Solar-Powered Weather Station: Part I

Whether you are a weather junky, img_3888hobbyist, or just an interested soul, building your own personal weather station can be an exciting project. It can also be quite challenging, depending on how much information you want your weather station to gather.

Here I will cover the steps I took in building my own weather station, and also describe the parts I ended up using. As a learning curve I will also cover other parts that I thought I would need but in the end did not use.

In short, I wanted a weather station that gathers wind speed, wind direction, temperature, rain amounts, and humidity. I then want the weather station to transmit this data to my computer so I can see it real-time, with updates every couple seconds. I live in Europe, so I want metric values. Finally, I want to harness the power of the sun to power my weather station. Oh… and I don’t want to use cables.

I will probably break this down in to a couple parts so the reading isn’t as dreadful. So, what did I use and what might you need? Mostly everything I used was purchased from Sparkfun and its distributors.

  • Mini USB Cable
  • BlueSMiRF Bluetooth Modem (optional): WRL-12582

 

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Sparkfun USB Weatherboard V3

I purchased the SEN-10586 USB Weatherboard V3. Unfortunately, you will find that this board has been discontinued and replaced by the DEV-12081 Weather Shield. The board I am using senses barometric pressure, humidity, temperature, and light levels. There are also two areas on the board for sensing wind and rain values through the use of weather meters.

The weatherboard is already programmed to gather weather information so there is no need to program anything unless you wish to modify it. If so, then you will need the Virtual COM Port driver, located here. You will also need to download the latest Arduino IDE version.

After you download and install the driver and IDE, plug the weatherboard in to your computer using a mini USB cable. If the board does not locate and install the driver automatically, open up the Device Manager and right-click the device (it should have a yellow yield with exclamation point). Update the driver manually by selecting the location folder of the driver you just downloaded. Once installed, be sure to note which COM port your weatherboard is using. Open up the Arduino IDE and select this port from the Tools menu. With this particular board you will also want to make the following changes also in the Tools Menu:

Board: “Arduino Pro or Pro Mini”

Processor: “ATmega328 (3.3V, 8MHz)”

The latest code (Firmware v1.4) for this board is located here.

You will need to solder on two RJ11 connectors to the bottom of the board like in the picture below if you wish to use the meters. The weather meters can measure wind speeds, wind direction, and the amount of rain fall.

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Weatherboard with RJ11 Connectors for use with weather meters

How Do We Communicate?

When I first started this project, I bought the BlueSMiRF Gold, also from Sparkfun. When I read the description about how it was tested successfully with a distance of 106m, all seemed great so I bought it. For Bluetooth to communicate flawlessly, it needs open-air with no obstacles to interfere. I obviously looked over this in the description. My weather station will be on top of the house and won’t have line-of-sight unless I run wires and equipment through windows for line of sight communication to work. I don’t want this to happen so a BlueSMiRF wasn’t going to work for me. Next idea!

Note: If line of sight would work for you (such as working in a building next to your weather station that you can clearly see, without obstacles), then the BlueSMiRF is an excellent choice! If you choose this route than I recommend soldering a 6-pin female header to the weatherboard and male headers to the BlueSMiRF for removal convenience.

The next thing that came to my mind was using Xbee modules. Xbee modules use the IEEE 802.15.4 technical standard which communicates using low-rate wireless personal area networks. I will need two Xbee modules for them to communicate with each other, of course. There are many different types of Xbee modules which can make buying one quite confusing. For a list, be sure to check out the Xbee Buying Guide to help you out.

I need an Xbee module on my weather board (to transmit data), and I need an Xbee module hooked up to my computer (to receive the data). On the weatherboard there is a spot allocated for an Xbee module. All you have to do is solder two 2mm 10-pin Xbee female sockets to the board so you’re able to attach the Xbee module.

Note: Be mindful of correct orientation when connecting the Xbee module! Incorrect orientation can damage the Xbee and possibly your weatherboard! If you look closely you will see a little symbol on the board that shows the correct orientation, in case you forget.

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Xbee with U.FL Connection

I chose an Xbee module with an U.FL connection so I’m able to attach an external 2.4GHz Duck Antenna. Since everything will be in a weatherproof box, I figured I might have a better signal on the top of the house if I have an external antenna. To make the connection you will also need a RP-SMA to U.FL cable that attaches to the Xbee module on the weatherboard. The duck antenna screws on to the other end.

