Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Configure a Wireless Router

Ever wonder what all those options are? Trust me, there are not that complicated and for the most part you do not even need to concern yourself with most of the wireless options on a wireless router.

To start configuring the wireless settings, you are first going to need to access the routers configuration, if you read my last post on getting into the routers configuration you know I strongly disagree with running the setup CD, instead log into the routers internet configuration interface. You can find the previous article here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/02/configuring-and-setting-up-router.html. Also, again I am going to be configuring a Linksys Router, in this case a dual-band Wireless N Linksys WRT610. In my experience most other brand routers are similar; you may however, have different options depending on the capabilities of your router.

First off I am going to log into the web interface, the default IP address for a Linksys Router is 192.168.1.1 and the default password is admin; leave the username field blank. Just to note, I have changed the default IP address on my router to 192.168.1.3.

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Once in the web interface, you are going to want to go to the wireless tab.

configuring-wireless-router-wireless-tab

On the wireless tab, the very first option you see is the option to configure the wireless settings manually or to use Wi-Fi Protected Setup. The Wi-Fi protected setup is designed to make it easy to secure your wireless network, as well as adding additional devices. I personally find it easier to manually setup the wireless options. In addition, there has recently been uncovered some serious security flaws with the WPS option.

Just to note here, that I have a dual-band wireless router, which simply means that I have two wireless radios, a radio that operates on the 5 GHz frequency and a radio that operates on the standard 2.4 GHz frequency. As such I have a set of options for each radio, each radio has its own SSID and frequency settings. Devices that operate on the 5 GHz frequency are still fairly uncommon; it is however, the preferred frequency if your device supports it, due to the fact there are very few devices that actually use this frequency.

Going in the order of options here:

  1. First option is the Network Mode. This will select the operating mode for the radio, including the option to disable the wireless radio. Unless you have a specific reason for wanting the radio to operate in a specific mode you can just leave it in mixed mode.
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  2. The next option is the Network Name (SSID). This is name you see when you try to wirelessly connect to your router. This should be the only option you really need to change on this page. In the screenshot below you only see my 2.4 GHz radio, this is because my laptop does not support the 5 GHz radio and thus I cannot see it.
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  3. The next three options all have to do with the wireless frequency the radio operates on. You should be able to leave all these options on auto. The only reason you may want to change these is if you are experiencing interference.
  4. The final option is SSID Broadcast. By disabling this option your router will not be visible to wireless devices. This will prevent you from finding your router, which may be desirable in an apartment setting where all the tenants of wireless devices. If you use this option you will need to manually connect to the router by configuring your computer or device with the correct SSID and passphrase.

Now that we got the basics done, we need to configure the most important wireless options. And that is the Wireless Security; so, go to the Wireless Security tab – just to note, in Linksys routers, not the Security tab! It seems like I always get this confused, probably do to the fact that the Wireless Security tab is almost directly below the Security tab. These options will prevent freeloaders from borrowing your internet connection or worse, stealing the data off computers and devices connected to your network!

configuring-wireless-router-wireless-security

Again, going in order of options, and also I have 2 radios so I have a set of settings for each radio.

  1. The first option is the Security Mode. The best option here is WPA2-Personal. The other options such as WEP are easily hacked and should not be used! Some of the other options are also enterprise level options.
  2. The next option is Encryption. For this I recommend AES encryption.
  3. The next option is the Passphrase. This is the “password” you will type in when you connect wirelessly to your router. Depending on your router, you can set this to whatever you want, just remember don’t make to simple otherwise someone may be able to guess it!
  4. The final option is Key Renewal. You can just leave this option as default.

At this point you done! Your wireless router should be configured and unwelcome visitors should be locked out!

Just to leave with a word of advice, make sure you have your wireless router secured!  I personally have a long range wireless access point (couple miles) and I can pick up several unsecured networks.  Freeloading and personal information here we go!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bits, Bytes, Megabytes, and Gigabytes

Ever wonder why when you download stuff from the internet, your download speed is so much slower than your advertised connection speed? Well, this post will answer that question, in addition to covering the bits and bytes of a computer.

