Your Jewelry Could Be Causing Your Laptop to Sleep

No-Magnet

Your Jewelry Could Be Causing Your Laptop to Sleep

 

Whatcha got on your wrist today? Is it an activity tracker? A watch? Your grandmother’s bracelet that she left you? Does it have a magnetic closure? If it does, then it just might be the reason why your laptop has been going to sleep while you’re using it.

Last week, a user approached me with the issue that her new company issued laptop was falling asleep unexpectedly as she actively used it. The laptop only entered sleep mode while it was in use and only while it was undocked. That is, while it was not attached to the “dock” which is a device that allows her laptop to function similarly to a desktop PC with an attached keyboard, mouse and monitor. Of course I updated her BIOS and her drivers and checked her power settings, etc. But I couldn’t find anything clearly wrong that would explain the seemingly random sleeps. This user was about to travel internationally for work and I didn’t want her leaving with an unreliable laptop. So I got busy googling and found that many other users with Dell Latitude laptops manufactured in the last few years had experienced the same thing. Read More

Recovering Data From an Erased or Damaged Hard Drive

Disclaimer

By following the instructions in this article, you assume all risks including the possibility of the permanent loss of your data. As I’ll explain in detail later in this article, trying to recover data from a hard drive yourself is risky. Data may inadvertently be written over a deleted file or, in the case of a damaged hard drive, the hard drive may become even more damaged as you attempt to read from it. Before teaching you how to attempt data recovery on your own, this article will help you decide whether to do it yourself or pay a professional data recovery company to recover your data for you.

While I tried my best to be thorough in this article, I simply can’t address or foresee every possible obstacle you might encounter. For example, I’m assuming your hard drive is not encrypted because home users rarely have encrypted hard drives without realizing that they have encrypted hard drives. But, if a user did have an encrypted hard drive, they would find this guide unhelpful. That’s just an example. My point is that this guide should work for the vast majority of users but it can’t work for everyone because there is practically an infinite combination of variables at play and I just can’t address all the possibilities of things users might encounter.

I speak only for myself and not on behalf of my employer or sponsor(s). Neither my employer nor my sponsor(s) have approved or even read this article prior to publication.

For Whom Is This Article Written?

This article is written for users who wish to recover data from a hard drive after that data has been erased or the drive no longer functions correctly. This article only applies to regular mechanical hard drives. It does not apply to solid state disks (SSDs). If you’ve lost data on a solid state disk, stop using the disk immediately and go find an educational resource that deals specifically with data recovery from solid state disks. For example, this article. If you don’t know whether your PC has a solid state disk or a mechanical hard drive (HDD), you may be able to figure it out here if your drive is in good enough condition that Windows can recognize it.

The part of this article instructing users on data recovery deals specifically with the Windows operating system. If you use Linux, Mac OS, Unix or something else for an operating system, this article will only be useful to you if you have the technical knowledge to port my Windows based instructions to your OS of choice.

If you have fallen victim to ransomware, this article is not appropriate for you. It won’t help. You need to stop using the infected PC and call a highly qualified IT professional right away. Don’t shut your PC down. Don’t do anything. Just get qualified help as quickly as you can. Avoid the bargain companies for ransomware infections. Inexperienced technicians may not know whether your data can be saved. And even if they personally know whether it’s possible to save your data, many discount computer repair shops have a policy to just wipe peoples’ hard drives and reinstall the operating system in the event of a ransomware infection.

I’ve written this article with novice home users in mind. It is my goal to strike a balance between being detailed and being easy to follow. But, if I err, I will err on the side of providing too many details.
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“Revenge of the Nerds” Giveaway!

Revenge of the Nerds DVD Giveaway

Ogre and I are excited about the upcoming release of my tutorial on hard drive data recovery. To celebrate, I’m giving away five copies of a Region 1 DVD combo set of Revenge of the Nerds and Revenge of the Nerds II. 

