Safe Surfing While Traveling or Working from a Public Place

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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.

Bringing New Life to Old Computers

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Something that I am constantly working on is slow computers. I regularly get calls from people saying, “my computer is very slow, is there a way to speed it up or do I need a new one?” My answer is always “well, that depends.” As long as the processor isn’t ancient or low powered (kind of like a car engine – like the 3-cylinder models from a few decades ago) we can probably make it faster.

I usually ask them to get me information about the processor, memory and storage capacity of their computer and based on that information I can tell them if it can be upgraded or not. The upgrade that I am talking about is cloning their existing drive onto a new solid-state drive (SSD). Traditional hard drives are a number of discs stacked on top of each other and they run at about 6000 revolutions per minute. After a number of years these discs can get corrupt, and the response time gets worse as the corruption grows.

I recently worked on a computer that would take about 15 minutes from hitting the power button until you could actually work on the computer and even then, it was still sluggish. After about 45 minutes this computer would finally start moving normally. I tried to tune up the computer by scanning for malware, optimizing the memory and removing any unnecessary programs that could slow it down but none of that helped. Looking at the processor I found that it was a fairly current and a fairly fast processor, so this was a good candidate for cloning the drive.

I took the laptop home with me and removed the hard drive and loaded it into a dock connected to my computer; I also loaded a new SSD into the dock. The process of cloning takes an exact copy of the old drive and places it onto the new SSD. When the process was finished, I installed the new SSD into the laptop and turned it on. The bootup which was taking more than 15 minutes completed in less than a minute and I was able to log in and start working on the laptop right away.

The difference is really this dramatic. In addition, the cost is only a fraction of the cost of a new machine, so this upgrade is usually a no-brainer. I have done this for many people that were reluctant to give up their computer for fear they wouldn’t get it back for many days, but I normally run this cloning overnight and get it back to the owner the next morning. 

If you are contemplating whether or not to get a new computer, give me a call and we can discuss this as a possible way to get a lot more life out of your current machine.

How to Extend the Life of Your Laptop Battery

Laptop use has steadily increased since they were first created and today there are many more laptops sold than desktops. According to an article on makeuseof.com – “In 2019, desktop sales totaled 88.4 million units compared to 166 million laptops. That gap is expected to grow to 79 million versus 171 million by 2023.” We all know that laptops are much more convenient than desktops due to the portability of laptops. Add to this the fact that some advertise their batteries will last more than a dozen hours before needing a charge and the number of people getting laptops is no surprise.

Even though most of us purchase laptops, many of us still use them like desktops and this can reduce the life of the battery and in some cases cause damage to the laptop. Laptops were made to be very portable, so it isn’t necessary to always be plugged in to power. In fact, if you always leave it plugged in you are definitely doing a disservice to your laptop and could be causing damage.

If you have a laptop and almost always use it at your desk, you should unplug it occasionally and allow the battery to drain. This will keep the battery from failing or losing its length of charge. I usually recommend charging it to 100 percent or close to it and then unplugging it and allowing it to completely die or at least get below ten percent before plugging it back in. When you keep it plugged-in all the time the battery will become damaged and won’t hold a full charge and sometimes won’t hold any charge.  

Occasionally I see laptops that start to have a bulge from the battery expanding due to always being plugged in. I worked on a Macbook that the entire bottom was beginning to pop off of the laptop. I removed the screws that hadn’t popped yet and when I removed the bottom the laptop swelled even more. It took me over half an hour to safely remove the battery without damaging other components. I believe this laptop was in danger of the battery exploding. See below. The silver battery is expanding and broke out of the plastic that encased it. The black plastic should be flat and even with the laptop frame.

I recently did a video about battery life and went into further explanation you can see it here or in the embed below.

National Backup My Computer Day

Yes, this is actually a thing. I guess there is a day for everything anymore. March 31st was National Backup Your Computer Day, so I decided to give some insight into what is a backup and what isn’t. Many people use OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud, and Dropbox and think they have a backup. In one sense this will help you recover your files if your computer dies or is stolen, but it isn’t a true backup. It is a sync.

With a sync, the cloud service keeps an exact copy of your documents and each time you make a change on your device it will change in the cloud. For the most part, this is great except for a couple instances:

  1. If you have the sync turned on and you delete your computer copy, it will also delete your cloud copy. Years ago, I had a customer that used Dropbox to share documents with employees and she figured this was also a great way to back it up. One day she had to fire an employee that had access to this cloud, so she got the employee’s computer and proceeded to delete the drop box from it. This also deleted all files stored in the cloud version of her Dropbox. Luckily, she figured it out fairly quick and Dropbox was able to help her restore the files. If she had signed out of the drop box on the employee’s computer first, this would not have happened.
  2. If you get ransomware and it encrypts your file, it will also encrypt your cloud. With a true backup each time there is a change to a file it saves it in addition to the old copy of the file. This can be helpful in catastrophic ransomware issues or if you simply overwrite a file. I got a call one day because a customer could not open any files on his computer. Upon further discussion I learned that when he tried to open a file, he would get a pop up telling him how to purchase the “key” to fix this situation. It would only cost about $800 to purchase the key. He had opened a file that looked like it came from FedEx and it had encrypted his entire computer. Since he was connected to their server, I told him to immediately disconnect from the internet and also to disconnect the server from the internet. When I got to his office, I first checked the server and the virus had already infected about 20% of the files on the server. Luckily, this company had a true backup, and I was able to retrieve all of the infected files. If they were using one of the sync clouds, they would not have been able to recover their files.