A bit is a binary digit that in the computer world is usually either a 0 or a 1. A bit is represented by a small b, for example Kb (kilobit). The 0’s and 1’s are on’s and off’s in the computers circuitry, since computers run on electricity this is the only two states that electricity can be in, either on or it is off. All storage mediums (hard drives, CDs) use 0’s and 1’s to store content.

Next, we have the byte. A computer byte is made up of 8 bits or 8 on’s or off’s. Bytes are represented by a big B, for example KB (kilobytes). So, if you 1 KB (kilobyte) you have 8,000 (eight thousand) bits. Bits and bytes can not only be used for size, but also for speed. Generally for you size you will see KB, Mb, GB, and so on; but if you have a speed then you will see kbps (kilobits per second), or MBPS (megabytes per second), generally though bits is used for speed rather than bytes.

And finally, we have the prefixes – kilo, mega, giga, tera, and so on (yes, there are more prefixes!). Kilo is 1,000 (one thousand), mega is 1,000,000 (one million), giga is 1,000,000,000 (one billion), and tera is 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion). For those who are little rusty on their math, each prefix is one thousand times bigger than the previous. So, a kilo times a thousand will make one million (mega). Most hard drives now days are represented in either Gigabytes (1 billion bytes) or terabytes (1 trillion bytes). For example a 500 GB hard drive can hold 500,000,000,000 (500 billion) bytes.  By the way, you can multiply that by 8 and figure out how many bits it will hold (hint: it is a larger number!).

Now to the question I asked above, why is your download speed so much slower than your advertised upload speed? You may have been able to figure this out already from reading about bits and bytes above. Most internet connection speeds are rated in bits, for example you have a 6 Mbps connection (6,000,000 – six million bits per second) speed. But, when you download a file, your computer downloads the file in bytes, not bits. Hence your download speed will be an eighth (1/8) of your connection speed. As you can see in my example below, my connection speed is 2 Mbps (2,000,000 – 2 million bits per second), actually 2.07 Mbps, but to keep the math simple here, we will just use 2 Mbps (notice the small b!).

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And in the screenshot below of an actual download, you can see my download speed is 252 KB/sec. Notice the big B! Now, if you do the math and make this into bits – take 252,000 and multiply it by 8 you will get: 2,016,000; which makes for 2 Mbps.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Troubleshooting Internet Problems – Computer Internet Issues (Part 3)

This is part 3 of the troubleshooting internet connection troubles. In this post I am going to focus the computer itself as the cause of the problem. This area definitely has the most problems that can go wrong and probably is the hardest to troubleshoot.

You can find Trouble Shooting Internet Problems (Part 1) here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/03/troubleshooting-internet-problems-part.html and Troubleshooting Internet Problems with Routers (Part2): http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/03/troubleshooting-internet-problems.html.

  • To start off troubleshooting, the very first thing to do is to try restarting the computer. You might be surprised at the number of problems this fixes!
  • Just to note at this point as well you should make sure your computer is virus free! Viruses can cause all kinds of problems with the internet. You can find more help on this here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2011/05/how-do-you-know-if-your-computer-is.html.
  • Also along with the virus problem, make sure you do not have a corrupted anti-virus installation. I have had this twice now where a messed up Norton Anti-virus uninstallation caused Internet Explorer and Firefox not work. It took me 3 days the first time this happened to troubleshoot the problem – main problem was the fact that the computer had a virus on it and the person had taken the computer to a friend to get it fixed, while the friend had managed to remove the virus, in the process the internet stopped working. Which resulted in the computer being brought to me, and it just happened by chance that I came across a Norton Anti-virus file, indicating an incomplete uninstall of Norton Anti-virus.
  • Try another browser. If that browser does not work, then something is wrong with Windows, if on the other hand that browser works then something is wrong with your browser. Some additional browsers you can try are Opera: http://www.opera.com/browser/ (I recommend this because it works when other browsers don’t); Firefox: http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/; and Google Chrome: https://www.google.com/chrome.
  • Also a good test is to see if your computer can reach the router. Go to Start >> All Programs >> Accessories >> Command Prompt. In Command Prompt, type in ping [your routers IP address], if you have an Linksys router the IP address should be 192.168.1.1, so you would type in ping 192.168.1.1. If that works, try pinging a few websites, such as google.com. Just to note here some websites disable pinging, Microsoft for example disables pinging, so if you try to ping a Microsoft website you will not receive a reply.

