PCs

I am on the horns of a dilemma. My Dell Studio XPS  machine – which will be 4 years old in May – is suffering from applications not playing well with the Operating System. Some of this is the result of installing and un-installing a multitude of applications over the past few years and a contributing factor is having forgotten applications still hanging around long after I stopped using them. That is, of course, if I ever did use them in the first place. Even the best PC clean-up utility available will still fail to get everything. Believe me, I’ve tried a number of them over the years.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ mright=”10″]Nuking is a technical term used by trained professionals to describe the process of wiping the hard disk and re-installing the Operating System.[/stextbox]A PC which has been around a while can definitely benefit from nuking the system and starting over.  One of the advantages of doing this  is that you have the opportunity to inventory your software applications, determine which ones you don’t like/need/want and vow not to re-install them on the pristine copy of the OS you’ll have after you’re through. This, of course, gives you the freedom to install new software applications that  you don’t like/need/want.

I am on the cusp of wiping the slate clean and starting over and my dilemma is that of deciding which OS to install once the hard drive has been sanitised. I have my choice of installing:

  1. Windows 7 – I currently use this OS
  2. Windows 8 – I’ve got this on my test machine and have found it not to be quite as bad as anticipated
  3. Linux – I have Ubuntu dual-booting on my test machine and Mint running as a virtual machine on the Dell Studio XPS

So which one should it be? On one hand, Win7 works for me. On the other hand, I hate to get Win 7 all set-up, configured & applications  installed only to have to do it all over again in 12 to 18 months time because of Win 8.

I could just go ahead & install Win 8 since there are work-arounds for most of the major interface complaints but there are still a few “why in the hell did they do that?” items – like scroll bars -that I am somewhat loathe do deal with on a daily basis. Hopefully, someone will cobble a work-around for those.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ mright=”10″]Dr. Data tried this approach on his test machine and – after hours of trying to make things work the way that they ought to – wound up Nuking the system and starting from scratch.[/stextbox]Before you say “Why not save time and trouble by upgrading Win 7 to Win8 and thus avoid having to re-install the world?”, I should mention that such an upgrade also migrates the bad settings, misconfigured applications and other gunk  from Win 7 to Win 8, often with less than desirable results. So much for the ease of migration between Windows Operating Systems.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” width=”150″]WINE stands for “WINE Is Not an Emulator”. [/stextbox]Finally, I could do exactly what I’ve wanted to do for many moons and make the move to Linux. The problem is that I’ve got plenty of $$$ invested in Windows applications for which there is not a Linux version. Even when there is a version of, say,  XYZ available for Linux, I would most likely have to buy the Linux version as if I was buying the software for the very first time. Linux does have WINES which allows one to run things like MS Outlook in an X environment but it does not get along well with the Windows software. It’s dollars to doughnuts that Dr. Data has a bunch of applications that fit into this category.

Where will all this end up? It’s hard to say right now but sooner or later, Win 7 on the Studio XPS is going to get to the point where Dr. Data’s hand will be forced in one direction or another.

How About Some More Pi?

Back in April, I wrote a post entitled “How Small The Computer?” The focus of this article was that you can get full-fledged PC’s and servers for between $25 & $100. One of the featured items was the advent of the Raspberry Pi; a real PC running Linux that is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. An article in TechRepublic states that the Model B is now available and selling for $35.00. The Pi – B now sports 512 MB of RAM so there is even more room on board to have fun with.

The Raspberry PI is being used to pilot Drones and as a lighting and heating controller for homes. One experimenter is using the PI as the basis for a tablet PC. Another Tech Republic article includes a slide-show which explains some of the many uses that the Pi has been put to already.

Admittedly, the Raspberry Pi is still in the realm of hobbyists and experimental applications. Nonetheless, if you like to fiddle with new technology, you can’t go wrong for $35.00. To learn more about the Raspberry Pi, see:

The latest sensation that’s sweeping the nation is something called Ransomware. This is a particularly nasty piece of Malware that infects your system through the usual vectors:

  • Visiting infected websites
  • Opening attachments to e-mails
  • Clicking on links that someone sends you via e-mail
  • Applications such as Skype
  • Etc.

Once it’s on your PC – or MAC!! –  it will do things like encrypt your hard drive or generally restrict access to sensitive files or, indeed, the entire system until you pay a fee – read ransom – to get a key or code to unlock your files or system. The ransomware will display a fake message warning you of the problem and claiming to be the Police, FBI, etc. Paying the ransom is the last thing that you want to do because:

  1. You’ll be out however many dollars they want for the unlock key
  2. They’ll have your credit card information
  3. There’s no guarantee that there is not another piece of this malware lying underneath that will re-encrypt your hard drive or lock your system in some way once you apply the original unlock key.
  4. There is the distinct possibility that they won’t even send you an unlock key at all because once they have your credit card information, they’ll have everything they need so to heck with you.

