Jan 122013

select columns in WordYou can make columnar selections of text in your Word document, even when it isn’t in a Table. Click at the beginning of your selection, press the ALT key, then click again and drag to the end of your selection.

Format the text like you would any other selection (color, bold, font, and so on.)

To select non-contiguous text, just make your first selection, then hold down the CTRL key as you make your next (and any subsequent) selection(s).

Again, format the selection as desired.

make non-contiguous selections in Microsoft Word, Outlook, or ExcelBecause Outlook uses Word as the default editor, you can use these same selection tips in Outlook.

Selecting non-contiguous cells in Excel works the same way: click once in the first cell and hold the CTRL key as you click once in the other cells you want to select.

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.

Jun 192012

We had heard about it, but it actually happened to us: a phone call from a “Microsoft technical specialist” telling us they had received a report from our computer in the last 30 days and there was a problem.

After a hearty laugh and an “Are you kidding me?” we hung up.

Unfortunately, many people don’t.  It’s a scam to get your credit card information and/or damage your computer.  Remember:  

Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer

Microsoft’s Safety & Security Center details some of the most recent scams using both e-mail and the telephone being committed under the Microsoft name.

6/26/2012.  Another call today, telling me those reports kept coming in to the “International Server” and my computer would be shut down in two weeks if I didn’t take action.  I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.

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.

Mar 112012

Sometimes all you have to do is open an e-mail and malware is deployed.  Many times clicking a link in a spam message will cause malware to be downloaded to your computer.

You can stay ahead of the curve by checking the message header before you open an e-mail.

Message headers is information that travels with an e-mail and is chock full of information about where an e-mail came from. It doesn’t take long to zero in on the key information.  The Reply To field (if you clicked reply) is often a dead giveaway.  Looking at the routing information is another.

Previous versions of Outlook had a really handy tool to help you look at the message headers by selecting a message, right-clicking, and selecting Options from the contextual dropdown menu.  In Outlook 2010, Message Options are still there, you just have to create a shortcut manually.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to the File Menu
  2. Select Options.  This brings up the Outlook Options dialog box.
  3. Click on the Quick Access Toolbar (that’s where we will put the Message Options icon)
  4. In the Choose Commands From dropdown, select Commands Not in the Ribbon
  5. Scroll down to Message Options and select it
  6. Press the Add button.  Message Options will now appear in the Customize Quick Access Toolbar side.
  7. Click OK.

You will see the new Message Options icon in your Quick Access toolbar that appears at the top of Outlook.

Now you can select a message (but don’t open it!) and then click the Message Options icon to see the message headers.

Analysis of a span header will give you an idea of how to interpret the information.  If you are in the United States and see a domain name with a country extension like .cz (Czech Republic) or .ru (Russia), and the company does not have an office there, chances are very high that this is a nasty malware waiting to happen. 

If you have an Exchange Server-based network, ask us about installing a spam firewall.

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.

#    #     #

*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.

May 112010

Watch out for those pop-ups and be very careful about the websites you visit.  Despite current patches and anti-virus software, one of our clients got hit with some nasty malware recently.  They did not fully explain, but it could have been accidentally clicking on a pop-up or visiting a website that delivered it unknowingly or deliberately.  Either way, we spent a good bit of time removing it.

The problem is that so many websites deliver ad content dynamically, including pop-ups, and sometimes the servers that deliver that content can be infected either unknowingly or deliberately.  Personally, I run a utility on my computer that blocks all server delivered ad content.  It not only protects me from the drive-by ad content and infection, I find it a lot more pleasurable to view a page with the small word “Advertisement” in place of a big flashing ad. 

The only drawback is that you sometimes receive an error when you click on a “sponsored” link.  That is easily enough bypassed with a management utility or simply copying and pasting the link.

If you are interested in learning more about protecting yourself, please contact us.

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”.
Jul 312009

A client recently had the need to convert a PDF document to a Microsoft Word document and enlisted our help.  Short of purchasing the full version of Acrobat, or purchasing a single-purpose conversion program (which can run anywhere from $29 to $99), the alternatives were pretty slim.  There are free conversion programs on the market, but the reviews were not overwhelmingly good.

Luckily, we discovered a free web-based conversion program that worked perfectly.  It is called PDF to Word (free!) and while it claims to be a beta program, we had no problems.  It preserved the formatting of everything, including placement of images and the formatting of a table.  You simply browse to the location on your computer where the PDF file is located, enter your e-mail address, and about 3-5 minutes later, you receive the Word document in your e-mail. 

Perfect for low-volume needs.