Holiday Computer Buying Tips

At Computer Corner we’ve recently seen a wave of customers who have bought computers elsewhere and discovered that the computers didn’t meet some basic requirements of their college dorms, work or software. They’re upgrading their computers with us, but wished they’d known more about what to buy to begin with.

Hence, our tips!

Windows 10 is our only choice now on a new Windows-based computer, and you’ll want to get Windows 10 Pro (or more appropriately Windows 10 Professional), 64-Bit Operating System. You’ll save money getting Windows 10 Home version, but you’ll not be able to connect to a network (which is essential for students and businesses), or connect remotely to any domain (if you plan to work remotely from home to your place of business). There are also some setting and security features that are not available to you with Windows Home.

Additionally, you’ll want to get a computer with at least 8GB of RAM. Yes, I know many are sold with 4GB, and again… that saves you money initially, but that is barely enough for Windows 10 to run and once you start doing other things with your computer, it’s going to be really slow when you boot up, save files and more.

If possible, an SSD drive would be a nice choice, especially on a laptop. This type of drive is different than the traditional SATA drives (with moving parts) and an SSD drive allows you to boot up, save and access files much faster than the traditional SATA drive. This is especially nice on a laptop, when you need access to the system quickly.

If you’re buying a laptop, you might want to opt for the accidental damage protection warranty, which will give you full replacement coverage no matter what happens to the laptop – even if a truck runs over it. Yep, it’s happened and it was fully covered under the accidental damage warranty. Do be aware that your data will not be replaced, so backing up your data is essential.

You’ve Spilled Your Coffee on Your Laptop Keyboard, Now What?

My blogs are frequently about trends that we are seeing in the Computer Corner service department. Over the past few months, we’ve seen dozens of laptops come in to our shop with a variety of liquids spilled on their keyboards.

Obviously, your desktop keyboard is not as big an issue, because desktop keyboards are typically inexpensive and easy to replace, unless you have a fancy gaming or ergonomic keyboard. So, I’m going to focus on what you should do if you spill anything on your laptop keyboard.

If treated properly and quickly, you have a good chance of saving your laptop a caffeine-related demon, however we’ve seen a consistent theme of how people tend to react after a spill, and, inevitably, they’re at our service counter is because whatever they tried did NOT work.

In almost every situation the individual has tried to power on their laptop after merely towel drying the outside of the system. This is probably the worst thing you can do – your system must be completely dry inside and out before you attempt to power up again.

In fact, if you have gotten liquids inside your laptop, it may actually take several days to dry, not just overnight, so you’ll not only need to follow these steps but also be patient.

Many of the people we’ve seen recently with dead laptops started out down the right track but didn’t let their system dry thoroughly inside before they powered on again and that’s what ultimate damaged or even destroyed their laptops.

Here’s what you should do If you spill liquids in your laptop:

  • Immediately turn it off and disconnect it from any other device, especially the power adapter and even any USB drive or drives that are connected.
  • Depending upon how much you spilled, drain the liquid by turning the unit upside down, towel dry what you can on the outside and remove the battery. DO NOT use a hair dryer, it may result in a static electricity issue. Do Not use canned or compressed air to try to dry it out because you could be forcing the liquid into other parts of the laptop like the motherboard. ((Many online recommendations will tell you to use canned air to dry your laptop – do not do this).
  • Remove other components such as the battery and memory, if you have easy access to them, emphasis on “easy” – do not start taking your laptop apart with a screwdriver unless you really know what you’re doing.
  • Turn your laptop over and let it drain and dry out as much as possible. That may take days not hours – patience here is indeed a virtue.

Or you can bring your laptop into a qualified service center, where trained and experienced staff will disassemble your laptop and dry it fully before attempting to power it on.

Unfortunately, if you have spilled a soda beverage in your laptop, the likelihood of it surviving is small…. After all, you can use some sodas to tenderize meat and clean that porcelain convenience in your home, if you get my drift…

Any and all other sweetened beverages are also not as easy to clean as plain water, black coffee and unsweetened tea, and if you’ve unlucky enough to have doused your laptop with a Piña Colada, you probably should just make yourself another one and think of happier times.