There are ways to remove ransomware and SelectRealSecurity.com shows you one way to do it. However, since the bad guys are usually at least one step ahead of the good guys, there’s always the chance that you’ll be hit with a new version of ransomware that necessitates a new approach to removal.

The best approach is not let the stuff get on your machine in the first place. To do that, you need to:

  1. Keep a good, reliable, up-to-date anti-virus application running on your system. There are some freebies out there that offer only anti-virus protection. If you want anti-malware, etc. you will have to pay for the full registered version. This is not the time to be cheap as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  2. Use a secondary anti-malware application such as MalwareBytes. While there may appear to be a duplication of effort here, there is always the chance that what is missed by one will be caught by the other. You need to be thorough.
  3. Do not open e-mail attachments or links from senders that you do not recognise. In fact, don’t open e-mail messages from people you don’t recognise.
  4. Be suspicious of e-mail links or attachments sent to you by people who you do recognise but who do not usually send you such things. Address books can be hacked.
  5. Avoid questionable websites like the plague. McAfee offers a product that flags questionable or unsafe websites when you do a search. If your security software warns you of a malicious website, don’t go there even if it’s one that you’ve visited before.

Just in case something DOES find its way on to your system, Be Prepared!

  1. Keep all of the installation disks that came with your system or that you subsequently purchased in a safe place that you will actually remember. These things aren’t coasters or toys to let the kids play with.
  2. Keep a list of all of the activation keys for your software products in a safe place that you will actually remember.
  3. If you purchase software and install it via the internet, keep the installation file(s) and activation key(s) in the same safe place as # 1 & # 2.
  4. Keep a list of all of your passwords, etc. in the same safe place as # 1 & # 2.
  5. Find a good, reliable system/file back-up application and actually use it. Once you’ve completed backing up your system/files to a USB drive or whatever, detach the aforementioned device from your system. Do not reconnect it until you need to restore a file or make a new back-up.

That’s enough to get you started. Do not think that simply because you have a MAC rather than a PC that you’re safe. MACs have been shown to be vulnerable to attacks. You may not get what’s currently affecting PCs but you might get something that’s especially designed for MACs.

You may or may not know it but your PC is a dust magnet. Desktop machines have it worse but laptops are far from immune to this problem. Consider that your PC naturally creates an electric field. You have cooling fans for the power supply, CPU and the video card (if applicable) which serve to push out hot air and bring in cooler air from outside the machine. Finally, your desktop is usually a tower or mini-tower which is quite often on the floor beside or under your desk. No matter how well you keep your house clean, there’s still going to be dust down there; fodder for a hot and hungry PC.

Laptops are not nearly as bad since they usually sit on top of your desk rather than the floor but the same principle applies. Unless you live in a totally clean house, there’s going to be dust in the air.

Tech Republic has a slide show illustrating what can happen when a PC is left uncleaned. So, what do you do about it?

  1. Call a PC professional like Dr. Data and let him – or her – sort this out for you.
  2. Take care of the problem yourself.

If your choice is # 2, the first thing you’ll need to do is to pop in to an electronics store or a hardware store like Lowes and pick up one or two units of canned air. (If your machine is anything like those in the slide-show, you  might want to consider picking up a case!). Next, take your machine outside or into the garage and remove the cover/side panel. If you’re using the garage and your machine is as dusty as the ones in the slide show, you might want to consider cracking the garage door and using a box fan to pull the dust away from you and the PC.

Once you’re all set, take your canned air and blow the dust out of the machine and away from you. Use a liberal amount of air to clean the PC as a couple of cans cost much less than a new power supply. Depending on how many expansion cards you have, you may want to remove them and blow the dust off separately.  Here’s a tip: Be sure to use a glove  on the hand you’re using to blow the dust out as that can is going to get awfully cold awfully fast. Once you’re sure that you’ve reached every possible nook & cranny with the canned air, re-seat the expansion cards – if any – and replace the cover/side panel.

Because of the way they’re build and where they are used, laptops usually don’t have problems as extreme as the towers in the slide show. Nonetheless, dust can still accumulate around the cooling fan and vents. Take the canned air and lightly blow around the fan & vents to remove the dust. Extreme cases may require removing the cover to your laptop. Only do this if you absolutely know what you’re doing. Otherwise, call Dr. Data or somebody like him.

