Staying Safe on the Internet – Halloween Edition

Posted October 23rd, 2014 by Mark with No Comments

Don't let the bad guys win!

How do you avoid the scary bad guys of the internet, that are looking to steal your information or your money at every turn?  This is a cruel fact of life on the internet.  It seems you can never let your guard down – you always have to be on the lookout for the tricksters…and they are everywhere.

In the old days (you know, back in the 90′s and 00′s) it was easy.  You bought some anti-virus software, made sure it was working, stayed away from the underbelly of the internet, didn’t open emails from folks you didn’t know, and you were good to go.  Boy, things were simple then.  :-)

Back then, viruses (“Malware” was a new concept) got to your computer by sneaking in and installing themselves.  They could come by email, or an infected floppy disk could install the virus on every computer that used the disk.  The key here is that the bad guy would install itself.  Additionally, viruses in the old days weren’t after your money.  They were more about disabling your computer, or using it as a means to cause problems for someone else.  The virus writers were more like graffiti artists or protesters.

Then – everything changed.  The entire raison d’etre of the virus writers shifted.  As more people used their computer to purchase things online, it became possible to steal credit card information or sell bogus products for profit.  Suddenly, the bad guys could get paid for their efforts – and paid well.  This caused explosive growth in this nefarious industry.

To avoid the anti-virus software, the bad guys also had to change the way they got to your computer.  They couldn’t sneak in and install themselves any longer.  Instead, they figured out they could trick the end user (that’s you!) into installing the software for them!  Unfortunately, anti-virus softwares treat software that you install with less suspicion than software that tries to install without your knowledge.  Malware writers take advantage of this fact, and are waging all out psychological war.  All they have to do is make you think that you need to install something, or click a button, or visit a website.  If they are successful, then you are actually doing their dirty work for them, and your risk of infection is much, much greater.

If you go to a website for some reason or another and you are greeted with a message that you need to install some video player or driver to see the content you are after, this should raise a red flag.  The first thing you should do is ignore or cancel the message.  If the content presents itself anyway, then whatever the message was talking about wasn’t necessary.

The take away here is that you should be suspicious of every single click you make while on email or the internet.  Don’t ever open zipped email attachments, even if they come from people you know.  Don’t fall prey to those popup messages that implore you to install something.  Bonus points for using a safer browser than Internet Explorer; like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.  Don’t be scared, be smart!

As always, if you have any questions, give us a call – we’re here to help.

How Often Should You Upgrade or Replace your Computer?

Posted January 27th, 2014 by Mark with No Comments


I get this question a lot, Especially when folks purchase new computers…..“So…how long is this thing going to last?”

In my experience, on average, desktop computers last around five years before they need replaced. Laptop computers have an even shorter lifespan, mainly due to their portability and the way they’re built. It’s much harder to cool a laptop, and heat is the main enemy of electronics. Also, because you carry them around, they are much more susceptible to physical damage – getting dropped, leaving them in a frozen or way-too-hot car, etc. The lifespan is maybe three to four years on average for a laptop.

You’ll also notice I said “average.” Sometimes hardware fails early for no apparent reason (but probably because of a bad part installed at the factory). Conversely, sometimes it lasts way longer than you might expect – also for no apparent reason.  When you buy a computer, you always hope you will be in the latter group, but it’s a roll of the dice.

Sometimes, you can “upgrade” a desktop or laptop computer to help get more time before replacing it. This was much more common in the earlier days of computing, but there are still a couple of easy upgrades you can do. Upgrading generally involves swapping out older pieces of computer hardware with newer ones, which helps bring the system up-to-date while improving its intrinsic performance.

Older desktop and laptop computers are prone to slow performance, especially if their internal components can no longer keep up with the technological standards used to produce today’s software.

The most common hardware upgrades involve replacing the desktop graphics card and memory, hard drives, DVD or BlueRay drives, and other peripherals, such as adding an internal USB card (for
additional USB ports). For laptops, you can replace the hard drive and add additional memory.

One thing to keep in mind: upgrading an older desktop or laptop may not be enough to completely remedy its performance issues especially if it’s running a newer and more demanding software. For example, Quickbooks 2014 is never going to be fast on a 2007 computer. In this case, a total replacement would be a better approach.

