When In Rome, Don’t Roam!

There should be an image here!Q: I’m about to take my first trip to Europe and need help understanding what power adapters and cell phones I’ll need while I’m there. — Jamie

A: According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average household has 24 electronic gadgets and many of them travel with us.

Making sure you have everything you need before you depart will save you a lot of money and aggravation.

Let’s start with power.

Make sure that everything that you plan on plugging in has the voltage range of 110-240V and frequency range of 50-60Hz (usually listed on the power adapter or bottom of the device).

Laptop computers, portable DVD players, cell phone chargers, and most consumer electronics are generally capable of switching to the higher voltage used in Europe, but items like curling irons aren’t.

If any of your gadgets don’t have the higher ratings, you will need to purchase a voltage converter that will ‘step down’ the voltage from 240 to 110 (available at most electronics stores) — otherwise, don’t take them.

Next, you will need plenty of wall plug adapters. The wall plugs in Europe have two round holes, so the slotted plugs we use in the US won’t fit.

In my past travels, this was the one item that we never seemed to have enough of. Most of us charge up all our devices at night at the same time (laptop, netbook, cell phone, digital camera, portable game player, etc.), so make sure you count how many gadgets you plan on charging simultaneously before you buy the adapters.

Many stores sell a ‘world travel kit’ that has every adapter needed for every country in the world. While it may seem like a good idea, don’t waste your money (unless you actually travel the entire world regularly).

Only buy the exact adapters that you need and remember to get plenty of them.

Another thing you must think about is whether your devices have a standard two-pronged plug or a three-pronged plug (like the one for your laptop). Make sure you get the right type of adapter(s) once you have done your inventory.

If you have a lot of devices and extra room, you should consider packing a power strip as many hotel rooms in older European hotels have few outlets (you will need a three-pronged US-to-Europe adapter for the power strip as well).

As for cell phones, in virtually all cases, using your US carrier’s ‘roam’ option while in Europe will be the most expensive option (as much as $1.50 per minute), so when in Rome, don’t roam! Make sure you turn your US cell phone off or leave your smartphone in ‘airplane’ mode so it doesn’t automatically connect you to the European cellular networks when you get there.

If you have the time, purchase an ‘unlocked’ GSM phone before you leave (Craigslist or eBay) or buy a cheap pay-as-you-go phone once you get there (the safest option) or check with friends that travel abroad to see if they already own a travel phone.

Prepaid SIM cards are sold by virtually every merchant in most European countries, so you can pay as you go and control your cellular expense instead of getting a big surprise on your bill once you get home.

In addition, if you don’t already have a Skype account, get one and install the Skype software on your laptop and your smartphone, then buy $10 worth of credits. You can make Skype-to-Skype calls for free (get anyone you want to call while on your trip set up with an account before you leave as well) or pay @ 2 cents per minute to call any standard land line or cell phone even back in the US.

Any time your laptop is connected to the Internet, you can use it as a phone via Skype. (You can even hold conference calls on Skype!)

To use Skype on your smartphone, you must be connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi. I’d use the unlocked cell phone for local calls and Skype for long-distance calls.

When I went to Italy, my $10 Skype credit easily covered all my calls back to the office and family (in fact, I only used $4 of the credit during my three-week trip).

Finally, download a hotspot locater app on your smartphone so you can easily find free and low cost Wi-Fi, allowing you to use Skype more often!

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show

Fix Your Dell Power Adapter Connection For Cheap

One of the more popular articles I have written has been about the problems consumers have experienced with trying to get their Dell power adapter to stay connected. Even after bringing this problem to the attention of Dell advocates, it appears that the problem is for real and that people are still having problems. Well today I found an interesting repair article that has what appears to be a fix for the problem.

In viewing the fix article and supplemental pictures, this repair does take some minor skills and may best be left to a person who is mechanically inclined. Which means that you may need a friend, family member or crafty type person to assist you if you feel the mechanics is over your head.

I took a look at the step by step guide, and it appears you will need the following:

Plastic top from a can of coffee, hole punch, hole enlarger, 1/16″ drill bit and two screws.

Comments welcome.


