World’s smallest USB flash drive? Mushkin might have just cracked it!

Worlds smallest USB flash drive?
Could the Mushkin Atom be the world’s best smallest USB flash drive?

Mushkin have released what is probably the World’s smallest USB flash drive to date. The Atom is a USB 3.0 128GB memory stick is so small that it’s now possible to plug a flash drive into a small device, laptop or Mac and completely forget about it. No more bulk sticking out of the side of your device and it easily fits onto your keyring.

With strong competition from competitors Sandisk (who claim to have produced the world’s smallest flash drive), Atom enter the market with a hugely more competitive USB drive in terms of price, and when we look at the spec it seems that the Atom comes out on top of the Sandisk.

One of the huge advantages that the Mushkin has over the Sandisk is a cover. This may not seem like much, but a USB flash drive full of crap doesn’t work well. For me, this protection is very important to keep out dust and moisture. Mushkin are constantly looking to improve the size and read/write speeds of their products.

What’s more, the Atom is now available at half the price of the Sandisk, which definitely makes the Atom the more attractive option. So what are you waiting for? Hug a Mushkin!

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Get a Vodafone Suresignal for free

vodafone suresignal for free

If you want to get a Vodafone Suresignal for free and you’re a Vodafone customer, read on.

Where I live, the mobile phone signal for all networks is always weak but usually usable, especially outside. But come the spring when the trees are in full leaf, the signal disappears completely including on my own network, Vodafone. This despite the information on the Ofcom website saying that I should be able to get signal in my home. It’s simply due to the surrounding trees blocking the Vodafone signal (and a lack of 4G investment in my local area).

Vodafone offer a product called Suresignal. Vodafone Suresignal uses your home broadband connection to act as a mini phone cell in your home, giving you perfect signal. It uses a technology known as a femtocell (it basically adds a mini phone mast to your house and send the signal along your broadband connection).

 

Get a Vodafone Suresignal for free

Suresignal costs around £80. However, I didn’t see why I should have to pay Vodafone for the privileged of receiving mobile phone signal in my home when I already pay them £60 per month for 3 handsets and lines! (that’s for me, my wife and my son).

 

Write a letter and request a Vodafone Suresignal for free

Fed up with such a poor level of service, I decided to write to Vodafone and explain that I wasn’t happy with the service I was receiving. I explained that when I took out the contracts I was assured the signal in my area was reasonable and that this clearly wasn’t the case. In my letter, I stated the following:

“Although there is indoor signal for voice calls in my area according to OFCOM, the reality is that this is incorrect. Calls made indoors often drop, if they are received at all, and SMS messages can take hours to send or receive. 3G and 4G is nonexistent.

This is the case with both of my mobile phone contracts with Vodafone.

I therefore request that you do one of the following (in order of preference), failing your agreement for which I would request a Deadlock Letter:

  • You improve the signal in my area

  • You provide me with a Vodafone Suresignal for free(I do not see why I should have to pay for a device to improve your network coverage when I already pay £60 per month for your service)

  • You provide me with three new handsets with Wifi Calling

  • You release me from the contracts”

It worked. 13 days later I received a call from Vodafone advising that they had checked the signal in my area and it was very poor. They sent me a free Suresignal which arrived 5 days later. I can now enjoy full Vodafone signal in my house.

 

Don’t try it on!

Vodafone can tell if you are receiving a poor level of service. They can check technical records, see how often your handset drops off of the Vodafone network and how often calls don’t make it through to you. They’re not going to send you a Suresignal if there are no issues with the service in your area. They’re also very unlikely to send you a Suresignal if you’re a Pay as You Go or Sim Only customer, or if your contract is due to end soon. But if you are a genuine customer, struggling with signal, they’ll help you. Be persistent, but fair.

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Cherrytree and Abberton, Colchester, need better mobile phone coverage

Ever since I moved to Cherrytree in Colchester, I’ve suffered terrible mobile phone coverage. The problem becomes worse in the Spring when the trees from the nearby woods begin to blossom and come into leaf where I go from weak mobile phone reception to virtually zero.

Poor signal is a problem throughout the Cherrytree estate and continues on to the nearby village of Abberton. Despite poor mobile phone signal being a problem for many years there are currently no plans to increase coverage in the area. This is in contrast to the town centre and Hythe areas where 4G LTE reception is superb. Put simply, Cherrytree and Abberton are in a black hole when it comes to even half-decent coverage.

