Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Firefox 3.5.6 Released

Firefox 3.5.6 fixes several stability and security issues.

From within Firefox, if you don't get a prompt to update immediately, click Help - Check for Updates and follow the prompts.

If you have a version of Firefox earlier than 3.0, or don't have Firefox installed, download the installer here:

Release notes here:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thunderbird 3.0 Released

I just installed Thunderbird 3.0, and after a quick look-around, think it has some nice new features. Read about them and download the installer file here:

Those of you using Outlook Express or Windows Mail and considering moving to Windows 7 should be aware there is no email client included. The most popular moves have been to Windows Live Mail and Thunderbird.  You'll need to download and install either one (or both), and import your messages and contacts.  If that doesn't make much sense to you, contact me and we'll do it together.

Adobe Flash Updates and Uninstaller Info

Adobe has just released a Flash update for both Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers.  If you use both browsers, you need to install both versions of Flash. 
Current version of Flash (both):

Flash for Internet Explorer (IE):
Be SURE to uncheck any scans or toolbars they offer to install!

Flash for Firefox (FF):

Occasionally, something goes wrong during the update and you'll need an uninstaller to fix the problem. Here's where to find it and how to use it:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wireless Security Information You Need To Know

Wireless is everywhere - and everyone has wireless. An overgeneralization, but wireless is proliferating like crazy. If you have a new wireless device (laptop, iPod, smartphone, etc.) you should know how to protect your data and your connection.  Oh, and you know how convenient it is to do your banking and email on a free unsecured wireless network?  Don't do it.  Read why here:

Needs No Words

Repost: 61 Free Apps

Thanks to Betsy for finding and forwarding this great list. Some people don't believe in posting other people's work, but I'm of the mind "why reinvent the wheel" when there's a perfectly good piece already out there.  So, enjoy!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

AVG Free 9.0 - What To Do When The Upgrade Won't Download

AVG released version 9.0 and has been prompting users of earlier versions to upgrade. Some people are having trouble completing the upgrade when they click on the link to do so from within AVG.  Some people are trying to find the new version on AVG's web site and, not finding it, think the free version is no longer available.  Here's what to do.

  1. Click here to go to the direct download page at AVG:
  2. Click on the second link (not the Download Manager) to start the download; save the installer to your Desktop. 
  3. When the download finishes, double-click the installer file to install Version 9 over the top of your current version of AVG.  Be sure to pay attention to the questions you'll need to answer.  Say yes to everything EXCEPT the AVG Toolbar and agreeing to send anonymous information back to AVG.
  4. Have patience and allow the installation and update to finish.
All done. No more upgrade prompts, and still free. If you can't make it work - email me, text me or call me. Don't leave it undone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

T'wether to Tweet?

Perhaps you've delved into Twitter -- the instantaneous 140-character synopsis of life as you know it at this second in time. Perhaps you've only heard about it or seen the ubiquitous logo  and catch-phrase - Follow me on Twitter. It's everywhere - on web sites, print media, tv shows, trucks and billboards.


If you've checked out Twitter and come away scratching your head, you're not alone. Unless you know the person "tweeting", or are following a breaking news story, most tweets may not seem to make much sense.  I still don't get the attraction, mostly.

Until late last week, when I was able to find up-to-the moment information, pictures and video about the storm lashing the Outer Banks and the Delmarva peninsula. Yes, I'm a storm geek, and my brother and his family live in Delaware, and I hope to spend a lot more time along the ocean on Delmarva in the very near future. Watching the dunes fall away into the sea was frightening and fascinating, and the waves mesmerizing.

That sort of information just isn't available on the Weather Channel or networks or in newspapers. It's changing by the moment, and it feels like you're right there watching another porch being ripped away, while you're wondering why we ever thought it was a good idea to build anything on the edge of an ocean in the first place.

If you're monitoring a certain bill working its way through the legislature, or the Yankees working over the Phillies, or need to know the absolute latest on the Droid - Twitter is pretty much cutting-edge.

And if you want to get rich quick, see my web cam (ok, not my web cam) or find religion, Twitter is your ticket.

And if you don't want to be bothered figuring out Twitter, it will go on without you and you will still have a full life. You see, that's the best part of Twitter, the Internet, and living in America.  It's still our choice.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

5 Insights Gleaned From Recent Jobs

It's been a very busy November in my office.  I thought I'd share a few things that recur along the way.

1. If your antivirus program has expired, renew it.  Or install a free one, after uninstalling any OTHER antivirus/security programs. Do not wait for a more convenient time.  Now is more convenient than dragging your computer back and forth to get cleaned out.

2. If you are tempted to click on something that pops up and says it's going to clean out the 127 viruses and trojans it just found on your computer, resist the urge. It is lying to you.  If you're really not sure, call me, email me or text me before clicking.

