Pro Activist Computer Support

Figuring out how you can make it work, through technology

Slowness? — April 22, 2016

Slowness?

Tortoise
Slower than molasses in January?

When you notice your computer is slower than you’d like, then it helps to ask “How is it slow?”  There are three main ways a computer can act slowly and each one comes from a different set of possible sources.

The first kind of slowness is slowness getting started.  If your computer takes a very long time to start or reboot, but once it finishes booting it works normally, this is slowness getting started.  It is typical of older computers with slower or dying hard disk drives.  But it may also be due to a lot of software loading at boot time, such as complex security systems, Adobe down-loaders, backup utilities, Spotify, and so forth.  In bad cases, you may find that it takes a long time to open a program or document but then the computers works normally until it is time to save the document.

The second kind of slowness is slowness on the Internet.  If your computer acts normally when working in Word or other local software, but web pages take a long time to load, this is slowness on the Internet.  It is typical of computers connected to slow Internet connections. But it may appear with certain types of malware infestations.  Ensure you have a top-tier professional-grade anti-virus product, such as Symantec (Norton), ESET, Kaspersky or Trend Micro.

The last kind of slowness is general slowness.  If your computer is slow at everything and particularly slow when there are many programs open or many tabs open in your web browser, this is general slowness.  It it typical of older computers with low RAM, although some types of malware infestations could eat into the RAM in ways that get hidden from the system performance monitoring tools. But this sort of slowness may also appear where the motherboard and other components are starting to degrade.

Those are the three ways a computer can act slowly.  Hopefully this will help you think about your computer performance and how to improve it.  If you suspect malware, try a scan with Malwarebytes Anti-malware.  If that finds nothing, then consult with your local computer technician, and be sure to specify how and when you notice the slowness plaguing you.

Cloud Backup with Carbonite — February 8, 2016

Cloud Backup with Carbonite

Carbointe silver partnerYou know, if your computer gets stolen or destroyed, the drive you connect to it to run backups is likely to get stolen or destroyed at the same time.  Once you have a good local backup, it’s time to consider backing up at least some of your data to the cloud as well.

There are many good cloud-backup systems, but my favorite over the years has been Carbonite.  It is easy to setup and use. It has been very reliable for my clients who use it.  So this past year, I signed up as a partner with Carbonite.  As a Carbonite partner, I can better help you get the plan you need and if you register through me, I will automatically get access to your account through a dashboard app so that I can monitor your backups.  I will now be able to know immediately whether there are any problems with your cloud-backup and work quickly to repair the issue before you lose any data.

Here is the link to get you started with Carbonite through my account: http://partners.carbonite.com/proactivist

Website Revamp — January 13, 2016

Website Revamp

the word "Wordpress" spelled in Scrabble tiles
I recently remade the web site in WordPress

I wrestled for a long time with updating my website.  I liked the new look, but I worried that it would appear too simplistic.  My previous website was professionally done – a LONG time ago – but I decided to redo the website myself. Designed using Word Press, I chose the Lingonberry theme and added a few select, high-quality images. Even knowing the decisions were sound, I still had the hesitation that goes with doing something outside my core areas.  Now it is up, and I hope you like it.

I have been entering small blog posts on my development version of the site – all of the posts prior to this one – in hopes that this blog would be useful to you from the beginning, so please check out some of the rest of the blog articles.

The main issue this website revamp addresses is that the new theme is mobile friendly.  For the past year, we have been hearing that mobile-friendly websites would get way better results at Google, and then we heard that non-mobile friendly sites wouldn’t show up at all.  Either way, my site is ready.  If you want to test yours, head to this checker and enter your company’s web address.

If you are curious about how this site used to look, check it out on the way-back machine.

Hope your holidays were good. Let me know if you are interested in updating your own website.  I have plenty of tips, now.

Bartblaze on Cryptoware — November 13, 2015

Bartblaze on Cryptoware

There is a lot to be said about protecting your computer from encrypting malware.  I will have more to say soon, but for now I direct you to Blaze’s Security Blog where this post covers the basics.

