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Computer Tips

Some of us think we know the best way to do things.  Here are a few of mine  :)


  Malware Prevention
Wireless Network Security
Printer Installation: New Printers
Printer Installation: Older Printers

Downloaded Software / Toolbars
Replacement Laptop Batteries
Windows 10 / New Computer Setup
Laptop Care


Malware Prevention

For the most part, malware seems to slip by many, if not all anti-virus products.  I have had machines brought to me with AVG, Avira, McAfee, Norton, Kasperski, etc. that have been infected with malware and are affected with the associated registry/system changes and damages.

So what gives?  Aren't we protected if we have an updated anti-virus installed?

Obviously not.

I remove a lot of malware and have learned malware patterns and where their damages lie.  I know how malware infections happen and I know how to avoid them.  I also know a secret that the major anti-virus companies don't want you to know - actual viruses are very rare and the biggest modern threat is malware.  The kicker is that their products will not stop malware from being installed.

So what about protection?

The best protection is our brain.  People can stay out of trouble by staying in safe areas.  It's generally safe to check email, Facebook, shop, and read news.  These activities are relatively safe and you can engage in these without needing to keep your antenna up with only a few exceptions...

Be on the lookout for and question web links that you are emailed - even from contacts you know. Emails accounts still get hacked and when this happens, the victim's contacts often get harvested and emailed a link with no personal message other than the link.  Trouble often awaits at the other ends of these links.  Question and carefully scrutinize emails that require or tempt you to click a link or button to either satisfy a curiosity or to "solve a problem" with an account.  Scammers often use effectible social engineering to get people to click and activate a tripwire or trick people to give up private information.

Important - if you get an email that has a zipped attachment, WATCH OUT.  People who know computers sometimes use zip files as a way to send multiple files inside a single attachment.  But businesses like FedEx, UPS, USPS, PayPal, eBay, the IRS, etc. DO NOT send PDF "reports" inside a zip file.  If you receive an email with a zipped attachment assume that it contains a malicious program. Verify the contents of a zip file with the sender before opening.  If you don't know what a zip file is, go HERE.

Installing Software
Gone are the days where novices can install software safely.  At the very least, blindly clicking the [NEXT] buttons on the installation screens will probably change your Internet homepage, default search engine and add an unneeded toolbar.  Read every screen and opt out of the extras that permits the software to change your homepage or add a toolbar.

Free downloaded software is downright dangerous. It's wise to stay clear of software searches and downloads unless you know exactly how the scam game is played.  Most people are not equipped to deal with the hidden traps buried inside of free software.  Something as simple as trying out a new media player can leave your computer loaded with undesirable software that will take an experienced technician to fully remove.

My advice is to keep them off of a computer that you care about.  Give them a ChromeBook or similar.  Or create a "Limited" account for them and forbid them to use your password protected account with Administrator rights.  It doesn't take very long for a fearless game seeker to trash a Windows computer.  With kids, it's not a matter of "if... it's "when".

If you are on the Internet and are prompted to update anything, consider it a trick unless you are adept at recognizing and installing legit updates.  Driver update programs are often malicious.  Do not rely on a driver utility to address a suspected driver problem - seek professional help.  Legitimate updates from JAVA and Adobe products are offered to us as our computers start - NOT while on the Internet.  Not sure?  Then wait.  No update is worth messing up your computer.  As mentioned earlier, be on the lookout for undesired changes and opt out of those changes when installing legit updates such as those from JAVA and Adobe.

Tune-up Programs
Generally worthless and sometimes malicious.  Stay away.  If you think your computer needs a tune-up, it is probably running slow because of undesirable software or a heavy antivirus program.  It definitely won't be faster when several "tuneup" processes are swirling in the background.



Wireless Network Security

If you have a wireless router in your home so your laptop can connect wirelessly, does your router have the password enabled?

You really need to do this so no unauthorized connections to your network can be made from the outside.  Why?  The first reason is that any traffic that crosses your Internet gateway is your responsibility.  An unsavory example is pedophilia material.  Those who are involved in illegal Internet activity know how to not get caught and it doesn't take a genius to sniff an area for an unsecured network allowing a gateway to the Internet that can't be traced to them.  You get my drift.

