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.

5017856879_00969fd651.jpg

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).

MynaEdit.jpg

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.

download.jpg

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 🙂