Tag Archive for computers

Sorry, Apple People, You’re Just Not That Popular

I know, you think I’m less than smart, but let me assure you, I have some idea what I’m talking about. I began as a wildly satisfied Apple ][+ user many decades ago. While others bought “inferior” computers that hit the market, from PET, Commodore, Atari and TRS-80…well, Atari was the bomb for gaming….I was forging ahead. I moved to the Mac line with a 512K, then an SE, a Mac II, then a IIcx. I learned how to make a computer work for humans because of Apple.

However, here’s the reality. Macs aren’t that popular. I support this by playing into the meme that Macs don’t get viruses, ergo, they are superior platforms. Nope, you have that wrong, but there is the genius of not only Apple, but the evangelized Apple faithful that have somehow missed the point of their lack of bad programmings disrupting their lives at the worst moment, as PC users have come to know and still not love.

Here’s the truth staring you in the face, Apple fanatics: You’re not popular with the people who create viruses, and therefore, you don’t get them. It’s not that your computer is in this uber operating system world, impenetrable by mere mortals out to steal credit card and bank account numbers. I know, in just about every single movie where the earth is saved from alines of environmental disaster, Apples are prominently displayed and used in the crucial scenes. I also know some of you believe that to be the real case.

What’s really up is this: The MacOS is built on top of UNIX, which is very secure, but the face that, depending on the link, the Apple market is about 10-12% and therefore, the effort to infect them is not worth the ROI, on one analysis point. Take the next step: How many Macs are used to manage and handle credit card databases, and large customer files? Pretty much none. Besides taking quite a bit of effort to learn the system inside and out, even if they could find ways in through security flaws, they would most likely find intellectual property, but not something they could make money on, like entire user profiles of banking/financial services, a key set of data for identity theft.

Consider, from a business owner’s view point: If you could set up to serve 87-90% of the market for the same effort to serve 10-13%, with the return per customer the same, which direction would you head? There will be a minnow out there (thank you, Scott Weber!) who gets this answer wrong and insists loudly they are correct, but you all know the right answer to remain viable in the market. That’s why you’re also not infected. Far more ROI in spending your energy developing and working the PC market and the associated Windows based server farms. Not to mention, Apple made a run at the server world and built a very cool piece of technology, but like Beta tape, the public went for the lesser versions in the PC based systems using LINUX and Windows.

That all being said, there are those, because the Apple market share is growing no doubt, who are taking up the challenge to infect the Apple Faithful. You’ve been spared due to not being attractive (I’m not talking the aesthetics of the device design, but the ugly fact that Apples aren’t used to conduct serious financial business). That’s my tough love for you. Some are coming after you and the good news is you can now enjoy virus and malware protection as we PC users do.

Now let me, after turning your meme upside down, drop it on (your) its head: If the MacOS doesn’t get viruses, as some smuggly post to Facebook, why, pray tell, would giant anti-virus companies have software on the market to provide anti-virus for the MacOS that doens’t get viruses? Oh, yeah, it would be a very silly and costly idea to serve a market that has no need, right? Software costs money and then, as any product has to return some what of a profit, or it will be dropped from the company offerings for failing to add to the bottom line.

Check this Dogpile search out: Looks like Symantec, ESET, Norton and Webroot, Avast, AVG just to name a few “small” companies trying to sell something “real” Mac users don’t need.

I’m hoping this dose of reality spurs the Apple faithful to break down and admit they have been a tool in the greater Mac propaganda machine, but then get online and download an appropriate software package to protect themselves. Speaking as a complete PC/Windows user for all my own (too) many computers, it’s a pain to get them, I have two layers of anti-malware/virus on all my systems, just to practice as much safe computing as possible. I encourage you Mac types to do the same. I see the helplessness in people’s eyes all the time, when they have contracted such an infection. Trust me, you don’t want to feel that way, let alone missing your working hours while I or your Mac tech (who should have already advised you to get software – if they haven’t, send them this link so they can be better providers for their customer base) conduct the technical exorcism rites.