Another reason to lock your wireless down is that if your ISP limits your monthly data throughput, you could be paying extra for a neighbor who is using your Internet account without your knowledge to download the complete Beatles catalog.  This same neighbor could be sharing copyrighted material with the world and because it's coming from your IP address, you are responsible.  Have you ever shared your wireless password with a neighbor as a favor?  If your password is still the same, they may still be using it.  Know any good lawyers?

Yeah... granting someone temporary Internet access is a neighborly thing to do, but be aware that if you have file sharing enabled, anyone on your network who is in the same workgroup can access those files.  After handing out your password, be sure and change it after a day or two.

If your router is not secured, please secure it from people on the outside and protect yourself.  Different brands of wireless routers are accessed differently - they have different default login usernames & passwords.  Read your manual or do a Google search on your particular router.  It's really worth learning how to do this and basically there are only two parts: Getting into the interface and changing the settings.

  • Name (SSID) - This is the network name that appears in the list of available wireless networks.  A default name is already used (usually contains your router's mfg. name).  If you want to change the broadcasted name to something different, I recommend choosing a name that doesn't identify you to your neighbors.
  • Encryption Type - For residential use with best compatibility with "smart" devices like Internet-capable TV's and BluRay players I like WPA-PSK with TKIP.  Some devices have problems with WPA2-AES
  • Password - Choose a password that you will remember and no one will guess.
If you need an in-home wireless router set up or help configuring it with security, call me - this is what I do.  I will explain as I go along and teach you about your setup so that you will be able to change your own password, add computers to your network, and even regain failed connections yourself should something weird happen with your ISP or equipment.  Knowledge is power.



Printer Installation (Part 1: New Printers)

Today's wireless printers install easily by following the instructions included with the printer.  Often, there is a quick set-up page that will get you started - removing tape and packing protection.  If you want to access all of your printer's features like scanning, you will want to run the CD that comes with a new printer and follow the steps.  WAIT until the setup software tells you to connect the USB cable before doing so because this step might not be required.

Be sure and save your software disk after your printer is installed.  To install the printer to additional computers, you might need the disk.  My non-tech customers have had very few issues installing their own HP and Lexmark wireless printers.  My personal preference is HP because of their clean and complete scanner interface and flawless wireless network installation.

If you are installing your printer as a wireless network printer, I recommend choosing the option to NOT share the printer.  The reason is that if the printer is on the network, that means that any computer can print to it over the network (through the router) as long as the printer and router are powered on.  If you select the option to share the printer and someone later uses the Add Printer utility to get a printer on their device, they could install the shared printer instead of the network printer.  For a shared printer to work, the sharing computer operating as a print server must be powered on.

If wireless connectivity issues arise later related to the router automatically assigning an IP address (DHCP), this can be permanently corrected by setting the printer up with a static IP address in the same subnet but outside of the assignable range.  Here's an example: Say your router automatically assigns IP addresses in the range of to  This leaves the to that can be manually assigned to network devices like printers.

I realize that configuring a manual IP address is beyond the scope of many people but there are instructions on the web.  If your printer is here one day and gone on other days, a static IP address is the answer.



Printer Installation (Part 2: Older USB-Connected Printer)

So in your home you have an older printer already installed to a desktop computer using a USB or parallel cable.  You have a wired or wireless router and other computers are hooked in (either by Ethernet cable or wireless).  If your current printer is fine but you are emailing or using a USB drive to transfer files to the computer connected to the printer, there is a better solution.  With that router connecting your computers you have the potential to network and from any computer, you can print directly to the printer you already have installed.

The steps to do this can be found in numerous places on the web and there are probably some shaky software solutions out there as well.  I'll just give you a very brief list of things that have to be done to accomplish printer sharing.

  • Put all computers in the same workgroup or Homegroup - this is a key step in home networking.
  • Enable "File and Print Sharing" on all participating computers - another key step.
  • Share your printer in the Printer Properties window.
  • Be sure both 32-bit and 64-bit drivers are made available by the connected computer.
  • Add (install) the shared printer to the computers which need a printer.

Those are the basic steps but sometimes it's easier said than done.  There are often driver and sharing roadblocks.  Call me for printer-sharing solutions.



Downloaded Software / Toolbars

Most software comes bundled with extras that you probably do not want.  Be sure and look at the options or advanced options during installs and uncheck those that do not benefit you.  If you aren't vigilant in this area, your home page and search provider will change and the program might install resource-hogging marketing software.

