The WiFi is Down Again !

Five words that no one wants to hear in the home or the office – “The WiFi is down again !” But what do they really mean, and what should you do to fix it ?

What is “The WiFi” ?

Firstly, what do people mean when they say “the WiFi” ? Usually it means that the connection to the internet on the device they are using (i.e. a phone, laptop or tablet) has stopped working – so they can no longer use the internet.

To understand what may have gone wrong it helps to understand the basic parts of a typical UK WiFi network as shown below –

Components of a typical UK WiFi Network

The grey dotted line represents your home or office, inside which you will have a router, connected to a BT master socket (or similar) and several WiFi-connected devices. You may also have a landline telephone connected to the BT master socket.

The router sits between the WiFi devices and the internet. The WiFi devices connect to the router via a wireless radio signal, and the router then connects these devices to the internet, through a cable connected to the BT master socket.

What Can Go Wrong ?

Technically speaking, “the WiFi” is only the part shown by the green dotted lines between router and WiFi devices. But if any part of the system breaks then the effect is the same – the internet connection is lost, even though the actual WiFi part may be working perfectly.

In the diagram above, the red numbers 1 through 4 represent potential points of failure which result in the internet connection being lost (or “the WiFi going down”). The numbers also indicate the sequence that you should follow to identify and resolve the problem.

1. Check the WiFi Device

The first thing to check is the WiFi-enabled device itself (i.e. the phone, tablet or laptop) to ensure it has a connection to the router.  Check these items –

  1. Has the WiFi been switched off on the device?
  2. Make sure “Airplane Mode” has not been selected.
  3. Is the device connected to the WiFi network
  4. Is the signal strong enough ?

Bear in mind that the WiFi radio signal is generated by the router. As you move further away from the router the signal strength drops until it is no longer strong enough to maintain a connection. Move closer to the router when checking your device.

If all else seems ok, RESTART the device then check again for a good connection.

2. Check the WiFi Signal Is Present

Some routers have a switch which can turn the WiFi on or off. If present, check that this switch is ON and has not been inadvertently switched off.

Every WiFi generating device (i.e. router or access point) has a unique name associated with the particular WiFi network – the SSID. Check that the SSID for your network is visible on your device. If there are any other WiFi devices available, check that the SSID is visible on those devices too.

Next – RESTART the Router.

Restart the router using on/off switch OR unplugging the power connector

Most minor faults can be resolved by restarting the router. Do this as follows –

  1. Switch the router OFF (or unplug the power connector)
  2. Wait for 5 seconds
  3. Switch the router ON (or plug in the power connector)
  4. Wait until the router lights settle down

A full restart of a router will generally only take a few minutes – no more than 5 minutes.

Now check again – is the router SSID visible to your devices ? Are you connected to the WiFi network? Do you have an internet connection (open a web page to check the internet connection).

If there is still a problem and you have a computer or laptop that has a wired network connection (“Ethernet” or “LAN”) and you have a suitable network cable, then try connecting this device to the router using the cable rather than WiFi (this eliminates the WiFi part of your network from the tests and checks the router itself and beyond).

Where to connect a LAN cable to the rear of a router – use any of the yellow “Ethernet” sockets

Connect one end of the cable to any of the yellow “Ethernet” ports at the rear of the router and the other end of the cable to the laptop or computer.

Can you browse the internet on the laptop/computer now ? If you can then this means every other part of the network is working but your router is not generating a WiFi signal. RESTART the router. If this does not resolve the problem then the router may be faulty.

3. Check the Router

The router generates the WiFi signal and it provides the connection to the internet. If the router is not working properly then the internet will not be available.

Check the router as follows –

  1. Is the router switched on (are there lights showing ?)
  2. Are any “error” lights showing (often RED but depends on router)
  3. Is the router connected to the BT master telephone socket ?
  4. RESTART the router

Since a restart only takes a few minutes you may as well do this as part of the troubleshooting process. In most cases, a router restart will resolve the issue.

If there are no lights visible on the router, and it is definitely plugged into a working mains power socket – then the router is faulty and must be replaced.

If the router seems ok then check if you have a “broadband filter” fitted between the router and the BT Master socket

On the left, 2 broadband filters. On the right a BT Master socket that doesn’t need a filter

Two types of “broadband filter” are shown to the left. If your master socket looks like the one on the right (with two separate inlets – one for broadband/ADSL/VDSL and one for telephone) then you do not need a broadband filter.

Unplug and reconnect the filter, the cables to the filter and/or the master socket to ensure they have good connections. If you have spare broadband filter, swap it with the current one.

If there is a telephone connected to the master socket, check the that the telephone line works. Do you get a ring tone ? Can you make and receive calls ? If the telephone line does NOT work then it is very possible that there is a line fault that will also affect the internet connection.

4. Check Your Broadband Service

At this point you have checked every part of the network that is your responsibility. The rest of the network (from the BT Master Socket and beyond) is the responsibility of your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

There may be a service outage, or a line fault. Contact your ISP and ask them to check your line at this point. As part of their fault diagnosis they will ask you to restart the router, so ensure that you have tried this before you call them.