 

The giveaway has ended. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Official Giveaway Rules

 

Network Loops: The Perils of Cabling Carelessly

Network Cable - OpenClipArt.org

Today’s content is a little dry but if you actually take the time to read it, the day will likely come when you’ll be glad you did!

 

The Internet goes down at your home or (small business) office. You reset the router and the modem. Perhaps your Internet connectivity is briefly restored and perhaps not… but within seconds you’re back to not being able to get online. You call your ISP. They say they’re able to communicate with your modem and there is no general outage in the area. The problem must be on your end, they explain.

 

A “network loop” is a common problem in home and small business networks. Most small businesses don’t have the network equipment necessary to prevent network loops. Unless someone in your home is an IT pro who takes management of your home network very seriously, you don’t have that equipment in your home either. I don’t have it in my home. So, unless you’re going to invest in the equipment necessary to prevent network loops and spend hours learning how to program it, you’d better learn what a network loop is and how to fix it. Don’t worry… it’s super easy!

 

A network loop occurs when two switches are connected more than once or a switch is connected to itself. This doesn’t apply to ‘smart’ switches like those used in enterprise environments… we’re talking about small business and home environments here. When a network loop occurs, the network becomes flooded with data traffic to the point that it becomes non-functional.

 

Network loops occur fairly frequently in small business environments when a staff member (like a cleaning person) sees a network cable hanging loose out of a wall jack and decides it looks sloppy. So they plug the other end of the cable in to the other jack. Each of those wall jacks is connected to a port on a switch in the wiring closet. A network loop is created and, within seconds, nobody can check their email or surf the web.

 

At home, maybe little brother decided that the network would run even faster if he connected all the ports on your router to ports on the switch. Maybe the wife plugged the router in to itself because she saw a network cable hanging loose from it. Maybe your husband, for whatever reason, connected two switches together with a network cable even though both are already connected to a router.

 

All of these situations will create a network loop and stop your network from functioning. To stop the network loop and restore your network to working order, you must find the errant cable(s) and unplug it/them. At home, this should be pretty easy. At a business, you might have to do some hunting (or call your IT service provider if this sort of thing is covered by your service contract… it really should be!)

 

As you seek out the problem, remember these two rules. They’ll help you find the majority of loops.

(1) A thing must not be plugged in to itself with a network cable. (A sub-rule of this is that the wall should not be plugged in to itself).

(2) A thing should connect to another thing only once via a network cable. If two network cables run between two devices, it should be considered suspect. If you work at a place with on-site IT, this should really be their domain. You shouldn’t unplug network cables without asking unless you’re positive you know what you’re doing.

 

Thanks for reading. If you find my website entertaining or useful, please support it by starting your Amazon shopping experience by clicking on the Amazon ad.

Help! My Icons, Start Menu and Taskbar Have Disappeared!

Surprised User

Unless you’re brand new to using Windows, you have likely experienced a problem with your icons, start menu and task bar suddenly going MIA. If you had no windows up, you were probably left looking at a solid colored screen with just a mouse cursor on it. With nothing on your screen, you had no way to interact with your computer. Maybe you had typed some important notes in to notepad (which does not autosave) or maybe you’d left a useful figure up in the Windows calculator. With no way to access those windows, you had to do a hard turn off of your PC by holding down the power button. Your work was lost.

 

Today, I’m going to teach you how to recover your unsaved work in that scenario INSTEAD of turning your PC off. If you already turned your PC off then this tutorial isn’t for you. This brief tutorial will teach you how to attempt to recover your Windows session so you can save your unsaved work.

 

How to Know If This Tutorial Is For You

This tutorial is appropriate for you if “Windows has disappeared” (an oversimplification that will make my IT colleagues cringe or laugh if they read it). If your start menu, task bar, clock, system tray, desktop icons and, if applicable, wallpaper are nowhere to be found, you will find this article of use regardless of whether those things never appeared after you logged in to Windows or they disappeared while you were using Windows.

