Friday, May 29, 2015

How to reboot a Verizon DSL wireless router from your computer

Whenever there's a problem with your wireless router, the first step in trying to fix it is often rebooting the router.  If you call Verizon for tech support, that's usually the first thing they'll tell you to do.  You can reboot your Verizon DSL router either by turning it off and then back on or by holding in a reset button (depending on your specific router model) but many people aren't aware that you can also reboot the router remotely -- as long as the router is still functioning on the local network side, to allow a connection from your computer.  (For example, if your Internet connection is down but your local wireless network is okay, you should still be able to access the router from your computer.)

To reboot your Verizon router right from your computer, open a web browser window.  Type the router's IP address into the browser's address bar and hit <ENTER>.  If you don't know your router's IP address, it will often be either 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1 for smaller networks.  If neither of these work, you can find the router's address (called the gateway address) by using the "ipconfig" command in Windows or DOS, or by printing out a configuration page from a printer connected to the same network.

Once you type in the IP address, the Verizon router configuration page will load.  This will typically be a screen with a reddish-black background and the Verizon logo at the top.  You'll see many different options -- click on Advanced along the bar at the top of the screen.  If you're presented with a warning message asking if you wish to proceed, click Yes.

The list of advanced settings will appear.  Click on Reboot Gateway.  Another confirmation message will be displayed; click OK.  (Before rebooting your router, make sure that no other users or services on your network are currently using the router -- they will lose their connection when you reboot it.)

If you have a password set up for the router, you'll be asked to log in before you can continue.  Enter the router's username and password, then click OK.

A message will be displayed that says "Rebooting Modem Please Wait" or something similar.  Your computer will be disconnected briefly as the router restarts, and then the connection will be reestablished.  This may take a few moments -- the router will need to reload everything it needs and then reassign your computer an IP address.  When the screen switches back to the main Verizon configuration page, your router has been successfully rebooted.  (If it seems to be taking an excessively long time to reload, right click on the page and select either Refresh or Reload, depending on your web browser.)

(Originally published on Helium.com, April 2012)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How to create a desktop shortcut to the Control Panel in Windows XP or Vista

The Control Panel is something that just about any Windows user will have to access at some point during their computer's life.  On many Windows computers, a link to the Control Panel is included on the Start menu, but if you like, you can also add a shortcut to it on the desktop.

To create a Control Panel shortcut, right click on an empty area of your desktop and from the context menu, choose New.  A submenu will appear; select Shortcut.  After a moment or two, the Create Shortcut wizard will open.

The first thing to do in the wizard is to point the shortcut to the file or program you want to open.  For a shortcut to the Control Panel, type "control" in the text field, and then click Next to go on to the next page.

You'll be asked to enter a name for your shortcut.  The default shortcut name will be the same as the location of the file (which in this case is "control") but you can delete it and enter your own name for the shortcut (such as "Control Panel Shortcut" or anything else you want to call it).  Once you've decided on a shortcut name, click Finish.

The Control Panel shortcut will appear on the desktop in the area where you originally right-clicked to open the wizard (unless you have Auto Arrange enabled), but you can move the shortcut anywhere on your desktop that you want.  You can even drag it down to your Quick Launch bar, if you have that toolbar enabled, for even easier access.

By default, the Control Panel shortcut in Windows XP will use a generic icon that looks like a blank computer screen.  (In Vista, it will be a more appropriate program icon.)  You can customize the shortcut to use another icon by right clicking on the icon and selecting Properties, then clicking Change Icon under the Shortcut tab.  A large list of standard Windows icons will be displayed, and you can choose whichever one you want to use.  (On Vista computers, you'll have to browse to find the icons.)  If an error message pops up stating that there are no icons, click OK and then the icon list will be displayed.  If you have other icons saved on your computer, you can browse to the location where they are stored and choose one of them to use instead.

(Originally published on Helium.com, December 2011)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How to enable or disable Bluetooth in Windows XP

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that allows two devices to connect to each other and share information or functions.  It's most commonly used to pair a cellular phone with a hands-free earpiece, but it can be used for many other things, including connecting various devices to your computer.

