Buying a cheaper alternative? Does it work?

Over the years I have always thought you pay for what you get, whether it be the added extras for your car or simple things like a branded model of a gadget. However just lately I have started looking at the cheaper alternatives to items bought to see if they make such a huge difference.

One such item was a hands-free headset for the car, I have been helping a friend out with driving cars and vans for him and needed a new headset to be on the safe side. A number of years ago I bought a JABRA headset which although worked really well was quite expensive (in the region of £50) but as it was old and hadn’t been used for some time the battery had lost the ability to charge. I looked on the Internet and managed to find a Bluetooth Headset which worked with my iPhone for  less than £20. I was a bit wary of purchasing it as it was so cheap but glad I did, it wasn’t a branded make but when connected to my phone the sound and voice was clear and pin-sharp which was way above my expectations.

So does buying the cheaper alternative work, in this case I would say yes and has definitely changed my outlook on always buying branded products. Some of the products available on the market are just as good as far more expensive products. The one thing I would suggest when comparing though is definitely read reviews from websites and customers about the product you are looking to buy.

GSPOT – Handy utility for finding video or audio codecs.

Have you ever tried to play a video or audio file and you don’t seem to get any output. Well 95% of the time this is due to not running the correct codec to play these streams correctly. There are a few handy programs that you can check which codecs you need to download to view or hear the file. I had this today at a company that uses CCTV and couldn’t play a recorded camera stream on a different PC, but once I had found the correct codec all was solved.

Firstly let me explain what a codec is.

Description is taken from Wikipedia : A codec is a piece of software that can encode or decode a digital stream of data or signal. The full description is located at their website here.

One program that I use simply because of the simplicity of the program is GSPOT. Funny name for a program I know but it does do the job. Once you have run the utility you will encounter a screen similar to the one on the left. To locate the file you wish to find the codec for simply select the browse button at the end of the PATH line ( shown as 2 dots ). This will bring up the usual windows box for which you search for files, locate the file and select OK.

The utility will then scan the audio / video file and list the codec required on the right hand side, its then a matter of downloading and installing the codec to view / hear the file.

 

More details on GSPOT can be found here with further documentation

How to restore your Outlook Back up

The last post was related to how to back up your Outlook contacts and emails. This is a great simple thing I would recommend to do on a weekly basis as you never know when disaster may strike. This post is aimed at restoring that back up in case you buying a new computer or the dreaded reinstall of windows.

Primarily it follows some of the same lines as the back up just with a few exceptions.

Outlook File MenuOutlook Import Export menu

 

Open Outlook and navigate to the File menu and locate the Import and Export menu selection as shown in the images. Instead of exporting this time we need to import and if you have followed the previous guide ( Link here ) then you will have saved your backup as a .pst file. From the selection box locate the item that says Import from another program or file. From the subsequent menu you will need to scroll down and find the selection that says Personal Folder File .pst (shown in images below).

 

Personal File Folder selectionImport selection menu

 

Once this has been done the next menu you will be shown is similar again to the exporting procedure. Locate the file you saved in your backup and make sure that the option Replace items with those imported is selected, then click the ‘next’ button. You will then be shown the box so select Finish and this will begin the import function.

As stated before you will need to enter your mail account details again as the export and import process doesn’t back these up in this way. This process can also be used if the stored .pst file that windows uses in day to day running becomes corrupt hence why recommending backing up weekly.

Backing up your mail and contacts in Outlook

MS Outlook IconDoing regular backups on your PC is an important way of keeping your data in case of that unfortunate event when either your PC fails or windows decides not to load. Thankfully alot of programs include back up routines in the software and Microsoft Outlook is one of them.

The backup tool will back up all your emails and contacts, diary entries and any other info you have put into Outlook in case of disaster. To begin with make sure you have checked for any mail that needs sending by using the send and receive function.

The following images (click to enlarge) show the settings I use but you can choose others if required, they are just what I find easiest and simple to do a reinstall for me.

Outlook Import export menuFrom the File menu select the option that says Import and Export. This will open a new menu allowing you to pick an option of what you wish to do. We are looking to export so there are a couple of options we can select, I choose Export to a File simply because its the easiest and quickest option available in my opinion. The below images are an outline of which options to select, the second image shows the file type I save the backup as but you can select any that you are comfortable with or have knowledge of.

