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FYI Computer Repair Tips ~ Bytes and Bites


Computer Repair Blog
And no, that's not my computer. Not me either, but hey. Sometimes I learn things that some folks might be interested in, sometimes I just run across a particularly interesting case, or make new connections or observations that eventually wind up in the bottom of my ever growing pile of other soon-to-be moot bits of data stored on my biological hard drive. Might call it a mental compost heap. Tech is sorta like a garden, if you think about it. The veggies you live on, the flowers for fun, the weeds that come from nowhere and the bugs you hate. The compost of the ancient stuff. (From, like, last year.)

Owning It

Probably everyone by now has heard of Target's unfortunate lapse in security which led to the compromise of upwards of 70 million accounts.  Today, Target is taking steps toward damage control, not just for themselves but for the customers who face possible targeting down the road.  Pun intended.  Their email states that they are "offering one year of free credit monitoring to all Target guests who shopped in U.S. stores".  This is refreshing.  Not only has the retailer solved the problem from their end, they are offering mitigation for end users. 

Where did the problem arise?  It wasn't a hack from outside that just downloaded the information, it was malware that was actually running on their registers.  Granted, this resulted from a hacker intrusion, but it goes to the point of the malware itself.  Follow the money.  In some form or fashion, this variety of software exists to bilk people.  It is propagated to earn. 

Malware isn't my point, though.  Ownership is.  Responsibility.  Taking charge and making reparations, making it right.  I do that even for mistakes that aren't mine, which breeds sensitivity on the subject.  For example, a client needed full backup of the computers in their business in case of failure.  There was failure, not only of the system but of the verified backup as well!  I had recommended and installed the software to provide the failsafe, but it did not work.  Now what?

I worked all weekend to get the system back up and running, upgrading their operating system in the process without charging them overtime or for the upgrade.  Why?  Because it was the right thing to do.  It wasn't my fault the backup failed, but it was on my recommendation the customer used it.  It certainly wasn't their fault.  In my book, owning it is the only right thing to do, making it right, and that is what I did.  There have been a lot of orphaned, high profile failures in that area lately.  Seeing Target own their issue made my day.

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Cutting Back On Spam

Technology is pervasive today, and those that make their living convincing us to part with our money are expert as leveraging it to their fullest benefit.  Spam email, spam phone calls, spam snail mail, all leading to some form of payday for the instigator.  People often ask why, and the short answer is just this:  money, payment, profit.  Spam email is sent with hook of some sort, spam phone calls come complete with a spiel.  And on the other end? Buy it now, invest, support or otherwise spend.  In some form or fashion the messages pay for themselves or they would stop. Question is, how do we stop them first?

Stopping unwanted messages these days can usually be done although some forms are easier to stop than others.  Spam snail mail is probably the hardest, since the mail carrier is fully complicit in the success of this exploit.  The best way to stop junk mail is to maintain two separate physical addresses, one for important information and the other to be supplied when an address is demanded but is never intended to be used.  Short of this, make sure when signing up for anything online to uncheck all the boxes that ask whether this company and its partners can send information.  No, no, a thousand times NO!!  And when junk is coming through already, make it easy on yourself and sort the mail by the roundfile.  Keep the important deliveries and deposit the rest as soon as they arrive.

The word spam was coined to describe email, and the word now connotes unwanted junk messages that take time to sort and destroy.  The first thing is to maintain several email addresses, one for public use and anther that private messages are addressed to.  Many providers offer the option of creating an additional address, and the easiest way to invoke this form of protection is to create a new private address and send it only to contacts.  Keep the existing address for the catchall.

Gmail offers another way to filter, in their addressing capacity.  Using address@gmail.com for an example, adding +info or +spam or anything else into the address in this format:  address+spam@gmail.com  will result in a "new" address, delivered to the same account, than can later be filtered as desired.  Another excellent way to handle address disclosure is with an amazing addon for Firefox and Chrome called MaskMe.  This service will create throwaway addresses that can still be delivered.  If the address is being bombed, it easily disconnects and stops delivery.

Most large email providers now have excellent spam filtering.  If using a less proactive email service, use the filtering and sorting capabilities of Thunderbird or Outlook. Though these take a bit more effort to set up, once in force they will ease the heavy lifting and take back the inbox.  Filters are also of great benefit for real email messages, marking them and sending them to helpful folders so the user doesn't have to do it by hand.   Gmail labels offer the same functionality plus additional options to use as desired.

