Power Issues And Computers

March 2, 2017

While all electronic devices are subject to power issues, computers are much more sensitive to them than other devices. That’s why it’s important to understand these issues, and protect your computer from them.

There are several different types of power issues that can happen. Here is a list, what they are, and how they affect your computer.

  1. Power Surge
    1. What is it?
      A short term increase in voltage. Usually caused by faulty generators, air conditioners, and other devices.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      Power surges typically will not harm a computer with a healthy power supply but if the computer’s power supply is weak or damaged by previous electrical issues, a power surge could cause it to fail.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      A good surge protector or an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS).
  2. Power Spike/Impulse
    1. What is it?
      Similar to a Power Surge, but with a much more dramatic increase in voltage. Typically caused by lightning but can also happen when the power comes back on after a power outage.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      A Power Spike can cause catastrophic damage to your computer, or any electronic device. Many people turn their computers off during a storm to protect it. But that doesn’t protect your computer from Power Spikes because your computer is still connected to the electrical grid and so the power spike has a path to get to your computer unless you have proper protection.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      You can shut your computer down and unplug it from the electricity but you also have to unplug any cable that goes to your computer that is connected to a device that is plugged into an A/C plug. This includes printers, powered USB hubs, external hard drives, etc. A better way is to have a good surge protector or a UPS.
  3. Power Outage
    1. What is it?
      When the power goes completely out. Could last for a fraction of a second, or for hours or even days in extreme cases.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      What a sudden loss of power does to a computer depends greatly on what the computer was doing at the time of the power loss. If you were editing a Word document, for example, you could lose the contents of that document. If the computer was in the middle of writing to the hard drive when the power loss occurs, it can cause corruption on the hard drive, but this is rare.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      On computers with healthy power supplies and healthy hard drives, the chances of a power loss causing a problem are very slim. The only way to protect your computer is by using an UPS.
  4. Power Sag/Brown Out
    1. What is it?
      This is a short term decrease in voltage usually caused by high-demand on the electrical grid. These are rare here in central Texas but are more common in other parts of the country.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      It can cause your computer to freeze, crash, or act weird. It can cause loss or corruption of data. It also reduces the lifespan of some electrical components like power supplies, hard drives, etc.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      The only protection is a UPS.
  5. Noisy or Dirty Power
    1. What is it?
      Faulty generators, switches, nearby radio transmitters, and similar devices can cause power to contain “electrical noise” and interference.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      It can shorten the life of your computer and cause it to act weird, suddenly shut off or reboot, or cause it to freeze or crash.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      The only protection is a UPS.

As you can see from the list above, there are quite a few power related issues that can have an effect on computers and those effects can be catastrophic.

How you should protect a particular computer from these issues depends on what type of computer it is and how critical the computer is to you. First, if the computer is a laptop, then all you need is a good surge protector. That’s because a laptop has a built-in battery and so it’s not susceptible to power outages (assuming the battery isn’t defective and has a charge).

If the computer is an All-In-One or a desktop, then ask yourself what effect it would have on your life or your business if the given computer wasn’t working for a day or two. Would that be an inconvenience or would it be a big problem?

If it would be an inconvenience, then get a good surge protector that provides at least 2000 joules of protection and comes with an insurance policy for connected equipment. Don’t rely on these cheapo power strips that say they have surge protection. Their surge protection is usually not very good.

If it would be a big problem to be without a given computer for a day or two (or more), then we recommend getting a UPS. Not just any UPS. The first thing you should look for is a UPS that connects to your computer with a USB cable. This is important because when there is a power outage, your UPS can tell your computer to shut down. This prevents the computer from experiencing a sudden loss of power in the event of a power outage that lasts more than a few minutes. The other feature to look for in a UPS is the voltage. How much voltage you need depends on how much power your computer uses. This can be hard to determine. For the average computer, 550 VA should be fine. For a computer that is more powerful, you’ll need more voltage. For them, a minimum of 650VA is recommended.

When you connect a computer to a UPS, be aware that the UPS has two different types of outlets. On one side of the UPS are outlets that only have surge protection. The other side has ports that will be supported by the battery in the UPS. The computer itself and your monitor should be plugged into the battery backup outlets while all other devices should be plugged into the surge protection only outlets.

When you have a computer that is protected by a UPS that has been properly set up, you don’t have to worry about your computer. If there is a storm, the surge protection will protect it. If there is a power outage, the UPS will keep the computer from losing power and will tell the computer to shut down if the power outage lasts more than a minute or two. The only thing you have to do is remember to turn the computer back on after the power comes back on. You may be wondering why everyone doesn’t have a UPS. Two reasons. One is many people never heard of them. The other reason is that they aren’t cheap. A good surge protector is around $30. A good UPS is $80 or more.

