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Category Archives for Technology

Why me?

The other day I was approached by a friend asking if I could upgrade some hardeware on one of his computers. Of course I told him it may be possible.

My friend stated he only needed it for internet and that it would not be running any applications other than Windows which was already installed and configured.

After accepting the hardware to go over there was something I had not seen in quite a while. It was a 75mhz Cyrix chip with 72 pin memory. Wow! I couldnt believe it. It’s like a paleontologist coming across a great find.

Well after the initial shock wore off I contacted my friend again and said I can do some upgrades but I will not make any guarantees as to how or even if it would do what they were wanting it to do and he agreed that was ok.

Well the upgrades worked for what they wanted it for. Just to realize…..what they spent on upgrades (in the range of $200) could have been put torwards a new computer with better functionality.

Get rid of that old hardware.

Proprietary Interface…Oh man!

This week I purchased a new laptop from one of the major manufacturers. Since I was using previous components such as an air card to connect wirelessly to Internet from anywhere I assumed due to the configuration of my new laptop that I would have no difficulties in upgrading.

Once my new laptop was received I notice that the air card would not fit as the pcmicia slot was not a standard slot but rather a proprietary slot designed by the manufacturer.

I contacted the manufacturer and of course I was told I could buy a new air card to use with the laptop for $199.00. You can imagine my outrage. I stated that they should note on their purchase page that it was not a standard slot so future customers would not find themselves in this same situation.

Of course it is difficult to get anywhere with someone who does not speak english very well so I doubt they will make these changes.

I metioned to the support personel that there used to be a few companies who started to employ this tactic so customers had to buy their proprietary equipment. Those being Packard Bell, Acer and the original Hewlett Packard company. We all know what happened to their market share.

Bottom line when purchasing a new laptop computer you may want to chat or speak with their sales personnel before completing your sale.

DVD to Zune

Want to watch your DVD’s on your zune?

I got a zune for christmas this past year and have just now got around to messing with it. It’s a pretty cool little gadget. I got all my mp3s onto the zune rather easily but getting movies from my DVD’s was not easy at all.

I couldn’t figure out how to get my DVD movies on the zune at all. So I searched google thoroughly and downloaded several different pieces of software before finding one that made it easy.

DVD to zune by dvdXsoft won hands down. It was the only dvd to zune converter that was easy to use and worked without any problems. If you want to save your time instead of downloading several other titles that will probably disappoint you as they did me then simply take my advice and download the free trial version of DVD to zune now.

This program has the best image and sound quality when converting to watch on the zune and I have tried at least 7 different ones extensively. Save yourself some frustration and

Download a free trial version of DVD to zune

How do I insure my computer is protected from viruses?

Virus protection is a must in todays computing environment. Many people who own virus protection software make mistakes that can allow an infection. Here are a few things to remember when purchasing or configuring virus software.

1. Insure your virus software has complete functionality such as script blocking, Internet worm protection and is compatible with the instant messenger service you currently use.

2. Always insure that your virus protection is configured to receive automatic updates. These updates include virus signatures which allow the program to search for the latest viruses. With out these updates your virus software will not recognize new viruses.

3. A simple way to prevent viruses from obtaining access to your system is to update any Microsoft products that you have installed. Windows and office products are commonly used as ways of entry. Microsoft frequently publishes security updates to prevent these types of entry. These updates can be obtained by visiting www.microsoft.com and using either the Office or Windows update option.

4. Another entry point for viruses is sometimes through Spy ware or Ad ware software. Most virus scanners have implemented Spy ware scanning capabilities, but not all. Be sure your computer is protected against these types of entry.

Note: Some viruses can hide or be backed up to the Windows restore folder in which most virus software cannot scan. Due to the compression on this folder most virus software cannot scan this folder. In these cases please review the recommended actions provided by your virus software support personnel or documents.

It is best to remember even with the best virus software and all Microsoft updates applied it is still possible for you to infected by a virus. New viruses are written constantly, and the writers are always coming up with new ways of infiltration into your system.