Now that we have the weatherboard side ready to transmit, we need to switch to the receiving side. This Xbee module will be connecting to a computer, and will receive the information being transmitted from the Xbee on the weatherboard. For this I chose a module with a wire antenna, but if you use one with a trace antenna I hear you have about the same results, although I don’t know first-hand.

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Xbee with wire antenna

To connect the Xbee module to the computer, you will need two things: an Xbee Explorer and a mini USB cable.

Note: When it comes to buying an Xbee explorer, make sure you buy the one with the USB connector attached (link above). By accident I purchased an explorer where I needed to solder on the USB connector. No thanks! If you wish for this to be more of an unnecessary challenge then by all means, reach for the stars.

In summary, we have soldered two RJ11 connectors to the weatherboard for our weather meters, as well as two headers so we could attach an Xbee module.

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U.FL Xbee mounted to weatherboard

We also have our Xbee USB Explorer with mounted Xbee connected to the computer so we can see the weather transmitted from our weatherboard.

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Wire antenna Xbee mounted to USB Explorer

So far I have covered only the setup portions of everything you need for the Xbees to communicate. In the next article to come I will cover:

  • How to set up the solar power portion
  • Receiving weather data as well as modifying
  • Final preparations – putting it all together to placement outside

Thanks for following – stay tuned!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Part III- Linux

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Welcome back to the final part of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly where today I will go over Linux. Please check out my previous articles where I covered Windows and macOS, if you haven’t already. So, what is this thing called Linux? It has been around since 1991 and is a free and open-source operating system. Meaning that anyone is able to change it, copy it, or pretty much do whatever they wish to with it. This is just one of the many benefits Linux has to offer. Today, Linux can be found on millions of servers, smartphones, desktops, and even supercomputers. Just like the other operating systems, Linux has its disadvantages. So sit back, relax, and keep an open mind. Who knows? You may end up wanting to get your hands on one of the many faces that it offers.

The advantages of Linux:

Free: Probably the biggest eye-catcher as to why you would want to get your hands on Linux is because it is absolutely free. Monetarily, it can’t get any better than that. Linux is openly available on the World-Wide Web. Just download it, burn it to DVD (or create a bootable flash stick) and pop it in the computer.

Customization: Bored of the same old desktop? Wish to be an individual? Maybe you want a dedicated OS for specific hardware and want it to be a certain way without all the odds and ends a normal distribution has. Well, with Linux you are able to “tweak” your operating system any way you want to through the use of many different tools. There are many reasons why you would customize Linux. What’s your reason?

Control: As I mentioned earlier, Linux is free and open-source software (FOSS). ‘Free’ is pretty easy to understand, but what is open-source software? This means that the code that was used to write Linux is openly shared to everyone. Why? Because Linux encourages its users to voluntarily improve the design of the software. You can’t say the same with Windows. On the other hand, as of April 2016, Apple announced that it will open-source OS X.

Lack of malware/viruses: Is there currently any malware to affect Linux? You don’t hear much about it. Just like macOS, it is quite rare to come across malicious software. Don’t get me wrong, malicious software is likely being coded by someone right now, and a lot of users think that their Linux OS (as well as macOS) is completely immune to this malicious software. But that is a myth. Malicious software and viruses are just not as common as it is with Windows. And you may rarely come across seeing anything malicious when you use Linux, if at all. Check out Linux and UNIX Security Features to read more about Linux security.

Alternative Software: When I started using Linux I felt a little lost at first. I have been a Windows user for a long time and I’m accustomed to the Windows software and environment. So when I started using Linux, I had no idea what program to use for what I wanted to do. Fortunately, Linux has alternatives for practically every Windows program. Need an alternative to Microsoft Word? Try AbiWord! Need an alternative to Outlook? Try Thunderbird! How about an alternative to GuitarPro? Yeah, Linux has that, too. Try TuxGuitar! Check out Linux Questions for a list of Linux alternatives.

Stability: When comparing stability on different operating systems, you would ask yourself what makes them so unstable. Compatibility, maybe? – With other hardware, or software? Most likely. Mac’s have a smaller hardware compatibility list so it is relatively easy to handle. That’s why macOS is known to be quite stable. Windows has an enormous hardware list (with many more manufacturers), and the challenge to have a driver play nice with all other drivers is much more difficult. That’s partly why Windows is much more unstable than macOS because it has a lot more to deal with. With Linux, the hardware list is growing, and overall the stability is great. Much like macOS I would say. Hardware developers are giving Linux more of a chance these days to make their products more compatible with Linux, but still lean more towards Windows (possibly because of a better market?). Basically, if you install Linux on simple hardware it will run perfectly forever. On the other hand, if you install Linux on a more modern system with high-tech gizmos and gadgets (high-end GPU’s, fingerprint scanner, etc.), you might run in to some stability issues. Overall, Linux is a very stable operating system so I see this as an advantage.

