Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Green Computing

Green computing is the study and practice of using computing resources efficiently. The primary objective of such a program is to account for the triple bottom line, an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organizational (and societal) success. The goals are similar to green chemistry; reduce the use of hazardous materials, maximize energy efficiency during the product's lifetime, and promote recyclability or biodegradability of defunct products and factory waste. -- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Coulter's Computer Consulting has always practiced and encouraged green computing. So, what can one do to reduce energy consumption and reduce the amount of computer hardware that ends up in a landfill? Here are some tips:

1. Most importantly, power off the computer and all peripherals during extended periods of inactivity. The common misconception that a computer’s life is shortened by turning it on and off has caused some people and businesses to leave computers running all the time. Many are reluctant to switch their computers on and off during their workday despite only using this equipment for a fraction of that time. The fact is that shutting down and restarting your computer will keep it running smoothly and optimize performance because the physical memory is fully released each time you shut down completely and turn on again. Try to do computer-related tasks during contiguous, intensive blocks of time, leaving hardware off at other times. Desktop computers are designed to protect the internal circuitry from power damage from on/off switching. Turning PC equipment off at night, or on and off a few times a day will not affect its life span. In fact, quite the opposite, because electronic equipment life span is based on operating hours and heat...both of these are reduced when equipment is switched off. 

2. Power-up and power-down energy intensive peripherals such as laser printers according to need. Some printers can remain off until you send a print job. This is a feature built into the software as well as the hardware.

3. Use liquid-crystal-display (LCD) rather than cathode-ray-tube (CRT) monitors.

4. Use the power-management features to turn off hard drives and displays after several minutes of inactivity.  We recommend 10 minutes for the monitor and 30 minutes for the hard drive.

5. Minimize the use of paper and properly recycle waste paper. Only print when necessary, and print on both sides of the paper. When printing from the web, preview your print job first because often the first or last page can be excluded from the job. Reuse the blank side of waste paper whenever possible.

6. Turn off screen savers. They may look cool, but they waste energy by keeping your hard disk and CPU active, plus they are no longer needed to protect modern monitors. A screen saver that displays moving images causes your monitor to consume as much as electricity as it does when in active use. These screen saver programs also involve system interaction with your CPU that results in additional energy consumption. 

7. Shop for "Energy Star" compliant computer equipment. Thanks to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA), personal computer systems and parts purchased today can be easy on energy, so look for that "Energy Star" logo. Efficiency gains can be achieved without any sacrifice in performance.

There are theories that it is better to use a laptop than a desktop because it uses less power. While this is basically true, notebook computers have much shorter lifespans than desktop computers so that they end up in a landfill much sooner. Also, with apparently equal specifications, a laptop will take longer to complete the same tasks as a desktop, and may not be able to complete some of the same tasks as an equivalent desktop or tower machine. We at Coulter's Computer Consulting recommend that notebook and netbook computers be used only as a supplement to a desktop or tower system for the purpose of demonstrations, presentations and travel.

You can take a giant step toward environmentally responsible or “green” computing by conserving energy with your computer. But green computing involves other important steps as well. These steps pertain to toner cartridges, disposal of old computer equipment and purchasing vs. upgrading decisions when considering new computer equipment.

Environmentally responsible computer use implies not buying new equipment unless there is a demonstrated need. Thus, before buying new equipment, consider the following questions:

Do you really need a new computer or printer? Can you meet your needs (with less expense and environmental damage) by upgrading existing equipment? The chances are you can! 

Coulter's Computer Consulting can perform inexpensive hardware upgrades and hardware and software tune-ups that will immediately improve the performance of your existing equipment. If you do need new equipment, Coulter's can guide you to buy efficient and green components.

We suggest the following: 

  1. Buy monitors only as large as you really need. A 17-inch LCD monitor uses less energy than a 19-inch one in active mode. 
  2. Select the newer LED flat panel monitors over the older LCD flat panels and you could save up to 35% on energy usage.
  3. Buy ink jet printers instead of laser printers when possible. These use 80 to 90 percent less energy than laser printers and print quality can be excellent. 
  4. Network and share printers instead of buying a printer for each computer in your home or office.
  5. Avoid software and operating system upgrades that will in turn cause the need for hardware upgrades in order to run efficiently. Check the optimum (not the minimum) system requirements before purchasing software.