If you are interested in getting a UPS on any of your computers, give us a call. We can install them for you and make sure they are installed and configured properly. We can even purchase the UPS for you.

And, by the way, we recommend that you have all electric devices plugged into good surge protectors. This includes TV’s, sound systems, DVD players, DVR’s, cordless phones, cell phone/tablet/laptop chargers, and so forth.

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What You Need to Know About Email

February 22, 2017

Email, which stands for electronic mail, became popular during the 1970’s in the government and large corporations. It then began to trickle down to smaller companies. As more and more people got computers at home with dial-up internet access, email began to filter into our everyday personal lives as well until it became a major form of communication. Although email is still a major form of communication in both the business world and our personal lives, email is not a popular with millennials (generation Y) as they tend to use text messaging and social media.

Even if our use of email has declined, it’s still a major form of communication. Yet, most people don’t really understand some of the important aspects of email. So with that in mind, here is everything (almost) you need to know about email. I say almost because this article would be way too long if I included everything.

The first thing you should understand is that email is not secure. When you send an email, it’s not encrypted or anything. It can travel through several servers before arriving at its destination. If one of those servers is infected with a particular type of virus, that virus could intercept your email. And because email is not encrypted, that email can be read and information can be harvested from it. That’s why we always say that you should never send sensitive or identifying information through email. This includes passwords, credit card information, account numbers, and stuff like that.

The second thing you should understand is that email isn’t as reliable as you might think. Mainly due to the constant battle against SPAM, many emails are rejected by the server on the other side of your email and never reach the person you are trying to contact. Even if your email is delivered, it could go into the recipient’s spam folder. Or, the person on the other end might not see it because it’s just one email among 100’s of others.  You can request a return receipt, but that usually doesn’t work. If you send an important email, you can ask the recipient to reply and acknowledge that they got the email. Many won’t do this, though. If the email is really important, you might want to contact the recipient using a different form of communication to verify they got it.

A big problem with email that everyone knows about is spam.  In 2009, more than 97% of all emails sent were spam. Thanks to many factors, that number has come down to around 70%, but that’s still really high. Never click on a link in a spam email. In fact, avoid opening them. Worse than spam is the spoof email. This is an email that pretends to be from a business and trick you into clicking on a link in the email. These emails can be very convincing. If you receive an email that looks like it’s from a business you do business with, the safest thing to do is to avoid clicking on links in the email and, instead, just go to the businesses website, login, and take care of it that way.

Email is the second biggest delivery mechanism for computer viruses. Second only to the web. When most people think about email and viruses, they think about attachments. Never open an email attachment unless you are absolutely sure it’s safe. And it’s hard to know because your friend’s email account could have been hacked. But when it comes to viruses and email, it’s not just about attachments. What’s more common these days is the email tries to get you to click on a link that goes to an infected website that infects your computer.

Now that we have talked about all of the problems with email, let’s talk about solutions and best practices.

If you have your email through one of the free providers (Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo, AOL, etc.) then you should enable additional security features which will help prevent your email account from getting hacked. First, you should have a strong password for your email account and you should use that password only for that email account. Why? Your email account is often the key to resetting the passwords on the websites you login to. If someone hacks your email, they can reset the password for your bank, for example, and get into your bank account. For information on creating a strong password, check out this article on our website. In addition, turn on 2-step verification. Different email services have different names for it, but basically, the first time you log into your email on a new device (PC, phone, tablet, etc.) you must verify you are who you say you are. The best way to do that is using your cell phone and text messaging. For more information on 2-step verification, check out this article on our website.

Along those same lines, we don’t recommend using email accounts provided by your Internet Service provider. There are many reasons for this which you can read on this article on our website. In a nutshell, these email accounts are unreliable and unsafe. Get yourself an email account on Gmail or Outlook.com and use that instead. And changing email addresses isn’t a big deal if you know how to do it right. Let us help and we’ll make the transition easy.

When you access your email using an app or email client, it can interact with your email server in two different ways. These are POP and IMAP. We recommend avoiding POP and using IMAP. IMAP keeps your email in sync on all devices. POP doesn’t. When you access email from a device like a phone or tablet, you use an app. These apps default to using IMAP which is good. If you use a program other than Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or similar to access your email, then those don’t use IMAP or POP because that’s a direct connection to the email server. But if you use a program like Thunderbird, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, Incredimail, or similar to access your email, make sure you use IMAP.

