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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anti-Social Networking?

No, my post title doesn’t mean being against social networking, though I may indeed be turning against it more and more.
The title refers to the possibility that social networks are actually making us less and less social.  Hence, “Anti-Social Networking”.
Let me go back to what got me to this point.  You see, recently my wife and I had the privilege of going out to a restaurant with some dear friends of ours.  As we were enjoying our meal, I started to notice how many times one of our friends took out her phone to type something on it.  It eventually got to the point where we would be in the middle of a conversation, and she would take her phone and go into an almost comatose state, responding with “hmmm” and “uhu” where appropriate, but with no other form of response.  Not laughing at jokes, not responding to questions… Nothing.  Just staring at her screen and typing.
It turned out that she was chatting to another friend of hers over an instant messaging service that’s very popular in South Africa but won’t be mentioned here.
As I noticed this, I looked around and started noticing other people at other tables with similar problems.  The only difference is that most of them didn’t notice that there was a problem, because at most of those tables, all of the people were doing exactly the same thing.
This reminded me of some wise words I once heard (I can’t remember who said them so I don’t know who to credit): “Wherever you are, BE THERE.”  My friend was with us in a restaurant, but at the same time she was really with another friend of hers somewhere else.  Which begs the question, why not rather go out with THAT friend then?  With this in mind, is it any wonder that some restaurants are starting to offer substantial discounts to people who are willing to leave their mobile phones at reception?
My theory is that social networks (especially those that have, or primarily are, instant messaging services) may actually be making us LESS social.  So what can we do about that?
Well, first of all, I recently switched to another phone.  Still a smartphone, which makes life much easier for me.  But not the smartphone that I used to use.  The old one made addictive instant messaging way to simple.  I’m done with that.  It was a conscious decision that I plan to follow through with.  Secondly, I have decided to always be where I am.  Unless I’m expecting something important, I won’t even answer a call when I’m socializing.  Yes, my phone will be on and I will see who it is, and if it could be important I will ask if I may be excused for one moment.  But if it isn’t important, then I will just let it go to voicemail and phone back later.  It’s just common decency.
I think we can all do well to remember the basic manners that we learned about communication, and apply those same rules to phones and social media.  When you are busy with a conversation, don’t let someone else cut in.  Focus on the person you are with and nobody else.  They deserve your attention since they are taking the time to be with you.
So what are your thoughts?  Am I right, or am I way out of line here?  Speak to me.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How to Solve 90% of BlackBerry Problems

As I’ve stated many times before, I’m a high school computer technology teacher.  In South Africa, BlackBerry is currently the most awesome thing among most teenagers.  Having been a BlackBerry user since before it was mainstream (yes, I could be a hipster if I wanted to!) I know quite a bit about the phone and its inner workings.  So when the kids come to me with BlackBerry issues, I can almost always get it sorted out one way or another.  This often makes me seem more awesome than I actually am (though I truly am awesome, I don’t deny it!)

I have found that most BlackBerry issues (including the cases where the phone is stuck in a reboot cycle and won’t finish, or sometimes won’t even come on at all) can be solved simply by updating the firmware.  This sounds extremely difficult, and many technicians will have you believe that it is, since they will charge you around R300 or more to do it, and then you will have to “send in your phone” for around 2 weeks.  But in reality I regularly do it for the kids at school, it takes me no more than an hour, and I usually don’t even charge them a cent.  No specialist equipment required.  And this is how I do it:

First, here’s what you need:

  1. A PC.  I have a quad core gamer’s PC running Windows 7 Ultimate, but it works just as well on my laptop running a Celeron CPU and Windows 7 Home Basic.  So you don’t need a powerhouse.
  2. Your BlackBerry phone’s USB cable.  You get this with your phone, but it’s pretty standard these days.
  3. An internet connection.  I have an uncapped connection at home, but you should make sure that you have at least about 250MB of data available (you will probably need less, though).
  4. The BlackBerry Desktop Software (can be downloaded here; at present it’s around 120MB).  If you have an older BlackBerry you may have the software on your phone’s SD Card or a CD that you got with it, but newer versions don’t come with the software included, and I would recommend rather getting the latest software anyway.

Before we begin, let me just state that if you choose to follow these instructions, you do so at your own risk, and I take no responsibility for any damages or losses incurred, blah blah blah.  You know the story.


So once you have everything that you need, it’s time to get going.  First, connect your phone to the PC using the USB cable, and make sure that you are connected to the internet.  Then you can fire up the BlackBerry Desktop Software.


Now you have to give your PC some time.  Though the software opens fairly quickly, it’s going to take a while to detect and properly install and configure your phone.  I suggest that you go and make a cup of coffee or something. 

You will know that it’s ready when you click on the “Device” menu at the top and the “Update” option is available:


Go ahead and click on “Update”.  The software will go online and search for updates to the operating system itself.  If it finds an update, it will give you the opportunity to install it (it will backup all of your data first and restore it after the update is complete; the entire process should take around 1 hour).  If there are no updates available, you will see the following screen:


At this point it’s your choice if you want to enter your email address.  I’ve done it before, but I’ve never been informed of any updates, so it’s probably a waste of time.  I might be wrong.  The important thing, though, is to click on “View other versions”.  That will open a screen similar to this:


If you keep the “currently installed” version selected, and click on “Install”, it won’t update anything, but it will still backup all of your data and reinstall your current operating system, effectively solving many software-related issues, including the “not booting up” problem.


