Thursday 27 December 2012

Are you protected?

It's a gut wrenching thing to lose something, especially something of value.

It's worse when it's stolen.  To think that somebody has been in your house and gone through your things is a violation of sorts. If only there was something you could do..

Well.. there is.

First of all, make sure you are protected. Get an alarm on your house and use it. Get good locks on your doors and use them.  Get timed switches that will turn lights on and off while you are out and use them.  Make your house harder to get into than your neighbours.

Next, register everything that's worth money. Take pictures of it, inform your insurance of any high value items and their serial numbers, mark them with ultraviolet pens in discreet areas to identify them if they get taken.

Got a mobile device? Make note of it's IMEI number (International MobileStation Equipment Identity). To do this, dial *#06# (some devices require you to hit the Green dial button after) and write this number down.  In the event of theft, tell your mobile device provider this number and they can prevent it being used. For more information, view a You Tube video from the Metropolitan Police here

Register your credit cards with an agency that can stop your cards quickly. Most banks will offer a service to cancel them all, so ask when you apply.

As gut wrenching as it can be, you can do a lot to protect yourself. Get protected now.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Stop, Look & Listen

I've had the privilege of running training classes at my place of work over the past couple of weeks, and I must admit, it's been a real joy to do.

To see somebody's face as they learn something new, gives you a warm glow.  To hear them talk about it as they walk out the door "I'm going to try that out when I get back to the office" brings a smile and a slight sense of relief. To get reports from Managers saying that everybody has enjoyed the classes, makes the whole thing worth while.

Interestingly the only two problems we had were from two people who didn't apply what I would like to call "The Green Cross Code Rule". Do you remember that advert, from years ago?

The Green Cross Code was introduced as a safety measure for children to learn when they were going to cross the road. The expression used was "Stop, Look and Listen".

It's interesting that if people who were in the training classes would "Stop" what they were doing (being distracted by idol chat) "Look" at what was being demonstrated on screen (instead of thinking they knew a better way) and "Listen" to the advice being given (instead of keeping asking me to repeat the instruction or doing something different because they were not listening in the first place) I am sure those two issues wouldn't have happened.

Now this sounds like a rant, It's not. I genuinely enjoyed running the class, and can't wait for the next one. But the classes have been put together for a reason, the reason is to learn and to impart some new information to those that need help.

I take my hats off to those teachers that do this every day, but I envy them too. For they must enjoy that moment when inspiration hits, the penny drops and the pupil has that joy in their eyes.

It will serve as a reminder to Stop, Look and Listen to what they have to say to me.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

First it was TV, then Radio

That probably sounds like a contradiction in the title, for surely it was radio then TV?

Well, yes, from an invention point of view, it was. But from a digital switchover point of view, in the UK, we are well aware of the changes that were made recently along with the final switching off of analogue transmitters.

But what about radio? Is this set for the same destination?

It seems so! Already the body behind DAB can foresee momentum in the digital switch over meaning that if you don't already have a DAB digital radio in the car, then it could be worth thinking about investing!

You may be considering buying a new car in the near future. Now would be a good time to consider a vehicle with a DAB digital radio as standard, or optional extra.

What does DAB radio offer over analogue?  Well, like Freeview for TV, DAB is able to offer an increased choice of radio stations as more stations can be sent down the same frequencies and simply decoded by the unit in your home or car.

Additional data can be sent along with the signal, meaning that we can often see information about the music or show that we are listening to.

For more information about the digital switch over for Digital Radio, please follow this link:

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Kudos to you, Sir!

To be a typical geek, it's rare to hear one talking about "How it used to be" with any sort of affection. By default, we're all about "here, now & what the future holds" as opposed to "those were the days". I'd like to, however, draw your attention to something pretty amazing by any standard.

Around 1982, computers didn't have as much memory as they do now.  You might have a machine with 4GB of memory. Computers in the early 80's only had about 16, 32 or 48k (4GB = 4,194,304k) so to write any program normally included a very organised brain and a shoe horn or crow bar to get it all in.

A game was launched, called "Elite", it fitted in 22k of memory. This is less than your typical email (average emails are around 60-80k).  However, within this one program contained the following..

  • 8 Galaxies
  • 256 Star Systems per Galaxy
  • Legal System for every planet in the star system
  • Economy and Trade information per planet
Clearly this was something special. People that could program a game in such an efficient manner, they could squash all of that information in.

Today, the same company are trying to write a new version of this game using the same method of programming. And THIS is something I've always championed.

Too often we find software is much too large for it's purpose. Why should we find our anti virus program commanding more system time than the programs it should be protecting? Why should email programs take such a long time to start, run and close? Why should our Operating Systems take MINUTES to load?

I hope other software development companies take a leaf out of the books of these innovative programmers. People that want to return computers back to the fast machines that they are, not sludge their way through a program that makes us desire to spend more money to buy bigger and better, when quite frankly it should be good enough.

Kudos to you!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

End of an Era

Today is a landmark day in the field of technology advancement.  For by the end of today, the last of the analogue television transmitters will be shut off, meaning that the 5 year changeover to Digital will be complete.

But interestingly, it also marks another landmark, for analogue carried something else alongside the television pictures and sounds that we all enjoyed. It also carried a teletext service.



Ceefax was launched in 1974 and was the worlds first teletext service.  Containing graphics and text it rotated on a sequence of pre-delivered pages and you could get News, Sport, Recipes and Holidays to name just a few.

The system was fast, but limited because of it's "one way" delivery. This was challenged when the Internet became more popular, and people would only use it to check the football scores while visiting the grandparents!

Now replaced by "the red button", the digital service is able to offer a lot more, including additional video content and information to make the viewer experience more enjoyable.

So we thank you Teletext, we thank you Ceefax, for bringing on tap information to the masses.  We will miss waiting for the scrolling pages to bring us the news we want to read. Silently you will disappear as the analogue transmitters are finally shut down.

And as you take a bow as the final curtain closes, please make sure you don't get run over by the super fast broadband as it whizzes past.


Tuesday 16 October 2012

Which came first, the Mobile or the Child?

Indeed that was the question that almost got answered in a lethal way earlier as I drove back from picking up some shopping.

A young woman, busy texting on her mobile, pushing a buggy with child in front of her, started crossing the road in front of me without looking.  Thank you Saab for your Anti-Lock Brakes. And sorry that my horn woke your sleeping baby.  I guess we should be glad that it did wake up. A few more feet forward and it wouldn't have anymore.

Quite a dark start to any blog about technology, but in a grim way explains a fundamental problem that society is having with the advances that technology provides.  It seems that technology is trying to become first in our lives instead of the more important things.