When you have a true back up, the process is different. It is a one-way process, not a sync. It also keeps previous versions. It is like putting all of your files in a box and sealing it up and then putting it on a shelf. Then you make a few changes and those get put in another box and also get put on the shelf. The boxes don’t care if you delete a file or change a file the previous boxes are unaffected, but the changes will be in a new box on the shelf. Later on, if there is an issue with a file or many files you can go to a previous box and retrieve the files.

There are also a few kinds of backups. Most work like the cloud services where they charge a certain amount of money for a certain amount of backup storage. If you go over the limit you have to pay more. The one I recommend does it a little different. They charge by the computer, a fixed dollar amount regardless of how much you are backing up. I had a customer with two external drives connected to her computer. They were each 4 TB and my backup didn’t care as long as it was attached to this computer.

Watch this video I made about this:

If you want more information about this backup solution, you can call me or just use this link to get it for yourself.

Windows 11, Should You, or Shouldn’t You?

Microsoft released their newest version last fall and they have been advertising on television and you might have even seen a popup on your computer either telling you that you can upgrade, or you can’t upgrade. Here are the facts about Windows 11.

First of all, Microsoft will continue to support Windows 10 until January of 2025, so you don’t need to stress about upgrading just yet. If you are happy with your current version and you think you will replace your current computer before the support ends in about three years, you don’t have to upgrade. If you are curious and want to take the plunge it is free to upgrade, and you can reverse the upgrade for about ten days after you do it.

Before you pull the trigger, here are some things to consider:
  1. If you have any proprietary software, it is possible that it might not be compatible with Windows 11.
  2. Likewise, if you have any very old software. I have ran across many people that purchased Quicken years ago and never upgraded to a newer version. This could cause issues with Windows 11.
  3. If you run an old version of QuickBooks, this could cause it to stop working. Meaning you will have to purchase the newest version and worry about getting your company file to work in the newer version.
  4. While the user interface is similar to Windows 10, there are differences, and some features are difficult to find and require more clicks to get where you want to go.
  5. Recently There has been a noticeable lag in the file explorer. I am currently trying to work through this on my computer.

I am not trying to encourage or discourage anyone. I am just giving you something to think about. There is one added feature that I feel is great. They have improved on Snap Assist. It still works the same as it always did, but now when you hover over the maximize block on any window, it gives you choices to split your screen into six different layouts that can improve your productivity. This feature alone is enough to make the switch if you struggle with multiple windows at once. You simply click on the layout that you want, and the current window will snap into place and all other windows will be visible so you can choose which ones to add to the layout. If you use two monitors, you could have a different layout on each monitor.

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For more about snap assist, see my video on it

6 Signs You’ll Need To Replace Your Laptop

1. Your OS Won’t Upgrade to the Latest Version

When your laptop isn’t able to upgrade to the newest operating system, it’s because it has outdated parts, that won’t be able to handle the requirements of the new OS. It’s time to save everything important on your machine and move onto a new one. Laptops can last 5,6, even 8 years, but then it’s time to move on.

2. Your Machine Frequently Crashes

If your machine crashes multiple times a month, run a virus scan and a software diagnosis to look for a software issue or a malware problem. Sometimes you just need to update the software that’s causing the crashes, or take care of the malware that’s causing the trouble. In case the latest versions of the software are not compatible with your laptop’s specs, you should replace your laptop in order to avoid more crashes and the chance to keep losing your work.

3. The Laptop Battery Won’t Charge or Dies Quickly

A laptop’s original battery may last 4-5 years. After that, you can replace the battery, but it will not be a successful method forever. If your laptop battery is experiencing charging or other power issues, then the problem could be your laptop. When the replacement battery models are being discontinued by the manufacturer, that’s usually the sign of you need a new laptop.

4. The Screen Gets Damaged

Laptop screens can’t be replaced easily. Once the screen is damaged, then most likely the entire laptop will have to be replaced. You could still use the laptop with an external monitor, but that would nix the portability of your machine, which most of the time the best feature of a laptop. It’s a great solution to save your files before you move onto your new laptop.

5. Clicking Noises Coming from the Hard Drive

Any weird noises coming from inside the machine are signs that your laptop might be nearing the end of its life. Clicking noises are usually a sign that the hard drive is failing. You should back up your files right away and go to a repair shop. 

6. Your Laptop Overheats

Overheating is a sign that the fan inside your laptop isn’t working properly or stopped working overall. Fans are difficult to replace, so depending of your laptop’s make and model and the pricetag of the part and work, you might be better of shopping for a new laptop.

If you need help determining if your device can be saved, or it’s really time to buy your new laptop, call me at (720) 219-6720, I service the greater Denver area. Duane McHodgkins, owner and technician at Duane’s Reliable Computer Services