There’s another less drastic thing that could be done to solve some (less major) issues: an application update.  Usually you will be notified by BlackBerry App World when updates to your normal apps are available.  But sometimes you have non-App World apps installed, or your Core Applications may need an update.  If that is the case, again fire up Desktop Software with your phone connected to the PC and with an active internet connection.  Then go to the top left of the screen and click on “Applications”.  After a few minutes you will see a screen that looks something like this:


In this screen you can see that the BlackBerry 6.0.0 Core Applications component had an update available (indicated by the red star, and also in “Application Summary” at the bottom of the screen).  So when you click “Apply” it will download the update from the internet and install it on your phone.  This solves many issues, including the “Your phone is in need of a BlackBerry Identity update” message.  After you run this, you shouldn’t have that problem anymore!

Well, boys and girls, I hope I helped someone here today.  Now that I made this information available for free, I will be charging to provide this service, and it will take 2 weeks, so learners of Primrose High, be warned!

Anyway, until next time, be blessed!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Awesome Windows 7 Password Hack


Right, now that's out of the way.  I am currently a full-time high school computer technology teacher.  And as I'm sure all the other computer technology teachers around the world would agree, you always have a few learners who just want to see the world burn.  They will do whatever they can to hack the administrator password, and occasionally, they will manage to do it and you as the teacher will be locked out.

Maybe you are one of us.  Or maybe you just lost access to your PC through some other means.  But either way, if you are reading this, chances are that you managed to get locked out of your Windows system and you need to "hack the password".  So here's a nice little trick that I discovered recently:

  1. Get Linux.  Yes, I know this could take some time, but even a very small version of Linux will work.  You get some that are smaller than 100MB, a rather fast download, but then you will need to know Linux' command prompt in order to do what you have to do.  But even the regular CD-ROM version of Ubuntu will be perfect, and it will at least have a graphical interface to help you get around.  So go and download any Linux ISO.  Here are links to some of them:  Ubuntu     Linux Mint     Damn Small Linux
  2. Make your ISO usable.  You do this by either burning it to a CD / DVD, or by making a bootable installation flash drive using UNetbootin.
  3. Now make sure that the disc is in the drive, or your USB flash drive is connected to a USB port, and reboot.  Enter your BIOS (usually using "DEL" or "F2") and set your PC to boot FIRST from the appropriate device (CD / DVD or USB).  Then save your settings and exit.
  4. As soon as the system boots up, you should see a menu with a few options, including something similar to "Install" and "Run from CD".  Choose the option that allows you to run Linux without installing it first.
  5. When you are presented with a Linux desktop, open the file manager (in Linux Mint, there's an icon called "Computer" on the desktop).  Then open the PC's main hard drive, and navigate to the Windows\System32 folder.
  6. Now copy the cmd.exe file to your desktop.
  7. Find the file called "sethc.exe" and rename it to anything else (just to make a backup).
  8. Now go to the "cmd.exe" on your desktop and rename it to "sethc.exe", and COPY (NOT CUT) the renamed file to the System32 folder.
  9. Now (still in System32) find the file called "Utilman.exe" and rename it to anything else (again, to create a backup).
  10. Now go back to the renamed cmd.exe on your desktop and rename it again, this time to "Utilman.exe" and copy it to System32.
  11. Now reboot your computer and remove the disc, making sure that you boot to the Windows 7 drive.
  12. As soon as you are presented with the Login screen, press Windows Key + U.  Normally this would open up the Accessibility Options screen, but that has now been replaced with an Administrator-level command prompt!
  13. In the command prompt window, type the following: net user accountname * (obviously replacing "accountname" with whatever the account's name is).
  14. You will be asked for a password.  Type the password (no nothing will appear on the screen) and press enter.  Re-enter the password and press enter again.
  15. Close the command prompt and login with the new password, and voila!  You are back in Windows.  You can now go back into Linux and delete the changed sethc.exe and Utilman.exe, if you want to, but if you never use accessibility options, why bother?
To see a video of how it's done, feel free to check my YouTube channel.

Happy hacking! ;-)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Windows Essentials 2012 Released

Mere months before the release of Windows 8, Microsoft recently released Windows Essentials 2012 (previously known as "Windows Live Essentials").

All in all it's more of the same; no big changes that I noticed, except for Live Mail loading a bit faster (which is a good thing!).

The full package includes Mail, Messenger, Writer, Family Safety, Photo Gallery and Movie Maker, as well as new addition, Microsoft SkyDrive.

All in all a fairly useful download and not a total waste of time.  If you use any of the Essentials applications, you will probably be glad you downloaded it.  But if you aren't currently a user of any Live Essentials applications, then maybe you should skip this download.  In all likelihood you won't miss it.

For more details, click here.

Or if you want to download it directly, click here for the web based installer, or alternatively click here for the offline installer (full installation package).