To Clean Up some Things….

Before we get ahead of ourselves, I again digress.  Reviewing my last few blogs it became obvious that I had forgotten to answer the main question often asked by my friends and colleagues when they call saying “my computer is acting funny, running slow, etc…”

Often, after asking a few questions, I find that the majority of issues involve their laptop/PC being infected by malware or a virus.  This post is dedicated to describing, in layman’s terms, just what that means…I promise, no technical descriptions in this post….

Malware, what is it?  Try to think of malware as the wild, impetuous friend of the family that calls saying he/she wants to visit for a few days…but what they really want to do is get into your home and stay for months!  And to make matters worse, you say to them after they arrive “mi casa es su casa”.  (Spanish for” my house is your house”).  Now the fun begins…not only do they show up, they start using your phone (of course they don’t have a phone) and begin inviting everyone they know to your home for a never ending party!!!  For those in my age group, think John Belushi and “Animal House”…

A virus is just what the word means…an infection.  Again, using the wild, impetuous friend analogy  let’s change the scene a bit.  Your friend calls saying he/she wants to visit for a few days.  When they arrive you notice that they are coughing, feverish and not in good overall health.  Aha!  They failed to mention that they have the flu and are highly contagious.  So now, they are in your home and infecting everything they come into contact…

Now, think of your computer, tablet or mobile device.  For the “party animal’ visualize all those unwanted pop-ups that now seem to be coming from everywhere.  Also, did you notice that your “Home Page” has change?  That’s a malware attack my friend!  As for the virus…it can be deceptive.  What you typically get from a computer virus is this: your ability to access the internet is gone (this is so you cannot download or update antivirus protection), your computer will no longer turn on/turns on extremely slow, you cannot access your computer Control Panel, your antivirus software is no longer operating correctly, your firewall is gone and finally (if you let this go on for a long period of time) you begin losing data (pictures, videos, documents, etc).  It’s as if the device has a will of it’s own…and that will is to shut your device down…

So, how do I handle such friends? Simple, I kick them out and I do not try to be polite about the process!!!  Here are the steps I take to get rid of such  intruders.

First, I lock and bolt the doors!  That means disconnecting from the internet.  This is especially important for the friend that wants to party.  If you are connected to the internet using an Ethernet cord, unplug.  If you are connected using wireless connection, drop the connection.

Second, I begin escorting them out of the house; and if that means calling in professionals, so be it!!!  In a previous post I explained how to use System Restore to roll back your computer to a date/time when the computer was performing correctly.  That’s what usually applies for the “party friend” (malware).  For the friend with a virus, I skip all the superficial cleaning tools and go for the “deep clean”.  I bite the bullet and run “System Recovery”.  With System Recovery, I take my computer back to its “factory installation” set up.  Yeah, it means I have to back my data up (but I have been doing that on a weekly basis anyway, so I am not losing much).  It also means I have to force Windows Updates for a few days…but it is a small price to pay to get rid of such bad guests…

Now, that wasn’t so bad…was it?

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It’s all about protection…

Last week, while helping a friend online find a decent malware scanner, my laptop was bombarded by popups.  Yep, I was under “malware attack”.  After the initial shock, I wanted to blame someone.  My “significant other” was a handy culprit….so….

Once I calmed down, I began the process of halting the attack.  Here’s the process I followed…

First step: I disconnected my laptop from the internet.  On the machine under attack, I was using Windows 10 Preview Edition, so I simply double-clicked on the internet icon located on my task bar (the task bar is that bar often located at the bottom of your Windows Desktop Screen; the internet icon is located on the right, next to the time/date info).

Second step: Since I was using my laptop at the time of the attack, I assumed that any malware invading my computer occurred within the previous 24 hours (probably a Trojan horse waiting to be activated).  So, using my Control Panel, I navigated to Programs and Features .  In Programs and Features, I used the “Installed On” column, filtered to the appropriate date/period and began my search for unwanted software applications.  Once I saw that it was the “Conduit” malware virus I took immediate action.