What happened to the idea of RAM drives?

Several years ago I remember the buzz about creation of a RAM drive. This new idea seemed to be a sound idea. At the time the only hurdle was the fact that RAM memory was volatile (meaning without power it could not hold the information).

Over the past couple of years the volatile issue has been addressed as we know when we use usb drives to hold data. Many memory based drives now have a nonvolatile setting which will enable memory retention.

Im just curious what ever happened to this idea. We know that a RAM drive would be faster than typical magnetic drives. As well since they have no moving parts they would be more reliable.

Could you imagine if someone was to create a RAM drive. It would almost be instant data access. Think about it….as soon as you were to power on your computer the operating system would be loaded. I know I would have to purchase one if they were made available.

I guess the manufacturers can make more money by having us upgrade an older technology rather than allowing us to have access to a new technology which might make our computer as fast as we need it to be.

I hope one day someone decides to revisit the idea of a ram drive. A computer is only as fast as it’s weakest link which in this day and age seems to be hard drive access speed. Who knows….maybe a few years from now someone will create the first in a new generation of data storage devices. I hope so anyways!

Protection errors

These wonderful Windows protection errors occur when your computer attempts to activate or deactivate a virtual device driver or VxD. These messages indicate there is an issue with a hardware driver. This is usually an inability of the driver to load or unload. Typically the offending Vxd or driver module is noted in the error. In some cases you may not be able to identify the offending module. In this case you can use clean boot troubleshooting from the msconfig utility.

The following lists situations in which you may experience these errors:

• A real-mode driver and a protected-mode driver are in conflict

• If the registry is damaged

• If either the Win.com file or the Command.com file are infected with a virus, or if either of the files are damaged

• If a protected-mode driver is loaded from the System.ini file and the driver is already initialized

• If there is a physical input/output (I/O) address conflict or a random access memory (RAM) address conflict

• If there are incorrect (CMOS) settings for a built-in peripheral device (such as cache settings, CPU timing and hard disks)

• If the Plug and Play feature of the basic input/output system (BIOS) on the computer is not working correctly

• If the computer contains a malfunctioning cache or malfunctioning memory

• If the motherboard on the computer is not working properly

Most of the BIOS settings which can cause these types of errors should only be modified by a knowledgeable hardware technician. Changing these settings incorrectly can cause other issues with your hardware. Use your motherboard manufacturers hand book for more information on accessing your BIOS, and you should be able to alleviate this wonderful condition that has been created.

For more detailed information on trouble shooting these errors in Windows 95, 98, or Me please refer to the Microsoft knowledge base article below.

Click here

For Windows XP and 2000 you can review your errors by entering into safe mode and using the event viewer to access detailed information pertaining to your particular issue. The event viewer can be accessed by going to the control panel and selecting the administrative utilities icon. These reports should include detailed information on the module or driver causing the issue.

Best security practices for PC users

When you purchase a new computer and install it out of the box you hunger to get operational and active.

What you don’t know about security can be your downfall.

In today’s computing environment including but not limited to Internet browsing you must consider security measures to protect your data and your computer.

Vulnerabilities can include email, communication ports, wireless networking, spy ware, viruses, and securing the computer from local access.

We will review each in detail in this series. This article is designed to help protect you and your computer in hopes your computing experience will be a more pleasurable and safer one.

1. Email

As a rule when dealing with incoming email regardless of what email client you use you should generally never open an email if you do not know the party the email was generated from.

Your email client should be set to prevent attachments from being displayed or opened unless confirmed by you. Attachments can be set as executable and malicious software can be installed on your local machine.

A good way to prevent some of these entities is to have in place a good Spam blocking utility. Spam blockers can detect most types of spam that are used to either gain entry or used in phishing scams. You may ask yourself: What is phishing? Phishing is a practice used to gain information you may not consider valuable. In many cases this information can be used by the entity to obtain more valuable information about you for the purposes applying for loans, credit cards and other financial gains in your name.