The facts

In the Holt Drive area of Cherrytree and Fingringhoe Road area of Abberton, Ofcom says the following about indoor reception:

Voicecalls – “Coverage in some buildings may be poor”
3G – “Signal in most buildings is unlikely to be sufficient to use 3G data services reliably”
4G – “Signal in most buildings is unlikely to be sufficient to use 4G data services reliably

And for outdoor reception, the Ofcom website says the following:

Voicecalls – “Likely to have good coverage” (I don’t)
3G – “In green areas you are likely to have sufficient signal to use 3G data services reliably” (I can’t)
4G – “In green areas you are likely to have sufficient signal to use 3G data services reliably” (Absolute rubbish!)

The reality

The reality is that the mobile phone coverage in these areas is pretty much useless. If I’m lucky enough to be able to make a call, I often don’t receive them. Even SMS messages can take hours to send or arrive. As for mobile internet such as 3G or 4G, well you can forget it.

The causes

Trees can block mobile phone signal, especially woodland areas in full bloom.
Trees can block mobile phone signal, especially woodland areas in full bloom.

It’s fair to say that as well as a lack of mobile phone masts in the area, poor signal is affected by other environmental factors. One of these is the amount of woodland surrounding Cherrytree and Abberton.

It’s a fact that trees block mobile phone reception. That means during the winter months I can get some sort of voice signal and it rarely drops. But as soon as the trees are in full bloom I’ve had it.

The remedy

What’s needed is a new mast, somewhere between Cherrytree and Abberton. The problem here is that people are resistant to have a mast built near their property. Masts also need a supply of electricity which makes locating them problematic for the phone networks, despite evidence showing that radiation from phone masts is actually much lower than from mobile phones themselves!

In addition, the networks are reluctant to pay for such masts in areas with relatively few customers.

There are products available which can help

If you’re a Vodafone or EE customer, there are devices which you can buy to boost signal in your home, but you’ll need a decent internet connection for them to work.

Vodafone customers can purchase a device call ‘Suresignal‘. Suresignal works by adding a small femtocell to your home and utilizes your broadband connection for you to make and receive called. You’ll need to buy the Suresignal but there’s not monthly charges after that. You’ll also need an internet connection with a minimum of 2mb.

Other mobile network offer apps which do a similar job, such as O2’s ‘TU GO’ app and if you purchase an update handset from them (such as an iPhone 5c and later models of the iPhone, as well as the latest Android and Windows devices) you can take advantage of Wifi calling with the EE network.

However, none of the above solve the real problem – poor mobile phone signal coverage from the major networks – and none will work once you’re away from your broadband connection. Most also cost money and upgrading a handset just isn’t an option for someone who is only months into a new contract.

What can I do to put pressure on my mobile phone provider?

Frankly, not much. I asked Ofcom the same question and was told:

  1. Contact your mobile phone network and make an official complaint. Explain that there is no network coverage in the area and demand a better service. Complain in writing
  2. If your mobile phone provider refuses to do anything about it, or refuses to release you from your network, take your complaint to the Ombudsman – this may result in the provider upgrading masts in your area if enough complaints are lodge
  3. You provider may provide you with a free signal booster if you complain to the Ombudsman rather than having to release you from your contract
  4. Failing this, you can ask to be released from your contract
  5. Change provider, although when I asked Ofcom how this would work in an area with no signal from any provider, they couldn’t give me an answer.
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Do I need to pay for antivirus software?

Do I need to pay for antivirus software

A common question I’m asked from customers and friends is Do I need to pay for antivirus software? If you’re a home user the straight forward answer this is no.

There are many different free antivirus programs available on the market now and whilst some may not provide a full range of utilities for free, almost all will provide protection again computer viruses. Examples of such programs include Avast, Bitdefender, Panda and AVG. In terms of basic performance in catching infections, testing has shown that the free and paid-for products were about the same. Some were faster than others, but

In terms of basic performance in catching infections, testing has shown that the free and paid-for products were about the same. Some were faster than others, but more expensive software wasn’t necessarily faster than the free versions or any better at identifying viruses.

 

I’m a business user – Do I need to pay for antivirus software?

Technically, yes. This is because free licenses seldom extend to commercial computer systems. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from installing a home-user version of an antivirus program to you work PC but you’ll likely be breaking the terms of the license agreement. Free antivirus software generally doesn’t extend to file servers, either.