Step three: Conduit virus/malware is sometime difficult to remove.  I like to take the easiest/cleanest method for dealing with this pesky malware.  I first run “System Restore”.  System Restore is one of those under appreciated utilities found in Windows; but it is a very powerful tool in the war against malware.  There are a few options with System Restore; namely to use the most recent restore point, choose a different restore point and finally you have the ability to create your own restore point.  The last option, don’t use unless you are skilled at computer repair.  Me, I was going for the easy fix, so I took option two and rolled my laptop back a few days.  Crossing my fingers I waited for Windows to do the work…basically remove unwanted applications from my computer and clean up my Registry a bit…

All I can say…success…this time.   With a smile of relief spreading across my face, I boldly reconnected to the internet….

And this leads to my next Post (tomorrow) where I again go over the best methods to protect your computer from viruses….Until tomorrow…

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Maintain now…or Pay me Later…

Before going on with my review of Windows 10, I must digress a bit. With this last Windows Update, I found myself receiving a lot of calls from friends, family and customers. The majority of calls dealt with system performance. In many cases (not all) some of the performance issues could be resolved if the user implemented a routine maintenance plan. So, for those without a plan…here’s one…straight from A+Guide to Managing and Maintaining Your PC (with some help from eHow.com).
Clean Vents and Fans

Clogged vents and dust-choked fans causes overheating. These parts are vital to moving air in and out of your computer, but they both collect dust over time. Canned air is used to blow dust off a computer’s internal parts without causing damage to them. The book “A+ Guide to Managing and Maintaining Your PC” suggests cleaning vents and fans yearly, but more frequent cleanings are necessary in dusty environments.
Clean the Monitor

Monitors collect dust, fingerprints and tiny water spots over time. Use a clean, lint-free cloth when removing dust from a monitor’s casing. The “CompTIA A+ Complete Review Guide” warns never to use commercial window cleaner on a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen because it damages the screen’s anti-glare coating. According to “A+ Guide to Managing and Maintaining Your PC,” the suggested frequency of monitor cleaning is monthly. Me, I like to use isopropyl alcohol (50%) and a soft cloth. It works great on both monitors and LCD screens. Always check with your computer manufacturer for the best method for keeping your display clean.
Clean the Keyboard

Regular cleaning keeps dust bunnies and dirt from building up inside your keyboard. Rubbing alcohol is good for removing dirty fingerprints from individual keys. Spraying with a can of pressurized air is the preferred method of cleaning under the keys. Replacing keys on modern keyboards is difficult and not suggested, especially on fragile laptop keyboards. Clean monthly, as suggested by “A+ Guide to Managing and Maintaining Your PC,” or do it more often if you frequently eat near your keyboard.
Clean Up Files

Unmaintained hard drives become filled with temporary files and other junk as time passes. Windows versions XP, Vista and 7 all include some version of the “Disk Cleanup” utility. This utility finds all temporary files, setup files, temporary Internet files and “Recycle Bin” contents that are safe to remove from your computer. Microsoft suggests performing this task weekly.
Defragment Your Drives

Another aspect of hard-drive maintenance is defragmentation. As you add and delete files, a hard drive’s sectors become cluttered and disorganized. Data for one file may end up in many scattered sectors. Empty space crops up between sectors. To keep the hard drive working efficiently, Microsoft suggests running “Disk Defragmenter” monthly.
Perform Backups

Computer failure usually takes users by surprise, but that does not mean you have to lose your files whenever it happens. Performing regular file backups prevents file loss. Windows provides the “Backup and Restore Center” for easy drive backups. External hard drives also make good backup storage, as do thumb drives. Back up drives at least weekly, as suggested by “A+ Guide to Managing and Maintaining Your PC.”
Learn to Use System Restore

Microsoft typically begins offering Windows Updates the second Tuesday of every week. In each update is the Windows Malicious Software Tool, fixes and of course the cumulative update for Windows Defender. Additionally, if computer manufacturers, and components suppliers have driver updates, they are often “bundled” with the Windows Update. Sometimes updates can cause problems. After an update, if your computer begins to perform poorly, I suggest you immediately troubleshoot your computer for possible problems. Beginning with Windows 7, you can easily trouble shoot your computer. In “Search” type “troubleshooting”. With Windows 7, 8 and 10 you will be taken to the section of your Control Panel that is entitled Troubleshooting. From their, pick the category that is most appropriate for your situation.

