Wednesday, March 29, 2006

[Computers - Hardware - Cooling] Clean and Oil Those Fans

Computers are not invulnerable to dust. They have a tendancy to get clogged up with plenty of dust which at best causes overheating. It is a good idea to regularly clean out all the dust in a system to keep it as cool as possible since dust is an insulator. Removing the dust will allow better airflow, especially through fins on heatsinks and lighten fan blades, allowing them to turn faster.

Another tip to keeping a computer running in peak condition is to oil fans. Anything that moves should be well lubricated to allow it to do so smoothly and fans are no exception. Every once in a while (at least once a year, depending on how dusty your environment is) you should remove the fans in your system, take them apart, and oil them.

To oil a fan, you need to disassemble it. This is the tricky part. To disassemble a fan, you need to remove any stickers that cover the capstan. Next, remove the washer that holds the capstan. You will need a pointy knife or something to do this. Usually they will be made of plastic, but sometimes metal. They will almost always be a small flat disc with a hole in the middle and have a cut (think of a "C" where the ends meet but do not attach). Once this is off, you can remove the fan blade assembly. Before oiling it, you should thouroughly clean it. All kinds of grime and grit can get in there and cause it to make noise, as well as slow it down and create friction heat. Once you've cleaned it, then you can oil it. The type of oil does not matter too much depending on the fan. Most fans are cheap anyway so you do not need to shell out for top of the line lubricant. Even vegitable oil is better than nothing in a pinch. Synthetic teflon lubricant can be found in any bicycle shop and works great. You should oil the parts that touch and move. This includes the capstan, and the hole in which it goes. You will also want to oil the joint where the capstan attaches to the blade hub and where the blade hub rests on the washer. Do not over-oil since that will just make a mess with no extra benefit. In fact you should probably clean up any excess before putting it back. Put the blade assembly back into the fan and give it a test spin. Make sure that it is running smoothly. Now place the holding washer back on the end of the capstan and finally the sticker. Put the fan back, plug it in, power it up, and watch it spin. You may want to consider comparing fan rotation speeds before and after. Also, make sure to notice the noise level after oiling.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

[Computers - OS] Windows Themes Dialog

The Display Properties dialog in Windows has a Themes tab which allows you to easily change the theme used. This allows you to quickly change color schemes, wallpaper, visual styles, icons, sounds, and more. The drop down lists available themes as well as an option to browse for a theme and another that allows you to find some themes online.

Using the scroll wheel makes it easy to change the selected option in a combo box but the one in the themes dialog is problematic because every time that the online option is selected, Windows immediately freezes while it tries to open a browser window and navigate to a web page where you can download new themes. Also, the browse option is annoying because as soon as you hit it, Windows opens a file browsing dialog. These two options make scrolling through the options very inconvenient. Worse still, the web page that you are taken to is completely useless. Instead of allowing you to download free themes, it is merely a page that offers you the option of buying theme software.

Fortunately the online selection can be altered or removed completely. You can change the URL of the site that you are taken to when you select the online option by changing this registry entry:


Copy the code into a text file and give it a .REG extension then run it. When prompted to merge, say yes. The default code above will set the URL of the page to the local machine. If you are running a webserver you can create your own page and change the URL as necessary. Alternately you can set the URL to your favorite theme related web page where you normally download themes from.

You can change the text that is displayed in the combo box from the default of "More Themes Online..." to whatever you want by replacing the "@themeui.dll,-20154" in the above code.

To completely remove the "More Themes Online..." entry, just delete the whole DownloadSites key:


I have not yet found a way to remove the Browse option but will post it as soon as I do.

Another problem with the Themes dialog is the way in which the Theme combo box is populated. There is no (known) way to set a directory where Windows should look for themes to list in this dialog. Windows fills the list by searching through each and every top level directory in the My Documents folder for .THEME files. What this means is that the dialog will go to the folder that "My Documents" is set to and check each folder in there for any .THEME files then add those to the list. It will not however check any deeper. For example, if you have:

"My Documents\doc"
"My Documents\mp3s"
"My Documents\mp3s\audiobooks"
"My Documents\styles"
"My Documents\styles\colorschemes"
"My Documents\styles\themes"
"My Documents\styles\wallpaper"
"My Documents\text"

Then the dialog will look in the following folder for .THEME files:

"My Documents\doc"
"My Documents\mp3s"
"My Documents\styles"
"My Documents\text"

In other words, it will look for theme files in many directories in which it has no business looking, and will miss some where it should be looking. If you have many folders in your "My Documents" folder, then it will take longer as it searches each one.

There is currently no known way to disable this behavior and set one or more specific directories for it to look in.

The worst part of all is that these actions occur every time that the Display Properties dialog is opened since the Themes tab is always the first one displayed.

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