The Importance of a Good Data Backup Plan

Our Service Manager recently did an on-site service call to a small, local business. The business had been vandalized and their only computer was stolen…. Along with the backup drive located next to the computer and the USB flash drive (also next to the computer), that contained a secondary back up.

The business owner was also backing up to the cloud, but all info about where the backup was and how to get it back, well… you guessed it. It was on the stolen computer.

All the business and tax records, all the customer data and sales information – it was all gone in an instant. There was nothing that we could do to help the owner recover her company’s data.

Unfortunately, the owner went out of business about two weeks after the vandalism, after realizing that recovering from all the loss was nearly impossible.

We’ve talked about backing up your data before. And we’ve talked about keeping a local back up (external USB hard drive, etc.), as well as backing up to the cloud. The owner was doing all this, but it wasn’t enough.

Another thing to consider is that “data backup” does just that, it backs up your data only. That does not mean your application software (such as Word, Excel, Quicken, etc.) are backed up or your Operating System (OS). If you are only backing up your “data”, and a disaster strikes it will be necessary to reload the OS and your application software.

To protect yourself against data loss:
  • Utilize a local USB drive of some sort (hard drive or flash drive)
  • Store the backup device in another location – at least another room, hopefully in a water-proof/fire-proof safe, and preferably to an offsite location
  • Test your backup to be sure you can actually restore in case of a disaster
  • Keep your procedure for backing up locally and from the cloud, in another location
Types of backup devices and services:
  • USB flash drive – inexpensive, good for small amounts of data, but can be lost or damaged easily
  • External Hard Drive – also inexpensive these days, even up to 4TB of data storage.
  • External Hard Drive with removable drives – good choices if you want to leave the backup device next to the computer and remove the data drive to another location
  • Cloud-based services like Carbonite. You can opt for data only back up or a full image of your computer, which would include your programs, operating systems and data.

What’s the Buzz? Mining Rigs!

A mining rig is a computer system used for mining crypto currency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. The rig might be a dedicated miner, built and operated exclusively for mining or it could be a computer that is utilized for other purposes, too.

My personal computer is used all day long for work, and at night it works for me earning Ethereum – it’s a part-time mining rig. We also have mining rigs at Computer Corner that are dedicated to mining 24×7.

Essentially when you own a mining rig, you are participating in a process in which you allow internet transactions to be conducted through your computer. There is no middleman, such as a bank or a credit card company. Your computer is essentially that middleman and you earn the associated transaction fee in crypto currency.

Mining rigs are all the rage right now because in January of 2017 Bitcoin was $970. As of Friday January 12th 2018 Bitcoin was at $13,461.54. I could kick myself for not acquiring bitcoin in January of 2017, since that $900 investment would now be worth $13k. Ethereum in January of 2017 was $9 per unit and now it’s at $1,332.50.

Earning Bitcoin or Ethereum today is like investing in a good stock. Like the stock market though, there is always risk. You also need to be sure to build one with the right components and tweaks, to insure the least amount of power usage (yes they use a LOT of power and create a lot of heat as well).

What makes a good mining rig?

  • The Graphics Processing Unit – or GPU – the graphics card with 11Gb or so dedicated memory per card. (Yes, 11Gb – that’s not a typo). A serious mining rig might have 6 or 8 of these at about $1,000 each. (Not to be confused with the CPU, which is the Central Processing Unit or Processor Chip).
  • The Power Supply – 1500 Watts or more. These could run around $500 or more.
  • Extra Cooling Fans
  • And a full-time rig is typically housed in a horizontal chassis or frame that would contain 6 or 8 GPU’s.

The steep investment in the hardware is not for everyone and it takes a skilled, technically inclined individual to build one. That’s my husband Joe, and building mining rigs for people is now a passion of his! It also takes a while to recoup your investment and there are no guarantees about the future (are there ever)?

There are Crypto currency user groups and mining user groups right here in Albuquerque, too. There are even mining “farms” springing up in various locations – buildings that house numerous mining rigs.

Resolutions for Happy Computing in 2018

We all make ‘em. (Or at least the most optimistic of us do). Resolutions for the New Year. Let’s face, it they’re hard to keep. Here’s some that are not so hard to keep and that will make your computing lives a bit better.