And now for some email etiquette. Don’t forward a bunch of emails to all of your friends. Try to limit forwarded emails to 1, maybe 2 a day. More than that and you are basically spamming your friends. And when you send them an important email, they may not read it because they may assume it’s just another junk email you forwarded.

All businesses, no matter how small, should have a website and they should use email accounts for that website. When your business uses an email account that is on one of the free email services, it just doesn’t look professional. For example, if I owned a business called Fred’s Fill Dirt, I shouldn’t use an email address of fredsfilldirt@gmail.com. I should use fred@fredsfilldirt.com.

And finally, what should you do if your email gets hacked?
Check out this article on our website.

I hope this article was informative, helpful, not too technical, and not too long.

If you have any questions about email or need help, reply to this email or give us a call.

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What to do if you are having trouble viewing websites

November 18, 2016

Your computer boots up but when you try and go to a website, either nothing happens, you get an error, or perhaps it goes to the wrong website. Or maybe the website comes up, but it isn’t displaying correctly.

Here are some of the simpler things you can try when you are having trouble viewing websites.

  1. Reboot your computer and try again
  2. Try a different browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Safari).
  3. Reboot your modem, router, gateway.
  4. Run the troubleshooter.
    1. Right-click on network icon in lower right-hand corner near date/time.
    2. Choose troubleshoot problems.
  5. Clear browser cache.
    This varies from browser to browser. Here are instructions for the top 3 browsers:

    1. Internet Explorer
      1. Click on tools, internet options
      2. Click the delete button
      3. Click the delete button
    2. Chrome
      1. Click menu, settings
      2. Scroll down and click “Show advanced settings…”
      3. Click “Clear browsing data” button.
      4. Click “Clear bowsing data” button.
    3. Firefox
      1. Click menu, history
      2. Click “Clear recent history”
      3. Choose “Everything” for the time range to clear.
      4. Click “Clear now” button.
  6. Make sure you have all of the latest Windows Updates
  7. Make sure the browser you are using is up-to-date. If not, update it.
  8. Run a scan with your security software to make sure your computer isn’t infected.
  9. Make sure Java is up-to-date (www.java.com)
  10. If using Firefox, make sure Adobe Flash is up-to-date (www.adobe.com)
  11. If using an ad-blocker, temporarily disable it to see if that helps.
  12. Check the add-ons installed in your browser and disable/remove any suspicious ones.
    1. Internet  Explorer – Click on Tools, Add-ons
    2. Chrome – Click Menu, More Tools, Extensions
    3. Firefox – Click Menu, Add-ons, and then Extensions on left

Those are the easier things that you can try. If those don’t fix it, contact us.

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2016 Update on Spam

October 21, 2016

It’s been three years since our last article on Spam. We don’t do a lot of updates on spam because, frankly, not much has changed. There has been one new development in the world of spam, but the main reason we wanted to do an update on spam was for anyone who may have missed our previous articles on the subject.

In our original article about spam, we told you that it gets its name from a Monty Python skit. If you would like to watch that skit, click here. They repeat the word spam so many times in that skit, it is reminiscent of how spam repeats itself in your inbox.

Today I want to tell you about a new tactic spammers have started using. I also want to go back over what you can and should do about spam.

If you haven’t had your email account hacked and used to send spam, you probably know someone who has. When your email gets hacked and used to send spam, all you have to do is changed your password and security questions and that fixes it.

First of all, you should be aware that email is not safe. What I mean is, when you send an email, at least part, if not all, of your email’s journey to its destination is one in which the email can easily be intercepted and read by a program called a bot (short for robot). The email would continue on its journey to its destination, but the contents of the email can be read and analyzed by computer programs that harvest information from those emails.

The information they harvest can vary, but the most common information is who sent the email and who was the email sent to. Basically, they are harvesting email addresses. Some other computer programs harvest other information like personal information, credit card numbers, and passwords. That’s why you should NEVER send any sensitive information via email unless you can cleverly mask the information. The good news is that it is computer programs looking at the emails, not humans. So it’s pretty easy to embed information in an email in a way that a computer program wouldn’t recognize it. For example, if you send an email to someone and say: My password is 1234567, a computer program can be written that easily identifies that and reports back to its programmer what your password is. But you could send the same email and write it differently and it probably would not be picked up by a bot. For example, you could say: “I’m going to send you a separate blank email with the password in the subject line.” Then send them another email, put the password, and only the password in the subject line. Leave the body of the email blank and send it. A bot won’t know it’s a password. But I digress.