Cost is perhaps the most important factor when considering a computer upgrade. Buying a new computer may make more sense, if the price of the upgraded hardware reaches and/or exceeds the new computer price. If a new computer would cost $700, it doesn’t make much sense to spend $400 upgrading an old one.

We can help you decide if an upgrade is right for you, or help you pick out a shiny, new computer if that is the best option.  Give us a call!

Sleep, Hibernate or Shutdown – Which is Best?

Posted January 6th, 2014 by Mark with No Comments


It’s the end of the day, you have the choice to put your computer in sleep mode, hibernate the computer, or do a shutdown. What is best option? Let’s examine each so you can decide:

Sleep – When you put a computer into sleep mode, it saves your current working environment to memory and then partially powers down.  Your computer is still running, but it uses much less energy than if it were completely on. Later, when you come back and “wake up” the computer, it powers up again and picks up right where you left off.  This process is faster than a regular startup.  Laptops often automatically go into sleep mode when you close the lid.  A potential downside of sleep mode is that sometimes things like scanners don’t wake up correctly.  I’ve even seen this problem with keyboards and mice.

Hibernate – the hibernate mode saves power and stores all your memory contents on your hard drive, including your running software and open files.  After everything is stored, your computer shuts completely off.  Then, when you power it up again, it loads your previous session and allows you to pick up right where you left off.  Like Sleep mode, this process is faster than a regular startup.  Because this procedure doesn’t clear your RAM, Downsides are the same as sleep mode.  Sometimes, everything doesn’t work correctly when the computer comes back out of hibernate.

Shutdown – This means closing all of your software and completely turning off your computer. Keep in mind that when you turn on your computer again, there will be boot up time, since you are starting fresh. This option is best for energy saving and for the longevity of your computer as long as you don’t mind the boot up time.  Additionally, your RAM is completely cleared when you reboot.

The best option really depends on how long you plan to go before using your computer again, whether you are interested in saving energy/power, and whether you’re using a laptop or a desktop. Now that you know the options, try each one to see how it works on your own computer.  Once you know that, you can choose the best option depending on your individual situation.

Why Do Computers Slow Down Over Time?

Posted November 24th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments

Is your computer this slow?If you’ve noticed that your computer has been awfully slow lately, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s very common that as a computer ages, it slows down and loses efficiency. In fact, even a year after purchasing a computer, it will typically act and run slower than it did when it was first purchased. So why does this happen? Well, there are few common reasons.

In most cases, software is the culprit. When you load the endless stream of (unfortunately necessary) updates your computer is constantly nagging you about, each one is giving your computer some additional work to do. Worse, these software changes can also introduce inconsistencies over time. This is particularly true with software that installs start-up components, these components load silently during the computer start up and unnecessarily use up memory and CPU cycles. So, as time passes, and you load more and more updates, you are asking your computer to work harder and harder. This means more of the computer’s energy is being devoted to maintaining its own infrastructure. This means LESS of the computer’s energy is available to devote to the tasks that you are trying to do: Check your email, edit a document, etc.

In some cases viruses and/or malware can also be responsible for the computers slow performance.  This typically produces other symptoms besides general slowness, though.

When your computer becomes noticeably slow there are a couple of options to consider: tune-up or reinstall.


A tune-up will get rid of all the temporary files, mismatched settings, and unnecessary startup items. A tune-up is less time consuming and will preserve the existing software, data and settings. Tune-ups can almost always be
completed in a single hour remote call, easy & fast. Give us a call to arrange a convenient appointment.

A reinstall on the other hand will involve backing up all the data on the computer and then reinstalling the operating system, software, peripherals, etc. This is obviously a more involved and time-consuming process but
in some cases this might be the only viable solution in order to get that new computer performance back.

It’s Time to Give Up Windows XP

Posted November 13th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments


If your computer is running on anything older than Windows 7, it’s time to upgrade. Microsoft is suspending its support for Windows XP in April of

2014, stopping all Microsoft security updates.

Software vendors are also likely to withdraw their technical assistance soon after, so this is the best time to ensure you’re not left behind. XP will still work, of
course, but it will quickly become impossible to protect it from the countless bad guys on the internet.