1. Always back up the data on your hard drive and learn how to restore it, in case of an emergency. Please read my “Back it up, Buddy” blog for more detail.

2. Change your passwords in any banking or financial site at least once a month and never keep them written down next to your computer, or worse yet, stored on your computer. Please listen to the Computer Corner Radio show Pod Cast from October 23rd about safe passwords. http://compcorner.com/radio-shows/

3. Keep your anti-virus, spyware and malware software up-to-date and set it to perform updates automatically. Please read my blog on the Tremendous Trio of software products (Kaspersky, Hit-Man Pro and Malwarebytes) that I we recommend. These are great products to have, but unlike your anti-virus, you will need to initiate and run Hit-Man Pro and Malwarebytes or set them to run periodically. Use them frequently to scan your hard drive(s). I scan daily.

4. No matter how enticing the supposed “news article” about what stars looked like “then and now” is, or how this one little trick will fix all your wrinkles, don’t click on the links. This is where a great deal of your malware will come from.

5. Don’t click on any links or “pop-ups” from the supposed “Windows Corporation” (or Microsoft or ANY company) that tells you your computer has been infected. Even the links from trusted news sites may be full of tracking cookies and malware. We no longer support the belief of President Ronald Reagan that you should, “Trust, but verify”. We prefer this quote from Fox Mulder of the X-Files, “Trust No One”. FYI, there is no computer company called the Windows Corporation…. Unless they are selling the double-paned type.

6. Be sure your computer, monitor and printer are plugged in to a GOOD surge protector. The kind that costs $9 is probably not going to do the trick. Over time damage can occur from fluctuating power, as well as from full power outages and lightning strikes. Don’t take the risk. APC and Tripp Lite are good brands to purchase.

Happy Computing!
Carole

BFFs in the Computer World: Alexa and Cortana

My BFF in grade school (Acoma Elementary, here in Albuquerque, by the way) was Mary Chavez.

Don’t bail on me here! I’m using an analogy….

Mary and I went all the way through high school together, and even unexpectedly got our first “professional” jobs in the same manufacturing company one day apart from each other. We were likely choices of best friends; we never competed against each other and always got along even though we had very separate strengths and career paths.

Ok, once again, you’re wondering why I’m talking about something that appears totally unrelated to computers. I do have a method to my madness, as they say.

Cortana and Alexa are the latest BFFs in the computer world. Much to Siri’s dismay, I am sure.

These “entities” are the intelligent personal assistants given voices, access to HUGE search engine data bases and special features by Microsoft (Cortana) and Amazon (Alexa). They will soon be teaming up to utilize their resources. Siri, is the name given to Apple’s personal assistant and she is, so far, left out in the cold as far as this collaboration goes…. At least at this time.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos proposed integrating Alexa and Cortana in May, to Microsoft chief Satya Nadella and the idea was accepted.

Cortana, being the digital assistant for Windows phones, Windows 8 and Windows 10 platforms, interfaces completely with your Windows-based computer, files, Outlook Calendar and more.

Right now, Amazon’s Alexa doesn’t have access to, or rather doesn’t understand the different ways to interface to Windows based devices. However, you may be familiar with invoking the assistance of Alexa (Named after the ancient library of Alexandria, BTW), on your smart phone and SMART devices such as your Echo speakers, by speaking her name to dim your lights or play your favorite music and get other information on your SMART phone.

In the beginning of this collaboration you’ll need to ask them for each other’s assistance, by saying something like, “Cortana, open Alexa” from your Windows 10 computer or vice versa.

I am eager to see the collaboration of Cortana, and Alexa. This might not seem like a big deal, but Alexa is being utilized in 90% of the SMART devices now. Cortana, being Microsoft’s product, is adept at interfacing to anything associated with your windows-based computer. Together they become even more beneficial to all of us!

The future holds something like this: You’re standing in your living room where your Echo speakers are located. You are about to begin your day and you say, “Alexa, start coffee, play ‘La Macarena’ and find my keys”, your coffee is brewing, your keys are located instantly and you feel good vibes as you listen to your favorite song. OK, that’s not MY favorite song, but somewhere out there, it is someone’s…. Then you say, “Alexa, ask Cortana what’s on my Outlook Calendar today”. And your day’s events, along with the locations are verbalized to you. Then you ask, “Alexa, ask Cortana to print my word document called, “Proposal for Computer Corner”. All this is accomplished with voice commands and no hands-on interface to your computer or phone.