3. If you think 256 or 512 MB is enough to run Windows XP in a satisfactory way, you are wrong.  It was enough eight years ago. Today, with hundreds of Windows, Office, antivirus and security, Adobe and other updates your computer should have at least 1 GB of RAM.  RAM is cheap.  Your time (and mine) is not.

4. If you don't know how to back up your data, it's time to learn.  And then do it regularly. Your data include documents, emails, pictures, addresses, music - anything you aren't willing to lose in a blink of an eye.

5. If you don't want to install updates on your computer when they pop up and tell you it's time, click it off.  But do run the updates when you can, and within a couple days. Do not forget, and do not make excuses. Updates are usually not pretty new toys, they are fixing something that is wrong. Or something that makes your computer more vulnerable to that rogue antivirus program you so want to click on.

Important things bear repeating. And sometimes it takes a service job or two before we get the hang of the maintenance and self-defense routine. I'll leave the light on for you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rogue Antivirus Addendum

Here's an account of a typical rogue attack, and one person's struggle with McAfee and removal of the rogue.

Typically, antivirus programs don't stop or remove rogue programs, which is why we need and use more tools than just antivirus.

Rogue (Fake) Antivirus Malware is Everywhere

A new round of rogue antivirus programs is hitting my clients hard this month.  There are many different ones; some new, and some have been around for years.

If you see a pop-up window that looks like a security or antivirus program (maybe even looks like your antivirus program) and warns that your computer is infected - and offers to clean it - do NOT click on it. Clicking on anything in the pop-up window activates the trojan.

Here you'll find more information on rogue programs:

Names of some known rogue antivirus/spyware programs:
Internet Antivirus
WinAntivirus 2007 (2008, 2009)
Antivirus Pro 2010

What to do if your computer gets infected with a rogue program
Rogue programs can usually be removed with a combination of antispyware programs. It can be a long, detailed process if the rogue program has been allowed to run on the computer for some time. Worst-case results include damage to critical operating system files and/or your data, requiring data backup, cleaning of data, reinstalling Windows and restoring the cleaned data. 

If you see the pop-ups for these rogue antivirus programs, or porn popups, or your browser goes somewhere other than where you told it to go, stop what you're doing and take care of the problem before it goes too far.

Self-help includes running the Security Tango (thanks, Nick!)
Malwarebytes has saved many computers from further infection:

Or, if you don't want to dive into it, call me.

And stop clicking on things that look too good to be true!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Email Scams - IRS and others

A new round of scam emails are circulating. The one I got this morning says it's from the Internal Revenue Service with a subject of W-2 Form Update.

The IRS doesn't send unsolicited emails. Don't click on any links or open any attachments. Delete the message immediately and empty your Deleted Items folder.

Direct from the IRS web site about scam emails:,,id=213862,00.html?portlet=6

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mozilla Firefox update 3.5.5

In today with their weekly Firefox update (er, ok - almost weekly), the 3.5.5 version fixes some "security issues".  If for no other reason than to stop the annoying "Update Available" prompts, just do it and be done until next week.  ;)

You know the drill - open Firefox, and if it doesn't automatically start downloading the update, click Help - Check for Updates.  Follow the prompts - don't install anything additional like toolbars or security scans - and carry on with your day.

Or download fresh here:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Recent Updates - iTunes, RealPlayer, Shockwave and Java

Several updates to necessary applications have been released in the past several days; here's a summary.

iTunes/QuickTime: Open iTunes and you may immediately be prompted to update to the current version of 9.0.2.  Or you can click Help - Check for Updates, and follow the prompts to complete the update.  If you're installing iTunes for the first time, be sure you get the correct version - 32-bit or 64-bit.  The easiest way to do this is to go to Apple's web site and let it detect the proper version for you:

RealPlayer: Open RealPlayer, click Tools - Check for updates and follow the prompts. Current version is RealPlayer SP 1.0.2

Shockwave: The easiest way to install the correct and current version of Shockwave is to go to the Adobe web site and click on the "Get Adobe Shockwave Player" link. Current version is

Java: If you have Java installed with automatic updates enabled, you'll be familiar with the prompts in your System Tray to update.  Do it.  Don't be afraid, and don't be lazy.  If you'd like to install fresh, go to the Java Downloads page and let them tell you what version you need. Follow the prompts and be done with it.  This is another application that comes in 32-bit and 64-bit.  If you have a 64-bit OS, you need both versions of Java. Read this and follow the instructions:

64-bit Vs. 32-bit Operating System (Windows Vista or 7)

You may be aware that Windows Vista and Windows 7 (and XP, though rare) are available in 32-bit or 64-bit versions. Why 64-bit?  Because it processes more information, more quickly if you have lots of RAM. Oh, and have the right software and drivers. If you're reading email and surfing the web you probably won't benefit from having a 64-bit operating system (OS). 