For those occasions where troubleshooting does not seem to improve performance, I suggest rolling back the update. I do this using System Restore. Again, go to your Control Panel and find the section entitled “Recovery”. Follow the instructions/options available. I strongly suggest trying System Restore (rolling your computer back to a previous date before the performance issues began) before running either Refresh or Factory Restore.

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New Year…and New Technology…

Happy New Year!  Hope everyone reading this blog had a great holiday season.  Personally, I was able to use the time to dig a little deeper into Microsoft’s new Operating System, Windows 10.

First, a couple of things to clear up; there is not, at this moment, a Windows 9.  Microsoft has made a decision to move from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. But knowing the history of Microsoft, the name (Windows 10) may/may not be final, we’ll know when the product is officially launched in April, 2015.  Over the next few weeks, I am going to test and report on many of the new features that come with this product.  Some features will get a cursory review, others I will delve into deeply.  My goal is to have a working knowledge of the operating system prior to launch.

Now, if you would like to test the product yourself, go for it!  Visit the Microsoft website, type in Windows 10 in the “Search” feature and follow Microsoft’s instructions for downloading and installing Windows 10 Preview.   I strongly suggest (as does Microsoft) that you download and test the operating system on a secondary machine.  The product still has bugs.  Also, the product is designed to work on all computers that used Windows XP or better.  Trust me, if you are installing Windows 10 on a machine that was designed for Windows XP, run the compatibility test first.  Also, if your machine is not capable of operating with 3GB of memory, or better, this test product is not for you.  I know that Microsoft says Windows 10 will require only 1GB of memory, but I would go with the “recommended” number (2GB), as bare minimum.

Now to the Operating System itself; I agree with others when they say this is an ambitious and audacious attempt to build an operating system that will span all windows powered devices.   Only time and user input will tell if this works.  But, Microsoft started in the right direction, designing an operating system targeted to “enterprise users”.  That is Microsoft’s core user group/community and ever other user spins from that group…

I am going to keep it simple in this first (of many) posts about this operating system.  The most notable change...the Start Menu is back!!!  Gone (actually not gone, just buried) is the Start Screen.  In my opinion this is a very tacit acknowledgement that Microsoft took user criticism to heart and realized that moving to a Start Screen was too ambitious a step for most users.  Baby steps Microsoft…baby steps.  Below is a look at the Start Menu I use for my secondary computer.

Screen shot of Windows 10 Start Menu

Screen shot of Windows 10 Start Menu used on my secondary computer.

I am an avid Adobe Products user (graphic arts and web design are my passion). So, if you look closely you will see in my Start Menu the Adobe and Microsoft tools I use the most. As with the previous Start Screen, you can resize and rearrange the Start Menu to suit your individual taste. Simply stated…I like this change!

More in the next post…

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Having fun…

I have recently begun two projects that bring a lot of joy to my days.  Both projects require me to expand my repertoire of skills.  Each day I am able to study, practice and implement a new concept or idea.  That is the real beauty of working online.

The-Volunteer-Fire-Department-Station-House

Example, I consider my self a decent photographer.  Frankly, it is not my thing…But, I am forced to become a better photographer to fulfill my obligation to a particular customer. Thankfully, I have friends around the globe who can give me quick pointers on how to create pleasing photos. Here is just one example…

So, this project adds to my expanding skill set.  That’s the beauty of working online in rural America…

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Why I am a fan…

OK, so now you have the basics on maintaining your desktop computer and/or laptop.  Now it’s time to demystify the Windows operating system.  This should be fun, especially now that Windows XP ™ is no longer supported by Microsoft.  Here, in central West Virginia, XP still had (and still has) a large group of users.  The reason was simple, it worked (works).  Many of the people I help with computer repair use their PC and/or laptop to perform simple, family oriented tasks; they keep up with extended family via Facebook™, reluctantly send the occasional email, and shop for items on EBay™, Amazon™ or Walmart™.   Laptops and PCs do not play a significant role in their daily lives; they were purchased primarily for their children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews to “keep up” educationally.