Of course it goes well beyond these capabilities, and I can’t wait!

Computer Scams Abound

True Story from just last week…. A friend of mine was visiting his parents and when he arrived he heard his father on the phone, and caught wind of the conversation he was having. He had just given out his credit card number to the person on the other end of the line, which in itself is not alarming, however…. In conjunction with that, my friend’s father was in front of his computer screen watching someone else control his computer.

My friend immediately rushed over and took control of the call, but it was too late. The caller had put an encrypted password on his father’s computer. If that wasn’t enough, this was a Windows 10 computer, which also makes it pretty much impossible to initiate a password reset.

The caller had taken the computer hostage and now also had complete control of the computer and all its contents, as well.

You might wonder how this could happen, when we all know about the multiple computer scams going on these days. The callers, the perpetrators, are getting cleverer all the time.

This time, someone called their house and said they were with the cable company and that they noticed that their internet was running slowly.

The caller said that he was calling as a courtesy because of the slow internet connection and that they needed to perform some routine maintenance. He asked to take control of their computer to test the cable modem and router. Permission was granted and the caller then saw what he called, “other problems on the computer that required Microsoft support.” “Please hold for a Microsoft representative to be connected”, he said. From there they took control of the computer completely, installed the encrypted password, and told them that the only way to get their computer back was to pay $169. Which my friend’s father was paying. The next call was to the credit card company to freeze the card. He’s lucky it was only $169, but I guess if the perpetrator makes the ransom too high, no one would pay it.

Again, how can this happen? For starters, most people trust someone calling their home, especially when they appear to be calling from a company that you’re familiar with. In New Mexico, well at least in Albuquerque and surrounding areas, there are essentially only two cable companies, Comcast and CenturyLink, so a scammer calling and representing themselves as being from one of these two, has a 50/50 chance of mentioning the right provider.

First rule: Don’t ever give you credit card number out to someone calling YOU, unless you know them. If you initiate the call because you’ve been watching the home shopping network and can’t resist the latest batman water goblet collection, that’s different.

But if you are promoted by a message on your COMPUTER, to call a number, even though in this case you have initiated the call, do not give out your credit card number. Some of these messages look pretty legitimate. They imitate the Microsoft logo and look like an internally generated system message. Don’t fall for it! (That is the Second Rule).

Not only that, but if you have caller ID, and you see a local area code, you can’t believe that’s true either! (This is the Third Rule). These callers can show up as being from anywhere they want to, even if they aren’t calling from this county, by utilizing services such as “Google Voice”. You may see phone number that shows up with a 505 area code on your caller ID but they could be calling from anywhere in the world.

This gentlemen, my friend’s father, is a retired Engineer and was not happy that he fell for this scam, in part because he’s an intelligent man. But, we are sometimes just too trusting.

Now, at Computer Corner we can also get into your computer to perform remote services, but you know who we are.

And even so…. No one at Computer Corner would call you out of the blue and tell you that we need access to your computer. We only do this if you have contacted us to help you, so no matter who your computer service provider is, they will probably not be calling you, unless you have contacted them first.

Cookies, Ads & Pop-Ups, Oh My!

You’re in the middle of researching a topic, let’s say you need to buy a new car…. In Albuquerque, it could be because yours was just stolen, like my husband’s was two months ago, but I digress.

You’ve researched the car you want, Googling away on your computer, but now car, truck and van ads are following you everywhere you go, long after you’ve stopped your searching.

How does that work, why does that happen and what can you do about it.

When you visit a website that company attaches a “cookie”, which most people are familiar with now, but just in case you are not, a cookie is a snippet of code that identifies you and follows you around the internet based on your searches. Advertisers pay to have their ads follow the cookies that match their product offering and their ad appears in your future searches or you start getting pop-ups related to the topic. They call this re-targeting. But there’s more…. With all the information out there in cyberspace and elsewhere, advertisers are combining your on-line search information with offline information. This is referred to as “dynamic creative ads”. Yikes!