What’s that? Don’t believe me?  Here is an good overview from an independent source.  It’s a little geeky, but still the point is made.

Replace or upgrade?

Upgrading is less expensive than buying a new computer, but it only makes sense if your computer is relatively new. Older computers likely will not have drivers available for the new operating system.

Replacing your old computer, on the other hand, will get you a current processor, lots of RAM, and a bigger hard disk than most folks will ever fill up. We can help you get rid of old equipment, transfer all data, and
ensure nothing is left on the old hard drives.  Note that old computers can be recycled at little or no cost in most cases.

Cutting costs on computer replacement

To cut costs when replacing old computers, opt for refurbished computers as opposed to brand-new ones. Refurbished computers may already have the Windows 7 operating system pre-installed and may also come with a hardware warranty.  However, ensure that you work with a reputable dealer, preferably one who is registered with Microsoft, in order to get quality products running genuine Microsoft software.

Assess what you have

If you’re not sure how to proceed, give us a call and we will do a quick evaluation of your computers and determine whether your computers have the necessary hardware specifications for the Windows 7 or 8 upgrade.

Are Computers Going Away?

Posted May 20th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments


Are Computers Going Away?

With all of the new smartphones and tablets available, I get this question a lot.  Personally, I don’t think that computers (desktops OR laptops) are going away anytime soon.  It’s true that tablets and phone have some amazing functionality – if you can think of it, someone has probably written an app to do it.  For example, I use a free app on my smartphone to measure wireless signal strength and detect wireless networks.  This app has replaced the need to use a laptop for this purpose, and previous handheld devices to do the same were very expensive.  Now, I have a free app with more functionality.  Amazing.

Tablets are also impressive pieces of technology.  They have pretty much all of the functionality of a laptop in a pound-and-a-half package that you can toss in your purse or briefcase, with double-digit battery life and amazing screen resolution.  Impressive.

Tablets and smartphones have one thing in common – they are great content browsers.  You can surf the internet, read a book, play a game, watch a movie, listen to music, get directions, view a map, etc.  They are not good content creators.  If you want to create a spreadsheet, or write a letter, or edit a picture, or layout a newsletter, you will be most comfortable on a laptop or desktop with a real keyboard, real mouse and a big screen.  No one is going to write the next great American novel on an iPad (ok, cue the universe – someone  prove me wrong!)

Because of this simple fact – laptops and desktops are best for creating content, phones and tablets are best for browsing what others have created – I believe laptops and desktops will be with us for a long time to come.  They may look different than they do today, the programs we run on them will undoubtedly look different, but they are not going away.

Are You Afraid of Windows 8?

Posted May 20th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments

Afraid of Windows 8

Are You Afraid of Windows 8?


Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you’ve probably heard someone complain about Windows 8.  “The new screens are UGLY!,” or “I can’t use a computer without a ‘Start’ button!”

The truth is the screens are different and the Start button is indeed gone.  But the bottom line is that these two changes take about 10 minutes to get used to.  There are lots of improvements that come with Windows 8 – and they far outweigh the minor change in the interface.  Windows 8 is just an improved Windows 7 with a new wrapper.

Windows 8 is also the operating system you will get if you buy a new computer today (unless you buy a Mac.)  The real problem here is that people (me included) don’t like change.

Do you remember when Office 2007 came out?  Microsoft replaced the toolbars and menus we spent years committing to memory with the “Ribbon” – a context-sensitive system that offered different choices depending on what you happened to be doing at the time.  In the end, this was a much more workable system that required fewer steps to get to what you wanted – it made our lives easier.  The real reason that we all memorized the previous menu system in the first place was to make our lives easier!  You want to print an envelope?  That’s Tools, Letters and Mailing, Envelope.  I was able to rattle off most any combination over the phone without even looking at the menus after a while.

When the Ribbon came out, it made our knowledge of the menu system useless and we had to start all over again learning the new system.  This was frustrating to be sure – but we did figure it out.  And…after all was said and done, we were able to get all of our work done on the new system, usually with fewer trips through the labyrinthian menu system.