Fault Diagnosis Steps in Brief

The following lists the steps you should take when checking this problem –

  1. Check your WiFi device is connected
  2. Move the device closer to the router
  3. Restart the WiFi device
  4. Check WiFi is ON at the router
  5. Restart the router
  6. Try connecting a wired computer to the router
  7. Check for error lights on the router
  8. Restart the router
  9. Check the connections to the BT Master socket
  10. Check the telephone line works (if available)
  11. Restart the router
  12. Contact your Internet Service Provider

OneDrive and AutoSave

If you are using the latest version of Microsoft Office and you store your documents to OneDrive then you may have noticed the “AutoSave” feature.

This is a useful feature to ensure that you never lose any unsaved data but there are a few elements to this which should be understood to ensure you get the best from it.

What is AutoSave ?

AutoSave is a feature available in Word, Excel and Powerpoint that will automatically save the file you are working on every few seconds, as you work on it. No user intervention is required – the save is completely automatic.

AutoSave continually overwrites the current file and acts as if you click on the File – Save option every few seconds.

AutoSave is enabled by default when you store a file to a OneDrive location. You can tell if AutoSave is active by looking at the top left corner of Word, Excel or Powerpoint.

The AutoSave control in Word, Excel and Powerpoint

The AutoSave slider appears at the top left corner. When this slider is set to “On” then AutoSave will be active. You can override the default AutoSave setting for an individual file by manually moving the AutoSave slider to “Off”. Note that this will only affect the current document.

The current “save status” of the file is also shown to the right of the AutoSave slider –

Current status shown as “Saving” while the file is being saved

This will show as “Saving” during the save process or as “Saved” when the file is currently up to date.

Current status showing as “Saved” when file is up to date

If you close Word, Excel or Powerpoint before the current file has been saved then a save of the current file version will automatically take place so that the latest version of the file is always the one saved.

Sounds Good – What’s the Problem ?

So far this all sounds good – anything that prevents you from losing your file changes if you forget to save a file is a good thing. This is an excellent feature but there is one particular set of circumstances in which you will need to be aware of AutoSave and be able to work around it.

Suppose you have “Master Template” document and you use this document as a starting point for, say, creating letters to clients. The template has the layout you want with generic details which you amend when you want to create a document for a particular client.

If you open this document and start to change the client details, AutoSave will immediately save these changes, overwriting the master template, and now your master template will have been replaced with a specific client letter.

Before AutoSave you might have modified the master template and then used the File – Save As option to save the changes to a new document. The difference now is that AutoSave starts to save changes immediately, and these changes are made to the original document.  What’s more, File – Save As seems to have disappeared from the menu !

Use “Save a Copy

The solution for this is quite simple. A new option File – Save a Copy will be available when AutoSave is On. To resolve the “master template” issue described above use the following steps –

  1. Open your “master template” file as normal
  2. Immediately, select File – Save a Copy and enter a new document name
  3. Now you can edit and AutoSave will save the new document, not the master

As long as you use the File – Save a Copy option first, before editing the document, your master template will remain unchanged.

Where is the “Save As” Option ?

When AutoSave is on, the original File – Save As option is replaced with File – Save a Copy. Both options do the same thing but this is another reminder that AutoSave is working.

If you switch AutoSave off for a particular file, then the File – Save As option will return for that file.

Version History

Another feature made available by AutoSave is automatic Version History. This can allow you to retrieve an earlier version of a file – either to replace the current version with that previous one, or to store the two versions separately.

If you feel that you have lost work previously saved in a file then it may be possible to retrieve that work by opening a previous version of the file. This should NOT be used for backup purposes but it may help resolve certain issues, especially if a file is modified by more than one person.

To use Version History on a document click on the arrow immediately to the right of the word “Saving” or “Saved” at the top of the window. In the popup window, select “Version History”

Click the arrow at the top, to the right of “Saved”

Now look at the window that opens to the right

The “Version History” window showing available versions of the file

Here you will see a list of the available versions of the file, along with information on when the version was modified and by whom. Click on Open version to open a previous version in a new window.

Once open you have the option to Compare with the latest version or to Restore this version in place of the current version.

You can also use File – Save As to store the version as a completely new file.

Turn Off AutoSave

To turn AutoSave off you must perform the following steps within each app (Word, Excel and Powerpoint)

  1. Select File – Options
  2. Look for the  Save  section of the options
  3. Uncheck the  AutoSave OneDrive and SharePoint Online files by default…
The option to switch OFF AutoSave

Now restart the app, open a file and confirm that the AutoSave slider at the top left corner is set off.

Note that even with AutoSave switched off, OneDrive still has the means to restore previous versions of a file. This will be described in a separate article or you can information from Microsoft at the link below –

Previous Versions

What’s In a (File) Name ?

We don’t often think about filenames now – the length of the name, or the characters that make up the name – but this wasn’t always the case. But lately, recent advances can mean that just a little more thought might be required when choosing a name for your files.

If you haven’t got time to read this entire article the main point is that it may be prudent to keep your filenames (and the names of folders in which they are stored) shorter, more succinct, and avoid using certain characters (spaces being one of them)  if you wish to avoid problems.

A Little History of Filenames

Back in the mists of time when the “MS-DOS command line” was king and a mouse was something undesirable that lurked behind the refrigerator, filenames were a simple affair. You were allowed up to 8 characters in the filename (letters and numbers only) followed by a period (full stop) followed by a 3 character filename extension that was used to identify the type of file you were saving. This was called the 8.3 filename system.

