Jul 152012

You should temporarily turn off your antivirus software when you are installing new software.  Especially printer software.  If you don’t, you may end up with a corrupt installation.  Sometime it won’t tell you it’s a bad installation, it just won’t work correctly.

Be sure to turn the antivirus software back on when the installation is complete.

And ALWAYS set a password on your antivirus software, something a bit more secure than “password” or the like.  Many types of malware are counting on an easy—or no—password so that they can turn off your antivirus program to escape detection.

Apr 222012

Lately we’ve been hearing about more people using mirrored drives as part of their backup strategy.  If you already have it in place, don’t get rid of it; but, it is not something that we particularly recommend.  Let’s take a look.

Mirrored drives come in two flavors:

  • two drives on one controller (Figure A); or
  • two drives, each on their own controller (Figure B)two drives on one controller

As the name implies, each time you write to one disk, the identical thing is written to the other disk.  If one drive goes bad, the theory is that the other drive has your data and you have no downtime, except to replace the failed drive at your convenience.

Sounds great. In theory.  The reality is that if one drive is fried with a power surge, they both are.  If the controller goes bad, you might have two drives that still have your data, but you are still down until the controller can be replaced.  If the controller goes bad in such a way that it ruins one drive, the chances of the other drive escaping damage are pretty slim.

two drives on two controllersIf you have each drive on its own controller, you are in a better situation; again, in theory.  However, you are still in a position of having all the hardware fried with the right power surge and in the same sad position as anyone else with fried hardware.

Frankly, we recommend you spend your money in other ways.   Online (cloud) backup and an external hard drive for backup are two excellent ways to spend that money and give you a much better chance at recovery in case of failure.

Right now, Amazon offers free online storage of ALL your music (whether it was purchased at Amazon or elsewhere) if you purchase a storage plan.  The plans start at $20/year for 20GB.  Other cloud services include DropBox or SugarSync.  If you have a little more money to spend, services like Carbonite make a good choice and back up your drives automatically.  (Our professional services can help you configure your online backups beyond the “standard”, which may not be backing up all your data.)

You can buy a 32GB SanDisk Cruzer flash drive (thumb drive) for less than $20. (Price fluctuates. Great for backing up your daily work product.)

Whatever you select for your backup strategy, remember: pick at least two (preferably three.)

You can never be too thin, too rich, or have too many backups.


Note: a mirrored drive is not to be confused with a RAID array.  A drive array is an arrangement where 3-5 drives are configured such that a portion of your data is written to each drive, and is most often found on file servers.

Jan 282012

Organizing your hard drive is just as important as organizing your cupboards.  By default, all downloads go into your Downloads folder. That would be like stuffing all your plates, spices, and canned goods into one cupboard.

Why is organization necessary? You want to keep your software and registration information in one place to make backup and subsequent reinstallation an easy task.  When you make a software purchase, sometimes the receipt has the serial number, but it is often sent in a separate e-mail.  Did you remember to print out both e-mails? Where did you put the hard copy?  What about that free Photoshop add-in? Even if it was free, do you remember where you got it so you can download it again?

Don’t panic, there is a way you can avoid looking for all those e-mails, or receipts and serial numbers you might have printed out when you made the purchase.

Step 1.  We recommend making a top level folder with a separate folder for each purchase or program.  You might call your download programs folder MyPrograms.  So, under MyPrograms you would have many folders, and the structure might look like this:

Put all your downloaded software into separate folders

Step 2. When you download a program you will get the prompt to Run, Save, or Cancel the download. Always select Save (unless the instructions specify that you click Run):

Always save your software to disk unless otherwise instructed

When you click Save, Windows Explorer will open to the location of your last download. Redirect it to your MyPrograms folder, create a new Folder for your latest download, then click Save again:

Save to a folder with a descriptive name

Step 3. Using Notepad, copy and paste the information from your registration e-mail into a text file and save it to the same folder as the program, like so:

Keep your registration info and program together

That’s it!

Now your downloaded program and registration information is in the same folder, speeding up the reinstallation process.  Even if some programs or add-ins are free, you still want them all in one place to make reinstallation easier.

Backup your MyPrograms folder regularly.

If you are preparing to wipe your system to do a fresh install, check your MyPrograms folder for all the programs and add-ins that you have downloaded, then go to the manufacturer site and download the latest versions* before you wipe your computer. Backup that folder, restore it to your freshly installed system, and reinstallation of your programs and utilities will be a breeze.