Will technology ever become the death of us, so to speak?  Continued reliability certainly gives strength to that argument.  Anti virus software company's are getting increasingly concerned about the extent that a virus could cripple society.

A virus that could infect your local bread manufacturer, or pharmaceutical companies with lethal doses would certainly affect the things we buy. Or what about a virus that could infect traffic control systems, air craft navigation systems or infect fresh water with sewage?

Let's not get to distressed and abandon all hope in technology, or shun it to an extreme that we dismiss it for a horse and cart, but let's keep it firmly in it's rightful place, use it as the tool it's designed to be, and keep our real life ahead of us and focus on the more important things.

Monday 15 October 2012

Shh, It's A Secret

I am about to tell you a secret. I could be struck off the I.T. Circle for this, so keep it quiet.

If your favourite IT geek has ever looked at your PC and made some profound comment about it still processing, or stated categorically that it has crashed, he is not The One. He cannot see into the PC and see it like the Matrix. He is looking at the hard drive light.

Most PCs have at least two lights on the front. One is the power light, the other is the hard drive light. It lights up any time the hard drive is being accessed. So when your first turn it on, you should see the hard drive light go nuts. It's also likely to happen when you open a program, particularly large games. It will also happen if you're not running much memory, as we have discussed previously.

So although your PC may seem to take just a minute to boot up and make the desktop available, it may not be ready to start processing straight away. Look at the hard drive light and you may notice it stays on almost solidly for several minutes after the desktop has appeared. It won't be ready to proficiently process data until the light has almost stopped, or is at least only flickering occasionally. If your waiting for a program to open or process some data and it appears to be taking its time, it may be worth checking the status of the hard drive light. If it's solidly on, it may well be processing a significantly large amount of data. However, if it is permanently on for several minutes it may have crashed. There is no substitute for experience in this area, hence us geeks are still valuable. Phew!

So now you know. I now have to change my name and address for safety reasons.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The Monday Morning Blues

Oh Mondays. I kind of feel sorry for you. It's not your fault you're the first day after the weekend and one of the singularly most maligned days of the week.

Having said that, this is an IT blog and we have heard on any number of occasions users questioning if computers can suffer on a Monday morning too, as they often appear particularly sluggish - and there's an element of truth in it...

If you're a good boy or girl and close your computer down over the weekend, some tasks start building up in the background. Windows' updates need checking, anti-virus needs to update and scan, emails need downloading, and any other scheduled tasks need to run. That entire process can take a significant amount of time, during which the computer will run slowly.

Leaving the computer on all the time isn't really a viable option, as we briefly discussed here. So either, you have to be patient, waiting for the early processes to complete, which can take a significant amount of time. Or you could try Wake-On-Lan. WOL allows a signal to be sent remotely to a machine that effectively pushes the power button. So an hour before you arrive, you could start the power-up process, with the machine being toasty-ready for you when you arrive. There a quite a few hoops to jump through before WOL works and it may not be practical for all networks, but it's certainly worth investigating.

Aside from that, you may just need that third coffee after all.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Read All About It

I hesitated to write this post, fearing it may be overly-picky. However, having just made this mistake myself, it would seem time to discuss the importance of reading.

We received a report that one computer was not running one program. Firing the program up, a message was displayed and I thought I knew what it said, so clicked 'No'. Sure enough, the program would not run any further. Trying a couple of other things didn't work and it was only when I stopped to read the message in full that I realised exactly what the issue was and could resolve it. Face meet palm.

The importance of looking at and reading what your computer is telling you cannot be overstated. If your website registration is rejected, it almost certainly isn't because they don't like you or because the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. The chances are the website will tell you exactly why it's been rejected. Password too short. Postcode needed. That kind of thing.

Thinking you know what a question is asking and hitting a response can be a dangerous pass-time if you haven't read the question properly. Some critical decisions made in some of the programs we've written require a specific word to be typed on the keyboard. So rather than just clicking 'Yes' or 'No' you have to type the word 'DELETE' for instance. There can be no excuse that you didn't know what you were saying 'Yes' to.

So read all about it. Then you'll know exactly what 'it' is.

Friday 7 September 2012

I'm Leaving, and there's nothing you can do to stop..

It's certainly an amazing thing to see the amount of packages that we can have for entertainment nowadays.

The biggest contenders are people like Sky, Virgin, BT who are all selling packages to rival each other.  It's quite an arduous task to ascertain which package gives you the best value for money.

However, you might now be happy. You've got the package you want. You're enjoying lots of TV Channels, Super fast Broadband and freephone telephone calls to talk to Auntie Maud.  Is that it?

No. I'd certainly say to consider calling them in a years time. Why ?

I was sitting on an entertainment package costing me close to £70 per month.  It was only the basic TV package, Middle Broadband Package and Free Calls.. but I walked past a trailer in the local shopping centre and they were advertising a similar package for £33!

Shocked, I walked in and explained what I was paying and they advised me (quietly and discreetly) to ring the provider up and choose the option "I am considering leaving"!

So I did.

And I was asked why I was considering leaving.  Well, I wasn't... was I? So I explained that I was a little disgusted with my monthly fee and explained what I had and what I was paying.  I couldn't have the £33 option as it would have reduced the package I had, but they struck me a deal.

They knocked it down to £45. A saving of £25 per month. Yep £300 per year back in MY bank account, not theirs.

It's certainly worth doing regularly.  As years go on, technology becomes faster, bigger, better, cheaper.. so ring up and ask for your prices to be reviewed.

Save yourself some money and don't let them have it.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Is Security on your PC REALLY that important?

So let me give you a real scenario.

You find a server has a Trojan virus, and has been sending out multiple email spam. Hardly dangerous, but it's infected and you need to get it cleaned.

You wonder how it got infected in the first place as it's a machine that's hardly sat on.. so you start investigating.

So you discover that it has "remote desktop" switched on. Enabling you to remotely connect to it to fix any issues that occur.  Nothing major there. But then you discover that a few users on the network are using simple passwords. Fred's password is "fred" hmm.

So you start probing the firewall, to discover that the remote desktop port is being probed from all sorts of incoming IP Addresses because somebody is trying to log into that server, using an easy log in.

So that's how it was done, but how could it be prevented? After all, you need the remote session available in case the server needs to be connected to.

So the answer was as follows:-

Leave the remote port available, but set up the firewall so that only certain IP addresses can access that port.  Program in the IP addresses that require access.

Increase the level of security on the server, ensuring that nobody uses "simple" passwords. Most servers have this feature available ensuring that users include numbers and Capital letters in their passwords.

Remove users that no longer exist.