Another practice to keep is anytime you use your email client you should not send valuable information such as drivers license numbers, user names or passwords for accounts(of any type). One practice that is widely used by scammers is to send an email that looks as though it is from a financial institution requesting that you update your account information. Once the information is sent you have now granted them access to the proposed account.

Setting rules to your email client can help prevent these as well. Rules are a way for your email client to detect certain words, domains or email addresses in the email and a subsequent action being taken by the email client such as deleting it automatically. Rules must be configured manually by the user for each email account. The configuration must be monitored and adjusted accordingly as tactics constantly change.

2. Internet communication ports

There is no basic way for you as a computer user to know which ports are open and dangerous on your computer. In order for you to protect yourself from these types of entry you will need to implement a firewall whether it be a hardware or software firewall. When using a firewall: remember they require constant monitoring and configuration.

Firewalls are only configured for basic prevention out of the box. Unless you purchase a monitored firewall software that receives frequent updates and rules. You must constantly stay updated on what ports are being used by hackers, viruses and other malicious code.

One of the easiest ways to keep your computer safe from entry is to use the Windows automatic update feature. Microsoft is constantly patching and reconfiguring the Windows operating system to block vulnerabilities. You must insure your Windows version is set either to automatically retrieve these updates or you need to check the Microsoft update site at least once every two weeks to insure your version is up to date. Remember if you reinstall Windows for any reason all past updates received will need to be reapplied.

You can check your version of Windows to insure you are receiving automatic updates by opening the control panel. Select the system icon and double click the icon. Select the automatic updates tab and review your current settings. If you have scheduled your system for automatic updates and installation make sure you set this action for an appropriate date and time your computer will be in use.

3. Wireless networking

Wireless networks are considerably vulnerable to entry. If not configured properly your wireless network can be used to obtain information and gain access to your local computer.

When configuring your wireless router or access point the easiest thing to do is to disable SSID broadcast. This prevents other wireless network cards from detecting its presents.

You should always change the default user name, password and SSID set by the manufacturer on your wireless unit. The default information is shared by other hardware produced by the manufacturer. This is an easy way to gain access if the information is not altered.

Use encryption on your wireless unit. This may look a little scary and prevent you from configuring your encryption as manufacturers use many acronyms to describe each security encryption type. There are several encryption types available for use. No one encryption type is 100% secure, but in conjunction with other security measures they can be used to maintain a formidable security policy. Just remember when configuring your wireless device that manufacturers publish extensive how to articles on their website for your review. As well when you purchase new hardware the user typically receives an allotted time of free support. Whether this is done through the internet or phone support the manufacturer will be willing to provide their customers the appropriate support for configuration.

Note: This should be considered and verified when selecting wireless hardware and before purchasing new hardware.

Mac filtering is a very secure way of preventing access to your wireless network. Mac address filtering pertains to the MAC address of your wireless card. Every network card has a physical address and every address is unique. Designating which MAC addresses can connect to your device prevents all others from obtaining access. The MAC address of your network card is printed on the device and may be named as “Physical address”. If you cannot find the address you may as well open the control panel and choose network connections. Right click the wireless device and select the status button. On the opened status window select the support tab and the MAC or physical address is listed.

Another security technique used is to disable the DHCP functionality or your wireless device and assign static IP addresses to each computer that will connect through wireless. This will prevent your wireless device from assigning an IP address to unknown devices.

Note: Your wireless access point may not have DHCP capabilities.

When configuring your wireless network there is an option to add a computer to the “DMZ”. The DMZ is known as the de militarized zone and leaves the specified computer unprotected (This true for all router devices). You should never use this option. If you need a particular port open to run web based software or gaming software you should contact the manufacturer of the software for the specified port and then open only that specified port if your software is not functioning properly.

Anytime your computers are not being used they have no need for Wireless capabilities. You should disconnect the wireless units power. Access cannot be obtained when the device is powered off.

4. Spyware or adware

Spyware software was originally used to track habits of Internet browsing for the purpose of aiding companies in delivering more attractive ways of driving traffic to their websites.