If it is determined that you must replace your computer equipment, what should you do with the old stuff? If it is still usable, there are basically 3 ways to pass it on. Give it to a friend or relative, sell it on eBay or Craig's List, or donate it to a non-profit and get a tax deduction. Some legitimate concerns about donating or selling have to do with the private information that may be present on the drive of a donated computer. Be advised that most computer recycling organizations are equipped to fully erase the hard drives before reusing it for someone else. Always ask before donating, if they are vague about it, you will have to erase your data yourself or donate elsewhere. Here are some ideas for local area secure not-for profit recycling centers:

Rockland PC Renew or Westchester PC Renew will refurbish and pass on equipment to needy families or organizations.

Also try the Cristina Foundation where they can match donor and recipient almost anywhere in the country.

Goodwill Industries' general policy is to accept any computer equipment or parts, but recommends checking with your local store before donating.  

You may drop off old cell phones, rechargeable batteries, and ink-jet cartridges at the free recycling kiosks located just inside the door of every US Best Buy store

All Staples office supply stores offer in-store collection bins where consumers can drop-off cell phones, PDAs, chargers, other handheld electronics, and ink and toner cartridges for recycling. The even offer rewards or rebates for some eligible ink or toner cartridges. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What is ESD (ElectroStatic discharge) and how does it affect my computer and other electronics?

Simply put, ElectroStatic discharge (ESD) is the sudden flow of electricity between two objects caused by contact. ESD builds up in your body from friction, like when you rub a balloon on your clothing and it clings to a wall. Sometimes, ESD is very obvious, like when you get out of a synthetic upholstered chair or sofa, walk across the carpet, and then touch another person, your pets, a light switch, your stove or other metal appliance or surface, or, when getting out of the upholstered seat in your car, and get a shock! You actually did not get a shock from what you touched, but your body did indeed produce one. Sometimes ESD is less obvious, like when you experience static cling with your hair or clothing. Even less obvious ESD is strong enough to blow away sensitive electronics. In other words, ESD can be strong enough to harm electronics but too weak for anyone to detect without  a meter. It can be annoying at best and painful at worst, but one thing that is for sure, if you touch any electronic equipment while you have an ESD buildup in your body, you can easily destroy it. In my lifetime, I have destroyed a fax machine, a printer/scanner, the built-in trackball mouse on a notebook computer, a dimmer switch (twice), and more. All occurred before I understood about ESD, but clearly I am someone who is highly susceptible to ESD buildup, and it has only gotten worse over the years.
The following is excerpted from
"The most spectacular form of ESD is the spark, which occurs when a heavy electric field creates an ionized conductive channel in air. This can cause minor discomfort to people, severe damage to electronic equipment, and fires and explosions if the air contains combustible gases or particles.
However, many ESD events occur without a visible or audible spark. A person carrying a relatively small electric charge may not feel a discharge that is sufficient to damage sensitive electronic components. Some devices may be damaged by discharges as small as 30V. These invisible forms of ESD can cause outright device failures, or less obvious forms of degradation that may affect the long term reliability and performance of electronic devices. The degradation in some devices may not become evident until well into their service life."
ESD tends to occur more in the wintertime when it is cold and dry outside, but some people (like me) experience it all year round. The tendency for ESD buildup increases as we age and seems to be more prevalent among women than men. There are things you can do to reduce ESD and reduce the potential for damage to electronic equipment. For starters, you can touch a hearty metal appliance to discharge ESD before touching electronics; such as touching the metal part of your stove or refrigerator, touching the metal grounding screw on a light switch or outlet, or a metal lamp, etc. You can introduce more moisture into the air by running humidifiers. You can also slather your body with moisturizers, wear natural fiber clothing, avoid rubber soled shoes, wear thin-soled shoes or no shoes at all. However, while these methods may be helpful, none of these methods will guarantee that you can safely touch sensitive electronics. In order to be totally ESD free, you must be continuously and fully grounded.
So, you may be wondering how I work on computers and handle circuit boards without blowing them away? I use what is known as a grounding wrist strap, but not in the typical way which is to attach the clip end to the computer chassis, as this way would not work with laptops and PCs that do not have switched power supplies. I use a 10 ft coiled grounding wrist strap attached to a 10 ft long wire that is directly attached to the grounding screw on a power outlet in my workshop. The length of this wire allows me to move about the room while I am continuously and totally grounded. When wearing this strap there is no chance of any ESD buildup. The part of the strap that contacts my skin has a resistor that allows a controlled amount of voltage to pass from my body directly to the ground via the grounding screw on the outlet it is attached to. It does not hurt at all and totally eliminates the chance of ESD shocks when touching electronics or anything/anyone else. Click here for more information on how resistors work
So, if ESD is a problem for you or someone you know, you may be thinking how a wrist strap could improve your quality of life while moving about your home or workplace. Unfortunately, it can't because you would have to be tethered to something that grounds you. However, there is another solution for people who just want to be able to wear shoes around the house or at work without risking ESD damage and being zapped all the time. It is called a heel grounder and is worn outside the shoe with a conductive fabric strip that is tucked into the shoe against one's skin. If you just want to be more comfortable and don't mind experiencing a light occasional shock, then wearing one might do. If you have thick carpeting you may need to wear 2 of them. If you need full ESD protection for handling electronics, depending upon your flooring, you will definitely need one on each foot, or you will have to use the tethered wrist strap version. An ESD heel grounder is not easy to find. Not even Radio Shack carries it. Once attached to your sneaker or shoe, it is barely noticeable. It has an adjustable Velcro closure, and is ONE SIZE FITS MOST. Feel free to contact me if you would like to procure a pair of heel grounders.
Sandy Coulter
A+ Certified Computer Tech
SEO & Web Marketing Specialist