Why don’t these pop-ups and ads go away when you leave the site or close your web browser? Because computers use “Caching” technology. Caching technology is a feature of modern web browsers that stores parts of a website that repeat the most often, that way you do not have to load the webpage from scratch every time you visit. This is very useful for decreasing the time for the webpage to load, as many webpages have core pieces that are always the same. This is very similar to CPU caching, where your central processing unit (CPU,) will store data you access frequently for faster recall. For all the benefits we receive from caching, however, there is a downside. Often, websites can use the caching feature, combined with “cookies” to make sure that they are able to track your data when accessing that website. This can be concerning for people who do not want their data tracked, and the cache can lead to issues with the website loading (because sometimes the cached data is out of data or corrupted.)

Have no fear, there are easy fixes for this. Depending upon what web browser you use you can opt to search on line anonymously.

Google Chrome – Incognito Mode is the name of the browser setting that prevents long term caching and cookie tracking. You can activate this by clicking the three dots in the upper left hand corner of the browser and opening a “New Incognito Window”. Any browsing done in this window will only load cookies and cache for the duration of browsing. When it is closed, the browser clears all that temporary data. It is worth it to note that your history will not be saved as well, so if you try to go back and find a site you visited later, it will not be in your browser history.

Mozilla Firefox – Like Google Chrome, you can click the three lines in the top right corner and open a “Private Window” which will enable private browsing.

Internet Explorer – For Internet Explorer, there is an additional step. Click the gear in the upper right corner of the browser, then hover your mouse pointer over “Safety”. One of the options listed will be “InPrivate Browsing”. Click that and it will open a private window.

Microsoft Edge – Click the three dots in the upper right corner and simply click “InPrivate Window”.

Additionally, you can clear your past search history, cache and cookies. Again, this is a little different for each web browser, but they all have this feature.

Google Chrome – Click the three dots in the top right, and hover over “History”. Click the “History/View History” that pops out. On the right side of the page, there will be a clear browsing history option. Click it, and a window will open asking how far back and to what extent you would like to clear the history, cache, and cookies.

Mozilla Firefox – Click the Firefox icon in the top left corner. There should be a history tab. Click that and the history page should pop up. From there, you can clear the history just like Chrome.

Internet Explorer – Click the Gear icon in the top right corner, then click “Internet Options”. In the window that opens, a little more than halfway down the page will be an option to delete your history.

Microsoft Edge – Click the three dots in the top right corner, and select “Settings”. You will see an option to clear browsing data. Click that and choose how much and how far back you want to clear.

Wishing you safe and Happy Googling, Searching & Browsing!
Carole

Monsoons in New Mexico

We need the rain here in New Mexico, and like many parts of the world, we have a near drought (and sometimes an actual drought), just before we get hit with more rain than we can handle. That’s not the only thing that comes with the rain. There are power outages, power surges and lightning strikes.

I’ve got some tips for you during this important season. The Monsoon (season) that is. Sigh… I know that saying Monsoon season is redundant since the word Monsoon means “rainy season”, but it just sounds wrong without saying “season”, too.

Why is this season important to computer users everywhere (not just in New Mexico)? Because storms mean power outages, black outs, brown outs, lightning strikes and power surges. In New Mexico that also means it’s HOT and computers are like people; they like temperatures between 50° and 82° Fahrenheit to function at their best.

What do you need to protect your laptops and desktops from surges, lightning and power outage damage? A GOOD surge protector. Not just a “power strip”, but a Surge protector. Don’t take the cheap route when it comes to surge protection. A good one will cost at least $19-$35 (not $5-$8). I got a free “surge protector”, with my last appliance purchase at a local retailer. It had two outlets was about the size of a Saltine Cracker. I gave it to Good Will….. Then I felt guilty about even giving it to them.

My favorite brands are APC, Tripp-Lite and Belkin – all well-known brands in the computer and electronic industry for surge protection. They typically carry a warranty, not only for the product itself, but a warranty for the equipment that they are protecting. Caveat emptor: choose your surge protector wisely because it needs to be rated to protect all the equipment plugged in to it, or your warranty could be voided.