That scenario is now changing-and rapidly.  Mobile devices are now prevalent and the extended family members who have moved to more urban areas have embraced the technology.  So now, grandma, grandpa, the favorite aunt and/or uncle must now communicate electronically if they want the latest picture, report card or to book reservations to visit for the holidays.  Talk about frustrating!

So, let’s get to the task at hand, how to embrace the latest version of the Windows operating System?  Simple really, just pull out your mobile phone and compare. Windows 8™ has the “look and feel” of most mobile devices!  There is a heavy reliance on icons to get the user to the application (app) he/she wants to access.    Whenever I complete an upgrade to Windows 8, I ask the new user to give me a list of their favorite applications and I place them prominently on the Start Screen.  I then take 15-45 minutes (depending on their proficiency with their mobile device) to demonstrate the navigation similarities between their mobile phone and their upgraded computer.  It works.  More importantly, I often strengthen a relationship.

Well, that’s it for these 90 minutes….Tomorrow, I will discuss key strokes and how they further simplify the use of computers…

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It’s now tomorrow…

It took some time for me to get back to blogging.  Real life got in the way the past few months…but I am back….

To continue with my theme “Computing for the Rest of Us”, I want to continue discussing computing issues unique to rural communities.  One of the benefits of living in a small, rural community is the slower pace and lifestyle.  Basically, I find the stress level much lower than what I experienced while living and working in Silicon Valley and the Boston I-495 loop.  Example, I now walk to most of my  appointments, to go shopping and to visits friends.  I like to say this about about the small community I now call home…”stress here, is self inflicted”.   But, when it comes to computing, there are some challenges….That’s what I will be discussing…

The first thing I would like to focus on is this: “a jack of all trades is a master of none”.  How does this apply to computing?  Simple, just like your automobile, four-wheeler and/or lawn mower a computer must be maintained, serviced and sometimes repaired.  Sure, learning how to maintain and repair a computer is not rocket science, but there is a learning curve.  So, I suggest the following to all my friends, colleagues and online acquaintances residing in remote, rural locations: (1) learn the basics of computer maintenance  and (2) either learn the basics of computer repair or pay someone to repair your computer.   Now more on these points…

Point one, maintenance:  I always loved the old Fram oil filter commercial, “pay me now, or pay me later”.  It usually was accompanied with a seasoned mechanic standing over an automobile with the hood raised and steam coming from everywhere.  The commercial had a very simple theme, regular maintenance for your car and you would not have to experience an expensive repair later.  The same applies to computers; regular maintenance will extend the life of your desktop, laptop or tablet.  For desktops and laptops, invest in a can of compressed air.  The primary culprits for destroying computers are dust and heat!  Keeping the air vents on your desktop computer or laptop clear and free of dust goes a long way in extending it’s life.  Dust clogs the air vents and fans, causing the heat inside the computer to rise.  Heat causes the central processing unit (cpu) to work harder, shortening its lifespan.  It also places additional wear on the fan(s) and power supply.

Point two: repair:  Working on a computer without a basic knowledge of computer architecture is a recipe for disaster!  Most desktops, laptops and tablets share a common architecture/design which is actually elegantly simple.  Rather than go into a detailed discussion of computer architecture, remember this; no computer, tablet or smart phone can operate without a motherboard, central processing unit, memory (RAM), and the means to communicate with external devices and applications.  The key to extending the life and usefulness of your device is to find that person in your community who has a decent, working knowledge of computers and let him/her work or your device….

