Category: Hardware (Page 1 of 4)

Fixing a Stuck Pixel

Computer monitors, laptop screens and mobile devices all use lots of pixels together to display their images. And sometimes, one of those picture elements gets stuck. This is a one-in-a-million event that can drive you crazy.

More annoying than muscae volitantes

Note: there are stuck pixels (white or a single color) and dead pixels (black). It is highly unlikely that you can fix a dead pixel, but it can’t hurt to try.

Easy Fixes

The easiest & best tool for you to try is the JScreenFix website. Open that site on the screen with the problem pixel. Click the Launch button. And move/park the hyperactive square over top of your trouble spot. Leave it there for 10 minutes, or more (it won’t hurt to run this for an extra-long time).

Another program I’ve found that does the same thing is UDPixel. But it is an app that you download and install before using. Despite the extra steps, UnDeadPixel is safe to use on Windows computers.

Android users also have the option to use a free app, if for any reason the JScreenFix site doesn’t work out. Consider Dead Pixels Test and Fix.

And in a pinch, you may open YouTube and search for “stuck pixel repair” or screen repair pixel”. There are various stroboscopic videos that you can leave playing on your device that may unstuck a pixel. But you may want to leave the room while the lightshow flashes on, to avoid getting a headache.

Miscellany

These tools don’t always work. A stuck pixel is caused by some hang-up at the sub-pixel level, which can be stimulated into working again. But a dead pixel is caused by a failed transistor, and no software tool can resurrect that component.

Stuck or dead, a bad pixel may turn out to be something you have to live with. But please know also that every monitor/device comes with a warranty. And most of them have a specific dead-pixel promise. If you can locate that verbiage, it will help you figure out if you qualify for free repair or replacement of your screen/device.

There are other methods described online, where some people massage their screens to physically stimulate a problem pixel back to life. I don’t recommend this tactic, as this could cause more problems with your display. But if you have nothing to lose, you may Google for “stuck pixel apply pressure” and probably find the risky details on this.

Fake Hard Drives for Sale

A couple of years ago, I blogged about Fake Flash Drives, and now I have to write a refresh article: You also need to watch out for Fake Hard Drives and Fake Solid State Drives. Please make sure you don’t buy these things!

Good & Bad Examples

First, some examples of legitimate, reliable storage drives:

These items are all fine choices for your data storage. Please note that they are recognizable, big-brand names within the $50-100 price range.

Now for some fakes for your consideration (PLEASE DO NOT BUY THE FOLLOWING PRODUCTS!):

If you regard those items, you should notice some clues that something’s not right. First, there’s no noticeable brand name, or if there is, it’s a name you’ve never seen before and won’t see anywhere else on the web. There’s a big price disparity, too; charging a few dollars per Terabyte of storage is too good to be true.

16TB storage drives do exist, for the rare few of you that need one. If you buy a legitimate 16TB hard drive, expect to pay around $300 at the time of this writing.

Details & Dangers of Fake Drives

The dangers of this scam go beyond losing some money. Your files are at risk if you fall into this trap. These fraudulent devices are mis-manufactured to offer 16TB of storage to your computer. And your computer will believe it when you attach the drive! But there isn’t really that much storage in there. It’s more like a couple of 64GB microSD cards glued to a reader board in these sham drives.

So what happens is that you can try to put data on the device. And it will work, up to a point, but then catastrophe will strike. As your computer pipes data into an area that it thinks is huge but is really much smaller, your data will fall into oblivion. Like lemmings walking off a cliff. And this won’t be apparent until later, when you try to open or retrieve those files. Then you will meet with errors and irrevocable data loss.

Dos & Don’ts

The Too-Long;-Didn’t-Read advice I can finish up with is:

  • Do pay attention to brand names, and buy something from a recognizable manufacturer.
  • Don’t jump on amazing prices/deals. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t believe the posted reviews! Amazon and other websites are commonly gamed by the scammers, and a sham product can have thousands of 5-star reviews below it.
  • Do be judgmental about where you buy (online). Costco, Staples & Best Buy vet their vendors more than Wal*Mart, Amazon and eBay. Avoid those free-for-all marketplaces where anyone can hawk their wares.
  • Do feel free to report scam products to the website’s support team, but don’t spend a lot of your time or emotion on it. I did that 2 years ago with the flash drive debacle, and it became obvious that these big companies don’t care about or can’t fix the problem from their side.

Reuse Your SSID and Wi-Fi Password

When you get a new router, I recommend you use the exact same SSID (network name) and Wi-Fi password as you did in your old equipment. Now, this may sound like a no-brainer to many of you, but please hear me out and let me qualify this simple advice.

Not everyone is savvy with setting up their Wi-Fi equipment, and plenty of people have their ISP do it for them. But if your internet equipment has to change, the ISP’s installer may do a fast job of it. S/he’ll slap that thing into place, write down a generic/default network name and password and get out the door quick like a bunny. I understand why they do this. Many of these techs are contractors, paid by the job, not by the hour.