A typical DOS screen image showing 8.3 filename styles

Filename extensions were always visible and took the form of “TXT” for a text file, or “DOC” for a Microsoft Word document, of “XLS” for an Excel spreadsheet, and so on. These extensions were created automatically and appended to the filename by the software that saved the file.

The filename itself was limited to 8 alphanumeric characters. You could type in upper and lowercase but the filename itself was always stored in uppercase. You could NOT use a space within the 8 characters, as the space would be interpreted as the end of the filename so that a filename of “MY FILE” would be interpreted as, simply “MY”.

Folders were allowed and folder names followed the same rules – 8 characters only, without the extension.

The full location of a file (i.e. the “path” to that file) was known as the pathname. This consisted of the drive letter (including a colon : to indicate a drive) on which the file was stored, followed by the name of each folder in which the file was stored, followed by the filename itself, with each part separated by the backslash \ character. Thus a typical pathname might appear as follows –

C:\WORDDOCS\MYDOC1.DOC

This example describes a Word Document (DOC) file called “MYDOC1” which is stored in the folder “WORDDOCS” on the C-Drive of the computer.

If there was a sub-folder called LETTERS within WORDDOCS in which the document was stored then this would appear as –

C:\WORDDOCS\LETTERS\MYDOC1.DOC

Long Filenames

As computers became more powerful and storage space became larger and cheaper there was a need for longer filenames and pathnames. Pathname length was increased up to 256 characters in total, upper and lowercase characters were allowed, and spaces were permitted in the names to improve legibility.

At some point too, the option to hide filename extensions was offered, so that you no longer saw the “.DOC” part at the end of the filename. The limit of the filename extension size was also removed, although most extensions today remain within 3 to 4 characters in length.

With the advent of Windows 10, the theoretical pathname length was increased again – up to 32,767 characters ! So Windows itself can handle massive pathname lengths but most software and apps do not. The practical limit for pathnames therefore remains around 256-260 characters.

The point is, however, that it seemed we no longer had to worry about filename lengths, or what we chose to call files – we could simply make the filename a description of the file contents which would easily fit with 256 characters. For example –

C:\Users\User\Documents\Letters Home\Please send me more money again.doc

And Then Came the Web

Everything was sort of working ok for filenames for a while but then an important change came along – the internet. HTML, the language that controls the internet, does not like spaces in filenames. To get around this problem spaces are automatically replaced by a string of 3-characters %20 when the filename is processed. This changes a filename as follows –

Please send me more money again.doc    would now become

Please%20send%20me%20more%20money%20again.doc

Importantly this increases the filename length, since every single space in the name is replaced with three characters. In this example the 5 space characters become 15 characters, so the 35 character original name becomes 45 characters in length. In a long pathname, with lots of spaces, this can lead to a significant increase in path length when passed through HTML and the internet.

But why do internet filename limitations matter when you are creating pathnames for your own computer, not the internet ? Because of what happened next.

Along Came Cloud Storage

A big advance in file storage came about with the drop in cost for online, “cloud” storage. Systems like DropBox, GoogleDrive, and OneDrive all store your files, with your pathnames, via the internet, to remote storage devices. These systems use the HTML internet language, therefore spaces in pathnames are substituted with the %20 characters at some point in the process. You may never see those %20 characters but they are used within apps.

Other pathname changes may also come about as hidden “server names” or “user identifier codes” are added to the front of your chosen pathname in order to locate a file correctly over the internet. These name changes are often hidden from view, so as not to confuse the user. But they are present, and can cause issues when they increase the pathname length.

So What Exactly Is the Problem ?

Let’s suppose you are setting up a cloud-based storage system on your computer – e.g. OneDrive. You open the OneDrive folder and start to create a system of folders and sub-folders, each with clear, meaningful (occasionally long) filenames. Some of those filenames have spaces in them to make them easier to read.

Next you move files to the OneDrive folder and sub-folders and, again, some of these files have long filenames with spaces.

Windows has no real pathname limit and OneDrive has a published limit of 400 characters so no pathname you create is anywhere near that sort of length.

Then you open a document in Word, edit it, and use File – Save As to save the document with a slightly different filename and receive the following error –

Error in Microsoft Word

But the filename is valid ! It contains no bad characters and Word allowed you to open the original in the first place. You didn’t “incorrectly type” the path – you are simply using the path of the original document, which Word allowed you to use when the original was opened.

So you might change the last part of the filename, maybe reduce it in size a little, but still you get the same error message and you are unable to save the file.

The problem is that the full pathname, including all the %20 strings that have been used to replace spaces in the name, exceeds the 259 character limit allowed by Microsoft Word when creating a new file. Due to the way spaces are handled, the pathname could exceed this limit by a significant number of characters, so reducing the last part of the name by a few characters may not make any difference.

This is a limitation imposed by the software app you are using – in this case Microsoft Word – and not by Windows or OneDrive. And importantly, this limit is imposed when creating (i.e. Saving) the document, not when opening it. Interestingly enough, the File – Save option may still work, since that simply updates the existing file rather than creating a new file, but File – Save As will not work.

How to Fix The Problem

First you need to save the document, so as not to lose any data. You can save it to the “Documents” folder on your computer (which will have a much shorter path) rather than the original OneDrive path, then move the file later.