If your Windows XP computer is Bluetooth-capable, there will be a Bluetooth applet in the Control Panel that you can use to configure and control your Bluetooth connections.  To access that applet, click on the Start button and select Control Panel from the Start menu, and then double click on the icon labeled Bluetooth Devices.  (This icon may not be present if your system does not support Bluetooth.)

When the Bluetooth Devices window opens, you'll see the Devices tab.  Any devices that are currently paired with your PC will be shown here.  To change Bluetooth settings, click on the Options tab.

If you want to set up a connection, put a check mark next to the options labeled "Turn discovery on" and "Allow Bluetooth devices to connect to this computer."  You should also check "Alert me when a new Bluetooth device wants to" for better security.  Then click either OK or Apply to save your changes.

Now your computer can be paired with a Bluetooth device.  If the device is on and ready to connect, go back to the Devices tab and click the Add button to run the Add Bluetooth Device Wizard.  Just follow the wizard's prompts to set up the Bluetooth connection.

When you have terminated your Bluetooth connection, or you just want to disable Bluetooth (which is a good idea when you're not actively using it) open up the Bluetooth Devices window and uncheck the two options you checked earlier -- "Turn discovery on" and "Allow Bluetooth devices to connect to this computer."  It's a good idea to leave the third box ("Alert me when a new Bluetooth device wants to") checked, so you can monitor any outside attempts to connect to your computer.

After you've made your selections, click OK or Apply, and your computer's Bluetooth connection will be disabled until the next time you want to use it.  You should check every once in a while to make sure the Bluetooth settings are how you left them, because some programs can enable Bluetooth and you may not even realize that it's been turned on.

(Originally published on Helium.com, August 2010)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Product review: Panasonic SDR-H40 Palmcorder

Anyone looking to buy a video camera can easily become overwhelmed with the seemingly endless choices available.  Many people choose to shop by price, which can narrow down your selection but won't guarantee a good buy.  For a great video camera with a small price tag, check out the Panasonic SDR-H40 Palmcorder.

This Palmcorder weighs less than a pound and is small enough to fit in most camera and camcorder soft cases.  Unlike many hand-held video cameras, the SDR-40 has optical image stabilization, which helps to even out any choppiness or jerky motions when shooting video on the move.  It also has a slot on the bottom where it can be mounted onto a tripod.

The SDR-H40 uses an internal hard drive to store video and pictures, so there are no tapes or DVDs to change.  The 40 GB hard drive will store hours of video and countless photos before filling up.  The Palmcorder also accepts SD cards, and you can choose to record to the card instead of to the hard drive for easy transfer of files.  Videos are saved as MPEG2 files and still images are saved as JPEGs.

Power is also something most users won't need to worry about.  The Palmcorder comes with a long-life rechargeable battery as well as an AC adapter, which can be used to power the unit as well as charge the battery.  The one drawback of how the Palmcorder is powered is that when you want to transfer files from the hard drive to a computer, the camera has to be on AC power, which means you have to remove the battery and set up the AC power cable, in addition to connecting the USB cable to your computer.

The Palmcorder is easy to use.  It has a mini-joystick which operates both the camera's zoom function (up to 42x) as well as the user interface for navigating the menus.  The screen can be flipped and turned in many directions, and displays a clear picture of what the camera is recording.  Switching from video recorder to still camera or playback modes takes just a flick of the dial.

The Palmcorder comes with everything you need to operate it.  It includes one battery, an AC adapter, both AC and DC cables, a USB cable, and an audio/video cable for connecting the unit to a television for playback.  It also comes with software for editing video, called VideoCam Suite 1.0 (included on a CD-ROM).

The SDR-H40 retailed for between $300-$350.  Amazon currently lists a new one for $399.00, and used models for $78.50-$199.99.  Used ones are often sold on eBay, and several are being auctioned off now, with bids starting as low as $30.

(Originally published on Helium.com, December 2010)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to replace common components in a Dell Latitude CPi laptop

If you still have a Dell Latitude CPi, chances are some of the components will start to go bad soon, if they haven't already.  If you plan on replacing components rather than replacing the laptop, this article will walk you through removing and installing some of the more commonly replaced components of the Latitude CPi.  (Power the laptop off before removing any of these components.)