 

The Limits of This Article

The symptoms described in the previous section are almost always caused when a Windows process called “explorer.exe” crashes and is not automatically relaunched. That is the immediate cause… but there are several things that might be responsible for the crash of explorer.exe. This article will teach you how to recover your Windows session, save any unsaved work and restart your computer. Restarting your computer will often fix whatever issue caused explorer.exe to crash… but not always. Explorer.exe should not be crashing on a regular basis. If this is a frequent thing, you have a bigger problem and you’ll need to do some googling to find the cause and address it. I will give you a very quick and simple rubric here that will resolve the vast majority of cases where Explorer.exe is crashing on a regular basis: (1) Even if you have an antivirus, download Malwarebytes Antimalware, install it and run it on the affected PC. You probably have malware and that is probably causing Explorer.exe to crash. (2) No significant malware? Do a system restore to a time before the problem began. You’ll have to google how to do it. (3) Google how to use a command line utility called SFC.

 

If none of those techniques stop the recurrent crashes, do some googling or get your PC to a qualified technician. What I’m trying to say, and I’m doing a lousy job so far, is that this article only walks you through salvaging your work and rebooting your PC in the case of the odd, isolated Explorer.exe crash. If you’re trying to learn how to make Explorer.exe stop crashing, this is not the right tutorial for you.

 

How to Recover Your Session and Reboot Your PC

 

You may or may not have received a scary dialog box with an error message informing you that Explorer.exe has crashed. Maybe your icons, start menu, taskbar, clock and system tray just disappeared out from under your nose. Maybe you logged in to Windows and Windows just never appeared… with the exception of the mouse cursor. From the previous sections of this article, you should now know whether this article applies to your situation so I’m not going to dwell anymore on that.

But before we get started on how to try to recover your unsaved work and restart your PC, I’d like to give you a super quick (promise!) overview of what’s happened to deprive you of your Windows interface. It’s very simple. “Processes” work together on your PC to do… just about everything your computer does. Each process has a job. One process on Windows PCs is called “Explorer.exe.” Its job is to show you the Windows interface and allow you to interact with Windows. Other files help Explorer.exe do its job but that’s beyond the scope of this tutorial. Explorer.exe displays your desktop icons, your start menu, your taskbar, your system tray and your clock. Explorer.exe’s job is very important. So when it crashes, it is supposed to automatically relaunch itself to bring back the Windows interface. But sometimes it doesn’t get relaunched. When that happens, you’re left without an obvious way to interact with Windows. If you have no windows up, you’ll just be staring at a mouse cursor on a solid colored background. That’s where this tutorial comes in to help you rescue your unsaved work and get your PC restarted.

 

Recover Your Saved Work With Alt+Tab

So, the first thing you should know is that ALT+Tab still works. If you don’t already know, holding down Alt and tapping the tab key toggles through active application windows in Windows. It will pull up a menu that will remain on your screen as long as you keep holding down alt. Every time you tap Tab, the selector will move to the right unless it’s at the end of your active application windows. If it’s at the end of the list of your application windows, it will go back to the beginning (all the way to the left).

If you’d prefer to try to recover your Windows session, read the next section called “Recover Your Windows Session.”

Use Alt+Tab to get to all the applications in which you have unsaved work. Save your work. Skip to the section about how to reboot your PC.

 

Recover Your Windows Session

This is a little bit riskier than Alt+Tab because you’re reopening a process (Explorer.exe) that Windows had to close because there was a problem with it. Maybe the problem that caused Explorer.exe to crash is still there. When I say “riskier,” the risk is primarily that Explorer.exe will continue to crash and interrupt things you’re doing. It’s really a better idea to just take the time to reboot. It’s also possible that relaunching Explorer.exe could lead to an even more problematic error resulting in your system locking up completely or having to restart itself completely (like a “Blue Screen of Death”). If you want to try to recover and resume your Windows session anyway, please use the Alt+Tab method above to access all the programs in which you have unsaved work and save your work before attempting to recover your session.