Thursday, June 28, 2012

How does a heat wave affect my computer equipment?

When outside temperatures go over 80 degrees F, it can put a strain on computers and other equipment such as routers, modems, phone systems, and more.

When a hard drive runs too hot, it could be an early warning sign of failure, or it could be that the room temperature is too high and requires remediation. Remediation can be accomplished by keeping your room's air temperature below 80 degrees. If you do not have air conditioning, turning the computer off until the evening when it is cooler may be the best thing you can do. While I always recommend a laptop cooler for all laptops and netbooks, when the room temperature is over 80 degrees, it may not be enough.
Too much heat can affect your modem and router too, often causing very slow Internet connections, a weak signal, or a Wi-Fi signal that drops out regularly. As a result, you will have trouble getting online, streaming videos and completing downloads. If the router continues to overheat, it can damage the internal components. The location of your router and modem is important. Try placing it on the floor, and if you have carpeting, put a plate or a dish under it. If it is not possible to locate your modem and router on the floor, then placing a netbook cooler underneath will help. Note that you will need an A/C to USB adapter so you can get power to the cooler.

Remember, never run your laptop, netbook, modem, or router on a soft surface that can block air flow, such as a bed, couch, carpeting, or even your lap. Use a laptop cooler at all possible times under your laptop or netbook. Don't wait for the heat to damage your equipment...take steps in advance to avoid permanent damage.
Feel free to browse my weblog for additional helpful information. Your comments and questions are welcomed.

Sandy Coulter
A+ Certified Computer Tech
SEO & Web Marketing Specialist

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How do I backup my computer?

Backing up is the act of making a copy of program files and/or data and placing them on media separate from your hard drive so that your files/data can be restored in case of failure or other catastrophe. There are different methods of back up, such as backing up to removable media that can be transported off-site, or backing up to “the cloud”, which is really just a buzzword for space on an Internet server computer.