Select  File  then Save As  then look for the “Other locations” area and select “This PC”

Select “This PC” to save to the Documents folder rather than OneDrive

This will set the current storage location to the “Documents” folder on your computer. This clears the original, long, OneDrive pathname and will allow you to save the file.

Once saved, you can close Word the use File Explorer to move the file from your Documents folder to the appropriate location on OneDrive. This solves the immediate issue of saving the new file.

Next you must investigate the cause of the issue, by checking the pathname lengths in OneDrive, and then resolve the issue for the future.

File and Folder Name Guidelines

To avoid problems in the future there are a few guidelines for file and folder names you can follow.

Firstly, be aware of creating long names. The name doesn’t have to read perfectly so can you shorten the name but retain it’s meaning ?

  • Instead of        ….\Folder for storing accounts for the year 2018 to 2019
  • Use                     .…\Accounts2018-19

Use Uppercase letters to separate words instead of using spaces or, if you must have some white space between characters then, use either an underscore or a dash instead of a space character –

  • Instead of            Best filing practices to avoid filename length issues.doc
  • Use                        BestFilingPracticesToAvoidFilenameLengthIssues.doc
  • Or                           Best_filing_practices_to_avoid_filename_length_issues.doc
  • Or                           Best-filing-practices-to-avoid-filename-length-issues.doc

The original filename above is 57 characters in length and contains 7 spaces. This would become 71 characters in length when the spaces are replaced with %20 strings for HTML use. The first “best practice” example reduces this to 50 characters which saves 21 characters compared with the original HTML filename.

There are also some particular non-alphanumeric characters that should be avoided in filenames. These are as follows –

~   ”  #  %  &  *  :   <  >  ?  /  \  {  |  } 

For more information see the Microsoft documents linked to below –

Microsoft Bad Pathnames

Microsoft Office Apps Pathname Limits

You do not have to rename every folder in the path. Concentrate on those folders with the longest names and reduce the length of those first.

Windows Themes

If you are tired of looking at the same blue “Windows 10” desktop background, or just fancy a change on your screen then have a look at “Windows Themes”. They’re free and only take a few minutes to download and setup.

What Are Windows Themes ?

A Windows Theme is a visual design that primarily changes the background image (or “wallpaper”) on your Windows desktop but which may also change the icons, mouse pointer, and any highlight colours used for menus.

Most Themes include a set of high quality background images, which can be set to cycle automatically so that a new image is displayed at a period set by you. Typically, this period can be every 1 minute, or every 10 minutes and so on.

You can download Windows Themes from the Microsoft Store. Some “premium” Themes must be purchased, but many Themes are available free of charge.

Downloading Windows Themes

To download a Theme, you must first open the Microsoft Store app. You may have a shortcut on your desktop for this or you can open it by clicking on the Windows tile icon at the bottom left corner then scrolling down through the alphabetical apps list –

Select “Microsoft Store” from the alphabetical apps list

Click on Microsoft Store to open the app, then at the top right of the app you will see a search bar. Enter  windows themes  into the search bar

Enter “windows themes” into the search bar

In the search results, look for Apps then click on the Show all link

Click on the blue “Show all” option

This will set the Department of the Microsoft store to Apps.

In the Category box , select Personalization to display all of the available Windows Themes that can be used to personalise your Windows desktop.

Select “Personalization” as the Category

Now browse through the results looking for a Theme that takes your interest. You will see the cost of each Theme displayed below the image. Click on a Theme for more information about the content.

Information displayed about a particular Theme – note the blue “Get” button

When you find a Theme that interests you, click on it then click on the blue Get button below the Theme description. You may be asked if you wish to sign in with a Microsoft Account to download the Theme. This is NOT necessary so you can decline signing in.

There will be a short delay after you click on Get before the download begins.

The Theme will automatically download to the correct location in Windows. You can download several Themes at the same time and apply them later, as detailed next.

Applying A Windows Theme

To apply a previously downloaded theme, move the cursor to an empty area on your desktop and RIGHT-click the mouse. From the popup menu that appears, select Personalise

RIGHT-click on the desktop then select “Personalise”

In the left-hand menu, click on the Themes option to display the available Themes –

Select “Themes” from the menu at the right

You will now see the pre-loaded Windows Themes, along with any Themes you have downloaded yourself previously.

Available Themes shown

Click on a Theme to activate and apply it to your desktop.

To set the rate at which the Theme pictures change, go back to the Background option in the left menu and click on the Change picture every option. Here you can choose the rate at which the pictures will change.

Selecting the rate at which the images change

There are further options here too. The Choose a fit option selects how an image is sized to fit your screen (and you can use the Span option to fit the image across two screens, although this only works effectively with “panoramic” image sizes).

You can also Shuffle the images randomly, or have them change in the same sequence every time.

Using Your Own Images for a Theme

You can, of course, use your own images and photos to create a Windows Theme, in which the images are used to fill the desktop background and cycle through automatically.

To do this, first copy the images you wish for your Theme into a separate folder. This will allow you to select the best images and have some control over the Theme. You can add to this folder over time. Choose images that have the correct aspect ratio to fill the screen (e.g. landscape orientation is better than portrait, and higher resolution images will work better).

Now RIGHT-click on an empty part of the desktop and select Personalise, as before.

In the Background screen, ensure that Background is set to Slideshow, then click on the Browse button. Now browse to and select the folder in which your images are stored.