But when they do this, it causes disruption with all of your household Wi-Fi devices. Everything in your house was set to connect to ILoveMyWiFi using the password funkybeans135, but the new router is emitting Arris-L33T_5G with a password of JohnDoe540. You’ll soon be faced with an onerous task. You’ll have to touch on every device in the house and enter in those new credentials. That can be a lot of work, if you have a printer, a thermostat, a tablet, a smartTV, a video game console, and on and on….

It’s much easier if you stick with the same old network name and Wi-Fi password. You can ask your installer or technician for this! If the new equipment is programmed with the same old ILoveMyWiFi (or whatever your old network name was) and JohnDoe540, all of your devices will likely reconnect to your Wi-Fi automagically. The installer will quit the building and everything will be working just as it was before they came.

Important Details

  • Tell your installer that you want to reuse your SSID and Wi-Fi password at the beginning of the appointment, while the old equipment is still in place. Once they decommission the old router, it may become harder for them to determine your network name and password (unless you have this written down ahead of time for them).
  • Network names and passwords must be kept exactly the same. These things are case-sensitive and even one different character will cause problems. MuellerWireless is different than Mueller Wireless is different from muellerwireless. Devices that connected to one of those will not connect automagically to the others.
  • It is possible to reuse your SSID and password when one piece of equipment replaces two. For example, let’s say you have a Comtrend DSL modem connected to a Netgear wireless router. Your ISP arrives and sets up a combo wireless modem that supplants both of your old boxes. You can ask the tech to program the new all-in-one box with NETGEAR35 and its password zestynoodle123. It doesn’t matter that the modem is a different brand; it can still broadcast a Netgear-style name.
  • It is possible that this tactic won’t work for you, if your existing router is extremely old. A 10-year-old Linksys router may be using an older type of Wi-Fi security (WEP) that doesn’t translate well to the new equipment’s security (WPA2). But most routers made in the last five years should work well with SSID and password reuse.

Dude, Where’s My Bud?

I’ve fielded many calls, where someone is frustrated with their new wireless mouse and/or keyboard. It’s not always a simple affair to get such a device working.

For these calls, I have to go over the basics: Are the batteries installed and are they installed in the correct direction? Is there an insulator (paper tab) to remove, so that the battery can activate and power the device? Have you found the device’s On/Off switch and checked that?

After ruling those out, the sticking point is often finding the USB bud. Well, I call it a bud, and others call it a dongle but officially it’s the USB receiver or RF receiver. It looks like this, and you can’t operate the wireless mouse or keyboard without it:

If you’re having trouble finding this bud, here are some pointers:

  • Double-check your packing materials and cardboard inserts. The USB receiver is sometimes attached to its own piece of cardboard, alongside the keyboard. It may even be embedded in the opening tabs of the box itself!
  • Flip over the mouse and look at the underside. Is the bud there, waiting to be pulled out of its slot?
  • Open the battery compartment of the mouse and/or keyboard. Sometimes, the bud is shipped inside the device, in a hidden slot.

Once you find this bud and connect it to any USB port on your computer, I hope you’ll find your mouse or keyboard has come to life!

5G Is Not the Same as 5G

Tech jargon is confusing enough as it is. But then some geniuses had to go and name two completely different technologies the same thing. Not helpful….

I’m referring to the label “5G”, which can be used regarding your home Wi-Fi or with cellphones. I continue to find that people conflate the two technologies when they have absolutely nothing to do with each other! So I’m going to try and clear this up:

5G Stands for Fifth Generation

When talking about telecommunications, 5G refers to the latest technology that makes your cellphones work. Right now, the fifth generation (5G) of technology is being rolled out in our country. The fourth generation (4G) is the existing cellular communications technology used in much of the country, and 3G & 2G technology is on its way out. The old 3rd gen and 2nd gen antennae and other hardware is being decommissioned and dismantled to make way for the new hotness that is 5G.

5G Stands for 5 Gigahertz (GHz)

By now, most households have Wi-Fi to spread your internet connection around to laptops, tablets and smartphones. And many of you may notice that your Wi-Fi router offers two network names, one that may end in “-5G”. This is merely to distinguish the two bands of frequency emanating from your device. Those two bands are 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, the latter can be referred to as the “5G band.” If you want to read more on Wi-Fi frequency bands, this site has you covered.

Back Tap on Smartphones

iPhones

Most iPhones have a largely unknown feature called Back Tap. If you turn on this special ability, Back Tap will let you trigger an app or function when you tap the back of your iPhone. Back Tap can open Settings, or the Facebook app, or your Camera, whatever you yoke it to.

It’s like you have an invisible button back there that can do anything! Back Tap can be setup on any iPhone 8 and up that is running iOS 14 or newer. For detailed steps, check out these articles for how to set yours up.

First-time users of Back Tap are recommended to keep an eye on it for the first week or so, in case of accidental triggers. If you notice any misfires with Back Tap, you can modify the settings (Double or Triple Tap) or turn it off.