Dell Inspiron Notebook – Adapter Problem Solved With New Motherboard

There has been a running thread of comments here, referencing problems with that AC adapter for the Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop computers. Seems there have been many with this issue. But one reader seems to have found a fix which required a motherboard replacement. Reader Keith originally posted the following:

Keith – March 23, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

I’ve had the same issues with the power adapter, but have worked around by just not moving while the adapter is in place….:-/ sucks, but anyway, I was going to let it go. So last night I reinstalled my system to it’s original state, and after doing so and reinstalling all of the drivers I ran into a seperate issue where the wireless network would not connect. I contacted tech support through online chat and after a quick chat session and allowing the tech to controll access to my laptop and reinstalling drivers and making sure all the settings were appropriate, which I have to say was really interesting to watch while he attacked the problem with a vengeance, we found out the settings in the router were wrong so I had to call the router co for that, but at the same time I had found this site listing the same complaint about the adapter, so I told the tech guy, and he said he will ship a new adapter, and also a box for my lappy in case the adapter does not fix the problem. So all in all, I’m pretty pleased thus far with Dell’s customer service, and will remain a customer. )

 Keith than followed up with this posting today:

Keith – April 9, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

Ok, here’s is my fantastic update!!! I received the new adapter about a week after my original post here and still it did not correct the falling out issue, so I sent the laptop off finally this past Friday and just received my laptop, with new motherboard installed which DOES hold the adapter in place properly!!! Woohoo!!! Now, first I’d like to say, Dell has done everything in their power to satisfy me without me pitching any kind of a fit. All I did was contact Dell tech support via online chat and they rapidly sent me the new adapter and a box for my laptop just in case the new adapter could not resolve the issue. Then, being paranoid about shipping my lappy off to some strange place, I finally sent it last Friday, and today is now Wednesday so it took a whole 6 days total to have the adapter issue fixed! All of you that have the same problem, take care of it while it’s under warranty. It takes less than a week, and you pay nothing whatsoever, not even shipping via DHL. -) I hope you all the best with your Dell lappy’s and seriously, get it fixed, it really is easy and fast!

I hope that this may help someone else who is having this adapter problem as well.

Comments welcome.

[tags]dell, inspiron, 1501, laptop, adapter, new, motherboard, fix, problem, support, repair, [/tags]

Apple Two-Wire Power Adapter – Here Is A Fix

Back on September 23, 2007 [ here ] I wrote an article about a problem for the two wire adapter on some Apple computer systems. Since than readers have posted the problems they have encountered and also the high cost of replacing the power adapter. Yesterday I received this comment from a reader who has suggested a fix for the problem in which he states saved him $200.

Reader lawrence posted this:

I’ve had the same problem and have had two friends who have had the same problem. Here’s how I fixed it. I took apart the apple adapter wire and saw that it’s built much like a cable for a television with an external wire and a center wire. I then took a cable wire apart (about 4 inches) and twisted it together and then wrapped it round and round the external apple adapter wire. I then took a hot glue gun and coated it once it went around the existing broken apple wire. The wire connected the two and then I wrapped electrical tape around it and plugged it in. It works perfectly but looks silly. Still, I’ve saved about $200 for all three and am happy to share this technique with everyone.

It only takes about 10 minutes at most to fix so it’s incredibly fast.

This is certainly worth a try. Especially if a new adapter costs $200.

If anyone tries this fix, let us know how it works or doesn’t work you.

Also if you are experiencing a problem with your Apple power adapter let us know as well.

Comments welcome.

[tags]apple, power, adapter, fix, $200 saved, repair, try, [/tags]

Dell Inspiron 90 Watt 2 Wire Adapter Problem


Back in December I wrote an article about the adapter problems that seem to plague the Dell Inspiron 1501 notebook computer. [Article here] It is amazing that I am still receiving comments on this problem from Dell users. This morning I went to the Dell site to take a look at the replacement 90 watt 2 wire adapter and was surprised to read many of the unflattering reviews, such as:

Product stopped working within 6 months of buying the computer.

�I thought it was just me since I am a heavy laptop user constantly on the go moving from location to location. With my last computer, the connection on the computer went before the cord. Of course, that is a more expensive fix so I am happy that it is the cord, however these devices should be designed to handle wear and tear. It does not appear that Dell places any additional thought into the connections and cords for laptops than desktops.

About to order my third adapter in under 1 year. One of the most faulty products produced by Dell. I got it replaced once under warranty, and it failed 6 months later. Now that my warrenty is expired I have to order another one and pay out of my own pocket. Dell should improve this product!

I’ve gone through two power cords in less than a year. The first one just died and the second one split at a bend and exposed wires. We only use our laptop at home so its not like its getting a lot of wear and tear. The power cords seem to be very cheaply made. I’ve always been very satisfied with Dell but am very disapointed in the lack of quality in their power cords. :(

I’m going to send a link to this article to [email protected] to see if we can find out more information of why this is such a problem for so many users.

Comments welcome.

[tags]dell, power cord, adapter, reviews, low rating, complaints,� [/tags]

Apple MacBook Power Adapter – Is There A Problem?