Backing up can seem complicated is when you look at all the options relating to how much to back up, how often, and the various tools to make sure that it happens regularly.
Backing up typically takes one of two forms:

1.     Copying your data. If you copy pictures off your digital camera, and then immediately burn those pictures to a CD or DVD for safe-keeping, you've backed them up. Similarly, if you take the contents of your "Documents" folder tree and copy it to another hard drive or burn it to CD or DVD, that's one way of backing those files up; they're safely stored in another location in addition to the original.
2.     Imaging the entire system. This approach makes a copy of everything; your data, your programs, your settings and operating system.

If your data is in only on one device (i.e. hard drive), and there are no copies, then you are not backed up.

By far, the most common issue that I see people encountering that causes data loss is hard drive failure, followed by accidental deletion (user error). In my opinion, a good backup method will protect you against these at the very least. In general, the more important the data, the more frequently you'll want to back up, and the more copies of those backups you'll want to keep in various locations. The importance of your data is something that only you can really judge. Just think of the files you have and the consequences of losing them forever.

So where should you back up to? The ideal answer is “as far away from your computer as possible". The further away, the more you are protected from all possible disasters. For example, I prefer to backup my entire system to an external USB hard drive. I have a one terabyte drive attached to my main computer and I run a full backup every 3 months followed by automated daily incremental backups. I am well backed up in case of hard drive failure, but not so well in case of fire. What I do to remediate this is, once a month I copy all my data and burn it to a DVD, then store it outside of my premises. The only problem is that my data changes daily, so in the event of a fire, I will lose some of it, but not a critical amount. This is the method that I recommend for most users.

You may be wondering why I don’t recommend backing up to the cloud. There are 2 reasons. One is that I don’t trust the Internet servers to be secure since there have been so many recent breaches of so-called secure sites. The other is that the upload speed that most ISPs provide is inadequate for uploading more than a few files at a time. Do not even try this type of backup service unless you have the highest, most expensive level of service as you will be wondering what is wrong with your computer. At best, this type of backup is only for data and not your full system. Also, there is a recurring monthly charge for the convenience of automation and support.

So, if we agree that on-site backup to an external hard drive is the best solution, we also need to select a program to automate the backups. Please note that the programs available for backing up your computer vary wildly in ease of use and reliability. I have had clients bring me backups they think they made, only to find that they are not valid or out of date, and essentially worthless. A general rule is to not rely on the backup program that came with the backup drive you purchased, as it often can’t be trusted. Plan to purchase a separate and reliable backup program that suits your operating system. For example, don’t by a Windows XP 32-bit compatible program if you are running Windows 7 64-bit. The chances are that it won’t work.

The program that I use for automated and full system backup is Acronis True Image, but I have heard from reliable sources that Paragon Backup and Recovery works just as well. Both are in the $40 - $50 price range, but often there are specials and discounts to bring that price down.

For most average home and small business users, I suggest:

1.       Getting an external USB hard drive.
2.       Using an automated backup program like Acronis TrueImage or equivalent, and backing up to the external drive automatically on a daily or weekly schedule.

This won't protect you from everything, like your house burning down, but it will protect from what I see are the most common causes of data loss. If your hard disk dies, you can restore files, and/or the entire system, from your backup to a new hard drive. If you delete a file by accident, then as long as it was there when the most recent backup was take, you can restore it quickly and easily.

The hardest part of backing up for most people is getting started. If you decide it is time to protect yourself from losing data due to hard drive failure or more, then perhaps you should contact me for help getting it setup and automated. Depending upon your needs, we can figure out what size external drive you will need, and which software and settings will work best for you.

Sandy Coulter
A+ Certified Computer Tech
SEO & Web Marketing Specialist

Friday, April 22, 2011

Is the personal information I disclose online safe? Epsilon email breach

I have been wanting to write about this issue for a while now. I am sure you have received notices from legitimate companies you do business with, that your name and email address had been stolen from Epsilon, a company that provides email marketing to large corporations.

We all do some sort of business online, whether it is making a purchase, e-filing income tax returns, online banking, or signing up for emails from companies we do business with. Usually, when we pay with a credit card or do online banking, we are sent to a secure server to do it. If you look at the address on your browser after logging in or when you arrive at the payment page, you will notice that the beginning of the address changes from http:// to https://. The S means you are on a secure server where nobody except the credit card processor or bank can capture your information. If you don't see the extra S, you should not do business on that website.