Toolbars should be avoided like plagues.  At best, they only serve to take up valuable space in your web browser window.  JAVA will try to load one and even Adobe will try to sneak a McAfee Toolbar and also a virus scanner on your system.  Keep your browser clean and look for the opportunity to "uncheck" the toolbar options whenever updating or installing anything.

To remove toolbars, the place to start is Control Panel and Uninstall a Program (Add/Remove).  My advice is to remove ALL toolbars.  MSN, Ask, WebSearch (actually, remove ALL WebSearch items), YaHoo!, AOL.  You don't need these toolbars.  Learn to use the features already in your browser like making use of your browser's Favorites (Bookmarks) Bar, putting your default search to Google, and setting your homepage to whatever you want.



Replacement Laptop Batteries

Sooner or later, it will be time to replace a failing or dead laptop battery.  Don't just jump on the least expensive one made for your computer.  They are not the same - neither in quality or performance.  Making a quick decision based on price alone could be a mistake both in performance expectation and safety.

Besides making sure that it's a quality Lithium-ion (Li-ion) type and made specifically for your model computer, you also need a rating that is supplied by the battery's manufacturer so you can compare different batteries.

Here's the number from which to make performance comparisons: "Watt Hours" (WH)

A few manufacturers rate their batteries by "Milliamp Hours" (mAH).  This is sometimes done to try to disguise a low-performing battery behind a large number and a large price-tag.  To properly compare batteries, one that has a mAH rating needs that number converted to HW.  Remember when you said you that you wouldn't ever use the stuff your math teacher was having you do?

Here's the conversion formula:

(mAH x battery voltage) / 1000 = WH

Once you get the watt hours (WH) on all the batteries that you are comparing, you can compare quality and size.

Quality comes into effect when your computer's charging system doesn't recognize or identify the battery.  The battery may still perform but your computer may either tell you that there is no battery or the meter in your task bar may give inaccurate readings.  Some aftermarket batteries might not latch securely inside the laptop and may drop out when you pick it up.

Some higher performing batteries with more cells may not fit flush with back of the laptop or may make it not sit level.  This isn't necessarily bad, but it is something of which to be aware.  Having your computer jacked up a bit can actually be a good thing as far as allowing additional clearance for your cooling system's air intake and better ergonomics, but if your computer barely fits into your carry bag, then you will not want the extra bulge.

The best sources for this type of information are reviews from users. The reviews on Amazon.com are great for learning from the experiences from others - just be sure the review is for the exact product that you are considering.

With regard to laptop batteries, cheapest will usually get you a battery that does not last long and quality may be questionable - but paying more doesn't necessarily get you the best either.  A little effort can insure a wise choice, so do your homework and decide on a good balance between price and performance.  For safety reasons, it's usually best to buy from a manufacturer or authorized reseller.





Windows 10 / New Computer Setup

In my opinion, new computers sold today are not necessarily ready-to-go when taken out of the box.  First off, you may not like the operation of Windows 10 but a person with some know-how, can make your new Windows 10 machine look and feel very similar to Windows 7 complete with a familiar Start button menu.  Windows 10 tweaking and configuration doesn't stop by defaulting to a familiar start Menu - you will probably prefer that common files open with familiar Windows-based programs rather than the apps.

Other new computer issues...
Companies make money from selling us things that have reoccurring fees.  The Norton or McAfee security software should be removed and replaced with lighter-running free programs.  Online data backup and online PC tune-up offers should be declined.  These are things a good tech can show you how to do yourself.  One important thing to do is to make your recovery disks when prompted.  You'll need a 5-pack of DVD-R recordable disks and a Sharpie permanent marker to label the disks.

Then there are also the hidden and unneeded background programs that are set to start up every time Windows starts.  Preventing the ones you don't need from automatically starting will let your computer run much faster, but knowing which processes to disable and how to safely do so requires a bit of knowledge and experience.

Computers now come with a "reminder" version of Microsoft Office which works for awhile and then reminds you that Office will no longer work until you pay a fee for a yearly subscription..

I offer a very useful service I call the "New Computer Setup" to help the owners of new systems.  The benefits of this type of setup and initial cleaning isn't isolated to new computers - older computers can really benefit as well.  I can spot the junk programs that people get tricked into installing.

A computer configured like I described is easier to work with, is faster, and is more fun to use.