I use and recommend all the protection software mentioned there: WOT, No Script, ScriptSafe, Ad Block Plus, and anti-virus are all necessary on any device or computer of any make.

In addition, I recommend a cloud-based backup system, such as Carbonite.  Note that Dropbox and other cloud-based sync tools are not effective in this role.

Office 365 to replace workgroup servers & Windows 10 upgrade fails — November 6, 2015

Office 365 to replace workgroup servers & Windows 10 upgrade fails

A drawing of white clouds in a blue sky with the words Office 365 and One Drive at the top
One Drive and the Office 365 Cloud

We had a meeting at the end of October to hear JP Wilson, from Matrix Technologies, present the ways their company can help you move into the cloud and get rid of your NAS or workgroup server.  I can also help you with that, by the way.

At the beginning of the meeting, we conducted a brief poll of the membership to see how many of us had run the Windows 10 upgrade from either Windows Vista, 7 or 8.1 and how successfully it went.  The results were not encouraging: out of a total of 33 upgrades run directly by professionals in the field, only 22 worked.  Often we were able to roll back the update using System Restore, but a 33% fail rate sounds pretty dangerous to me.  This underscores the advise I would give to my clients that now is not the time to upgrade your computer to Windows 10.  I usually advise people to upgrade when they buy new equipment. Which is to say: don’t upgrade your OS.

As a side note, there were an additional 20 computers that were brought in to OCCA members to get one of us to try and fix a bricked upgrade.  The success rates on those were even lower, since the users had often made things worse through poor preparation or trying to make their own repairs.

When the speaker got up to speak, we heard a little more about pricing and other options for Office 365, but as often is the case, it was the discussion among the members that really brought out the best new ideas.  Jeremy Christensen recommends using Intellesync for conversion of Exchange to the cloud. Another member noted that GsynchIt gives two-way communication from Google Apps to Outlook, which is huge, because there are so few ways to back up your Google data.

Protection for your web browser —

Protection for your web browser

I got a few new ideas and got some support for my old ones on web browser security.  I have been using and recommending Ad-Block Plus for a few years now.  This plug-in works to stop certain forms of advertising on the web pages you visit: video ads, ads that launch sound.  It doesn’t block all ads, knowing that ads drive revenue to websites, but by wielding the power of a large install base, the owners negotiate with the big advertising companies to tone back ads and make them more palatable.

Another plug-in I think is indispensable these days is a script blocker – No-Script for Firefox, or ScriptSafe for Chrome – which will prevent Flash, Java, Silverlight, and other scripting software from running by default except on the pages you manually choose to trust.   Learning which pages to trust is a process.  And once you start down the process, the huge number of intrusive applications that horn in on every page through scripting can overwhelm the mind.  Really, I think that blocking scripting on your websites is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from viruses and hacking.

At our September meeting, I heard some new suggestions from OCCA members: Ublock Origin, which replaces Ad Block Plus and allows you to pull from a wide variety of blacklists for advertising and malware, and Privacy Patcher from EFF which heuristically detects tracking.

Another member touted the TripLog app, which enters your mileage for you based on when you plug your phone into your car to charge it.  Then it uses GPS to track your mileage and destinations, and makes an entry in your QuickBooks.  Slick, for those who need help tracking mileage.

We discussed some wireless toys as well, with Jesse and Matthew strongly endorsing the TP-Link nanorouters.  Matthew says the MR3020 are phenomenal. They are small (cell-phone sized), but powerful.

Android App: Greenify — October 29, 2015

Android App: Greenify

A green maple leaf logo.
Greenify by Oasis Feng

If you are using a rooted Android phone, you can improve performance and extend battery life using an app called Greenify that hybernates (rather than killing or freezing) whichever apps and processes you are not using at the moment.

