Question of the Week #42: 42 Questions of Awesomeness!

September 10, 2012 by . 0 comments

The number 42 is amazing, and so to honor Douglas Adams answer to live, the universe and everything, I have collected 42 amazing questions/answers that we haven’t featured yet.  These aren’t in any particular order, as they are all interesting or awesome in some way or another.

1 Storing hard drive near electric wireEver wonder if your hard drive could be ruined while being near electical lines well here’s the tl;dr answer:

In short, don’t worry about it, unless you’re working with some kind of industrial equipment with VERY high currents on that cable (the amount of interference emitted from a power cable is proportional to the current on it). Household currents are unlikely to be a problem.

2 What are PATH and other environment variables, and how can I set or use them? – Environment variable can be a powerful tool to use.  The answer is a great guide on the how’s what’s and why’s of environment variables within Windows.

3 Why do disks fragment? – With the advent of SSD’s and their completive prices there may come a day when fragmentation will become a thing of the past, but for now it’s something we need to deal with.  The answers still provide insight to the woe’s of the the past when it comes to disk drive fragmentations.

4 How does a CPU ‘know’ what commands and instructions actually mean? – There’s a lot of “magic” that goes on behind the scenes as you operate your computer.  All of this magic eventually ends up being assembly level instructions which in turn…  well that’s the question, and the answers are pretty good at explaining the basics.

5 What makes a laptop overheat? – Laptops are notorious for overheating, and this question/answer duo helps to try to explain what it is.

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The Super User’s Windows 8 Guide

August 27, 2012 by . 1 comments

Windows 8 is out for MSDN account holders (including students with MSDN-AA access)!  And it’s set to release on October 26th.  With that there are bound to be tons of questions in regards to Windows 8.   This post is meant to be a collection awesome questions/answers found on Super User that are tagged Windows 8.  This is what we’ve got so far:

General Understanding/Installation

The New Modern Apps

As time goes on, and more questions/answers come along, we’ll update this help all you Super Users out there with the new Windows 8.

A Super User’s Guide to Memory (QotW #40)

August 14, 2012 by . 1 comments

Memory.  Every Super User knows that they need it, and if you’re like me, you can never get enough.  I know I somehow find ways to use up all 16 Gb of my memory on my desktop.  In fact, back in Nov 2010 Tom’s Hardware suggested that the minimum system RAM should be around 8Gb!

But what’s really frustrating is buying memory.  There are so many factors to consider that it can get overwhelming.  This is the same issue that Super User nathpilland had:

What am I looking for in RAM?

This is the one area of computer building that still has me in the dark, and I think a lot of people are with me… There are many different types of RAM, with each company having high and low end sticks. What is the difference between the high and low end? Also, what do the numbers in the latency mean? What is the speed rating (I know 1600 MHz is about normal) and how much is too much? What’s the difference between dual channel and single channel? Can you overclock/overvolt? Is there even a point to do so if this was possible? As you can see, I’m thoroughly confused here. I tried doing some research, but I can’t find this information anywhere on the internet. I’m not actually buying RAM, I’m just trying to get a better picture as to how all this works so I can be more educated on the hardware in computers.

So here we go.  This blog post is a stab at defining the basics you need to know about RAM.

A quick look over at NewEgg there were a few major categories that advertising threw at me:

  • Type (DDR, DDR2, DDR3)
  • Speed (typically in terms of 1066, 1333, 1600, etc)
  • Timings
  • CAS Latency

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Question of the Week: What are cookies and why am I being asked about them?

August 6, 2012 by . 4 comments

A lot of people have heard about Internet “cookies” and often they have a bad connotation  to them, but to web developers they are very useful.  So what exactly are they?  The official Wikipedia definition states:

A cookie, also known as an HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie, is usually a small piece of data sent from a website and stored in a user’s web browser while a user is browsing a website. When the user browses the same website in the future, the data stored in the cookie can be retrieved by the website to notify the website of the user’s previous activity.  Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember the state of the website or activity the user had taken in the past. This can include clicking particular buttons, logging in, or a record of which pages were visited by the user even months or years ago.