Press CTRL+Shift+Esc on your keyboard to launch the Task Manager. That is, hold down the Ctrl key. While holding down the Ctrl key, also hold down the Shift key. While continuing to hold down both the Ctrl and Shift keys, tap the Esc key. Now release all the buttons. The Task Manager should appear. If you’re using a version of Windows earlier than Windows 10, you want the Processes tab. If you’re using Windows 10, you want the details tab. The processes should be sorted in alphabetical order. If not, click the column heading that says “Name.” Now scroll down and see if Explorer.exe is running. If your icons, taskbar, start menu, etc. are missing, then Explorer.exe will probably not be on this list.

Task Manager

If you don’t see Explorer.exe on the process list then skip to the next paragraph. If you do see Explorer.exe on the process list then it’s not working correctly so we’re going to force it to close then restart it. Click on Explorer.exe so that it’s selected. Now click the “End task” button. On the confirmation window that appears, click “End process.” It should disappear.

Up at the top left of the window, click “File” then click “Run new task…”

Run Box in Task Manager

In the text box labeled “Open:,” type “explorer” without the quotes and then press the “Enter” button.

If all goes well, your Windows interface should reappear. Do what you need to do and then I really recommend that you restart your PC through the Windows interface as you normally would if you wanted to restart your PC.

If your Windows interface never reappeared after you tried to restart Explorer, then you should proceed to section about restarting your PC to learn how to restart your PC through the Task Manager.

 

About Your Internet Explorer Windows and Folder Windows

If they you can’t access them with Alt+Tab then they’re gone. Windows ate them. Sorry.

No… really. I’m not kidding. They were tied to Explorer.exe. When Explorer.exe crashed, you lost your Internet Explorer windows and the windows for any open folders you were browsing.

Newer versions of Internet Explorer don’t close when Explorer crashes but older ones do. Folder windows will close if Explorer crashes.

 

Restart Your PC

If you recovered your Windows session then you can just restart your PC through the shutdown menu button on the start menu like you normally would.

If you did not recover your Windows session, hopefully you saved your work using the Alt+Tab method above. If not, you should save any unsaved work using the Alt+Tab method. After any unsaved work has been saved, proceed with the following to make your PC restart itself.

I’m going to teach you how to restart your PC by typing a command in to the run box in Task Manager. There is an easier way… you could hit CTRL+Alt+Delete and then click the shutdown/reboot button. But I’m teaching you the command method because we’re going to be a little more… firm with Windows than usual. We’re going to tell Windows not to bother waiting for every program to confirm that it’s ready for a reboot. We’re also going to tell Windows that we’re not interested in doing Windows updates right now.

First, Task Manager needs to be open. If Task Manager isn’t open, hit CTRL+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager. Click “File” at the top left of the window and then click “Run new task…”

Force Shut Down Command

Carefully type the following command in to the field labeled “Open:” and then press the “Enter” key. Your PC will reboot when you do.

shutdown -f -r -t 00

Conclusion

Because this blog is designed to cater to home and small business users with even the most basic technical knowledge and skills, my posts tend towards verbosity. But the process described here is really quite simple and you’ll probably remember it after you do it once. In short, if “Windows has disappeared,” use Alt+Tab to toggle to your programs and save your work. Then call up Task Manager and use it to restart your PC. Alternatively (and at slightly higher risk of system instability), recover your Windows interface by using Task Manager to relaunch explorer.exe. Then restart your PC after quickly wrapping up whatever you need to wrap up.

