Hurricane Irene Technology Preparedeness Tips for New Yorkers

Hurrican Preparedness TipsAfter being knocked around by this week’s unexpected earthquake, Hurricane Irene is coming to New York.  Many of our staff members have weathered hurricanes before in Florida, North Carolina, and Mississippi and we’ve put together this short resource to make sure your technology weathers the storm with you.

With Irene aiming directly for New York City this weekend, here are some basic tips for us New Yorkers to prepare ourselves digitally for the highly inclement weather coming our way.

Add your comments to this open thread as we weather the hurricane together.  Stay safe New York!

Backup Your Data Offsite and to Your Email – Whether it’s paper copies to put in your ‘go bag’ or a full-on offsite backup or file syncing like we recently talked about, NOW IS THE TIME to protect your digital life.

Upload important files and emergency contact lists to your email account and share them with your friends and family.  You’ll be able to access them wherever you are from any computer but be sure to keep paper copies with you as well.

Know Your Passwords and Download Pertinent Contact Information – backup your contacts, passwords, and other pertinent information to your phone from your computer in case you lose access to your computer.  Keeping printed copies, just in case, isn’t a bad idea.

Keep Your Devices Charged – Make sure that your devices are fully charged and that you have backup batteries for any devices which run off of battery power.  The electricity may go out so be prepared to ration computer and cell phone use due to a possible unknown outage period.

Protect Your Devices from Electrical Surges – New York City is no stranger to heavy duty storms but remember that surges can occur and short out electrical devices.  Keep your devices plugged in as long as possible but unplug them as soon as the storm hits.

Texts Will Come in Handy/Be Prepared for Bogged Down Networks – With an expected increased load on the cell networks, text messages may have a higher likelihood of getting through.  Communicate as much as possible with friends and family through texts if cell phone coverage becomes spotty.  Be aware that internet speeds will become much slower if local utilities are knocked out of comission – ration your bandwidth usage to conserve battery strength.

If the Electricity Goes Out – You can get more battery juice by shaking the flashlights.  Also, pack your refrigerator with food and keep it closed as much as possible.

Have you weathered a hurricane before like us?  Share your tech preparedness tips for Hurricane Irene in the comments.

Please note that if you are in need of repair service, LaptopMD will be open during regular hours on Saturday, 11am to 9pm, and (hopefully) on Sunday, 11am to 6pm, depending on exact weather conditions – Stay tuned to our Facebook page for up to date information on Saturday, Sunday, and early next week.

UPDATE x2 (8/29/11): LaptopMD+ is open normal hours for business – please contact us at 212-920-4833 or come in with your computer, iPhone, and laptop repairs.

On a more personal note, we wish our customers in the New York City area a weekend of safety and calm preparation in advance of Hurricane Irene.

Top Back-To-School Tech Tips

back-to-school computer tipsWith the school year just around the corner, students across New York are gearing up to ship out to colleges, some going back to a familiar haunts and others just getting ready for a new adventure. And while some students are lucky enough to get a brand new computer, in this tough economy a lot of students and their families have to cut back on expenses and make old laptops and other devices stretch just another year or two. With that said, there are a couple of tech tips and tricks that can give new life to old equipment and make it stretch through one more year away from home.

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How to Choose and Properly Maintain an Anti-Virus Program

computer securityWhen talking about basic digital security tips and protecting yourself online, I would be remiss to not pass on wisdom on how to properly choose and maintain an anti-virus program.  Many customers of ours bring their laptops or computers in for repair because of problems resulting from the anti-virus/security settings on their computer – whether an anti-virus program is improperly installed or is not installed at all.