The next few suggestions will assume the problem lies with your browser, these instructions apply to all browsers; however, all browsers are slightly different and have slightly different options.

  • Next, try resetting your browser, for Internet Explorer, I recommend using the Reset rather than the clear temporary files and cookies. For Internet Explorer this is under Settings (the little cog/gear icon), then Internet Options, the Advanced Tab, and click the Reset button. You will have to close and reopen Internet Explorer when the reset is done.
  • Try Internet Explorer in Safe Mode. Internet Explorer safe mode is under Start >> All Programs >> Accessories >> System Tools >> Internet Explorer (No Add-ons). It is possible that an add-on is interfering with your browser.
  • Check the proxy settings. In Internet Explorer this is under Settings (the little cog/gear icon), then Internet Options, the Connections tab, then LAN Settings, and unless you actually have proxy settings it should be set to automatically detect settings.
  • Specific websites not working: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/02/how-to-remove-findgala-or-gala.html or searches taking you to weird places: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/02/internet-explorer-redirecting-to-weird.html.

Next, I am going to cover some of things that can go wrong with Windows.

  • The first thing to check is what information your computer is getting from the router. You can watch the videos below on how to view the information that your router is providing. What you do not want to see is an IP address that starts with 169.254 (this is a self-assigned address, which means your computer is not getting its information from the router). Generally rebooting all the components should fix this problem.
    Network Adapter Connection Status in Windows 7

    And for Windows XP:
    Network Adapter Connection Status in Windows XP
  • Reset the Windows Network Components, go to Start >> All Programs >> Accessories >> Right click on Command Prompt and select Run as Administrator. Type in the following two commands one at a time, press Enter after each command. Just to note that the first command will create a log which may be helpful for further troubleshooting. It is recommend to restart the computer after running these commands.
    netsh int ip reset C:\netshipresetlog.txt
    netsh winsock reset
    These settings can sometimes get messed up programs that tamper with Windows Networking Stack or from sudden improper shutdowns. You can view the video below for opening the Command Prompt. Just to note, for Windows XP you do not have to run administratively, just open Command Prompt.
    How to Command Prompt Administratively
  • Make sure your network adapter has a driver and is functioning properly. View the video below on how to check this. Under the Device status you want to see: This device is working properly.
    How to View the Status of a Device Connected to Your Computer

    And for Windows XP:
    How view the status of a device connected to your computer in Windows XP
  • Update the driver for your network adapter (or wireless adapter). Windows Update usually provides updates for network drivers.
  • As a final Windows fix you can try running the Windows System File Checker tool. Go to Start >> All Programs >> Accessories >> Right click on Command Prompt and select Run as Administrator. Type in the following: sfc /scannow. This may take some time to run.

And for some final things to troubleshoot, we are going to look at the hardware itself. Now most troubleshooting manuals will probably tell you start here, but in my experience this usually causes the least amount of troubles.

  • For starters, if your computer is connected via a network cable, try another cable. If you have a wireless laptop, try connecting to a different wireless location (go to a public library or something if do not have another wireless device to connect to).
  • Also if you have a laptop, try using a wired connection rather than the wireless connection or if you are using a wired connection try a wireless connection.
  • Replace the network card with another network card, or if the connection is integrated onto the motherboard, then purchase PCI Network Card or a USB Ethernet Adaptor.

Please note that this guide was designed to be a quick guide with a lot of information to cover and if at any point in the instruction you are uncertain, just do a web search for more information on that particular topic.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Troubleshooting Internet Problems – Multiple Devices on your Network do not have Internet (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the first post on troubleshooting internet problems: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/03/troubleshooting-internet-problems-part.html.

In the first post I covered some basics on troubleshooting some of the common problems that can happen to your internet connection. In this post we are going to attempt to actually fix the problem. This post is going to assume that the problem does not lie with your computer and instead lies with your router or other device. If multiple devices on your network are not working, this is usually a good indication that something is wrong at a higher level than your computer. More specifically your router or any other networking equipment you may have. By the way this does not apply to dialup users! If you have dialup and are having internet connection trouble, the problem has to lie within the computer.