Buying a full business suite can have some other built-in advantages, like allowing you to block employees from visiting certain websites and I would urge any business to look at a full solution such as Kaspersky.

 

Keeping your computer up-to-date is a great way to prevent malware and viruses infecting your PC.

Sadly, the people who write malware and viruses one step ahead. This is why you should install any Windows updates as soon as they are offered to you. Every time Microsoft becomes aware of a security vulnerability they will provide an update to fix the problem. Keeping your computer up-to-date means you’ll get the latest security updates as soon as they become available, thus lowering your chances of an infection.

 

I like Windows 7 and don’t want to install Windows 10

There are lots of people who are resistant to installing Windows 10 due to the bad press Windows 8 got, but you really should consider it.

Windows 10 offers a more secure and safer operating system. Upgrading to Windows 10 from Windows 7 will make your safer online and less vulnerable to viruses or malware. Don’t ask Do I need to pay for antivirus software if you’re still using Windows 7. Go ahead and get one of the free software suites.

 

I’m still using Windows XP. Am I safe online?

No, you’re not. Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft. There are no new updates and the operating system is vulnerable to security attacks. You should definitely consider upgrading your computer, especially if you use it to access the internet. At a minimum you should stop using Internet Explorer and upgrade to a more secure browser such as Mozilla Firefox.

Definately don’t carry out any online backing using Windows XP. If a security vulnerability is discovered by hackers Microsoft aren’t going to fix it and you risk having your personal information hacked.

 

Which free antivirus solution do YOU recommend?

Personally, I prefer Bitdefender Free as it’s lightweight and works silently (also recommended by PC Advisor Magazine). However, if you’re looking for software which will tell you a bit more about what it’s doing and “hug” you a bit more, go for Avast.

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Vodafone Incorrect username or password. Please try again. – [1e2]

For the past year I’ve been trying to gain access to my Vodafone online account, but continually get the Incorrect username or password. Please try again. – [1e2]” error.

I have tried, on many occasions, to have this error resolved by Vodafone but they’ve never been able to give me access to my account. I can’t see my bills and I can’t access my Suresignal settings.

The problem has progressed so that I can’t view my account using the My Vodafone app.

I’ve even gone as far as writing letters of complaint to Vodafone – they just can’t fix the issue. It seems that the only way I’m going to resolve this is by moving networks.

If anyone can help, please let me know how to resolve this.

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What are Smart Traffic Lights and how do they work?

Smart Traffic Lights

My hometown recently suffered a major road closure for two months whilst so called ‘Smart’ traffic lights were installed to an area of the town which was suffering from congestion and high pollution. There was a lot of grumbling about the major road being closed (me included) and this got me wondering: what are smart traffic lights and how do they work?

 

Smart Traffic Lights explained

There isn’t a great deal of information online regarding Smart Traffic Lights and I had to dig around a bit. Smart traffic lights are a relatively new concept in the United Kingdom and are designed to adjust their working pattern depending on levels of traffic. Unlike standard traffic lights (which have pre-defined patterns programmed to them), smart traffic lights are able to ‘think’ for themselves using computer algorithms and change the cycle of red to green lights to help alleviate congestion. One manufacturer claims that smart traffic lights can reduce delay congestion by 20%.

Simply put, smart traffic lights can adapt to changes in patterns of traffic to help keep traffic flowing and reduce congestion. In reducing congestion, smart traffic lights can also help reduce pollution.

Other names for smart traffic lights include ‘intelligent traffic lights’ and ‘SCOOT traffic lights’ (Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique).

 

How do smart traffic lights work?

Classic traffic lights are programmed to change every so often. This might be every 3 minutes during rush hour and it might change during the day, but it’s fixed and can’t be altered without a visit from an engineer. Everyday, the lights follow their preset program regardless of traffic.

Smart traffic lights are controlled by a computer which has the ability to adapt in real-time. The computer has information programmed into it about the local road network and individual traffic flows throughout this local area. Sensors detect vehicles and their speeds and using an algorithm adjust the frequency of how often the lights change. This might be by giving green-light priority to traffic leaving a congested area or by ensuring the light is always green for main routes out of urban areas where there is no traffic waiting on a red lights on a minor route.