Once the spammers have harvested your email address and who you are sending email to, they will then send out an email to the same people you sent email to. They send the email out in a way so that, to the untrained eye, it looks like it’s from you. But in actuality, the email was not sent from your email account. At first you may think your email account has been hacked but in reality, it hasn’t been hacked. And that’s the worst thing about this new tactic. When your email account has been hacked, you can change your password and lock the hacker out. That won’t help in this case because the email wasn’t sent from your email account. Basically, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. The good news, though, is that the spammers will only do this for a week or two and then they’ll move on to someone else and the problem will go away. They might come back to you occasionally though.

If you start getting emails from your friends and family telling you they are receiving spam from you and that your email has been hacked, it may or may not be true. Ask them to forward the email to you. If you know how to look at the email headers, look at them and see if the email was really sent from your email account or not. You can also forward it to us and we’ll look at it and let you know.

Other than that, not much has changed in the world of spam. The war continues between spammers and those that try to stop them. Those of us who fight against the spammers know that we can’t win the war. But we can significantly reduce the amount of spam each person has to deal with. If you get a lot of spam, be aware that you would get 100 times more spam if it weren’t for those who battle the spammers every day.

There was a time when 92% of all email was SPAM. Thanks to System Administrators and Anti-Spam software, that rate has fallen to around 45%. But the actual amount of spam that makes it to your inbox has probably increased. Here’s how it goes. Anti-spam software blocks spam. Spammers figure a way to get around it and spam gets through. Anti-spam figures out a way to block it. Spam goes down. Then spammers figure a way around it. Then…well, you get the idea. Lather, rinse, repeat. The never-ending spam battle.

You may be wondering why spammers send spam. Surely, in this day and age, everyone knows not to click on spam, open spam attachments, and so forth. While most people do know that, not everyone does. And spammers are tricky and good at what they do. They can fool us into thinking an email is legit. Because spam is so cheap and easy to send, spammers only need one person out of ten million to fall for a given spam to make it successful. So basically, spam works.

Here’s what you should know about dealing with spam on a daily basis:

  1. Don’t open spam.
    Before opening any email, look closely at who it’s from and the subject. Also look at the date and time. If you are suspicious, don’t open it.
  2. Don’t click on links, pictures, or anything inside a spam email.
  3. Don’t open attachments in spam.
  4. Never try to unsubscribe to spam email.
    (note: it is safe to unsubscribe from legitimate business emails.)
  5. If there is even one shred of doubt as to whether or not an email is legit, treat it as spam.
  6. Turn off email preview.
  7. Use built-in anti-spam or install anti-spam software.
    This is a big subject that we could devote an entire article to. If you use webmail, be sure and mark spam emails as spam so that similar spam won’t be delivered to your inbox in the future.
    If you read your email using an email client like Outlook, Windows Live Mail, or Thunderbird, we can install a free anti-spam product that will drastically reduce the amount of spam you have to deal with.

And most importantly, don’t waste any more time with spam than you have to. Quickly deal with your spam as outlined above and move on.

As always, if you have any questions or need help with any of this, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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2016 Scam Update

October 21, 2016

From time to time we update you on computer related scams. A couple of years ago we told you about a scam where you would get a call from someone claiming to be with Microsoft or “Windows Support” telling you that your computer is infected and they can fix it for you. For a fee.

We also told you about a related scam where if you looked up a phone number for Microsoft Support, Dell Support, HP Support, and so on, the first numbers that came up were fake numbers that went these same scammers who want to “fix” your computer. For a fee.

Now these same scammers have expanded. They create these web pages that tell you something is wrong with your computer and tell you to call a number to get it fixed. Of course, there’s a fee. You may be wondering how you actually end up on one of these web pages. There are several ways. Clicking on a link in a spam email is the obvious way, but there are others. One way is through misspelled websites. For example, if you went to goggle.com instead of google.com, you might get one of these websites. But the biggest way is through advertisements on websites.

It’s complicated, but in a nutshell, many websites subscribe to advertisement services. These advertisement services show ads on their customer’s websites. These advertisement services get hacked so that an advertisement takes you to one of these scam web pages. You go to a legitimate website, but the ad on the web site is from one of these hacked advertisement services and you get sent to a scam website.

These web pages don’t just say somethings wrong with your computer. Call this number to get it fixed. They pop-up messages that prevent you from leaving the web page or using your web browser. They sometimes play audio over your speakers telling you about the problem on your computer and to call the number to get it fixed.

The bottom line is that Microsoft will never call you to tell you there is a problem with your computer. A legitimate website will never tell you that something is wrong with your computer. A website cannot know if somethings wrong with your computer. Unless you are on one of our service contracts, we won’t even call you to tell you that something is wrong with your computer.