Choose the Change picture time and Choose a fit and you are ready to go.

You can change back to a downloaded Theme at any time as described above.

Customising a Theme

Once a Theme has been applied you can customise that Theme to your own tastes. You may find, for example, that you don’t like the highlight colour used by the theme. This can be changed once the theme has been applied.

Now RIGHT-click on an empty part of the desktop and select Personalise, as before.

Now select Colours from the right hand menu and experiment with “light” and “dark” modes and with different colour combinations. The Accent Colour in particular has a significant effect on how a theme appears so you can change this to suit.

To restore the original colour scheme that comes with a Theme, simply select Themes from the right hand menu then select the original theme again.

Cleanup Your Email

If you have time on your hands during Lockdown, now might be a good time to cleanup your email. Read through this blog post and see how easy it can be to refresh your inbox using Microsoft Outlook.

Why Cleanup Your Mailbox ?

Why bother cleaning up your mailbox ? If your mailbox isn’t full or complaining of any issues then why bother ?

Well your mailbox is a computer file (or files). And just like any other computer file it occupies space on a storage device somewhere. Large files take up more space, take longer to open, take longer to search through, and are generally more unwieldy to deal with.

But it’s not just the size. The number of items in the mailbox also affects performance. The larger the number of items in a folder the slower Outlook will be to perform actions on that folder – actions like searching, changing the view, sorting.

So, reducing the size and number of items in your mailbox file will make Outlook run smoother.

Checking the Size of Specific Folders

Outlook has a method for displaying the size of your mailbox and each of your mailbox folders. This is especially useful if you have created subfolders.

Look at the leftmost pane of Outlook and scroll so that the top level folder (the one above your Inbox) is showing. This folder will often have the name of your actual email address and a down-pointing arrow to its left.

Checking the size of your Mailbox

RIGHT-click on this folder and select Data File Properties. Now click on the Folder Size button. You will now see a dialog showing your current folders and their sizes.

Mailbox folder sizes displayed

The “Total Size” shows the size of your mailbox file. This is displayed in Kilobytes (KB) so a size of 1,000,000 KB would actually represent 1 GBytes.

Unsubscribe

If you find you receive a lot of unwanted newsletters and sales offers by email you should consider unsubscribing from those. Many of these items may end up in your Spam folder (see below) so it worth unsubscribing before you delete the messages so that you will not receive further emails.

Any reputable organisation will have an Unsubscribe option in their emails. This is usually at the bottom of the email – look for link that says Unsubscribe or similar. When you click on this link you will be taken to a webpage that will either confirm your choice or ask for some more details before you unsubscribe.

The “Unsubscribe” link at the bottom of an email

Note that the Unsubscribe option will NEVER ask you to enter a password. If you are prompted for a password,  close the webpage immediately and delete the email.

The Spam and Junk Mail Folders

These folders are used to hold emails that have been identified by your email or provider, or by Outlook itself, as spam. The folder will generally contain cold-call sales messages and other such items.

Occasionally a genuine message will be wrongly flagged as spam and be redirected to this folder. Have a look through the folder and delete and messages that you do not need. If you haven’t done this before then there may be a LOT of messages.

Tidying the Inbox

The Inbox is where the bulk of your email will arrive. This is likely to be one of the largest folders within your mailbox. There are two main philosophies for reducing Inbox size –

  • Reduce the number of items – usually by deleting the oldest messages
  • Delete the largest messages, regardless of the age of the message

The most effective strategy combines both approaches.

Tidying the Inbox – Delete Older Messages

Scroll down to the bottom of your Inbox and look at the oldest messages there. Ask yourself if you really need to keep these older messages or how many of them are now redundant. It is possible to Archive older messages but there is no point in archiving for the sake of it if the older messages are no longer required.

Perhaps set a “cut-off date” (e.g. 1st January 2018) and delete all messages older than this ?

If there are a few important messages that you would like to keep then create a new sub-folder and move those messages to that sub-folder.

You can delete messages in blocks – you don’t have to delete them one at a time. To select a block of messages

  • LEFT-click the mouse on the first message in the block
  • Scroll to the last message on the block
  • Hold down the SHIFT key on the keyboard
  • LEFT-click the mouse on the last message and release the SHIFT key
  • The entire block is now highlighted

To delete the marked block, RIGHT-click the mouse and select Delete. The items will now be moved to the Deleted Items folder.

If you make a mistake whilst marking the block, simply click the mouse on an unmarked message and that will deselect the block and allow you to start again.

Tidying the Inbox – Delete Largest Messages

In the central pane of Outlook, you will generally see your emails listed by order of date – newest first. But you can also change this view to list emails by order of size – largest first. This allows you to browse through the largest emails in your Inbox and delete as necessary.

To change this view click on the down arrow next to By Date then, under the Arrange by section select Size. Now scroll to the top of the mailbox to view the largest emails.

The “Filter” and “Sort” option for displaying the order of messages

To restore the original view, repeat the process but select Date instead of Size.

Outlook can also display all messages larger than a selected size. You can then go through this list and delete as required.

  • At the left of Outlook RIGHT-click on Search Folders, then New Search Folder
  • In the Organizing Mail section select Large mail
  • Select a message size for the search (click Choose to change size)
  • Click OK to search and display the results

The results of your search will in the main part of the Outlook window (to return to the “normal” Outlook view, simply click on the Inbox in the folder list to the left).