This is not an in-depth analysis of the architecture of operating systems - this is, after all, Computer Support for the Rest of Us. I'm just going to hit the highlights, and anyone interested can search out more information. Here's a good place to start:

The version of OS installed is important to know, because some applications and hardware must have the correct 32- or 64-bit version installed.  You may have an HP printer, and need to know whether you should be using the 32-bit software usually included on the installation cd or you need to go to the HP web site to download the 64-bit version.  Flash, Java and iTunes all have specific 32- or 64-bit versions (which is what prompted this discussion - more later).

To find out which version of operating system you have in Vista or Windows 7, right-click on My Computer, then click on Properties. Look in the window that pops up under System. Then go get the proper versions of your drivers and software - you might be surprised at the improvement in performance.

What about buying a new computer - which version should you get?  I've been ordering 32-bit Windows whenever possible, since most software and hardware default to 32-bit and you don't have to do anything magical to make your stuff work.  However, it's increasingly more difficult to find 32-bit, and Dell and HP are pretty much forcing us into 64-bit.

If you have a newer computer with 64-bit Vista, you probably already know that Flash isn't available in a 64-bit version, and probably won't be until mid-2010. Crazy.  And more sites are demanding Flash - which prompts an error. The temporary work-around is to use a 32-bit browser (that's progress).  Windows Vista 64-bit includes both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Internet Explorer - look at your Programs list to find them. Yes, Firefox lovers, you can use Firefox on a 64-bit OS and not have the Flash problem.  Because Firefox is a 32-bit browser, of course!  Mozilla is working on a 64-bit version.

So, back to choosing a new computer - 32- or 64- bit?  You might as well get the 64-bit if you're getting at least 4 GB RAM. If you're using or buying a 32-bit OS, don't bother with more than 3 GB RAM - 32-bit can't recognize or use more than 3.2 GB of RAM.

We're moving forward with technology, kicking and screaming sometimes. It's part of the process, and if we can handle some inconvenience (and having to learn a thing or two), we'll be better-equipped to enjoy what's next.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Firefox (Mozilla) 3.5.4 released

Mozilla has released an update to the Firefox browser, bringing the current version to 3.5.4.  While not a major release, I think it's a good idea to install the update - if only to stop the annoying update prompts.  Actually, there are a number of security fixes included, so go ahead and update and be done with it. 

Open Firefox, click Help - Check for updates, then follow the prompts.  Or download the full installer here:

Here are the Release Notes:

Fixed in Firefox 3.5.4

MFSA 2009-64 Crashes with evidence of memory corruption (rv:

MFSA 2009-63 Upgrade media libraries to fix memory safety bugs

MFSA 2009-62 Download filename spoofing with RTL override

MFSA 2009-61 Cross-origin data theft through document.getSelection()

MFSA 2009-59 Heap buffer overflow in string to number conversion

MFSA 2009-57 Chrome privilege escalation in XPCVariant::VariantDataToJS()

MFSA 2009-56 Heap buffer overflow in GIF color map parser

MFSA 2009-55 Crash in proxy auto-configuration regexp parsing

MFSA 2009-54 Crash with recursive web-worker calls

MFSA 2009-53 Local downloaded file tampering

MFSA 2009-52 Form history vulnerable to stealing

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CCleaner - New Version 2.25.1025 Released

The latest version of CCleaner was released yesterday. Since CCleaner lacks an internal updater, you'll need to download the current version and install it. No need to uninstall the previous version first. The free version will do for most.

Go here to read more about it:

Or download it here:

Upgrade and run CCleaner today. Your computer will thank you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Adobe Reader Update 9.2

Adobe released Reader 9.2 last week, and there are several ways to update.  The easy way is to open Reader, click on Help - Check for updates, then follow the prompts.  If you have a lot of computers to update and don't want to wait for a 40+ MB download on every one, download the new version, copy it to your server or USB drive, then to each computer to run.  Here's the smallest version I found:

Or, you can go directly to Adobe (be sure to UNCHECK the box for Norton Security Scan, or any other add on they want to include):

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Surge Suppressors - What Do I Need?

Planning to write about surge suppression for a long time, I've been reading as much as possible from many sources online. It's a topic people ask about frequently, and one that needs to be addressed more often than when you set up your first computer.

There is a surprising amount of debate about surge suppression, and real facts are hard to find. Debate aside, most agree that some level of surge suppression is absolutely necessary. I am not an electrical engineer, but I'll tell you what I've read and continue to recommend and use good surge suppression. 