 So what happened at Epsilon, and how will it affect us? First you should know that Epsilon is the largest email marketing service in existence. On March 30, 2011, an unauthorized party (hacker) gained entry into Epsilon's system and accessed e-mails and customer names for a subset of Epsilon clients. If you're a customer of one of these clients, there's a good chance that some hacker now knows your name and e-mail address. These subset clients include the following:

3.Abercrombie & Fitch (WFNNB)
4.AIR MILES Reward Program (Canada)
6.Ann Taylor (WFNNB)
7.AshleyStewart (WFNNB)
8.Avenue (WFNNB)
9.Barclays Bank of Delaware 10.Beachbody
11.Bealls (WFNNB)
13.Best Buy
14.Best Buy Canada Reward Zone
15.Benefit Cosmetics (see below)
16.BJ’s Visa (Barclays Bank of Delaware)
18.Capital One
19.Catherine’s (WFNNB)
20.Chadwick’s (WFNNB)
21.Charter Communications
24.City Market
25.College Board
26.Crate & Barrel (WFNNB)
28.David’s Bridal
29.Dell Australia
31.Disney Destinations (The Walt Disney Travel Company)
32.Domestications (WFNNB)
33.Dressbarn (WFNNB)
34.Eddie Bauer Friends
35.Eileen Fisher (doesn’t name Epsilon but same template letter)
36.Ethan Allen
37.Eurosport Soccer (
38.Express card (WFNNB)
39.ExxonMobil Card (Citi)
40.Fashion Bug (WFNNB)
42.Food 4 Less
43.Fred Meyer
45.Gander Mountain (WFNNB)
46.Giant Eagle Fuelperks! (WFNNB)
47.GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSK)
48.Goody’s (WFNNB)
49.Hilton Honors
50.Home Depot Card (Citi)
51.Home Shopping Network (HSN)
52.J Crew (WFNNB)
54.Jay C
55.Jessica London (WFNNB)
56.JPMorgan Chase
57.Justice (WFNNB)
58.KingSize Direct (WFNNB)
59.King Soopers
62.Lane Bryant (WFNNB)
63.L.L. Bean Visa (Barclay’s)
64.M & T Bank
65.Marriott Rewards (FAQ on site)
66.Marks & Spencer
67.Maurice’s (WFNNB)
68.McKinsey Quarterly
70.MyPoints Reward Visa
71.New York & Company
72.NTB Card (Citi)
73.One Stop Plus (WFNNB)
74.PacSun (Pacific Sunwear) (WFNNB)
75.Palais Royal (WFNNB)
76.Peebles (WFNNB)
77.Polo Ralph Lauren
78.PotteryBarn/PotteryBarnKids (WFNNB)
79.Quality Food Centers (QFC)
81.RadioShack (WFNNB)
83.Red Roof Inn
84.Reeds Jewelers (WFNNB)
85.Ritz-Carlton (FAQ)
86.Robert Half International
88.Sears (Citi)
89.Shell (Citi)
90.Smile Generation Financial
91.Smith’s Food & Drug Centers (Smith’s Brands)
92.Sportsman’s Guide (WFNNB)
93.Stage (WFNNB)
94.Stonebridge Life Insurance
96.Tastefully Simple
97.TD Ameritrade
98.The Limited (WFNNB)
99.The Place (Citi)
102.Trek (WFNNB)
103.United Retail Group (WFNNB)
104.US Bank
105.Value City Furniture (WFNNB)
107.Victoria’s Secret (WFNNB)
108.Viking River Cruises
110.Woman Within (WFNNB)

As you can see, this is huge, and probably the most egregious breach of information to date. My name and email address was with at least 6 of these companies, possibly more, yet I only received notices from 3 of them. According to Epsilon, no other personal information was exposed besides e-mails and names. Law enforcement and individual companies are doing their own investigations, but unless you've got a really easy to crack password (e.g. 123456), your money should be safe.