I made a promise to myself and my significant other that I would not spend more than 90 minutes each day on this blog.  My 90 minutes are up for today…we will continue this topic tomorrow…

 

 

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Computing for the rest of us…

Living in a small, rural community in central West Virginia has reinforced some business principles that have been around for the ages.  My primary business is graphic and web design. But I am often asked to assist local residents with their computer repairs.  Why add computer repair to the mix?  Simple, it applies to Principle Number One: follow the money.   Often, entrepreneurs in a niche or small market miss business opportunities because they fail to follow this basic truth.  They awake each morning looking for a specific type of business opportunity; when they should actually focus on finding out what the customer base is demanding.  I make it a point to know the pulse of the customer base.  It is that group that pays my bills.  Currently, in my local community there are several people that need to migrate to other devices because they have old, Windows XP driven computers.  Many are reluctant to move to Windows 8.  So, to help the local citizenry make this migration, I am preparing what I call a Windows 8 “Cheat Sheet”.  This document will be available to locals only.  How will this help my business in the long term?  Easy, it will help alleviate the fears many have about Windows 8; but it also works as a great advertising tool for my secondary business-computer repair.

Principle Number Two: not all business is good business.   I am not a young entrepreneur.  I  begin working in that business era where the concept was “the customer is always right”.     Regarding technology, that is not always the case.  I am finding that many people are making technology decisions based on what they see in the media.  It is often my job to explain to them that the tool(s) they are looking to acquire/use may not be the best fit for their needs.  In my community, retirees are becoming the largest group making technology purchases.   Most use computers to handle simple tasks associated with staying in touch with their extended family.  Most could use a tablet to handle their computing needs.  But tablets are foreign to most; and they find the app driven start pages to be confusing.  I solve this fear by simply asking them to pull out their mobile phones and equating the start page found on tablets with the start page of their mobile phones.  Guess what…problem solved.

More tomorrow.

 

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Persistence

It has been a while since the last post. That has been by choice. Over the past few months I have witnessed several of my entrepreneurial colleagues struggle to remain viable. I have had one business friend close her flower shop; even though the shop was turning a profit. What have I learned from my colleagues? Persistence matters!

Let me elaborate. If you review small business statistics posted by the Small Business Administration, they point out that most small businesses close within three years of their start date. The number one reason, under capitalization. Without capital, a small business seems like a grind, rather than a pleasure. Frankly, by SBA standards, I started my business under capitalized. But I knew going into this venture that it would be persistence (and shrewd money management) that would make or break my venture. Well, I am here advocating that persistence works!

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The Struggle to find a Niche, Part Two

Now we get to the bread and butter part of this process, how to insure consistent income in a small community…

In smaller communities, there are several cost effective/free marketing opportunities that can help you generate income; but you must make an effort to find them. Community centers, senior centers, your local grocer, your local convention and visitors bureau, etc. are all excellent locations for marketing. I use them all, with varying degrees of success. There are two keys for making them work for you:

  • consistency- you must visit and/or participate in the activities of your local community center(s) and convention and visitor’s bureau, chamber of commerce, etc.  Do not just sign up…be an active member. I am an active member of our local Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).  Our Chamber/CVB has an annual festival that I have participated in (as a volunteer) for the past 10 years.   This membership (and volunteer effort) gets my name out to the business community at very little cost.
  • commitment: you must include local marketing into your daily routine.  I contact local customers weekly (some daily).  I treat every minute that I am visibly a part of my community as a potential “marketing opportunity”.  Example, in my community, I make it a habit to visit the local grocer 4-5 times a week.  The result is that thirty percent (30%) of all new, local business comes from conversations I engage in while simply shopping for groceries.

Volunteering is not a dirty word.  I volunteer at a local community center that helps with food, clothing and emergency shelter.  Forty five (45%) percent of my local business comes from contacts made from this activity.   So, if you are doing the math, seventy five percent (75%) of my local business comes from just making myself a very visible part of my community.  Great stuff,  huh?!?

 

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