Lower the level of all but a few users to "computer user only" which should stop installation of programs unless they have an administrator password.

Security on a PC is vital. After all, would you display your personal bank details in the front window of your house?

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Clear Out The Cobwebs

So many things in life are about change, and moving on.. and it's no different with a computer.

How often have you gone through your hard drive and noticed a word document for a shopping list you created in 1998. Or a photo of a random item you were shopping for when your child was 5?

I noticed a while ago, that I had emails dating back to 2001! Simple, no longer useful emails containing a conversation with a friend about cinema and meal arrangements.. Hardly important now.

So, like clearing out the cupboards, sorting out the loft, it's always good to have a clean up on your computer.

Organisation is always the key, so set yourself a folder for things you might want to keep and things you definitely want to delete.  Don't immediately delete things if you're not sure, but once you've finished your task, double check your folder of "things to delete" before committing it to destruction. And don't just throw it in the recycle bin, delete it permanently and be done with it.

It's the same with emails - do you have thousands of emails in your "deleted items" folder?  If there are emails you need to save in there, then pull them out and put them in another folder to sort out later, then clear down your delete items once and for all.

Like the extra space you acquire from sorting out your loft, your computer will also benefit from clearing down old files.  Make sure you compress or defrag your drive after to make good use of all that re-acquired space.

We'll discuss clearing out the physical cobwebs from your computer tower in another article!

Thursday 26 July 2012

4G - Turning point of networking?

So what's the hype all about? Recently we heard that soon, battle will commence over the 4G networking in the UK. The major competitors will battle it out to bid for coverage and there are even talks of some companies joining forces to get the best coverage in the UK.

How does 4G affect you?

To the average home user, with a broadband connection and a PC or laptop, it might not seem so significant.  We hopefully already get a good connection speed and don't plan to lift our desktop computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse into the garden while the sun is shining.

Or maybe we're NOT getting a good connection speed. Do we live so far from the exchange that we're experiencing connection speeds of less than 5mbs ? Then 4G might be for you!

O2 recently tested 4G and allowed 1000 users in London to connect to the service and report back findings.  Maximum speed achieved was 150mbs. Yes, you read it, 150mps! On a mobile device!  At this rate, we'll all be ditching our broadband and plugging in a 4G USB device into our PC's.

Nothing is set in stone until complete UK tests are done, but it's looking promising.

In the meantime, why not check your speed and see how it compares to what you were promised from your Internet Service Provider?

Friday 22 June 2012

Good tools, or just a hinderance?

I've lost count how many times I've been given a computer to fix where the user is complaining of speed issues.  "It used to be fast, when we first got it, but now it just crawls along. Do you think I need a new one?" is often the comment.

Upon booting up the slow and laggy machine, I often find many a tool installed designed to "optimise" and many toolbars installed on the explorer window - often so many that the browser window is barely visable.

Are these things a false economy?

In a word. Yes. But they have their place.

First rule is to make sure you KNOW what you are installing. There is countless SAFE software that you can install that will also install a tool bar onto your browser.  IT SHOULD give you the option to NOT have this installed, but if it doesn't, then uninstall or disable to tool bar straight after. It's not really that necessary.

Everytime a tool bar is installed, in increases the running size of the browser window, and every tab you open after that multiplies the size, this will cause system drag on the memory.  Ask yourself how many times you've used that toolbar, and ask yourself if you really need it, or so many of them.

Optimise programs are quite ok, but don't let them run in the background.  Oddly, they'll SLOW your system down, because they have to run in the background to see if your systems running slow... called the "observer effect".

Run them once, get them to optimise your system, then uninstall them after.  Keep your system clear of programs you don't use. Know what you install.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Avoid Getting Burnt

There has been a real buzz on the inter-tubes recently about a virus going by the name of Flame. Actually, 'virus' doesn't really do it credit. This thing is massive - for malware - coming in at around 20MB and sends all sorts of information back to locations undisclosed. It seems to be aimed at Middle East countries and is realistically unlikely to bother you. Still, it does raise the issue of how these things spread.

We've covered the importance of running an up to date antivirus program before. In addition to that is one other line of defence...common sense.

Viruses and malware have one barrier to get on a modern operating system. They have to get your permission to install. Of course, if it said 'Hi, I'm a virus. Can I install please?' you would quite rightly say 'Kind offer, thank you, but no.' So instead they take the guise of valid, useful software.

If, out of nowhere, you get told that you have a virus by software other than the AV program that you installed, then that is probably malware itself. It's purpose? To convince you that you have a virus that only it can uninstall for the bargain price of £x. After purchase it tells you what a good job it's done, having done nothing. And you're £x out of pocket. And no-one has £x to give away nowadays.

Or your web browser informs you that you have to install a small program to view this web page. 'Just say yes and everything will be fine' it says. Alarm bells should be ringing. Loudly.

The only software you should give permission to install is software that you are 100% confident you want installed. Do your research. Should I install Flash? Java? A 30-second check through Google reveals that all is well. Power Antivirus? Sounds good, but a moment's research reveals that you would be in trouble if you let it in. The time you spend beforehand will pay off in spades compared to the time it would take to get an infection out.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Technically Challenged, Or Just Lazy ?

It never ceases to amaze me how certain people are quite happy to pass issues with technology over to other people to deal with, almost ready to shut technology out, without try to get to grips with it or at least have a go.

Now, while I understand this for particularly complicated tasks, there comes a point that we all have to try things for ourselves, we may surprise ourselves with the results, and we may even enjoy it!

By way of example, I am regularly surprised at the amount of people that won't change the toner in the colour printer we have at work. It's one of the simplest things to do, and is as easy as loading paper in the tray.  The cartridge is a tube, you twist it and pull the old one out, then slide the new one in and twist the tube to lock it in. Job done.

However, quite a few will not do it, and expect the I.T. Dept to handle it.  Often this requires us to stop doing something complicated (which most of the staff CANNOT do) just to slide a new cartridge in.

It makes me wonder why people really hand over the job. Is it because they really cannot understand how to do it, or is it because they are just lazy?

Sadly, these ones are likely sharing a similar view on other tasks through life, and will often pay for somebody to do a job that they could quite easily manage themselves.

Maybe I should charge for changing the cartridges. Now there's a thought.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Space, The Final Frontier (Or, I Feel The Need, The Need For Speed)

Bit, bytes and nibbles. Not a restaurant review. They are all technical terms used to describe size, and it's worth understanding as they turn up in pretty much all aspects of computing.

A bit is the building block. It is the 0s and 1s that computers work with.

A nibble is 4 bits, but you'll barely ever hear it used outside random blog posts on the web.

