Monday, April 20, 2015

Put it in Reverse

Storage Devices! This is another big chapter, lots of different devices to cover.

The chapter starts with PATA internal drives. It also helpfully tells me that many motherboards don't have floppy drive interfaces anymore, because they're not used much. (I love when it tells me things like that.)

So we're talking hard disk drives inside your computer to start. Excellent!

PATA drives are being replaced by SATA drives, but this book is good at reminding me that just because a thing is becoming depreciated, doesn't mean it won't pop out of the woodwork at some point on someone's computer, so it's good to be prepared. Mind you, in this case, PATA is still being used more often for optical drives, so learning about it is a good thing.

They have two different types of cables - one (the 80-wire variant) has a ground wire for each data or signal wire, so it can support a higher speed than the one that doesn't (the 40-wire variant). 80-wire cables are recommended for all PATA devices, and outright required for modern PATA disks.

This was my first introduction to jumper blocks, as well. Jumpers allow the computer to close an electrical circuit, which means that the electricity can be sent only to specific circuits on the board. Jumpers consist of a set of small pins that can be covered with a small plastic box, which is the jumper block. They're basically a way of configuring various settings for a hard disk or other devices. Most often, on PATA drives, they're near the power and data connectors. Usually there will be markings on the drive to tell you what the blocks are for, and if not, the system documentation will. They're generally used now to set up which is the primary or secondary drive, if more than one is present.

Once you've got that all set up, and everything is placed and configured correctly, the system BIOS should be able to tell you all sorts of neat things about the disk, like its capacity, performance, and so on. If you've used the disk somewhere else, you might need to manually configure the BIOS settings, but it will try to figure it all out for you, which is nice of it.

From here, we go into SATA drives and a whole host of other storage devices! Just a short post today, but don't worry, there will be lots of storage related fun to be had,

Monday, March 30, 2015

Amusement and Delight of the Few

I finally made it to the end of the chapter on printers. Admittedly, brain surgery in the middle of everything did put studying on the back burner for a while, but I persevered, and have conquered the chapter.This was the most dense part - all the ways printers can go wrong, and how to maybe hopefully convince them to work for you again.

A lot of it comes down to maintenance - take good care of your printer and you won't run into problems. Clean bits as they need cleaning, change bits as they need it, replace the toner or ink cartridges as they empty, and you will, for the most part have a relatively happy existence alongside your printer.

That said, things do go wrong. Like paper jams! In my life, this is probably the problem I encounter the most. A lot of the time that means very gently opening the printer and easing the paper out. Don't just yank the paper - chances are it will rip or tear and you'll just have more problems. There's usually a rear exit cover you can open to get to more of the printer, or a front door, or trays that can come out - just carefully remove/open the printer until you can get the jammed paper out. Seems easy enough, but when you're frustrated, yanking always seems like the best idea!

If there are streaks or smudges, make sure all the pieces of the printer are clean and free of dirt and that the toner/ink hasn't run out. If there are vertical lines on the page, check for dirt/debris, and if it is a thermal printer, make sure the heating element is working correctly (and replace it if it isn't.)

Sometimes you might encounter low memory errors on a printer, if you are printing something where an individual page requires more memory than the printer contains. If so, it will only print part of the page. You can fix that temporarily by lowering the resolution of the print job, reducing or eliminating graphics on the page, or by converting colour text, images or photographs to black and white. Ultimately, though, the best way to fix that problem is to add more RAM to the printer, if at all possible. That gives it more memory to work with, and thus lowers your chances of running out.

Another thing to always make sure of is that your drivers are correct and up to date for the printer and that you are selecting the right port for the printer. Make sure the cables and other physical bits are in working order, and replace them if they aren't. Take good care of your printer, and it should, universe willing, keep you in nicely printed pages for a good long while.

From here it is onto a new chapter - storage devices of all shapes and sizes!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Wakes Up the Brain Cells

Taking a break from printers for an update of sorts. Haven't been studying/posting because I got the lovely joy of having to go have brain surgery last week.

I have hydrocephalus, which means that I have a VP (ventriculoperitoneal) shunt that makes sure my CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) drains like it is supposed to and relieves the pressure in my head. (Normally, your body figures this out on its own, without fancy tubes and valves.) Means I have a valve in my head and a long tube that goes down near my stomach and that's how my CSF gets drained and kept at a comfortable level of pressure in my head.

As with any sort of machinery, stuff breaks down and gets clogged and stops working sometimes, and that's what happened here. It's happened before (twice as a baby, twice within a month when I was 12, and then last week). Sometimes its like BOOM broken RIGHT NOW and that's a lot more immediately noticeable, but this time it was kinda intermittently broken, so I didn't realize until I had a migraine for 5 days, decided something might be up, and took myself to the ER.