Here are some tips I’ve shared with customers in the past on how to choose the right anti-virus software, set it up, and maintain it over time:

  1. Download a trial versionUtilize the available versions and try out several programs before you actually buy the software.  There are a multitude of programs out there and each will bring their own unique flavor of security protection.  Trial software allows you to experience and test out the actual program without incurring the hefty prices.  Try different security packages, from different developers, and find out which one suits you best and works best on your computer.
  2. Be aware of ‘weighty’ softwareDuring the trial period watch and see how the anti-virus software affects your computer’s performance.  Note peculiarities such as speed, responsiveness, and unexpected computer freezes.  These problems can be symptomatic of ‘bloatware’ which unnecessarily slows your computer down.  Anti-virus software (especially the Norton Security Suite) can slow computers down so you will want to find the right software that fits your digital habits/needs.
  3. Buy as a Suite of Products, Not as a Single Piece of SoftwareMost antivirus/firewall programs are available as a suite of products even though you can buy the standalone copies by themselves.  Contrary to popular belief, you will get a better deal (and more protection) when you focus on a suite of security products rather than individual programs.  Software purchased in suites, especially internet security software allows you to get more features for less money.
  4. Leverage the Available Bulk LicensesMost internet security software suites come with multiple licenses allowing you to install the program on multiple machines.  Take advantage of these bulk licenses and install the security software on all of the computers in your home, such as your spouse’s laptop, the kids’ computer, etc.  Protecting your entire home network is an integral part to mastering digital security.
  5. Get the Physical Software DisksSome programs allow you to download the application but be sure to buy the actual software so you have the disks if the computer crashes.  This makes computer recovery much easier for you and the repair engineers working on your computer.  You never know when you’ll need the actual disks and you don’t want to get caught with a missing login/password or without an internet connection like we’ve happen to customers in the past.
  6. Run/Schedule Software Updates RegularlyWhen you install the program, make sure you activate and schedule the automatic updates and regularly check to make sure your program is up to date, especially if something feels out of place.  Anti-virus developers release several dozen patches a year that you need to be protected from.  Hackers will never stop so make sure you are applying updates to the anti-virus/firewall program as they become available.


So which anti-virus/firewall packages does LaptopMD like best and recommend?

We prefer and recommend Kaspersky Anti-Virus and PC Tools to our customers.  Both companies offer lightweight but full-featured software suites that we’ve seen perform well on our own computers as well as those of customers.

Share your thoughts in the comments and ask us what is still on your mind about anti-virus software.

Four Easy Digital Security Tips/Principles

digital security

We’ve all heard a lot about digital security these past few years and it always gets to me that “digital security” has remained a buzzword – often used to spread fear and panic as well as appeal to the masses as a means to sell new security products, etc.  Digital security can be boiled down into some basic principles and practices that you can do on your own (some software may be needed in certain cases but most can be done on your own).  These are basic principles but in my experience adhering to the basics will prevent major problems from occurring.

You are the first line of defense.

No computer program, algorithm, or machine has the complete ability, as least yet (!), to match the intellect of a human being in terms of digital security.  Yes, these programs can protect us much better than we can – in a lot of ways – but having an alert mind on our shoulders will make a world of defense in protecting yourself.  When you’re online remain alert and vigilant to online threats – operating with the mentality that “the internet can do no harm” is on the verge of living a fantasy.  Don’t go overboard but trust and use your natural intuition about websites, links, and attachments as you protect yourself online.

When online, be aware of red flags and recognize when things seem out of place or odd.

I have recently been receiving a lot of spam from hotmail accounts (which seems to be a favorite target of hackers these days) and the spam I am receiving is incredibly deceptive.  Spammers are now adding prefixes such as “RE:” and “FW:” to email subjects to entice individuals to open messages.  This is an example of a red flag you should be aware of – if a message seems out of place (like a “reply” to a message you didn’t send) chances are the email is spam.  Another spam favorite is the giveaway of electronic devices – now, I don’t want to seem like I’m a pessimist but if something sounds too good to be true there is a higher chance that it probably is.  I always suggest to users that they tread lightly with the “out of this world” type of promotions and have heightened senses when pursuing these types of links/sites.

Password protection is critical.

I’ve walked into many offices where passwords have been left on sticky notes underneath the keyboard because they are hard for people to remember.  Granted, techies (like myself) are often guilty of making password requirements too complex but I always discourage the use of sticky notes near the computer simply because it allows very easy access to sensitive login information.  Here are some tips for protecting your password that will save you the trouble of being hacked or having your accounts improperly accessed:

  • Make your password case is sensitive with mixed characters and letters – stay away from common English words and phrases
  • Commit to memorizing your password or store your passwords in a concealed place (and not under “P” for passwords either)
  • Change your personal passwords every 6 to 12 months or whenever you feel your digital space may have been compromised
  • Use a secure password management tool that integrates with your browser and websites/multiple passwords

Install an anti-virus program.