I was reading a post this morning in one of the forums concerning the MagSafe power adapter for the MacBook. The poster complained of having to replace the adapter only after six months of use with a new one. I went over to the Apple store and this seems to be a problem for many who are using this new type of adapter.

If you are not familiar with the adapter, Apple explains that it is:

The 60 Watt MagSafe Power Adapter features a magnetic DC connector that ensures your power cable will disconnect if it experiences undue strain and helps prevent fraying or weakening of the cables over time. In addition, the magnetic DC helps guide the plug into the system for a quick and secure connection.

When the connection is secure, an LED located at the head of the DC connector will light; an amber light lets you know that your portable is charging, while a green light tells you that you have a full charge. An AC cord is provided with the adapter for maximum cord length, while the AC wall adapter (also provided) gives users an even easier and more compact way to travel.

A replacement adapter is $79.95 so this is no inexpensive item. I noted that of the 392 reviews, the adapter was only given a rating of 2 out of 5 stars. Which would seem to indicate that there are not many folks that are very happy with this type of an adapter.

Not knowing very much about Apple nor their products, I guess my question is, are these adapters defective in design? What is Apples stance on replacing these adapters?

Comments welcome.

Apple reviews here.

[tags]apple, magsafe, adapter, power, macbook, [/tags]

Ubuntu Edgy – Bluetooth File Transfer Is Back!

It took some looking, but as it turns out, the issue that broke gnome-obex-send ability to send files to a mobile Bluetooth phone (such as my Cingular 8125) has a very simple fix. So, for those of you on Edgy looking to send files back and forth between your phone and PC, let’s get started.

First, we need to make sure Edgy is ready for some Bluetooth action. You will need to install the tools needed to make your Bluetooth dreams come true . Rather than take the “I want to learn command line” approach offered on the Ubuntu wiki page, we will act like modern PC users and utilize a GUI application instead: Goto System, Administration, then Synaptic. Search for Bluetooth. While ignoring all other Bluetooth options listed, choose “Bluetooth” and then mark it for installation. Now hit “Apply” at the top of Synaptic. Then when the box pops up, hit apply once more. Now it is at this point that I plug in my adapter (pick one up here) and note the info bubble popping up to tell me my device is in “discovery mode.” Cool, now we are ready to go!

Before I get too far ahead of myself, there is a bug in GNOME in Edgy that makes it so that gnome-obex-send does not see my phone which I have set to discoverable. After some research, it looks like a fix has been discovered. Goto Applications, Accessories and then select Terminal. Cut and paste the following into it; realizing that you will need to right click to paste as Ctrl-V will not work in the terminal.

sudo hciconfig hci0 inqmode 0

Enter your password and you are done. Yes, you just fixed a bug, now you are a Linux elite hacker! Okay, that was lame. But I thought it was funny… moving on.

Now at this point, we are going to borrow some tips from a well done tute over at the Ubuntu forums. Basically, follow this to the letter:

  • You’ll need to create a desktop shortcut for this to work:
  • right-click on the desktop and click Create Launcher
  • in the Name field, type something like “Send file via Bluetooth.”
  • in the command field, type gnome-obex-send
  • give it a cool icon if you wish (I like the road icon near the top of the list)
  • Click OK to create the shortcut.

Because I am such a GUI fan, I even went so far as to give my icon a cool Bluetooth icon, provided by the GNOME desktop. Just right click on the icon, goto properties, then click on missing icon – icon. Great, now let’s get ready to pair our Bluetooth devices, shall we?

All righty, as you might remember, your Bluetooth adapter should have made it pretty clear that it was already in “discoverable mode.” So now you need to do the same with your phone.

With my 8125, all I needed to do was set the phone to discoverable mode under Bluetooth settings, then click over to “devices” and choose “new partnership.” After about a minute of the phone searching, it found my notebook as the given “computer name” that I assigned to it a long time ago. Basically, notebook-0. Cool, now I just click on it in the phone and hit next. At this point, it wants my passkey. Unless you have some sort of strange device, chances are good your passkey is 0000 (zeros), hit next. Now you should see an Ubuntu bubble pop-up. Click on the bubble, enter the same passkey again. Now the bubble alert ought to be telling you that it is pairing or something to that effect (isn’t this fun?).

Great, you just paired your devices. Now for goodness sakes, take your phone out of discoverable mode! Also, unless you feel like toggling on and off your discoverable settings from a conf file, unplug your Bluetooth adapter when it’s not being used on your computer. The alert bubble(s) will alert you when you unplug and plug the devices in.