A good place to start (though some disagree) is the How Stuff Works web site. This is a long, informative article, well worth the time to read.

Harris, Tom.  "How Surge Protectors Work."  05 January 2001. <>  14 October 2009.
There is are differences between a surge suppressor, a surge protector (not possible) and a uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The best protection is a whole-house surge suppressor. They're not expensive, and you should have a chat with your electrician about having one installed.

Nothing will protect your equipment against nearby lightning - therefore, there is no such thing as a surge "protector"**. This post focuses on power disturbances; spikes, surges and brownouts.

A surge suppressor, of the grocery-store $5-10 variety is good pretty much only as an extension cord, while providing you a false sense of security. And a surge suppressor connected to your outlet via a 3-to-2 prong adapter (common) is useless. The ground is what provides the protection, and if you defeat the ground you have no protection. Have your electrician upgrade your outlets (cheap) when installing that whole-house surge suppressor.

You need to know surge suppressors have a limited life.  Many suppressors, after handling one good spike or surge, can no longer provide suppression. They commonly "fail open", which means they still supply power to the outlets, but the device(s) that provide surge suppression are used up. The better suppressors will have a light to show they are still providing suppression. There is no way to test a suppressor.  Replace it with a model that indicates its status. If your suppressor is more than a couple years old, replace it now.
The better surge suppressors ($20 - 50) will provide better suppression, status indicators, reset buttons, line conditioning and possibly ports for phone line and Ethernet pass-through. 
If you do run your phone line or Ethernet cable through a surge suppressor, it's possible extra noise will be generated, resulting in poorer dial-up or Internet performance. You'll need to weigh the benefits against the hit on performance.  I can tell you I've replaced lots of dial-up modems after lightning storms. Many times we carefully plug the computer and other equipment into suppressors, and forget about the phone line coming into the computer.

Delicate electronics (computers) are susceptible to power fluctuations. When the power dips, a brownout occurs. Although the electronics in your computer can withstand some fluctuation, your data probably cannot. If your computer happens to be copying, backing up data, downloading or calculating at the time a brownout occurs, there will be data corruption. Eventually you'll find the corrupt data and won't know what happened or when. It happened to me during a backup, and I've been struggling to recreate 10 years worth of email for a month.
Appliances in your home or office can cause many power fluctuations throughout the day, including refrigerators, air conditioners, washers and dryers, even microwaves and coffee makers. Line conditioning protects computer equipment from power fluctuations. It's the main reason I use surge suppressors.
An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) contains a battery that will power your system briefly, should the power drop to an unacceptable level. The idea is that you will have time to close everything that's open on the computer and power down safely.  The UPS also provides some surge suppression and line conditioning.
How do you pick out a suitable surge suppressor? 
  • Look for a UL label that states "Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor", or UL 1449.
  • Clamping voltage of under 400 V
  • Energy absorption of at least 400 joules - 600 or more is better.
  • Response time less than one nanosecond
  • More details here:
How do you pick out a suitable UPS?
** Actually, there is something that will protect your equipment from lightning - and surges, spikes and brownouts. Plug everything into surge suppressors, then unplug the suppressor from the wall. Do this when there's a threat of storms, or when you'll be away for a few days, or when the body shop next door fires up it's welder. Seriously, it's that cheap and simple. JUST UNPLUG IT!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Inkjet Cartridge Refills or Generics: Just Say No

Pretty much everything I write about here is a result of my experiences; I don't make this stuff up. I tell people I've made all the mistakes so they don't have to. Here's a big one to avoid.

Inkjet printers use ink, in disposable/recycleable cartridges. Manufacturers of almost any type of equipment will tell us to use only their accessories, usually "for best performance". Sometimes we listen, other times we are enticed by lower prices or convenience found elsewhere. 

Inkjet printer cartridges should be one of our exceptions when we're looking for cheap or convenient. We make the decision to buy a new printer, perhaps studying the options and picking out just the right one for our needs. Then we fill it with cheap ink and ruin the printhead, carriage, rollers or the entire inside of the printer. I suppose it's human nature - wanting the best price for a consumeable that tends to be pricey in the first place.

Besides the fact that using anything other than the manufacturer's branded ink cartridges will void your warranty, it's not a matter of if, but when the generic or refill will ruin your printer.

You see, there's no good way to repair a printer that has experienced a leaky or explosive ink cartridge. You can find instructions online to attempt a cleanup of the internal parts, but I can tell you if you take a printer apart it will not go back together again the same way and there will be extra parts.  And it still won't work, and even if it's in warranty the manufacturer will tell you "So sorry - we have a great deal today on new printers".

Why am I so sure about this, despite the handful of clients who insist they use remanufactured cartridges all the time and have never had a problem?  Because I have twice as many clients who did have a problem, and suddenly had a new boat anchor.