One final tip: Use the canned air to remove cookie crumbs and other gunk from your keyboard.

 

Several months ago, Dr. Data published a warning about the DNSchanger Trojan. Well, D-Day – July 9th – is almost here. In case you missed it, here are the main points about this whole affair:

  1. Back in November of 2011, the FBI shut down a criminal operation that would direct unsuspecting users to the operation’s servers
  2. There were about 100 servers all told
  3. These machines were infecting millions of PCs with the DNSchanger Trojan
  4. The DNSchanger would alter the PC’s DNS (Domain Name System) so that websites would redirect users to servers run by the criminal operation
  5. The FBI obtained a court order that allowed the FBI to keep those servers running while users checked their machines for infection by the DNSchanger
  6. The servers were supposed to be shut down on March 30th
  7. The deadline was extended to July 9th
  8. On the 9th, the servers will indeed be shut down. This is it!
  9. While a lot of clean-up has been done, there are still about 300,000 PCs that are still infected w/ the trojan
  10. 70,000 of those machines are in the US. Is yours one of them??
  11. If your machine is infected, you will probably lose access to the internet on that day.
  12. No more FaceBook, etc.

There is a simple way to tell if your PC has been infected. Point your browser to www.dns-ok.us. If your PC is clean, you’ll see a Green background. If there is a potential problem with your connections, you’ll see a Red background. If you’re colour-blind, find someone who isn’t!! The average user should seek the help of a computer professional – like Dr. Data – to help with the clean-up. If you want to have a go at resolving the problem on your own, here are some suggestions on how to trouble-shoot.

The full story is on the PC Magazine website. A more succinct explanation of why DNSchanger victims deserve to lose the internet may be found on ZDNet.

Time’s a wasting. Check your PC by going to www.dns-ok.us. I just did and my PC is clean. How about yours?

 

Thus far, the common consensus is that Windows 8 has fleas and bays at the moon thus setting the folks in Redmond, WA up for another epic failure a’ la Vista. Only this time around, the failure is going to be more like a 747 making a belly landing as opposed to the belly flop that preceded Windows 7. Users are going to have to learn a whole new way to do things. That in and of itself is enough to make the average consumer run in the opposite direction. Übergeeks may take the attitude that it’s just something else to learn but it’s a whole different thing to consumers who want their operating system to look and work like it pretty much has for the past 17 years.

Sure, there are add-ons – free and otherwise – that can make Windows 8 look and act more like what folks are used to but one should not have to do such things in order to have a good and familiar user experience. I have discussed such tools earlier on this blog and Id like to direct readers to the archives and related posts rather than repeat myself here.

While Windows 8 has yet to be released to manufacturing, Microsoft has been detailing its upgrade plans for moving from Windows XP, Vista & 7 to Windows 8.  While we have yet to see what the final release looks like – that will come in October of this year, an article on ZDNet’s Linux and Open Source blog wonders if Microsoft has unintentionally opened the door to the Linux desktop. Back in early May, this same blog released a post exploring five points of comparison between Windows 8 and Ubuntu Linux 12.04. I’ll let you read the article yourself but I can say that the latter easily comes out on top while the former is sporting a toe-tag and covered with a white sheet.

I can say from personal experience that Linux is easier to configure and modify than Windows 8. For example, Linux comes configured to display the three minimise, maximise and close buttons in the top left-hand corner of the window rather than the top right-hand corner as Windows has done since the beginning. Now this arrangement is great for left-handed folks as well as Mac-users but I’m right-handed and have used Windows since . . . well . . . forever. The novelty of the left-corner arrangement wore off very quickly and became a minor irritation until this morning when I’d finally had enough. A quick Google brought up the directions and I was ready to go. I could have done it completely by hand but I decided to speed things along by downloading a configuration manager (Free) before starting. The whole process took about 45 seconds and that was because it was my first time and I was taking things slow. All I had to do was type three words, a bit of punctuation and those three buttons suddenly shifted to the right-hand side just as nature had intended. There are tweak utilities that will probably do this for you and an example of one (again, Free) can be found here. I plan to give it a thorough test in the PDS lab as soon as possible.

With scads of free software, a more familiar interface and good performance on older hardware, the time for Linux to shine draws nigh. Canonical, the distributor of the Ubuntu version of Linux has discovered that in India and China, consumers really will buy PCs without the Windows operating system. Not only that, Canonical expects that 20,000,000 PCs will ship this year with Ubuntu as the factory installed operating system. It could well be that consumers who are reticent to embrace Windows 8 might give Linux a try. If you own Microsoft stock, this may be a good time to sell.

