, and my wife has a flip-style case — also with an aluminium panel over the screen, and a rather nifty full-body ‘skin’ from BestSkinsEver.com. It’s transparent, made from reinforcing plastic used in helicopter blades, and very tough.

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For my iPad, I opted for a portfolio-style leather case from Fossil, and a full body clear skin similar to the one on my wife’s iPod Touch. She’s got an Apple silicone iPad case.

Defence in depth
So you see a bit of a pattern here. I’m using two layers of protection on my devices; a robust and shock-absorbing case to carry the device in, and a clear protective skin to protect the unit from scratches and wear. The skins make it easier to keep the devices clean, and I have less worry when using them in a mobile environment — if the skin gets too scratched, simply peel it off and replace it.

Your turn, how do you protect your mobile devices?



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.


My iPad steering wheel mount

I’ve written before about using the Joby Gorilla Pod flexible tripod as an iPad desktop stand, but today was inspired to use it as a temporary steering wheel mount while waiting to meet someone. Yes, due to an appointment scheduling issue, I was 45 minutes early so had a bit of time on my hands.

Damn flexible device, no?
Gorilla pod iPad car mount
Gorilla pod iPad car mount

Free and good? It’s for the birds!

Actually it’s for you and me, and I’m referring to the free online suite of tools that flies under the Aviary banner. Actually, it’s more than a suite of tools, Aviary is also a community by and for content creators:

At Aviary, we believe that everyone in the world should have access to powerful creation tools. We therefore chose our company mission to be We make creation accessible to everyone. Our powerful set of tools helps fulfill this mission by enabling small businesses, students, artists & creators across different genres.

What this means for us is that there’s now an awesome set of media creation tools available for you to use, for the cost of your internet connection — yes, the Aviary tools are free (though they originally had a subscription business model).

My most recent forray into the birdhouse had me using the Myna audio editor to trim down a mix I’d created for another blog post reviewing Seline HD (a cool iPad instrument).

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My mix had too much dead space at the head and tale of the selection. A few quick tweaks in Myna, and the mix is much as you see above.

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Then, with a few clicks of your mouse, you can mix it down, and download it or copy some publish code to embed it in your website or blog post (as I did here).

bard1.egg by bgrier on Aviarybard1.egg by bgrier on Aviary

But this is just one of the Aviary suite of bird-themed tools. Others include:

  • Phoenix – Image Editor
    An image editor has layers, masks, effects, undo history, and all that other good stuff.
  • Talon – Screen Capture
    Use Talon to capture screenshots web pages from your browser or desktop and crop, resize or mark them up.
  • Raven – Vector Editor
    The world’s first online vector editor.
  • Peacock – Effects Editor
    It does so many wonderful and amazing things, we decided to call it our visual laboratory.
  • Roc – Music Creator
    Use Roc to create music and loops for use in Myna and ringtones.
  • Falcon – Image Markup
    Use Falcon to quickly capture images and web pages from your browser or desktop and crop, resize or mark them up.
  • Toucan – Swatch Editor
    A color swatches and palettes tool will help you find colors you didn’t even know exist.

And as I mentioned above, there’s a whole set of Aviary communities focused on the tools, and on creating, discovering, mashing up and publishing content.

It’s free — so can you afford not to take a peek into the bird house?



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.


Are faster blogs more Google friendly?

Perhaps. And if you’re looking to be found by Google, you want to do everything you can to make sure you’re not doing things to make the process harder.

A month or so ago, Google announced that they’re ranking system would take page-load speed into consideration when determining how to present search results to visitors.

Eventually I’d read enough about this, and had installed a cool free performance monitoring system (powered by Pingdom) that allowed me to review my website’s display speed. But of course, life gets in the way and I’d been a bit lax in reviewing it, so this past weekend I took a look. I found this:

This is a response-time graph, the shorter the green line, the better. Which meant that I now had to spend some time figuring out what I’d done that caused my system to slow so significantly.

It appears that the culprit was a mis-configured caching plugin. So, I spent a bit of time playing with the settings on the cache plugin, removed a couple of fancy ‘type’ related plugins that were calling external javascript (external content calls can really slow things down, especially large content objects), and tweaked how the cache works.

And in initial runs, I seem to have reduced the page-load speed by about  40%. Not as good as it was initially, but better than it was quite recently.Yes, I’ll be monitoring results a bit more closely now, and tweaking things as I go. And of course, I’m always open to suggestions too — in the comments please 🙂

Hopefully, Google will look more favourably on my blog, as this site isn’t quite the slug on the Internet anymore.

Time will tell.

How to backup files across a network easily

Before I start, a friendly reminder that you only have a day left to enter the contest for a free Click­free Trans­former backup system. Tell me a backup horror story.

It’s one thing to backup the files on your local computer and another to backup files stored on other computers on your network, or Network Attached Storage drives or servers.

In the first case, odds are you simply drag and drop files and folders that are important to you to a blank CD or DVD and burn your backup.

In the latter, well, usually a much more complex process with dedicated backup software is required.

Recently I grabbed a Clickfree Transformer SE to do some simple backup work on my desktop and laptop computers. Basically, the Clickfree Transformer plugs into a USB port. Then you plug a USB Hard Drive into the Transformer SE.

And the magic begins. The software quickly scans your local system and copies important documents, photos, media and other files to the USB drive attached to the Transformer SE.

But back to the theme of this post, ‘backing up files across a network easily’. Basically there’s two things you need to do.

Mapping your network drives

First, you have to have ‘mapped’ the network drives containing files to be backed up. Mapping the drive is a simple process that tells your local Windows operating system to treat the network drive as if it is a local drive — even assigning a drive letter to the network drive.

Microsoft has a pretty good walkthrough on mapping drives in Windows XP. The process for Vista and Windows 7 is very similar.

Configuring the Clickfree Transformer SE
And this process is pretty simple. First, you have to get to the Clickfree backup configuration screens.

If you’ve seen a backup run, then you know there’s a countdown prior to the process beginning. When you cancel that countdown, you abort the current backup. But you also now have the ability to configure your backup by selecting which drives (local or mapped network) and file types you want to back up.

This is important because it’s possible, when backing up mapped network drives, to try and backup more files than you have drive space available for…should  you try and backup your entire photo, video, and music libraries to one drive, for example. If this happens, then the backup also fails to the configuration screens, allowing you to tweak the config so you can fit the backup on the drive.

Ready to roll?
And that’s all there is to it. The next time your backup runs, either manually or automatically, files on those mapped network drives will be backed up along with the ones on your local computer drives. Of course, depending on how much you’re backing up, you may need to split the backup across a couple of drives 🙂