- Battery

To take the battery out, first turn the laptop over so you're looking at the bottom.  You'll see two slide locks, one to either side of the service tag sticker.  Each slide lock is marked with a lock icon.  The lock further to the right (with the service tag and Dell logo facing right side up) is for the battery.

To remove the battery, slide the lock to the right with one hand and slide the battery out with the other hand.  There is a contoured grip below the slide lock -- grasp that grip and slide the battery out, away from the computer.  When you slide the new battery in, it will automatically lock in place.

- Optical drive

The CD drive, DVD drive, or CD/DVD drive (depending on which one your laptop has installed) is located just to the left of the battery and comes out the same way.  Slide the other lock to the left and pull the optical drive out using the recessed grip.  (If you're going to dispose of the drive, make sure you didn't leave a disk in it.)  To install a new drive, slide it all the way in until it locks.

- Hard drive

As you're looking at the bottom of the laptop with the Dell logo facing right side up, the hard drive will be located to the right.  You'll see a thin rectangle on the right edge with two screws -- remove these screws with a small Phillips screwdriver and slide the hard drive out using the contoured grip.  When installing a new drive, slide it into place and then secure it with the screws.

- RAM

If you need to remove one or both memory sticks from the CPi, first remove the RAM cover.  This cover is located just above the Dell logo, and it has a triangular arrow pointing to the right.  Slide the left side of this cover to the right, while at the same time lifting up on the right side of the cover to release it.  With the cover off you'll see the two RAM cards.

To remove the RAM, release each of the side clips holding it in place by pushing them to the side, away from the memory card.  Push the clip on the left farther to the left, and the clip on the right farther to the right.  (A small flathead screwdriver with a thin blade is ideal for doing this.)  Once each clip has been released, the RAM stick will pop up and you can pull it out.  Follow the same procedure to remove the other RAM stick.  It doesn't matter which order you remove or install the RAM.

When you install new RAM, gently slide the memory card into its slot at about a 45-degree angle, until it's sitting straight and you can't see its gold contacts.  Each card is keyed so you can only put it in one way.  Then gently push the card down until it is horizontal and the two clips snap into place.  To reattach the cover, slide it on from the right side and push it left until it slides all the way on.

(Originally published on Helium.com, April 2012)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How to connect a DVD player to a DirecTV satellite receiver

There are several different ways to connect your DVD player to your DirecTV satellite receiver, and which ways will work for you depend on the type of DVD player you have and which input/ouput ports it has.  Several options will be described below; one or more of these options may apply to your specific model.  If you can find the program code for your DVD player, you can even program your DirecTV remote to control the DVD player as well.

- Composite cables

If your DVD player has output ports for composite cables (red, white, and yellow or sometimes green) you can use standard composite cables -- also sometimes called RCA cables -- to connect the two devices.  The three cables carry the audio signals (right and left) and video signal, respectively.  Just plug the colored connectors into the same colored ports on the DVD player with one end of the cable, and then do the same on the other end for the composite input ports on the DirecTV receiver.

- Coax cable

If your DVD player has input and output ports for coaxial cable (the type of cable that is probably running from your wall to the DirecTV box -- a heavy cable with one wire sticking out the end of the connector) you can connect the two devices using that cable.  However, your DirecTV receiver will only have one coax input port, so in order to connect the devices in this way you would have to run the cable from the wall to the input port on the DVD player, then another coax cable from the DVD player's output port to the "Satellite In" port on the DirecTV receiver.  Depending on how you have your receiver connected to the TV, you may also have to run an additional coax cable from the receiver's output port to the TV.  If you configure your devices in this way, you'll have to leave your DVD player on in order to watch television; otherwise the signal won't transmit through the DVD player to the receiver.

- S-video cable

Your DirecTV box should have an S-video in port.  If your DVD player has an S-video out port, you can use an S-video cable for better video quality than the RCA yellow cable would provide.  However, since the S-video cable only carries a video signal, you'll still need to use the red and white composite cables for the audio signals.