 

Other types of smart traffic light

Not all types of smart traffic lights are run by just a computer program. Some use camera detection software to detect vehicles in an image which can then relay data back to a traffic controller who can then manually change signals from a control room. However, this requires the system to be manned.

Another type of system uses information from bluetooth devices in cars and mobile phone traffic to assume more vehicles. However, this is not currently used in the UK and it is not as reliable as some other systems.

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Is Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings?

Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings

There was once a time when searching a specific subject, perhaps a celebrity or medical phrase, was almost guaranteed to result in a Wikipedia article being top of Google’s SERPs, but it seems that Wikipedia’s prominence at the top may be starting to fall.

Despite popular belief, Wikipedia is generally a useful and accurate source of information. Wikipedia has taken large strides in ensuring the information it supplies is accurate and well sourced. Sure, the odd discrepancy will occasionally make it past Wikipedia’s community of collaborators and admins, but it’s generally very reliable. One thing that Wikipedia has over rival encyclopedias is the ability to update information so quickly (anyone remember Microsoft Encarta?) and this has allowed the website to keep the content relevant and original. It also has very in-depth content and long articles full of information.

But things seem to be changing. Wikipedia no longer appears to have the prominence is once did. So why is Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings?

 

Panda and Hummingbird begin Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings

Over the past few years, Google has released various updates to the algorithms which index and display search results. Panda saw weight given to websites with more inbound links (Wikipedia links out to sources a hell of a lot). To counteract this, Wikipedia added a “nofollow” code to outgoing links. That worked.

Hummingbird saw more weight being added to long-tail keywords and phrases which were used by voice search, for example questions (“Who, Why, Where, and How”). Given that many Wikipedia articles concentrate on shorter, more focused keywords, this has led to a natural reduction in SERPS and it’s no surprise that we saw Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings. This leads us onto the subject of user intent.

 

User intent is beginning to affect SERPS

User intent is beginning to take part in ranking more and more. Google wants more intelligent search and it want to make sure that users – especially those searching by voice – get the information they need first time.

Lets take the word ‘squash’ as an example. A person searching for the sport is going to be disappointing to get a Wikipedia article for vegetables or a fruit flavoured drink. This can result in user quickly bouncing off of a page, increasing bounce rate. Bounce rate is a factor which Google takes into consideration when ranking pages and a higher bounce rate can have a detrimental effect of Wikipedia. Google’s task is to try and provide some separation on these types of searches to provide the user with the information they need the first time, every time, and Wikipedia isn’t always the answer, which is another reason for Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings.

People searching by voice tend to ask questions. It’s this pattern which Google is trying to adapt to provide good quality search results to it’s customers.

 

Local search affects results

google-uk-search-results-for-wikipediaGoogle has been placing a lot of weight on local search results over the past few years, the idea being that people get results more local to them. For example, if you’re searching for Tesco you’re likely to want to know where you local store is, perhaps it’s phone number or opening hours. But displaying local results to the user the user gets to it’s information more quickly.

Wikipedia struggles when country searches are introduced. My version of Firefox at work automatically shows results filtered for the UK as Country: UK. I have to manually select “any country” to get Google’s full results. So if I search Google for “wikipedia” with UK switched on the top article isn’t Wikipedia but instead an article about Wikipedia by the Guardian newspaper. In fact, Wikipedia doesn’t show until the 6th result. Personally I don’t like this option of search and don’t understand why Google introduced it in the first place (you can stop it by using https://www.google.com/ncr).

 

Is this the beginning of the end for Wikipedia’s dominance?

Absolutely not! Wikipedia is by far one of the most dominant domains in existence. It’s not going anywhere for a long, long time and webmasters are going to have to keep on slogging away to try and beat the wiki’s that are keeping them off of the top spot.

 

 

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Synology DSM 6.0 is here for the Synology DS715 and it’s great

Synology DS715

Over the Easter weekend, my Synology DS715 quietly updated itself to the new DSM 6.0 firmware. We use the DS715 in our small business (8 users) but it’s also used by many personal home users. Switching my users to the Synology DS715 has proven to be a good move. I backup daily to two Western Digital USB drives which I rotate every other day and get an email each evening once done; not had a problem since I installed it 8 months ago. Needless to say I’m pleased with the product.