There are several things that can possibly go wrong in this area and I am going to start with one at a time, starting with the router, then the DSL/Cable modem, and finally a device on the network that may be interfering. By the way, at each you should still be checking to make sure all devices are still without internet.

  1. The very first and most likely candidate is the router. Again I like shortcuts so we are going to start with the easiest fix, and this probably is what your ISP is going to recommend as well. Reboot the router, depending on your router, you can either toggle the power switch or pull the plug. Leave the router off for at least 30 seconds before plugging it back in. Wait for it to fully boot up before trying the internet. Usually when all the lights stop flashing then the router is online. This is a fairly common problem and usually fixes most connection issues.
  2. If that does not fix the problem, try rebooting the modem as well; by the way this does not apply if you have an all in one router modem combo unit. The proper sequence for this should be to shut both the modem and router off and wait 30 seconds. First plug the modem back in and wait for the modem start functioning, this may take some time. Once the modem is back online, then you can start router and try the internet again.
  3. If that still does not fix the problem, try rebooting the computer/s as well. This will refresh the connections between the router and computer and possibly correct any IP settings that may be causing problems.
  4. Still does not fix the problem? Try plugging your modem directly into a computer, depending on your modem this may or may not work, also reboot both devices after making the connection. If your modem provides your computer with an internet connection then the problem lies somewhere within the router. By the way if none of the further troubleshooting tips help then it is possible your router is bad and you will need a new router.
  5. Assuming the router is at fault yet, you should check the setting on your router to ensure it can connect to the internet. You will have to get with your ISP as to what the settings need to be. I have seen power outages/surges cause routers to lose all their settings, which obviously means it cannot connect to the internet. For a Linksys router all the internet connection settings are on the very first page when you log in, also you can go to the Administration tab, and then go to the Diagnostics sub tab. Here you can perform a Ping test directly from the router.clip_image002
  6. Still no luck? As a final test shutdown everything (and I mean everything!) on your network; modems, routers, switches, computers, laptops, printers, iPads, and anything else! Start by turning on the modem, wait tell it is online; then turn on the router, wait tell it is online. Once the modem and router is online, then turn on one computer or laptop; make sure that it is a device that connects directly into the router – do not use a wireless device. If the computer has internet; then it is possible a device on your network is interfering; continue to turn devices on/plug devices into the network until either all devices work or until one device causes a problem.

Hopefully at this point your connection problem has been resolved or you have determined that a device on your network is causing problems.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Troubleshooting Internet Problems (Part 1)

For starters we are going to do a little troubleshooting. Now, I have been taught to troubleshoot a problem, especially Internet related problems, from the bottom up; however, I like shortcuts, so rather than starting from the bottom, we are going check a few things that commonly go wrong first before starting from the bottom. These common problems usually include a single website that simply is not work at the moment, a single computer or device that is not working, or your ISP is experiencing a temporary outage.

You can find troubleshooting network internet connection problems part 2 here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/03/troubleshooting-internet-problems.html

And you can find part 3 on troubleshooting the computer side here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/03/troubleshooting-internet-problems_18.html

The very first thing to do when you encounter a website that does not work is to try some additional websites to ensure that that particular website simply is not down at the moment. When you encounter a website that does not work or your internet access is down, you will usually receive a 404 error message that Internet Explorer cannot display this page (the message will vary slightly depending on what internet browser you are using). Some websites to try when this happens are www.google.com, www.microsoft.com, www.bing.com, and www.yahoo.com.

Once you have determined that cannot access any websites on the device, the second thing to check is from a second device – if you have one anyway. If you find that your second device does not have internet then you will want to check with your ISP to see if you have an internet connection. This has a second benefit as well, if the second device has internet, then problem has to be the first computer.

The third thing to check is whether or not your ISP is up and providing you with an internet connection! This may sound stupid but I actually know someone who went and bought a brand new computer because their Internet did not work. Turns out the Internet still did not work on the new computer! A simple check or call to the ISP would have saved some money; as it turns the ISP was down for a couple days due to a lightning strike.

