Plan B tested the hard way!

Well, the disaster happened! My main desktop computer failed spectacularly last week. It was working normally, just playing music, and as I was walking past it, suddenly there was a very loud

BUZZZAAAAP!

sound, accompanied by a smell of ozone and burning insulation, and it was utterly dead. I knew I was in deep trouble when I pushed the power button, and a fat angry spark jumped behind the button.

Now, I do a lot of business online, so not having a computer is out of the question. I immediately deployed my laptop as a stand-in while I started to diagnose the desktop. Of course, just having a spare computer isn’t much help if you can’t access your files, or bookmarks, or print, or find your passwords… So, here’s where I find out if my Plan B is adequate. Several things I had in place allowed me to keep working during the repairs on the desktop:

Network drive backup: I have a free program called Syncback that backs up my downloads, documents, etc. every few hours to my network drive. Many routers (not usually the ones the ISP provides) have a USB port for an external drive that can be used for backup over the network, where it can be accessed by any other device on the same network. There are also network-ready hard drives. The files I needed were right there, in the same folder structure.

I also have online backup, but local backup is almost always faster and less hassle, so I recommend both. The online backup is a last-chance thing in case your house burns down or someone steals all your equipment.

Network printer: Same deal here. A printer on the network can be accessed by any device on the same network, making it easy to transition without having to hook up additional cables. All the major printer manufacturers now make network-capable printers for home and Small Business users.

Dropbox: I can’t recommend Dropbox enough. It’s useful for a whole range of conveniences. Dropbox’s main function, in case you’re not familiar with it, is to synchronize files across several computers. If you have the app installed, anything you put in your Dropbox folder will automagically appear – and update – in the Dropbox folder of your other computers. When I needed to update a document while the desktop was down, I pulled it from my backup and put it in the Dropbox folder so I would have the latest version when my desktop was again operational.

Firefox sync and others: All the major browsers have some sort of sync function. I use Firefox almost exclusively, but Chrome and even Internet Explorer and Edge also have means of synchronizing bookmarks across devices. Obviously, you must be signed on in the respective browsers before this will work. Firefox has it’s own sign-in, Chrome uses your Google credentials, IE and Edge use Microsoft credentials.

Password Safe: Sitting inconspicuously in my Documents folder is my Password Safe, renamed with a boring name for additional security. I don’t really trust those online password managers; they do add a lot of convenience, but I’m leery of letting an online service manage something that important. Since I had a backup of the database, accessing my passwords from my laptop was easy, too. By the way, Password Safe works on all versions of Windows, Mac, and Linux, plus Android and IOS.

Backup computer: I already had a laptop on hand that I immediately put into service. If you can’t go more than a day without a computer, I highly recommend you have such a backup, configured with your network printer and your most-used programs. While I did have to install a couple of programs in my laptop, for the most part it was ready to step into the gap. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one; it just has to be capable of doing the vital chores.

With the use of this setup, I was able to keep going and get all the important stuff done despite the catastrophe!

So, what happened to the desktop?

Apparently, the power supply failed gloriously, and took the motherboard and processor with it. The first thing I did while waiting for parts was pull the hard drives out and test them; there are plenty of adapters that will turn an internal hard drive into a USB drive, for diagnostic or other purposes. I find mine useful for recovering data from my customer’s failed machines. The hard drives (all three of them) were undamaged, saving me a great deal of grief. If they had failed, my backup is adequate for such things, but restoring all that data is a hassle.

Since I had no way to test the RAM and processor without a good motherboard, it wasn’t until I installed the new power supply and motherboard that I determined that the RAM was OK, but the CPU had bought the farm. Once those three parts were replaced, the machine came to life again.

I wasn’t quite out of the woods yet, though.

All recent versions of Windows will revert to an un-activated state after major hardware changes, particularly the motherboard. The newest versions of Windows 10 go farther; they will revert even if the replacement is identical to the original. Last year’s update (Version 1607) had a convenient feature that allowed easy re-activation if the user had signed in with a Microsoft account. I had never done that on this machine, since I resist such heavy-handedness. I prefer all my credentials to be local, thanks. Fortunately, an online chat session with a Microsoft rep, and having my original product key I’d upgraded from, got that sorted out as well. So now I’m completely back, and hoping I don’t have any more disasters like that for a while!

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It’s Dead, Jim!