 

First impressions of the DSM 6.0 update

Immediately I can see that the desktop for the Synology DS715 feels somehow cleaner and appears to open apps and options quicker than previously. It should be said that the existing firmware was perfectly adequate but the latest version brings a wave of quality extras and enhancements. These include:

  • Btrfs File System
  • Service Modularization
  • 64-Bit Architecture
  • High Availability Manager
  • Hyper Backup
  • Enhanced Security
  • Certificate integration of Let’s Encrypt
  • NFS shared folders on folders on Synology NAS
  • Aviary photo editor is introduced to replace the existing service for a more intuitive interface.
  • Enhanced Content Search
  • Enhanced File sharing
  • Accessibility for visually impaired users.
  • 2-Step Verification
  • QuickConnect
  • 802.1X authentication for wired networks.
  • Firewall profiles.
  • DHCP
  • SSD Cache of up to 12 SSD devices.
  • Storage Manager (for volumes and Disk Groups or RAID Groups, the number of disks for each RAID Array can be 6, 12 or 24).
  • Customised Domain Name for DSM
  • Application Portal
  • Dynamic DNS Support
  • HTTP compression
  • HTTP/2 is now supported as an replacement of SPDY to increase the transfer speed for high latency connection.
  • DSM mobile new user interface.

New applications

The DSM 6.0 update brings some new applications including MailPlus Server (Beta) and Surveillance Station 7.2 – a very cool and advanced security CMS which can control I/O devices and capture camera recording.

The new update also includes ‘SpreadSheet’, a program which allows you to host your collaboration drive and work easily with others by sharing spreadsheets.

 

Manually updating the Synology DS715 to DSM 6.0

There are some users of the Synology DS715 (and other Synology NAS servers) who will need to manually update their devices. Particular car should be taken by those using phpMyAdmin or using 3rd party applications. Read the release notes here for more information.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 NFC not working? It could be the battery

I recently decided I wanted to use NFC to pay from my phone, but no matter what I did I couldn’t get NFC to work. I contacted my phone provider – Vodafone – who told me that the problem was my SIM wasn’t NFC enable so they sent me a new one. That didn’t work, either.

I tried a number of other things (including a factory reset of my Galaxy S5 which was very annoying) but that didn’t work. Over an hour on the phone to Vodafone didn’t solved the problem other than making me angry with the terrible customer service.

It wasn’t until I got to work and borrow a colleagues battery that I realised the problem – it was the battery which was causing the problem.

After some research I discovered that the NFC antenna on the S5 is actually in the battery and my battery didn’t have an antenna at all. How could I tell? Well I put the batteries side-by-side and could clearly see a raised side on one of the batteries which was where the NFC antenna is stuck.

I then peeled off the plastic sticker on the battery which revealed no antenna. I ordered a new battery and the problem was instantly fixed.

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The Product Key entered has not been Activated

The Product Key entered has not been Activated
"The Product Key entered has not been Activated" is a very frustrating message
“The Product Key entered has not been Activated” is a very frustrating message

 

 

 

I recently purchased a new laptop from Currys PC World in Clacton-on-Sea and decided to opt for the Microsoft Office 365 bundle. Everything was going well until it came to set up Office.

Following the instructions I entered the code at office.com/setup only to receiving the following message:

“The Product Key entered has not been Activated. Without an Active Product Key you cannot retrieve your product. Product Keys can only be activated at the store where Office was purchased. Return to the store with your receipt of proof of purchase to activate your Product Key”.

Slightly annoyed I took a drive back to the store. After waiting for some time I was eventually served by a lady who scanned the card and told me it would be fine. I returned to the office to try again. Same message! Increasingly frustrated I called PC World on their customer service line only to be told I needed to return to the store again as they had “scanned the card too quickly”.

The following day I returned and spoke to the Manager, Sam, who said he was unable to help me. I refused to leave the store until I had a fix. Eventually he rang PC World who agreed to send a replacement by DPD for the following day. It turns out that some card from Microsoft “refuse to activate and they don’t know why”. When I went back it still hadn’t arrive.

10 days later after calls from the branch in Clacton-on-Sea I was promised another by the morning.

 

How to fix The Product Key entered has not been Activated error

If you bought the laptop online and collected it in-store, sadly there’s only one way for it – you have to return the card to PC World for replacement.They’ll post you another.

If you purchased the card in-store, return to the store that you purchased the card from or where you collected your purchase.

in either case PC World have no way of activating it over the phone.

 

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