Oh, and I did it myself.  As usual.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mac vs. PC - I've Finally Got It

I've worked with computers since 1980. Along the way I've worked on very few Macs. My clients don't use Macs. Hundreds of individuals, scores of businesses, libraries and non-profits later, I've been asked to look at exactly two Macs.

Now, some of you Apple people are begging to jump in with "but they don't NEED service!", and I'll simply point you to a Google search for "Mac" and "problem".

Occasionally, when it's time to look at new computers, someone will ask me about getting a Mac. I've been at a bit of a loss to explain to people who've heard/read/believe a Mac will solve their computing problems that it's simply the result of a great rivalry and outstanding marketing campaign. Training and education - now *that* would go a long way to solving your computer problems.

So I thought I'd do some research about Macs and PCs. And I asked on Facebook and Twitter for people to tell me what it is that a Mac can do that a PC can't. Here's what some people said.

Mac people (aficionado sounds so... stuffy) will fall over themselves to tell you they don't get viruses or malware. Neither does anyone else if they pay attention, but that's another conversation. While it's true Macs aren't targeted for viruses and malware as much as PCs, it's not true that they can't get them.

They'll tell you Macs are so easy to use. Wouldn't anything that didn't give you any choices or ask to you make a decision be pretty easy to use?

One guy on Facebook even told me he uses PC software ON his Mac... to make it more PC-like, perhaps? (Thanks, Kirk - keep reading :)

There's nothing you can do on a Mac that you can't do on a PC. They both provide tools to do email, surf the Internet, watch videos on YouTube, make, edit and post your OWN videos, pictures and Great American Novel. You can balance your checkbook, save your recipes and grandkids' pictures and listen to music - Internet radio, cds, mp3s, whatever you like. iTunes works on both. You can even play Freecell and Spider Solitaire, though you have to pay extra for them on a Mac.

The best analogy might be that Macs are like Democrats and Liberals and PCs are like Republicans and Conservatives.

Macs tell you not to worry, they'll take good care of you. Just give us your wallet, because all this perfection costs money. Your money. Yes, Macs have always been much more expensive than comparable PCs.

Mac lovers, we'll make all your decisions for you and there will be no problems. Want a new program? Great! We'll form a committee, create something and release it in the next version of the operating system. Oh, you'll have to pay a bit more whether you use it or not, since it's for the good of all humankind.

PCs are pure capitalists. Anybody can build one, with parts they scrape up in the garage or at NewEgg. Anybody can sell one, and anybody with the desire can learn to feed and maintain one. Want a new program? Hey, so do a handful of others. Let's get together, build the code, release it to the public for their input and improvements and call it Open Source. Oh, you can download and use it free. However, the model works because people who like and use the free software make a donation to the people that built it.

Want more memory or a better video card? Grab it at Staples, or online. It'll be cheap and it will fit your computer if you paid attention to the specifications. Need some help? There will be a neighbor, or co-worker or grandchild that can help. Macs... not so much. You need to go through the Mac System and they'll charge you a lot for parts and more for the labor. Supply and demand means that the microscopically small demand for Macs and their parts will make them much more expensive. Oh, and pack up your Mac and take it to the store - they don't come to you.

Ok, I've had my Mac fun and veered dangerously into political waters and will now acknowledge Macs do have a certain draw for me.

They look great with that poodle you're carrying under your arm. And now I've got a poodle.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Firefox 3.5.3 update - Download It Now

An update to fix stability and security issues has just been released. Install it by opening Firefox (some insist on calling it Mozilla or Mozilla Firefox - isn't that like calling someone by their whole name all the time?). Go to Help - Check for updates and follow the prompts.

You may then be prompted to update Adobe Flash - again, follow the prompts and let it happen. Be sure to uncheck any other "free" stuff they want to install along the way, like the McAfee Security Scan.

I've not been a huge fan of Firefox until version 3 - now I use it more than ever. It's especially useful when Internet Explorer 7 or 8 refuse to cooperate with certain sites. The first thing I tell people who ask why they can't do something online or even get online is to try doing the same thing in Firefox. Usually, Firefox just works. I install it on every computer I touch, so if I've seen yours you have some version of it already.

For those who want to download a fresh copy of Firefox, it can be found here:

And for those who want to know the changes from the previous version, read about it here:

This is not an optional update, considering the security and stability fixes - do it now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

iTunes 9 - Just Released

In keeping with today's theme of 9, Apple just released iTunes version 9 for download. If you have iTunes set to notify you when a new update is available, you may have already seen the prompt. Otherwise, you can open iTunes, then go to Help - Check for updates. You can decide if you also want the Safari browser and the new iPhone plugin.