Phone spam is even more annoying, but is equally controllable.  The trick to this, like the others, is forward thinking.  Both iPhone and Android have apps available for managing incoming calls, and some smartphones have this functionality built in.  Calls can be handled according to their status in the contact list, to time of call, and more.  If the calls are coming to the land line, forward them to the cell and take advantage of additional control.  For new phone number requests, set up a Google Voice account and give out that number rather than the real one, set calls to hang up or go straight to voicemail and take back dinner time.

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Windows 8 May Become Useful

Remember the oldie "Heard It Through The Grapevine"?  When it comes to industry secrets and Windows, the Grapevine can often be the Gospel.  And today, that's cause for celebration!  Seems Microsoft has made some announcements.

First, back in October, they said Windows 7 would no longer be sold after October 2014.  A bit over a month later, they renounced that statement, labeling it a mistake.  Huh?  How does a press officer individually come up with kill dates?  And how does it take over 5 weeks to find it? Strike one.

Strike two, the Grapevine.  "Sources" say there are plans to branch the current Windows 8 behemoth into separate avenues:  one along current lines, one more like Windows 7, and another that will also support 32-bit applications without the need for a virtual XP machine. (Think Monty Python, light from above, choir. Ahhhh!)  Where was this kind of decision making back when Windows 8 was being developed?  Dumbing down, least common denominator, that's what happened instead.  Just who thought this approach would be a good idea for the public at large? This rumor mill versioning sounds far more appealing, and more importantly, workable.  Versioning should have been at the top of the list in Microsoft's pursuit of Apple.

Apple hit the bullseye with their approach to the stationary vs mobile situation.  There was no mass attack on the computing world, Apple just made sure their apps would co-exist and the OS versions were branched from the start.  OSX for stationary devices, iOS for the phones and pads.  Forward thinking, just what we have come to expect from them.  In the process, Apple reinvented the technology landscape.  Done deal.

Then there's Microsoft, thinking they will come from behind in the mobile arena to upset the Apple cart and Dancing Days Are Here Again.  Not so much.  Microsoft succeeded in creating record breaking upgrade sales, but they also created a record decline in PC sales.  The dog-and- pony-show folk will point to the fact that people bought Microsoft tablets instead.  Hel-lo!!!  If the average Joe looks at the marketing and thinks his PC will work just like a tablet and look just like a tablet, why not pocket the extra cash and just buy a tablet?  Cannibalizing PC sales for the sake of a unity that no one wants is questionable at best.   The tech world goes on, with or without Windows 8.  Microsoft has maybe figured that out.

If there's any validity to the rumor mill, Microsoft is in the process of reinventing this mistake and labeling it a marketing ploy.  Coke comes to mind, underestimating the public and trying to put a good face on the shambles.  Only takes one letter to turn a face to a farce, though.

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All Access Pass

In the course of business a couple of weeks ago, a client asked about his phone.  He wondered if it could have become infected somehow, as it was frequently restarting on its own. He had called his carrier who said, oh, there's something wrong so let's reset your phone. What??!!  I imagine the screech of a record needle being pulled right there, for those of you who even know what that sounds like, I suppose.  I digress.  Reset the phone, that's what they told him, and being the unsuspecting person that he was he did it.  Reset the whole thing.  The whole thing. All of it.

If you are in full realization of what that he did, you understand my disbelief, my appalled, dismayed, utter disbelief. Someone on the other end of the phone halfway across the world that doesn't have to deal with the aftermath of this recommended reset, says, "Press Settings, Backup and Reset, Factory Data Reset. That should solve your problem."  Of course, that same rep forgot to add, "Oh, by the way, the phone will disconnect and you'll never be able to track me down."

No, really, it's not QUITE that bad, but come on, everything on the phone is gone.    Everything was gone. All of it.  Nothing left.  And how happy do you think this innocent customer was when the phone rebooted and he realized this?  Suffice it to say he would have dearly loved to chat in person with the rep.  Fast forward a few days to when I see him, he's telling me this story and as I start to see where it's going I can't help but groan.  I am getting that sinking feeling like it's my data that's gone, like I feel when anyone loses data.  Data hoarder that I am, I hate to see it happen.  I know a few more of you, so I'm not alone in sharing this agony.  This utter, useless, agony.