Space Saving Desktop PCs Can Cost You Big

Piggy Bank - OpenClipArt.org

I have to call a lady tomorrow and give her some bad news. The power supply unit (a.k.a the “PSU” – the thing you plug the power cord in to on the back of your desktop PC) and possibly the motherboard in her PC that she bought a couple years back have failed (a power spike is the suspected culprit). I can’t diagnose whether her motherboard has failed because it’s a proprietary motherboard that connects to a proprietary PSU using a proprietary pin-out. In other words, I can’t just grab another PSU and connect it to the motherboard to see if the motherboard is still good. Why? Because this PC does not conform to any established “form factor.” One purpose of desktop PCs conforming to a form factor (examples include ATX, BTX, extended ATX, micro-ATX and mini-ITX) is to ensure the compatibility of parts between PCs of like form factors. So if I have a PC that conforms to the ATX form factor, and my PSU goes bad, I can walk in to my local PC parts store and ask for a PSU that conforms to the ATX form factor. Then I’ll know that the PSU I’m purchasing can physically be installed in my PC. I’ll need to know a few other things to be certain that I’m purchasing a good PSU for my PC and my needs… but I can rest assured that I can physically install that PSU. When my PC conforms to a certain established form factor, I can easily buy compatible third party parts off the shelf for my PC if I want to.

So I bet you can guess why some manufacturers like to use proprietary parts… if the lady whose PC I just diagnosed with a bad PSU wants to replace that PSU, only the manufacturer sells the part she needs brand new. And guess how much they want for it… $108 plus $18 shipping! And if she winds up needing her motherboard replaced, that’ll be an extra $229+$18. I will advise her not to bother fixing this PC. She could easily buy a new one for what she’d spend on the parts. Of course, one could buy these parts, used, on eBay, much cheaper. But I don’t do that because it’s a real crap shoot as to what you’re going to get. I don’t want to fix someone’s PC only to have it break down again a week later.

The lesson here is that, when you buy a new desktop PC (I’m not talking about all-in-ones… I honestly have no idea if there even are established form factors for all-in-ones), ask what form factor it conforms to. The salesperson may not be able to tell you right off the top of the their head what form factor a given PC conforms to but they should be able to look it up for you or ask someone who knows. Please note that “Small Form Factor” is not a form factor. “Small Form Factor” is a term manufacturers use (with no actual normalized meaning) to describe PCs that have been designed with space-saving in mind. So, some “Small Form Factor” PCs actually comply with an established form factor and some do not. So if a salesperson tells you that the form factor of the PC you’re considering is “Small Form Factor,” you can either try to explain to him or her what I’ve just explained to you, or you can find someone more knowledgeable.

It doesn’t really matter that much which form factor you choose so long as it’s an actual form factor. ATX is the standard for desktop PCs. If you’re looking to enjoy the widest possible selection of replacements when a component breaks down, you can’t beat ATX.

I do have a bit of good news for the lady when I call her tomorrow. Her data is just fine. Her hard drive is undamaged. So at least there’s that.

The (used) New Laptop

Shocked Monkey

I went to a client’s business in Northeast DC this afternoon to set up a brand new laptop that had been ordered directly from a major manufacturer. I’ve done this a million times. I opened the factory sealed box and removed the laptop and AC adapter from their respective plastic bags. I opened the laptop and put the little styrofoam sheet neatly back in the box with the other packing materials. I plugged the laptop in to a power outlet and turned it on. Everything is good so far. It boots in to Windows 10 and I’m prompted for the password of an Outlook.com email address I’ve never seen before. Weird… perhaps our client paid the manufacturer to preconfigure their laptop (unnecessary since they’ve already paid us to do that for them as part of their service contract). So I called over the location’s supervisor and asked if she knew the password to log in to the laptop. “There shouldn’t be a password. It’s a new laptop!” she replied. I showed her the mysterious Outlook.com user account. She took a photo on her phone to show her boss and we packed it back up to ship it back to the manufacturer.

I’ve been providing IT service professionally for fifteen years and this is the first time I’ve ever come across a manufacturer shipping a laptop that someone had already logged in to with a personal account (at least without covering their tracks).

 

Lock Your Screen

Tonight I’m taking a break from working on my lengthy how-to article on data recovery to bring you an easy but extremely effective security tip that you can use in your everyday personal and professional life. You wouldn’t leave your underwear, social security card or bank statement laying out in plain view on your desk at your office while you left to go to lunch, would you? You would most likely put those things in a drawer or, if you’re a particularly cautious cat, you might even put them in a locked drawer. But too often I’ve seen people get up and walk away from their PC, leaving it unsecured. Occasionally I’ve even seen sensitive information on peoples’ screens when they’re not in front of those screens.