You may wonder why this is so serious if they only got your name and email address? In addition to your name and email address, they also know which company it is associated with. The concern is that the stolen email addresses will be used by the intruders to launch sophisticated and highly targeted phishing attacks.

The stolen information will allow scammers to send authentic-looking email messages that appear to come from a bank or other business with whom the user has an existing relationship. The emails will try to trick people into parting with information such as their usernames and passwords for bank accounts or other online accounts, or they could try to trick people into downloading malware on to their systems. People who don't fall for such scams should be fine, therefore we must be extra vigilant.

In order to be vigilant, you should not click links in emails even if they appear come from someone you know or a company you do business with. Instead, manually type their web address into your browser. Once you arrive at the site, navigate to the desired page.

Since this has recently been in the news, it is expected that the hackers will wait until they think people have forgotten. I urge you to continue to be vigilant indefinitely.

Sandy Coulter
A+ Certified Computer Tech
SEO & Web Marketing Specialist

Monday, December 20, 2010

How to Choose the Right IT Support for Your Small Business

In order for your company's technology to function smoothly, it needs steady support. Support costs money and it should be figured into your budget, but is not always budgeted when it comes to small businesses. I am amazed at the number of small business owners that invest thousands of dollars into equipment and then expect it to never cost anything for maintenance or support. These are the same people who invest tens of thousands in a motor vehicle and have no problem paying hundreds, or even thousands of dollars per year in keeping it maintained and running smoothly. If you think of your office equipment the same way, then it might make more sense when it comes to budgeting for IT support.

While it might seem like a good deal to purchase a phone or on-site support contract from your PC vendor (e.g., Dell, HP, etc.), you will likely be disappointed by the quality and limitations of such a contract that will only cover the equipment it was purchased for. Whereas finding the right IT professional can result in technology support for everything related to your business; including phones, fax machines, printers, scanners, wireless, interoperability, power protection, software support, ergonomic improvements, purchasing decisions, etc.

So, how do you choose the right IT support consultant? First, setup a phone interview with whomever you are considering. Tell them what your long- and short-term goals are. Look for a professional who asks questions about your overall business operations and not just the technologies it uses. Look for a consultant who is concerned with security and preservation of your data. Try to find a consultant who is local to you (within 30 miles) and therefore more readily available in an emergency. Expect questions about what type of PCs and operating systems are on your network, and what software and anti-virus tools are currently in use. Plus questions like: Do your employees use laptops or connect from home? Do your employees carry smart phones? Where is your email and website hosted?

Ideally, the right professional will be able to help with your short- and long-term goals, and will recommend tools that fit the size and type of your business while keeping it as simple as possible for you and your employees to implement.

Some people are impressed by certifications. The truth is that certifications are an indicator that the consultant is smart and knows their business well in theory. However, be sure to ask how long they have been providing IT support. Eight or more years of experience is a good number and significantly more important than certifications.

There are several warning signs to watch out for when dealing with an IT consultant. If the IT professional overwhelms you with computer industry buzzwords and acronyms without explanation, be prepared to say goodbye. Efforts to bewilder you with industry jargon comes from lack of expertise, fear, or arrogance. Either they don't really know what they are doing, or they will be too arrogant to work with. Also, steer clear of crisis-based services that focus on emergency on-site repairs. You want your IT professional to be your partner in technology, not just to put out the occasional fire or apply a bandage to the problem. Be wary of the consultant who claims to know it all. It is not possible for anyone to know it all because there is way too much for anyone to know. A knowledgeable consultant will be the first to admit that she doesn't know everything, but can and will find the solution.

Most of my small business clients consider me their business partner. They don't just ask for IT help, but also for assistance with web marketing, payroll options, newsletters, brochures and other small business endeavors. I don't think you can expect all IT consultants to be this versatile, but finding one with interpersonal skills as well as IT skills can be very advantageous to your small business.

Sandy Coulter
A+ Certified Computer Tech
SEO & Web Marketing Specialist

Friday, July 30, 2010

Google search is not working properly, what could be wrong?