Billed by some as the best version of iTunes ever, the changes include LPs (like bonus cds), Extra, and a redesigned Store and user interface. Read more here: here: and here:

The full download has now bloated to nearly 90 MB, and still takes 15 - 30 minutes to download and update, depending on your network and computer. This is not great news to those of us who update lots of computers. While I've seen alternatives to RealPlayer and Windows Media Player, iTunes doesn't seem to have much competition. If anyone knows of something else that syncs with iPods and iPhones and does what iTunes does, please let me know.

If you're downloading and installing the full version (it doesn't take any longer to install new over the old than it does to update the old), be sure you've got the right version. If you use Vista 64-bit, you need iTunes 64-bit. Go here and you'll be offered the right version for your operating system:

As usual, unless you have a compelling reason not to upgrade (and there are few), take the plunge and get it done.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Backups - worth the effort

There's a saying in computing about hard drive failure - it's not about if it's going to happen, it's about when it's going to happen.

Computer hard drives are intricate pieces of machinery and many things can cause errors or corruption to occur - either on the physical drive itself or in the files on the drive. Bad downloads, files that didn't completely transfer, software or driver updates that don't complete properly and viruses and trojans all can spell disaster for your data.

If your data are important to you (documents, pictures, music, email, addresses - things you've added or created), they need to be protected for the time when a failure happens. Waiting until something happens to try to retrieve and repair or clean your data is time-consuming, expensive, and not always possible.

There are a number of backup solutions, many automated. An external hard drive is probably the safest and easiest way to make copies of things you don't want to lose. You can find fancy backup software to buy that claims to make your backup chores simple. Just be aware you don't have to and probably shouldn't buy anything; external hard drives ususally come with their own software. However, for me, the safest way to save your data is to simply copy it in it's current format to another type of media. Burning cds and dvds is another good, long-term solution. The best backup plan includes both external drives AND burning dvds.

Many people have become satisfied with using USB flash drives to "back up" their important data. While flash drives are a good way to transfer data from one computer to another, they cannot be considered safe or long-term storage. Although many flash drives have survived repeated trips through the washer and dryer, many others (my own included) have simply failed to read the data just copied to them for a multitude of reasons. Consider them convenient and temporary.

If you have questions or want help implementing a regular back up plan, send me an email and we'll put something together. Somewhere down the road we'll both be glad you made the effort.

Friday, September 4, 2009

New updates for early September

There are lots of new updates and versions of the best "helper" applications available now. Be sure to update your current versions of the following utilities.

Be SURE you are downloading the free version!

CCleaner 2.23.999:

SUPERAntiSpyware 4.28.1008:

RealPlayer SP 1.0:

Opera 10:


Foxit Reader (Adobe alternative):

Monday, August 31, 2009 3.1.1 now available is a suite of office applications, much like and compatible with Microsoft Office. Since it's an Open Source product, you can download, install and use the product for free; donations gladly accepted.

There are two points I'd like to make. One, about Open Source software; the other, about using instead of or alongside Microsoft Office.

Here's the definition of Open Source, for those who'd like to read it for themselves: In a nutshell, products made available under the Open Source concept are developed by a community of interested and talented parties. The programming code (the "source") is made available to the general public in hopes someone can improve it. Free, in this case, doesn't necessarily mean "no money", but free, as in open and available without license.

I've been installing and using (OO) either alone or with Microsoft Office for about five years. (strange name, but they want to include the .org in the name of the product) includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation application and math functions. Hmmm. Sounds like Microsoft Office. The difference? MS Office Professional 2007 sells for $499.

OO will open, edit and save documents in Microsoft Word or Excel format. It's just that simple! When you start a new document, OO will default to it's native format, but if you want it in Word so your not-as-savvy friends can open it, use the Save As feature to save it as a Word document or any of about two dozen other formats.

People ask me frequently how something that's free can be as useful as something that costs $500. The answer is always that it's Open Source, or "free" in several meanings of the word. There's no fancy packaging or marketing campaign. If you want it, you have to know about it and how to get it. There are manuals that can be downloaded to help get you started or find answers to your questions. There are active forums where you can ask a question and get an answer - free. No $49 Tech Support fee to find out how to line up your columns.

I've been a Microsoft and Bill Gates fan for a long time. You are welcome to your own opinion and experience. To the haters I say, come up with something better or stop complaining.

However, even I, math-stupid as I can be, can subtract $499 from $499 and come up with Zero.