There’s a habit I’d like for you to start getting in to when you walk away from your PC. It’s really quick and easy. It works on Windows PCs, Macs and most Linux distros (although the key combination to activate the feature I’m going to tell you about varies from one operating system to the next).

You can lock your screen by depressing a series of keys. When I say “lock your screen,” I mean you can make your PC go to the login screen as though you were not logged in to your PC. Don’t worry! All your programs are still running just fine in the background. The second you enter the correct password and hit the “enter” key, you’ll be right back where you were when you locked the screen. Under ordinary circumstances, there’s no perceivable delay at all.

Try it now. Press the key sequence that corresponds to the operating system you’re using.

 

Operating System Key Sequence
Windows (Windows Key)+L
Mac OS (newer Macs) CTRL+Shift+Power
Mac OS (older Macs) CTRL+Shift+Eject
Ubuntu CTRL+Alt+L

 

So a few points of clarification and information:

  • The + character between the buttons in the “Key Sequence” fields means you continue to hold down the previous button as you push the next button. For example, on a newer Mac, we press CTRL+Shift+Power. Thus, we hold down the CTRL button. Then, while continuing to hold down the CTRL button, we also hold down the Shift button. Then, while continuing to hold down both the CTRL and the Shift buttons, we press the Power button. Now, since the sequence is complete, we can release all the buttons.
  • Your “Windows Key” is the key between the left CTRL and Alt buttons that has the Windows logo on it.
  • “Older Macs,” for our purposes, are Macs with optical drives that have an eject button on the keyboard instead of a power button.
  • “New Macs,” for our purposes, are Macs without optical drives that have a power button on the keyboard instead of an eject button.
  • I think most graphical Linux desktop environments support CTRL+Alt+L but I’ve only tested it on Ubuntu.

 

If you work in a medical environment or if you work with peoples’ personal data, it’s especially important that you start getting in to the habit of locking your screen every time you walk away from your PC. A skilled data thief (or a twelve year old who visited a “hacker website”) could plug in a USB drive and walk off with your sensitive data in less than thirty seconds. And if it’s up on your screen, anyone could see something they shouldn’t or even take a picture of it with their cell phone.

I’m not suggesting you rat your coworkers out or anything, because they’re probably not doing it on purpose, but if you work in a medical environment or with peoples’ personal data, and you see a coworker walk away from their PC without locking it, please lock their PC for them and find a way to gently and tactfully show them how to lock their PC when they walk away from it. Especially if they’ve left sensitive information up on their screen.

Once you’re in the habit of doing this, it takes up very little of your time. To ensure that you form a habit, you should always lock a PC before walking away from it. Even do it on your own PC at home. It should feel wrong to walk away from a PC without locking it. You should have that “did I leave the oven on?” feeling.

A quick, final point that I think might ease the minds of a few readers… locking your screen is not the same thing as logging out of your PC. It is far less time consuming to lock and unlock your screen than it is to log out of your PC and log back in. When you “lock your screen,” all that happens is that your operating system pulls up a “login screen.” Your session can not be continued until you re-authenticate (in most offices this just means typing in your password). Your programs are never exited. Everything you were doing is just hidden behind that login screen. So locking/unlocking your screen is virtually instantaneous. You can get back to work as quickly as you can type your password (unless your office uses two-factor authentication which is very rare as of the date I’m writing this post).

Logging out means you are ending your session on your PC. All the programs you were using are closed out and Windows does all the background stuff it does when someone closes out their user session. Logging out of your PC can take several seconds. Logging back in can take several seconds. And your PC will run a bit slowly at first as your user-specific “startup programs” are initialized.

This article is just about locking your screens. You don’t have to log out. Just please get in to the habit of locking your screens every single time you move away from your PC. It’s a very powerful security tool and it’s something that you can do easily, quickly and mindlessly throughout the course of your day.

 

Copyright Shaun Whelden 2019
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