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Monday, November 30, 2009

I Passed the Security+ SYO-201 Today

I took the CompTIA Security+ SYO-201 exam this morning. I have to say that I found the new exam to contain way better grammer than the first time I had taken it. My score was 865/900 (750 needed to pass). Happy day!!!!

For more information on CompTIA exams, visit http://www.comptia.org

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Laptop Repair - DC Power Jack Design, and What I Think

As many other IT folk can agree with me, when one goes home for the holidays or has family close by, they always get called upon to fix a PC or other IT related issue. I do regularly and don't mind it at all. I was called to reload a desktop OS for one of my brother-in-laws and repair a laptop for a brother of one of my other brother-in-law (following that?). All over Thanksgiving weekend.

One thing I have seemed to fix quite a few times this year relates to DC power jacks. These are what you plug your laptops charger into to replenish the battery. These little interfaces are prone to breaking and can be very difficult and expensive to fix (not really if you know where to find the parts!) In the few years I have been repairing computers, nothing is more annoying to fix than the soldered on type of DC power jack that is found on many laptops. I have run across these mostly on Dell laptops recently. I have seen in my opinion, a far superior design. That design is a cabled DC adapter that plugs into the motherboard. These are far easier to replace than the soldered counterparts.

These types of repairs take time to complete. My average time is about 2 hours. At a lot of computer repair shops, you will be told that these cannot be repaired or that it will cost hundreds of dollars to repair. I have seen this happen a lot and people end up buying a new laptop.

Just to prove a point about the true costs of a DC power jack for a Dell Vostro 1000 laptop, the jack cost less than $5.00 USD and was less than $15.00 USD with shipping. The last DC power jack I replaced on a Toshiba (cabled DC jack) cost about $25.00 USD. So you see the parts are normally inexpensive. What does cost the most is the technicians time. Some price reasonably, some price it based on how much they do not want to do it. Keep that in mind when shopping for repair shops and don't be afraid to price out the parts prior to having a laptop repaired. Here's a favorite website of mine to find laptop parts (no Dell parts currently):

http://www.blogger.com/

For Dell parts, I usually Google search the part or visit ebay.com.

You will need to know your model and serial number, which normally is located on the bottom of your laptop.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Comming Cyber War - Why Security Should Not Be Taken Lightly!



While studying for the Security+ SYO-201 exam the other night, I made my rounds at some favorite tech resources online. I came across a very interesting post over at TechRepublic.com(http://www.blogger.com/) that caught my eye. It was a video from 60 Minutes, a Investigative Reporting TV show that discussed the vulnerabilities that the U.S. electrical power grid faces and has faced for some time now. This video should scare you straight, and make you more aware of why it's important to keep your systems and data secure. Here's the Video -http://www.blogger.com/)

Remember to keep your computer updated, do regular virus / malware scans, & using common sense while using resources on the internet.

Happy Thanksgiving All!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My First Windows 7 Issue

So I made the leap (happily) from Vista over the weekend to Windows 7 and so far have been very satisfied in the performance increase I have gotten on my laptop. I have an Acer Aspire 8930, and it's a nice laptop. Everything ran okay on Vista, but I did not like a lot of the little annoyances.

So far, I have installed Windows 7 about 4 times on this laptop. I have tried the Beta, RC1, Home Premium and Ultimate RTM's and have been very pleased with the ease of installation and how fast it went. But here are a few issues I ran into, all related to hardware:

1.) Intel WiFi 5100 AGN - If you have this wireless card, the Windows 7 upgrade may fail. This is a driver issue and can be resolved quickly by removing the Intel Wireless app and driver from your computer prior to upgrading to Windows 7. Believe it or not, this wireless card has a driver that works out of the box with Windows 7, not extra work needed besides setting up your wireless settings. No big problem, but it was kind of annoying.

2.) Nvidia and Realtek HD Audio Drivers - For whatever reason, there are two Microsoft HD Audio drivers loaded when the upgrade/fresh install completes. I found that after loading the Nvidia drivers (Geforce 9m) that include the video and audio chipset drivers, that the sound starts to pop and crack on the Acer Aspire 8930. I fixed this by installing the latest Realtek HD Audio drivers and wa-la, popping and cracking went the way of the do-do.


I will continue to post anything else I encounter or about tips I have for working with the new OS.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Microsoft Windows & Office Software Troubleshooting

Clip Organizer Error 0x80040154

I received an interesting trouble ticket yesterday at work from a user stating that when they create a new document in publisher and begin to add clip art, Microsoft Publisher gives an error stating,
"Clip organizer cannot complete this operation. Class not registered. Error Code: 0x80040154" and does not allow you to insert any clip art using the clip organizer. This is a problem since my customer is trying to design a much needed flyer by the end of the day. I immediately begin to think the worst, that Microsoft Office is corrupt and will have to be removed and reinstalled....remotely. The customer is about 25 miles away. So to provide the best customer service possible by taking this issue on promptly, I call the customer to let them know I need the PC for a while.