It has recently come to my attention that there are numerous variants of malware known as TDSS, (the family name of simialr rootkits) that will subtly take over your computer. I have so far seen 2 infected computers. As a result, I have done extensive research and want to alert you to the earliest and most common signs of this type of infection. So far, the exact origins of infections are unknown, but it is probably getting in as a drive-by download from an infected website that the victim visits. Once infected, the files and services installed by TDSS will be hidden, but there are early symptoms that the TDSS infection may display. These symptoms include:
  1. Google or other search engine result links will be redirected to unrelated sites. When you search through Google or other search engines and click on one of the search results, instead of going to the correct page you will instead be redirected to an advertisement or a page containing additional drive-by download viruses and malware. Some of the domains you are redirected to may be legitimate companies, but also may contain affiliate links that are dangerous. This is usually the earliest sign of infection.
  2. The inability to run various programs including but not limited to: updates to your anti-virus program, Windows or Microsoft Updates, anti-malware programs, etc. When you attempt to run certain programs, you will not receive an error, but they simply will not start. It does this so that you cannot launch anti-virus and anti-malware programs that may help you remove this infection.
  3. The inability to access various sites. TDSS is known to block access to many computer help and security sites.
  4. Web browsing may be slower than normal.

These TDSS rootkit variants are intrusive infections that eventually take over your machine and it is very difficult to remove. The reason it is so difficult to remove is that it runs resident in normal Windows AND in safe mode. Also, the variants keep changing daily or even more often, so that what worked yesterday to remove it on one machine may not work today on another machine. Another issue is that the available tools for removing rootkits often come without instructions or have such complex instructions that the average user is unable to use them, or may use them incorrectly causing permanent damage to the system that could be unrecoverable and lead to data loss. If victims continue to follow the re-directed search engine results, additional malware infections will occur that may result in not being able to do anything on the computer.

Keep in mind that there is no single product that is guaranteed to be able to identify and resolve every case of malware infection that exists, as each version or variant can change several times a day. This email is not intended to alarm you but to raise your awareness so that you will know as early as possible that your machine has been infected and can seek help. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.

Sandy Coulter

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do I really need to buy a UPS to protect my equipment?

A UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) has internal batteries to ensure that continuous power is provided to your equipment even during a power outage. Of course the UPS can only provide power for a short while, typically a few minutes, but that is often enough to ride out power company glitches or brief outages. Even if the outage is longer than the battery life of the UPS, it provides the opportunity to shutdown your equipment properly.

Rural areas are particularly susceptible to power issues but problems can occur anywhere at anytime. Spikes occur when lightning strikes a transformer. Surges occur when high-powered electrical motors are turned off, releasing extra voltage into the line. Spikes and surges can damage many components including the monitor, motherboard, hard drives or processor. Blackouts and brownouts can also ruin data saved on the hard drive; of course, any work in progress is lost if the lights blink for a moment and you are not connected to a UPS.

Everyone should have a battery back-up or Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) for their computer systems, modem/router, and even for laptop computers. Having a laptop that runs on AC with battery removed and plugged in a UPS is considered a best practice. I consider this to be essential especially in areas where there are frequent spikes and surges. I lost a system (motherboard) once because my UPS was too old and no longer functioning. If you don't have a UPS or you have one that is over 3 years old, it is time to get a new one or replace the battery in the old one. Prices are very reasonable now for a decent UPS, and many come with automatic shutdown software in case you are unavailable to shut it down manually. It is also very important to get a UPS that is strong enough to carry the load of your system for a few minutes. Avoid buying unknown brands as they often fail early or are not truly as strong as they claim. If you can not afford a UPS, consider unplugging the computer when not in use. These actions will minimize the chance of major system failure and insure that if the worst does happen, and the computer dies, your valuable data doesn't go down with the system.

Feel free to contact me here if you need help with purchasing a new UPS

Monday, April 5, 2010

What to do with an old working computer?

Another frequently asked question I get is "what should I do with my old working computer now that I have a new one?" Without knowing all the facts, my answer is usually "it depends".