Get here:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Twitter Essentials

Here's an excellent primer on working with Twitter. I'm still trying to figure out the fascination! Knowing how to use it definitely helps.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Firefox 3.5.2 released - update now

Yet another Firefox update was released late yesterday. You can update your version by opening Firefox, clicking on Tools - then Check for Updates. Follow the prompts to finish the updated. Or, you can download 3.5.2 at

People ask all the time - "Should I install the update when prompted?" Again, the answer is always "Yes". They are undoubtely fixing a security problem, a bug, or many of each!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Java update available V6 update 15

Just released. Be sure to UNCHECK the box for the trial version of Carbonite during the installation. Unless you really want it!

Look for the version of Java that matches your operating system - 32-bit or 64-bit; or both, if you have a 64-bit OS. SAVE the file to your desktop, THEN run it!

Version 6, update 15 fixes a number of bugs. Read more here:

Fake Microsoft Patch may show up in your email

This was happening a short time ago; apparently it has new legs. Don't be fooled by spam emails that insist you need a Microsoft patch - Microsoft WON'T notify you by email! Ever.

Facebook Insider Info

Here are a couple of articles with really good information on using Facebook, MySpace, online quizzes and games and other Social media.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Adobe Reader Update 9.1.3 (Security Patch)

Adobe has released the promised security fix, making the current version 9.1.3. Go to to download the full version, or open Adobe Reader and go to Help - Check for updates. Follow the prompts to update.

And if you haven't checked for updates since installing Adobe Reader 9, now is the time to do so.

More information here:

Friday, July 31, 2009

Flash Update

Adobe has identified vulnerabilities in its Flash player and today, released an update to fix them. Be sure to visit with both Internet Explorer and Firefox to install the update.

Here's more about the problem:

People ask frequently if they should update things like Flash, Shockwave, Java and Adobe Reader when prompted. The answer is Yes! Usually, it's a patch to fix a security problem. The updates take very little time and could save you from a big problem.

Your security and update routine should include updating these add-ons on a regular basis, whether you've been prompted or not. I'll list some update links next time.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Which Antivirus program should I use?

One of the most popular questions in computing, everyone needs to know the options when it comes to security software. There are many types of security/antivirus software, but first we should look at what it is, what it does, and what it doesn't do.

A peek back
In the early days of personal computing, Norton (Symantec) and McAfee were pretty much the only real choices of antivirus (AV) software. You could download a free trial, but then needed to pay for a subscription to continue receiving virus database updates. While it's important to install antivirus software, it's just as important to keep it up-to-date. Most AV programs handle this by automatically checking for, downloading and installing updates.

Today, Norton and McAfee are still very active on the AV/Security software scene, thanks in large part to the deals they've made with computer manufacturers to include at least a trial version of one or the other on virtually every new computer. But are they the best option for every day computing? Most tech people say no.

Security Suites
The Security Suite programs from Norton, McAfee, Trend Micro's PC-Cillan and CA have proven themselves to be quite intrusive, difficult to configure and manage, and easy to corrupt. Experience has show them to dramatically slow down even the newest computers.

There are several versions of AV/Security software available from each company. Viruses used to be the major concern; today, they are far less problematic than trojans and other malware. With the proliferation of adware, spyware, trojans and spam came the programs to protect us from them - the Security Software suites. Not only do they include virus protection, they've added a stronger firewall, spyware blocker, and spam protectors. You can see how all this protection, scanning just about every file that is opened on your computer, would begin to bring productivity to a crawl.

A better alternative
There are several very good, free antivirus programs available that have proven records for protecting your computer while balancing the hit on performance to your computer. Money is not the important factor here - if I found a better program that I had to buy, I'd do it. Nothing I've worked with beats these free programs.

Do you need a security suite rather than just antivirus? Not in my opinion. Windows Vista includes a spyware protection program (Windows Defender), and both XP and Vista include a built-in firewall. If you're using a wireless router you already have two firewalls; why pay for another and add more overhead to your computer's load? There are several good, free anti-malware programs everyone should install and know how to use. Here are two, and remember - I didn't come up with the names:

Be sure to read carefully to download the free version of these programs, not the trial. Be aware these free versions are strictly for home use; the license does not cover businesses, organizations or even non-profits.

VERY Important: Download the new software to your Desktop (ALWAY SAVE, not Open or Run) first, then remove your current antivirus or security program, then install the new program.

MOST Important: There are MANY rogue antispyware and antivirus programs out there. Don't install everything that pops up and offers to *help* you. If you're in doubt, send me an email, a text message or call me first!
text or call: 315-573-4905

Friday, July 17, 2009


Ccleaner is one of my favorite utilities and I recommend it all the time. Here's how to use it.

As with most of the useful utilities, there is a free version and a pay version. You should never end up with the pay version of any of the utilities I recommend - the free versions are just fine.

