A Catch Up Posting – Back From Travelling/Working In Europe

Well, what can I say, I have been travelling around Europe and further afield since my last posts, but as you would expect its come to a grinding halt with the Covid-19 Coronavirus events.   These jobs have involved spending a week each at clinics, installing IT gear and then running it and gathering the data generated.   Lots of patient and staff involvement and really good fun!

So this is just a posting to add some photos, take stock of the last few months and get ready for the next fun thing to do…

Scheemda, Netherlands

Glostrup, Denmark

Royal Free Hospital, London

Tel Aviv, Israel

Moorfields Eye Hospital, London

Aarau, Sitzerland

Bristol Eye Hospital

Malmo, Sweden

Ask The Earth IT Support – Questions And Answers

Ask The Earth has some history behind it!  It started in 1998 as a Small Business Support And Training Company in Taunton and over the next 8 years served many homes and a lot of Small Businesses in every aspect of IT.  We created and ran websites for 6 or more companies on an ongoing basis and were selling Essential Oils, Jukeboxes, Farm Equipment, Beanie Babies and a lot more.  We taught the teaching staff at Colleges and members of the public through “Community Education”, plus running bespoke training sessions for indiduals to cover their specific needs.  We supplied PCs and Laptops, repaired broken equipment and supported the users as and when they needed help.

Mike then spent 4 years as IT Manager for a major Taunton employer with 150 users, moving over to another major employer in Devon with 400 users for another 4 years.  During this time, we supported Automotive Dealerships on Social Media, IT and other support roles.  The Home and Small Business Support work continued during this time, supporting existing customers and taking on new ones as they came up.

We then moved to Plymouth to join an Automotive Dealership Group in the city for (yet another) 4 years.  In the last year or so, the Home and Small Business IT Support has taken off locally with people finding out about us through word-of-mouth.  We have also been running an Ecommerce website for a major Performance Car Parts company, supporting a Call Centre and a local Car Dealership, plus some other contract work.  You can see our recommendations here on Facebook!

Speaking of which, we have some space in the diary and have opened a Facebook Page here to let more people know we are available to help them.  Please let us know what you need, we will be happy to help!

The Future?  Well, these are interesting times here at Ask The Earth.  Mike will be travelling a fair bit on a new contract to install monitoring equipment in hospitals both in the UK and abroad.  Between these dates, we will be expanding the local work with small businesses and home users.   We will also be continuing this blog with local articles, book reviews and a lot more.

Leave a comment here, like our Facebook Page, ring or sms on 07792170142, tweet to @mike___davidson or email help@ask-the-earth.co.uk to book your session or to discuss your needs.

Speak soon, Mike



What is in a Home IT/Network Health Check?

So, what is covered in a “Home IT/Network Health Check”?

In short, whatever you’ve got!  If you have contacted Ask The Earth, chances are that you have a specific problem that needs fixing, so lets get that done first.  After that, there are probably a list of items that are a concern or just a pain; dropped connections, low speeds, error messages etc.  Let’s focus on those as well and clear the list down as much as possible.

The Health Check is a survey of your network and your gear.  It is making changes as we go along to improve ease of use, speed and convenience.  Some of them are really small changes, but make difference.

In the last few weeks. these are just some of the items we have found and solved at different clients:
Moved the broadband access to the main BT point in a house which had it running faster.
Changed the annoyingly random letter-ed password on the wifi so it is easier, less annoying and faster to connect.
Used a wifi extender to push the signal to the back of a cottage.
Changed the channel the wifi used to stop it competing with neighbours, this is surprisingly effective if you have problems with mobile devices.
Computers And Laptops:
Made sure that updates were going through properly.
Checked for Malware, Antivirus etc. fixing where necessary.
Removing old software and making sure that they are really gone.
Creating Backups and checking that existing backups are working.
Phones and Tablets:
We have set up several phones on PCs and laptops so that you can take backups and transfer between new phones without relying entirely on the sometimes optimistic vendor software.
Again, removing old apps and setting up cloud backups where possible.
Ensuring that these are set up for wifi-calls and updates, saving money.
A client wanted the printer to automatically print in black and white unless told not to, saving lots of cash when her kids printed wads of useless pages from the internet.
Game Consoles and Other Equipment:
There are a hundred tweaks that can make a big difference for gamers, we have set up DMZ for an XBOX, run cabling, prioritised traffic and lots more.

These are just a few items, the health check looks at everything, fixes what can be done at the time and documents the rest.  You get a document with everything listed and links to access everything from a browser.



Acer “All In One” Computer Battery Replacement

This PC came to me with a problem, failing to start up with date errors, followed by lots of errors on the POST (the black and white text at startup) and the client needed either a fix, or the files recovered from it.

The BIOS seemed to be losing any settings it had when the system was turned off and so a replacement battery was in order.  The strip down is straighforward on these and I have batteries in stock so we went for that as a “First Time Fix”.

After some testing, the system is OK now and seems to be charging the battery as normal, we will keep an eye on it just in case but it should be fine.  The batteries tend to be a reliable bit of a PC but they do die occasionally.  As the client has a lot of documents and pictures on it that would be a shame to lose, we have also set up an external 500gig USB hard drive and Windows 10 will be taking backup copies of those as they change or add more.

Ask The Earth – Plymouth Home Computer Help & Training

I am launching Ask The Earth as a Home IT Support and Training service, offering the full range of assistance.   Having many years experience in both home and business IT gives this service the skills needed to help Plymouth based residents either make the best of what they have, or help them to repair what is not working.

We are open from 9am to 9pm and start the last appointment of the evening at 7pm.