This basically means that websites will save small pieces of data on your machine in plain text.  These have a wide range of uses, but here are some common examples that I can think of:

  1. Netflix: Isn’t is awesome how it remember where you last left off?  This is done through cookies
  2. Amazon (and other shopping sites): They remember what was in your basket last time you visited.
  3. Stack Exchange: Remembers you, so you don’t have to log in every time.  (Actually this is a WAY more complicated process detailed here, but you get the picture)

Keyboard Capers–A Field Guide to Keyboards

August 1, 2012 by . 3 comments

 

Most of us don’t give our keyboards (or mice, I suppose) a second thought. Most of my keyboards tended to be budget logitechs, which while decent lack a certain something.

I preferred the ThinkPad keyboards on my laptops, but when I need to, and tend to write at a single sitting, essays that are a few thousand words long, I needed something better.

If you want a shorter version of this whole blog post,I’d advice that you look at the layout(ergonomic vs standard, and number of keys), the switch type ( membrane/scissor vs mechanical (switch or buckling spring) and Key style (full sized concave, low profile or flat).

Personally, I’m not a fan of split keyboards, or ergonomic ones. They work for some people, by putting the hands in a more natural position while typing. The split keyboard tends to separate the standard QWERTY keyboard in two (though there’s no reason you cannot use Dvorak or Colemak or your local keyboard layout with them).

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/26/MS_Natural_Keyboard_Pro.JPG/250px-MS_Natural_Keyboard_Pro.JPG

Microsoft natural keyboard Pro  source

A variant of that theme is the ‘bowl’ keyboard, which splits the keys into two bowl shaped depressions, popularised by the matron and kinesis advantage keyboard. The bowl keyboard design allows for fingers to reach keys with less movement, by fitting around the natural reach of a hand at rest

Advantage USB - Black

Kinesis Advantage

And finally, the Datahand, which is a pretty extreme case of ergonomic keyboards, with nearly no hand movement. It is very sci-fi looking, and supposedly incredibly comfortable once you get used to it.

http://web.archive.org/web/20051231203944im_/http://tim.griffins.ca/gallery/keyboard/akg_datahand_pro.jpg

Source

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Filed under Hardware, Reviews

Question of the Week: How can computers calculate exponential math without overflow errors?

July 30, 2012 by . 5 comments

This weeks question of the week comes from Kit-Ho who poses:

Studying some RSA encrypt/decrypt methods, I found this article: An Example of the RSA Algorithm It requires this to decrpyt this message enter image description here The total result of enter image description here is so big, for a 64-bit/32-bit machine, I don’t believe it can hold such a big value in one register. How does the computer do it without an overflow?

 

For those of you that may not know what this “Overflow” that Kit mentioned, he’s talking about a term Stack Overflow.   Here’s the official “Wiki” definition:

 

In software, a stack overflow occurs when too much memory is used on the call stack. The call stack contains a limited amount of memory, often determined at the start of the program. The size of the call stack depends on many factors, including the programming language, machine architecture, multi-threading, and amount of available memory. When a program attempts to use more space than is available on the call stack (that is, when it attempts to access memory beyond the call stack’s bounds, which is essentially a buffer overflow), the stack is said to overflow, typically resulting in a program crash.  This class of software bug is usually caused by one of two types of programming errors.    

 

As pointed out by Dennis (thanks!) I completely got this wrong.  Stack overflow isn’t the issue, but rather integer overflow:

In computer programming, an integer overflow occurs when an arithmetic operation attempts to create a numeric value that is too large to be represented within the available storage space. For instance, adding 1 to the largest value that can be represented constitutes an integer overflow. The most common result in these cases is for the least significant representable bits of the result to be stored (the result is said to wrap). On some processors like GPUs and DSPs, the resultsaturates; that is, once the maximum value is reached, attempts to make it larger simply return the maximum result.  