Laptop Care

Laptop (notebook) computers differ quite a bit from desktop computers because being smaller requires a different type of construction and a different build-quality of hardware.  In most cases, this means the components are less durable which requires the laptop to need special care.  Look over the bullet points below.

  • Power Button.  With most factory configurations, this is the power-on button and NOT the power-off button (unless you have gone into the options to change its function).  With most laptops, pressing and quickly releasing only puts it to sleep.  To safely power-down a laptop set at its defaults, you should go to Start>Shutdown and do a "software shutdown".  Unless your laptop is locked up, you should never hold the power button in until it shuts off.  This is a no-no and will eventually cause major problems.
  • Heat.  The cooling systems engineered into laptops are usually adequate but minimal and you don't want to do anything to impede their operation.  Typically, there is a system fan that is controlled by a thermostat.  Heat is dissipated away from the CPU and video chip to something that looks like a small radiator.  The fan blows fresh air across the radiator's fins, thus removing heat.  The fresh air intake is on the bottom of the computer close to one of the far corners and the exhaust opening is on the side or back edge adjacent to the intake.  It is important that the intake opening on the bottom and the exhaust on the side are never blocked.  This means that it should never be operated on soft, conforming surfaces like beds or pillows and if used on the lap while sitting, your leg should not block the opening.  A flat surface is best.
  • Movement.  People usually think "portable" when thinking about their laptop.  Yes - portable when it's OFF.  Extreme caution in regard to movement should be taken when the laptop is powered on.  Inside the laptop is a device called a hard drive that contains the operating system and the user's data.  Inside the hard drive is a metal disk which is constantly spinning at high speeds and is being read by a metal needle similar to a record player stylus.  A jolt or sudden movement while the laptop is on WILL damage the drive and WILL result in failure.  Failure here means loss of data and a non-functional operating system.  I tell my customers that if they have to move their notebook computer while it is running, treat it as if it were a tray of antique china.  I also tell them to always have their irreplaceable data backed up to a 2nd drive separate from the computer - because of their nature (durability and treatment), laptop internal drives are prone to failure.
  • Hard Drive Failure.  Continuing from the above paragraph... because hard drives used in laptops are typically less robust than the drives used in desktops, they are more susceptible to failure.  There are often telltale signs that a drive is getting ready to fail and acting on these signs can allow you to save your data and even your current setup/installation.  Visual signs to look for include blue screens at startup or during operation and also freeze-ups during operation.  Audible clues can be any noises coming from the drive.  Laptop drives are usually located in one of the two corners close to you and are normally quiet.  Actually, most laptop drives do make a low-level "chatter" as the heads read the disks but the noise is rarely loud enough to be easily heard through the palm rest.  Listen for audible clicks, loud reading chatter, or a medium-pitched steady alarm tone.

    These last signs (especially the clicks/ticks or tone) mean that drive failure is imminent and if your computer is on, you should back up your irreplaceable data immediately.  I mean right now because the Titanic may be sinking.  Because time may be running out, save items in order of importance.  It will take more time to copy larger files and given that your media might already be synced to an iPod or mp3 player, you might want to wait and copy your Music and Videos (My Music, My Videos) until last.  If you have them in your Documents (My Documents) folder, don't forget folders like TurboTax, QuickBooks, or Quicken.  Your data files/backups are in these folders and if saved, these programs can be restored like you last left them.  After the important contents of your Documents folder have been copied, power down your computer and call a tech.  A failing drive that is not completely toast can be accessed, copied to new drive, and everything will be good again.  If you are not comfortable copying these files or are unsure of their location, please call me.
  • Power Adapter/Charger.  This is one of the weakest points of a laptop and also probably the most important because this is the energy source.  The juice.  Crunching the charging jack will ruin your computer or necessitate expensive repair so extreme care should be taken to make sure the plug that goes into the computer is never pulled sideways while plugged in.  The cord that comes out of the computer should always be straight (never kinked) and never exposed to stress.  The points where the wires go into the adapter "brick" should be monitored so they are never kinked - either in operation or when in storage.  Don't tightly wind and wrap the cables - instead, secure and store them loosely with no sharp kinks in critical areas like shown below.  If your power jack has been damaged, I do this type of system board repair.