If you find yourself on one of these web pages that you can’t get out of, the easiest thing to do is reboot. However, it might come back when you open your web browser again. If that happens, you’ll probably need to call us so we can remote in and fix it for you.

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Windows Vista End of Support Six Months From Today

October 11, 2016

Microsoft will end support of Windows Vista six months from today. If you have a computer with Windows Vista on it, we urge you to replace it in the next few months. Many vendors have already discontinued support for Vista. For example, you can’t get the latest version of Adobe Reader on Vista. And since Adobe Reader is a security risk, that’s a problem. Same goes for Google Chrome and several others. That list is going to grow quickly.

You may be wondering what it really means when we say Microsoft will end support for Windows Vista. What that means is that Microsoft will stop releasing security updates for Vista. So on the day they end support for Vista, that doesn’t mean your computer with Vista on it will go boom. It just means, from that point forward, it will be more and more likely that your computer will become infected.

You may also be wondering how you can tell if you have Windows Vista. The quickest and easiest way to find out what version of windows you have is to click the start button, type: winver    and hit the enter key on your keyboard.

You may be wondering if you should upgrade your computer from Vista to a newer version of Windows. The answer is a resounding no. You’ll have to get a new or at least newer (refurbished) computer that has a newer version of windows on it. If you decide to go with a refurbished computer, don’t get one with Windows 7 on it because you will be in the same boat 3 years from now. Get one with Windows 8 on it. If you don’t like Windows 8, we can make it easier to use.

If you decide you need a new computer, we can help. We can get you a new computer. If you purchase your own computer, be sure and read: http://www.ct-cp.com/?p=12 before choosing a computer. And no matter who gets your new computer, we can transfer the data and settings over from the old computer to the new one.

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Cord Cutting 2016 Update

September 21, 2016

In case you haven’t heard the term, cord cutting refers to cancelling your cable/satellite TV service and using an alternative Internet based approach. We’ve done several articles on this subject over the years, but because it’s always changing, it’s time for another update. Cord CuttingThis all stems from my own experience cutting the cord many years ago. As new services and hardware have become available, I have changed my approach. The approaches I have used in the past were very technical and complicated and, thus, not for most people.

However, I was getting tired of all of the problems we were having and also in the last year or so, I have become aware of some new services and some new hardware that make cord cutting easier and more accessible to people without the technical complication.

Before I go any further, I want to tell you that cord cutting isn’t for everyone. It all depends on what is important to you. For example, if you are someone who primarily watches local channels and Netflix and that’s just about all you need, then cord cutting could work for you. But if you want to record shows on cable channels and play them back at your convenience, then cord cutting may not be for you. It all depends on what shows you want to watch and when you want to watch them.
The biggest advantage to cord cutting is saving money. Our cable bill was over $200 when we cut the cord. But we aren’t saving $200 each month because there are some subscription costs associated with cord cutting. It’s more ala cart than cable. That’s nice because you can pick and choose and only pay for what you want.
Now let me tell you how to cut the cord.

I’m assuming you already have a TV and Internet service. The next thing you need is a steaming media player. A streaming media player connects to your TV and the Internet and lets you stream video from the Internet. The streaming media players currently available include Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, TiVo Roamio, and Android TV boxes (made by many different companies). Of course, computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones can also be streaming devices, but that’s another story.

I am currently using a Roku 3 streaming media player and I have to say that I really like it. I have used Amazon Fire TV some and it seems pretty good too. Apple TV as well seems good too, but I’ve only messed with it briefly a few times at other people’s homes. Roku has been around the longest. It doesn’t have the prettiest interface, but it’s good. Because it has been around so long, it has the most “Channels”. A channel is really an app. Just like you can install apps on your phone, you can install channels on your Roku. There are over 3000 official channels for the Roku. And that doesn’t even include the untold thousands of private channels you can get as well.