If you need help in getting protected, contact me and let’s get you into the real world you actually live in.

‘Tis the season: The lightning and storm season that is, again!

One of the first posts in the blog section was about….you guessed it: Lightning and how it affects your computer equipment. AWESOME Lightning Show! is here to re-read (or read for the first time).

Electronics hate bad power…their reaction to it can be from a flashing screen, to a dead, dead, dead primary computer, with all your data locked inside….

Consider how that just may affect your operations. Seriously, if you’re offline for say, one day, at best, maybe several days to a week or more, while your tech searches for parts to get you running again. Not a pleasant thought, is it? Like mom said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Here’s some “inside baseball” on what can go wrong, and how it affects the time to return you to normal operations:

  • The power supply is dead. Symptoms are: Nada, nothing, no sound, no lights. Easy enough, right? If this is all it is, you’re lucky, mostly. Why mostly? If you have a generic power supply, it’s a matter of getting one locally, and about 20 minutes to pull the bad one, and replace it. Here’s the not so mostly: If you have a small form factor computer, or a really old HP tower, or some other model that has a very specific power supply, it will be a hunt online, and then the time to ship. The cost is also…generally outrageous. (protecting yourself sound better already?)
  • The motherboard is dead. Symptoms range from the same as the power supply ones (and therefore can give you the “oh, this won’t be so bad” feeling too soon….), to you get some fans in the power supply/case operating, but you never hear the drives spin up. If this is the case, it’s costly, moreso if you bought that Dell, Dude!, or Compaq, or HP, because many times, their motherboards are just special enough that you can’t find one when you need one right away. (side note: sometimes a generic built PC, for a little more upfront cost, or sometimes actually less if you need some higher end items inside you box). If the motherboard is a standard “form factor” then the next challenge is the “socket” type. That is the place where the actual central processing unit (CPU) is mounted on the motherboard. If the board is more than say 4-5 years old, it’s more difficult to get one of them off the shelf. If it’s a few years old, the prices are pretty good, and they are generally available. If it’s a very new system, then the boards are still the high end of the pricing spectrum. The dying of the motherboard injects an entirely new dynamic into the equation, too: You have to match it, to allow you to power up the system and get right back to work. While you can get one with the right socket to fit your CPU, the rest of the chips aren’t what Windows saw itself installed with, and it with require you to also re-install windows, your programs and your data. This, along with the availability of parts, will keep you from your work longer, and, just by it’s nature, cost you more. Ouch (psst! Get your battery back ups!!!!)
  • Dead network interface (the wired kind). The computer comes right on, but you cannot get to the internet is your symptom. The fix is to install a network interface card in a free slot. This is about a 20 minute fix, too. If this happens, the only concern is having an extra interface slot open inside the box. It’s generally easy to get one of these anywhere and get back to work. Name brand ones, link LinkSys and 3Com are best, since even Windows XP detects and installs the drivers in most all cases. It’s always best to note the make and model and version of the card, before it’s installed….and get to another computer and get the drivers. If not, and if Windows doesn’t load drivers, you usually have to take the card out and read those items (in fine print) and do it again)
  • The hard drive electronics and/or motor get whacked. On starting up, you get the manufacturer’s screen, and then some message about no bootable disk found. If you see this, you can cry, loud and long. This is bad, sort of….Really if this happens because your data and programs and operating system are toast. The upside is you have a free paper weight suitable for holding down a stack of paperback novels on the back porch is a mild wind storm. The “sort of” side is somewhat mitigated if you have your data backed up…somewhere besides on another partition of that hard drive. Recovery: Drives aren’t that expensive, but what does make it costly is starting from “bare metal” and putting on your operating system, configuring all the hardware again, downloading all the updates (I’ve seen Windows XP take most of an evening), then reinstalling all your programs (you have the disks, right?) and finally placing your data back in the file structure you had it in. What this means if you may have lost everything, and it will cost quite a bit to rebuild it all.