Okay, let’s transfer some files, shall we?

Before we begin, be sure to right-click on the newly created Bluetooth launcher icon you made, choose the permissions tab and then click the toggle named “allow executing of program” (or something like that).

Great, at this point locate a file on your desktop that you want to send to your phone. Drag it over to the new icon and release it. Are you receiving an error? No worries, just go back to Synaptic and install gnome-Bluetooth. I think it should be installed by default, but it may not be and this would cause an error. Now, try the drag and release over the Bluetooth icon once again – success! Choose the name of your phone (generally something like your name or something else like that) and hit OK.

On my phone, it asks me if I would like to hide or cancel an alert that pops up. I choose hide then it asks me to confirm the transfer to my phone. I choose yes. Depending on the size of the file, it should transfer pretty quickly. For my Pocket PC, I discovered the file that was transfer in the My Documents folder. Good deal, now let’s send a separate file from the phone to the PC.

For this attempt, I selected an entry from my address book. Make sure that you have Bluetooth File Sharing running from Applications, Accessories.

Now, I then opened it up my address book on my phone, then clicked on and held down my stylus until the option to “beam” came up. Now you will see the Pocket PC go into searching mode. It will cruise through infrared, then onto unknown which soon changes to the name of my computer – now you are ready to hit “tap to send” on the phone. After a little bit of watching the phone display “pending,” you ought to see a pop-up on your PC giving you the option to open or close a received file. Where is the file being saved to on your PC, most likely either that user’s desktop or in the Home folder.

On to troubleshooting:

Problem: You drag a file onto the Bluetooth icon and it gives an error.

Solution(s): Check the launcher’s permissions; make sure that it is set to allow program execution. Another thing to try is the following:

sudo /etc/init.d/bluez-utils restart

(On some machines it may be sudo /etc/init.d/Bluetooth restart)

If you find that it still will not work, make sure the adapter is plugged in. Goodness knows I have done this often enough myself. And finally, should you still not find that you are having luck, try bouncing over here for some troubleshooting tips. Chances are your device is not being detected, although I have never had this issue with any common brand Bluetooth adapter myself.


Direct x10 Graphics Cards – Vista – What to do?

Now that Vista has made it’s official debut, one of the hardest and maybe the most controversial topics for gamers will be, which Direct x10 graphics card should you buy. And since there is going to be a slew of new display adapters coming down the pipeline soon, who among us is going to be the first guinea pig to test out this new technology?

Having been there so many times in my computer career, of being the first kid on the block to have the latest toy, I’d like to make some observations and recommendations on why this isn’t always the best approach, unless you have $100 bills hanging out of your pockets.

Here is what traditionally happens with any new hardware. The first group of hardware usually [not always] have some hiccups which frustrate man and beast alike. And it always takes a few weeks, few months, sometimes never, to get the situation ironed out. I have even seen some cases, where the problem never was 100% totally solved until the next hardware product arrived on the market.

And I believe this may also be the case when it comes to the new Direct x10 hardware and drivers. Oh……sorry…… what is this all about anyway? It’s about a new generation of computer games that will be coming soon, which promise us better graphics performance, more speed rendering and breakfast served to us in bed [that last one is wishful thinking.] All in all Direct x 10 should improve the quality of gaming.

Some limitations are that Direct x 10 will only be available for Windows Vista and there are some rumors afloat that Direct x 10 display adapters MAY be backward compatible with older games, but I am not sure if this is true or not. We won’t really know for a few more months yet.

So I’m going to wait until after the first batch of display cards hit the streets, until the driver tweaks are complete, and until a reasonable price card is available that fits my superb taste aka: CHEAP ! LOL

[tags]vista, direct x 10, display, adapter, [/tags]

Set Up Your Home Wireless Network – In Four Steps

Most everything we do on a computer is procedural. Skip a step and we have learned that what we are trying to do on the computer will not work. It’s the same in setting up a home wireless network. Skip a step and you won’t be surfing. Plus you will be totally frustrated. Most home wireless routers come with quick-step guides that will take you step by step through the procedures. But if you have never tackled a home network or tried to set one up on wireless, you may stumble.

So I was going to do a blurb on how to hook up a wireless network when I received an email from Microsoft with several tip and tricks – and guess what? One of the pages had to do with wireless networks and how to set up up one at home. I went through the guide and was pleasantly surprised that the guide was one of the better ones I have seen. Not only is the guide written in simple terms, but listed are some very helpful and insightful information.

But before romping over to the site, let me add a few sentences that may also help.