But don’t think that all of these channels are free. Many of them charge a subscription fee. Let’s talk about the big three. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are three services for which there are Roku channels. You can install these channels on your Roku, but before you can watch them, you must have a subscription. Netflix is $8/month. Hulu is also $8. Amazon is $100/year (or about $8.25/month). There are many cable channels that are available on the Roku but only if you also have that channel on cable TV and jump through some hoops to link it to your cable TV subscription. That’s not we cord cutters are looking for.
Other popular channels that require subscriptions include HBO, Showtime, MLB.TV, NBA, ESPN, NFL, Disney, and many more. There are a lot of free channels on Roku too. Some good ones are Crackle (movies and older TV shows), iHeart Radio (music), Pandora (music), PBS, and YouTube. If you haven’t explored YouTube in depth, you might be surprised as to what’s available on YouTube. There are lots of news channels too. As I said, there are over 3000 channels and many of them are very specific. The Dog Relaxation channel is something you can play for your dog while you are gone. There’s one for cats too. Not sure what you are supposed to do if you have a dog and a cat. Are you a UFO fanatic? There’s channels for you. Are you a bride to be? Yep. You’re covered. Do you like to watch goats? If so, try Goats Live! Actually, this is one of the more popular channels, believe it or not. Enjoy listening to 911 calls? Yep, there’s a channel for that. And yes, of course, there are channels just for adults. For a list of channels on Roku, click here.

There is something I want to make sure you understand. When you watch a channel on Roku, it’s not like watching on cable TV. When you switch to a channel on cable TV, you see whatever is playing at that time. Whatever it is may have just started or may be half over. For example, let’s say it is 15 minutes past the hour and you tune into PBS on cable TV and Sesame Street is on. You missed the first 15 minutes but can watch the rest live. On a streaming media player like Roku, when you go to the PBS Kids channel, it lists a bunch of shows that you can watch. One of them is Sesame Street. They aren’t live. You can select the show and episode you want to watch and watch it from beginning to end.

Having said that, there is now a service that basically gives you live cable TV on your media streaming player. That service is Sling TV. The basic package is $20/month and includes 25 cable channels that you can watch live. But you can’t record them and watch them later. And you can’t skip commercials. If you are a sports nut (I’m not) the basic package (Sling Orange) includes ESPN and ESPN 2. Their top of the line package (Sling Blue) includes those plus NFL Network, NBC Sports Network, and Fox Sports 1 & 2. They also have a Sports Extra add-on for $5/month which gives you eight more sports/outdoor channels.
A Roku alone wasn’t enough for me. Although there are Roku channels that let you watch your local news live, I wanted to be able to watch and record shows from local TV. A new breed of device has come on the market in the last couple of years. These devices are called Over-The-Air DVR’s. They connect to an antenna and to your local network (your router) either wired or wireless. Once connected, just install the corresponding app on your media streaming players and you can watch and record local TV on all of the streaming media players in your house. And you only need one OTA DVR to service the whole house. Of course these devices aren’t cheap. The one I have is called Tablo. It was $200 plus a $50/year subscription.

So for the basic setup, you have hardware costs for Roku 3 ($100), Tablo ($200), and a TV antenna for Tablo ($40). So startup costs are $340. In terms of subscriptions, the only subscription you have to have is for Tablo which is $50/year or about $4.17/month. That’s a lot cheaper than $200/month for cable TV.

For the sake of cost comparison, let’s say you want Sling TV (the basic package) ($20. In addition, let’s say you want Netflix ($8), Hulu ($8), and HBO ($15). Now your monthly subscription cost has gone to $55.17. Still much cheaper than Cable TV.
Let’s say you only want Sling TV and you want their biggest package ($25) but you want to add Kids add-on ($5), HBO add-on ($15), Comedy add-on ($5), and the Lifestyle add-on ($5). That gives you 66 cable channels with a total monthly subscription cost of $59.17 including the Tablo subscription.

I personally have a lot of movies, TV shows, music, pictures, home videos, and stuff like that loaded on a computer which we use as our media server. Using free software called Plex along with the Plex Channel on the Roku, I can stream all of that media to any of our TV’s that have a Roku on them. We can view our home videos, pictures and so forth on our TV in addition to watching movies and TV shows. Doing this is a little more complicated than Roku and Tablo though. If you are interested in this, you might need our help.

If you are interested in cutting the cord, we would be glad to help. We can help figure out what will work for you and we can even set it all up for you.

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Is it OK to Let Your Browser Remember Your Password?

August 23, 2016

When you login to a website, your browser (the program that lets you look at websites) may ask if you want it to remember the password. Saving the password is convenient because the next time you go to that website, the browser will enter your password for you so all you have to do is click the button to login. It makes keeping up with your passwords a little easier. But is doing this a good idea?

Basically, we generally do not recommend saving passwords in your browser. That’s because its very easy to get those passwords from the browser. But there are a few exceptions where allowing your browser to remember the password is OK.

First of all, you should NEVER save passwords for any website that has any kind of sensitive information like banks and other financial institutions, online retailers, medical websites that have information about you, email, etc.

You may be thinking that it shouldn’t matter because you are the only one who has access to your computer. Or perhaps you completely trust the other people who have access to it. That’s good, but its not the only consideration. Your computer could be stolen or your computer could get hacked. In which case, these people could easily get any password stored in the browser.

