Computer Issues

To Click or Not to ClickWhile I know the internet is something that was a ‘life changer’ for all of us, one of the largest problems with the internet is not something we can totally solve with programs and access levels. One of the big things that we need to understand better – and provide more control over – is human. To be more clear (even though I have written about this before) – we need to change our behavior.

I’m going to let you know that I agree with our current Secretary of Homeland Security (Janet Napolitano) to a certain extent (more than likely on this one issue, but … who knows). Please note, I in no way want to legislate the internet or how people use it (that is a huge difference between Ms. Napolitano / current administration positions with various legislative attempts to do just that). However, she did let something out of the bag with the quote in this story – “Every individual on the net is vulner – is a potential, uh, opening.”

Our behavior is a key element in our experiences. Too often I get machines to fix with badware on it. Why is it there? Because of choices the owners or users of the machines made. Some have no virus protection (and even Mac users need that, contrary to their popular misconceptions). Some have no other protections installed against adware, malware, rootkits, you name it. But the common denominator – in my experience – is someone clicked on something, then things quickly spiraled downhill.

You don’t have to be surfing bad sites to have the opportunity to catch bad things. It could be something that seems as innocent as most anything (like an email from your mom). That email may be spoofed and the link you are clicking on could be just what a cybercrook needs to have a file installed in your computer so they can do many less than noble things with that equipment. It could be looking at a picture you have been tagged in on Facebook, and once you click on that image things start to go downhill.

The point of this post? We need to understand that there is opportunity to have bad things happen just because we are on the internet. Because we will get on the internet, it would be beneficial for all of us to have a stance of health skepticism. Just because something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, on the internet is still may not be the duck you think it is! Protect yourself and your information by being less trusting than you would be if you were interfacing with someone face to face. It is just too easy to pretend to be someone else and send a spoofed tweet with a link asking to (no, really compelling you, for no good reason many times…) to click on it. A link in an email that promises you a happy or funny story, a video you just have to see, or a chance to get something for nothing. An too often we click on it and pay the price.

The day I wrote this article, I received a call from a customer.  They had also received a call – ostensibly letting them know they had infected computers and this individual could assist them right then by removing the infections.  They wanted to log in – through their network (over the web) and assist.  I’m thankful for their healthy dose of skepticism (and the phone call to me).  This was just another attempt at social engineering – leveraging most folks need to help others.  Imagine the damage that could have been leveled at this set of computers (about a dozen for a local business).  They just said no – excellent!

Since 2013 is still young, take a look at how you are interfacing with strangers and strange sites on the web. Are you enabling all those games and apps that communicate with information on your computer / smartphone so your contact list can be ransacked for data? Are you entering contests with lots of required information? Are you laissez faire about the links you click on? Why not make some good changes today – be skeptical! Thanks for reading.


 

What Is Your PlanAfter the successful recovery of my computer, on the East Coast we were faced with a potential hurricane strike.  Since it’s a presidential election year, I thought most anything would be a better post than something that is tugging you one way or the other!  But, in honesty, this post should pull you one way – towards some plan to recover what you deem valuable / irreplaceable.

Planning for a disaster takes just a bit of thinking.  It also takes some action to prepare.  Lastly, you need to execute the plan.  Truly, it’s that simple.  If you think your computer could crash(and, this is entirely possible no matter what computer or device you have because hardware fails), perhaps you could benefit from a bit of planning / preparation / execution.  You would plan to back up your important files.  Ideally, you would back them up on some storage that could be kept away from your residence in the event … say, a hurricane blew through.

While that sounds odd, it is true.  There are entire services built on backing up your important items on your computer offsite (like carbonite.com, mozy.com or dropbox).  There are pluses and minuses with these services, just like any other solution you can review.  Where are your files?  Who else can access them?  The bottom line is, the important files you write up to these services are there and you should be able to get them back!  Perhaps that would not be possible if your computer was destroyed in the hurricane along with your backup CD’s/DVD’s/External Hard Drive.

However, the first step is thinking.  Don’t think a disaster won’t hit you – at some point it will (even if it is just a computer crash).  So get to thinking what you will do!

Next step is planning for a catastrophe.  Perhaps you purchase some backup means for your computer.  Great – now you need to figure out what to backup.  You are now putting your thoughts into action.  You are making decisions and doing tasks to ensure you have backed up and secured important stuff.  For our personal storm preparation around the house (for the hurricane) we do simple things that protect our home and our neighbors homes – we secure all the loose things in our yard.  Why?  So it doesn’t become missiles!