Once you have made one search, you will find that there will be a new search folder shown. Click on this if you wish to make the same search again.

Now you can view and delete the larger emails as you wish. Large emails will generally have attachments and it is those that makeup the large size.

Tidy the Sent Items

The other large folder will be your Sent Items folder, and it’s easy to forget this.  You can browse through this in exactly the same way as the Inbox – viewing items by Date or by Size and deleting as required.

The same rules apply – do you really need to keep email you have sent that is several years old ?

The Deleted Items Folder

Whenever you delete an email,  a contact, or a calendar item in Outlook it will be moved to the Deleted Items folder. There it will sit, still available, and still taking up space in your mailbox.

This is useful WHILE you are clearing out your mailbox since if you make a mistake and delete something accidentally, you can still retrieve it from the Deleted Items folder. Open the folder, RIGHT-click on the item you wish to restore, select Move, then Other Folder, then select the folder you want to move the item back into (e.g. Inbox).

However, when you are finished clearing out your mailbox you must also EMPTY the Deleted Items folder, otherwise all your work to reduce the mailbox size will have been wasted.

To do this, RIGHT-click the mouse on Deleted Items then select Empty Folder.

The Trash Folder

If your email account is connected to an Apple device (e.g. iPhone) as well as Outlook, then you may also have a Trash folder. This where items deleted on the Apple device will go. You should empty this folder too.

Keeping Your Mailbox Tidy

Now that your mailbox has been tidied up it will be easier to manage if you can keep it that way. By far the most effective way to do this is to delete unwanted messages as they come in. If you receive an email that you don’t need then delete it right away – don’t wait.

And once a month, look through recent messages and delete those you don’t need to keep. It’s easier to do this as you go along.

And remember to empty the Deleted Items folder regularly.

Phishing

You may have come across the term “Phishing” and you will almost certainly have seen a “phishing email” in your Inbox  – but what’s it all about ?

Login details for most online accounts (e.g. email, banking, credit cards) comprise an email address and password. If the “bad guys” can persuade you to give them your email address and password combination then they can login to your account, pretend to be you, and use it as they wish. What’s more, if you use the same email address and password combination for lots of online accounts, then they can login to all of these too.

Phishing is a method that is used to try to fool you into giving your login details to the bad guys without you realising.

The principle behind most phishing emails is the same. The email will be made to look like it comes from reputable source that is familiar to you (e.g. your broadband provider, Apple, Paypal or HMRC etc.). The email will include a link and invite you to click on this link to verify yourself or get more information.

When you click on the link this will open a website that appears genuine but is actually a fake website setup by the scammer. The website will prompt you to enter your email address and password, and this goes straight to the scammer, who now has your login details.

For example –

A typical phishing email,note the sender’s email address and the “Verify now” link

So how can you distinguish a genuine email from a phishing email and not get caught out ?

Well the most effective advice is also the simplest –

NEVER click on a link in an email unless you are 100% certain that the link is genuine and from someone you trust.

Do this and you will never be caught out by a phishing email. If the email looks like it might come from an important service provider (e.g. Paypal, HMRC, your broadband provider) then close the email and contact that service provider in the way you would normally contact them, rather than using any information in the email.

Identifying a Phishing Email

If you really need to convince yourself that an email is fake, then there are usually clues and there will always be one definitive item that proves it.

Taking the example above, the message pretends to come from Apple but the senders email address is definitely not Apple. In this example, northernvalleycareers.com has either been hacked or the email address is being faked. Either way, Apple will not send you email from that address.

Look carefully at the text in the message. Scammers are often not native English speakers so there will often be spelling or grammar mistakes (e.g. We requires verification….)

Another clue is that phishing emails almost always present themselves as “urgent !”. They imply that you “must take action immediately !” or something bad will happen. This is deliberate psychology to encourage you to make a quick decision, rather than wait, rationalise and see the email as fake.

But the biggest clue is in the link itself. Remember, the link must take you to the scammers own page, which may be a website that has been hacked but which will definitely NOT be a genuine Apple webpage.

In the email, if you were to hover the mouse cursor over the link but not click the mouse, you would see a popup that shows the real address of the link

Note popup with true address for the “Verify now” link

In this example the link would take you to https://dogandcar.com…. and not an Apple website. That particular webpage has probably been hacked or taken over by the scammer so that it will look like an Apple webpage when you go there and encourage you to enter your Apple ID.

Another phishing email – note the actual address of the link does not match the text shown

This time the link seems to imply that it will take you to an ionos.com webpage, but if you hover over the link you will see that it actually takes you to  nilmarmoveis.com.br

And “multiple password failures were present before the logons”. That is very strange grammar.

But don’t click on the link !!

For more information on good Email Security practices and what to do if your account is compromised, see the next post.

Using Dual Monitors

If you are now working from home using a laptop but are accustomed to working on a desktop PC with a separate screen then you may find the laptop screen a little on the small side to be comfortable. Fortunately, most laptops allow you to connect to a separate, external screen.

If you have a separate computer monitor then you should be able to use this. Alternatively, most television screens from the last 10 years or so will have connectors at the rear that will allow a laptop to be attached.

This article details how to do this.