It can also nuke the CPU itself, which looks just like a dead motherboard in symptoms. Note above there are two sets of casualties that look alike to you and the technicians. How to tell the difference? It takes time in the field to know, and have the right methods to diagnose the problems.

Enough about the techs and their work in your crisis: What about you? Is this enough for you to make sure you’ve protected your equipment from massive power surges brought to Florida by the summer storm activity? I hope so. If not, have replacement cost funds (hardware and software) set aside for the worst case. If you can’t have that buffer financially, then reread AWESOME Lightning Show! once more for how to help you help to protect your business again and get you to the nearest store with battery backups!

Questions? I can certainly survey your systems to assess your readiness for storm season. Call me for an appoitnment.

It’s a Jungle Out There!

Just a few thoughts from my world:

If anyone says they “know it all” about computers, excuse youself from the conversation and place their business card in the nearest shredder. I bet even Bill Gates wouldn’t even make that claim. I know some things about computers, some learned sitting up way to many nights trying things in programs or reading on the web, or hard copy books to find out how to make the computers do my bidding. I also know there are others who can do things better in some areas of the computing world, and I am constantly on the prowl for such people so I can build alliances with to provide better services to those I work with. My talent lies in figuring out how to use what’s on hand, and what is available to meet specific needs of individuals and businesses.

Here’s a basic condition any computer professional is up against: The possible combination of interactions between hardware and software is incomprehensible. While your system and software is with your daily, your set up is unique. If you are experiencing issues, your computer person will have to spend a little bit of time making sure they understand what your system is capable of (relates to many performance issues), what operating system you are using and if it’s updated, what security you have (or don’t on your system), how you connect to the internet, who provides your internet access service, and a plethora of other things, before they can begin to help find out why your system isn’t performing up to your standards.

You can save the most time you have to have one of use helping you by being ready to answer those questions, which may be a challenge if you have a hand me down system, but, more importantly, if you can say clearly what problem you are having and (here’s the key) what you were doing/trying to do when you had the issue come up. I promise it will be a much longer session if the only thing you can say is “my computer isn’t working right,” or “my internet is slow.” If you can say something like “every time I try to download a picture, Internet Explorer stops working” it will really help target the things someone has took look at on the way to solving your problems. Think of it as a real way to save yourself money when you’re paying for hourly billed help, no matter who they are. Better yet, when things start happening, if you can jot a few notes on what you were doing when the problem came, and what were the notices on the screen, or the way the computer improperly responded (like freezing up, or stopping a program) those will be exceptionally valuable (and time saving) tips for a tech to get you back to work. You may, in the course of taking notes, aslo find a pattern that points right at a solution, too. Once more, it saves you time, and therefore money.

Don’t worry too much about not knowing the right terminology. That’s our job, but if you capture specific error messages, it’s very helpful, especially when you aren’t on the other end of the 20 question, rapid fire exploration I’ll try to work through that isn’t for anything other than trying to get to the issue quickly, but I sense some people find intimidating. Think of such questions as the CSI detective arriving at the crime scene and all they want to know is what happened..

So, there’s a little of my side of the equation, and hopefully some help for you when you have to get someone to help you.

And, as a final note: Not everyone can possibly know everyting about your system the first time we show up, and it’s not becuase we are falsely representing ourselves, it’s just there’s a lot of possible combinations out there and how your system wrks (or not as this post discusses) is a unique circumstance that will take a few minutes to “frame” for the technician.

[Editorial note: This post was written on Tuesday afternoon and autoposted later. Try that on Blogspot…want to know more? Contact me for WordPress Coaching!]

AWESOME Lightning Show! Are you protected?

Lightning stikes in Florida at night

Photo Credit: Martin Kucera posted on Florida Lightning

Last Tuesday evening, and the huge storm rolled in off the Gulf of Mexico, I stood out on the (wooden) deck watching the majesty of the power of the lightning thunder and, to a lesser extent, the wind and the waves.