Lastly comes execution.  This is something that is done before the disaster so that we can recover from the disaster.  That means to backup your files.  Then check to make sure you can access those files.

The best plan in the world is of no use if it is never executed when needed.  Hard to believe?  Try this experiment.  If you are like me, I need a list to take with me when it is time to grocery shop (I wish it worked like that for the home improvement stores…).  So make your list, compile it as the week / weeks go on.  Add items you are running short on, make sure you have everything on it.  Next, forget the list and just go to the store.  Check to see how well you did with purchasing all the items that were on the forgotten list.  How did you do?  If I am any indication, you may have experienced an epic fail.

All those words to encourage you to plan to recover / survive failure.  You can plan before the storm and have a good chance of success.  Of course, you can plan after the storm, but your potential for success has plummeted.  It’s your choice!


 

Hard DriveIt must be October – at least that is my wife’s theory.  You see, it seems every year one of the computers in the house experiences some challenges during the fall time frame.  This year – it was my computer’s turn.  And of all the folks you may read about, I had best be the one taking my medicine about backing up data.

I thought I would recount this to you – not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but rather it is a story of how this can be done.  There are certainly other ways, some a bit more laborious, others a bit easier.  And the steps you may take could be based on the problem or issue you are experiencing.

In my case, all was well.  Purchased this laptop in November of 2011.  I keep it updated and tuned so I can get things done (my wife say too many things, working the machine to death).  Worked on my computer Monday until around 8pm with various items that needed attention (10/8/12).  Woke up Tuesday to start my day and was greeted with interesting messages on the screen.  My attempts to recover were not successful by the time I had to leave for work.  When I returned they were still not headed in a positive direction.

My suspicion was software corruption – at first.  Windows would not start but could get to the rescue screen.  However, not much from the rescue screen was being helpful, and I could hear a high pitched whine from the laptop.  Soon as I heard that I then suspected an eminent hardware failure.  I have been to this rodeo before with a machine or two.

After I had done my due diligence, I called the laptop vendor (I’m now using an HP laptop, this is my first HP after using many Dell’s – and I was not unhappy with Dell, just purchased this on based on price point for comparable computers this time).  While I knew the hard drive had failed, I went through the necessary tests the the agent on the phone, and they were shipping me a new hard drive.

Now I had some time to get fines off, if possible.  Not much was possible, but I was able to retrieve a few files off before the drive completely failed.  I knew any access could be the last time I accessed the files, so I got the most recent copies I could – why?  Because I actually DO back up my files regularly.  The last back up I had was from 10/1, so I had not ‘lost’ much of the work I had done or the files I needed.  I restored from back up with no issues at all – for the files I had backed up.

The new hard drive and restore disks were at my house when I got home from work Thursday (10/11) and before I went to bed the laptop was up and working, just needed to restore all my back up files.  And this went smooth, mostly!

The only areas I had not backed up – or did not back up as frequently as I should have – were my pictures (but all of them that I had not backed up were on the camera SD card, so no issues there) and my music.  When I put the music folder over, I only had about 8,500 songs in iTunes.  That was low by 2,000+ songs.  Now what should I do (other than learn the lesson to back this up a bit more often)?

Here is where a shout out to Music Rescue (from KennettNet) comes in.  I started to look for a solution to get this music off the proprietary iPod so the play lists, track names and all the meta data was in tact.  I know there are ways to hack through this, but none are super clean, and I had put many hours into the 2,000+ tracks that I had not backed up (ripping the CD’s, ensuring information was correct, adding artwork, etc.).  So the question to me was – how much time is this worth for me?

I found the answer – I’d pay the fine folks from Chicksands, Bedfordshire (in the UK) for their work to make my life easier.  For less than the price of 2 CD’s, I’d gain back hours of time doing a bit of rework.  And that was the most difficult part of the restore!

So, this was a success story.  Lost no access, could get to my email via the web, and am back up and running within a day (fully functional and all files needed).  The moral of the story?  It is worth the time and effort to back up your data.  You never can tell when hardware will fail!