No License Restrictions: Do I really need to explain the advantage of this in detail? This could go hand in hand with the operating system being free, but with a couple additions. There are no restrictions here. You are free to do what you want. The operating system will not tell you what you can or can’t do – only you. There is no registering any copy with a product key or worrying if your copy is genuine so you can continue to receive security updates. No scare tactics, no warnings, no restrictions. Amen.

Can Run On Older Systems: Have an older system in the closet or basement that you don’t use anymore? Linux doesn’t need a lot to run smoothly. In fact, the system requirements for the newly released Ubuntu 16.04 are only 700MHz for a processor and 512MB memory. Installing Linux on an older system is a great way to learn.

So, if Linux is so great, why doesn’t everyone have it!? Just like the other operating system, it has its disadvantages:

Lacks in Gaming:  Just like the macOS, Linux loses out to the powerful gaming market that Windows offers. This will likely not change for a long time to come, and it may never change. So if you are in to gaming, Linux is also not your best choice.

Bigger Learning Curve: If you are a long time Windows user, like me, Linux may give you a hard time at first. The graphical user interface is completely different than Windows and leans more towards a look that macOS offers, but still not the same. And if the look was not enough to throw you off, then the Terminal will definitely give you a little headache. The Terminal is like the Command Prompt in Windows. You will need to study the many commands and switches needed to use it to get the most out of Linux. The Terminal can be used as a faster way of updating the operating system, or downloading and installing software and repositories, to many other things! So it is a very important tool in Linux. And if you choose to not use the Terminal and just get by with the GUI, then you are really hurting yourself because it is very powerful and really helpful! Luckily, there are many books and video tutorials on the internet that can help you out with the basics of Linux.

Lack of Hardware Support: Lately, my wife bought me an Epson printer for the office, and I was shocked to find out that Epson did not support Linux. It doesn’t end at Epson though, but a lot of popular printers such as Lexmark and Canon are also not supported. This didn’t set me back since I mainly use Windows, but it would have been nice to use the printer for both operating systems. Unfortunately, this doesn’t only cover printers. Also many scanners, web-cameras, touch screens, Wi-Fi cards, etc. are also not supported or just have partial support with Linux. Be sure to do a thorough hardware crosscheck with compatibility if you wish to start using Linux.

So – Good, Bad, or downright Ugly: I have been using the Gnome distro for a while now, and I really like it. Even though I’m a Windows user, I like the feel of Linux. I have yet to come across any form of error (except user error since I’m new), and it runs very smooth! I like that it comes in many different distros, layouts, and tweaks also! It would be hard to get bored with it. There is always something new. Once I get tired of Gnome, I may try Linux Mint as a second OS since I hear many good things about it. I love how Linux is free. It’s open and I can do whatever I want without any restrictions. I don’t like how Linux lacks in hardware though. But I suppose checking hardware compatibility will help here. It also lacks in games, but maybe someday the developers will give the OS more of a chance. Probably not any time soon, but if I do ever feel like converting, I think Linux may be my next operating system.

That said, when it comes to the Good, Bad, or downright Ugly – Linux is a pretty badass.

The Different Breeds of IT Personnel

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Think about your workplace for a minute. Everything is probably in its respected place. The plants and flowers in the lobby look colorful and healthy. The halls are clean and clutter free. The windows are immaculate and bring in a wealth of light. Then you turn the corner and notice one hall that looks very… dark, and dank. The lights are off not only in that specific hallway, but in every office that occupies it. It looks very lonesome, and you get this odd smell of fried electronics, strong coffee and vending machine food.

What is this place, you ask? This is the hall where the Information Technology people reside.

Call them what you desire, but there isn’t just one type of IT person. You have your many different… breeds, I guess. First, you have the know-it-all. This is the tech who will usually be the first to put in their two cents and rule out every other issue but their own, because their idea is the right one. It’s hard to understand the person because you’re trying to dodge all the computer lingo and acronyms coming out of their mouth.