2016 marks the end of some of the most long-lasting names and devices in the technology world. We sadly mark the passing of:

  • Motorola: The company has had problems in the past several years, was sold twice, and as of 2016, the name no longer exists. Motorola had a long run, having invented the car radio (Hence the name), in 1930, then quickly moving on to the first walkie-talkie in 1940, the car phone in 1946, and the first commercial cell phone in 1983. They also, incidentally, provided the radio gear that allowed NASA astronauts to communicate from the Moon.
  • iPhone headphone jack: Probably in order to make their phones thinner, sleeker, lighter, and trendier, Apple has in their infinite wisdom eliminated the headphone jack from the latest iPhone, leaving users with no choice other than Bluetooth headphones, which cost a lot more and are not nearly as idiot-proof as wired headphones. Sigh.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Marketing a product that spontaneously catches fire is not too good for business, but, again, it has a lot to do with making products that emphasize trendiness over usability. If only the Galaxy Note 7 had a removable battery (A feature I insist upon in a phone), the problem could have been taken care of much more easily. But removable batteries make the phone thicker, heavier, and not quite so “cool,” so they’re out.
  • VCRs: It took 50 years, but they finally managed to kill the VCR. I pity all those folks with stuff on videotape that isn’t, and never will be, available on DVD.
  • Hoverboards: Cheap Chinese quality control and Lithium-Ion batteries don’t mix well, especially at the bleeding edge of battery capacity, when they have to be made thinner and with tighter tolerances than ever before. See Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
  • Google Picasa: My all-time favorite photo organizing program. The good news is, it still works, if you already have it; it just won’t be updated or downloaded anymore.

Well, there you have it. We’ll just have to struggle along somehow without these icons of the technology world.

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Your Money or Your Data!

Ransomware is still a huge problem, according to recent reports. Ransomware is a particularly nasty type of virus that encrypts all your documents, photos, and other personal files, then attempts to extort money from you to decrypt them again.

Law enforcement officials usually say not to pay the ransom, for two reasons: First, it encourages the criminals to conduct even more attacks, and second, there is no guarantee they will come through with the decryption key anyway. You might pay your money and never get your files back.

The best weapon against ransomware is prevention. I’ll say again what has been said many times before: DO NOT open attachments in unsolicited emails!! Even if they promise naked celebrity pictures (Especially if they promise naked celebrity pictures)!

DO NOT even click links in unsolicited emails – not even the “unsubscribe” link. Banish them to your Junk folder without a reply or a click.

DO have, and use, a good backup plan for your data. A good plan is one that enables versioning. This means that several versions of your files are saved so that you can go back to a clean, unencrypted version. I use and recommend Crashplan. They have free ways to back up your data, or for a small annual fee, they’ll back your stuff up to their secure servers.

DO keep your system up-to-date, including your antivirus and other software. If you don’t have antivirus, get some! A good free one is AVG Free.

Some ransomware has been cracked by the good guys, but since such things are constantly evolving, don’t count on ever seeing your stuff again if you fall victim.

https://bobsullivan.net/cybercrime/your-money-or-your-data-most-still-have-never-heard-of-ransomware-while-a-majority-of-victims-have-paid-up-ibm-says/?utm_source=BobSullivan.net&utm_campaign=c78adeb95a-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_edc212b71b-c78adeb95a-198025153

Visit my Store for cool gifts and gadgets

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

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Another Day, Another Data Breach…

Here’s another high-risk internet behavior you might not be aware of: Downloading apps from unofficial sources. This isn’t much of a problem on Apple devices, because it’s hard/geeky to download something that’s not on the app store. Android (Google’s phone/tablet operating system) devices, however are pretty simple: Disable one setting and you can install an app from anywhere. (I’m not going to tell you what setting; If you need to know, you also know where to find it!)

The Google app store (“Play Store,” I hate that name!) does filter and remove malicious apps, though it may take longer than the Apple store, because the Apple store filters apps up front before they are ever released into the wild. You get no such protection when you install an app from somewhere else.

Now, in one of the larger data breaches to date, over one million (and counting) personal credentials have been compromised by a rogue Android app. The app has many names, but all have one thing in common: They are installed from a third-party, unofficial app store or source, possibly by links in spam emails. The malware steals Google credentials, thus compromising Gmail and all other Google services for that account. This malware is capable of taking complete control of an Android device, giving itself more permissions than even the legitimate user has. (Not that you’d notice; Malware operates best when it’s silent.)

The takeaway: Once again, now on mobile devices too, don’t click iffy links in emails, don’t fall for free apps that are usually paid apps, and don’t install apps from anything but the official store.

You can check to see if your Google account is breached by clicking the link below and typing in your Gmail address.

https://gooligan.checkpoint.com/

More info:

http://blog.checkpoint.com/2016/11/30/1-million-google-accounts-breached-gooligan/

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For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

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Web of Lies??

Well, another one bites the dust. For several years, I’ve been recommending a browser add-on called “Web of Trust.” Turns out that in November 2016, Web of Trust was busted by a security researcher for collecting data from people’s web browsers and selling it. Allegedly the data was (supposed to be) anonymous… Not so much.