A byte is 8 bits. It's how much space is needed for one character. So the letter A takes up one byte of space.

A kilobyte is not 1000 bytes but is actually 1024.

A megabtye is 1024 kilobytes.

A terabyte is 1024 megabytes.

So, pop quiz, your 1TB drive can contain how much data? 1024 x 1024 x 1024. 1,073,741,824 bytes or characters worth. Otherwise known by most people as 'large'. If it helps give you a sense of scale, the Encyclopaedia Britannica comes in at about 224,400,000 characters. So nearly 5 of them.

This whole area also impacts internet connection speeds. Let's say your provider quotes you 8Mb/s. That's 8 megaBITS, not bytes, a second. Going by our equations above, that's actually 1 megaBYTE per second. Some software or websites that report connection speeds report them as megabytes and the blood may drain from your face as it appears you're getting one-eighth of the connection speed you expected.

For many who have been involved in the computer world for some time, they were happy that their 80MB hard drive would never get full. Now TB drives are becoming the standard and my mobile phone has more memory than my first three computers combined.

Now excuse me, I have to go for my afternoon nap.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Bespoke too Soon

Its often a challenge for any business to make a choice over which accounts software they should invest their hard earned money into.  There are so many packages out there, surely one or another will fit their need?

I think the problem that most companies face, is that when they start trading they don't have a working procedure in place that has been set in stone.  This will come in time, but isn't immediately available from the beginning.

As time progresses, a system is developed that the staff are all happy with and the company will grow and it's procedures will increase in speed.  During this time, however, is where a company will start hitting the limits to the Accounts software that they invest in.

What are the choices? What can a company do if they find that their operating environment is being inhibited by the software? Bespoke software is the answer.

An off the shelf program is ideal for smaller companies that may not already have a working process in place. This will mould your administration into a process, a way of working.  However, you may soon discover that it won't do what you want, and this is where a bespoke system comes into play.

With a bespoke system, the development team will analyse your entire working environment and build the software around that.  The benefits are that the computer will work the way that you do, and not the other way around.  In most cases additional developments later on can be added to the original program and it can grow and shape the way that you want it to.

So there must be pros and cons to these two systems, or everybody would get bespoke, surely?

Lets look at those now:-

Off the Shelf
  • Can be cheap
  • Will already have a working system environment in place
  • Will have a lot of support by other users who can help and train where necessary
  • Where accounts and government interactions are required, will meet the required standards.
  • No Flexibility
  • Limited functionality
  • Flexible
  • Will fit your business operations like a glove
  • Will grow and change as you require
  • Will provide all the necessary tools that you require
  • Can be expensive
  • Development can take months or years
  • System is not always transferable as it's designed for you.
Hopefully that gives you a bit of insight into software for your business. Just don't let it be said that we Bespoke too soon!

Wednesday 18 April 2012


When it comes to the end of your computing day, you have a number of options. You could leave the computer on and walk away. That's not really viable as it continues to take power and will significantly shorten the life of your components.

You could put it into sleep mode. Sleep is considerably faster to come back from than a full shutdown and needs less power, but not no power. Sleep effectively writes the state of your computer at that moment to its memory and then shuts everything else down. It must still be powered though, whether by mains or battery, so that the memory can retain the information. If you're only stepping away relatively briefly, but long enough to warrant a state-change, then sleep is probably the way to go. Interestingly, Macs go to sleep, rather than full shutdown, by default.

Hibernate is another option (in some systems). As its description suggests it is like sleep, only more so. Hibernate saves the computer's state, but this time to the hard drive rather than the memory. That means it takes essentially no power to maintain but does take a significantly longer time to boot back up. If you feel you can live without hibernate in Windows, then switch it off as it reserves a chunk of hard drive space that you can claim back if you don't use it. Microsoft tells you how.

Then, of course, there's shutdown. This closes all the windows, locks all the doors, gives the place a quick vacuum and leaves a note for the milkman. Windows especially needs a shutdown occasionally. If any programs have been updated, particularly Windows itself, there may be specific files that cannot be updated until they are no longer used, and that's only going to happen after a shutdown.

So at the end of your computing day choose your method and both head to the land of sleep. Or indeed hibernation.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

The Big Debate: Revisited

At the end of last year we discussed The Big Debate, the differences between PCs and Macs. The conclusion was that there couldn't be a conclusion, the choice is personal. However, to add some more detail to assist in making a decision, we're writing this post after having purchased a Mac.

To reiterate points made in the original post, the hardware and software are both designed and built by Apple and therefore play very nicely together. There is no separate tower with the iMac, everything is contained in the monitor. A nice touch, but not unique to Macs. The monitor is a thing of beauty and looks very nice on a desk. The keyboard and trackpad are very well built. So far, so good.

The ordering process gave an interesting insight into Apple's pricing. To add 4GB of memory on top of the 4GB already provided would have added an extra £160 on to the price-tag. Having set the iMac up, we sourced an extra 8GB of memory from Crucial for less than £35. It may be true that Apple makes good quality products, but don't be under illusion about how they have made the phenomenal amounts of money they have.

OSX, the operating system installed on all Macs, is very nice. Not spectacular, not life-changing, but very nice. Most things you can do on Windows you can do on OSX. Some slightly different methods have to be learnt but no show-stoppers. OSX seems to come with more software pre-installed than Windows, including iMovie and Garageband which are great fun and add to the glossy reputation that Apple products have. The vast majority of programs that I used on Windows have equivalents on the Mac. Most are identical as Macs are mainstream enough for companies to write for. Occasionally you have to go looking for third-party equivalents but again, no show-stoppers. In a worst case, it is possible to install Windows on a Mac, either in its own partition completely separately from OSX, or within it using virtualization software like VirtualBox which works brilliantly. However, if you don't have to, don't. A friend of mine said it was 'like putting a Metro dashboard into an Aston Martin.' Harsh, but it would certainly take up unnecessary space.

At this point it's worth pointing out that not everything went smoothly in the transition. The scanner on the multi-function printer didn't work straight away and is still flaky. And OSX would not perform a Software Update for the first 48 hours. A lot of research later and things were still not resolved until one morning it just started working. I take it the issue lay with Apple's servers but who knows. It was a valuable lesson in the fact that things don't always 'just work'.

So the conclusion? Pretty much what it was - it's all about what you want the machine to do. The Apple range is slick, but not perfect. Windows offers a little more range and flexibility, but is also more prone to tripping over itself. The difference between the two is less now than it's ever been.

Which is better? Still your decision.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Join hands in line...

Having spent most of the morning in a horrendous spiral of impending doom, I thought it was about time to share a simple yet effective solution to remote desktop sharing.