But, on to the important things: Are your plugged in systems protected?

>US lightning strike frequency map - 1996-2000

US Lightning Stike frequency Map

Consider this, my “local” readership: The Tampa Bay area is one of the most struck areas in the nation. Without getting scientific, lightning begins a lot of juice, and, your electronics don’t handle that lightly. Most of you know that, but have you taken the steps to help keep them operating, after a common afternoon or evening thunderstorm comes through during the summer months?

If you think you are all set with surge protectors, think again. For the TECO/Progress Energy electrical fluctuations, surge suppressors with usually keep you safe. The energy of the storms comes at you in the regular power lines, but also via other connections, to include sneaking in via a ground line, when conditions are right, and depending on how your utilities are laid out.

The answer, not only for your desktop, but also your TV/Home Theater/sound systems is to get yourself some battery backups, or the more technical term you’re hear is: Uninterruptible Power Supplies (or “UPS”).

A “battery backup” is not just to back up in the event of a power loss, it serves another important purpose, too: When the power coming to your UPS is less than “clean” (think those brown out moments), the backup will take over and send clean power from the batteries, until the power provided from the wall socket gets back with specifications. So, even if you don’t lose power, if you have any fluctuations (caused by large systems, such as air conditioning units) coming on, the UPS will be your savior from incrementally harming your electronics. Consider it like regularly changing oil on your car: The more frequently you do it, the longer engine life you can expect under normal use. The UPS makes sure the “oil” is constantly clean for your computers and other equipment to use.

In any of the big box stores, or CompUSA, you can pick up 350-400VA rated systems for about $40 out the store door. Unless you are running a server out of your home (and this advice is good for your office, too!), you don’t need much more than a few minutes of run time to make sure you’ve saved your files and done a stepped shutdown of your system.

Modifications to the 350-400VA range battery backups: If you have several computers in your office, you may either pick up a UPS per system, or, particularly if the systems are close together, get a larger rated UPS (you can pick them up up to 3000VA at stores) and plug in more than one system per UPS, The added amperage rating will make sure you have time for all those systems.

Important points about USP/battery backup use:

  • Most all battery backup units have the outlets separated into the plugs for “Backup and Surge” and “Surge Protection”
  • Not everything you use with the computer should be plugged into the battery backup side of the UPS.
  • Your computer, your monitor, and, your internet modem and routers should be connected to the backup side.
  • Printers and extra items should be on the “surge protection” side. Printers, particularly laser units and the larger all-in-one units, draw a significant start up current when they begin the print job, and can pull your entire system off line (hard shutdown) as a result.
  • UPS units need to be plugged into a wall outlet directly. Don’t put them on an extension cord
  • if you need some extra outlets for use, you can use power strips to eitehr get more room, or more plugs, but keep in mind, as you use the plugs, which side of the UPS (backup or surge) are used as I listed above
  • It’s rare that even the lower rated units don’t include protection for your modem (dial up) and network/ethernet, and it’s not uncommon to see a connection to run your coaxial (cable line) through the unit as well. Recommendation: USE THEM! The cost of a few extra cables to jumper to your equipment is worth the price

Over the years, I have seen a number of systems that their only storm damage was the modem (via phone line) and the ethernet (network) card being zapped by the power surges. It’s generally an easy replacement, and the parts aren’t very expensive, but, until your tech can get there, you’re off line.

More in a bit, but this is the main issue I’d like to help share some advice on today.

Just think, if you don’t protect yourself, the next meal might be “fried computers.” The fix is easy and not very costly. On top of that, the big brand name manufacturers (and their prices are still very good) also include insurance for your equipment connected to their systems. For the price of the UPS units, you may never need to call and find out how they stand behind their pledges, but if you don’t you’ll be replacing your systems (or internal components) on your own financial accounts.

Let’s be smart out there!