Recommended by Lifehacker: http://lifehacker.com/greenify-auto-hibernates-apps-youre-not-using-to-save-513922193

Here’s the link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.oasisfeng.greenify

The Internet Backbone at OCCA —

The Internet Backbone at OCCA

A picture of an 8 story, tan brick building.
The Pittock Block on SW 9th and Stark

This past March 31st, 2015, we had an OCCA meeting with Eric Hulbert from Opus Interactive about the Internet backbone routes.  He showed us some maps of where these big data pipes stretch across the country to connect our major cities and through the oceans to connect to Europe and Asia.  It was something I hadn’t thought much about, although I have seen pictures of ships laying cable with huge spools on the decks.

One of the biggest data junctions in Portland is near my office in the Pittock Building.  Based on those pictures, I think we can say in case of earthquake, Portland would lose almost all access to the Internet for a while.

Steve and Tim talked about Revo Uninstaller which piqued my curiosity. But for now, I will stick with the tools in CCleaner.

And that is all from the March meeting.

Mobile Apps at the OCCA — October 28, 2015

Mobile Apps at the OCCA

June 2015 at the OCCA we held a roundtable on mobile apps.  As usual I took a lot of ideas away from the meeting. This is a listing of the highlights.

There is a new Wi-Fi listing tool called Vistumbler, but it only runs on Windows.

There is a program for Windows 8 called Start8 that mimics the old Start menu and is said to be worth the $5.

Milebug is an easy way to track trip mileage.

PhotoVault will password protect and encrypt important pictures, such as credit cards.

Google Maps has a neat plug-in called Photographer’s Ephemeris.

Someone mentioned my favorite tool for Android phones, Wi-Fi Analyzer.

Steve Shank endorsed the Android-based anti-virus Trust-Go, along with Ad-Tracker

Someone mentioned Scott Hanselman’s blog.

Fing by Overlook was endorsed by David Harold. It’s a powerful, quick tool that snapshots your LAN.

Steve Shank also endorsed Evernote.

Ifttt.com which stands for If This Then That was mentioned by a member.  The product links actions together using scripts that tie into your online accounts.

Instapaper is a tool to grab a whole article in one page with no ads and hold onto it until you have time to read it.

Drive Imaging — July 7, 2015

Drive Imaging

Close-up photo of the inside of a hard disk drive
Copy that!

There are many ways to ensure that you can recover quickly from a failed disk drive.  Backup of the data is probably the most critical. But for those cases where you have a lot of software with customized settings, it is worthwhile to backup the entire configuration of the drive.  And that’s where drive imaging comes in.  I typically recommend you take an image of a system or server on a quarterly basis.  That way if you get hit with a virus or drive failure, you can get your configuration back with a minimum of hassle and bring back the data after that.

My favorite drive imagine software is CloneZilla.  It comes on several of the popular rescue kits, such as Hiram’s Boot CD, the Ultimate Boot CD, and Parted Magic.  There is also a CloneZilla Live CD and this might be the best one to have, since it supports the thorny UEFI on new motherboards. Unfortunately, it lacks RAID support so you might need to consider alternatives.

At a recent meeting of the Oregon Computer Consultants Association, we discussed our favorite disk imaging software and came up with a lengthy list.  Here are the highlights:

  • Acronis True Image which was the popular favorite. This tool can restore to different hardware (perhaps due to the proprietary disk drive driver that also means you will need to use Acronis for any repairs to that system).  It also has the ability to convert Acronis images to Windows Backup files and vice versa.
  • Macrium Reflect which came in second favorite to Acronis with similar features
  • CloneZilla which I mentioned above can see UEFI when booting from their Live CD
  • AOEMI Partition Assistant which can clone or rescue disks.
  • Drive Duplicator from Aluretek, which is a physical device with slots for two drives to copy from one to the other
  • Spinrite, the venerable drive utility which includes imaging tools
  • MiniTool’s Drive Copy which sees all the hidden Windows 8 partitions

So there is my short list.  In my experience, cloning can take a long time and there are some gotchas.  That’s why its good to have some other options to fall back on when your favorite one doesn’t work.  On the same note, please do at least one full test using a pair of spare disks to ensure that the copy and restore results in a fully functional drive – especially when you are creating images to save space.

 

Photo by Mister GC