Desktop Dos and Don’ts

I have talked a lot about how to keep your laptop running great, but I haven’t spent much time talking about things to keep your desktop running smoothly. Here is a list of items to consider when placing and working with your desktop. I recently did a video about this.

One of the most important considerations for desktop longevity is the location of your desktop. Many desks come with a cabinet for your tower, so you don’t have to look at all of the wires that are connected to it. If you have a cabinet like this in your desk, make sure it has some openings for air flow. Even though desktops usually have a lot of room inside the tower they can still get very hot and start to damage the components. There are fans in the tower to move air and keep the computer cool but if it is sitting in a closed cabinet that air has nowhere to go.

Some people have their computer tower sitting next to their desk. This solves the airflow issue but opens you up to other possible issues. Make sure it isn’t sitting in direct sunlight all day. This can also cause overheating.

 Make sure your computer tower is not right under an open window. If it rains the computer could short out due to the moisture. Being right below a house plant can also be a problem if the water leaks out of the plant.

Regardless of where you keep it, make sure the area is free of dust and dirt. This is especially important if you have pets that shed. The holes in the computer tower are there for airflow and your computer could overheat if they get clogged. Inspect the tower occasionally for excess dirt in the airflow holes. If the holes look clogged up you should disconnect everything from the computer, take it outside and use a can of air to clean it up. You can even take the cover off and blow out the inside. As always, I am more than happy to help with this if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself. Doing this every few months can keep your desktop computer running smoothly for years.

Lastly, make sure that regardless of where it is located that it is plugged into a surge protected power strip. This is one of the biggest issues with computers. If there is a power surge due to lightning your computer could be destroyed if there isn’t a surge protector in the way.

Is My Internet Down?

How can you tell what is really going on with your internet? Is it the router? Is it just your computer? I get these questions a lot, so I decided to break down exactly what you need to do to get the answers and get your internet working again.

Is it your Router? – To determine this, you need to do some homework before your internet goes down. Whether you have a modem/router that was supplied by your internet service provider (ISP), or you purchased your own equipment, it is important to know what it looks like when it is working correctly so you can easily know when it isn’t working.

When your equipment is working correctly, look at the lights and maybe even write down what lights are lit up and what color they are or even take a picture with your cell phone. With this information, you can easily look at your equipment and know that there is a problem because the one light on your Comcast router is orange instead of white for instance.

This is the first question I ask when someone calls with internet issues. What lights are lit up and what color are they? If the lights look different, your first step is to restart your equipment. This is usually done by pulling the power cord out and then plugging it back in. Just know that it will take a few minutes to completely boot back up, just like your computer. Many times, this will fix the issue. If the lights are still not correct, now is the time to contact your ISP for help.

Is it just my computer? – If you check your router and it seems like it is working properly after a restart, it might be a problem with your computer. If you have other devices connected to the internet, are they working properly? This is the easiest way to tell if it is a computer problem. Maybe your computer just lost its connection to the internet. 

Here are the icons that show internet connectivity. Look in the bottom right corner on the taskbar:

Descriptive graphic of internet signal icons

Based on this picture, if you should be on wifi and you are not, just reconnect it. If you should have an ethernet connection, check both ends of the cable. Many times, these simple things will solve your problem. If it still won’t work, call me and I will help you troubleshoot further.

Urgent Public Service Announcement!!

In the past few weeks, I have had many people call me because “Microsoft popped up on my computer and told me to call them because I have multiple instances of pornographic malware on my computer.”  If they try to click away from the popup, it starts yelling the warning at them and threatening them that if they shut off their computer, they will lose all of their documents and pictures.

Here are a few things you should know and share with anyone who is in danger of believing these pop ups.

  1.  Microsoft will never popup on your computer and tell you to call them.  Neither will Dell, HP, Apple or any other tech company. 
  2. These popups are cookies that are hidden on the internet waiting to scam anyone that happens to click on the wrong item.
  3. They work off of fear and they hack your browser which seems to lock your computer.  Sometimes you can go to the task manager and quit your browser.  If you can’t quit your browser, you need to do a hard reset. (Press and hold the power button for at least 15 seconds until all lights and sounds turn off) Once you turn your computer back on, open your browser but don’t allow it to restore your tabs; this will only bring back the browser hacker.
  4. They are trying to get you to let them on your computer.  They can only do this if you call them.  Once on your computer they can do any number of things; Plant a keylogger, steal your passwords, add a pre-windows password which will disable your computer unless you pay hundreds of dollars to them, or they might add a few free tools and try to charge hundreds of dollars to clean up the malware.

I have checked out many computers after getting this popup and none of them received any damaging viruses from the initial popup.  The only time there was damaging viruses and malware was after they called the number and allowed them on their computer.   

Here is my video about this. It includes a video of the pop-up.