 

Help YourselfLooking back at the 4+ years I have been posting on this blog has been rewarding.  I think there are times where others have been helped (at least that has been word on the street…).  I can see the searches performed and know of the information that was reviewed to some extent by folks – and I’m humbled / gratified that some have taken the advice I muse about.

For some, the advice has gotten them out of a jam (malware, spills on computers, computer maintenance, even ethical dilemmas).  Others have been able to do things for themselves and not need to depend on others.  Still others have rescued email and transitioned to other ways of communicating (like social networks).

It’s great to be able to help others!  I pray that those who have been helped pass on the knowledge and effort so the gift keeps on giving.

What about helping yourself?  Here is where I want to mash up a couple of things.  These are things you should help yourself to – take the medicine even if you don’t like the taste!

  • Backup – take time to organize yourself for future problems by backing up your data/files.  Whatever it is that was important enough for you to create and keep (pictures, documents, graphics, emails, music, videos, or whatever else that is…) make sure you back it up.
  • Do Maintenance – I still have not figured out why there is such resistance in this chore.  Yes, it takes time, and it can be a pain, but the payback is using your precious device longer and better (performance).  Take the time to clean up those temp files, update and run your anti-virus/malware programs, and ensure you have the latest patches / hotfixes / updates installed for your operating system and software!
  • Clean It – here I’m talking about physical maintenance.  Clean your screen, use canned air to blow out your ventilation areas and keyboard of your equipment.  Keep it clean!
  • Be Skeptical – just because Aunt Suzie sent you something doesn’t mean you have to click on the link or open the file.  That tweet from a friend should not compel you to click on the link it contained.  That post or tagged photo – yes, the same applies there as well.  Crafty folks are working hard to get you to click on things, don’t rush into that trap!

Those of you that have been reading my posts for a while already know that you will find links to each of the areas I have addressed above in this blog.  And – know I thank you for your time and encouragement to continue to write!  Feel free to comment, until next time… Happy Fall!


 

There are times when all of us need a bit of help.  There are some things we want to do, or should be able to do – especially with our computers – but have a hard time doing.  So, we have to take part in something we seemingly dread – interfacing with tech support.

Just like the common thought of men no wanting to ask for directions when they are lost, many people (and lots of women are included) despise having to call the service desk, the help desk, or any other type of support line to gain resolution to issues are experiencing (or to solve questions on how to get something to work the way it was anticipated it should work).

Of course, it is entirely possible that some folks will never ask for directions (just like some folks will never read the instruction manual).  But I digress… First, let me say that the majority of folks on the other end of the support line do want to help you.  But often times the gulf between those that have a need (and are frustrated enough to call the support line) and those that want to help is pretty wide.  That is where this post comes in – communication!

To best get across your actual needs to the support representative, perhaps detail the ‘McDonalds’ method will help.  It’s an easy method to remember, just envision sitting in your car talking to the squawk box.  You say you want a cheeseburger, mustard and onions only, small fries and a Sprite.

The box says back to you that they have your order for a cheeseburger with mustard and onions only, small fries and a Diet Coke.

You tell the box that that is not correct and let them know your drink selection is a Sprite.  And let’s hope, once that is confirmed and you drive to the window to pick up your order you got what you wanted.

The point here is accuracy in letting others know what you were experiencing – that way they can best assist you.  If you listen to what is being said back to you, and something isn’t quite right, please be sure to let the support person know (again) what you are seeing or doing.  No need to get upset, you need to make sure your ‘order’ is right so you can proceed to the next step.

Communication, even when you and I are frustrated with something, is the key to getting the problem resolved.  No need to take your frustrations out on the person trying to help – just get the information you need to make it work/right!  And… if you are calling a large technical support area with multiple technicians, it is my hope you get a good person on the other end of the line.  If not, ask to be transferred to a supervisor or roll the dice and call them back later to get a different technician!  Thanks (as always) for reading…


 

There was a time that most everyone with a computer had a desktop computer – it was all the rage!  Today, many folks use laptop computers (and the trend towards tablets / smart phones huge, but currently there are shortcomings with those devices as far as Give your laptop room to breathework/productivity are (read that – no keyboard, limited processing power).  With this article, I’d like to explore the choices we make with our laptops which could contribute to it demise.