Outlook export to file Export as a .pst file

A .pst (Personal Storage Table) file is used by Microsoft to store all the data in Outlook from within the Mail, Contacts, Tasks and Calendar tabs. This file can grow in size, when backing up mine it currently stands at nearly 800MB so make sure you have plenty of space if your Outlook program contains alot of data.

The last two images below are in relation to selecting what you want to backup and  where you want to store the file. If you are wanting to safeguard all the emails in Outlook make sure you click the check box that says Include sub-folders. This will then include all the folders you have created inside other main folders. After clicking Next you will be presented with the screen of where you want to save the file to and a name for it, use the browse button to find a safe folder, I would recommend creating a new folder or backing up to an external or second hard drive. The selection options are pretty self explanatory but I always select the first option of Replace duplicates when items exported.

Once you are happy with your selections click finish and it will begin the export process, depending on the amount of information it may take a couple of minutes.

Outlook - selecting subfoldersOutlook final options

One item to note this process does not back up your Internet mail settings ie POP account details.

How to restore a backup is similar but will be shown in a post later in the week.

Free hosting competition for one year

CompetitionIf you didnt spot the competition in my previous post (it was hidden at the bottom lol), then this is your opportunity to learn about winning a free hosting package for a year.

I am currently in the midst of setting up new hosting packages and one of them is aimed towards bloggers. Although I’m new to blogging, web hosting and html is something I do have a reasonable knowledge of.

So here are some of the stats regarding the hosting package I am looking to offer.

Specifications :

  • 1 GB of web space
  • Unlimited data usage
  • 2 Mysql databases
  • Unlimited POP mail accounts
  • Pre installed WordPress on request.

All you will be responsible for is the domain name – or paying for it at cost (and i will deal with the name server change and registration on your behalf).

To be in with a shout of obtaining this package all you need to do is contact me here and explain why you believe you should win this and why you want to self host. The closing date for entries will be midnight on the 20th June 2011 and winner will be announced on the 21st June. Anyone can enter but the package must be used for blogging only whether it be a new blog or an existing blog being self hosted.

If you are concerned about self hosting and want hints or tips with it get in touch – I will help as much as I can to help you on your way.

 

Useful WordPress Plugins Part 1

Wordpress logoI have been asked many times what plugins I use on Best Bits and Bobs and really I don’t use a huge amount but I am always looking to improve the blog and make it more appealing with new features. I decided to outline in a number of posts over the next few weeks plugins that I find useful and why.

Akismet Akismet is a plugin to help with that annoying problem of websites that allow comments to be posted SPAM. All websites suffer from it from varying degrees but what Akismet aims to do is prevent what it feels is spam from appearing on your blog. Simple to install and easy sign up make this plugin one of the first you should install when starting a new blog, mainly for peace of mind.

Full details can be found on their website : http://akismet.com/. The WordPress version can be obtained from here.

Google Analytics If you are looking to use your blog for marketing or earning a living from it one of the most useful things is finding the statistics about your blog like viewers, who they found the site etc. Google Analytics is a great tool for this for web developers and users alike. Once you have created your account and entered your website information it records information and shows it in a graphical manner on a google created page. You can avoid the plugin and just enter the HTML coding but the plugin I use goes alot further. Website : Yoast.coms Google Analytics Plugin.

StatPress Similarly to Google Analytics StatPress tracks the users on your site but allows you to view in a little more detail the pages they look at and gives you information like their IP address and all the pages they look at. It also records in a easy to understand table Page Views, Visitors, Spiders and feeds. The plugin also shows you targets if calculates of how your views and hits are comparing month to month. Simple to use and another plugin that’s easy to install makes this in my opinion one of the must have plugins for WordPress. Website : http://www.statpress.org/ WordPress Download : Here

If you have a plugin you think other bloggers should be aware of let me know and I will include it in future posts of this nature.

 

 

The benefits and pitfalls of self hosting WordPress

As I host my own blog and for a few other people I thought I would write a small article on the benefits of hosting your own WordPress blog. Whilst WordPress.com and Blogger are great places to start for all new bloggers they are a bit limiting in what you can do. Although on the other hand Self hosting does have its pitfalls.

I will split this article into the pros and cons of self hosting and give you a little insight into why I think you need to self host.

The pluses of Self-hosting.