One of the biggest difficulties any IT department will face is having a competent enough user on the other end of the phone who can navigate around a PC efficiently enough and follow instructions correctly so as to do as instructed. For the most part, most issues can be resolved over the phone, but if the call is destined to go on for longer than 5-10 minutes, the user will only get frustrated and want to hand off the controls to somebody who knows what they are doing.

Having faced this issue this morning we tried to establish a remote session using Microsoft's built in "Remote Assistance".  Sadly because of intervening unchangeable firewalls, the session wouldn't start or connect and so that option was abandoned.

Next option was to try the free session called "LogMeIn" which uses the Hamachi networking system.  The Free pro client looked very impressive, but it required some intricate installation procedures to install the software on the client machine, and we test this locally before subjecting our disheartened subject with the ordeal.. and between us in the IT Dept we felt it was too complicated to talk through over the phone and thus disbanded that option too.

We tried MSN Messenger, in the hope that the remote desktop session could piggy back on the Messenger ports, and were faced with countless "updates" required by Windows Live and a confusing collection of (pointless) add on's to the chat system before it would connect.. so again this was abandoned.

Finally we discovered a simple and, more importantly, FREE system from a web site called "See My PC" and it gave us the following link for downloading a small file for running.

Upon downloading the EXE, it sat quietly until needed, didn't require installing and ran as a stand alone program.  The client simply clicked on "Show My PC Now" and ensured that the "Give full control to users" was ticked, and it gave them a secure password to give to us to allow us to connect remotely.  It ran and connected in under 30 seconds and we were able to resolve the system quickly.

If you have had experience where you needed help remotely, and an IT Guru was able to assist you, what program did they use?  Let us know how that experience went...

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Backup Backup (And Give A Brother Room)

It's a 90s Will Smith reference, and it's a tune. No one? OK, moving on...

What would happen if your hard drive exploded right now? How much of your data would you be able to recover from other sources? If the answer is 'none', then we need to talk. Backup is another of those boring subjects that only becomes of interest the split second after it's too late to do anything about it. To save the aggravation, here's some best practice tips.

Firstly, choose your method of backup. The most straightforward is an external hard drive. They've dropped in price of recent times and you could now get a 1TB (over 1000GB) hard drive for under £80. Windows has some basic backup features built in, but you may find a bit more flexibility in third-party software. I can recommend SyncBack, but try some free demos and find out what works for you.

You may find some on-line solutions work well for you. We've talked about this previously in the context of cloud-computing, but let's refer specifically to email for a second.

For a long time, POP was the way to access your email. Post Office Protocol (no really) means the email is downloaded and kept locally on your computer. Great for offline access but not as useful if anything bad happens to your computer. It is possible to back up POP folders, but even better is to leave the email on your ISP's servers. The key expression to look up is IMAP and although we won't go into it now, it essentially means your computer and email servers stay in sync, while actually storing the emails safely with your email provider. If you lost your hard drive, you could re-download your entire email history on to a new computer.

A second consideration is regularity. Now technically once a year is regular. It rather depends on how much you use your computer as to how often you need to back up. A serious power user, including every business that uses a computer, should be backing up at least once a day. As a casual user your going to have to make a decision. After every session ask yourself what the impact would be if your computer disappeared overnight. If you would consider it disastrous because of the lose of data, then it's time to backup.

Backing up is not optional for any serious - or regularly casual - computer user. There are a myriad methods to do it, all you have to do is do it. And I don't want to worry you, but can I smell something burning?

Friday 23 March 2012

It's all in the code

No doubt you've seen them around, those crazy looking squares with blocks of black ink. Random patterns from another world? A new art form?

QR Codes is the new kid on the block and is currently spreading rapidly and seems to be the "thing" to have. So what is a QR Code?

QR Codes (Quick Response Codes) are a 2D bar code.  Instead of bars or black which signify a number or letter format, these codes also represent position within the square, giving the code a greater capacity to store localised information.

Just imagine that you've walked into your local supermarket and picked up a can of beans. On the side of that can, you'll see a bar code.  The bar code will likely also have a "human readable" number underneath which is designed for the operator of the till to enter the code should the scanner fail to read the black lines correctly.  However, that bar code is 'just' a number.  It's often down to the computer system at the till to match that code to the products information and price etc.

For example, my bean can might have  12345678 on the side and in my store it means "Maf's beans" however, if I took that same can and ran into my neighbours wood yard, he might have 12345678 to represent a plank of wood.  Therefore, the bar code simply represents a number, and it's down to the computer system to translate that into a usable item. (It should be noted for those interested, that there is a numbering system supported by GS1 who ensure that no two retail codes are used twice. However, to keep this article as simple as possible, we'll not explore that part)

QR Codes are different, as they can contain information WITHIN them.  Therefore, they are not dependant on a computer system to relay that code into a database to find out what it might represent, but that it contains everything in the code that is required for the QR Scanner to interpret.

By way of example, I visited a web site ( and generated the following code based on our Estuary IT Web Page.

Within this code is our URL which points to our Web page.  You could also put your contact details into a QR code, or just some notes or information.  You could put product descriptions or even a SMS text message, ready to fire up and send off.

One of the most common uses is to have this next to a product, so that customers can scan the code while in the store and receive special offers or discount for the product they are viewing.

Certainly, codes will change the way we interact with things that we do.  If you have a smart phone, why not download a free QR scanner and see what you can do in a QR code.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

A Wash And Brush Up

We referenced maintenance briefly in our Keeping Up post, so let's talk about that for a second. Boring huh? Not half as boring as waiting for a machine that has slowed to a crawl because it hasn't been maintained.

There's some basic IT truths that makes the need to maintain a computer easier to understand. Software is like doughnuts, the more you take on the bigger and slower you're going to become. A hard drive full of 'stuff' has no room to manoeuvre. Apart from not being able to take on new software, it also cannot serve as virtual memory. Explanation? Sure.

To function, a computer uses its memory, the RAM that we make such a big deal about. If there is so much information being processed that the memory becomes full, then it drops back into virtual memory. That involves reading and writing what it would normally send and receive to the memory to your hard drive instead. It's slower, but it works. If, however, your hard drive is so full as to not have enough room for the computer to read and write to, then the information queues up waiting for space. Your computer has no option but to stop accepting new input until it clears the backlog. So there is a direct correlation between how much space is on your hard drive and how fast your computer will go.

Making space varies in simplicity. The first and easiest port of call has to be Add/Remove programs. Scroll through the list of installed programs and look for anything that you don't use. Windows updates are generally good, keep them. But if you have five different CD burning programs but only use one, ditch the other four. That process should hopefully clear you some space.