Then you have the tech that, quite opposite, looks like he is dodging every word that is coming out of your mouth. The “yeah, uh-huh” guy. After you have finished explaining to him your problem, he will give you his planned speech of, “Alright, I’ll take a look at it to see what the issue is and let you know”. Really, this either means he has no idea what the issue is and has to look it up while you’re away, or he will get to it whenever he feels like it. You will hear back from him in a week or two.

Which brings me to the next tech: the Googler. I think a lot of IT techs resort to Googling their issues at first because 90% of the time someone has posted this same issue and the solution on the internet. This one though will Google everything. Because 1) he can, 2) he’s lazy and doesn’t want to take the effort, or 3) he’s clueless.

Then you have the tech with the broken English. You will usually call this guy from somewhere in your home or office, and end up finding him at some remote location in India or Pakistan. This guy is the opposite of ‘yeah, uh-huh’ guy because now YOU are like “yeah, uh-huh” and have no clue what this guy is telling you!! If you call this person because your keyboard isn’t working, he will first ask you if your computer is plugged in properly to the power cable. You will eventually get frustrated, hang up, and start drinking early that day. No, I’m not racist. I’m just right.

Then you have The Rook. This is the tech that will talk the talk, but will walk the walk at a much faster pace every time they see you in the office because they are too scared to touch anything broken that you might have and risk breaking it even more. He may or may not be the new guy. You might hear him squeaking in the corner talking about the latest and greatest game on the market or some Xbox Live party he plans on going to later in the day.

Finally, you have the tech who takes their job way too seriously. His office is usually in the back, and overly cluttered with all sorts of cables, keyboards, and mice (perhaps 3-4 monitors as well). He usually makes a dramatic scene about the little issues, and will not let you plug in the mouse you brought from home because it might have a virus on it or cause havoc and interference to the server room in the adjoining room. Everything is kind of a big deal to him and to no one else.

From my experience in the corporate world, this is what you may come across. Yes, I am also a tech, and it would seem that I am also talking about myself here. I will not say which “breed” I think I fall under because I don’t think any would define me completely. And I have tried to do my best to not be one of these types. Although the wife insists I am the serious one with a cluttered office. I like to salvage broken electronics for their useful working parts! This is smart!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Part II – macOS

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Today I will cover some of the advantages and disadvantages of macOS. The first, and most important advantage comes from my wife (a long time user of the Macintosh), who says “It is the best, but not for everyone. It is only intended for those who come of badassery descent.” I will be adding this to the summary. Like in the last posting, I will start with the advantages. Be sure to check out the first post on Windows if you haven’t already had the opportunity. So let’s get to it!

Security: This might be one of the top reasons why people love Mac so much. macOS is a two-layered system. It has a graphical user interface that sits on top of UNIX which is well-known for its great security. A lot of people think that a Mac is virus proof, and for a long time it seemed like they were. These days, it is simply not the case as they are prone to viruses. There are just not that many known viruses, possibly because it has a much smaller audience than Windows.

Useful Applications: Have an iOS device? If so, then a Mac shouldn’t be too difficult since it comes with the same applications that your phone or tablet uses for web browsing, photos, music, organization, etc.

Reliability: The stability of macOS is impressive. This is because Apple controls production of every piece of hardware from start to finish guaranteeing that everything will work together. With Windows you have many, many hardware manufacturers and sometimes hardware just doesn’t want to work together with other pieces of hardware. With macOS, you will see this very rarely, if at all.

Integrates with other iOS Devices: Why would it not? This goes hand-in-hand with reliability. Your iPhone, iPad, iPod – all made by Apple for a seamless integration with your Mac, and therefore guaranteed to work when you plug them in. You don’t have to sit there and wait for the driver to be loaded for it to work (or worry about the driver not being found, or worse – corrupt!).

Customer Support: In my last article I threw Microsoft under the bus because their customer support is known to be horrendous. The battle between Apple and Microsoft has gone on for a while, and will most likely last quite some time due to the loyal fan base of each. Back in 2014-15, SurveyMonkey came out with a benchmark product that looked at customer loyalty and satisfaction of Apple and Microsoft. To not much of a surprise, Apple came out very well in both customer satisfaction and loyalty while Microsoft faired rather poorly in both.

Build Quality: Apple is known for its superior build quality, party because they use a single piece of aluminum to make their MacBook’s. When you hold them, they are lightweight but solid. Sturdy. When you open them, there is no sense of jerkiness or binding of the chassis. This is something that you could come across with Microsoft products. This is just another reason why Apple is rated number one against its competitors for the past seven years in a row.

