Category Archives: On Site Services

Stop relying on your computer

I have talks all the time with people about the issue of data security. For some it is a matter of having their files safe from prying eyes. For others its a matter of protecting from loss. I have addressed part of this before, but I’ll be diving in deep on the subject of cloud storage.

What is the cloud? “The cloud” , as it’s known, is a place outside of your home or office where data can live. Normally this place that is out there somewhere actually exists in multiple places. Google and Amazon are the current leaders in cloud storage and have data centers dotted around the world that safely and redundantly store data. This insures that if one or many locations would go offline, your data remains available.

The average computer user stores all of their data on their computer and has no backups. The next most sophisticated method of data security is to have an external storage device: disk, flash memory, removable hard drive, or even another PC on the same network. In 2009, online storage boomed with lower cost high speed internet connections. These advents have allowed for backing up to the cloud. Services like Mozy, Carbonite, Amazon S3 and others allow for offsite backups. I get asked a lot about why this would be better than just using some kind of media and taking it home (still a very good practice in addition to using the cloud). The reality is that DVDs don’t get burned, files don’t get copied, or media sits in someone’s trunk and is ruined by exposure to extreme temperatures. Cloud based backups are usually automated. They happen at a set interval and you get a report e-mailed to you.

Is it secure? Nothing is 100% secure, but sending encrypted data to a server is pretty close. In this day of corporate espionage and crooked employees the action of sending this data of a secured line is probably safer than letting an employee even do their daily work.

What are the drawbacks? You need a relatively fast internet connection with a fast upload speed.  You also need to make sure that someone is checking the confirmation messages to insure that files are being uploaded. The biggest drawback though is that it can sometimes take a very long time to download all of your data. Typical users can do a full restore in a matter of hours, but larger datasets can take longer.

The best solution: go completely mobile. It is a big step for many, but stop using MS Office (on your computer). Google and Microsoft have both rolled out online services that eliminate the majority of your needs of an online productivity pack. Other vendors have come up with online solutions as well. Intuit even has an online version of Quickbooks! Imagine being able to log into an account from any computer in the world and have access to your data. No more worries about that stolen laptop, downloading viruses in outlook, malicious macros in excel, or just the neighbor kid accidentally deleting your files. Most services have a free version that works for most and a premium version for those with greater needs.

If you think you could benefit from this simplification in your life, call me!

Your Family Photos (the digital ones)

With digital cameras, people are taking more photos than ever. A single memory card can hold thousands of photos and a common home PC can hold millions of photos. This was never an issue with film as a person was limited in the amount of film they could carry, number of pictures they could take, and by the cost of developing the pictures. Photos that people liked were put in frames or albums and the negatives were crammed into a shoebox somewhere. Fire, flood and time were the only things that would ruin the photos.

With photos being digital people are much more careless with them. Rather than taking one picture of their cat eating ice cream, they take 5 and a video. Albums of kids and grandkids now have thousands of photos for each year of a child’s life. Some people inadvertently backup their photos by posting them online, having them printed, or e-mailing them to friends. Usually the quality is degraded a bit, but the photos remain printable.

The worst thing that can happen is for your storage device holding the photos to break or get lost. The storage cards used in cameras are very reliable, and usually only break with extreme abuse. The hard drive in your computer though is a lot more dangerous. Failure rates are lower than ever, but it still happens. A complete drive failure would mean that the photos on the computer are gone forever. Likewise, a computer virus or malware can damage images or make them susceptible  to being deleted.

I recently came across a customer of mine who experienced a hard drive failure. It was dead and no data was able to be recovered. I somehow managed to find a previous backup of some older files, but their most recent photos taken with their new camera of their grandson and new puppy were gone! Imagine losing hundreds of family photos! Upon delivering a new computer to them, I asked to see their digital camera. I noticed a small pouch that they kept with the camera and found a stack of memory cards. As it turns out, this couple had not lost their photos! They still had the originals since they had not been deleting images from the cards as they were being copied to their PC. In another case, my sister had lost a digital camera with a 2GB card in it. Fortunately, she had copied photos to her computer only a few days before losing it. Lesson learned: don’t erase photos from your memory card unless you really don’t want them and make sure that you copy them to your computer at the very least.

For the really paranoid and others that  realize the need for a good backup strategy, there are a number of free or cheap online backup programs. I personally like Mozy but others like Carbonite and Amazon S3. Google also offers Picasa online for free for a certain amount of storage, with the ability to add on for a very reasonable fee. Google’s service is for photos only, while the others will do documents, video, and much much more.

So this weekend spend a little time looking at the safety of your pictures. The odds are in favor of you needing to use a backup copy at some point in the next year.

Google gives tips to users with hijacked search results

Recently there has been some malware that changes the way that search results show up. If you’ve seen it, you know what I am talking about.

In their guide, google explains how to use a boot cd to scan your PC for infected files. Its a little on the advanced side, but worth a try if you feel like trying to fix it on your own. You will need a working computer to do this though!

Check out what they have to say here

Fix XBox 360 Red Ring

The Red Ring (3 light) normally indicates a cooling issue. My console was one of the release units manufactured October 2005 and was one of what I believe to be last survivors of those until I got the red ring.