I've also found a program called TreeView invaluable (I know, installing a program to make more room. Just go with it.) It gives a graphical representation of your hard drive and lets you quickly identify what the big space-takers are. Many will be valid, but you may find an old test video you'd forgotten about taking up 1GB of space that you can readily delete. Or documents and photos that you can burn to a disk. You'll be amazed what you'll find as part of this process, although do be sure of what you are deleting. Pagefile.sys is probably huge, but necessary.

There's one more trick that can give you a significant amount of space back, but comes with some potential dangers. First, the method. Right-click your hard disk drive and select 'Properties'. Click the 'Disk Cleanup' button. Talk amongst yourselves, this can take a while to process. Once done, a new window will open. If you don't see a 'More Options' tab then you should have a 'Clean up system files' button. Click that, then you should get the tab. Select it. Now, before the next stage you should understand what you're about to do. Recent versions of Windows have a System Restore function. It takes a snapshot of your system at regular intervals so that if you have major problems you can roll your Operating System back to a happier time. That takes a lot of space. What you are about to do will delete all of those snapshots except the very latest one. If you're machine has basically been running OK, that should be fine. But after this your recovery options will be limited. If you're happy to carry on then press the bottom 'Clean up...' button. Are you sure? Delete away.

These are just some of your options to get a roomier hard drive. Feel free to comment on our Facebook page if you'd like some more advice.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Keeping Up

With the recent release of the 'New iPad' (really Apple? What do we call it when the next one's released? The Old New iPad?!), this seems a good time to talk about upgrading in general.

There is a law, Moore's law, that states the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. So far that's been pretty much bob on. In fact the entire industry is constantly upgrading, which can present somewhat of a dilemma.

The mantra for anyone who has bought a technological product has to be 'don't look back'. We're only semi-joking when we say that your PC is out of date as soon as you get it out of the shop. So it's normally wise to buy what you can afford. The second your purchase is made, the clock is ticking. Processor and graphic card speeds will be increasing, faster ports will be invented, new formats will be created. The more cutting edge your willing to go, the longer you will be able to wait before having to upgrade.

Of course, careful maintenance of your machine will lengthen its lifespan. A PC with a full hard drive will run considerably slower than one with space. Even just keeping the hardware clean can increase its speed, as components covered in dust run hotter and therefore slower. As a well maintained car will last longer than an uncared for model, so with computers. More on maintenance another day.

In the meantime we all have to find our peace with the fact that the machine you're reading this on is out of date. You are no longer new and improved. You are old and inferior.

Monday 12 March 2012

It's not personal, It's business!

I sent an email to somebody the other day, asking if they had considered putting a business page on Facebook.  His reply was quite amusing, and I fully respect his opinion, so I won't be criticising that at all.

Some of the comments he made about Facebook was "loads of messages from friends with irrelevant news/items such as what they're about to have for tea and how long it took them to do their washing up.." which made me smile.  But is it true?

It makes us wonder how Facebook can maintain that it will always be free.  How do they pay for the unknown quantity of staff that keep the Facebook servers running, and how they are able to program and monitor all those web pages and features and make a profit... but it's free, surely?

Well, this part might come as a shock to some of you, but why would somebody like Facebook be interested in how long it took to do your washing up? The answer? BUSINESS.

Every time you post a comment about washing up, your kids new toys, the run up to the next national holiday, the local shops that you have visited, Facebook use this information to place adverts next to your post that relate to the conversation.  People read your comment about the fact you've just enjoyed a nice bottle of wine, and lo and behold there's an advert for a bottle of red from Tesco's.

Have you ever noticed how relevant adverts are during certain sports events?  Why is it you always seem to get car adverts in between the Formula 1 racing, or hair care products in between daytime chat shows? It's all about product advert placement.  And THIS is how Facebook make their money, and this is why we should ALWAYS remember that Facebook is not just personal..

.. it's business.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

This Just In

Want to save with my bank? It's guarded by a solitary security guard with a big stick. What's the worst that could happen?

You're probably not that inspired, and rightly so. Yet far too many people are running the technological equivalent. If you don't keep your antivirus and security up to date or worse, don't have any, you may as well print all you emails, documents and photos and throw them to the breeze for all to see. Then burn the originals.

Antivirus is not optional. If you are running a computer, attached to the internet or not, you must have a good AV. If you don't then you instantly become part of a much bigger problem. Any bad effects won't just impact you. Most viruses are designed to pass on the infection, either to everyone you've ever emailed or out via USB sticks and the like.

Unbelievably in the 21st century, even some companies don't run AV software. The attitude appears to be 'nothing bad has happened yet'. That's like saying I'll wait until my house burns down before I buy smoke alarms. Just say goodbye to your business data now.

Even a good antivirus program is only as good as its latest virus definitions. If your AV hasn't been updated in the last month, then it's the equivalent of the bank we referenced at the beginning. The protection technology is there but is hopelessly outmoded in the face of modern attacks.

So step 1, get yourself a good antivirus program. The free ones, such as AVG and Avast, work absolutely fine. In fact in many ways they are better than the massively overblown Norton and McAfee. Once installed, keep them up to date. You must keep them up to date. Did I mention about keeping them up to date?

Now we can all crack on with living happy, virus-free lives. Now you'll have to excuse me, my bank's on the phone.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

How To Talk Geek

Let's make some sweeping generalisations shall we. There are two sorts of people in the world, the geeks and the users. Both speak different languages and rarely fully understand each other. Here is a rough guide to making yourself understandable.

"My computer isn't working" tells me nothing. Is there no power? Is it crashing? Is it not doing what you expect it to? Be specific. I don't want to know it's got an error message saying something about 'invalid something'. I want to know it's got an error message that says 'Invalid parameter in field 2.' If you can't be specific, I can't help you.

Read everything. I can't tell you the amount of times something bad has happened because a user hasn't read a prompt and just pressed Yes. If you have done that, I will mock you.

Don't ask stupid questions. "It says 'press OK to continue'. What should I do?" is a stupid question.

Before you even talk to me, restart your machine. There's a 79.82% chance that I'm going to ask you to do that anyway.

Oh, and don't ask "What was it?" unless you actually want to hear the answer.

As an epilogue from the users to the geeks...