Windows 8 is no different.  We are in the difficult “my old knowledge has been devalued!” phase of the transition.  In a couple of years I’m sure we’ll all have forgotten that there used to be another way of doing things.  Well, all except the small percentage of folks that for some reason get stuck in the past.  I know someone who is still using Windows 98 and Lotus 123 on an ancient computer – there’s just no hope for him.  :-)

10 Time-Saving Tech Tips

Posted April 29th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments


Tech Time Saving

This is a synopsis of a great TED talk by David Pogue, which you can see HERE.  It’s a quick list of time savers, at least one of which should make you say “I didn’t know you could do that!”  Enjoy!

1.  When you are reading a long article on the internet, hit the space bar to scroll down one page in the browser.  Shift plus space to scroll up one page.  This is much faster than other methods.


2.  When you are filling out address forms on the web, don’t drop down the state list, just type the first letter of your state, and keep hitting it until your state comes up.


3.  When reading a page on the internet, if the text is too small, just hold the Ctrl key down and hit the “+” key to zoom in a little.  You can keep hitting “+” to zoom more.  Hitting Ctrl and the minus key “-” makes the text smaller.  You can also use your mouse wheel for this function.  Just hold Ctrl and roll the wheel away from you to zoom in, roll it towards you to zoom out.


4.  When texting on your smartphone, don’t hit a period at the end of a sentence, just hit the space bar twice.  The phone will insert a period and automatically capitalize the first letter of the next word.


5.  To Redial someone on your cell phone, just hit the call button, it will put the last phone number you used in the box, hit the call button again and it will dial it.


6.  To skip those annoying and time-wasting voicemail instructions when you call someone’s cell phone, you have to know what the vendor used by the person you are calling.  If it is Verizon, hit the asterisk and it will skip to the beep.  If it is AT&T/TMobile, hit the pound key, if it is Sprint, hit the “1″ key.


7.  Use Google as a dictionary – type Define and then the word you want to know.  Use it to find out about a flight, just type the name of the airline and then the flight number – it will show you where it’s going, the scheduled landing time & gate, etc.  Use it as a unit converter – just type the conversion you want, like: “36 inches in centimeters”, or “3.2 gallons in liters”, or “.75 cups in tablespoons.”


8.  When you want to highlight a word in almost any program, just double-click the word to select it.  Once selected, you can just start typing and it will replace it – no need to delete first.  Also, if you double-click and drag the mouse, it will highlight in one-word increments as you drag.


9.  When you press the shutter button on your digital camera, there is a lag time until it takes the picture.  This time is necessary for the camera to calculate focus and exposure.  You can force the camera to make these calculations ahead of time by holding the shutter button half way down.  Then, when it is done, you can push it the rest of the way and it will take the picture immediately.  No more missed shots!


10.  During a powerpoint or keynote presentation, you can blank out the slide by hitting the “B” key (for blackout) or “W” key (for whiteout).  Hit the key again to bring the slide back so you can continue.

Should I Get the New iPad?

Posted April 29th, 2013 by Mark with No Comments

Should I get the new iPad?


So now that the newest iPad (officially called “iPad with Retina,” but almost everyone refers to it as “iPad 4″) has been out for a while, a lot of people are wondering: “Should I get the new iPad?”

Based on features, the new iPad 4 has 3 major advantages over the previous iPad: iOS 6 (their latest operating system, which includes “Siri,” their voice-controlled assistant), the A6X processor (faster than the last one), and the connectivity port (all digital, so “better” than the previous one, although any existing peripherals you have won’t work with the new connector).

The display is 2048×1536 pixels in a 9.7 inch screen. That’s more pixels than a 55inch HDTV! This makes pictures more vivid; fonts clearer; and watching HD videos much better. This is the main “technological leap” – no other tablet has a resolution even approaching this. This feature was actually introduced with the iPad 3, though it is a major improvement from iPad2 or the original iPad.

The new iOS 6 offers major upgrades and improvements compared to older iOS 5 and iOS 4. Mainly Passbook, Maps, Siri, Facebook, Photos, Facetime and Phone features. The iPad 3 is upgradeable to iOS 6, the iPad 2 is also upgradable but without the Siri option.

The dual-core A6X processor makes the iPad 4 snazzier and more responsive. If you’re into games, this will be a noticeable upgrade over older iPads and some games are already reported to be loading and running faster.

