December 3, 2011

Backing Up Data and Saving Installation CDs/Keys

Some of the easiest practices with your computer can mitigate devastating consequences whenever computer meets floor or lightning bolt meets house. One of these easy practices is constantly backing up your data to an external medium such as an external hard drive, CDs, etc. Another easy practice is keeping a hold of your purchased software CDs AND the software keys for them. In the following text, I will discuss the importance of backing up your data, keeping your Software CDs/keys, and how to get it all done.

First, you may ask yourself: Why should I back up data? What Data can be backed up?

Backing up data is an essential practice every responsible user and IT professional does in order to not lose files that are important to him or her. Data is a generic term for files that you save to your hard drive like: pictures, documents, music, videos, and spread sheets. All of these types of data files are saved to your hard drive which is the physical filing cabinet for your computer. The inconvenient truth about hard drives is that they are fragile and prone to failing by trauma or performance degradation over time. If your laptop computer falls even a foot or more from hands to a hard surface, then there is a risk that the data on the hard drive has been damaged beyond affordable repair, and pictures of the wedding will be gone; iTunes and all its music is gone; Videos, tax forms, documents and personal records saved on the hard drive are gone.

The only affordable way to keep your data safe is to ensure it is saved or duplicated to another source. The most popular source to duplicate your data to is an external hard disk drive (eHDD). External hard drives come at a decent price of about $40 and up (depending on the eHDD capacity). Not only are external hard disk drives cheap, but some are easy to use because they also come with software that installs and automatically backs up pre-specified data. Should an eHDD not come with software that does the job for you, then you can check to see if your Windows operating system has a back-up feature in its Start > Control Panel.

Next, you may ask yourself: Why should I keep purchased software CDs and their software keys?

The answer is simple: You can’t copy and paste programs/applications from your computer to an external storage medium and expect it to work. Programs like Microsoft Word and Quicken are installed onto your computer in many different places of the file system, and this makes it not possible to simply copy a back up to another medium. The only simple solution to “backing up” a program is keeping a hold of the installation disks and software keys, and using them to re-install the programs when a bad hard drive is replaced. Keeping the software keys to a particular program is important because once you re-install the program you must verify it is a legal copy. By entering the software key you saved, you are verifying your copy is legally purchased. Without a software key, you will have to purchase the program from the company again, and doing that defeats the purpose of holding on the installation disks in the first place.

In summary, it is important to back up your data files to another physical source, like an external hard drive. Data files are pictures, music, video, documents, spread sheets, and other files that are produced by programs/applications. A great physical source to back up your data files to is an External Hard Disk Drive (eHDD). Some eHDDs come with a program that does the back up process for you, but in case they don’t, check to see if your Windows operating system has a feature to do so. Programs/applications you purchased can not necessarily be backed up to an external source as easily as data files are. The only easy solution to backing up your purchased programs/applications is by saving their installation disks and keys in a safe spot, and then using them to re-install when needed. Make sure you keep the software key with the installation disks. If you lose the respective software key, then you might have to buy the software again.

October 2, 2011

7 Practices that Prevent Computer Virus Infection

Keep getting computer viruses despite the fact you HAVE an anti-virus program? I’m sure your initial thoughts are “Bad Anti-virus program!” but the truth of the matter is rather “Bad user!” The reason behind virus infections being the fault of the user rather than the anti-virus is simple: NO anti-virus is perfect, nor will it prevent you from clicking on anything bad EVERY time. Therefore, it is up to the USER to follow (or at least be aware of) 7 practices that prevent computer virus infections:

  1. Don’t Open Unexpected Email Attachments. Computer viruses must make someway into your computer. One of the most common entry points is the E-mail inbox. The hacker attaches the virus onto an email, and then sends it to the user. The filename of the virus is usually masked with something fluffy like “Hallmark Card.” NEVER download attachments from unknown senders. Furthermore, verify if your friend/family sent you an attachment. Just because an attachment is from a friend or family member, doesn’t mean their email account wasn’t hacked and a virus attachment was sent to you.

  1. Avoid unknown/unreliable Websites. So, you Google’d “Indigo Furbies” in the search engine to try and purchase the hottest new furby. Upon browsing the search engine results, you see a website listed as “FREE FURBIES!” – Look at the web address before clicking the link! Verify that the web address is from a known/trusted company. If anything, open a new browser window, then google the name of the company to see if anyone on the internet has complained about the website’s legitimacy. Usually, some anti-virus programs have built-in features to your browser that gauge the trustworthiness of the website you are about to enter. Going to web sites that guarantee something unusually free almost guarantees a virus infection.