Good thing I did - next thing I knew, it was off to a different hospital via ambulance (very fast, you bounce when you hit bumps, so they strap you in good, and yes we got to use the siren!) and then some xrays and blood samples and stuff, and then a couple days later they did surgery. They can take the whole shunt out and put a new one in, but since it has been in for  so long, the neurosurgeon was afraid of causing a brain bleed, so she left that one and just put a new one in on the other side. So now I am symmetrical!

They let me out of the hospital the next day because I was doing super well, and then I spent a week staying with family - first with my mom and dad, and then with my sister. As of yesterday, I am back in my own house, which is awesome. Nice to be in my own bed again.

I shaved my head, too - they shaved an area for the surgery, and I decided to just roll with it, because I always thought it would be fun. Makes getting ready for the day easier!

Going to be home for a bit longer, as everything makes me super tired and my brain is still sorting itself out (I forget stuff and mix up stuff in my head, but that is getting better every day!) but it is so nice to be home again, with my cat and my bed!

Will get back to studying soon, little bits at a time. After all, the printer chapter will come to an end soon (really, I promise!) and then it is on to....whatever exciting bits come next!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Never Know It Is the Right Thing

Printers break. In fact, I think if you mention printers to just about anyone, the first thing you will talk about is likely how frustrating they are and how many ways things can go wrong. Luckily, this part of the chapter taught me lots of useful ways to take care of any printers I encounter, to hopefully prevent things from going wrong and needing the later part about troubleshooting quite so often!

Of course, each printer type (laser, inkjet, thermal, etc) have their own maintenance requirements. Happily, the book goes through each one in turn!

For laser printers, the main maintenance tips are making sure to replacing the toner cartridges as needed, and making sure that any worn out bits (filters, fuser assemblies, rollers, etc) get replaced as they wear or break. Also make sure to keep things clean (which can get tricky with toner, because it is fine enough to go through the bags and filters of a conventional vacuum) and calibrated!

Inkjet printers (the ones most of us have in our homes) are pretty simple to take care of. Replace the ink cartridges as needed (and yes, pay an arm and a leg to do so, as this lovely graph shows).

Other than that, they mostly take care of themselves, as many home printers calibrate themselves without any real need for you to do so (although they often have a utility to do so, if you find you have a need). If you've not used it in a while, you might want to run a nozzle check routine to make sure they aren't clogged, and use the head-cleaning routine as needed. 

Thermal printers need to be kept clean and free of debris, and you need to make sure you are using  the correct paper matching the specifications of the printer, along with the correct ribbon. Make sure the heating elements stay clean!

Impact printers need their ribbons changed as they wear, especially if they develop snags or cuts, as then they can catch on printhead pins, and you risk breaking or bending  them, which causes a whole new set of problems. The printhead needs to be replaced/rebuilt/reconditioned if the pins are damaged, and it is also important to make sure the tractor feeders for the paper are in working order, and the paper feeds correctly.

Hopefully, if you follow all of those recommendations, you won't need the next section of the chapter, all about printer troubleshooting, quite so much. But printers are tricky beasts, so no guarantees.....

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Engine of Immortality

Still in the land of printers, but they are becoming less enigmatic by the day!

I'd never really considered printers in terms of anything other than the inkjet or laser printers, because those are the kinds you interact with and hear about the most when it comes to home use. They're not the only things that print, though!

Thermal printers are used for receipt printers, print on demand labels, and in other ways (anyone remember the Game Boy Printer? That was a thermal printer!), and work just like they sound like they might - the print head is heated, and the heated dot matrix either transfers directly to heat sensitive paper, or to a ribbon that melts onto the paper.

Impact printers bear the most similarity to typewriters - the printhead presses against an inked ribbon to print characters and graphics. They are used for point of sale devices and in other ways, and if larger paper is used, it often has fixed or removable sprocket holes on the side. I remember having paper like this to draw on as a kid, and tearing off the sprocket hole strips and making folded paper snakes out of them!

I also learned all about installing printers. For the most part, it means plugging the printer into power and into the computer, and setting up any device drivers or networking as needed.

One thing I learned from this chapter that was completely unknown to me was the idea that you could add RAM to a printer just like you can add RAM to any computer. I had never really considered printers as something worth upgrading - most of my experience with printers has been with the home variety, which are often not worth fixing, let alone upgrading. I've used various workstation printers at work and at school, but I just figured they were like my printer at home, only larger - I never considered the idea that they could be upgraded or changed. I learned that it is also possible to add BlueTooth or ethernet support as long as the printer is compatible with the print server/adapters.