If you are using either of the two setups of blogs you will find you are very limited in what you can do as you are using a free setup of the blog software, it limits the themes you can use and also what extras (plugins) you are allowed to install. Self hosting gets rid of these limitations, it allows you to install any plugin you want and modify them to your style. For instance on Bestbitsandbobs.co.uk I use a number of plugins that cant be installed on WordPress.com which I think are invaluable for me. For information one reason why you are limited is for security aspects on the WordPress.com system. Just about anyone can create a plugin but its knowing whether its 100% secure is why they limit the use and the server load of all these plugins would put huge strain on their systems . There are thousands of plugins available so testing them all would be a nightmare.

Having your own domain is definitely another plus side, it allow you to be in complete control of what you own, make regular backups of your database and content and having the ability to use in built mail servers most blog hosting packages contain. Installing WordPress may seem a hard task but to be honest most decent web hosting packages have an in built script that you can install it from at the touch of a few buttons. Blog hosting varies in price all over the internet but I would say that you shouldn’t be paying more than £20.00 per year plus the cost of a domain name. Anything more for the average blog isn’t necessary.

Another advantage of self hosting is the design aspect, you have alot more freedom in the choice of themes you can use, you can edit new ones, create your own and install and uninstall as many as you want. The only limitation to what you install really is the hosting package you are on.

Now the drawbacks.

There really are only a few drawbacks to self hosting but you should be aware of them, the advantages far out way the negatives. One negative is you are responsible for backing up and updating your own site, but getting into a routine of doing it is the best way. I currently back up my blog database twice a week just in the odd case the web server decided to have a fit which is very rare but as you know with computers does happen from time to time. Updating is easy and is done from the dashboard and normally only takes a few clicks to do it, and the same with plugin updates. You are also responsible for the spam aspect of blogging and controlling it but there are some great  plugins about to help the one I and many others use is Akismet.

The next drawback is the cost, but what you pay shouldn’t be extreme if you look for the right host.

You do need to be a little technically minded to self host or have a host who can help if required but overall the freedom you get is definitely worth the cost.

Sponsored hosting.

As an extra to this post I am looking to sponsor the hosting for one year someone who wishes to start a new self hosted blog or transfer to self hosting. You will be responsible for providing the domain name or it can be obtained at cost. To obtain this all you have to do is contact me here and explain why you want to self host – simple as that.

 

How to add space around images in WordPress

Wordpress LogoI dont claim to be a guru at technology related items, but do have a reasonable amount of knowledge on certain aspects. Over the last few weeks I have had 4 or 5 emails from visitors to Bestbitsandbobs.co.uk asking how I create space around images when they are surrounded by text.

There are two ways of achieving this look and it depends on how confident you are at editing your blog using HTML tab.

Entering Spacings without using HTML. The simplest way to achieve this is by using the options for images when using the visual method. Firstly upload and enter your image in the usual way and once it is shown in the Post editing window click on the image. Around the image will appear the selection markers with two icons on the top. The left image is for the image properties and the right is for deleting the image from the post. Select the left icon and you will be shown the details of the image you have selected including size, alignment and titles. At the top of the pane is a tab that says ‘Advanced Setings’. Click this and you will be confronted with a new pane showing options like source, border, style etc.

In this pane there are 2 boxes called vertical space and horizontal space, in here enter the amount of space you require around each side of the picture, I tend to use 5 pixels at most in horizontal space. Once you have made your selection select update and it will alter the image spacing.

Entering Spacing with HTML. The second method like I said depends on your level of HTML knowledge. Firstly in the HTML pane you need to locate the image you wish to make the changes to.

The HTML will look something like this :

<a href=”http://www.bestbitsandbobs.co.uk/………/wp.jpg”><img title=”wp” src=”http://www.bestbitsandbobs.co.uk/………/wp-150×150.jpg” alt=”Wordpress Logo” width=”150″ height=”150″ /></a>

To enter the spaces you use the margin HTML code as shown below in bold.

<a href=”http://www.bestbitsandbobs.co.uk/………/wp.jpg”><img style=”margin-right: 5px; margin-left: 5px;” title=”wp” src=”http://www.bestbitsandbobs.co.uk/………/wp-150×150.jpg” alt=”Wordpress Logo” width=”150″ height=”150″ /></a>

If required you can also enter margins for the top and bottom if necessary.

Hope this helps a few people who have asked for this guide.

 

MS Removal Tool (Malware) – Registry removal method.

A number of weeks ago I created an article of how to remove the MS Removal Tool using a combination of safe mode and MalwareBytes anti malware program. Since then I have had a couple of requests asking for the registry entry removal method. Firstly a word of warning, editing the registry of your computer can have some disastrous effects so please follow the guide carefully and if in doubt please get in touch.