  1. Don’t click on links that lead outside trusted websites! Social Media is the best example for this practice! Your Facebook Friend’s account gets hacked. The hacker posts on your friend’s Facebook to “Check out the dead pictures of Osama Bin Laden!” You think your friend has posted a link that shows legitimate pictures of Osama Bin Laden – Usually, trusted websites that you avidly use will warn you that you are about to leave their website to go to a different one. 9 times out of 10 you will be directed to another trusted website, but do so AT YOUR OWN RISK! Any link that leads you to the outside of a trusted website has no guarantee that it will be safe. Beware of this on YouTube as well!

  1. Always have an updated Anti-Virus Program. Despite the fact that Anti-virus programs are not 100% effective, they are still needed on your computer. Check to see if your anti-virus has a “Safe Zone” or “Sandbox” feature. These features are AMAZING because they allow you to surf the internet within a “Safe Zone” or “Sandbox” with in your computer. That said, if anything infects your computer, then it will only infect the “safe zone” or “sand box” and not the whole computer itself. This feature is awesome for letting kids browse the internet. Also, ensure your anti-virus is updated regularly.

  1. Always ensure Windows Updates are Up to date. Occasionally, exploits in your operating system or browser are found by hackers. When Microsoft identifies these exploits, they release updates or hot fixes that closes exploits. With that said, it is your responsibility to ensure these updates are loaded on to your computer. If you do not ensure updates are being installed, then you risk leaving a “back door” open for a hacker to get in your computer. You should be informed at the bottom right of the screen if updates are needed to your computer. Google how to check up on your Windows updates for more information.

  1. Stay Away from Bit Torrents or File Sharing Programs! Although you can illegally obtain music, video, programs, and other stuff for free, you can also gain a computer virus VERY easily! Less computer savvy individuals (mostly kids) want to jump on the “Free” bandwagon and be a “renegade” at the same time by using Limewire, Bit Torrents, and other file sharing programs. Hacker’s take advantage of people like these and create virus files that mimic what people are looking for to infect computers. Although a filename says “Beyonce,” it doesn’t mean that it is always truly a music file. I highly recommend people just go the legal route in obtaining files by using iTunes or other legal services. Buying a .99 cent song is cheaper than downloading a virus that costs 150 dollars (or more) to disinfect.

  1.  Supervise Kids! Allowing kids to browse on the computer unsupervised throws all of the aforementioned out the window. Kids are not only the easiest to fool, but they are also careless when roving about the internet. I highly recommend that you never let your kids on the main computer of the household, but rather have a Netbook or something else cheap to tear-up/infect without worry of losing important data or credit card numbers. If anything, ensure that you have an anti-virus with a sandbox or safe zone feature, and make sure kids always use it when browsing the internet. Your paranoia of kids browsing/utilizing the internet should be equal to the paranoia of them getting in a white van after being offered gummy bears.

In conclusion, if you follow all of these practices, then you should never have to see a computer repair place to disinfect your computer because you will never really be infected. In most cases, we know the source, time, and method of the infection so feel free to ask how your computer might have been compromised. I think it is important to ask these questions in order to prevent future infections and learn from your mistakes. Remember that computer viruses are not caused by one computer sneezing next to yours, but they are actually caused by the individual actions of users.

September 25, 2011

We are now Thumbtack members

Thanks to Tommy I found and investigated this site called Thumbtack. The site is very much like Craigslist but for services (PC services to be specific). You can find other services thru this site as well.

Fast Affordable Dependable Repairs no tech babble

September 24, 2011

Using Piriform's CCleaner to Help Computer Performance

A common complaint I hear from customers is that their computer runs slow. While there are many different culprits for such a common problem, some free solutions are available to help alleviate poor computer performance. One of these free solutions is a helpful computer program called CCleaner. CCleaner is created and updated by Piriform, and it comes at no cost to the user. Although CCleaner comes with a number of simple features that perform different tasks for users, the focus of this blog will be on its “Cleaner” feature.
CCleaner’s “Cleaner” feature is safe and easy for anyone to use at its default settings. Without getting too technical, the cleaner feature basically removes useless files that have been acquired over time via web surfing and other programs on the computer as well. Running CCleaner to eliminate these useless files improve both web browsing and general system performance. The best part is that all the cleaning is done in one simple click upon opening CCleaner.
To install CCleaner, simply go to Piriform’s website and download it:
During installation, be sure to uncheck any offers from Piriform that puts undesired tool bars or software on your computer. Follow the rest of the prompts to complete installation.
After installation is complete, open CCleaner if it is not open already. Ensure all your web browsers are closed, and then click “Run Cleaner” at the bottom right of the CCleaner program.
 CCleaner will automatically perform all the necessary tasks in removing unnecessary files that clutter your computer, and then it reports everything cleaned back to the user. Depending on how much “clutter files” CCleaner found and removed, your computer performance will be optimized and should seem a bit faster (especially when web browsing).
Make sure to open and run CCleaner often. Run the “Cleaner” daily if you can, but no longer than weekly is recommended.
A final note on CCleaner is related to its “Registry” feature. I do not encourage users to use this feature unless he or she knows how to implement a Registry Back up on their computer. The reason is because any program that “optimizes” or “tweaks” the registry can possibly obstruct or seize system functionality. Knowing how to implement a registry backup upon failure mitigates this small risk.
Aside from all that has been said, CCleaner has other helpful features and more information about them is on Piriform’s website and CCleaner FAQ. Be sure to check out the information there if you wish to learn more. Although CCleaner may not be the only solution for a slow performing computer, it stands as a simple solution that alleviates common performance issues. Certainly a free program worth being on every desktop!