If the machine is less than 6 or 7 years old and your expectations are not on the HD level, it can likely be used to stream Internet video to your TV. This includes streaming from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Fancast, and others. Now some people may be thinking "why can't I just get that Netflix streaming device for $89.00?" Actually, you can, but this device is primarily designed for use with Netflix and a few other services such as Pandora radio.

If you want to be able to get anything and everything from your PC to your TV, the only way is to connect your PC or laptop to your TV. You may need a PC to TV converter device costing around $50.00 or perhaps a video card with a TV output added to your PC. You will also need a wire that has a headphone jack on one end and RCA left and right channel jacks on the other to bring sound from the PC to the TV. The actual parts required will depend upon your TV's inputs, and this can be accomplished with an older "square screen" TV or a newer widescreen HDTV.

I stream video from my Lenovo netbook using a PC to TV converter, the sound wire described above and an inexpensive handheld remote mouse. The process is nearly seamless and once it gets going, nobody can tell I am streaming off the Internet. I can also run powerpoint presentations on my 32 inch TV, or almost any TV for that matter. Then when I travel, I simply unhook the netbook, put it in my handbag and go.

If streaming from your PC to your TV is not possible or desirable, there are other things you can do with an old PC. You may be able to donate your old PC to a local PC Users Group and receive a tax deduction while ensuring that the data on the hard drive will be totally erased. Please see the Green Computing page of my website for more information.

Sometimes, even broken computer equipment can be recycled, especially laptops. Feel free to contact me if you need help setting up a computer to stream to your TV, or if you have an old or broken laptop that you would like to have recycled.

Stay tuned for answers to more frequently asked questions such as: Can I still get Windows XP on my new computer? and... Will my new computer be compatible with my older computers? and...Do I need to purchase new software for my new computer or can I use my old software?

If you have a general question that you would like to have addressed in a subsequent email, please feel free to submit it to me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When is the best time to purchase a new computer or laptop?

The answer to this is easy...after the new models are introduced and after the December holiday season is over, the prior models will take a price drop for the sake of clearance. So, from January until the end of the summer is probably a good time to buy. Feel free to contact me if you need assistance with purchasing or would like to have your next machine custom built or configured.

What brand of computer or laptop should I buy?

As we are nearing the end of winter I am reflecting on some of the frequently asked questions I get from my clients and associates.

The number one question I get is "What brand of computer (or laptop) should I buy?" My answer is usually "none". This may seem disappointing, but the truth is that it does not matter much what brand label is on the is the parts inside that matter and also how they are arranged and connected.

That being said, there are some brands that are notoriously poor in quality, one being HP consumer grade (low end) PCs and laptops. To be fair to HP, I must also say that they make excellent printers and excellent enterprise (business) level computers and servers. Furthermore, my opinion is based on the percentage of HPs presented to me that are not repairable for a reasonable cost. I have also compared my data with that of other consultants and technicians in order to determine that my opinion is valid.

The problem that most consumers face when purchasing is the lack of complete and meaningful specifications provided by the manufacturers, and even if provided, the ability to understand them. You may be looking at a machine that boasts oodles of RAM memory and Hard drive space, but what you won't see is that the power supply is inadequate, the onboard video is poor, or the speed (RPMs and cache) of the hard drive is lower than average.

This is why I always recommend a custom configured or custom built computer where you will have control over the quality of the parts inside. (Unfortunately, it is not practical to custom build a laptop, but it can be custom configured in some cases.)

Another argument for a custom build has to do with warranty. When you purchase a system it generally comes with a 1-year parts warranty, even if the individual parts would normally have a longer warranty. For example, when memory is purchased separately, it usually has a lifetime warranty, for hard drives it can be as long as 5 years, for power supplies up to 5 years, for video cards up to 3 years or more, and for LCD monitors it is also usually 3 years. Its almost criminal that you get cheated out of the parts manufacturer's true warranty because you bought a system with a name brand on it and did not elect to extend the basic warranty by spending considerably more money.

If you have a general question that you would like to have addressed in a subsequent post, please feel free to submit it to me here.

Stay tuned for tips about what to do with your old machine, working or not.