Why do I have two different wifi connections?

I was at a customer recently and they had a router that broadcasts both the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz frequencies. The router had been set up with the 5.0 being named for their company and the 2.4 was named guest. Each had a different password. They also told me that their printer could not see their wifi but could see their guest network. Even though the printer was on the guest network one of the computers on their network could print to it.

They had recently switched to a new internet service provider and the new company just shipped them a new modem/router and gave them basic instructions on how to get it online. When they saw that there were two frequencies, they assumed it was two separate networks, so they named the 2.4 to guest because they figured the higher number was the better network for their business.

Based on this interaction and the many questions I have received about this I decided to completely explain the difference and how to best use your wifi if you have both frequencies. Th first thing to know is that they are not two separate networks but two different connections to the same network. It is kind of like taking a winding road or a straight road that both take you to the same place.

A 2.4 GHz connection travels farther at lower speeds, while 5 GHz frequencies provide faster speeds at shorter range. So, in your home or office it is helpful to have both. In many home situations the 5.0 GHz connection is used for gaming since these computers and consoles are usually stationary and probably set up near the router. If that is the case the 5.0 GHz connection will be faster which is needed for gaming. But if your gaming machine is not close to your router you might want to use the 2.4 GHz connection to ensure you won’t drop the signal.

When setting up the wifi on phones and laptops I usually tell people to connect to both networks and save the password on each so that as they move around their home or office, they will get the strongest signal at the time and place where they currently are. If you use your wifi on a patio or in your yard you will most likely want to use the 2.4GHz for this since it travels farther.

Now let’s address why their printer didn’t show up on their 5.0 GHz network. Many older components and also many smart devices only see the 2.4 GHz networks. Since these devices don’t need the higher speed and are always stationary, they don’t add the 5.0 GHz capability which probably saves them a few dollars per unit when they are manufactured. Hopefully they pass some of this onto the consumer.

Last year I was setting up a mesh wifi system for a church and they had a number of thermostats throughout that were all managed by a phone app, so they needed to connect to the wifi. While I was setting up their router and mesh system there was a setting that allowed me to combine both the 2.4 GHz and the 5.0 GHz into a single connection. I thought that might avoid confusion in the church about which one to connect to but the combined signal with both frequencies could not be seen by those thermostats, so I had to go back and remove that setting and list both frequencies separately.

I mentioned guest networks in the first paragraph but didn’t really explain them. A true guest network is just a tunnel out to the internet. When someone connects to your guest network, they cannot see your computers or printers. Usually, they can’t even see other computers that are connected to the guest network. This is very important for companies, so their computers are not compromised by hackers through their guest network. Most routers come with a guest network that can be turned on to keep guests’ connections walled off from your network.

If you are not sure if your guest network is separate from your main network or if you need any other help with your wifi network, let me know. I have helped many individuals and companies fix their networks by adding guest networks and expanding the networks with mesh wifi systems.

Think you will understand better if you watch a video? Here is a video version.

Your Current Operating System is No Longer Supported. Please Upgrade Your System or Replace It with a Newer Model.

Whether you use a Mac, or a PC you could get a message similar to this and after that your computer might not run properly and over time many applications might not work. The first question is “why is this happening?” Followed by “What can I do about it?”

Why is this happening? All computer makers are continuously in a battle with hackers that are trying to find vulnerabilities in their systems. This is also why you constantly receive updates. When these vulnerabilities are discovered the operating system (OS) maker creates a software patch to improve the weak area of their software. At the same time these OS makers are trying to enhance the user experience of their OS. Eventually they can no longer keep patching the software and need to replace it with a stronger version. They also must keep up with newer hardware components, so they need to keep these in mind when making the changes. 

Once the software maker realizes they can’t keep up with fixing the holes in their current software, they create a newer version. When this happens the newer version may have capabilities that require a certain processor speed or memory amount that older systems don’t have. These companies decide that they can no longer protect the older systems since they have moved their resources (employees that create the patches) to protecting the newer systems. It always comes down to money. There have been very large companies that have paid these OS makers to continue to support their computers because they have too many of the older systems to be able to quickly replace all of them. But since the rest of us are not paying for this service, our older machines will eventually fall to the side and become obsolete.

What can I do about it? Regardless of the type of system you have; it is important to keep up with these updates and accept it when they roll out a new version (maybe not immediately, but within a few months). By always running the newest version you are keeping your system safer, and you can take advantage of any new features that come out. If you are not sure if you are on the latest version here is how to check. 

On a Windows computer, right click on the start button and choose System. On a Mac computer click on the apple and then about. This will show you the windows or OS version.

Even if you keep your device on the latest and greatest version you may eventually get to a point where your computer will no longer accept the updates due to not having the proper processor speed or not enough memory. If this happens you need to seriously consider getting a new computer since you have probably had your current one for many years. You might be pleasantly surprised at the increase in speed, picture quality and other improvements that a new system can provide.