We can:

Train home users in using their apps/software and take away a lot of frustration.
Set up systems correctly so that they work seamlessly.
Repair broken equipment (mainly at the home) and explain what went wrong.
Set up new equipment or make the current gear work properly.
Advise on new equipment and upgrades to the old.
Improve your network speed and reliability if it is running slowly.
Website Management and Building.

Get in touch on 07792170142, help@ask-the-earth.co.uk
or via Facebook on https://www.facebook.com/AskTheEarth/

The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K Dick – Book Review

So, if you have come to this page, you are looking for background information and other people’s takes on The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch.  Good luck with gaining any insight beyond what you had when you finished it!  A lot of people have posted a lot of opposing opinions, largely dependent on where they start off.  Christians seem to believe that Anne is right but fallen, Atheists tend towards Barney being the hero.  As someone who doesnt have a strong bias either way, I have to go back a step and just go with the story.

As with a lot of Philip K Dick books, it would be helpful to know where he was in his life when he wrote this.  If he was in a period where he was on a lot of mind-altering chemicals, the whole story is about being on the far side of reality and is the fevered reality of Palmer Eldritch sat on a spaceship returning from the long voyage.  If he was “straight” while writing it, its Barney and Leo navigating the after effects of a new drug replacing the old, safe one.

Both versions of this have healthy lumps of paranoia thrown in, but then which of the Philip K Dick books do not have that as a theme.  From the beginning, each character has good reason to think other characters do not have good intentions and as with other books, they don’t.

That’s it, have a look at this page for a far more detailed critique and commentary, I just read the books and say what I think.


Saltram House – There Are Faces In The Trees! Spooooky!

Just a quickie, we have been walking around Saltram House, the Ride and the surrounding area for more than a year and were gutted to suddenly notice these faces halfway up the trees!  Seriously, we notice everything about the place, how did we miss this?  Of course, once we had noticed one, the other two were discovered really quickly.  I am kind of hoping they’ve just been put up, but chances are that they been there for years.

If you’re going to look for these, they are along the side of the path outside of the main Saltram site, one on the Sainsburys side, two on the other side.

Pics below, if you have any information about who put these up and what they represent, we would love to know…

Sherlock Holmes – Durnford Street – Plaques In The Pavement

A little quirk (there are plenty of them) in Plymouth is in Durnford Street, between the barracks and Royal William Yard.  Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle lived and worked in Durnford Street for a while, but despite not being there long, he used the location and the surrounding area in his books over the following years.  As a result he has been commemorated with both a wall plaque and, more interestingly, several pavement plaques with quotes from the texts.

A little bit more information is here, these are just my photos.  To find these, start from outside the barracks and head towards Royal William Yard, they are on the left-hand-side pavement, regularly spaced as you walk.

If you are a fan, its very much worth a look.  If you just want to find yet another oddity around Plymouth, here it is!

Tau Zero – Poul Anderson – Book Review

As a much younger person I collected the Asimov non-fiction books and reviews of his books and short stories, he was quoted in one of them as rating this book, Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, as being excellent, not least because its science was up-to-date and the best known at that point.  That’s always stuck with me but I’d never found the book until it turned up in the SF Masterworks list of publications in 2006.

The idea is simple, if you have a ship that accelerates for half your journey, what happens if you then can’t stop it and decelerate at the halfway point?  The answer, as posited in this book, is that you will get nearer and nearer to the speed of light until you finally reach Tau Zero, Tau being the rate that time is dilated for external observers.   Without spoiling too much, the crew of 50, half male, half female, have to deal with a future of either dying instantaneously if they hit a star (or lots of dust) or continuing an eternal journey.

I really like this book, its dark, psychological and tense.  The main character “Charles Reymont” is the constable, reponsible for keeping order both during the journey and while they are setting up the new colony.  When this falls apart and the project is abandoned while they try to find a solution to the problems they have, he becomes the only stable, positive influence on the rest of the crew.

Naturally, with this being a Poul Anderson book, the majority of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, they turn up, have their scene and then wander off again.  Reymont himself suffers his own stress while helping others out and a couple of the female crew help him along.  This is a relatively adult book for 1960s sci-fi, there are bedroom scenes, infidelity, arguments and (soft) violence, its not Barbarella or Alien, but its not a Lucky Starr kids book either.

The reason for this book though is the science, Anderson drops out of the story a number of times to explain the nut and bolts of the Bussard Drive (I guess todays version would be the Ion Drive, low power but continuous drive), time dilation and how the ship is dealing with stresses it was never designed for.  If you liked the Appendices in Lord Of The RIngs as much as the book, or get excited by the technical details of your new phone, this will be a book you will appreciate.  It’s hard science fiction at its’ best, nice and techy and doesnt end up with a superhero saving the day.







South West Coast Path – Wembury Beach – Heybrook Bay – Bovisand – JennyCliff – Mount Batten

Karen and I have been busy recently, especially taking in the South West Coast Path, trying to do Saltram House on a Saturday, the coast on Sunday and Warleigh Point Bird Sanctuary in the week.  While this is only (in total) around 15 miles a week, its enough for us!

As for the South West Coastal Path, its beautiful, genuinely a stunning set of views and a proper workout in places.  We tend to park at Bovisand Beach, in the Holiday Park, then decide which way to go.  The yomp from there to Wembury is about three miles and has some big hills and sets of steps which makes it a good workout.

Similarly, going the other way, from Bovisand to Mount Batten, is about three miles, so give yourself two hours to cover the 6 miles either one, however, the latter is more of a challenge.  On the upside, the pubs at Mount Batten and Heybrook Bay are both nice stop offs, plus the coffee shops at Wembury and Jennycliff are both good stops too.

You do get some great views over the Sound and Wembury Bay.  Some of our many photos are below.