September 21, 2011

Simple ways to make your PC faster

Make your pc faster?
This is hands down the number one complaint we here when people bring their pc in for a tune up. One of the simpliest things to do is msconfig.

msconfig (from start - type in white box about start icon for vista and windows 7 and start->run in xp and below) is a baked in windows interface that shows you what is set to come up at boot time (and shut down). Check it out! Most of the things NOT in windows\system32 or windows\system can be disabled by unchecking the box next to it. Most times it takes more than one reboot to see the benefits of this change. Give it a try. It can make a big difference!

How to Bring Back the Old Facebook News Feed

Upon logging on to Facebook today, I was mildly annoyed at the forced changes Facebook had imposed on my “News Feed.” What’s the story with the Stories feature? All it does is make me scroll a mile down the page to get to the old News Feed I’m used to. I’m not the only one aggravated either because it seems half my friends list made a point to express their frustration over these changes. Furthermore, I couldn’t help but to smile upon some features that FB had added which are ever so similar to Google’s new social media website: Google+. For example, now you are able to select which of your friends are your “Close Friends” and which are “Acquaintances.” Classifying your friends into their own separate circle of friends looks a lot like Google+’s “Circles” feature that works in the same way, and it has been around long before these recent FB changes.

We can be angry all we want, but the underlying fact is that we can either bite the bullet on more forced changes by Facebook, be rebellious and join Google+ (which will yield a much smaller friends list), or we can just quit our e-Social lives completely until the next social media site is worth logging into. Although I personally choose the first option until the last one becomes fruitful, I have noticed a trick to get rid of the pesky “Stories” feature that spams the start of my News Feed:

-To the left of your Facebook page you will see “Lists,” and mouse over it. Click “MORE” at the top right of the borderless “Lists” box.

-Your Facebook page should now refresh and list all your “Lists.” Now, Look to the top right and you should see “Create a List.” Click it.

-Name your list something like “Friends,” “Homies,” or “REAL News Feed.”

-After you create the name, click “Add Friends,” then add ALL your friends to it and click Done.

 Note: If you were the star quarterback or prom queen in high school then it might take awhile to add your 5,000 friends.

Your new “list” will appear to the left when finished. From here on out you will have to click that new list you made over to the left, and it will mimic the old “News Feed” you had before Facebook rudely interrupted the look-and-feel you had before.

If you find this helpful, be sure to “Like” our Company Facebook Page and/or share this blog to help your friends restore the old “News Feed.” We will keep you informed on other helpful news and tips in the future.  

-  Tommy

August 20, 2011

Preserving the life of Laptop Batteries.

No, it is not just you! Your laptop battery is not lasting as long as it used to. Yahoo! News just released an interesting video about the life of laptop batteries. Included in the video is not just nifty facts about a laptop battery, but there is also tips and tricks to diagnose and restore a lot of the lost life in your laptop battery. The link to this helpful video is at the bottom, and here's the quick synopsis if you don't want to watch the video:

  • Laptop batteries  last 3 years on average.
  • Signs of a dying battery is a noticeable decrease in battery performance after a full charge
  • A free/helpful Program called "Battery Eater" for Windows helps diagnose your battery life problems.
  • Recalibrating the battery meter will sometimes enhance performance. (To learn this you will have to watch the video.)
  • Never toss your dead battery in the trash! Batteries contain toxic chemicals that is bad for the environment.

August 6, 2011

Big Box Tech Support: "G-Squad" and "EZ- Tech"

First! The First Blog that is! I'm Tommy, a PC Tech from B-quick PC Repair, and in my first blog I come out swinging against Goliath (a.k.a Big Box Tech Support)! What is "Big Box Tech Support?" Well I won't be too technical with the actual  names of competitors, but think of "Big Boxes" as retail stores. Furthermore, Think of a certain Big Box retail store that sell computers, electronics, games, various entertainment devices, and a PC Tech Support service called "G-Squad." The other Big box retail store sells office supplies, printers, STAPLERS, and a PC Tech Support service called "EZ-Tech." Throughout my first blog I will uncover some of the secrets about most of the employees at the aforementioned Tech support places as well as their secret techniques. Although I am biased for tech support places in retail stores, I hope you see that the people who work there are not really computer professionals, but rather automated magicians in the following Q&A style of writing.