Configuring a printer to be used by other printers in the network, or to work a certain way (consistently use the same paper type, orientation, colour profile, etc) is quite easy, as long as all the computers on the network (in terms of sharing across the network) are using the same operating system. It gets a bit trickier if you have a mix of Windows operating systems, but it is still possible, as long as you remember a few key steps (mostly remembering to enable File and Printer Sharing).

From here, I continue with the glorious world of printers, learning about maintenance and troubleshooting (everyone's favourite  things!)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Greatest Blessing and Greatest Curse

Printers! Everyone's best friend. I think Eddie Izzard summed up most people's attitudes towards printers in a fantastic (but possibly not work-safe, for the swearing) comedy bit. Ctrl, P, Print!

It's never that easy. But this chapter shed some light on the mysteries contained inside various types of printers.

The chapter started with laser printers. I learned about all the parts in them and how they work together (or don't, depending on your experience!). Turns out there is a lot more going on than I thought. In fact, there are 7 specific steps to laser printing!

Step 1 is processing - getting the files/text/images you want printed into the printer's memory. 

Step 2 is conditioning - the printer drum getting ready to print by getting an electrostatic charge.

Step 3 is exposing - where lasers or LEDs temporarily record the image of the printed page onto the drum by lowering the voltage on the sections that are going to be printed.

Step 4 is developing - the toner is applied from the developer to the drum, sticking only to the lower voltage areas, because it is charged to the same voltage as the not-printed parts of the drum, and the toner only "sticks" to the lower charged area. Like charges repel each other, similar to two poles of a magnet that repel each other!

Step 5 is transferring - this is where the actual printing takes place. The paper goes in, gets the same electrostatic charge as the areas of the drum without toner, and as the drum moves towards the charged paper, the toner is attracted to the page, and creates the printed page.

Step 6 is fusing - the page is moved through high-temperature rollers that heat the toner and press into the paper, and the printed page is ejected from the printer.

Step 7 is cleaning - the drum is scraped clean of any leftover toner, and prepared for the next page!

Colour printing works in the same way, using 4 different shades of toner (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) to create the colour images.

Inkjet printers, the most common type of home or small office printer, works by spraying controlled dots of colour onto the page to form characters and graphics. Like hundreds of tiny spray painters, the nozzles move across the page, printing one line at a time the size of the print head until the entire page is finished, moving back and forth much like a typewriter.

From here, I continue in the land of printers, learning about thermal printers (like receipt printers) and impact printers, and all the ways printers might need troubleshooting (everyone's favourite part!)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I Can Show You The World

Still in the lovely world of laptops!

Replacing optical drives and wireless cards seems pretty simple, as long as you remember to disconnect all the parts and remember where all the screws go. I am learning that laptops are like any other machine - made of bits usually stuck to one another with screws, and you better remember where each one came from! The mystery of what lies beneath the case is becoming clearer and clearer, although I am still amazed we can, as a society, produce parts small enough for me to effectively carry the knowledge of the world around with me (including all the cat videos I could want!) as long as I have a power outlet and some WiFi.

Replacing the screen was the first time the book very emphatically told me NOT to do something, which surprised me at first, until I understood what it was really saying. In general, you want to replace the screen as a whole display assembly, instead of doing the complex work of replacing/removing the LCD display panel itself. Good to know. Mind you, if the inverter or the backlight need servicing, that is totally doable, as long as you are careful and make sure you disconnect wires and such carefully. The book didn't go into a lot of detail on the specifics of that, simply letting me know that it is going to vary by laptop model and manufacturer. That makes a lot of sense to me, though, considering they come in a number of form factors, so things have a very good chance of not being entirely consistent.

The parts about the heatsink, CPU, and fan removal seemed quite similar to their desktop counterparts, just working in a smaller confined space where there might be more bits in the way. Fair enough, that makes sens to me.

The last bits of the chapter, as usual, were troubleshooting - if you see this, try that. I did like learning about the different ways the display can fail, as it wasn't something I'd ever thought about in terms of the different components that make your screen the brightly lit colourful wonderland that you interact with each time you use the machine. Power problems usually come down to a bad adapter, or a bad battery, which makes sense - those are really your only two areas where power comes in and out of play.

From here, I am skipping about a bit in an attempt to get through all of the topics for the first test first (as that made the most sense to me). Onward and upward, to everyone's favourite computer accessory! Printers! (I know, I know, I can hear your excitement all the way over here.)