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*When preparing to wipe and reinstall your system, download the latest version for which you are licensed, or,  you may want to upgrade your license to get the latest version.

How do you know what version you are licensed for? Check the Help->About section of your program for the version number.  If the leading digit of the latest version is a full number higher than yours, chances are you may need to purchase an upgrade. If the leading digit is the same, but the other numbers are higher, then chances are the upgrade is free.

Example: You have version 4.876.1.0. The latest version is The leading digit indicates you might need to buy an upgrade. If the latest version is 4.975.1.0, then the upgrade is probably free.  Some companies charge for a .5 revision, like 4.312 to 4.5. Always check with the manufacturer when in doubt.

Nov 042009

Passwords are required for  many things in our daily lives: computers, phones, voice mail, bank accounts, and the list goes on.  How secure is your password?  A group of programmers who write password breaking software published a list of the top 500 worst passwords.

Are you guilty of keeping the default password that comes with your computer or device?  Many hackers take advantage of people who do not change default passwords; some demanding ransom.

Remember some of these basic password guidelines:

  1.  Select a password that you can remember, don’t keep written passwords in your wallet or desk drawer.
  2. Use at least 8 characters, mixing letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and characters such as $, #, %, and so on.
  3. Don’t use a word found in a dictionary, English or foreign.
  4. Don’t use passwords based on personal information such as: name, nickname, birth date, wife’s name, pet’s name, friends name, home town, phone number, social security number, and so on.
  5. Be creative.  Misspell words, string together phrases.  For instance, if you are a pet lover, you could turn “a tail and four paws” into “tayl4Paz”.
Jun 252009

We suggest you read the full article about Vishing from the FBI, but here is the Executive Summary version:

“Vishing starts with an e-mail, like phishing, but requests that end-users contact a particular institution by phone in order to resolve an issue or re-secure personal data. . . . Ironically, vishing e-mails may even attempt to reassure recipients of their legitimacy by stating that the institution in question would never request customer financial data via e-mail or IM. 

“Vishing attacks are rising as voice-over-IP services become more popular. VoIP users (both commercial and residential) aren’t required to provide valid Caller ID information, which makes it an ideal platform from which to launch vishing attacks.”

Always use your common sense concerning e-mail.  Visit a website from your own bookmark, not links provided in the e-mail.  Same with phone numbers, call your institution using a phone number provided on a statement or other verified source, not from a number provided in an e-mail.  Always be cautious and never provide any personal information over the phone if you did not originate the phone call.

Jun 252009

The FBI has come out with a list of New E-Mail Scams and Warnings.  We install e-mail firewalls at our client offices with Exchange Servers and have found this to be a very effective method of screening out most of the junk mail, but no filter works 100% of the time.  These firewalls, however, are not installed on personal e-mail accounts and we highly recommend a healthy dose of skepticism when screening your own personal e-mail.

Mar 022009

Everyone should have this gem bookmarked on their web browser.  Go over to PrintWhatYouLike.com right now and try it out.  You enter in a webpage and controls show up on the left side that help you select and then save or print only the content you choose. 

In the past, I have somtimes been able to accomplish this by selecting items to print and then choosing “print selection”, but there have been many times that the content I want is not contiguous or I accidently make the wrong print selection and the whole page prints anyway.  This site eliminates all those issues and lets you select exactly what you want to print.

They also have a little bookmark applet.  What this does is eliminates the need to visit the site when you are already on a page that you want to print.  By clicking this bookmark, the PrintWhatYouLike controls wrap around the page that you are on, enabling you to get right down to business.  The bookmark applet does use javascript, but unless you have turned off Java in your browser deliberately, it is on by default.

Jan 142009

UPDATE: MelZoo appears to have failed, like many search engines before it.

This is an interesting new search engine.  It’s called MelZoo and it offers a split screen.  As you mouse over the text results on the left side of the pane, a preview of each site appears in the right side of the pane. We found the speed to be quite good on a broadband connection.

MelZoo split screen search engine

May 192008

Most people are well-intentioned when they forward on messages they’ve received about tips or dangers of all sorts, but please, it’s really important to check the veracity of the message you want to share.  Not all messages are outright lies, but often contain a mix of truth and fiction.

Even if you receive a message telling you how to save on gas, it might not be all that great.  What I like about the About site is that they often point you in the right direction.

UPDATE: 7/15/2012: A site I like even better is called Truth or Fiction.  No matter which site you use, just check before you pass it on.