I have seen many smaller companies and even individuals that are running an older version of software and don’t want to have to purchase a new version since the current one suits their needs. This could be one reason to keep your old system and use it just for this one application. I would not keep using this computer for anything financial or even to go onto the internet. Many times, the older software might run on the newer OS but sometimes it might not. If you do plan to only use this computer for software like this just know that if (when) your computer dies you will then be without this program so you might start looking for a contingency plan in case something happens.

Recovery For Your Computer in Case It Won’t Start

Image from Canva

I get a lot of calls from people when they run an update and now, they can’t boot up their computer.  This isn’t exclusive to just PCs, it also happens to MACs. There is nothing worse than turning your computer on and your system just sits there spinning or the line never finishes going across the screen. While there is nothing you can do to prevent this, there are things you can do to help restore your system when it happens.

If you have a MacBook, you need to make sure that you have a good Time Machine backup before running any major updates. The best thing is to make sure you always have a current backup that way you can always restore from it if you run into this type of issue. If you don’t know how to set up your Time Machine backup, call me, I can walk you through it.

If you have a PC, there are a few ways to protect yourself.

  1. Make sure System Restore is active on your computer. Here is a video that shows how to make sure it is on – I used this on a laptop recently and had it running again in about 15 minutes.
  2. Have a current backup of all files. I recommend an online backup. Here is my favorite one –   I can help you get this set up if needed.
  3. If you have proprietary software or software that is difficult to reinstall it is a good idea to have a system image backed up onto an external drive. With this you can get back to this complete system by restoring this after reinstalling Windows. It can save a lot of time re-doing settings and other time-consuming set up of your software. This is a little involved, but I do offer this service and can set it up for you.

While using these to restore your computer may not be immediate, it will help you keep all of your data, programs, and settings and save you hours of tweaking things to get them back to the way they were. If you need help with recovering your system let me know, or if you want to put these things in place to minimize your downtime if this happens, I can help with that also.

Why is my computer so slow?

This is a question that I get almost on a daily basis. There is no simple answer to that question. It really depends on a lot of factors in your computer. Some of these factors can be changed and improved, but some are just the way it is, and it might be time to buy a new computer.

Here are some of the causes that can be changed and improved:

☑️ Malware on your computer can cause it to run slow. This is usually where I start since this can also cause you a lot of other trouble if the malware is malicious and intended to damage your computer or steal your information.

☑️ Unnecessary programs running in the background can use up precious resources. Many programs think they need to be preloaded into memory when you start your computer. Sometimes they do need this to run properly, but many do not. By limiting the programs that pre-load, you can greatly improve your computer’s performance.

☑️ Lack of memory can limit the number of programs you can run at a single time making your computer run very slow when you max out the memory available. The minimum required memory for Windows 10 or 11 is only 4 GB. If your computer only has this amount, you will quickly max out the memory and run into problems. For minimal use, I suggest 8 GB and for normal to heavy use I recommend 16 GB or more. Memory is fairly inexpensive and can easily be added to most computers. There are some low budget laptops that come with the memory already soldered onto the motherboard and those cannot be upgraded, also every motherboard has a maximum amount of memory that they support.

☑️ Hard drive degradation can also cause your computer to slow down. When a hard drive starts to fail it will run very slow sometimes and normal at other times. As it gets closer to failing it will be slower more often. If it is caught in time, I can clone your drive onto a new drive and bring your very slow computer back to almost new running condition. This is also fairly inexpensive compared to replacing the entire computer.

The main thing that is not able to be improved on a computer is the processor. On laptops the processor is actually built into the motherboard, so it is impossible to replace it. In desktops it is possible but hard to find processors that will be compatible with older motherboards. If you have a slow or outdated processor the only option is to replace the computer and make sure you get one with a better processor.

How do you know if a processor is good? The easiest way is to contact me when you are thinking about a new computer. I can help you find one that will fit your needs without buying too much computer. This is a service I offer, and I have helped many people find just the right computer for their needs.

If your computer is running slow, set up an appointment with me and I will evaluate your computer, clean it up and help you decide the best course of action to improve your computing speed. I recently did a video discussing this.

Danger – Electricity

Too much electric current can destroy any electronic if it hits it. Computers, routers, printers, and other similar items are especially vulnerable to this due to the electronic boards inside them. During lightning season, this is especially important. This is the main reason to use surge protectors for all of these types of electronics. The purpose of the surge protector is to stop that surge from reaching your components.

Surge protectors have a fuse inside that will break the connection to the connected devices if it is too powerful. That means you only have to replace the surge protector and not all of the devices connected to it. This is great since most surge protectors are less than $100 and most devices connected to them are many times more expensive.