I might seem like I am a representative for Apple, but even the powerhouse competitors have their disadvantages. Here are the most important:

Price: This might be the number one thing that turns a lot of customers away. These MacBook’s are expensive. And over the past years it doesn’t seem like the price has dropped by any means. Maybe this is because Apple stands behind their product and knows its true value. Maybe it’s because they include the price of the preloaded software? Ehh, who knows? Either way, you’re most likely going to be paying close to 1.500 euros every time, if not more. But I will not say that it is not worth it, if you can afford it.

Gaming: Gaming is a huge market, and it will continue to steadily grow. You don’t hear much about gaming when it comes to Apple. That is because even though the MacBook’s are a very powerful machines, they are still not powerful enough to handle the graphic hungry games these days, and especially not 4K graphics. Virtual Reality is much more popular now, and according to the founder of the Oculus Rift, none of the machines offered by Apple are powerful enough. That’s why when most games are released, they are usually released for the PC first (or other gaming platform).

Lack of Upgrades: Personally, this is what deters me the most about Mac. Apple has become more lenient in allowing users to upgrade their Mac products. And apparently they offer more interchangeable parts than on a PC… but I’m not sold on this because on a PC you can interchange practically everything. Apple in general lacks major upgrade possibilities due to their product integration on a design and engineering level. You are able to upgrade your memory and your hard drive. And if you wish you can even replace the keyboard. On the Mac’s it is possible to upgrade to a better graphics card to play more modern games, but apparently it is extremely difficult. Unfortunately, even though it is much easier these days to upgrade certain parts on a MacBook, you will be forking out a lot more money compared to that of a PC.

Available Applications: And last but not least, you have the amount of available applications and hardware. Although macOS has become much more popular in the last ten years it still does not compete with other operating systems when it comes to available applications. Software needs to be approved by Apple if you wish to use them. A tool called Gatekeeper is responsible for making sure the programs you download can be trusted. On the other hand, there is a way download and open software that has not been ‘Apple-Approved’, but this software is not as trustworthy, not recommended, and should be taken at your own risk.

So – Good, Bad, or downright Ugly:

I asked my wife if she could give me her opinion on Mac, and this is what she had to say:

“These days you have the option: be a proud Apple disciple or hate it like poison. There is no in between. I used to work with Windows for about 10 years and even though I was not unsatisfied, I wanted a change. I bought myself a MacBook Pro in mid-2012 – the price was tough but I soon started appreciating the build quality of my new MacBook. And even though we had some rough times at first, I would say that I am a proud Apple disciple. Mac and Windows are two completely different operating systems – Mac has different structures, different tools or different shortcuts, for example. You definitely have to invest some time to figure out how things work with Mac and even though I did, I would still say that I am more familiar with Windows. I love the simplicity of Mac though: the ease to synchronize my iPhone with my Mac and having the same standard applications on both devices. While others cannot have enough apps, I think that Mac has a good range of available apps. I have not once had the problem that I could not find an (free) app for what I needed, but of course the user behavior is different from user to user. What I miss most is the fact that there is no simple ‘strg + X and strg + V’ (using cmd instead of strg) for folders available and I sometimes miss the Microsoft Office Picture Manager as I used it a lot for doing some simple edits (like cropping pictures).”

If you are a business person or student who is constantly on the move and likes to take your work with you everywhere – Mac is probably the thing for you. I personally like how macOS is a very stable OS. You don’t have to worry about BSOD or hardware incompatibility. I am a hobbyist though, and I like to build things. Gaming is also a thing I do when I have time. I would be limited to upgrading a MacBook or iMac. Basically, I would be stuck with just about the same hardware until I could afford to buy the latest MacBook with the latest technology. Sorry, but I would stick with my PC. In the case though of The Good, Bad, or downright Ugly – macOS is pretty good! J But if you want to use it, you need to come from badassery descent!

Top Notch Corporate IT Department or Aliens – Which One Do You Believe In?

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So, you are busy typing up something important. Whether it be expense reports for your boss. Or some marketing material for an approaching sales show. Or maybe even TPA reports that Lumbergh has been hounding you about. Whatever it may be, it has a deadline and it is coming up fast. Without any warning or mercy on you whatsoever, your computer decides to have an issue preventing you from completing the work that you so dearly need to be completed! And so, dun, dun, duunn… – you have to make the dreaded call to your corporate IT department.

