Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

Common Failure Symptoms

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Much like your vehicle can give off a weird popping, clicking or some other sort of noise or reaction that tells you for sure something has gone wrong and needs attention, computers can do the same. In this article, I hope to help you figure out what something could mean – and that in no way unless specified is it a definitive answer because like other mechanical failures, one symptom could be a result of several different problems.

 

 

Symptoms

Starting with symptoms, we’ll begin with noises. For example, to begin with a very loud noise coming from your computer tower or laptop could mean that one of the case fans is working very hard. This would more than likely mean that there is extensive dirt buildup in between the fan’s blades or even deeper – or that the internal temperature of the computer is getting too high and the fan simply cannot catch up. Some fans are temperature-based as programmed by the BIOS and can react as necessary so the loud fan running could be acceptable if it calms back down after a short while. Either way, if there is a lot of loud fan noise coming from your computer, it needs to be physically cleaned out.

Clicking noises are tricky and can mean several things. Listen to the frequency of clicking, and the volume. Louder clicking noises could easily translate into a failing case fan, and depending on the fan’s speed this noise could be quick or moderate timed, but shouldn’t be very slow. Very slow to moderate speed clicking that is faint or hard to hear could be something much more serious – as this is a likely indicator that a hard drive is either failing or has failed. The clicking noise in this case is usually methodical and repetitive, where a failing fan’s clicking can swoon or change in tempo.

If you press the power button on your computer only to be greeted with nothing more than a black screen and your computer sends out rhythmic beeps in patterns like 1 – 3 – 2 beeps (within the range of 1-4, 1-4, and 1-4 usually) the computer is having trouble starting (obviously) and is trying to tell you why. This is most common with Dell computers, and can be interpreted by a computer repair technician. If you hear these “beep-codes” either take your computer into a repair company or do a Google search for as specific as you know how on your computer’s model and make (provided it was purchased from a brand name like Dell or HP).

Having a CD or DVD in your computer as it starts up may make the optical drive spin loudly (especially older CD-ROM drives) and can sound bad, but this is not the case, it is just rapidly accessing the disk as some computers are programmed to start-up to a CD or DVD instead of the hard disk. There is nothing wrong with this very loud muffled spinning noise unless it’s happening frequently while you’re attempting to use the CD or DVD-ROM drive. In this case, the drive is more than likely failing and will need replaced.

Now we move on to visual symptoms. If you start your computer and it seems like nothing is happening at all, your monitor is on but just stays totally black and you may or may not be getting the beep-codes as mentioned earlier, this could be a variety of issues. For one, make sure your monitor is secured to your computer. The cable that comes from the monitor is likely a VGA (blue, small tip), a DVI (white, wide tip) or an HDMI (thin and usually colorless tip) cable. Ensure that your monitor is both plugged into an outlet to receive power and that it is pushed firmly (and screwed down if not an HDMI connector) into the slot. Some computers have a video card in addition to their onboard video, so if you’re not getting anything from the slot your monitor is currently plugged into, search for another similar port somewhere else on the back of the computer. If you have a laptop and this is happening, this could mean either the GPU (the graphics processor) is loose or failing, or that the whole motherboard could be entering a state of failure.

Then, your computer might be sluggish as it operates. It boots up fine, maybe a bit slower than usual, but it takes forever for things to open and it can be frustrating when a program that used to take seconds to load takes minutes. This is more than likely less of a hardware issue, and more of your computer being loaded down with unnecessary or unwanted software. It can, however, be a symptom of your hard disk or RAM beginning to fail – especially if your computer suddenly becomes slow. If it became slow over a long time, that’s more of a symptom of excessive software.

If your screen is fuzzy or miscolored (on a desktop computer), there’s really two things this could be and hopefully the problem is the first answer. Firstly, your connection from your monitor to your computer could be skewed slightly, or loose. Ensure that the cable is plugged in and secured tightly. If that doesn’t solve the problem then the problem lies within the graphics card, or your motherboard – depending on where your monitor gets its signal from. With a laptop it’s almost more certainly a graphics processor issue, but it could also be simply that the monitor cable is loose on the inside (and this will require opening through the device and procedurally stripping parts away until you can get to the cable).