There is also another benefit to surge protectors. Some come with a certain amount of insurance for the items connected to the surge if it fails to protect them. To find one with this insurance you can look on the packaging or google “surge protector with insurance” I found an APC model on Amazon that has 11 outlets on it and offers $250,000 in insurance for connected devices and it only cost $42.99. Make sure you read all of the fine print, but this is just another reason to always make sure you use a surge protector. Yes, your homeowner’s or renter’s policy would probably cover this as well, but these policies also have a deductible that you must pay.

Most people do have a surge protector on their desktop computers since they never move them, and they are always plugged in. But people often forget to plug their laptops into a surge protector since they normally take it with them. Many people just connect it to the nearest outlet. If you carry your laptop around and you are in the habit of just plugging it straight into the wall, consider getting a small surge protector and keeping it in your bag with your laptop. It could save you a very big expensive headache.

Another great idea is to unplug all devices if there is a nearby electrical storm. Even though the surge should protect your components, why should you take that chance if there is a high potential for a surge in the area. If you are going on vacation and will be away for a week or longer why not unplug all components also. It only takes a minute and might save you from the hassle of replacing things when you get back.

Top 10 ways to get a virus or malware on your computer.

Many times, it is your online behavior that allows viruses and malware to infest your computer.  Here is a list of things that you might be doing that can increase your chances of getting a virus or malware.

10. You visit recipe sites and allow the site to install their “print manager”. It only takes a few seconds to copy the recipe into a word document. Then you can save it or print it.

9. You click on links offering free music.  I had a customer try this and he got a pop up that said, “I just stole your sound”, I had to find new drivers to get his speakers working again.

8. You click on the first result in your search even though it clearly says it is an ad.  Many times, the first result, or the first few results in any search are ads. Usually, they have nothing to do with the company you are looking for. These can easily give you browser hackers.

7. In search results you pay attention to the heading and not the URL above it. The heading can be anything the website owner wants it to be. The URL is their actual website. If it doesn’t match what you are looking for, try another link.

6.  You install software using the Express “Recommended” option rather than the Custom “Advanced” option. In reality the custom option will only ask you a few questions and allow you to say no to extra junk.

5. You allow your young children to use your profile which is an administrator when they play their online games. You can easily set up a standard user for them so they can’t install junk.

4. You follow any links that you get in unsolicited emails. Curiosity killed the cat, and it will kill your computer also.

3. You use a free version of anti-virus. Many times, while I am adding a paid anti-virus to a computer it will find malware in the initial scan that the free version never found. With anti-virus, you always get what you paid for so if you paid nothing, you would get nothing.

2. You always play the goofy games on Facebook to find out, for example, what kind of car best suits you. Many times, these “games” are only wanting to use your information to try and sell you something or worse.

And the number one way to get a virus or malware on your computer – You click on the first “download” button you see rather than reading that this button is actually part of an ad.

If you don’t understand any of these items, I would be happy to explain further. Or you can watch this Youtube video

I also have a subscription newsletter that covers things like this on a monthly basis. If you know someone that is vulnerable to scams this would be a great resource for them. If interested here is a link to subscribe to it.

Safe Surfing While Traveling or Working from a Public Place

Photo by Canva

Summertime and the living is easy… Except many of us keep working even on vacation. Even if we don’t work, we still lug our laptops along and check email or other things. When we work from home, we are working on a fairly secure network. It has some type of encryption and a password. We don’t normally give this password out to very many people so that limits the possible people that could be on it.

This isn’t the case when traveling or even when you are down at your local coffee shop. Many public wifi systems don’t have a password and the ones that do usually have that password posted on the wall for all to see and use. In the coffee shop it is fairly obvious who is on the wifi, you can see all of the other customers sitting at tables with their computers open. When you are sitting in your hotel room, it isn’t so obvious, and you might even feel safer since you can’t see anyone else on their devices. Since you can’t see who else is on this network, you should be very concerned. Who knows what anyone could be doing in their room? With no one watching them they could be using some hi-tech equipment and watching your every move.

So how can you protect yourself when you are on public wifi? You need to add a software VPN. They are not very expensive, and they are fairly easy to set up. In fact, some anti-virus software comes with a VPN built in, you only need to turn it on. When you get onto an open or public wifi system you should immediately turn on your VPN. This will shield your computer from those on the same network that want to snoop on your computer.

Years ago, I had a customer that was retiring, and his goal was to spend months at a time in South American countries. His fear was sitting in an internet café and someone stealing his banking info. We set up a VPN for him and he made several trips and never had an issue.

If you want a recommendation for a VPN, please reach out to me, I have experience with a few and can help you get it set up. If this article was too long and you didn’t read it, (TLDR) here is a link to my YouTube channel where I discuss the same thing.

While you are on my channel, please subscribe so you won’t miss any of the videos that I post.