Those who have worked for a bigger company know the struggles of having to deal with their corporate IT department. Experiences may vary between company, but overall I think people come to the same general overview, which usually falls somewhere between IT being slow and worthless, and IT being a bunch of dumb idiots. I will not speak about those in Information Technology as a whole because there are some IT departments who excel at keeping the company running smooth technologically as well as keeping the employers happy. But then you have the others…

Say your issue is somewhat of a pressing matter and you decide to skip a few steps and approach them directly (if you are lucky enough to have an in-house IT department). Not so fast! Head honcho in IT body checks you and asks if you followed IT protocol and submitted an IT ticket to help desk. If not, then please submit and wait in the ever-growing queue for up to a week (possibly more).

What if you’re a little tech-savvy and know how to fix your issue? – oh, you can’t. Why? Because you are not blessed with an obnoxiously long and sometimes acronym filled job title like CMA+ Configuration Legacy Specialist, and most likely don’t have privilege to access the information needed to fix your issue anyway. And most of the time these are simple fixes that only waste the time of the IT personnel. Documents not printing? If it isn’t the printer then try stopping the print spooler service and starting it again. Your issue is most likely fixed and it took all but 30 seconds.

To paint a proper picture of how frustrating these jamokes can be sometimes, I will give a couple examples. Both of them involving my lovely wife and her IT department.

First off, let me first say that I think the people in her IT department are extremely lazy. They may be a little stupid too, but I can’t back that part up just yet. My wife originally had a work computer which would throw up a blue screen every time at boot up. After contacting IT they told her to send it to them by mail at the corporate office for a replacement. Delivery takes a week. When she received the replacement PC, she was unable to connect it to her monitor because they had sent her a male 15-pin serial connector instead of the usual female connector that would fit in to the male slot of the monitor. After discovering this she again called IT saying she had two male connectors and she needed the female connector. At first they thought she had no idea of computers or what ‘male’ or ‘female’ connectors are and pushed her issue to the side.

After not receiving any help, she had to take pictures of what she had and what she needed and then sent it to them. Basically, she had to do the work for them because they didn’t care, were rude, and/or lazy. They eventually sent a new cable which arrived a week later. This replacement computer turned out to be the real beez neez though.

It takes 22 minutes to boot up. Twenty-two minutes, people! Half way through booting it tries to install Windows updates, then fails, attempts to revert the changes, restarts again (which takes 10 minutes from boot to login screen without Windows update stalls).

It takes me about 25 minutes to drive her to work. And as I’m just about home from dropping her off – she is still logging in. This isn’t the most ridiculous part though. She has to leave for work at least 22 minutes ahead of time, just so her POS computer can take the unnecessary 22 minutes before allowing her to log in ON TIME at 8:00 AM. She has notified these IT wizards about her current situation, which has been a daily thing for over a year now (!!) And their response: “That is normal.” I take back what I said earlier. Her IT department consists of a bunch of morons. All they have to do is uninstall the previous updates from Windows so it stops installing and reverting at boot up, and then add another 1GB stick of RAM so it at least meets the MINIMUM system requirements of Windows 7 because I think the lackeys even failed to give her that. I really wish I could fix it myself to save her the time and inconvenience.  Unfortunately, she has to wait for her irresponsible tech wizards to do the job.

Again, some IT departments are amazing so you can’t complain about all of them. But then you have those mentioned above. Who do you blame though when you have to go through hell just to have something simple fixed? Do you blame the individual IT person who is helping you? Probably at the moment because you are frustrated and have deadlines. Or do you blame the person in charge of IT? Maybe they failed at giving proper training. Maybe they need implement a better system. Or maybe they just need to hire some better wizards.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Part I – Windows

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The other day my wife and I were talking and she asked me, ‘What operating system would you recommend for users?’ Good question, actually. These days you have more options, and people might be unsure what is truly right for them. Windows, Mac OS, Linux – which one should you go with? In my opinion, I think the decision weighs on how much the user really wants to deal with the disadvantages of each OS, or if it’s even a disadvantage at all. Anyway, I decided to write about it and compare the pros and cons of the most common OS’s – Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. This will be divided in to three parts, one for each operating system so be sure to drop by for the next two articles. That said, let us start with what seems like the most popular OS (and yet, most troublesome) – Windows.