In more recent times this software is used for delivering pop up advertisements, tracking your movements and can be used to deliver other more harmful types of software such as viruses. These types of software are common and typically delivered as tracking cookies.

There are many sites that use more harmful types. Typically these sites offer free entry and use of their software for on line gaming or other purposes. A good practice is to avoid these types of sites and advertisements.

You should add a good spyware scan utility to your arsenal which will help maintain your security. When selecting a spy ware scan utility insure your purchase includes automatic updates of the program and definition files as well as a scheduling feature. Having the ability to schedule scans and updates will help keep user maintenance to a minimum.

The best practice would be to have a couple of lines of defense here. In my experience no one single utility has been able to identify every type of spy ware or ad ware infection. I would recommend using a free spy ware utility in conjunction with your purchased software. You should scan your system for spy ware at least once every week (dependent upon your Internet activity habits you may require more or less frequent scans).

5. Viruses

Most don’t realize how vulnerable they are to viruses. If you own a PC you should own good virus protection software. Not only own a good software title but as well the software must be maintained through updates. Most manufacturers publish updates to their virus detection database weekly. If you own virus protection software it is a must to configure automatic updates on a weekly basis. The manufacturer of your software can provide you with the date of published updates in order for to configure the date and time of your automatic update.

Setting a full system scan is very important. You should scan your PC every time an update is made available. If you decide to configure scheduled scans it should coincide with the date the published update is made available and after the update is applied. As well you should designate exactly what to scan and what not to scan. Make sure when designating what to scan if you use external drives or partitioned drives that they are included in the scan.

When purchasing your virus protection a few things need to be considered before deciding which title to buy.

1. Does it have email protection?

2. Does it protect your instant messaging software from allowing infection?

3. Does it have spyware detection capabilities?

4. Does it block against internet worm viruses?

If the virus software you are considering does not protect against of these types of infection move to another title for consideration.

Remember: Virus software licenses are typically good for one year from the date of purchase. You must renew your license in order to receive further updates and maintain protection.

6. Securing the local Computer from being accessed

The first thing to consider is implementing an account password. Most people use passwords that can be easily remembered such as a birth date. If it’s easy for you to remember it may be easily guessed by another user. Passwords should be at least eight characters and should include upper, lowercase letters as well as numbers. Implementing this strategy will prevent most software titles that can be run to obtain your passwords from completing this action easily. You should frequently change passwords as well. Not just your user account password on the local machine but as well you should alternate passwords to secure websites or passwords for internet accounts.

Your computer can be accessed easily if you walk away for even a moment. If your PC is accessible by other users you should configure a screensaver password with the same guide lines as the password for your user account. This can be easily done by opening the control panel and choosing the display icon. On the screen saver tab select the item that states “on resume, display log on screen” or “require password”. Set the wait time for one minute and select apply. This will activate your screen saver after your computer is idle for one minute. The screen saver will only activate if the computer is idle or has no activity for one minute.

The same guidelines that apply for powering down your wireless unit when not in use apply to the local machine as well.

If you decide to document your passwords for accounts (of any type) this documentation should be kept in a secure location.

When considering these guidelines you must remember: Computers, security techniques and practices evolve constantly just as the strategies of intrusion do. It is a priority that you maintain your knowledge of prevention to keep your data and computer operating system safe.

Experience support

Ever contacted your OEM computer support only to find out that you can’t understand the person on the other end?

This is a very frustrating experience. I understand it’s more profitable for OEM manufacturers to roll support over to another region. This practice is more profitable due to the following reasons.

1.       The OEM manufacturer does not have to pay the usual 10% increase in pay to local technicians for working the evening shifts.

2.       Payroll costs associated with overseas personnel is much less.

 It’s very annoying to try speaking to someone with little English speaking abilities as well as an accent. If you have not had this wonderful experience yet then you should consider yourself lucky. My last experience in communicating with these facilities was so trying I simply hung up the phone and decided to purchase a support agreement from my local certified support technician. Yes even though I had free support provided by the computer manufacturer.