Android Phones

This feature is called Quick Tap on Android phones, but is not widely available yet. So far, it’s showing up only on select Google Pixel phones. Other manufacturers are slow to incorporate this into their phones, but you can always check your phone for this feature under: Settings -> System -> Gestures. If your phone supports Quick Tap, it will be at the top of the Gestures options list.

A warning: internet searches for “Android Quick Tap” will quickly reveal a workaround app called Tap Tap. BlueScreen Computer does not recommend this app. It does not come from the Google Play Store. It has not been vetted by Google. Installing Tap Tap requires you to hamstring & bypass your phone’s security. Please don’t risk it! If your Android phone doesn’t offer Quick Tap, you’re better off waiting to get it on a future phone.

Creating QR Codes

Once you see how easy it is to use QR codes, you may want to make your own. Good news! There are plenty of sites where you can make your own QR code for free, and download/save/print it immediately:

QR Code Generator

QR Code Monkey

My WiFi Sign

Explore these sites and learn all the possibilities for QR codes. You can make a WiFi poster for your coffeeshop. A graphic for your business card that links to your FB Page. A sign that connects your clients to your online menu.

And if you just need a quick QR code for a website, just load it in Chrome. Click the Share icon at the end of the address bar, and then choose QR Code. Google will give you a QR code on the spot!

Scan QR Codes with Your Phone’s Camera

The title says it all, but I’ll go into more detail: When you see a QR code in public, use your cellphone’s camera on it.

If you open your camera and point it at a QR code, the camera software can “figure it out.” Watch for a clickable link on your screen (you do not need to actually take a picture). If you tap the link that appears, it will do whatever the QR code is programmed for (take you to a website, start an email, etc.).

Do NOT download and install any 3rd party app for QR code reading. Those apps are wholly unnecessary at this point, and can contain adware or worse.

Contactless Payments

You’ve probably seen people paying with their phones or watches, instead of using cards or cash. This type of payment is called a “contactless payment”. But despite the boring name, this is a great convenience and security upgrade that I think more people should try.

The Basics

To make a contactless payment, you generally need a smartphone that features NFC. (Smartwatches and tablets may also allow for this!) On your phone, you’ll need to choose and install your contactless payment app. You have 3 choices:

Once you’ve chosen and installed your app, you’ll need to add at least one of your payment card’s info. Many cards are accepted into these apps, but there are some exceptions. If you find your credit card isn’t compatible with contactless payment apps, you can use a different card or talk to the card issuer for other options.

With a card accepted into your Pay app, you are ready to use it at any stores offering contactless payments. Keep an eye out for the universal symbol on storefront doors, windows and payment terminals to know where contactless payments are accepted.

The Security Benefit

I understand that some folks dismiss contactless payments as just a convenience item. “I don’t mind taking a card out of my pocket to pay!” is a common remark. But these Contactless Payments apps protect your account information in a significant way.

When you enroll a payment card into one of these Pay apps, your account number is not stored on your phone. The app builds a secure relationship with your bank, and every time you wave your phone at a reader to make a payment, a unique account number is created for that purchase only. That one-time number makes the transaction go through, and then can never be used again.

The benefit to this is that your true card number is never out in the wild. Criminals have all kinds of tactics for learning your card information, so they can place fraudulent charges. Contactless payment apps defeat a lot of them:

  • If you use Android Pay at a compromised gas pump, the hidden credit card skimmer captures a useless number from you.
  • Let’s say you use Apple Pay at the grocery store, and their servers are hacked the following week. The criminals may get other people’s credit card information, but not yours.
  • If you’re on public Wi-Fi and need to buy something over the internet, using Google Pay or Apple Pay (through your computer) would prevent your true card number from being seen in transmission.

It is true that bank cards in your wallet could still be skimmed and stolen, wirelessly. To help prevent that, I can recommend you also use a RFID-blocking wallet. You can find them as low as $20 on Amazon!

Some Cautions

If you use Contactless Payments, you’ll have to have a screen-lock on your phone. Because otherwise, someone could steal your phone and start buying things with it! As you set up a contactless payment app, it will check and tell you if your phone’s security needs to be improved.

Contactless Payments are not universally accepted (yet). Some stores may not accept them, because it requires newer card-reading equipment, or because it would increase their card-processing fees. But over time, this technology should become more and more widely adopted. Just keep an eye out for the payment symbols:

Costco’s 100% Satisfaction Guarantee

Costco is such a nice company. If you’re a member, you’re probably already familiar with how generous their return policy is. You can bring back almost anything (exceptions listed here) for a refund. They will satisfy almost any reasonable request.

When it comes to big-ticket items, like computers and TVs, you do have to get special permission before returning the item. But I was surprised recently to learn that printers sold at Costco are covered by their 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. So nota bene: if your printer fails you or disappoints you, even after many years of service and expiration of warranty, you may still return it to Costco for your money back! Just carry it in to their Returns counter and ask them to make it right.

This policy likely applies to other technology items (routers, cameras, external hard drives) sold through Costco. So keep good records on everything you buy from Costco, and ask them about a return anytime a technology item fails you. Most of the time, Costco is going to serve you well and save you money!

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