One of the first things I did was recreate the issue. Sure enough, the error popped up when I tried to add some clip art to my awesome blank geek announcement. I was puzzled, never seen this error before. That's where Google & Microsoft's TechNet website comes in. Google came back with the same article that TechNet had, which was that the issue was with the MDAC component in Windows needing to be updated. I already had the most up to date version. The article I found can be viewed here. Well, this little gem did not do the trick for me. So I completely removed Office 2003 and reinstalled the software. The error persisted. More Google searches found even MVP's not being able to fix this issue. I included a co-worker in the search for a fix who came across a possible fix posted on a website called Experts-Exchange.com. This site has come through for me multiple times before and I definitely recommend it as a site to check out while troubleshooting strange and even complex computer & networking issues. Here's what he found:

===================================================
OK, how to repair a copy of MDAC 2.8 on WinXP with SP2 installed

first, locate the mdac.inf file in c:\windows\inf right click and
install
when prompted for a location, point to
c:\windows\servicepackfiles\i386 then when promtpet for the XPcd,
either load the cd or point to c:\i386

hey presto, this reinstalls / repairs MDAC 2.8
=====================================================
reference >> http://www.dbforums.com/t1050457.html


Sure enough, this fixed the issue and I was then able to search and add clip art to my awesome blank geek announcement. Problem solved and the customer was also extremely happy! All thanks to the valuable information found from Experts-Exchange.com and the dbforums.com websites.

5 Tips for Basic Computer Maintenance

If there is one question that I am constantly asked, this has to be it:
"Bill, what are some of the ways I can clean up my computer and keep my data safe?"
There are a few other questions that I am asked for expertise on but this particular question comes up a lot. So, I have decided to share what I always suggest be done on a regular basis. If you happen to have a Mac or Linux based computer, this may not be of any use to you. If you have no clue of what I've just said, keep reading.
As you may already know, during the normal course of using your computer you will aquire files such as pictures, office documents, music, programs, cookies (these save information about web pages to your computer), and other temporary files. These files over a period of time will start to take up hard drive space and slow down a computer. With a few house cleaning tasks, you can avoid running into future problems. Here are a few things that should be done on a regular basis along with links to resources I tend to use myself:
#1) Run Disk Cleanup
If you are running Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7, this is a relatively easy task to accomplish. My favorite way to do this is by using the computer management console, but the easiest way to do this is to click on Start> All Programs> Accessories> System Tools> Disk Cleanup . The Disk Cleanup wizard will open and ask you to select what you want to cleanup. If you have Windows 2000/XP, you will be asked what drive you want to cleanup along with what to cleanup. I recommend that you cleanup C:\ (which is the default) and select all of the options in the list. If you have Windows Vista/7, you will be prompted with a choice of All Users or My Files. Once you choose, you will then be prompted with the same choice as with previous versions of Windows. There is also a nice little program called CCleaner (formerly known as 'Crap Cleaner') that works great and takes care of the junk that accumulates on a PC. This program can be downloaded from here: Get CCleaner@

#2) Run A Defrag Utility
Think of your hard drive as a big filing cabinet that is constantly being opened up, file folders being jammed into it with no regard as to where or in what order it's put in the cabinet. One day, you decide you need XYZ file and it takes you a long time to locate it. After a while you start to run out of suitable space to put files in. That's what we call fragmentation. Now, you are probably thinking to yourself that its time to organize it so you can find files faster and reclaim some space right? That's where running Defrag utility comes in. Windows has one built in that works okay, but there are easier and faster utilities out there. One that I especially like is IObit's Smart Defrag utility. It's a really small download, a snap to install and even comes in a portable version. To run the defrag utility in Windows XP, double-click "My Computer" then right-click the drive you wish to defrag and select "Properties". When that windows opens, click the "Tools" tab and then click the "Defragment Now" button. This will start to defrag the selected drive. By doing this on a regular basis, you will keep your computer running smoothly and efficiently. Also, be sure to run the Scan Disk utility after running this to be sure your hard drive is error free. This can be done by pressing the "Check now" button in the same window. Let the defrag finish and reboot the computer.

#3) Keep Your Software Up-To-Date
This is a must do for any system, especially for Windows based computers. I can't stress this enough, update your computer regularly! Do not leave your system vulnerable to buggy code in the software you are running, a Denial-of-Service attack or virus that comes around. For Windows, just visit the Microsoft Update website to check for the latest security patches and bug fixes that are released for Microsoft Products. There is one little product I like to use called Personal Software Inspector from Secunia.com. This little utility scans all the software you have installed, and has links to a direct download to the latest version. I use this product regularly too while doing system checkups for clients of mine. To get the software, visit Secunia.com

#4) Back Up Important Files Regularly
I always say have backups of your backups of your backups. Did I mention to have backups? This is something that I have often witnessed people have happen to them. Something happens to the PC they are working on, and it stops working, they get delete happy, or they click their way to glory, destroying their files in the process. With no backup in hand, well, you see where this is going. It's bad. It will make you cry. It can get you fired. Worst of all, it's expensive to recover files that have been destroyed. That is why you always want to have a backup copy of anything that is important to you, or anything that you are working on so you can reverse any changes you make. There are too many methods to list here that you can use to backup files. I will list ways to do so in a future post.

