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Dead USB ports and/or flash drives; signing up for cloud storage; incorrect time/date-keeping on my Windows PC; a dead network router; and severe eye strain


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USB Flash drive problems, cloud drives, and free, strong file encryption

For a few years now I've been using USB flash drives for file back ups I could carry around with me in my pocket. Unfortunately, all my flash drives seem to fail with only months of use. I always like to name names for failed hardware or software, so my flash drive brands so far include Kingston and (I believe) Sandisk. The Sandisk drive I'm going on memory alone about, because on the actual hardware the brand name either got worn off, or was applied via decal which fell off. PNY is the brand of the latest apparent flash drive failures.

Note that not only does the actual memory function of the devices fail, but usually whatever mechanism they use to attach to a keychain, too.

On 3-17-15, I thought both the USB ports on the front of my PC stopped working. Or at least they would no longer respond to a PNY flash drive being inserted. Either the one I was currently using, or a brand new one just unwrapped from its packaging.

I did some Googling and troubleshooting for the ports, and tried several suggestions found online, but nothing worked for the flash drives.

I haven't yet tried to plug my scanner back in. I'd been plugging and unplugging it quite a bit in weeks previous, due to doing some artwork. So I wonder if that had anything to do with the current problem.

UPDATE: Around a week or two after the detection of the problem, I had need to use my USB scanner, and plugged it into one of the problematic ports-- and it worked. So maybe it's a PNY flash drive driver problem...END UPDATE.

Anyway, I had to do something about back ups since my flash drives aren't working at the moment. Prior to realizing it's likely a driver problem, I considered getting a USB 2.0 hub (USB 3.0 would be wasted on my old PC) to expand upon the USB ports on the rear of my PC to regain convenient access, but knew that'd probably require a week for delivery, and definitely cost me a few bucks. From the research I did though, I'd definitely go for a powered hub, versus a non-powered one, in order to have fully functioning USB ports which could also charge things connected to them, as they're supposed to.

So I looked into the free cloud options available. Only days after I made my choice and signed up for one, PC Magazine published this page:

The Best Cloud Storage Services for 2015

And a little later, Summary:Free and cheap personal and small business cloud storage is everywhere. Here's how to decide which one is right for you came along.

I ultimately decided to go with Microsoft's OneDrive, for maximum compatibility with my Windows 7 system. Plus, since I'm already using Windows and Windows Live Mail online, Microsoft already has access to much of my personal data if it wants it. So signing up for another Microsoft service shouldn't add to my present exposure nearly as much as signing up with Google would. And Google and Microsoft were the biggest and hopefully most reliable long term vendors available for such free backup services, plus the only ones offering 15 GB of space for zero price.

15 GB of cloud space should be plenty for me. I was only using 8 GB flash drives, and had never come close to using it all up before each one quit functioning.

The vast majority of my work files are tiny: text or word processing files. Most of my web site pics are small too: jpegs, gifs, or pngs. On rare occasion I do some Photoshop Elements work, or snap a few photos. In past months the very largest of such individual files reached only 108 Kb in size.

I also routinely back up my work files to two different external hard drives, making for a total of three copies, on three different drives, in my local desktop PC system. Once something is finished, I typically upload it to my web site servers too, or to Amazon, in the case of a Kindle ebook (which would give me a total of four copies, on four different drives). My flash drives served as yet another repository. Now I guess the cloud will do that job.

Keep in mind though that anything too personal or confidential or controversial you should NOT upload to a cloud service, since everything there is fair game for snoopers, both live and automated, and could at the very least cause your cloud service to without warning erase it and ban you from their servers, or at worst maybe get you prosecuted for something. Yikes! Caveats like that are why I stuck with flash drives as long as I could.

I used to once a year or so archive stuff to CDs/DVDs, for another back up. But it's so incredibly slow to do that now, that it just isn't practical. Plus, the disks only last a few years before becoming unreadable. And 'archives' that self-delete that quickly aren't worthy of the name. Ouch!

So now I'm using OneDrive, and it's working pretty well, although OneDrive's update and synching check processes can get pretty lengthy with just a relatively small number of files backed up there. Right now I have about half a Gigabyte in OneDrive, consisting of 161 files.