  • Dirt/Food/Contamination.  Avoid having food or liquids in proximity to your laptop.  If used in a dusty environment, use a keyboard protector.  Crumbs and dirt accumulating in the keyboard tray will not stay loose and dry and over the course of changing humidity levels, debris under the keys can turn into a sticky mess that usually cannot be easily cleaned.  Having liquids in spilling range is an invitation for disaster.  Canned air meant for computers should be kept on hand for periodic cleaning (see images below).  Power-off the laptop and blow the keyboard out while it's turned on its side.  Also blow air into both fan openings (intake and exhaust alternatively) to remove dust that has accumulated on the fan blades and the internal radiator's cooling fins.


  • Stickers.  I have a personal distaste for those little manufacturer's emblems (Windows, Intel, AMD, NVidia, Energy Compliant) that adorn the palm rests of new laptops and I recommend removing them as soon as you are satisfied that you are going to keep the laptop.  The labels on the bottom are important so LEAVE THOSE ALONE, but the ones on top can be peeled off with a fingernail (nothing sharp).  The remaining glue can be removed with an old cloth sprayed with WD-40.  Don't use a commercial adhesive solvent like GooGone because it might melt your laptop.
  • Display.  Besides being icky, dirt on the display and keys can cause scratches to the display's surface when the laptop is closed and it is subject to vibrations like being transported in a vehicle.  My preferred cleaning solution is 50% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol combined with 50% distilled water.  I keep this in a labeled spray bottle and to clean a display, I spray a clean, soft cloth and gently wipe (don't squirt directly on the display or keys.  When wiping the keys with this damp cloth, make sure none are pulled off by being caught by the cleaning cloth.  Laptops being transported should be in a padded case or wrapped in bubble-wrap to protect against shock and ideally, it should be held vertical unless a soft thin pad is inserted between the closed lid and body to keep the keys from contacting the display.

Take care of your laptop and protect it from abuse and damage.  The precautions above may seem obvious but following them strictly will allow your laptop to last a long time and stay in new, pristine condition.





A backup is a copy and that's the simple definition.  There are different levels and purposes of backups and all of these purposes include being able to restore irreplaceable data in the event of a computer disk failure or accidental damage or deletion.  By irreplaceable data, I mean pictures, documents, your personal files.

Some types of backups are extensive and allow us to restore our whole system quickly - other types are simple and protect certain data folders like pictures and music.  If you own an iPod or iPhone and use iTunes, you already have a backup by having your music in two places - one copy is on your handheld device and the other is on your computer.  This is good because if you lose your iPod and have to buy a new one, the iTunes program on your computer will put your old music library on a new iPod.  If something were to happen to your computer, you could install iTunes on another computer, sync your old iPod to the computer and the music library on your iPod would be used to rebuild the library on your new computer.

Backing up digital photos isn't usually automatic.  The process of doing this manually can be unclear especially if you use imaging-managing software like Kodak EasyShare.  To make a backup copy of any group of files (digital photos are files), you have to know where they are.

If you think you have a backup process already set up but don't really know the details, chances are your files aren't really being backed up properly.

One example is if your business uses QuickBooks.  During installation, QuickBooks prompts the user to set up an automatic backup.  The problem is that if the person installing QuickBooks isn't crystal clear about where the backup should be pointed and when it is to occur, they might not have a recent backup that will be accessible should a hardware failure occur.

QuickBooks does have a pay subscription backup service where they purport to keep your customer database safe but my single experience with this QuickBooks service showed me that it is lacking, unreliable and their tech support is untrained and dangerous.  I would not recommend it.  It's best if you manage your own backup pointed toward your own external storage device.

With my business customers that use QuickBooks, I set up the automatic backup properly to a drive that is not on the computer.  I prefer to set up QuickBooks to backup automatically every time it is closed - saving the most recent five or ten sessions.  I then show the user how to verify that the backups are occurring as scheduled.

There are similar ways to automatically backup someone's user data (pictures, documents, videos, music, etc.) but like QuickBooks, this must be configured properly and regularly monitored to ensure it is occurring.  An automatic backup can be as simple as a manual "copy and replace" routine of the contents of a single folder once daily and can be as comprehensive as setting up a RAID configuration or saving a periodic image of the computer's whole hard drive.  Most of my customers can fall somewhere in the middle with a daily incremental automatic backup being made to an inexpensive external drive.

If you have irreplaceable data on your computer are concerned about not having a backup copy of your important files and wish to have an automatic backup set up, consider calling me or someone who can look at your situation and recommend and set up an appropriate backup process.




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