My number one rule for you is 'Keep It Simple'. I didn't spend my childhood tapping away on a keyboard in my bedroom. I spent it topping up my Vitamin D in a field like normal children. "You need to restart the spooling service" doesn't help me. I'm still lost. I don't want to spend my time listening to how clever you are, I want you to solve my problem.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Stupid Computers

It's an almost constant refrain heard by anyone in the IT industry.
"My computer's not working."
...or a variation on a theme. It stems from some common misconceptions about computers.
  1. It will do anything
  2. It will do it instantly
  3. It will do it flawlessly
It is my sad duty to report that none of the above are true. They are even perpetuated by the computer industry itself, setting a bar it cannot possibly reach.
  1. The least of the three problems. Computers can do a lot. But they have one critical limitation - they can only do what they are told to do, whether that be by a programmer or a user. Also, they are not psychic. If you pressed 'A' and meant to press 'B', it doesn't know that. It will do 'A'.
  2. Computers are only as strong as their weakest link. Speed is made up of a combination of factors that we have talked about on this blog before,  including, but not limited to, its processor, memory, hard drive and software. Any one of these could slow a system to a complete crawl. Now, I'm going to stick my neck out here and proclaim this as one of the single biggest user-caused problems with computers. I click a button. I give it four seconds. I see no sign of anything happening. I click the button again. At this point I have effectively doubled the work load on the computer and guaranteed the entire process will crawl over the finish line. As long as you're confident you pushed the button, give the computer a chance to do its job. If the software you are using was written after your computer was built, the chances are that it was designed to operate on higher specs than you have at your disposal. Ironically, the computer industry moves at a lightning fast rate.
  3. The physics of a computer are phenomenal. Processors deal with transistors that are nanometres apart. However, they're biggest strength is their biggest weakness. It is almost inevitable that there will be an occasional misfire. It is one of the greatest feats of recent times that the IT industry managed to get computers into most homes in the world when they are highly sophisticated pieces of machinery that are often operating on a knife-edge.
Accept the limitations of a computer, work within them, and you'll get along just fine.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Whats the password?

I don't know about you but I get aggravated by the amount of times I have to think up a new password.  I seem to have several options on the go, and end up using them in the wrong order, on the wrong website or simply completely going blank.

What doesn't help is the bank web sites that will ask me for the 4th, 6th and 8th character of my password, which makes things harder to work out.  However, this seems to be an increasing issue with most of the computer users I talk to, so maybe it's a good idea to look into why passwords are so important.

Before we get into what makes a good password, maybe we should have a look at the top 20 passwords most commonly used.  If your password is below, then CHANGE IT!

1. password
2. 123456
3. 12345678
4. qwerty
5. abc123
6. monkey
7. 1234567
8. letmein
9. trustno1
10. dragon
11. baseball
12. 111111
13. iloveyou
14. master
15. sunshine
16. ashley
17. bailey
18. passw0rd
19. shadow
20. 123123

So what makes a good password? Quite often web sites require a password of 6 or more characters, and the more secure sites will suggest ones with numbers, upper and lower case characters. Why the fuss?

So lets imagine a web site wants a 6 character password, just lower case.  26 letters of the alphabet, 6 times. So that's 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 x 26 x 26.  For those that want to know, that's a combination of 308,915,776. Pretty secure. Surely?  But how many of us would make up a random combination of letters?

In reality, there's only just over 15,000 6 letter words in the English language.  Suddenly that becomes a little more scary.  So now, what if we decided to increase that to an 8 character password? Same letters? 208,827,064,576 combinations of random letters. But, what if you had 8 characters, using upper and lower case, and the numbers 0 - 9 ? Suddenly your 208 Billion Number combination races up to 218,340,105,584,896.

It might look a little confusing and needless for most instances, but the more combinations a password can take the less chances you have of having your account hacked.

Another tip, is to not use the same password across several sites. For if one password gets found, they won't get access to other sites with the same password.

Passwords are important. 6Hg4Rf9e might look a little complicated, but it won't be listed in the top "passwords not to use" list for a long while!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Ahead In The Cloud

‘The Cloud’ is one of those tech-expressions that started out as largely a business exercise before hitting the mainstream. Now, you can’t move for clouds. So here’s a testing question – could you effectively run a computer without a hard drive and store everything remotely?

Let’s start easy. Photos are already often stored in the cloud, whether that be Facebook, Flickr or some other site. Increasingly, it's the same for videos. They don’t have to be shared with the world necessarily, but there they are, not on your hard drive.

Documents could easily take a similar route. Google Docs is probably the most famous online storage and editor, although Microsoft themselves provide a similar, though chargeable service. Tick.

Music could easily be a massive space hog on a hard drive. But services like Spotify circumvent that and have the advantage of making the vast majority of songs available without having to download them first. Three for three.

Games. Oo, tricky. Probably the biggest space-taker in this list and, until recently, non-negotiable. They had to be stored on your hard drive and that was the beginning and end of it. But OnLive is challenging that convention. Rather than buy a physical copy of a game, take it home, install it and then play, a process that could easily take a couple of hours, OnLive lets your start playing in about two minutes. The game is streamed to you, a bit like video sites, and your key presses are sent back. As long as your broadband service is up to it, and most are nowadays, it’s a seamless process.

As you can see, a lot is storable ‘out there’. There still remain some valid concerns however. Your data is out of your control. A major security breach, however unlikely, could see your personal data out for the world to see. A drop in internet, whether due to geographical location or local circumstances, cuts you off from, potentially, everything*. And some programs simply don’t have an offline option, so are destined for the hard drive. Nonetheless, there is a believable future in the cloud.

*I would contend that this is not a massive issue, as the same would apply if the electricity gets cut off, but we still use computers. I've lost power more often than I've lost internet in the past year.

Monday 30 January 2012

Busman's Holiday

I decided to take a week away from the busy life in the office and have one of our regular holiday's away in the East of England.  Sitting here in a log cabin, no traffic about, it's starting to snow and we watched the snow drops landing on our head while we sat in the hot tub.

It's times like this that most people are quite grateful to get away from technology, and a few raised eyebrows always appear when people walk into our cabin to see that I have my laptop on my desk.  As much as most people want to get away from technology, I'm happier knowing that it's about. But why?

It's strange, but this made me think of various forms of technology that we rely on every day.  Our first thoughts would be to our mobile phones. Most people would be happy to switch these off or leave them behind. But technology goes further.  We all have televisions provided with countless channels.  We all have dishwashers and microwaves supplied in the cabins. Underfloor heating, and temperature controlled bath/shower taps.  If we wanted to escape technology, where would we draw the line ?

Maybe we'd try and live life away from any electrical devices. But even the clothing we wear, and forms of transport we use are advancements in technology. Without these, we'd be walking around with sheepskins around us.

Maybe this is what people really want.  To go back to a time before technology kicked in. Before language developed and before early man even developed the first spear to catch a fish for dinner. But then, with the mental capacity still unleashed in our heads, it makes you wonder just how far we could develop if this amazing brain power was unleashed.