At least in my opinion it was well worth the extra money to not have to deal with that situation again. It’s bad enough that most people in this level of support simply read from a document of directions and ignore your input. They offer simple well known fixes that generally have no effect on the issue. Add an accent and remove the ability to annunciate English properly and well…….There you have it: Enough said.

You might want to consider on your next purchase not purchasing an extended service plan and instead locate your local OEM certified technician and see what they offer as far as support options. Most support technicians even offer onsite support…..WAHOO! Just insure the local technician is certified by the manufacturer for which ever manufactured model you wish to purchase. I can guarantee that you won’t have as many headaches and you won’t have to learn a new language to alleviate your computing problems.

 

Driver Update Importance

With everything you have to stay on top of to maintain computer performance and security here is one more. Anytime you update system software or third party software it can impact how your hardware performs.To maintain peak performance you as well needto update your hardware drivers. This is necessary due to changes made in either system or third party software.

Microsoft and other software vendors design their software to work in specific conditions. These conditions are set by the latest hardware available and how it relates to software functionality.When you update these types of software your hardware may not work optimally or you may experience a failure of the device or software.

Just as you update Windows or any other software you should maintain the latest version of your device drivers. Here is the easiest way to keep drivers updated. If you own an OEM computer such as a Dell, Gateway, HP, Compaq or Toshiba you should visit their support pages to obtain the latest version of software and drivers for the devices installed on your computer. These updates will be listed by published date. Be sure to follow any specific installation
instructions provided by the manufacturer.

If you do not own an OEM machine or if it was built by your local computer store then review your hardware documentation. Your receipt should list the installed components. Once you have the list of devices you can search each manufacturers website for the drivers and software individually. Be sure to follow any recommendations or directions
provided by any hardware or software manufacturer when updating device drivers.

Updates to device drivers are not published as frequently as other software updates so you should check periodically for updates. Manufacturers usually publish driver updates every few months as a general schedule.

Why are we still using 56k modems

Just yesterday I was approached by a neighbor who had a laptop that claimed it was not functioning properly. I enquired as to what the problem may be, and he stated it was extremely slow on the Internet.

Once I examined the laptop I noticed he was using a 56k modem to connect to the internet. So of course the first thing out of my mouth is “what’s the issue with it?”. He stated he was only getting about a 10k download speed (This is where I slightly chuckled).

At this point I tried to explain to him that he was very lucky to be receiving such speeds on a 56k connection, and that just because it says 56k it does not mean that is the speed you will experience. After a long conversation about communication in and out and how it relates to your overall connection speed I inquired as to why he had not looked at broadband.

I mean really here it is 2007 and with all the ways to obtain a broadband connection surely he couldn’t dismiss this as an option. He stated he needed a connection that would work at his lake house. I simply asked how he received TV channels at this location and he stated satellite. Ok not the best type of broadband to use, but it’s an option.

Next I asked if he had a cell carrier he used. He replied with the carriers name and I asked if he had contacted them to inquire about a gsm pcmcia card. Now that I had peaked his interest the conversation started to move towards a productive direction.

I explained that with todays technology if you have a cell carrier you can have unlimited access any where you can obtain a cell signal and the cost will vary from 29.99 to 59.99 per month. He was extremely delighted to say the least.

So after a ten minute conversation with his cell carrier they were shipping him a connection card and would simply add the charges to his next bill. Now isn’t that awesome? (I asked). Another satisfied customer.

Is it just that people dont know about this technology? Are the hundreds of broadband commercials not getting through to people?

I understand that you can get a 56k connection much cheaper than a broadband connection, but if you spend time at a location or as I like to call them “my working vacations” I want to get my work done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I hope anyone who reads this article (if using 56k connections) will at least take the time to inquire about broadband from their carriers. Remember if you use cable there is cable modem. If you use satellite they can provide broadband. If you have a cell phone your carrier can provide options for broadband. I think that covers it. The only remaining excuse is cost, but as time goes by this technology becomes cheaper and cheaper. Why not try it? I’m sure you will be happy with the service.