If your console is still under warranty, you can send it back to MS and they will repair/replace it. The problem though is that they don’t fix the issue causing the overheating: the X-Clamps. Microsoft used a sort of spring in the shape of an X to put tension on the heatsinks for the CPU and GPU. Its a great concept except that the material they used in the X Clamp seems to weaken over time, especially under the heat of the console. When this happens, the pressure on the processor heat cores becomes uneven, the thermal paste may be forced to one spot (and make a mess), and the heat transfer it was designed for doesn’t happen.

Origninally, I was going to do a custom case for my 360 where it would have a better fan and better airflow but after lots of reading Idecided to just try to fix it with screws and get rid of the dreaded X-Clamp. I had to borrow a special tool from a friend to open the case, and then used some torx bits to get to the bottom of the motherboard. Its a pain to get to, but with the tool and a quick search on youtube its not that bad.

The fix took about 45 min to do. I used arctic silver heat sink compound and a screw kit that I bought on ebay for $6. I tried my local hardware store, but the nylon washers they had were too thick and I didn’t get the right spacing. I would guess it is about 2mm, but that may be too much. The kit worked for me though. If you’re nervous about doing it yourself, I’ll do it for you for $40, but can’t gaurantee that it was the heat causing your RROD in the first place.

UPDATE: fixed system ran fine watchign DVDs and netflix for a few weeks. Playing Forza 2 brought back the RROD though. I then tried several other methods, but in the end will be replacing it with a new console (jasper chipset).

McAffee Security and Upgrading your Subscription

My last post was similar to this, but I promise this will be less of a rant. I recently was commissioned to upgrade a client’s installation of McAffee. This is the kind of phone call all tech’s hope to get day in and day out because really, what can be so hard about this?

Well on to the hard part. You see, if you go from one version of software to the next things go smoothly. The problem arises when you change product families within the line. This would be like going from antivirus to internet securiy. This issue exists will all security vendors, and it is ultimately for the greater good. When the automated upgrading tool fails miserably, it is usually for only a few reasons:
1. you have a virus keeping it from working
2. your  installer is corrupt
3. the old product still exists on the computer in some way, even after the uninstall process
1 and 2 are for another day, but 3 is what I had to address today and actually a few other times this month. With my recommended ESET Nod32, you just uninstall the old version, or perform a repair. With Norton, Trend Micro, McAffee and a slew of others though: they install themselves with the idea that it needs to be hard for a user to screw up. So the idea was to make it nearly impossible to fully remove the software. It also helps most of the time with product loyalty. In any case, the removal process is most easily completed by finding the vendor’s removal tool. McAffee’s Removal tool; Norton’s Removal Tool

Once you have fully removed the old version, the new one will install effortlessly.

Annoying Security Software

Lately I have had the displeasure of working on some clustomer PCs that had been pre-infected from where they were purchased with all sorts of software that was slowing down the machines. I’m not talking about viruses or spyware, but rather the “protection” that PC manufacturers are delivering on computers these days or that is sold with new computers in stores.

By far the worst program that came even on my new netbook has to be McAffee Security Center, followed closely by Norton Antivirus. I used to actually be a fan of NAV, or Norton Antivirus, a few years ago and always bought the latest versions when they came out. McAffee’s product seems to take an eternity to start its services and check for updates. I still have no idea why either one of them needs to take the amount of disk space or system resources that they do. Both of these can easily be removed with special removal software from each manufacturer in only a few minutes.

Next on my list of things that shouldn’t be put on a new PC: SpySweeper, from Webroot. This software has been sold as a must have by all of the big box stores for a number of years. It seems to get more and more bloated by the day. Kill it!

A less common package that has given users fits has been Trend Micro’s Internet Security. It seems to freeze up a lot for me as it is booting. Maybe I am impatient, but there is no reason for a brand new computer to take so long to load antivirus.

All in all I feel almost as if these software packages are written with new PC sales in mind. When a computer becomes to slow to use, people figure that it is outdated and need a new one. To make it better, a new PC is only $299 at _____  this weekend! So you go to the store, pick out that door buster, and end up spending another $200 on cables and security software and maybe even a gaming mouse or printer ink.

On to my recommendation: I’m sure this won’t be my choice forever, but for now go over to www.eset.com and buy their security package. It is priced similarly to the others, but doesn’t slow you down nearly as much and starts and updates without you even noticing.

Remote Repair Service

We all have busy lives that sometimes don’t even allow us to have the time to have our computers fixed. The newest service offering from AS technical solutions is remote PC repair and remote training. As long as your computer is able to turn on and connect to the internet, our software allows us to perform repairs and preform demonstrations with minimal effort on the user end.

For more information on this service, please call 330-284-7220

Lost Windows Password

Lost or forgot your password? Windows passwords can be reset with the use of special tools with no data loss.

Don’t be embarassed: it happens to everyone. You try to keep your data safe and secure by frequently changing your password, but that one time you completely forgot what you may have changed it to. It is also possible that a child, neighbor, or the kid from down the street that said he could fix your computer changed your password and has you locked out.

For more information on lost password recovery: please call 330-284-7220 or e-mail alex@alexsoduk.com

Print Sharing

Have multiple computers but no connectivity between them? Wish you could print to your desktop from your laptop in another room? This is a very common problem for many homes that can easily be solved. It can be done with your existing hardware in most cases and only takes about 30 minutes to setup for every computer in your home to use. Adding the ability to share files and even some programs can be done at this time as well.

More advanced options are available including the addition of network attached storage, home theater connectivity, and even connectivity with your favorite gaming system. Even share multiple printers with or without a PC connection!