So I guess that's why I feel comfortable.  While others around me are happy to switch off, absorb the surroundings and enjoy the fresh air, I'm happier knowing that I can let my brain compute, without the interruptions of day to day work scattering my thought patterns.

I'm grateful we're not going backwards. I really don't understand what "UGG" means to a caveman.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Take One Tablet (And Call Me in the Morning)

They sounded like a pointless idea, at best. Oversized mobile phones, that didn’t work as phones. Like carrying round a touchscreen monitor without a keyboard, printer or any meaningful peripherals. I confess to being one of the doubters.

But they stuck around and users raved about them. Not just the usual tech-zealots but the technophobes as well. And then the imitations started arriving, the sincerest form of flattery. So by the time my laptop started showing signs of wear and tear, my choice wasn’t as clear-cut. Was there actually going to be a case for buying a tablet?

Tablets have been around in one form or another since 2002 (not counting Moses) but since 2010 there has been one clear leader in the field. I’m no Apple minion – I find myself highly indifferent about the iPhone – but the iPad genuinely shook the market up. There’s been a proliferation of tablets from multiple manufacturers with more on the horizon and sales of PCs have noticeably dropped. Still, it’s not as simple as tablets replacing PCs wholesale. By way of balance:

Although mobile by definition, laptops still require a fair amount of supporting paraphernalia, a bag at least, a mains lead if you’re planning on working for more than a couple of hours. But the tablets are pretty self-contained and most will last you a day of pretty solid use on one charge. And there is something deeply cool about sitting in your favourite armchair reading essentially anything you want. The style is undeniable. Gaming, especially multiplayer, is ace.

Printing is a very hit and miss affair. If you have an AirPrint printer then it’s a cinch, but they remain few and far between. If not, then you are likely to have to turn your PC on and use it as a channel to print through. That has always struck me as deeply counter-intuitive. Apps are available that take a good shot at printing directly via Wi-Fi but results vary. You are also limited to the apps that Apple provides via its app store. ‘Limited’ is a highly subjective word as there are well over 140,000 apps for the iPad alone. However, don’t expect there to be exact equivalents of your favourite programs. Apps have to make it through Apple’s quite stringent approval process and you may find gaps that aren’t met according to your needs.

Personally, I ended up landing in the middle. The laptop survived, but I took the pressure off it by purchasing an iPad. The tablet serves for most of the day-to-day browsing, reading, mailing; the laptop for programming, heavy printing and programs unique to Windows. As is often the way with in the tech-world there is no simple answer. You’ll have to make up your mind based on your own needs. But make no mistake, tablets are here for a while yet…

Saturday 14 January 2012

Do you have too much Authority?

When Windows Vista was launch, I was amazed at the amount of people that were asking the question "How do I disable to UAC ?" (User Account Control). What was this mysterious new development on Windows and WHY had Microsoft included it?

Interestingly, it's own own personal habits that made Microsoft bring in the UAC.  The annoying little window that keeps popping up every time you try and install some software, asking if you're REALLY sure that it's OK to do so.

So lets look into what it's really there for and why it was introduced, and it might be time to ask ourselves if we have all given ourselves too much power.

When you first install Windows, or purchase a pre-installed copy, one of the first questions we are asked is the name of the Administrator.  Being rather smug, we put our own name in and a password and feel rather proud as we subsequently add other members names, dedicating our partner's account to have the rather odd looking frog icon.  After which, we sign into our Administrators account and from that point forward we start installing the software we want.

Now while that's rather handy, we've already caused ourselves a problem.  Have you ever noticed software installed on your system that you swear you didn't install yourself?  Have you ever experienced your Web Browser starting at a different home page, and regardless how many times you try and change it, it keeps coming back?

Viruses and Trojan software exploits the fact that you've signed in as Administrator, and with your "access all areas" account, it merrily will install software without you knowing anything about it.

My father experienced this issue, when he received "a call on behalf of Microsoft" in which the caller told him he needed to turn on his computer because he was experiencing problems and they would be able to remotely access his machine and fix it for him.  Yeah, that's right. out of the billions of computers with Microsoft software, they took the time to call my 80+ year old father to fix it for him. How sweet.

It wasn't Microsoft (of course) and after charging him for the service, he also found his computer was doing rather odd things after.  Namely Trojans and software designed for them to log in again whenever they wanted.

So, I changed the way his system worked.  We set up a new user account and restricted it to USER only.  If he wanted to install or remove software, he would have to type in the administrators password. EACH TIME.  Annoying? Yes. Safer? DEFINITELY. Has he had problems since? NO.  Will a Virus install itself without his intervention? UNLIKELY.

It's time to switch back on the UAC.  The annoying pop up window that was put in place because Microsoft realised everybody was running their machines in Administrator level.

It's time to reduce the amount of automatic access we have on our own machines and start being more aware about what's happening behind the scenes.  And gradually the control of the computer will return back to us.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

I've got the power!

Some of the biggest questions I get asked are things like "Why is my computer running so slow?" or "What kind of computer do I need to do this job?" And in most instances, the answer is "Buy the most powerful computer that your budget will allow!"  Why is this?

It's quite easy to get a little distracted by a salesman in a computer shop, showing you all the wonderful bits of software and storage space that you might get if you buy a certain PC or Laptop, but of all the components you want to seriously consider, I would recommend that you find a machine that has the fastest CPU, the most RAM and the best Graphics that money will afford.  If this means sacrificing a bit of software here and there, or getting one with slightly less hard drive space, then it's worth doing.

Software can be purchased or downloaded for free over the course of time.. and I hate buying a computer that comes preloaded with software that I will never use.  The first thing I do with a computer is wipe it clean and install Windows on it fresh.

Secondly, as much as a large hard drive might be appealing, the core components are the items that you should invest your money in.  Get a fast processor, get plenty of memory, get a good graphics card.  Hard drives can be supplemented later with new drives, or external USB drives.  You can currently buy a 1TB external drive for less that £80 in the UK, which means that if you can invest your original money into good quality components and worry about storage when you start filling it up.

Make sure that your power supply is up to the task to. I was surprised a year or two ago to find that the sole reason a server was running slow, was because the power supply was failing or not powerful enough. A quick swap of the power supply instantly kicked it's performance back where it should be.  Think how many USB devices you need to connect and how much power they'll demand.  Each device might use between 5 - 12v so add that up when you connect more and more items.

Power is everything to a computer, the more it gets the happier it behaves.  If you need a computer that performs well, then you should expect it to need power in some way shape of form.

As with any article, if you have any questions or comments, please do so on the facebook page.  Thank you!