Step 1

Enter ‘Safe mode’ and log onto the infected account, sometimes you will find that it you have multiple users on the PC not all user accounts are affected. We now need to open the registry editor which is built into Windows. To try and keep this as simple as possible I will show the methods for Windows XP and Windows 7. Locating the program in Windows 7 is simple, click start and in the search box type in regedit, under the programs list it should appear. For Windows XP you need to click start and locate the RUN command, when the run box opens type in regedit and press return (as shown in the picture).

Windows 7 search results for regedit

Windows Run Command

Once you have got to either of these stages either click the regedit icon (Win 7 / Vista) or click OK on the RUN command box, this will open your registry editor (regedit). It is easy to get lost in all the entries in the registry so please double check you are at the right location before deleting anything. The registry is where most of your programs settings
are stored and entails things like program location and CD keys.

Step 2

Once the registry editor is open you will notice it will have the computer icon at the top and 5 expandable folders – if you browse through these it may seem daunting but the registry entries we are looking for are fairly easy to find. Most guides only accommodate for looking at the PC overall, if you have multiple users on the PC and only certain accounts are affected follow this guide for each account.

Registry Folders - Click to expand

The folder we are initially concerned with is HKEY_CURRENT_USER. To open the folders just double click them and all the entries in each sub folder are in alphabetical order. We need to navigate through the following directories. Starting off at HKEY_CURRENT_USER using the double click method open SOFTWARE, MICROSOFT, WINDOWS, CURRENTVERSION, and select the RUNONCE folder. In the image shown it shows the keys attributed to my PC, what you are looking for is something like “[five random letters] [five random numbers]” “%systemdrivepath%\ .exe”. Take a note of the drive location then highlight the entry and right click and select delete.

Run Once folder - click to expand

Next close all the folders you have opened so you have only the 5 folders showing, using the same method of searching through the folders check there is no directory under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, SOFTWARE called FAKE MS REMOVAL TOOL if there is right click the folder and select delete.

 

Step 3

 

Finally if you remember where the file location was from step 2 – search your hard drive to locate the file name and delete it. Reboot the PC and see if MS Removal tool is still running. If not you have managed to stop the program starting up but I would advise doing a malware scan again and possibly a full virus scan just to be safe.

 

Whilst this guide is aimed at removing the start-up of the MS removal tool it may not cure every users problems, there is one final method that can be tried but it is undertaken via remote assistance. If you are unsure about any part of the guide please get in touch and I will try to help remove this annoying program. To contact me either use the contact page or leave a comment.

Favourite Game of all time (Part2)

Following on from yesterdays blog post here is part two of my favourite games of all time. If you read yesterdays post you will have noted that I couldn’t say one game was my ultimate favourite and broke it down into four categories.

So onto the FPS genre.

Many games could fall into this category for me including Counter-Strike, Half Life 1 and 2,Operation Flashpoint, Arma 2,  Call of Duty 4, Medal of Honor but really there is only one game that I played and enjoyed thoroughly in this field. The game to me is still the best multi-player FPS which promotes teamwork. This game is EA’s Battlefield 2. The game allows you to drive vehicles, fly aircraft, and be a foot soldier with different classes and rankings. When you get to a certain rank you can unlock new weapons. You also had a mammoth amount of achievements to gain with various medals being awarded. The maps where big enough and allowed various tactics to be undertaken so that you could try to outmanoeuvre your opponents.

The game is still played by many and I know from speaking to regular players they are looking forward to its next release Battlefield 3 later this year.

The final category – Strategy / Action.

I am a keen player of strategy games, mainly the  Total War, Age of Empires, Civilization series and  Anno 1404 but not many games have made me want to buy the next in the series like Settlers on the Amiga, I have played every version of the game including the latest release Settlers 7 (Paths to a Kingdom) and that is why it would  be classed as my favourite strategy / action game. Any game that makes you want to continue playing it and get the next release must be doing something right. Admittedly Settlers 3 was a poor update but the creators started to redeem themselves with the later releases. The aim of the game is to manage you town and build it up to large proportions while defending it from your enemies. Some games could take hours to complete but the game kept you hooked, and once you had completed one game it made you want to start another. Not many games have kept me enthralled like this series lately and I’m sure they will bring out another release at some point.

So there you have it some of my favourite games over the years, so what do you think of the selections ? Do you disagree or have better games? Let me know, it would be an interesting discussion.

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