I wondered about how to maintain some confidentiality of sensitive files on OneDrive, and found the solution apparently already on my PC, from a download I'd made when Amazon wanted authors to compress their book files for uploading: an app called 7-Zip. Turns out 7-Zip will also encrypt files during compression if you want, even using AES-256, which is supposed to be a pretty good scrambler. You set the password you want, encrypt it, then copy it over to your OneDrive for backup.

My Windows 7 PC stopped keeping accurate time when powered down overnight.

I've also had another problem crop up recently: my PC can no longer keep correct time. It did so faithfully and reliably for years, ever since I bought it new, until 2-25-15. I suspect a Windows 7 update to possibly be to blame. Ever since 2-25, I've had to go into my control panels and synch up my PC time with Microsoft or US government servers, soon after boot up.

I'd set the control panel to do this itself daily if I could. But the minimum interval available there seems to be weekly.

I did some Googling/troubleshooting of this one too, to no avail. Nothing I did fixed the problem. And from the dearth of info I found about it, it seems modern PCs have dispensed with the onboard battery on the circuit board which used to help with such matters. So I guess there's no battery to replace.

I suppose I could try leaving my UPS (uninterruptible power supply) switched on to keep the PC energized even when shut down, to see if it keeps proper time then, but I'd rather not. And it never seemed to need it before.

4-26-15 UPDATE: It turned out my PC has a battery after all! I'm surprised my first Google effort at finding info failed to turn up any indication of it. But a later one did. Unfortunately, I couldn't determine the specs of battery via Google, and ended up having to open up my PC case to get some numbers on it, so I'd know what to order. The brand name was mostly illegible due to awful graphic design, with three letters, the first of which looked like "J" and then two which were unidentifiable (half a "t" and half an "F"). But other info provided was "CR2032" and "Lithium 3V". Today I found some Sony batteries on Amazon.com at good prices which should be good replacements. END UPDATE.

5-21-17 UPDATE: The batteries only cost me $2.00 each from Amazon, and the shipping was free, so I got two of them (so if one's a dud, I can try the other, and avoid waiting another week for delivery; if both work, I have a spare for much later). I'd read some scary stuff online about some advising to document all your BIOS settings before changing batteries (that could take a while). But that issue seemed moot only a few days before my new batteries showed up, as suddenly my PC began forgetting lots more than just the time and date, and automatically would boot up into the set up screen (which looks like DOS from 25 years ago; yuck!). So apparently my 'dead' battery had still had a tiny bit of life in it, and been keeping my PC running more or less okay right up until that moment. Fortunately I was still able to get out of the set up screen and use the machine normally-- but it was very annoying. Soon though my batteries came and I stuck one in and all was fine once more (once I set the time and date).

For anyone with similar equipment to my eMachines ET1331G-03W desktop, the item I bought was a SONY CR2032 Equivalent CMOS battery.

This recent problem has proven to me that I should leave my UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) on 24-7, rather than just when my PC is running, as doing otherwise drains the CMOS battery faster than it should-- since the PC designers apparently expected the machine to be plugged into live AC pretty much all the time. I noticed when my battery was utterly dead that my PC would remember its settings so long as it had access to AC electricity, even when it was shut down for hours.

Of course, I'll still turn off the UPS feeding the PC and unplug it from the house AC during bad lightning storms and when I'm on lengthy trips, to protect the machine from power spikes. But apparently that's all the CMOS battery is meant to cover (besides physical disconnections and movements of the desktop itself). END UPDATE.

Eye strain

A far worse problem than either of the above was ever worsening bouts of eye strain whenever I used my computer lately. Bouts so severe I simply couldn't go on.

This has been an ongoing problem for me, for many months, getting steadily worse. I did get some relief from switching from my old 21.5 inch flat screen to a massive 42 inch HDTV display (I was very lucky that my mom wanted rid of her old flat screen). But still I continued to hurt. I tried dimming the screen and got some relief that way for a while. Then sometime later, I had to dim it again, by a LOT. I also took up drinking caffeinated coffee again, as that seemed to give me some eyestrain relief as well (I think I read somewhere that the caffeine helps the eyes a bit). This isn't my original style of coffee drinking though: I still must keep my caffeine intake to a minimum to avoid its worst effects on me. So I'm talking a very dilute cup of coffee here, with only a pinch of coffee on the very tip of a spoon. But even that tiny pinch is much better than a full spoon of decaff!