I take my computer to "G-Squad" because something is wrong. When I get to the counter, who do I meet?

Chances are you could meet someone with next to no PC experience just as much as you would encounter a person actually capable of fixing your computer. After review of other qualifications from tech support job openings, it appears the necessary qualifications such as industry certifications and degrees are only preferred and not required. Although there are many un-certified computer geniuses you will meet along the way, the fact that the company only prefers degrees/certs indicates a minimal desire to hire knowledgeable employees. Not only are the requirements for a trained PC professional only "preferred," but the pay that these tech support places offer is merely a summer job's pay. Having a college buddy work at one of these big box tech supports, I did get a little personal by asking how much his pay was as a technician there. The reply I received was merely a few dimes over minimum wage. Although a job is indeed a job, and an honest living never-the-less, the lack of pay offered by the big box raises concern on the knowledge and experience they expect give a paycheck to. Overall, the fact that experience and knowledge is only preferred by big boxes, coupled with a lack in pay, truly shows that "G-Squad" and "EZ-Tech" are merely entry level opportunities for someone to repair your computer at an expensive cost to you.

I Just dropped my computer off at "EZ-Tech," so what are they actually doing?

The short of it is your "EZ-Techs" are clicking mouse buttons on your computer and then walking around helping other shoppers with purchases. I've had a look into what these retail tech support people do; their business process in both software AND hardware. For software solutions such as computer virus, PC clean ups and performance boosters, these companies run an automated program on your computer that automatically checks for errors, useless files, updates, and viruses. All the "EZ-Tech" has to do is press buttons with his or her mouse in order to make this happen. The techie might not even know what actually is going on because they are just trained to follow the business process of “point and click” with the mouse (kind of makes sense with how much the paycheck is). Go ahead and quiz these people next visit you make! Ask them what all is involved in the PC tune up package. Go further to ask them what a Registry is, and what type of keys in there does what. Ask them where temporary files are normally stored on the file system, or the difference between a cookie and spyware. You might be surprised in the number of "um" and "uh" you get as they stumble along to answer your questions.

If you are wondering how "EZ-techs" are geniuses with diagnosing problems with your computer, then the answer is the same as much of the above: Point, click, and run program. The program they run usually performs tests on hardware then reports back to the tech what is wrong. Based off the test’s results, they diagnose the computer, usually quote you a high price, and send the computer off to a third party because they hardly fix the problem themselves. I do not agree with using the method of programs to make a hardware diagnosis for a couple of reasons. One, most hardware components can be physically tested by the PC tech themselves should he or she possess a technical mind. Programs aren’t perfect. Therefore, hardware components that can be troubleshot physically ought to be the main diagnostic technique, and then test programs should be used to back up physical diagnoses. Many technicians at big boxes don’t know how to physically troubleshoot and rely on programs alone to do the work for them.  Secondly, both tech support services charge to run these diagnostic programs despite the fact the user could download a freeware program to accomplish the same task.

Finally, another secret practice at these tech support places is the "backroom." The backroom is there for two reasons. One reason is for the privacy of the customer. If you don't like your desktop exposed to rest of those in a big box retail store, then you'd appreciate the backroom. For this reason, I understand such a secretive place to click mouse buttons. Sometimes, your computer will secretly hide in the back room while you're there. Your computer is secretly hiding because the technician doesn’t want you to see how they fixed your problems, they don't want you to see the difficulty (or in most cases ease) of fixing your issue. They want you to walk out the big box in relief of a problem solved without a sense of being overcharged. It has been brought to my attention that these big boxes will usually charge $40 just to turn on your wifi if you bring your computer in thinking the internet is broke! You will not know they turned on your wifi (by stroking a few keys) to fix your “internet outage” because they were out of your sight in the "backroom." Times $40 by twelve and that is how much you were paying them at an hourly rate to “repair” your computer.
In conclusion, the technical support expert you meet at a retail store IS NOT guaranteed to be a professional. The nerdy looking uniform is merely smoke and mirrors because the job requirements is no where near those of a help desk support position in other places of business. The low pay only shows the type of experience the company is looking for. The reason behind the low pay/no experience hiring approach is because the tasks these technicians perform are automated while the harder computer solutions are shipped out to third-parties at an overpriced cost to you. Some of the automated tasks are really simple and done in a private room, and the only thing you will know is the overcharged price.