Surge protection is rated by the number of Joules (a unit of energy) and clamping voltage. I recommend buying a model that’s rated at a minimum of 1,000 Joules. The higher the better. I also recommend a model with a clamping voltage of 400 volts or fewer because that’s an indicator of how fast your surge protection will clamp down. The longer it takes, the more likely that your equipment will become damaged from a surge or strike.

Surge protectors don’t last forever, in fact, if they take a power hit or if lightning strikes the power line near your home or business, it will probably “zap” (technical term), the surge protector…. And if it happens twice in a row, like it did to a friend of mine, you will lose the surge protector (and its protection), then lose the components inside your computer – it usually starts with the power supply, then the processor, but can literally “zap” almost every component in your computer.

Additionally, miss-wired outlets can cause any surge protector to fail. Some of our older homes in New Mexico are not wired “to code” or at least to the current code. You can also buy an outlet tester, if you suspect your power outlets are not up to par.

Tips:

  • Buy a GOOD surge protector rated to protect all the equipment plugged in to it.
  • Laptops need surge protection too! Get a surge protector designed for laptops.
  • If you get hit with a big power outage from a lightning strike, you probably need a new surge protector.
  • Keep your computer or laptop out of direct sunlight for extended periods of time and do not leave your laptop in a hot car. As so many entries in my high school year book said, “Keep it cool, man”! (Manzano, by the way, and I’m not telling the year).
  • As always recommended, back up your data, in case of any disaster.

Search Engine Secrets

By: Phil Shortell

Just about everyone who takes an internet class here at Computer Corner sooner or later gets around to making the statement/asking the question “What good is a search engine if it comes back giving me too many sites for me to wade through”? This leads me to ask them what they are looking for and how they enter their query. I usually find that there being buried by the hits because they have never been told about the way ALL search engines work. Within a few short minutes, they get the answer and now you get it too.

The example I use in class came right from one of my students. Her son needed to do a paper on Daniel Boone, but when she typed in Daniel Boone they got 378,090 hits (That is the actual number, you may get something different depending on which search engine you use) the problem is that a search for Daniel Boone scores a match with sites for Daniel Boone, Daniel Defoe, Daniel in the lion’s den. Pat Boone, Debbie Boone, and Kim Kardashian! OK I just through Kim in to see if you were paying attention. But all the others are absolutely true. When you want an exact phrase such as “indian jewelry” or “daniel boone” or “cuban black bean soup” you should enclose the phrase in “quotes” AND yes, all lower case is best.

Now, if you want more than one argument in your search, the plot thickens. As an example, if you want to find a biography of Daniel Boone, it would seem logical to type in “daniel boone” biography. Doing this may actually result in over one million matches because it’s now going to find the Daniel Boone Motel in Paducah Kentucky AND the biographies of Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson and Kim Kardashian (and yes, there are multiple web site having a biography of Ms. Kardashian) What you need to do here is tell the search engine that BOTH arguments MUST be present to score a hit. You do that simply by placing a + (plus sign) in front of each word/phrase. i.e. +”daniel boone” +biography.

Now, sometimes you might want to say to the search engine that you do NOT want sites containing certain words or phrases. You accomplish this by preceding the abjured phrase with a – (minus sign). In attempting to avoid certain sites that shall not be discussed here, you might want to construct your search like this +”daniel boone” +biography -“XXX”.

I am the principal cook in our household and as such, from time to time I find the need to search the web for a recipe or two. My chef life here is complicated by the fact that my wife is an especially picky eater. She hates the taste of ham, is a teetotaler and she would sooner volunteer as a knife thrower’s assistant than eat any food that wasn’t fat free. That brings me to what may be the ultimate demonstration of giving a search engine the information it needs to fulfill a request. A while back, I wanted to get a recipe for (as mentioned above) cuban black bean soup. You give this a try and see what happens. Type in cuban black bean soup recipe (Yes I know I just ranted on above about NOT doing things that way, but you need a starting point to make a valid comparison don’t you?). Note the number of hits you get. Now type in exactly what follows:

+”cuban black bean soup” +recipe –ham –bacon –rum +”fat free”

Note the difference.

It might also be a good idea “just in case” to end your search argument with -“kim kardashian”.

Happy searching!