Think of the differences between desktop computers (large case, plenty of space) and laptop computers (compact, not something you would upgrade with ease – that’s why you purchase what you need).  When components get smaller, there are trade offs.  With a laptop, you are exchanging the ability to upgrade components (like video cards, processor, and other items you could easily access and change in a desktop computer) for mobility / portability.  With this comes design considerations and trade-offs as well from an engineering standpoint – like access to inputs / outputs, battery life, overall dimensions and weight of the unit, and cooling.

I plan on tackling the easy part of this – the part you and I can make a difference in.  That is the cooling consideration.  As we downsize our computers, heat become an even greater enemy.  There is limited space to begin with for all the components, now we need to look at how do we cool the things that certainly get hot – mainly the processor and the graphics card.

Overheating is a problem because it reduces component lifespan as well as stability of the entire unit.  If you look at your laptop, there is a good chance the fan is mounted on the bottom of the unit.  There are slots for this to pull in air (or expel air, or both) and inside there is a methodology to get the air to flow over these components that get the hottest so that they can expel the hot air from the unit – increasing usability, reliability and the life of the unit / components.

So what can you do the help your laptop breathe easier and live longer?  Here’s a short list of things to avoid while your laptop is operational:

  • Don’t put it on the bed – your bed is soft and conforms to you and your laptop, this restricts the air flow (remember where your vents and fan are?)
  • Don’t put it on the carpet – again this conforms to you and that thin and sexy laptop you want to keep using (but are stifling with that shag / plush carpet)
  • Don’t put it on a pillow – you are probably doing this for your comfort because you have noticed the laptop gets a bit warm, and putting it on that pillow helps you and hurts the laptop as it comfortably blocks the air flow of the unit
  • Think of where you are using your laptop – if it is soft, conforming material that restricts air flow – don’t put it there!

Below are some options for those of you that like to use the laptop in your bed, favorite chair, the carpet, and other places that are not conducive to the health and air flow needs of a laptop:

We have the first item and use it daily at our house.  These are just 4 examples of what you could use, however, if you are not using a hard flat surface, I would recommend you do yourself (and your laptop) a favor by purchasing some solution so you can extend the life of your laptop!  Thanks for reading.

 

What is the REAL issue that needs to be addressed?This post is one that is here in an attempt to get us to think.  Truly when we listen to our customers and those we are attempting to assist, we need to hear the spoken and unspoken needs so that we can discuss them without fear – either of losing a customer or becoming too personal in our assessment.  So read this post and put yourself in a position to better understand that when we are addressing problems (redesigns, updates, ways to improve what needs to be accomplished) it is beneficial to examine the actual issue and move forward from that point.  To the story (this is to illustrate a point, as far as I can tell this is a fable).

A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise, that every single unit coming out of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which can’t be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) means you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed across the line, so that customers all the way down the supermarket don’t get upset and buy someone else’s product instead.

Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided to start a new project, in which they would hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem, as their engineering department was already too stretched to take on any extra effort.

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution – on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using some high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighing less than it should was detected. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done to clear the alarm.

A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. “That’s some money well spent!” – he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was zero after three weeks of production use. It should’ve been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The scales really weren’t picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory, and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before it, there was a $20 desk fan blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin. “Oh, that – one of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”, says one of the workers.

Some will look at this and say that management needs to actually talk to the workers to obtain effective solutions.  Others will have other insights into this story.  For this posts let’s just say this – use some common sense!  If you really want to address the issue, a comprehensive look at it (not just numbers of defects, not just amount of effort or cost of failure, and not just a project plan to go forward to address the defects) and make sure you really address the issue, not the perceived issue.

Another lesson that can be taken away from this is less obvious –  don’t think this issue is the first one of it’s kind ever (that is very rare).  Today it is advisable to look at other companies or businesses that have tackled identical or similar issues, so why reinvent the wheel?  Start to review the lessons learned from others and perhaps they can apply to the situation you are faced with.

Lastly – be flexible.  Your approach may not be the only one that works or produces the desired result.  Try to think ‘outside of the box’ and be innovative in your approach.  Your customers (or management) will notice that you have a good grasp of the issues facing you and are working to produce the expected results, and that is a good thing!

This certainly could apply to your troubleshooting techniques with computers, networking, software, and many other areas you come into contact with.  It also applies to web design (and re-design).  What are the pain points the business talks about?  How can they be minimized or alleviated?  How are you working to address the needs of the business and the customer using the product so that both are winners?  As always, thanks for reading!