It’s sad and scary when a program or add-on that purports to help keep one safe turns out to not be trustworthy, but given the lure of the Almighty Dollar, it’s not the least bit surprising. I’ve uninstalled Web of Trust from all my computers.

The good news is such tools may be obsolete anyway. Because most attacks now are in the form of fraudulent emails or sites that come and go so fast that they can’t be rated, maybe it’s better to just trust the browser itself, and use your head.

Meanwhile, I strongly advise uninstalling Web of Trust as soon as possible. Here’s how:

For Chrome: https://www.mywot.com/en/faq/add-on/google-chrome#chrome-uninstall

Firefox: https://www.mywot.com/en/faq/add-on/firefox#firefox-uninstall

Internet explorer: https://www.mywot.com/en/faq/add-on/internet-explorer#ie-uninstall

More info:  http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/uninstall-web-of-trust-right-now/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/leemathews/2016/11/07/web-of-trust-browser-add-on-blasted-for-breaking-user-trust/#6d6d42a651f5

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Your Child’s Digital friend?

Last year, Mattel came up with a toy called Hello Barbie, which was advertised as a toy a child could have conversations with. It wasn’t long before people discovered it could be hacked.

Most of the time, such hacking is by folks who want to find out how something works, and is essentially harmless. The problem with Hello Barbie was that the company that made the voice processing software had the doll sending recordings of the conversations to them over the internet.

This raised some nasty privacy concerns. Toy Talk, the company providing the voice module, says the recordings are used only to refine their voice processing service. The problem is, how do we know that is all that’s happening??

Now this year, a company called Genesis Toys is marketing a doll for girls called My Friend Cayla, and a similar product for boys called iQue, that convert a child’s voice to text and send it… somewhere to be processed so the doll can respond.

I don’t know about you, but this feels creepy! What happens if that database is compromised? The child trusts that doll and probably tells it all kinds of personal things. This could easily become a nightmare.

Perhaps an even more important question is: Why is there a market for such toys at all? Don’t children have flesh-and-blood friends anymore? Isn’t it much more fun to talk with a real person? Or is that too “messy,” because the real person might say something that hurts the child’s feelings? Are we going to raise an entire generation of children who never learned to interact with other humans? This could not possibly end well in my opinion, but you decide if your child or grandchild should have something like this…

https://bobsullivan.net/cybercrime/new-toy-dolls-can-spy-on-your-kids-and-let-strangers-hear-their-conversations-groups-allege-ringing-internet-of-toys-alarm/?utm_source=BobSullivan.net&utm_campaign=a05a14de30-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_edc212b71b-a05a14de30-198025153

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For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

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Bring a Printer cartridge Back to Life! (Sometimes)

 Use your printer much?

Many people don’t. The problem with inkjet printers (The type most home users have) is that they use water-based liquid ink. This ink can, and often will, dry out in the nozzles of the printer, clogging them. These nozzles are about 1/10 the diameter of a human hair! As you can imagine, they can be hard to unclog.

Sometime in the 1990s, when inkjet printers were still a bit mysterious to some folks, a well known electronics retail chain (Whose initials are RS) came out with an inkjet printer cleaning kit, containing a one-ounce bottle of “Inkjet printer cleaning solution” and some swabs. This kit sold for around six dollars. Upon close examination, I discovered that the “Cleaning Solution” was nothing more than distilled water! Let’s see… Six dollars times 128 ounces… That’s 768 dollars a gallon for distilled water!! Great scam if you can work it.

Water is, however, the best cleaner for inkjet printers. You just don’t have to pay 768 dollars a gallon for it. In fact, tap water works fine.

If you have a printer cartridge that hasn’t a lot of mileage on it but has started making sub-par prints, try running the cartridge cleaning utility that’s built in to your printer first (Consult your owner’s manual for the exact procedure). Run it 2 or 3 times if you need to.

If this doesn’t help, there is one more thing you can try. If you have ink cartridges (the nozzles are part of the ink cartridge; most HP printers are like this), remove the cartridge from the printer, fill a saucer with warm water to a depth of no more than 1/4 inch, and submerge just the nozzles (at the bottom of the cartridge; looks like a metallic stripe) in the water for about a half hour. Remove and pat dry (try not to wipe!) with a clean paper towel.

If you have ink tanks (There is a nipple-like appendage on the bottom of the cartridge; many Canon and other brands), you will have to remove the print head; This is the part the tanks go into. Soak the nozzles of the print head as described above.

After performing this procedure, you will have to run the cleaning routine again (cartridges) or possibly the ink priming routine (Tanks). Pretend it’s a brand new tank and have the printer do it’s thing.

While this doesn’t always work, hopefully you’ll be able to get more life out of your expensive printer cartridges with this simple trick.

Visit my Store for cool gifts and gadgets

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

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