Connectors
To connect your laptop to an external screen you’ll need a suitable cable between the two. There are a lot of different cables for this purpose so you’ll need to ensure you get the right one. To do this you’ll need to identify video connectors on both the laptop and the screen

Video Ports
A “port” is a generic name for a physical connector on computer (e.g. USB port, VGA port etc.). Most laptops will have one video port to connect an external screen. This will be one of several standard ports and depends upon the physical size of the laptop case and the date of manufacture. The video port will usually be located at one side of the laptop or, occasionally, at the rear of the laptop.

Video ports found on laptops

Laptop VGA Port
The VGA port is a 15-pin connector – either in black as shown or often coloured blue.  It is a relatively large connector so cannot be fitted to the most recent slimline laptop designs. A VGA port can only output a signal to an external screen that has a similar VGA port. You will need a VGA-to-VGA cable for this.

Laptop HDMI Port
The next most common port is the HDMI port, also found on domestic TV equipment. A standard HDMI connector is shown above (note the symmetrical shape). An HDMI port can output to an external screen with a similar HDMI port or one with a DVI port using a suitable cable.

There are 3 different sizes of HDMI ports available (see image). The smaller sizes may be used on a laptop to save space. All of these HDMI connectors output the same signal and all will connect to a screen with HDMI or DVI ports.

Laptop Display Port and Mini Display Port
The “Display Port” connector is similar to HDMI but is squared off at one side (i.e. asymmetrical).  There may also be a small “D” symbol next to the connector as shown top right. There Is also a “Mini Display Port” connector as shown lower right (this is commonly found on Apple MacBooks but also on some Windows laptop designs).

Display Port can output to an external screen with an HDMI port or a DVI port with a suitable cable.

Laptop USB-C Port
The most recent laptop video port is the USB-C connector (also known as “DisplayPort over USB-C”). This is a multi-purpose USB port that can also output video using the appropriate cable.

A “D” symbol beside the USB-C port indicates that it is can be used as DisplayPort and can output video.

So, these are all the video connectors that you are likely to see on your laptop. Have a look around the laptop and see which one is fitted to your device and this will determine the type of plug that will need to be fitted to the video cable at the laptop end.

Screen/Monitor Video Ports
The other end of the video cable will connect to the external screen. There are 4 possible connector types on screens, one of which is different to the other 3.

Video ports found on screens and monitors

The VGA connector is different from all the others in that you can only connect VGA to VGA. Note that the cheapest screens will only have a VGA port so you cannot connect HDMI, DisplayPort, or USB-C to these screens.

The other 3 connectors – HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort are all compatible with each other so you can connect these all together (e.g. HDMI to DVI, or DisplayPort to HDMI, or HDMI to HDMI and so on). You can also connect USB-C to any of these 3 connectors.

Now that you’ve identified the port types on the laptop and the screen, you just need to obtain a video cable with suitable connectors on each end. Alternatively, if you are purchasing a new screen, then ensure that it has a connector that will work with your laptop.

In simple terms, if the screen is described with only a VGA connector, then your laptop must also have a VGA connector for it to work. If the screen has DVI and/or HDMI then your laptop can have any of the connectors other than VGA and, with a suitable cable, it will work.

Below are a few examples of video cables readily available.

Video connecting cables

Setting Up Microsoft Windows for Dual Screens

Once you have your second screen and a suitable video cable, connect the two together and you should immediately see the laptop screen duplicated on the external screen. This works but you are not getting the most from this setup – the image on the external screen may also appear a little “blurry”.

You can get more from this setup by “extending the Windows desktop” across the two screens. This allows you to use both laptop and external screen as if they were combined together to form one larger, wider screen. You can drag windows to either of the two screens and see more whilst working.

To set this up you’ll need to configure Windows as follows. This document assumes you are using Windows 10.

Connect both screens and ensure you can see an image on each

Move the mouse cursor to an empty area on the desktop and RIGHT-click

Select “Display Settings” from this menu

From the popup menu (similar to that shown above), select Display settings near the bottom of the menu. This will open the settings window with options to control the Display as shown below.

Select “Extend these displays” from this menu

Now scroll down the display window until you see the Multiple displays option. This will probably be set to Duplicate these displays currently.

Click on the arrow to the right and select the option Extend these displays.

This will preview your selection. Select Keep changes

Now try moving the mouse across the two screens. If the mouse movement is wrong then you just need to tell Windows where each screen is positioned relative to the other (left or right). Scroll back up to the top of the Display Settings window to the Rearrange your displays option.

Drag the screens icons to reflect the position of your screens

Click on Identify to display the number of each screen (1 or 2).

Now drag the icons above the Identify and Detect buttons so that they are positioned correctly.

Working From Home – IT Advice

If you are able to work  from home during this COVID-19 lockdown, then the chances are you will be using  a computer or laptop and your home broadband/internet connection. There are a few things you can do to help ensure smooth operation.

Write Down the Contact Details for Your Broadband Service Provider

Firstly, identify who supplies the broadband (internet) service for you. Then go to their website and find contact telephone numbers that you can use in the event of a problem. If your internet goes down then you won’t be able to get to a website to find this information.

Common broadband service providers include –

  • Sky Broadband : 0333 7952 018
  • TalkTalk : 0345 172 0088
  • BT Broadband : 0800 800 150
  • Plusnet : 0800 432 0200

Identify Your Router

The router is the device that connects to your telephone line and provides internet and WiFi coverage to your house. It is generally located close to the telephone master socket, where the telephone line comes into your house from the outside.