#5) Update & Run Antivirus Software Regularly
Always update and run your antivirus application regularly. Doing so ensures that you are free of viruses and other nastier things. See my previous post for a list of software available for free if you do not have a antivirus application on your PC.

That's it for my basic PC maintenance recommendations. Doing these five things will help ensure that your PC runs smoothly and error free. Also, it may save you a lot of money and give you peace of mind in the long run.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bill's Recommendations - Free Anti-virus Software for Home Use

Let me start by saying, "One should always consider that any information they store on their PC or access through a web page to be invaluable and kept as confidential and safe as possible."

There are many ways a user can protect themselves and their PC from being compromised. In this post I will be discussing what every PC should never be without: Anti-virus software! Whether or not the PC is connected to the internet or not, one should always be using Anti-virus Software.

There are many different vendors out there that provide Anti-virus software both for a fee and for free. With the current shape of the economy, many users may be looking to cut costs in many areas including what they are buying for their computers. Oftentimes that hefty $60+ USD for Anti-virus software may deter a penny pincher to forego protecting their system thinking that they have to pay for the software before they can be protected. I know the feeling, I’ve been there!

With a little online research, one can find that there are many FREE choices out there that provide ample protection against the most major and common threats out there. I have chosen four that I have personally used recommend to others on a regular basis to others seeking basic protection for their PC's. These are strictly for home uses only, if you have a business and want to use the software I strongly recommend paying for the full versions because 1) you get support and 2) there are even more robust options available geared towards the business environment.


#1) Comodo Internet Security (Product Info - Download)
This particular vendor offers quite a selection of really great freeware that works. Here's what they say about their software:

"Comodo Internet Security is the free, multi-layered security application that keeps hackers out and personal information in. Built from the ground upwards with your security in mind, CIS offers 360° protection by combining powerful Antivirus protection, an enterprise class packet filtering firewall, and an advanced host intrusion prevention system called Defense+."


As stated earlier in this article, I have personally used this product for a while and have been very pleased with the ease of use and available features for a free product. I do find some of the nag alerts to be annoying but most of them can be turned off with a little extra configuration. I am also impressed with the built in firewall and the amount of control one does have with this free product. I currently recommend and install this software on PC's I repair for home users.

#2) AVG Anti-virus (Product Info - Download)
Before I discovered Comodo, I was a strict fan boy of this software. I still recommend this software for basic protection but it is no longer my first choice. The main reason is that it does not offer any more features with the free version beyond basic Anti-virus/Anti-Spyware protection. Here's what they says about their software:

"In a nutshell, AVG enables people and businesses to use computers with confidence and without aggravation by protecting them from disruption and loss."


If you want other features, you have to pay for them. I do like the fact that there is a choice to either do a online or offline install. I have used the business version of this software and found that it was shockingly easy to deploy across a business network and was a good value for the money compared to other business grade Anti-virus deployments I have done. Try it out, it's still a great choice in free Anti-virus software.

#3) avast! Anti-virus (Product Info - Download)
Where AVG Free Edition lacks in features, Avast! makes up for. However, the user interface is a little less intuitive for my liking. Here's what they have to say about their product:

"With over 80 million users of avast!, you can rest assured that you are using one of the most tried and trusted products in Windows security. We support more Windows versions (from Windows 95 to Vista 64bit) than any other anti-malware product. No matter what system you have, avast! has it covered."


If you consider yourself technically inclined, then this software may be a good choice for you. For the average user, I would stick with Comodo, AVG, or my next recommendation.


#4) Microsoft Security Essentials (Product Info - Download) (In BETA, currently using on my personal laptop.)
This is one of Microsoft's latest attempts at improving security on the Windows operating system for home users. So far, this software has impressed me with it's capabilities and it's speed. The interface is very intuitive and easy to use. Since it's still in BETA, downloads were limited and are not available currently from the Microsoft website. Here's their pitch:

"Security Essentials is easy to install and easy to use. Updates and upgrades are automatic, so there's no need to worry about having the latest protection. It's easy to tell if you're protected – when the Security Essentials icon is green, your status is good. It's as simple as that."


Microsoft has shown it's willingness to help their users secure Windows, and to do it for free (so far). I used the software a few weeks ago to remove some really nasty malware from a hard drive. No traces after running Security Essentials when scanning with other software titles. Good Job Microsoft! As stated above, this is still in the BETA phase and can no longer be downloaded from Microsoft, but a quick Google search will land you on sites that have the BETA available for download.


I hope this post helps you in researching further and choosing a free Anti-virus solution for your home PC.