For example, a mechanical odometer, has a rollover (or reset) after a certain amount of miles:

This is the same as computer integer overflow, where the size of the numbers needed are greater than the object type can hold.  Kit-Ho’s example RSA link exceedes the C#’s max value of 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 of the long type.

Dietrich Epp came up with a great answer as to how computers can calculate these large numerical calculations:

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How to check if you’ve been infected by DNS Changer virus.

July 23, 2012 by . 5 comments

Kira asked an interesting question:

How to know if your computer is hit by a dnschanger virus?

In case you didn’t hear, back in November, the FBI took down the company “Rove Digital” which was actually a set of cyber criminals, that created and distributed a DNS changing malware.  Here’s a little more detail straight from the FBI:

Criminals have learned that if they can control a user’s DNS servers, they can control what sites the user connects to on the Internet. By controlling DNS, a criminal can get an unsuspecting user to connect to a fraudulent website or to interfere with that user’s online web browsing. One way criminals do this is by infecting computers with a class of malicious software (malware) called DNSChanger. In this scenario, the criminal uses the malware to change the user’s DNS server settings to replace the ISP’s good DNS servers with bad DNS servers operated by the criminal.

HackToHell also gave a great explanation of what a DNS Changer virus does:

DNS (Domain Name System) is an Internet service that converts user-friendly domain names into the numerical Internet protocol (IP) addresses that computers use to talk to each other. For example, google.com is actually an IP address (173.194.38.164). DNS makes it easier for us to remember the site names. DNS servers convert the domain names into IP addresses. Now the malware, changes the domain naming servers in your computer and uses a different malicious DNS server. This malicious DNS server, swaps IP’s and takes the user to a fake site. enter image description here

Unfortuantely his answer to checking if your computer is infected, is now obsolete.  So here’s and alternative:

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When Driver Installations Fail…

June 18, 2012 by . 4 comments

Yesterday, after two of my family members in turns tried to fix a video card driver installation error for 2 – 3 hours, they couldn’t get it to work. Trying it over and over, each time it stopped the progress bar somewhere before the middle, to finally throw up this screen:

NVIDIA Installation Failed

Yeah, this is exactly the moment where you would freak and pull out your hair; especially to plan on finishing the day with some casual gaming. So, their next step was to fire up the device manager in an attempt to manually update the drivers by feeding the devices with the directory full of INF files. But apparently, the devices weren’t so hungry:

Want to give the device manager some INF files? ACCESS DENIED!

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A Guide to Disk Imaging, Backup and Restore

March 19, 2012 by . 3 comments

So I finally get to write my own entry for the Super User Blog! Very excited to be here. I’ve been asked to write specifically because I’ve just started working as a developer for Macrium Reflect, a disk imaging solution for Windows-based PCs and super user features a lot of backup questions. So here goes, an as-close-to-canonical tour of disk imaging as I can write. I’ve tried not to be overly technical here, whilst giving you the knowledge to understand the essentials; however, it gets technical from time to time.

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Filed under Backup & Restore

Windows 8 & Metro with Mouse and Keyboard

March 9, 2012 by . 13 comments

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months, you probably know all of the following:

  • Windows 8 is the name of Microsoft’s new version of the operating system.
  • Windows 8 sports Metro, an attempt to introduce touch interactions as a first class citizen in Windows without crippling mouse and keyboard interaction.
  • Windows 8 is different. If you’re stuck in 2001 with Windows XP, or GNOME 2 and/or KDE 3, obviously you also aren’t going to like Windows 8. Also I have a few dancing bunnies for you to look at.

This is the most important thing to realize: Windows 8 is different. Different in huge, important ways: It marks the transition to a brave new world in ways similar to what Windows 95 did. To do so, it abandons UI conventions that have been around us since then. The Start button? Gone. The Start menu? Gone. Pressing Start to shut down the computer? No more. Menus (and ribbons)? A thing of the past. Titlebars? Oh, please.

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Filed under Reviews, Windows