For the convenience of saving password in your browser but with much more security, consider using a password manager. These are programs or add-ons that allow you to have one master password and use that to fill in your passwords on websites so you don’t have to keep up with all of your passwords. The most popular password manager is LastPass. It has had some security breaches in the past. Probably because it is the most popular password manager. If you sign up for LastPass, make sure you turn on 2-factor authentication. We here at Cyber Tek Computer Pros have been using RoboForm Everywhere for many years. It’s not quite as slick and easy to use as LastPass, but it hasn’t had any security breaches either. If you sign up for RoboForm Everywhere, we also recommend turning on 2-factor authentication.

While we are on the subject of 2-factor authentication, you should enable that feature on your email accounts (if available), financial websites, and any other security-sensitive accounts.

So when is it OK to save a password to your browser?
Whenever you login to a website and your browser asks you if you want it to remember the password, ask yourself this question:

Would I care if someone found out my password and logged into this website as me?
If you would care, then don’t allow your browser to remember the password.
If you wouldn’t care, then allow it.

If you have questions or need help with RoboForm Everywhere or LastPass (or any other Password Manager), please let us know. We are here to help.

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Can You Have Too Much Security?

August 19, 2016

Can you have too much security? That’s a big 10-4!

Just like home security, computer security is a deterrent, not a 100% guarantee. You could try to make your home absolutely safe, but if you did that, would you want to live there? Concrete walls, multiple layers of security, guards, guard dogs, and a killer security system. You might be safer, but it would be really inconvenient and not very nice to look at. You would hate it. And even with all of that, you wouldn’t be 100% safe. There would still be risk from tornados, bombs, etc.

Computer security is the same way. You can pile up layer after layer of security to make your computer safer from attack, but at what price? It would slow down your computer. It would prevent you from doing many of the things you need to do. And it would slow you way down. You would be less productive and less efficient. And you would be frustrated too.

So the key with any security, including computer security, is to strike a balance. Evaluate the cost versus the benefit. Is the cost in performance and convenience worth the extra security? Many of these security suites on the market today go way too far in trying to protect your computer. Consequently, they slow down your computer and keep you from doing what you need to do. On the other end of the scale, some products don’t provide very good protection, so your computer is more vulnerable.

We’ve run across computers that had 2 (or more) anti-virus packages and 2 (or more) anti-spyware packages plus other miscellaneous security software. I can tell you those computers ran very slow. Some of these packages won’t conflict with each other when running on the same system, although they will slow down your computer. However, most of them don’t play nice with each other and can render your computer nearly inoperable.

To keep your computer safe, we recommend the following:

  1. Use one of our recommended security products. Keep it from expiring and keep tabs on it to make sure it’s working and up-to-date.
  2. Keep Windows up-to-date with all of the latest security updates.
  3. Keep security sensitive programs like Adobe Flash, Java, Adobe Reader, Chrome, Firefox, etc. up-to-date. Note that you should be careful when updating these programs as they may install unwanted software if you aren’t careful.
  4. Use Website rating and other security browser plug-ins to help prevent accidentally going to an infected website.
  5. Use an ad-blocker add-on in your browser to protect from infected advertisements.
  6. Have a good online backup service that has the ability to restore previous versions of files.
  7. Be careful!
    1. Don’t click on links in emails.
    2. Don’t open email attachments unless you are ABSOLUTELY SURE it safe.
    3. Don’t send sensitive or identifying information through email.
    4. Avoid clicking on advertisements on websites.
    5. If a website tells you your computer is infected or that something is wrong with your computer, don’t believe it.
    6. If a website wants to download or install something, don’t do it unless you are sure the website is legitimate.

We here at Cyber Tek Computer Pros have found the perfect balance of security to keep your computer VERY SAFE. Our Security and Maintenance (SAM) plan not only keeps your computer safe, but comes with a no-infection guarantee. If your computer is protected by our SAM plan and becomes infected, we will clean it for free. In the 8 years since we introduced the SAM plan in 2008, only 3 computers have become infected. And we have over 70 computers currently covered by the SAM plan!

And if that weren’t enough, the SAM plan also keeps your computer running as fast as it can. If you are on our SAM plan, you don’t have to worry about security. You don’t have to worry about renewing your security software. You don’t have to worry about updating Windows. You don’t have to worry about your computer’s performance. You don’t have to worry about your computer. Just use it!

For more information on our SAM plan, please click here.
If you would like us to check your computer to make sure it has a good balance of security or if you are interested in our SAM plan, please let us know.