You can download Ccleaner from the website at , or from places like or NOTE: Always save a download to your desktop, then install from the Desktop. Do NOT choose to RUN when asked to Run or Save. If you chose Run instead of Save while downloading, your antivirus and spyware software cannot check it before installing. We'll chat more about this another time.

CCleaner Installation:

  1. Start the installation from the file you just downloaded. The current version is 221, so the file name is ccsetup221. Click Run.

  2. Select language, click Next, click I Agree, click Next.

  3. On the Install Options page, uncheck the bottom four boxes, then click Install, then Finish.

CCleaner Operation: (best done right after starting or restarting your computer)

  1. Double-click the CCleaner icon on your Desktop (red C with a broom on it)

  2. Don't change anything (options discussed later), just click Analyze and wait for the process to finish.

  3. After list of items to delete has appeared, click Run Cleaner.

That's it. Don't pay a lot of attention to the items on the list, just let them go! There's nothing you need in there, and a lot of stuff you don't want sitting on your computer will be removed.

Options: Running CCleaner will remove your History and Cookies, so if you like to keep going back to web sites by clicking the down arrow on your Address Bar, be aware they will be gone after running the program. Save your favorite sites to Favorites, Bookmarks, or on your Links toolbar.

Your user names and saved passwords will also be removed, which is a Good Thing (thanks, Martha) once in a while. Write down your user names and passwords, and the web site address (URL) of the sites you frequent! You'll be glad you did, and so will I when you're unhappy about having to put them back in and can't remember them.

If you are a creature of habit and don't want to lose your History and Save Passwords, uncheck the boxes for Cookies and History before running CCleaner.

Updating CCleaner: With no update feature built into CCleaner, except to check to see if you're using the current version, the only way to update it is to download and install the current version. Follow steps above. You do NOT have to remove the existing version to update.

There are many other good tools included with Ccleaner. I use them regularly. If you don't know about the Registry or Startup items and the consequences of messing with them... don't. This is a great program to simply and thoroughly remove Temporary Files - and that's where the spyware lurks!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Internet Explorer 8 and "Connecting" status

If you're using Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) you may have experienced the "Connecting" message, either when first opening the browser or when opening a new tab. This has been my only real frustration with IE8, and I thought I'd found the fix... until it kept happening.

In a nutshell, sometimes when you open IE8, instead of showing your Home Page you'll see a blank, white page and the status message "Connecting". The round blue status icon is spinning away, and nothing ever appears. I've read a number of suggestions about the cause of and fixing the problem, but haven't found a definite answer that works every time.

A common belief is that an addon or toolbar (particularly Google) in Internet Explorer is not working correctly. You can try running IE8 without the addons by going to Start - All Programs - Accessories - System Tools - Internet Explorer (no addons).

Another attempt at a fix would be to open a command prompt as Administrator and type regsvr32 actxprxy.dll
Then restart the computer and try out Internet Explorer.

Or, you could do what I've been doing while waiting for Microsoft/Google/whomever to fix the problem - install and use Firefox 3.5

And, remove those toolbars!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Download Windows Search" prompt in Internet Explorer 8

Have you seen the prompt to "Download Windows Search to improve history and favorites results" in the new Internet Explorer 8? If you don't have Windows Search installed you'll soon see this prompt whenever you try to enter an address in IE8's Address Bar.

There are several options to take, details in the links below. Basically, you can choose to install Windows Search from the prompt in the Address Bar, or from Windows/Microsoft Update, or a direct download from here:

Or, you can choose to disable the prompt by clicking it once, then waiting up to seven days for it to disappear.

Or, you can "muck about" in the Windows Registry to make it go away now; details and automatic tool found here: NOTE: I suggest you avoid this choice. It's just not annoying enough to risk messing up the Registry and rendering your computer inoperable.

I've successfully avoided installing Windows Search up until now. After reading this from Microsoft, I believe I've changed my mind and will now include Windows Search when downloading updates. and

However, I'll still avoid or remove Google Desktop!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Laptops need air circulation

Do you like to use your laptop on your bed? Be sure to put a tray, large book, or other hard surface between the laptop and pillows, blankets or sheets. Or, better yet - get a laptop cooler. There are many that double as a laptop desk which is ideal to use while sitting up in bed.

How do I know this? I burned up my own laptop years ago in just this way. Check under the laptop often, whether it's on a hard surface or not. If it's hot, turn it off! Laptops generate a great deal of concentrated heat, which is death to electronics.

If your laptop is running slower and/or giving you strange errors - it may not be a virus or spyware. There may already be heat damage, which, unfortunately, is irreversible.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Expanding reach and readership

After working with Facebook and Twitter, I think it's time to get the blog rolling. Hang on, we're going to learn things together and make it all work for us. I'll be happy to receive suggestions and questions. And now, on with The Show. Thanks for reading!