Archive for the ‘Helpful Hints’ Category

Windows 8, Part II

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis January 5th, 2013

I think Windows 8 may fall by the wayside as another Microsoft “step-child” like Vista and ME.  Evidently they were so desperate to compete with i-pads that they forgot their roots (and loyal customers).  Case in point:  The new GUI, or Graphical User Interface (aka “Metro”) is really nice but falls short for those of us who need to work on a highly detailed screen.  For this we use mouse (or stylus) and keyboard.  You CAN drop back to the old style desktop, but once you get there you’ll find some very important things missing.  The corner Start Button is gone, and if you hover your mouse in that corner you only get the option to return to Metro.  If you find yourself in this quandary, you’ll need to remember some keyboard commands.  The main one is the Start key, which is usually on the bottom left of your keyboard (the one with the Windows logo… see photo).  This will get SOME of the things that you need, but not all.  One of the main things MISSING, once you find the start menu, is the All Programs list.  I’m still looking for a better fix, but in the meanwhile here’s what you have to do;  1) Go back to the Metro screen and 2) do an edge swipe.  When the sidebar menu pops out,  3) Choose search.  If you check the programs box it will show you all available programs.  UGH… REALLY?!  Microsoft, you guys couldn’t come up with anything better than this?!  Come on…   NEXT TIME:  Email, user accounts, and other Win 8  frustrations.

Windows 8, Part I

Helpful Hints, News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 2nd, 2012

I’ve already had a lot of customers asking about the new version of Windows.  This will be a series of posts about the new operating system from Microsoft, and some details you should know both before and after buying.  First of all, this is really just a cosmetic build On TOP of Windows 7.  Unfortunately it is only an advantage FOR TOUCHSCREEN DEVICES.  If it doesn’t have a touchscreen, DON’T BUY IT with Windows 8.  For a normal desktop PC, it’s much more trouble than it’s worth.  Not only does it FORCE the large “Metro” screen on users, but they have disabled some of the handy desktop features that we’ve all grown accustomed to.  I’ll elaborate on that later.  Another thing to beware of before purchasing is that there is a second version for tablets called Windows 8 RT.  For the first time ever, this is based on architecture other than x86 (ARM-based).  The bottom line:  it won’t run any of your old PC apps!  You must get all new apps from the Microsoft store to run on this version.  I started to buy one of the new Surface tablets from Microsoft (see photo), but found out that the x86 version won’t be out until Spring.  Currently they only have the Windows 8 RT version for sale.

Norton Power Eraser

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis August 17th, 2012

If you’re using Norton for your PC protection, you may have wondered about some of the extra tools that they offer.  Although I REALLY like Norton’s virus and malware protection, these tools are practically worthless.  The main two I’m talking about are called Norton Power Eraser (NPE) and the Norton Bootable Recovery Tool (NBRT).   First of all, Power Eraser is a TERRIBLE name for this software.  It implies that it’s a scrubbing tool or something.  But MOSTLY I should warn you:  If you get a message from Norton that you should run NPE, you most likely have a ROOTKIT!  This is the worst kind of infection, and allows total control of your computer.  The really sad part is that NPE probably won’t be able to remove it!  The tool seems to hang on removal or completely fail, and the boot tool rarely works unless you burn a CD of it.  Your best bet, if this happens, is to download and run ComboFix from this site.  (NOTE:  It’s the second Download button.  The first one is an ad).  You should turn off your virus protection while it runs.  It removes the vast majority of rootkits without a hitch.  But if all this makes you nervous, just take your PC to a good technician, and tell them the problem.   By the way, I still highly recommend Norton Internet Security.  I’ve only had ONE infection, out of hundreds of PC’s, in the last year since I started recommending it.  It’s great at prevention, which is the key in the first place. 

HD revisited

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis June 15th, 2012

High definition, right?  Nope, in this case I’m talkin’ about Hard Drives.  I’ve written posts about the drive shortage, backing up, and solid state drives.  But there’s a whole new fleet of External USB (or networked) drives that deserve a closer look.  Several companies are making drives that you plug in and can access from all over the planet.  Others create their own WiFi network that you can log into from smartphones or your PC.  There are also some very stylish drives that are much smaller these days.  I have clients that will buy several pocket-sized drives and rotate them for offsite backup.   They also have some really tough built HD’s that can withstand a lot of abuse.  This would be perfect for industrial sites or college students :-)    Here’s an article  that shows them in detail (thanks to Marc Saltzman at Digital Crave).

Java, anyone?

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis June 9th, 2012

“What IS Java?!” my customers often ask.  Besides coffee, Java is a programming language, and since 2006 has been licensed and handled by the GNU open-source project.  It’s original intent was to make a streamlined, object-oriented language that would work on any platform.  So you’ll find Java on all kinds of devices from PC’s to smartphones.  Android is a fine example of Java-based software, although Google  broke away and created their own version of the platform.  The language has a rocky history, with Microsoft initially helping Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) push the standards, then later becoming the villain in a dramatic turn about.  When Microsoft was sued by the DOJ for anti-trust practices, Java was part of the lawsuit.  The claim was that they were implementing Java with the intent of eventually destroying it.  Microsoft (MS) settled, and stopped shipping Java with Windows.  Nowadays you have to download it yourself.  Meanwhile MS started pushing .NET as a competitor language.  It’s all based on the C# language core, but the big argument is about open vs. closed source.  MS doesn’t like open-source software.  After all, that’s how they make their money.  So ANY open-source software is a threat to their livelihood.  Meanwhile Sun Microsystems/Oracle has helped foster and grow the Java platform to be one of the most popular and stable languages in the world.  For you, the end users, what’s all this mean?  Well, now you know what Java and .NET are all about.  They help bring your devices to life, with cool apps that are often web-based.  And YES you should update these two whenever prompted.  Sometimes they find security or other glitches that are fixed with updates.  BUT watch out!  The Java install often tries to add some other junk software, like the ASK toolbar for example.  Keep your eye out for a check box to disable this. 