(Originally published on Helium.com, January 2012)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How to map a network drive in Windows 7

On a Windows PC, if you have a network drive or network folder that you access often, you can create a shortcut to that drive or folder so that it's easier to get to.  That process is called network mapping, and this article will show you how to map a network drive or folder in Windows 7.

Click on the Start button (the Windows orb) to bring up the Start menu.  Right click on Computer and select the "Map network drive..." option.  The Map Network Drive window will open.

Next to where it says "Drive," select the drive letter that you want to use for your shortcut.  This can be any letter that's currently not in use by another drive, or reserved for a special purpose.  Typically, "Z:" will be selected by default, but you can change it by clicking on the box and selecting another letter from the list.

The next line down is labeled "Folder."  This is where you tell Windows how to find your network drive or network folder.  Click on the Browse button and navigate to the drive or folder, then when you've found it and it's highlighted, click OK.  (This folder will need to be currently accessible in order for you to select it, so if it's on another computer, that computer will need to be on.)  Below the Folder line, there is an option labeled "Reconnect at logon."  This option should be checked by default, but if it's not, check it now.

Next, click Finish to create the network map shortcut.  Windows may take a second or two to make the connection, and then your network drive or folder will open.  You'll see the drive letter you selected in parentheses after the folder name.

Once you've mapped your folder, the new network drive shortcut will appear in the Computer folder.  You can also place a shortcut on the desktop or anywhere else you would like to put it.

If you ever want to delete this network shortcut, go to the Tools menu in an open folder and select "Disconnect network drive..."  A new window will open, listing all of your current network drives that have been mapped.  Select the drive you want to remove the shortcut for and click OK.  The window will close, and that network shortcut will be gone.

(Originally posted on Helium.com, November 2012)

Friday, May 1, 2015

How to improve performance in Windows XP

There is a lot you can do with Windows XP, including tweaking its performance.  Whether your computer's performance has slowed down over time or you just want to give it a little kick, here are some tips for improving performance on a Windows XP computer.

- Performance Options

Windows XP has a group of settings called "Performance Options" that give users a bit of control over how the operating system uses memory.  To access these settings, right click on My Computer and choose Properties.  Under the Advanced tab, click the Settings box under "Performance."

In the Visual Effects tab, select "Adjust for best performance."  This setting will get rid of animated windows, menu shadows, and other frills, leaving more system resources available to run applications and programs.

Next, go to the Advanced tab.  For both "Processor scheduling" and "Memory usage," make sure the radio button next to Programs is selected.  These two settings will make sure that more memory is set aside for the applications you have open than for background programs or other processes.

Under "Virtual memory," click the Change button.  This is where you can edit your page file settings.  Set the page file size (Initial size) so that it is at least as large as the amount of RAM you have installed.  For example, if your PC has 2 GB of RAM, make sure the page file is at least 2 GB.  You may have to increase the maximum size as well.

The page file is where Windows stores open programs that it doesn't have room for in RAM.  The page file takes longer to access than RAM does, but a slow page file is better than no page file.  You might have to reboot your computer in order for the new settings to take effect.

- Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup removes unnecessary temporary files from your hard drive.  To access Disk Cleanup, right click your C: drive in My Computer and choose Properties.  Then click the Disk Cleanup button toward the middle of the window.  Once Disk Cleanup opens, choose which file types you want to get rid of.  (The program will show you how much space you will reclaim by deleting each group.)  Once you have selected the files to remove, click OK to begin the cleanup.

- Startup programs

Many programs are set to run when your computer boots up, whether you actually want them to or not.  To view the list of startup programs, click Run on the Start menu and type "msconfig" and then press <ENTER>.  When the System Configuration Utility loads, go to the Startup tab.  Any program with a check next to it is a program that launches on startup.  If you see any programs that you don't want (or need) to automatically load, remove the check mark.  Click OK when you are done.

The next time you boot your computer, you will get a message about selective startup.  Check the box that says not to display that message in the future and click OK.

Reducing the number of programs that launch when Windows launches will make your system load faster and save more memory for programs that you choose to run.


With these tips and tweaks, your Windows XP computer should become quicker and more responsive.  If you are still having sluggishness issues or Windows doesn't respond as quickly as it should, you might need to add more RAM.

(Originally published on Helium.com, February 2010)