 

Faulting Components

This section will be what the symptoms are per faulty part, rather than per symptom.

Faulting RAM will cause slower computer load and processing time, can cause your computer to not start at all past the power button being pressed, can cause Windows (or any other OS) to simply not load or present a Blue Screen (or other error screen) and produce “beep-codes” or a long steady beep.

Faulting Hard Drives will cause slower computer load and processing time, programs to not function or load much slower and can cause Windows (or any other OS) to simply not load or present a Blue Screen (or other error screen). Faulting Hard Drives will sometimes have some sort of clicking sound, usually low and faint.

Faulting Power Supplies will cause the computer to not start up at all, can cause random shutdowns or restarts (possibly without any error logs being generated) and can have a loud fan sound coming from the back of the computer – where the power cable goes in.

Faulting GPUs (Graphic Cards and Onboard Chips) will cause the computer to not start up at all, can cause your computer to not start at all past the power button being pressed, can produce “beep-codes”, programs to not function or load much slower, Windows (or any other OS) to present a Blue Screen (or other error screen) in any intervals and can provide “visual artifacts” which are weirdly-colored sections, pixel blocks, or stripes on your monitor.

Faulting Processors will cause the computer to not start up at all, can produce “beep-codes” or a long steady beep. Typically, if a processor is to blame, the computer won’t do much more than fail to start up, as next to the motherboard it is one of the most important components.

Faulting Motherboards will cause the computer to not start up at all, can cause your computer to not start at all past the power button being pressed, can produce “beep-codes” or a long steady beep, random shutdowns or restarts (possibly without any error logs being generated) or Windows (or any other OS) to present a Blue Screen (or other error screen) in any intervals.

Why You Should Make Your Website Responsive

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

You spent plenty of hours working on your mobile site, getting it just right, only to discover Google is penalizing both your mobile and desktop sites because of coding issues that flags duplicate content. While Google is generally good about recognizing the difference between mobile and desktop sites, it is entirely possible to encounter some bad search engine optimization issues with multiple versions of the same site. One way some designers are getting around this is through the use of responsive design, which uses a single design that adapts to the display of the device accessing it.

Websites that work on any screen

Websites that work on any screen

The Benefits

Responsive web design isn’t just a trendy buzzword. It’s incredibly useful technology that can reduce your web design budget. For example, Malleck Design mentions the up-front money-saving aspects, since designing a single set of code takes a smaller chunk out of your budget than designing two or three. Your overall conversions will also increase, due to the unified browsing look as you go from device to device. It looks more professional than a mobile site that is completely different than what the customer is normally used to browsing around on their home or work PC.

Saving Yourself SEO Headaches

In a perfect world, the Google bot will see a mobile site and understand this content is associated with the site, but it is only duplicating the content out of necessity, as opposed to an attempt to game the system. However, sometimes Google Bot doesn’t recognize a site is supposed to be mobile-only and may incorrectly assume that there is a duplicate content issue. Responsive design cannot have this problem since it only uses the user agent to change its display through each design element, instead of presenting a completely different web page entirely.

The Rise of Multiple Devices

Many people own a tablet, smartphone and PC, and use all three devices for their web browsing behavior. Users used to search for WiFi hotspots to go online, now they like to see the 4G coverage map on their mobile phones. Responsive design adapts to the way people are using the Internet by adjusting to the platform. When your customers know they can access your site anytime, anywhere, and on any device they want, and the experience is mostly identical across all of the platforms, they’re going to have a much better time. The mobile market, particularly in the tablet sector, is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. This year, tablet shipments are expected to grow almost 70 percent compared to last year, Gartner reports, so getting your responsive design in place now is a good way of future-proofing your website.

Spyware, Malware and PUPs

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

What do these words mean and how are they relevant? I mean come on; a PUP sounds adorable! Well, puppies are pretty adorable, but PUPs are less so. One will damage your carpet and furnishings, the other will slow down and compromise your computer. “PUP” is an acronym for “Potentially Unwanted Program” and they are littered over the Internet along with their nasty compatriots, Spyware and Malware.