I have been a Windows user since Windows 95. But don’t worry, this posting will be completely unbiased. Windows comes with many advantages, but just like a reaction to every action, Windows has just as many disadvantages! We will start with the advantages:

Ease of use: I think a lot of people choose Windows because it is rather simple and easy to understand. Windows 8 tried to test this user friendliness advantage, but I think Windows 10 worked out all the confusions. The Windows Graphics User Interface is very user friendly, so you don’t need to be a wizard or have a lot of computer language knowledge to navigate.

Piracy: This has become a huge issue these days. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you ask), Windows 10 is now capable of detecting and uninstalling counterfeit programs on your computer. Though there is a big discussion if Microsoft broke some privacy law. Again, this is either great for users or rather depressing for others.

Gaming: Without a doubt, Windows has the upper hand when it comes to gaming support due to the great number of supported games. Windows 10 is apparently (and I quote…) ‘the best’ Windows for gaming and allows you to stream games from your Xbox one. Although a lot of reviews say the performance base is no different than gaming on Windows 8.1. Unfortunately for Windows 7 users, DirectX 12 is only capable on Windows 10. But Windows 7 is capable of the Vulcan graphics API, which is almost the same thing.  When it comes to graphics and performance, I would say Windows is your best bet for gaming.

Software and hardware compatibility: Most companies make software for Windows based operating systems. And Windows has the best compatibility when it comes to hardware and software. You can run Windows on just about any processor out there. And if you’re curious or unsure then you can check out Windows Compatibility List to make sure if you’re hardware and software work with your version of Windows.

And now let me cover some of the disadvantages: (possible venting)

Malware: This has to be one of the biggest pains in my a**. Sometimes just installing a simple program can end up installing two other programs on your system that you didn’t ask for. Just the other day I installed a program to burn ISO images to disk, and it ended up installing programs to remove malware without letting me know. So really, it installed malware… to remove malware. Luckily my virus protection notified me of the newly installed start-up programs. Malware through downloads or software distribution is easily capable of digging deep holes in to the root of your Windows system if you are not paying attention.

Resource Hog: This is the other pain in my a**. I use Windows 7 (64-bit). Right now I have one instance of Google Chrome open for research, yet my task manager says I have freaking five (!!) instances open. This is in no way bogging down my CPU right now, but what a waste! What is this foolish debauchery?! Windows 10 on the other hand likes to compress your data and old pages of memory, and the longer you keep your computer on accessing program after program, the next thing you realize is that your system is hogging 1GB of your RAM. And after a quick look at your task manager will see that your CPU is running in red at 95% while you’re playing Minesweeper.

Pay for Software: So you just bought a new computer. Depending on how great the rig is, it probably ran you somewhere between €700 – €1.100. A rough guestimate, of course. You are super excited because it came with all this sweet software as well, but, oh… hmm. A lot of these programs are only trial versions and you have to pay to take advantage of the whole thing. The thing with Windows is that you have to pay for just about everything. God forbid that Microsoft comes out with another operating system and then eventually force you to migrate to it because they no longer support previous operating systems.

… wait a minute.

Sound familiar? Alright, I was a little dramatic there. That scenario is really not as realistic as what happened because Windows10 was free to everyone in the beginning while it had all its major issues still in play. And previous versions of Windows are still supported… for now. But eventually we will all have to succumb to Windows 10, which means forking out another couple hundred euros. Here is a fun fact: just recently my wife was upgrading her macOS from El Capitan to Sierra – for free. Well played Apple. Well played.

Customer Service: If you do a Google search for Microsoft Windows customer service reviews, you will find some pretty entertaining stories from customers that could keep you busy for some time. From being put on hold for hours or not receiving call a back, to paying 150 euros and having more issues than you originally started with. Windows has a good reputation for having terrible customer service support. If you are seriously desperate, then God speed on your epic adventure with Windows tech support. Otherwise, please do yourself a favor and research the many, many forums regarding your issue because out there somewhere someone has had the same issue you have and they posted it online for all. Every solution to every problem is somewhere on the World Wide Web, you just have to do a little research. =)

So – Good, Bad, or downright Ugly: Like I said earlier, I’ve been a Windows user all my life. I’ve always stuck with it! Unfortunately, you always have to be careful about what you do when downloading, or even just surfing the internet because malware is just about around every corner. If you do go Windows, make sure you don’t cut the corner when it comes to memory. The more you have, the better, since Windows doesn’t like to share. If you love to play the latest games, build PC’s, or if you’re just an all-around hobbyist – Windows would be your best choice. As for me, I plan on sticking with Windows 7 Professional as my main operating system. But when stacked up against macOS and Linux, I would say Windows is just downright ugly.