I keep saying this and it still amazes me how many people don’t have an anti-virus program on their computer.  Everyone, including Mac users, should have an anti-virus program or internet security suite installed on their computer.  If you’re worried about the cost of a program, I recommend the free version of AVG anti-virus or download one of the many trial versions of the security suites out there, like PC Tools or Kaspersky Anti-Virus.  But trust me, the money for such programs is worth the investment!

I realize these things may seem like common sense but, with digital security, the common sense/trivial matters do make the difference between a big computer nightmare and digital bliss!

Share with me in the comments the tips and tricks that you use online to protect yourself.

Six Problems with Windows and How to Prevent Them – Part 2

Recently, in part 1 of our series on “Six Problems with Windows and How to Prevent Them” I looked at how you can prevent computer nightmares such as non-booting computers, not being able to access your hard drive, and encountering blue screens of death.  Today, I continue the series by looking at the remaining nightmares presented by PCWorld and I provide tips/advice which help you turn those situations into more peaceful occurrences.

Nightmare: No One Has the PC’s Administrator Password

Preventive Steps:

  • While I don’t recommend that you start hacking a system’s password (it can get messy for the average user), I do recommend that you don’t get caught needing a password that you need from one of your employees.  All business principals should share knowledge of an admin password with their Systems Admin.  Passwords are precious, especially in corporate environments, and while knowledge of passwords should be kept to as few people as possible, if you are the owner or executive at a company insist that your Systems Admin shares his or her executive passwords with you, at least for a fail-safe scenario.

Nightmare: You Think Your PC Is Infected

Preventive Steps:

  • Keep your anti-virus program up to date and run it as needed.
  • Typically viruses infect system files and not your everyday documents so try doing a system restore or system backup to a point in time that you know you were not infected.
  • Viruses can be complex and can get intertwined in the system files so be sure to consult a professional.

Nightmare: An Important File Disappears

Preventive Steps:

  • The easiest solution was covered in yesterday’s segment – backup, backup, backup ahead of time!  See Part 1 for more information on backup techniques.  If you’ve lost the file and you don’t have a backup, check out the PCWorld article for more information.

I hope you gained fresh insight into preventive maintenance steps and ways of dealing with your computer nightmares and problems.  As always, LaptopMD is here to help you with your computer and software repair problems – there isn’t a problem that we don’t know how to take care of.

Is your Windows nightmare not listed or do you need help?  Describe it in the comments and let us help you with it.

Six Problems with Windows and How to Prevent Them – Part 1

We’ve all been there when our computer has failed and the nightmares occur in different forms as written recently in PCWorld: “Six Windows 7 Nightmares (and how to fix them)”.  This article is a good read, as it provides fixes to the problems as they occur, but it got me thinking about simple preventive maintenance best practices, related to each nightmare, that can turn computer and software nightmares into sweet dreams.

Read below for part one of a two-part series on PCWorld’s common nightmares with Windows and the best ways to prevent them or at least make dealing with the computer problems less stressful.

Nightmare: Your PC Won’t Boot

Preventive Steps:

  • Know Where Your Original Setup CDs are – organization is a primary key to mitigating problems.  It’s a lot easier and less stressful if all of your setup/installation CDs are in one place.  Don’t throw your disks away because you never know when you’ll need them but always keep them in one central location for ease of access.
  • Create a System Repair Disc and add this disc to your collection of setup/installation disks.  This is a good idea if you do not have the original startup disks and having multiple copies of an important disk won’t hurt and you’ll probably thank yourself if/when you misplace the other.