Recently, I came across these articles on Ars Technica (great technology news website) and it reminded me of the kinds of things we deal with constantly at the shop. After seeing Myhrvold’s documentation with being an average internet user (who then monitors what each thing does to his computer) I sort of wanted to touch base on the kinds of things he mentions.

Firstly, what are Spyware, Malware and Potentially-Unwanted Programs? All three of these are descriptors for programs that may have been installed to your computer without your permission (or a lack of attention). Malware is Malicious Software, Spyware is Spying Software and PUPs are Potentially Unwanted Programs. Most authors of these programs try to bundle them together with legitimate sounding downloads and webpages that prey on the unaware.

Some names to look for: “DomaIQ”, “InstallerIQ”, anything Toolbar (that you didn’t choose to install. Personally, we don’t like any toolbars as they all hog resources, but you may want a certain one.), “DefaultTab”, “PC Optimizer Pro”, “myWebSearch”, “Conduit”, “EXETender”, “My PC Backup”, “24×7 Help”, “Yontoo”, “WebCake”, “Wajam”, “BrowserDefender”, “iLivid” – just to name a few. These are all Spyware/Malware that offer one service (sometimes) and otherwise do more bad than good.

When visiting your favorite websites you may see flashy advertisements on the sidebar, or throughout the article you’re reading, or pretty much anywhere on the website. Sometimes they say things like “Free iPod(/iPad/iPhone/MacBook etc)!” or “Congratulations, you’ve won! You’re the 1,000,000th viewer!” Chances are, these are fake and look real and appealing so that you click on them. When you click on them they will probably divert you to a different webpage and ask you for personal information (most often your email address for starters).

A lot of these vicious programs come from illegitimate websites as well. As highlighted in Myhrvold’s article above, his goal was to set out on a search engine and search for things along the lines of “free (wallpapers, e-cards, music, games)”. There are a heck of a lot of fake “landing pages” where if you search for “free something” you’ll end up on them. It can be confusing because there will be a lot of differently sized “Download” and “Start Download” and “Begin” buttons all over the place – with absolutely zero of them offering you what you wanted in the first place.

Some of these programs that are installed via this process are very hard to get rid of completely, and the more there are, the more your computer slows down day-to-day as it spends more of its power processing all of the useless garbage running in the background. Additionally some of these worse programs, usually called Trojans, will act as gateways for even more junk to be downloaded. They can even be used to pump harder programs in, like full-blown viruses.

There’s an old adage that’s along the lines of; “If something is too good to be true, it likely is.” And this is no less the truth even on the Internet. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, looking up free things and clicking the free offers that advertisements have will do you and your computer more harm than good.

Windows 8

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Windows 8 – How and what is it? Windows 8 is the newest operating system from Microsoft, the successor to Windows 7. It provides a few new things and while keeping some features the same – it generally could be said that Windows 8 is a completely new system.

Win8Logo

Firstly, why is it new? Windows 8 offers a fresh experience built from the success that was Windows 7 – Seven was wildly popular and some even viewed it as the spiritual successor to Windows XP rather than Vista. The desktop environment is still present – like other Windows systems and strongly represents the Windows 7 desktop. However, this is hidden by the new “Metro Experience” introduced in Windows 8.

Win8Metro

The Metro Experience

“Metro” is what stands out tall and first in the long line of new features and what you’ll be presented with right away when you start up a machine with Windows 8. It’s a streamlined environment where “Apps” will be presented to you in squares and rectangles all put together nice and squarely. This is a great addition – for mobile computers using Windows 8. Communities around the Internet have been frustrated with how much Windows 8 is designed for mobiles and forcefully using this setup on all installations, including desktops where it is much less useful. Metro goes great on a tablet, or phone or even touch-screen laptop, though as it’s much like a home screen on an Android or Apple device.

Aside from Metro, Windows 8 also offers some new features and re-tooled others. Something that long-time users of Windows may notice immediately is that once you discover how to get to the desktop (Windows Key + D or find the “Desktop” Metro tile) you will see a lack of any discernible and trademark “Start Button” or “Start Menu”. For some reason, Microsoft decided this was not a good inclusion – leaving many long-time users wondering how to navigate their desktop.