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Windows 10 Anniversary Update

August 4, 2016

A new major update of Windows 10 has just been released and it’s referred to as the Windows 10 Anniversary Update since it was released 1 year from Windows 10’s original release. It’s also known as version 1607, however.

By the way, do you know which version of Windows 10 you have? Do you care? Well, if you do care, here’s how to find out.
All you have to do is click on the start button, type: winver   and then hit enter.

Now you probably would like to know what changes are part of this new version of Windows 10. And you are also wondering if you should install it. Here is some information on some of the more major changes.

Microsoft Edge
This is Microsoft new browser that was introduced with Windows 10. However, Edge has caused a lot of problems because it didn’t work right with a lot of websites. Internet Explorer was still available  with Windows 10, although hidden. If we set up your Windows 10 for you, we probably hid Edge and brought Internet Explorer back. With this new update, Microsoft has improved Edge and expanded it’s functionality some more. But it’s still not a full featured web browser. So, for now, we don’t recommend using it as your primary web browser. We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

Action Center
It seems like every time Microsoft comes out with a new version of Windows, the action center is always one of the things massively changed. And Windows 10 was no exception to that. With this new update to Windows 10, Microsoft has once again changed the action center, but not massively. The action center icon has been moved to the far left of the taskbar where the date and time used to be. The date and time have moved one position over to the left. The action center is more configurable now too. You can specify which apps will put notifications on the action center and which one’s won’t.

Dark Theme for Metro/Modern/Universal apps
As you probably know, there are two types of Apps that can run in Windows 10. The traditional desktop apps and then the newer apps that also work on touchscreen devices like tablets and phones. Microsoft has changed the name of these apps several times. First it was Metro apps. Then Modern apps. Now they call them Universal apps. Whatever you call them, they work much better in Windows 10 than they did in Windows 8. These newer apps usually have a white background but with this new update, you now have the ability to select a “dark” theme for these apps making the background black.

Start Menu
Most of our customers who have Windows 10 had us configure Windows 10 to work more like Windows 7. If we did this for you, then the change to the standard Windows 10 start menu won’t mean anything to you since your start menu has been replaced. If you do use Windows 10 in it’s native form, hower, then you’ll want to read this. The Windows 10 Start Menu has been massively reorganized. The color blocks on the right side of the start menu haven’t changed. But the rest of it has. Before, you had to click on All Apps to see the list of apps. Now, the list of apps is always shown on the left column. Just to the left of that are symbols for the user (used to be at the top of the start menu), Settings, and power (shutdown, restart, etc.).

Calendar
Windows 10 has always had a calendar app, but now it’s more integrated into Windows. Before if you clicked on the date and time display in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, it would show you a calendar, but not your calendar. Now it will actually show your calendar (if you have one) with your appointments.

Windows Hello
You probably never heard of Windows Hello. It allows you to login to Windows using bio-metric methods. It’s not new to Windows 10, but it’s been improved. If your laptop has a fingerprint reader, that uses Windows Hello unless you have some other third party software. If you have a web cam on your computer, you can use Windows Hello to recognize your face when you sit down at  your computer and automatically unlock your computer for you.

Cortana Improvements
Very few of our customers use Cortana. Cortana is to Windows was Siri is to Apple. Except Siri doesn’t exist on apple computers. Only on their phones and tablets. You can type a question to Cortana or, if you have a microphone, you can ask Cortana questions. With this new update, Cortana is now a lot smarter. One of the things Cortana can do now is link to your phone. Once you set up the link, Cortana on your computer can give you the same notifications that your phone would give you. This is nice for people who don’t have their phone on them all of the time. But if you always have your phone on you, this doesn’t do anything but give you duplicate notifications.

Windows Update
Some of the nicest changes in this new version are in Windows Update. With Windows 10, Microsoft turned Windows Update into a dictator of sorts giving you little control over when updates were installed and how. With this new update, you can now specify “Active Hours”. These are hours when you are normally using your computer and you don’t want Windows 10 to install update. For example, you can set your active hours to 8am – 10pm so that it won’t update Windows during those hours and will only do it outside those hours. There is also now an option to tell Windows to automatically sign in to Windows after it reboots during an update so it can fully finish updating. Before if it rebooted during the night and you have a Windows password, when you logged in, it continued installing the update, delaying your computer use.

Should I install this new update?
Yes. But not right away. Your computer will eventually install it automatically. If you really want it now, go into settings, Update & Security, and click the “Check for updates” button. Even if you do this,  you may not get the update right away.

Please let us know if you have any questions or need help.

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