There are couple ways of checking whether your Internet connection is up:

  • The best way to determine if your Internet connection is up is by asking your ISP! They can usually check right from their end all the way up to modem in your house – at which point it usually becomes your problem.
  • If you have a router, enter your routers status page. For Linksys routers, you would go to http://192.168.1.1, type in the password (default is admin), go to the Status page. On the screenshot below you will noticed that under the Internet Connection status that everything has 0.0.0.0 or is blank, meaning there is no internet access (does not necessarily mean your ISP is down though!).
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  • Ping test – this is a really simple test that tests the connection by sending a ping to a server. To do a ping test go to Start and in the search box type in CMD or if you have Windows XP go to Start >> All Programs >> Accessories >> Command Prompt.
    clip_image004
    In the Command Prompt window type in Ping 8.8.8.8, this will Ping one of Google’s DNS servers. You can also type in Ping google.com. If you get a reply back then your Internet service is working. Also, if the Ping 8.8.8.8 works, but the Ping google.com does not work, then there is a possibility that your ISP’s DNS servers are down or something within your own network is blocking the DNS information.
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Obviously if your ISP says the connection is down between their equipment; then there is nothing else you can do except wait for them to fix the problem.

I will cover specific troubleshooting scenarios in another post. However, before I close this post, I think it is important to give a quick overview of your internet browser works.

For starters everything on the internet has an IP address, this number that identified all devices on the internet and allows one to connect to them and allows data to be routed through the world! An IP address is made up of 4 sets of numbers, for example 192.168.1.138 or 10.2.255.128. This works great for computers that read numbers, but for us humans, remembering these numbers does not work so well, imagine you want to go to Google, instead of typing in http://www.google.com you have to type in http://74.125.225.40?

For this reason DNS was invented, which allows devices to also have a name associated with that IP address. So instead of having to type in an IP address you can type in www.google.com! For the internet browser though this means that it first needs to convert that name into a number, since that name means nothing to the computer.

This is where your ISP comes in and provides you not only with an IP address to get online with, but also DNS servers, which take the name (google.com) and send Google’s IP address back to your computer’s web browser. So when you go to www.google.com, the first thing that happens is the request gets sent to your ISP’s DNS severs, the DNS servers then send back to your browser the IP address of www.google.com (74.125.225.40); the web browser then attempts to access 74.125.225.40.  Incidentally, this can actually happen a couple times since a particular website may have to pull data from more than one location.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Where is the Data on Your Computer Stored?

This is something I think that everyone should know and in my opinion, is one of the more important things to know.  For example, in my last post, I mentioned how to download pictures of a digital camera: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/02/how-to-download-pictures-from-digital.html.  If you followed the directions, the pictures where stored in My Pictures; however, now that pictures are in My Pictures your computer crashes.  So, you pull the hard drive out and put it in another computer.  The pictures are in My Pictures, but where is My Pictures or your documents or your videos for that matter?  Even if you never have to do this, it is helpful to know how to find files within your system without the help of shortcuts on your desktop.
To access the data directly you need to go to My Computer (or Computer)(either on the Start Menu or on the desktop).  In My Computer you should see all your hard drives, CD/DVD Drives, and other devices with storage.  Your main hard drive should be drive C:.  Depending on your system it may go by different names such as Local Disk C or in my case the brand of my computer Acer C.  Also if you trying to restored the data from a hard drive then it will most likely be a different letter.
acer-my-computer
Just to note, if you are using Windows XP and see a warning about these files being hidden, just click the Show the contents of this folder.
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Double click on the hard drive to open the hard drive.  You should now see all the folders within the hard drive, if you do not see all these folders then you probably have the wrong hard drive, at the minimum you should see a Users Folder, a Programs folder, and a Windows folder (the location of all the operating system files!).  The folder we are looking for in particular is Users or Documents and Settings if you have Windows XP.  The Users folder should contain all your personal data – unless of course you stored it elsewhere.
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Open the Users folder and should see an individual folder for all the users on the computer.  Depending on security settings on your computer, you may or may not be able to access other users personal folders.
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Open your user folder.  You should now see all your data – My Pictures, My Documents, My Videos, My Music, Downloads, and the Desktop.  If you are using Windows XP, My Pictures, My Music, and My Videos are all located within My Documents.
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