A lot of customers and people who ended up with Windows 8 on their new computers seem to be lost without something that has been so paramount in previous systems from Microsoft. There are several solutions to this problem, and the one that has been found by us to be the most helpful is “Start Menu 8” by “IOBit”. It’s fairly customizable and can be very much like the old Windows 7 menu. There are other alternatives for those searching for this solutions though, so do a little googling for what will suit you the best.

Start Menu 8

IOBit’s Start Menu 8 is a welcome sight.

Options Screen

Fairly customizable.

Windows 8 has included some old features in new ways, for example file searching was arguably one of the most powerful features behind Vista and more-so in Windows 7. Since the Start Menu is gone, where did this feature go? From your W8 desktop, hit Windows Key + F, and this will bring up a new menu on the right side of your screen, where you can search for an App, a Setting or a File all in one.

Win 8 Search

Windows Key + F

If you have Windows 7 already, should you upgrade to Windows 8? It’s a hard decision to say yes or no, and you’ll have to think about if you want to re-learn things you already know to more familiarize yourself for the modern, hybrid PC and Mobile system. Is it more powerful? We’ve only seen a couple computers in shop with it so far, and it seems to operate cleanly minus all of the struggles of misplaced features. You may like it, but you also may not – the best suggestion would most certainly be: “Try Before You Buy”.

What Your Business Should Know About Choosing a VPN

Monday, August 5th, 2013

proxyMore than 600 data breaches occurred in the U.S. last year, as well as nearly 50,000 reported security incidents, according to an annual Verizon report. A large portion of those breaches were accomplished on mobile devices, and with public Wi-Fi everywhere you turn, a VPN could make or break your data security.

Virtual Private Network overview

Photo by Ludovic.ferre via Wikimedia Commons

How Hackers Get In

While free public Wi-Fi services are popular, there are risks associated with the convenience. Mobile employees open the door for unscrupulous data thieves when they fail to use common sense before signing onto email and financial websites on the road with company equipment.

Employees who assume the strongest Internet connection from McDonald’s network in the parking lot make it easier for scammers who could be lurking nearby with a similar network name. Bolt Insurance executives found many employees fail to log into encrypted, secure https websites because they simply forgot to confirm the address before signing in. Bolt suggests using Virtual Private Network software for all employees who work on the road.

Securing Data with Virtual Private Networks

A VPN is simply a network of computers joined together across multiple locations to add security and privacy via authentication hardware and software. Access to the network is allowed with unique passwords or PIN identifiers. Internet Service Providers, http://www.internetserviceproviders.com, touts the ease and flexibility of VPNs for business owners. Security and privacy are the most practical benefits for business owners.

Free Services

Both privacy and security protocol should be carefully examined before signing up for a free service. Some no-charge VPN providers log all activity, and most users are subjected to contextual ads based on past activity online.

Businesses that want to take a trial run with a free service should remember all data is available to the host provider. Choose websites to visit with caution during the trial period. Some experts suggest only using free services offered by well-established providers to avoid a fly-by-night scam artist.

Paid Services

Paid services vary widely among providers. Prices vary based on features, storage space and the number of exit points. Depending on the nature of the business, monthly rates are as low as $5 per month and can go up to several hundred dollars per year. Even with paid services, it is important to look for secure connections, i.e. SSL or IPsec, when selecting a provider.

Exit Locations

Free services usually have fewer exit points. An exit proxy, or location, is a connection setting that allows you to “appear” in another network or country, thus adding a layer of anonymity and security. As a general rule, the higher the number of exit options available from your VPN, the more discreet your activities are online.

Beyond the number of available locations, it is important to find a VPN provider that offers exit proxies that fit business needs. If a service provider offers 18 exit points, but doesn’t offer an exit in Panama, and the business wants to connect with other computers in Panama to capture live television broadcasts or connect with remote employees securely, the service won’t provide the most beneficial features — regardless of the price. Choosing a provider that offers a variety of exit points that fit company networking goals is essential to finding a best fit.

What recommendations do you have regarding VPN? Share them in the comments.

Business and Government Get Hit by Identity Theft, Too

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

While consumers are fighting their own personal wars with identity theft, companies are also inventing new ways to deal with the increasing threat. Banks lose millions of dollars every year by having to compensate identity theft victims, and so they’re developing new ways for consumers to protect themselves.