Ahhh, the late 1970’s. Disco, the Hostage Crisis, Mork & Mindy, FAX machines; It just doesn’t get any better than that! The micro computing industry was just getting started in those days. We were all used to hearing about mainframes or small business systems but having a computer in your home? That was something that nerds dreamed of. (The term “Geek” had not come into common currency yet with the possible exception of HAM Radio enthusiasts.)

Ads for micro systems and early PCs started appearing in publications like Scientific American and that was only the beginning. To take you back to an era where some of us had more hair and smaller waist-lines, Tech Republic offers a slide-show featuring Vintage Computer Advertisements from the late 1970s. If you look through these ads and smile fondly at the thought of days long past, then you are truly a geek. An uber-geek will look at the ads and say “Wow!” If you weren’t around in the late 1970’s, then this is just another thing that you missed out on.

Enjoy!

Summertime and the lightening comes quickly and often!

I did this a while back as part of a short presentation for my friends at the Charlottesville  Chapter of BNI and since this is the first full day of summer for 2012, I thought that I’d repeat it.

This is the time of year when the chances of thunder-storms goes sky-high and the potential for lightning strikes increases as well. We all know what lightning strikes can do to trees and power lines  but we don’t often give much consideration to all the electronic equipment in our homes. Yes, we use power-strips with surge protection but we often forget to do anything about the phone lines and cable connections that bring the world to our PC’s/Macs. They are just as susceptible to lightning as power-lines. Tech Republic has a brief gallery showing what happened when a PC’s modem was the direct recipient of a power surge due to a lightning strike. The PC had the standard power strip surge protection but it lacked outlets for modems & cable.

So what can you do about it? Many electrical service firms such as Mr. Electric offer whole-house surge protection for a reasonable price including installation. (Don’t try to install one yourself. These devices need to be installed by trained professionals!)  If you already have or plan to get one, don’t leave anything to chance; go to Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy or wherever and purchase the best one you can afford. After all, what’s a few dollars when a stroke of lightning could fry your $700 PC? Even with whole house surge protection, it’s smart to have a back-up in place. An example of one of these multi-protective devices may be found at Newegg.com.

Don’t wait. That 40% chance of thunderstorms this afternoon could turn into a 100% chance of an electrical surge.

This post is probably less about Apple’s latest offering and more about what someone said whilst reporting on it.

On Monday at its World Wide Developer’s conference, Apple announced its next generation MacBook Pro with a starting price of – hold on to your hat – $2,199 for the basic model. The next step up costs $2,799 for a 512 GB solid-state-drive (the basic model has a mere 256 GB), 8 Gigs of RAM & a 2.6 Ghz quad-core processor. If you want to move up to nose-bleed territory, you can completely load of the machine with a 2.7 Ghz processor, 16 Gig of RAM, and a 768 GB solid-state-drive. Throw in the extended warranty and you’re out a whopping $4,098.

Bill Detwiler of Tech Republic expounded on the fact that none of the configurations above include a CD/DVD drive or a plug for an Ethernet connection. Bill states that many Windows ultra books lack those same feature and that Apple is just moving us one step closer to future sans wired connections and optical discs. To some degree, dropping those features does make sense in order to have as thin & lightweight a machine as possible. But Bill goes on to say: “In the next few years, I have no doubt that wired Ethernet will go the way of the optical disc.”

Really, Bill? Really?? I don’t know how things work in the Tech Republic, but on this side of the border optical discs and wired Ethernet connections are still a necessity. Granted, I don’t use my CD/DVD player as much as I did in the past but I still need it. Yes, Dr. Data does download a lot of the applications he uses but he does make a copy of the download files on an optical disc as a precaution and orders critical software like the Adobe Creative Suite on disc so he’ll have a master copy available in case things go wrong which they sometimes do.

Bill believes that cheap USB flash drives have helped to eliminate the need for optical drives. I had a 16 GB flash drive that I kept a LOT of stuff on. One morning, it didn’t wake up and all the 14 or so gigs of “stuff” I had was gone for good. That learned me. Optical drives are still necessary though not in the all ways that they once were.

Moving on to Ethernet connections, wired is still better and faster than wireless. Not everyone has or will have a network connection via either FIOS or cable and plenty of homes and businesses depend on DSL. Further slow down things with a wireless connection and it may be OK for surfing the web in bed but not very practical when you want to get real work done. Besides, you’ll wear out your broom sweeping up all those dropped packets!

Dr. Data hates blanket pronouncements no matter whom they come from.

Read Bill Detwiler’s compleat post at Tech Republic.

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