Be sure to drop by for the next part of ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’ where I discuss the macOS!

The PC Tech Can Never Give Up

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Recently I came across someone who wanted to repair a worn down MSI Wind Top computer.  This is the type of computer that has the motherboard built right on top, or behind, the monitor to make it all one unit.  What I loved about it was that it had a touchscreen. I haven’t had much experience with this layout so I thought it would be interesting to crack in to. I’m a poor soul though. Had I known what I was really getting myself in to…

I ran a little Google search to see what I would come across, and found on the MSI website that this Wind Top uses “MSI Military Class II” that “features military class components”.  This means nothing to anyone who has served in the military, except that you might end up having to repair a lot of crap, while ripping out your hair in the process.  Upon first inspection I could see that with all the cuts, scratches, and bruises, this thing had been through the wringer, or a minor battlefield.  This model was a little older because it had the OEM sticker on the back with the Windows 7 Home Edition operating system.  These days I think it is rare to find systems preloaded with Windows 8.1 because Microsoft forces you to have Windows 10.  This made me happy because I hate both Windows 8 and 10.  Although none of this mattered anyway because when I first booted it up I was gifted with a beautiful message telling me that the Windows operating system files were corrupt.  Just… lovely. After a few more cold restarts it would skip the corrupt Windows message, but instead the system would continuously reboot itself before the Windows splash screen would show.

Reinstalling the operating system would have been a quick fix at this point but this was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. So the first thing I tried was an attempt to get in to the recovery partition on the hard drive. Usually upon installing Windows, it will make a small partition for the recovery files. Unfortunately I was unable to access the recovery partition due to BIOS ignoring my key strokes. The good thing is I just happened to have a Windows CD with Home Edition! Although this step took me a little further, in the end I got nowhere. It took… forever… to do… anything! Once the system was able to reach a Windows backdrop with recovery options, it would literally stop responding, or take a ridiculous amount of time to complete a single task. The only option that did not battle with my patience was the Command Prompt recovery option, which was great! From here I tried SFC, /fixboot and /fixmbr. SFC checks all common Windows boot files and checks to see if they are original. If not then it replaces them with the original files. /fixboot replaces the windows boot files while /fixmbr replaces the master boot record. For me, none of these helped. At this point, restarting would give me error messages about the Windows BCD files being corrupt. So, I went back to the Command Prompt in the recovery options to try and reinstall the BCD Store files automatically and manually. This also got me nowhere, and left me with the same error upon bootup.

Eventually, I ended up running CHKDSK with /f and /r switches. CHKDSK checks all the sectors on the hard drive to determine if they are corrupt.  I believe if you run CHKDSK by itself it would be the same as if you added the /f switch, which checks the disk and gives you a summary – but does not repair sectors. The /r switch needs to be added to repair bad/corrupt sectors. This is where things became interesting.

CHKDSK ran for two days. TWO DAYS – finding bad sector after bad sector at an extremely slow pace as before. I was certain that once finished I would be able to get in to Windows, but I was unfortunate. After two days of building hope and then a slap to the face, I decided to do a clean install. I decided to install Windows 7 Professional because I love it and it has always been my go-to operating system. And the customer would prefer that over any other Windows 7 OS. Once Windows 7 was installed, it seemed like everything was going smoothly. But unfortunately… once again, the hard drive reared its ugly head and things began to fall apart. Sometimes the OS would not start. Sometimes it would start and continue to run fine. Then it would freeze, or run extremely slow. It was very inconsistent and unreliable. I was also unable to install updates, which left me with poor security and some basic drivers.

In the end, I came to the decision that the hard drive was failing miserably and needed to be replaced. It came stocked with a Western Digital 1TB SATA drive (10EZEX) – Caviar Blue! I personally think these are incredible hard drives and was surprised that it hit the bucket. I chose to stick the same type of drive inside with double the amount of space. I also doubled the RAM (from 4 to 8GB).

The 2TB drive is working just fine, and I even installed Ubuntu on the system as well (dual-boot, per the customer). The moral of this post is… never give up. Don’t let the stress get to you! Keep trying until you have exhausted all your options. I may have had a couple more options but that piece of– son-of a puss-bucket hard drive was pissing me the fu—

Until next time! Hope you all enjoyed the read and hope to see you back for the next one!

(I torched the original hard-drive and sent it back to hell where it came from.)