Who's you online?

Who’s you online?

Money Matters

Companies that have a single reported security breach may find themselves with billions of dollars in damages, as well as a troubled reputation that will linger for years to come. USA Today reports that businesses lose between $150-$250 for each card number stolen from their files. This amount represents the required legal fees, consultants and administrative costs. This may not seem like a lot, but tens of thousands of credit card numbers can be stolen in a single breach.

Government Dealings

Companies aren’t the only ones dealing with the challenge of identity theft. The government has also been affected. The state of South Carolina had its security system breached in 2012, resulting in 3.6 million Social Security numbers being exposed, thestate.com reports. And in a 2006 security breach at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, the personal data of 26.5 million veterans was downloaded to a laptop that was later stolen (and later, recovered).

Once information is accessed by a hacker, it can be uploaded online. At this point, nothing can stop the information from being traded on the Internet, and those who have been affected may have no choice but to petition for a change of their Social Security number. This is not an easy process and can sometimes take months. Government agencies are especially vulnerable to security attack, because so many of them run legacy computer systems.

Retail Threats

Retail establishments are at increased risk for identity theft, because they rely on third-party vendors and merchant payment processes for many of their services. Consumers are more likely to experience identity theft during the holidays, in part due to new and seasonal workers employed at retail locations. This means retail stores need to be cautious about running background checks on their new workers.

Consumer Precautions

While banks, governments and corporations are working hard to lessen the impact of identity theft, the bulk of the responsibility still falls upon the consumer.

  • Avoid using paper statements, and thoroughly review your statements every time you get one
  • Consider signing up with an identity theft protection service such as LifeLock. These companies will monitor your account activity and alert you if they see anything suspicious
  • Never release your credit card information online until you have verified the recipient
  • Teach your children about Internet safety
  • Don’t leave your mail in your mailbox overnight, and always shred documents before discarding them

Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? How did it affect you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Online Shopping – General Safety

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Online shopping is a boon of the modern world – allowing one to purchase a wide variety of items through the Internet, and have their purchases shipped directly to a PO box or their home or business address. This of course will raise security concerns in a world of technology where anything is possible, such as ‘Is my Credit Card number safe?’ or ‘Is the seller reliable, will I get my items?’ and so on. In the broad spectrum of resources to purchase online, there are a few things you may want to keep your eye on to know you’re safe.

Most of the secure websites prevalent on the internet use a protocol known as “HTTPS” (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) to securely transmit data between yourself and the website you are on. What this does is add an extra layer called “SSL” (Secure Socket Layer) or the more modern “TLS” (Transport Layer Security) which basically encrypts all of your information including things such as your credit card number or your address. These layers also verify that the server receiving the information is the only one as intended, and no other destination will suffice. When you shop online and are ready to check out, look at the website bar (usually at the top of the window). Some browsers will highlight it in a green background, otherwise just personally ensure that whatever it says, it begins with “https://”.

Some websites also have additional ‘third-party’ certifications where another trusted source has given them the right to display that they were tested (these tests are usually quite demanding) and approved as a secure shopping environment. One of these companies is named TRUSTe, and if you see their logo displayed on the website you are purchasing from, click on it and ensure that it leads you to the website “http://truste.com” and no other. This would go for any other of these stringent third-party logos, so if you’re unsure of where you are purchasing from, take the time to do some research and don’t be afraid to do some Google searches.

Depending on your browser (this would be called Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, or Mozilla Firefox to name a few) and what version of the browser you are running, you may also see a padlock in the address bar with a green verification of that particular company. One such company for example would be eBay Inc. When you go to “http://www.ebay.com” and click on the cart icon, or attempt to check out, not only does it transform to the HTTPS protocol, the padlock also shows up in the browser bar (using Google Chrome). When you click on the padlock it explains why it’s secure, and in particular at the time of this article, eBay is secured through a “VeriSign” Certificate. VeriSign is another dependable third-party association responsible for rigorously testing and analyzing the capabilities of an online vendor.