Nightmare: You Can’t Access the Hard Drive

Preventive Steps:

  • Backup your computer and essential files onto an external hard drive or online storage service.  Let me say that again – back up your files! We’ve talked about multiple services and devices to use in past articles: SugarSync and PogoPlug/

Nightmare: Blue Screens of Death Attack Your PC Regularly

Preventive Steps:

  • As PCWorld writes, Blue Screens of Death (BSoD) can be prevented by keeping tabs on your drivers and making sure you are using the most up to date versions.  You can check your drivers using a piece of freeware called SlimWare – this program will notify you if/when your drivers are out of date and where to go to download the newest versions.  Be careful, though, and consult an IT engineer before updating drivers as this could inadvertently cause the problem itself!

Stay tuned for more preventive maintenance relating to Windows like losing a PC Admin’s password, being infected with a virus, and losing an important file from your computer – coming in part 2!

Tell us what your worst nightmare is with your computer right now and we will provide any answers you might need.

Technology Advice for Telecommuting and Other Business Professionals

Technology Advice for the Telecommuting Business ProfessionalContinuing our series on IT advice for business professionals, today I want to share some tips and technology solutions that will help small business owners, freelancers, and ordinary professionals be more productive when you are working offsite.  New York City is filled with freelancers, musicians, and professionals who use Starbucks and other cafe spots as a means to get away from the office and remain productive.  While these places are convenient, they often lack in the right setup and environment that you need to work efficiently.  PC World recently wrote an article about tips to be an effective business professional even while you’re at Starbucks but here are some tips from PC World and others to make your telecommuting gig work out, so you can be out of the office more and be more productive at the same time:

  • Sync your files with those at your office, so you always have what you need where you need it.  Consider using online and desktop based sharing services such as SugarSync and Pogoplug.  Both work similarly, letting you share your files from one central location online and through multiple device types, including smartphones.  However, PogoPlug offers an optional hardware component which allows you to access your external hard drive (or another USB device, like a flash drive or memory device) from the internet with just an Ethernet connection – no computer required.
  • Setup a Google Voice number that can automatically forward calls to your cell phone or to your office phone with minimal setup.   Give this number to your clients and they will always be able to reach wherever you might be.
  • Find the best location.  Yes, that latte may be appealing but get creative about where you setup shop.  Consider alternatives to Starbucks and pay attention to the various factors that provide the best ideal working environment for yourself.
  • Don’t rely on the provided WiFi. Nothing is worse than relying on an internet connection that isn’t working or is overloaded with ‘freeloaders’.  Have a backup like the mobile hotspots we looked at in November available to use or tether your computer to your laptop via your smartphone.
  • Don’t Let Your Computer Walk Away. PCWorld recommends that you buy a laptop lock for computers when your camped out at a coffee shop or cafe and you need to walk away.  These are good but also, consider LoJack Software For Laptops which will help you find your laptop if it is stolen away.
  • If you’re still stuck in the stone age and the fax machine is what is keeping you at the office, consider subscribing to electronic fax service, like E-Fax, which lets you send PDF faxes from wherever you might be.

These are just a few points of advice for business professionals and people who want to telecommute more often from their favorite Starbucks and who find themselves in the middle of technological confusion when trying to get away from the office.  Tell us what we have missed or didn’t cover and stay tuned for more business and technology advice and guidance.

Small Business IT: Advice When Considering Outsourced IT

Advice for Outsourcing IT DepartmentsThroughout the month of May, LaptopMD is taking an indepth look at business IT management and showing you how you can leverage technology and related repair problems in a better manner for your company using less resources – whether it’s with us or on your own.

To kickoff our series, I want to share with you a relevant and noteworthy article I recently read in Entrepreneur Magazine titled “Kicking IT to the Curb” which outlines factors that should be taken into consideration by companies when thinking about outsourcing an IT department to a third party company.

Here is some advice to small business owners from Entrepreneur Magazine and LaptopMD:

  • Be aware of the type of Service Level Agreement (SLA) you need to have in place with the third party company.  These are essentially documents that protect both you, as a business owner, and the company involved from ambiguous expectations that result from the quality of service that is delivered.
    Understand what your needs are as a company (in metrics, delivery of services, scope and size of services, etc.) and make sure your company is protected by penalties and other protection mechanisms to maximize your company’s ‘uptime’.
  • Understand that the size of the small business will dictate the levels of needed outsourcing.  A smaller business has different needs than a larger business does and the right third party company will be able to offer a tailored approach rather than one that appears to be ‘one size fits all’.
    Focus your selection of a third party company on your needs as well as the specialties that the third party offers.
  • Recognize the variety of available services and different niche areas which can be of benefit to your small businesses.  Many small businesses, even those with a few employees, have specific areas of attention and not all third party services will give the same attention/quality of service to a specific area (like Microsoft Exchange support) as others might.  Most third party companies have their own specialties but offer ‘complimentary’ services as a means to round out their portfolio.  Recognize a company’s strengths in your research.
    Sometimes IT outsourcing can be covered by multiple companies, depending where particular providers meet your needs and your price points.
  • Above all, compare pricing and establish a baseline across third parties.  Often times a particular third party may appear to have higher (or lower) prices that seem exorbitant or unreal but many times these prices reflect that third party’s particular niche and would be a worthwhile investment based on your needs.
    Often times, the smaller outsourcing companies can work with you on a better deal than the larger places, like Staples and Best Buy, since the larger ones price based on an average rate and smaller companies tailor their pricing to your needs.

Be sure to read the full article from Entrepreneur Magazine and keep watching our blog throughout the month of May for more articles on business IT support, advice, and improvement.

Today’s top technology myths. Fact or fiction?

Top Technology Myths
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I recently read an article, “Technology’s Biggest Myths” on MSNBC that described some of the biggest myths of technology today and assessed whether they were true or not. I was fairly skeptical but it was actually a pretty good article and cleared up a number of things I wasn’t aware of.  Go ahead, go read the article and then come back, we’ll chat then.

Back already? Wow, you’re a fast reader. Okay okay, let’s continue…

After that article I can’t help but say ‘Where to Start???’. The first thing that jumps out at me is the claim that you can’t get viruses if you only visit G-Rated sites.  In the article, Avast Software (maker of popular antivirus software) will tell you that there are 100 virus infected websites on ‘clean’ content sites for every virus on an adult based content site!

This stuck out to me because we hear this everyday in our shop. One of the most common questions we get is “Why did I get this virus??”. And unfortunately there’s no easy answer for that question. The only thing we can recommend is making sure you have a valid up to date antivirus program and that you’re being aware of any suspicious looking websites that you visit.

Computer Anti-Virus Software
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The second biggest thing that stuck out to me was the Windows Vista vs. Windows 7 speed comparison.  Now, for the not-so-techie people in the crowd, you may not have been as immersed by stats claiming this as I have. I’ve seen countless studies, tests and comparisons that make this claim so I was really interested to hear what MSNBC had to say about the topic. And low and behold, I was right!  Just like a number of other articles I had read, Windows 7 does actually outperform Windows Vista.

If you’ve been relying solely on my critiques so far, I do suggest you make your way to the article and check it out for yourself.  It not only describes the myths I’ve mentioned but also goes over whether or not your new iPhone 4 is alone in its fatal signal strength band issue or if all smartphones share its fate. Also, have you ever wondered if you’ve been getting ripped off for the price of an HDMI cable?

Check it out and let me know in the comments what stands out to you!

Protect Your Laptop, Computer, and Smartphone From Malware

Computer Malware
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Malware, or Malicious Software, is a computer program or computer code designed to secretly access your computer system with deceptive intent. Malware is typically disguised as a program that you download from the internet or is installed on your computer without your knowledge. Malware can come in the form of a computer virus, a computer worm (self-replicating), a trojan horse (programs that on the outside appear to do something other than what they do), spyware, adware and even basic computer code. Malware can steal personal information stored on your computer, open your computer to further attack, or allow other deceptive practices toward you and your computer system. You may have malware on your computer and not even know it. Many malware programs look like otherwise legitimate programs but carry with them deceptive intent. Your laptop, computer, and/or smartphone are all susceptible to malware.

In 2008, Symantec, the company behind the popular Norton Anti-virus program, suggested that the rate of malicious code and programs being spread through the Internet may be exceeding that of legitimate programs. Due to its rampant nature, it is important for you to protect yourself and your computer from the malicious intent of Malware.  Continue reading to learn more about Malware and how to protect your computer/device from malicious intent. Continue reading