But still all these things only helped me temporarily. And my frequent bouts of insomnia also contributed to the problem.

I've always had eye problems. I became badly near sighted when just a kid (around the fifth grade I think), and had to start wearing eye glasses. As a teenager I suffered hidden eye injuries from lots of fights in my tough rural county (decades later my eye doc would comment on these, saying they looked like something incurred from violent car crashes; although I've had some car crashes, they were pretty gentle on me compared to my fights). In my early twenties I had a bit of eye surgery in the field to remove a piece of molten metal which splashed into one eye from welding on a construction job. Later on a doc proclaimed I had glaucoma and put me on meds for it (eventually he took me back off them again). Later on I went legally blind from cataracts in both eyes, and had surgery to see again (I suspect this was caused by a B-12 nutritional deficiency, which may also have made me more susceptible to a certain infection which can cause cataracts). During the year or so I was rapidly going blind, I adapted first by setting up an arrangement of large mirrors on my big desk to help me more easily use my large CRT display without undue strain. Later, I found myself forced to go further, and dispense with the mirrors and old fashioned CRT display, to go with a new flat screen.

Since flat screens (and projectors) cost a fortune back then, I tried building my own projector first, instead, to get a wall sized display I could see. But it turned out that particular project was beyond my expertise and budget. So I had to go with the 21.5 inch flat screen. But after a while I was too blind for that to work either.

For a few weeks after my first operation I had amazing vision in the first eye operated on, maybe 20/20 or better-- until the post-op steroid meds burst blood vessels in my eye, filling it with what looked like absolutely black snakes superimposed over my vision field. Same thing (to a lesser extent) happened when I got my second eye done. The doctor warned me there was the potential for me to go completely blind at any time after that. Yay for me, right? :-(

Some years after those surgeries, I started going blind again. Due to a biological film forming on my artificial lenses, which I was able to get removed via laser, to get my sight back once more. The doctor assured me that 'very few' of his patients ever have to have that done more than once.

So now here I was in 2015, getting such severe eye strain it looked like I'd soon be unable to use a computer for more than a few minutes at a time.

I finally Googled for some ways to remedy this, and ran across items I already knew or had tried, like dimming the screen, and taking frequent breaks, letting my eyes focus on more distant objects for a few seconds, etc., etc., etc. But the one that helped most was drastically dimming the overall lighting in my office, from what it had been.

Some years back I'd upped the lighting intensity in my office to help cope with my insomnia. For studies had shown being in bright light all day, then absolute darkness at night, helped people sleep better. And it did seem to help. But the same article had also warned that most fluorescent lights on the market had too much blue in the light emitted, and could hurt rather than help. Due to a strained budget, I had to keep my cheap fluorescents, but I also tried to incorporate more natural daylight as well. That seemed to work for a few years. But now, apparently, my eyes have finally had enough. Because completely shutting off the big overhead fluorescents has been what's helped me most lately.

In my Googling, I ran across new claims that orange or amber colored glasses might help reduce the problem of too much blue light for people. I also found a software utility called f.lux, which seeks to color tint your computer screen in optimal fashion to minimize your eyestrain and possibly sleep problems due to your display use. I installed f.lux on my PC late on 4-9-15 (I typed this particular sentence on 4-12-15). So far it might be helping a little on eye strain, but I'm not sure. It definitely doesn't seem to be doing anything about my insomnia though.

5-21-15 UPDATE: I ended up buying some amber tinted safety glasses recommended by many reviews on Amazon for matters like these, too. Been using them for a while now. In combination with all the other changes I've made, they DO seem to be helping about my eye strain, and sleeping (the exact product is Uvex S1933X Skyper Safety Eyewear, Black Frame, SCT-Orange UV Extreme Anti-Fog Lens). The f.lux software probably would too I expect, if I stayed on my PC past nightfall (which is when the software changes the coloring of my display). But I rarely do that these days. In regards to the glasses though, you must remember to don them every evening, for them to do you any good. Too, although I'm glad to have them, they don't accomodate my reading glasses being worn under them. So eventually I'd like to get an over sized pair that will. END UPDATE.

Unfortunately, all the above was only maybe half my troubles over this period. There was also this:

Our internet router abruptly dies; I go shopping for a replacement

Copyright © 2015 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.