Coverage area: Most routers will list the distance in which you should, in theory, be able to obtain a wireless signal. But this distance is usually overstated. It is kind of like the EPA’s gas mileage claims for new cars. The small print includes the statement ‘your mileage may vary.’ Same with routers. Some of the newer models come with two or three antennas – while looking impressive on the outside, they may or may not extend your range. After setting up your router, you may notice that your range is only 20 or 30 feet from the router using a laptop computer.

You may need to purchase additional equipment such as a better antenna or a range extender or repeater to reach the areas of your home or into your backyard if you wish to surf at a greater distance.

Interference: 2.4GHz cordless phones may interfere with your signal, as well. You may notice excessive wireless signal loss or disconnects when someone answers the phone. You may have to opt for a five GHz phone system if this becomes a problem.

To the right of the article are more tips on how to improve your wireless network.

Oh, before I forget. Make sure you at least set up a WEP or, best yet, a WPA for a secure wireless connection. My neighbor across the street is using a Linksys wireless router. How do I know? His network shows up as an unsecured network on my listing of available connections. Duh! :-) And yes, I have mentioned this to him but he doesn’t seem to care.

Microsoft’s Guide To A Wireless Network Setup

[tags]microsoft, wireless, network, 4 steps, easy, router, adapter[/tags]

Driver Doldrums

Don’t you just hate it when you try to do the right thing and get a headache in return? On the heels of the battery recall saga comes a critical Broadcom WLAN driver vulnerability. My company’s fleet of Dell laptops, of course, was impacted by this security issue. We quickly did a sweep through our groups’ Latitude D410 and D610 laptops to update the Broadcom Wireless LAN drivers to the most current version, which supposedly addresses the vulnerability. For good measure, we also updated the Intel Wireless LAN drivers on our newer D620 and D420 laptops. For the most part, these updates went without incident.

Because we support a number of field sales personnel, we often have to wait for them to come in from the cold to perform significant updates and maintenance on their machines. I didn’t quite feel the compulsion to send CDs out and remote into machines to perform the updates. This week, I only had one in my “flock” that I hadn’t gotten to, and she was coming into the office for sales software training.

Dutifully, she dropped off her D410 laptop and said I could have it for the entire morning. I really only needed it for a half hour, or so I thought. After letting some Windows Updates get delivered to the laptop via WSUS, I rebooted the laptop and started the installer for the updated Broadcom WLAN drivers. That update went smoothly, so I rebooted again to do one final run-through. The laptop got to the Windows XP domain logon screen, and then promptly froze up solid. Whoa.

I made sure the D410 had the latest BIOS update, which it did… then I fell back on one of the oldest (and best) troubleshooting approaches, say it with me… “What was the last thing that changed?!” The Wireless LAN drivers, of course. I could boot the machine into safe mode OK, but not safe mode with networking (another clue). So I went into the laptop’s BIOS setup, and found the place to disable the Wireless LAN card at the hardware level. After I did that, the laptop booted up without a problem. Hmmmm. So I uninstalled the WLAN driver update, re-enabled the WLAN adapter in the BIOS and rebooted. Again, the machine booted up fine (albeit with no drivers set up on the Wireless LAN adapter).

I thought at first maybe something was corrupt with the driver package that I used. So I downloaded a fresh copy from the Dell support web site and re-installed. Again, the laptop froze up at the XP logon splash screen. Interestingly enough, I could actually see the little green “Wi-Fi” indicator light come on just as the machine froze. Yet another clue… clearly, this machine did not like these drivers. I double-checked that I had the correct type of drivers for the Dell Dual-Band 1470 Wireless LAN Mini-PCI adapter. I did.

I called Dell’s “Gold” (chuckle-chuckle) Tech Support, and after some back and forth, the support engineer wanted me to try the driver version (A09) just previous to the most recent one (A10). Problem was, I had to give the laptop back to the end user, and it would have taken me another 20 minutes to download this other driver (we have a very bandwidth challenged WAN connection). So I made a tactical decision to roll back to the original version of the WLAN driver that was installed on the laptop. That driver, vulnerability issues aside, worked fine.

I should have another opportunity to mess with this problem after the New Year. The odd part is, I’ve installed this driver on other D410 and D610 laptops with absolutely no problems. And the way we order our machines, they all have identical specs. My hunch is that the troublesome D410 has some slight difference with it’s Wireless LAN adapter, perhaps it’s an adapter meant for a different world region like Asia or Europe. They do have different driver packages depending on which region or country the machine was sold in.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed. I’m downloading all the different driver versions and variations at home so I can bring them in for further experimentation.


[tags]driver, update, wireless lan, adapter, D410, D610, WSUS[/tags]