So, to answer the question, whether or not you should get an iPad 4: it depends. If you own the iPad 3 or iPad 2 and you’re not into gaming, there isn’t enough improvement to justify the cost of the upgrade, plus you would have to replace any peripherals you have, which only adds to the cost.

However, if you have the original iPad or don’t have an iPad (or tablet for that matter), then you should seriously consider the iPad 4 as it still remains the top tablet on the market.

Could Printers get any MORE annoying?

Posted December 5th, 2012 by Mark with 1 Comment

Annoying printers

Do you have an annoying printer?  Hint:  The answer is YES – but first some background.  I love printers – really I do.  The technology is just amazing, it’s a little miracle of science going on right there on your desk.  What I don’t particularly like is printer COMPANIES.  Look, I know they have to stay in business and that market forces are driving the profit margins on printers to razor-thin proportions.  But how is it that they get away with charging SO much for ink?

I have always liked HP printers – I’ve been at this long enough that I remember when they were built like tanks – I swear you could run over them with your car and they would still work.  They are built quite a bit more cheaply these days, but they are faster, the print quality is amazing, and in the grand scheme of things, they’re cheap!

My workhorse printer these days is an Officejet 6500.  I think I paid $149 for it about a year ago.  It copies, it scans, it has a great sheet feeder, and in general, I’m very happy with it.  In fact, I recommend this model to a lot of my customers.

Annoying Printer Rant #1 – The last time I bought ink cartridges for this printer, I paid about $30 for a set of 3 color cartridges, and $22 for a black cartridge.  I’ve looked pretty carefully, and there is no disclosure that I can find that lists the volume of ink you get in a cartridge.  I do know they are rated for 450 pages assuming an average 5% coverage (letters & such).  Ok, so $52 / 450 = $0.11 per page.   In reality, it is something less than that because the ink doesn’t all run out at the same time.  Mostly, I use black and red ink (the main colors in my logo).  So, for me, maybe it’s $32/450 = $0.07 per page.

This doesn’t sound like much, but let’s look at it another way.  A little Googling tells us that the average printer cartridge in fact holds between 10 and 20 milliliters of ink.  Let’s be generous and assume 20 milliliters for my cartridges.  All four cartridges cost a total of $52 and would hold a total of 80 milliliters of ink.  Some math yields a cost, then, of $2,460.51 per gallon.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute…..two thousand, four hundred sixty dollars and fifty one cents per gallon.  If we were less generous and assumed that we only got 10 milliliters per cartridge, it’s double….$4,921.02 per gallon.  Gives you a new perspective at the gas pump, doesn’t it?

Yes, they spend a lot of effort and money developing ink (HP spends 1 billion per year by one source I found).  Lest you feel sorry for them though, you should know that in 2008, this represented about 4% of their 24 billion in ink sales.

Well, that was fun – now, on to Annoying Printer Rant #2.  For several years now, when you buy a new printer, you get what are known as “Setup” or “Starter” cartridges of ink.  This is marketing-speak for “half full”.  Basically, they give you just enough ink so that you can print for a couple of weeks before you have to buy regular cartridges.  After all, the quicker they get you on the ink train, the more they make.

Ok, let’s bring it home with Annoying Printer Rant #3.  Just today, I ran into the latest chapter in the Printer Company Revenue Enhancement Plan.  I was diagnosing a 4-week old printer that wouldn’t print.  The black “starter” cartridge had run out, and my customer had replaced it with a new cartridge.  After this, the printer wouldn’t work.  It turns out that (at least for HP), when ANY of the starter cartridges run out of ink, the printer is programmed to stop printing until ALL of the starter cartridges are replaced with new cartridges, regardless of their current level of ink!  So, not only do you get half-full cartridges when you purchase a printer, but you can’t even use all of that!

To make matters worse, the error message you get doesn’t even mention the actual problem.  Instead, it says “Ink System Failure – Please Contact Service” – which is why my customer called me, and why I ended up calling HP – expecting to arrange a warranty replacement.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you all of this – this really isn’t a useful tip, it’s just a venting of frustration.  Phew!  I feel better now!  Maybe next time we’ll talk about why printers tell you they are low on ink about a month before they actually need ink, or why some manufacturers put electronic expiration chips in the cartridges so that if you don’t use them within a year, you have to throw them away…