There are other ways of protecting yourself, for example a separate bank account so that if the very unlikely happens and the account is compromised, they only gain access to the account you shop online with, and not your account where the majority of your money may stay. Another way is to use other forms of protection, for example PayPal. Not all vendors, but a decent amount will accept PayPal payments. PayPal stores your information for you on their server and when you make a purchase using PayPal, the person or company you are buying from never receives your financial information and instead gets the money from PayPal themselves.

Ultimately, shopping online as technology expands is a safer and safer alternative to manual shopping. If you live out of town, or in a town without any specialty stores and availability just is not present, try shopping online. Just follow a few security steps and be watchful of where you are shopping – generally if it’s a big retailer (Target or Walmart websites, eBay, Amazon, iTunes, etc.) you will be just fine, and if it’s not, keep your eyes open for anything that just does not seem right.

The Battle for Your Computer’s Safety

Friday, June 28th, 2013

More is always better, right? Well, in most cases it is. However in terms of using anti-virus protection for your computer, one is enough. While certain programs may have better or different catch rates (How often the program detects issues), or less “false positives” (When a file is incorrectly marked as malicious) and so forth, you do not want to mix these programs together!

If you find a better antivirus program than the one you are currently using, whether it is your personal computer or on a set of computers you administrate – you want to remove the existing program first. On the outside, it sounds ideal to combine products to maximize your protection but what this actually does is increase the strain on your computer greatly.

Think of it in this way – an antivirus program would be similar to an army of medieval knights and your computer is comparable to being your castle. Your army will tirelessly and vigilantly protect the entrances to your castle, while also searching the premises for unwanted things that have snuck by occasionally. Introducing a second antivirus program to your computer would be identical to hiring a new and completely different army while simultaneously employing both to do the same job.

These armies will constantly bicker with each other and try to gain each other’s ground. One army has an entirely separate approach to deal with threats than the other while both defend your data differently. An antivirus program sets up its own system and methods of computer protection. They generally do not like interacting with each other, and your computer’s safety becomes an issue once again. There are further side effects of using multiple programs to achieve protection from viruses, but the main trouble would be programs trying to dominate one another.

Other programs cause fewer issues – something along the lines of anti-malware, or anti-spyware programs. These are suitable to use in conjunction, and are lighter supplements to your total defense plan. It is just the heavy defenders like Norton, AVG, Kaspersky, Avast, Avira, and so forth that do not play nice with each other. Ideally, the ultimate goal for protection is to find one you like with reliable results, and let it operate only with complementary programs.

If you are currently unprotected, we highly recommend getting some form of security, and there are some great free programs. For an antivirus, try using AVG (http://free.avg.com) or Avast! (http://www.avast.com) These are safe and free to download. We also recommend a few additional programs like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (http://www.malwarebytes.org) and SUPERAntiSpyware (http://superantispyware.com). These tertiary programs specifically target other sources of malicious files.

Dirt and Dust – Are you destroying your computer?

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Fundamentally, computers are complex machines. They can perform many tasks of modern life, but are susceptible to the same flaws as any other machine would be. Dirt and dust are mortal enemies of machines and have several troubling consequences, home and office computers included. In a list of the ten most common reasons for computer failures published in 2008, number six was dirt and dust while heat rated number eight, even though heat can also be a side effect of a dust buildup.

What exactly is it that dust and dirt do to your system? First, it would help to understand what dust is – dust is a mixture of particles such as plant pollen, cloth fibers, paper fiber, and tiny specks of dirt, skin cells, and hair from both pets and humans. Some dust is capable of conducting electricity as well and can short out your computer. It is entirely a deadly combination of gunk capable of serious damage.

Dust will find a way into any part of your computer/laptop, and every part it settles on can be affected negatively. For example, dust can diminish the lifespan of your components, increase power consumption, clog your fans, and insulate and short circuit the electronics. This would cause excessive heat damage, damaged or destroyed cooling fans or damaged parts. All of these problems could lead to dire results such as costly repairs or replacements of individual parts or the whole system.

There are several warning signs however – slowness of the operating system (throttled speed) or louder fan activity for no apparent reason to name a few. It is highly recommended to get your computer or laptop checked for dirt and clogs, and having this maintenance done will help prevent critical and costly failure.