A selection of Broadband Routers

The router will be a small plastic box, with several lights on it, in black, grey or occasionally white. It will either have your service provider’s name on it (e.g. Sky, BT, TalkTalk etc.) or it will have a manufacturer’s name (e.g. Netgear, TP-LINK, Draytek etc.).

Locate the router in your house and have a look at the lights displayed when everything is working correctly. Generally, there will be green lights which may be steady or flashing.

If you see any red lights or other colours, then this may indicate a fault.

Know How to Restart Your Router

Restarting (or “re-booting”) a router is simply  the process of switching the router off and then on again. In many cases this will resolve internet and WiFi connection issues and should be the first thing that you do whenever a problem occurs and before you call the helpline.

If your router has an on/off switch, then simply switch off the router and wait for around 5 seconds, then switch it back on again.

Press on/off switch to restart/reboot your router

If there is no on/off switch, then unplug the router power cable (or unplug/switch it off at the mains) and wait for around 5 seconds, then plug it back in again.

When you do this it will take several minutes before the router has completely restarted and before your internet connection will be restored. During this time you may see different combinations of lights or light colours on the router.

If your internet connection is NOT restored after restarting the router, or if you see different light combinations on the router compared to normal operation, then contact your broadband service provider.

Note that “RESTARTING or REBOOTING a router” is NOT the same as “RESETTING a router”. You can restart or reboot at any time without having to change anything else. The router will come back online again within a few minutes and will retain all of its settings.

When you RESET a router you are restoring it to factory settings – any information that has been entered into the router will be lost. If your router was configured with specific settings at some point (e.g. broadband login details, a specific WiFi name or password) then these settings will be lost and must be re-entered if you RESET the router. This is less common with home-use routers but is often the case with routers in small businesses.

For more useful information on working from home see the following articles in the blog –

Checking Broadband Speed

Using Dual Screens

Avoiding the Scammers

Broadband Speed

The speed of your internet connection is affected by many things. Firstly, there may be a limit imposed by the broadband service provider, or a technical limit due to the setup and location of your broadband equipment.

Next, the speed will also be affected by the number of users sharing your internet connection.

In a typical domestic environment there may be numerous mobile phones, tablet, computers, gaming consoles all of which use the internet connection. The more of these present, and the more heavily they are using the internet, the slower the connection will appear for everyone. Remember that entertainment streaming systems like Netflix and NowTV etc. will use the internet connection quite heavily during use.

If you feel the internet connection is slow then try “Restarting the Router” as described previously. You can also check to see what other devices are also using the internet connection. Generally, video and audio streaming will use the internet most. Reducing the number of active devices will increase the speed for those left.

There are websites and apps that can check your current internet speed, but you have to know how to interpret the results and also know what is a “normal” speed for these to be of any use. However, if you have a working connection then try –

Speedtest.net

Broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk

The results will be displayed as 3 values

  • Ping : time to send a request and receive a reply – smaller is better
  • Download : speed of receiving data from websites – higher is better
  • Upload : speed of sending data from your device – higher is better

Your actual speed will depend on the service available. Fibre broadband is faster than standard broadband and “Faster Fibre” will be faster still. The Upload speed will often be much lower than the download speed. This is normal and will not affect performance as you generally download much more data than you upload.

Typical UK Fibre Broadband speeds are  –

  • Ping : 12ms
  • Download : 32 MBps
  • Upload : 6  Mbps

The Ping is a time measurement in milliseconds. The Download and Upload figures represent the amount of data that can be moved per second and is shown as “Megabits per second” (where 1 Megabit is a million bits of data).

“Faster Fibre” will give better higher download and upload speeds.

A Virgin Media “Faster Fibre” speedtest result

Optimising Broadband Speed

If you feel your broadband is running slow then there are a couple of things you can try which might help.

First, restart the router. This can often help, especially if the router hasn’t been restarted for a while.

Next, make sure that you leave the router on 24/7 – don’t switch it off for extended periods (i.e. don’t switch it off every night and on again in the morning). Broadband service providers perform communications checks with routers and if your router does not repsond they may assume a fault on the telephone line and may reduce your broadband speed to compensate for this.

Use a network cable rather than WiFi where possible. Plug a network (“Ethernet”, “LAN” or “RJ45” cable) into one of the 4 yellow sockets at the rear of your router and connect this cable to the network socket on your laptop if the router is close enough to where you work from. A cable connection is always faster and more reliable than WiFi.

Rear view of typical router alongside an RJ45 Ethernet Cable

Try to place the router in a higher (e.g. on a shelf, not on the floor) location, central among the devices that connect to it. This ensures a stronger WiFi signal from the router. Also, try to place the router away from other electrical devices (e.g. televisions, baby monitors, audio systems) to reduce any possible electrical interference with the WiFi signal.

For best results the router should connect directly to the BT Master Socket where the telephone cable comes into the house. Don’t connect the router via telephone extension socket as this may reduce the speed.

Reduce the number of devices using WiFi. Phones, tablets, and “smart” devices all use WiFi. The fewer devices using WiFi, the faster the WiFi service will be to those remaining. Switch off or disconnect devices that don’t need to be connected. That streaming music service that you might listen to at home (e.g. via Alexa or an app on your phone) will use WiFi data too and will affect your speed.