Buying software

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis June 2nd, 2012

Technology has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, and it has changed the way software is sold and delivered.  Nowadays it’s usually cheaper (and more convenient) to buy the DOWNLOAD version of any software you want.  But BUYER BEWARE there are some caveats to this method of purchase; 1)  Be certain it’s legitimate!   There are lots of fly-by-night pirate software companies out there that will sell you stolen or hacked licenses.  Rule of thumb: if the price is too good to be true, then something is wrong.  2) Make sure you keep a copy of the install file and the license key/code in a safe place!  That way you can reinstall if you have any problems or change computers.  3)  Be careful when buying locally at places like Best Buy or Sam’s Club, etc.  Lately the price for a CD/DVD version is grossly inflated.  Don’t get stabbed on price just ‘cuz you’re in a hurry or impulse buying.  A good example is Microsoft Office.  Most new PC’s come with a pre-installed version that will allow you to immediately go online and purchase the version you want.  The cost is less than ANY of the disk versions I’ve seen on the shelf.  If you want nice packaging, try online sellers like Amazon.  They’re more likely to have good deals. 

Tulsa Traffic

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis May 31st, 2012

This is off the usual subject(s) but I just gotta say:  we’re VERY lucky in Tulsa –   our traffic is a BREEZE compared to the rest of the country.  I pondered this as I sat in traffic, bumper-to-bumper, for 30 minutes tonight.  It was at a complete standstill for a while (bad wreck… hope they’re ok!).  This is a record for me in Tulsa.  I have NEVER before had to sit this long and wait.  How great is that?  I mean, for nearly 15 years I’ve been ALL OVER this city, every day, and yet the longest I’ve ever been stuck in it was 30 minutes.  People in L.A., Dallas, D.C., etc etc would probably KILL for that.  The last time I drove in Dallas it was a nightmare.  So for all of us around Green Country… despite the contruction, we’ve really got it good.  Enjoy!  (oh, DRIVERS?  Now THAT’S a different story…)

MP3 players

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis May 21st, 2012

If you’ve ever had problems playing your music, join the club.  There’s a lot of us out here that use our computers and other devices (players, pads, smartphones) to keep the tunes rolling through our lives.  Personally, I live and breathe by my music collection.  It lifts my spirits, sets the mood, or helps me to work out.  In any case, it REALLY irritates me when I can’t simply play it all, at random.  I click SKIP when it’s not right for the mood.  So I was pretty irritated when I bought a new Sansa Clip + player and it DIED.  It worked great for a while, then simply wouldn’t turn on any more.  I tried all their recommended steps… no good.  So I RMA’d it, and bought a second one just in case.  This was the Sansa Clip Zip, the next generation.  It worked fine too, with one MAJOR glitch:  every time I hit the Power switch, it REFRESHED my media.  It took 30 MINUTES for it to do this (yes, I have a huge collection).  Apparently this has been a problem with these players if you add a 32 Gb SD card.  The answer?  DIFFERENT SOFTWARE.  You don’t HAVE to use the crappy software that Apple, Sansa, or any other company gives you with your player.  (NOTE: you might want something different just because of DRM… Digital Rights Management has hosed many people out of Boo Coo songs!)  Instead, try ROCK BOX.  This is more free public domain software from the GNU project, and it’s GREAT!  Just download the installer, tell it your device, and WHAM your player is reborn!  You can find RockBox here. The only issue I had was trying to play all songs, but it’s easy once you figure out the context menus.  If you get hung up, search for it online, there’s tons of documentation out there.

Freeze! Your backup is in danger.

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis May 16th, 2012

If you’ve been following my advice, you back up regularly.  But there are times when you should know how to lock, stop, or FREEZE your backups so that you don’t ruin them.  Let’s say, for example, you have a REALLY important document that gets corrupted somehow.  Maybe the power shut off in the middle of what you were doing, and you can’t open the file any more.  THIS is the perfect scenario for retrieving a file from backup.  The problem is, if you back up that file again BEFORE you retrieve it, you’re Hosed!  Screwed! Dataless!  You get the point.  The problem is that you overwrote the Good version from the last backup with the Bad version after it got ruined. How to prevent this?  TURN OFF YOUR AUTOMATIC BACKUP when trouble occurs.  Some do it by plugging in a USB memory stick.  If so, just turn off the program that automates the process (like  Allway Sync, for example).  If you use an Online backup, look for a command or menu item that does this.  In Carbonite it’s called Freezing your Backup.  For this service there’s about a 6 hour time lag with all files, so you have that long to choose the Freeze option.  If you do your backups MANUALLY, then that’s easy… just stop.  Don’t run another backup until you’ve retrieved what you needed.