Why useless? Because as I start to ask questions about why he called them in the first place, I found out about the shut downs and restarts and the sudden way it had become flaky and realized the problem wasn't the system.  The problem was the most recently installed app!! The rep didn't bother to ask about apps and the caller didn't think it could be the problem.  And now the phone was back to square one.

I recently intentionally reset a rooted device, and even using a full app/data backup for the restore I had issues.  Apps that thought they had Google's permission to use Google services could no longer connect, couldn't sync, were no longer useful.  The device had been properly set up in the first place and it had worked before the reset, but not any longer.  I finally narrowed down that it couldn't reconnect to the account that had been being used but could connect to others.  Soooo, it's a permission issue somewhere along the line.  Had to find Google's Revocation page and revoke all that access and force my apps to request new permission to connect.

Luckily this client's reset wasn't quite as hairy as all that, but it's always a possibility.  Keep in mind that non-Google apps using Google services to sync, transfer and otherwise keep us up to speed can balk at a reconnect. Google's end still identifies the device's info and finds no reason to reissue the connection token leaving the apps stuck in limbo.   This might help :  Google's Revocation Page.

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Multitasking

It's the time of year when all those nifty little electronics that have been beckoning are on sale, and more and more folks begin to think they need one.  I know, I love 'em too, but by the same token I like to try to keep it simple.  The right tool for the job, the proper app for the purpose, all multitasking as much as possible.  Reminds me of a time years ago when a couple kids were going door to door selling "the greatest cleaner that was ever made".  They tried hard to sell it, went down a laundry list of what their nifty cleaner would do, but I already had a product for each and every purpose they could think of. They asked what would impress me. Honestly, something that will take care of an as yet unmet need. I didn't have any, no sale.

I look at technology in the same way.  I don't need the wand scanner I keep seeing advertised. If I need something scanned, I have a scanner or a phone that will turn a photo into a PDF, and mobile apps and open source computer applications that will transform it into an editable document.  For Mobile: Smart OCR:Text Miner  For PC: Tesseract OCR

Another mobile device that proves very useful is the camera.  People snap and post pictures with phones all the time, quick and easy. Digital cameras are also a good thing, like on a trip, but the hassle of dealing with the camera photos means that when we get home, I rarely take the photos off the camera.  They sit there till next time we need the camera unless there's still lots of room on the card.  Enter a totally awesome idea, wifi cameras  that allow instant offloading (my next one will be wifi) and wifi SD cards to give older cameras the same functionality.  Solves the problem in a couple ways, and I can keep the cameras I like while they get easier to use.   Toshiba FlashAir 8GB Wireless Memory Card

The problem with the other camera is that though it shoots super fast so I get what I was shooting, it uses a proprietary memory card.   That means I can't use the nifty wi-fi card with it, but I can now use an adapter that will allow a micro-SD card to work, and I have those around in abundance since they work in everything else.  Done.  Micro Sd to Memory Stick Adapter

But, what if the price you see is still too steep?  Price shopping is mandantory this time of year, and there's a web service to help.  It has a memorable name, so go there and use price history, set alerts, and browse the deepest discounts.  One less thing to keep track of since this service will do it automatically.  CamelCamelCamel

Enter Amazon.  Another multitasker for me.  One of the places to price watch, plus the smart apps on the TVs will stream their free Prime movies.  Daily free Kindle books and free apps, and Prime members get free two-day shipping for a year.  Members can also use their Prime shipping to send their purchase to anyone they like for no additional charge.  Amazon's free shipping on other purchases just went up to $35, maybe as a way to boost Prime memberships before the drone fleet takes wing.  Try one free.

Now what to do with these alerts?  Ahh, glad you asked.  IFTT will handle almost any alert you have.  If This Then That is your app collection stepping up and interacting.  What IFTT does is allow users to set automated actions when triggered.  It connects to Evernote, SMS, Dropbox, Box, Drive, Feedly, WordPress, and many others.  When an event occurs in one app, another responds. Say you subscribe to news feeds in Feedly and one item is worthy of saving.  Save it in Feedly, a clip shows up in Evernote.  Your package was delivered and the Boxoh event triggers an SMS. Save yourself time by using truly simple web based automation.  IFTT

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