NIFTY GADGET: International Power Strip

Almost all gadgets these days are auto-switching, which means that the electric guts of most laptops, tablets, mobile phones and media players can automatically switch to a different electrical system. If you were going to Europe, for instance, you wouldn’t need to bring a voltage converter, just some plug adapters like these:

US plug adapters
pic via Amazon

When you get to Europe, you just insert your American plug into one end of the adapter, then plug the adapter into the wall outlet, and you’re done: your device handles the rest.

You know what would be even better, though? How about a European power strip with universal plugs!

universal power strip
pic via Amazon

The business-end of this power strip is an EU plug, but the outlets on the strip can accept several types of plug: 2 or 3 prong US plugs, the UK and Ireland’s comically large plugs, native European plugs and more. It also has two USB ports providing a total of 2.1 amps.

I bought one of these for a recent European vacation, and couldn’t be happier with it. Our hotel room in Brussels only had one available outlet, so the missus and I were able to charge our many devices without a problem. We rented a private apartment in Paris, and the bedroom outlets were in inconvenient locations; I put the power strip in the living room, and the four of us took turns charging things off it. Very handy indeed:

The power strip in action

Here’s a cellphone pic of the strip in action, charging (from left to right), an Anker 5-port USB charger, a European cell phone with native charger, my Asus tablet, and my iPod Nano via USB.

The iFer power strip is available from Amazon for around $15.99.

Resetting a HomeGroup

Networking has never been Windows’ strong suit, especially for home users. With Windows 7, Microsoft introduced a new feature called HomeGroup that should (in theory) make home networking easier. You just go through a dead-simple wizard and are given a password. Go to other Windows 7 (or later) computers on your network and go to Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center > Homegroup > Join Homegroup and enter the password. Done… at least in theory.

But the HomeGroup applet doesn’t have a simple “delete this network” or “reset this network” option. If you create a HomeGroup on one computer and that computer later goes away – via upgrade or hard drive crash or the standard wipe and reinstall – you’ll still see the ghost of the old computer on your network: if you try to create a new HomeGroup, you’ll get the following message: “[user] has already created a HomeGroup on [old computer]. Do you want to join it?” Of course, the old computer is gone, so you can’t join the HomeGroup. If you go to a different computer still connected to the HomeGroup, you can only leave the HomeGroup, not create a new one or get rid of the old one.

So how you can you get rid of an old HomeGroup? It’s simple, if not the first thing you might think of: fully shut down all the computers you want in the HomeGroup (sleeping or hibernating them won’t cut it; you have to shut them down fully). Then power on the computer you want to use to create the new HomeGroup. With all the other computers off, you should be presented with the “Create HomeGroup” option: