Compu-Home Blog

These articles by Malcolm and John Harding address current issues in the world of personal computing. We hope you find them helpful! If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.

Notes on Buying a New Computer

Posted Oct 29, 2017 | 2 Comments

Buying a New Computer

Since we do service only, and don’t sell equipment, you might think that we would like to keep on repairing your old computer forever.  Not so; eventually, there are problems and frailties that accumulate to the extent that what was state of the art such a short time ago has to be replaced.  Here are a few bits of guidance on a new purchase.  There have been many developments and changes since our last column two years ago on this subject.  The following refers to both laptop and desktop models, unless specifically noted.

 

Manufacturer:  There is not currently a manufacturer that we would automatically rule out.  Evolution and the marketplace have narrowed the field.  Everyone makes a lemon now and then – that’s where online reviews can be helpful.  A business as small as ours can only judge anecdotally, but we consider Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Dell and Hewlett Packard to be solid choices.  Apple, of course, has a stellar reputation for hardware, with a stellar price to match.

 

New or Refurbished:  In the case of desktop computers, a refurbished unit is often a worthwhile consideration but there are fewer refurbished laptops available and therefore they are not quite such a bargain.

 

Price:  A so-called “bottom of the line” ($500 – $600) machine has the specs to handle easily most people’s needs and much more.  It would take a very convincing argument about a specific need to convince us to spend much more than $600.00 these days, even though this might mean having to wait a bit sometimes while stores replenish their stock. 

 

Specifications:   

The great majority of new computers will have the Windows 10 Operating System.  Although this OS is quite different from previous versions, it is not as tough to master as we originally feared, and most people learn to like it quite quickly.

: 4 Gigabytes of RAM is adequate; 6 or 8 are a bit better.  More is probably overkill.

: 500 Gigabyte capacity hard disk (file storage) is enough, but a 1000 Gigabyte (1 Terabyte) machine might not be more expensive.

: An Intel processor has a bit better reliability record than AMD, the major competitor.  We would not refuse to buy a machine with an AMD processor – it’s not a big difference.  The majority of users should seriously consider the Intel i5, or one of the AMD equivalents, because it is powerful enough that it will be adequate for most users for many years to come.  A lesser processor might not stand up well into the future for some users, but more is probably overkill and unnecessarily expensive for most of us.

: Note that most laptops no longer have a DVD drive.  An external USB drive is an inexpensive alternative.

: 15.6 inches (diagonally) is the standard display for laptops.  You may choose larger or smaller depending on preference and need, but you might have to pay more.  (Smaller might not be cheaper.)  

: Windows 10 is meant to be optimized with a touch screen and it’s fun to use your fingers to manipulate things, but many people find it awkward to set aside their mouse and reach across the keyboard to swipe the screen.  This is another feature that you really should test for yourself, to decide whether or not the extra $100 or so is worth it.

 

Source and Warranty:

: Staples, Best Buy Canada Computers and Costco are the commonest sources.  Most people prefer one or the other, but they are pretty close.  Dell might be the first brand people think of if they are buying online, but Costco (online or in the store) is also a strong contender, because they offer an extended warranty at no extra cost.

Laptops, tablets, printers, cameras and phones are just about the only equipment for which we do recommend considering the extended warranty, for several reasons.  Expect usually to pay approximately 20% of the laptop’s purchase price, for a 3-year warranty.

 

Setup:

: New computers nowadays take about 3 hours of a technician’s time to set up when they come out of the box.  They are not ready to use as shipped.  Most stores are anxious to do that job for you but (maybe not surprisingly) we small businesses like Compu-Home or Tony Garcia at Computer HouseCalls, are convinced that we do a good job too.  

 

: You must also consider whether or not data from your old computer will have to be copied to the new one.  That can be done at the time of setting up, or you can do that yourself bit by bit later on if you prefer.

 

Advice:

Feel free to call for our 2-cents’ worth when you find a machine that interests you.

YouTube – More than Cute Puppies & Kittens

Posted Sep 12, 2017

Youtube 1Even in an age when technology explodes instead of simply growing, the 12-year history of YouTube is quite dazzling. The 2016 statistics alone contradict the unimpressive official description of a “video-sharing website”: 1,325,000,000 regular users; 4,950,000,000 videos viewed daily; 300 hours of content uploaded every minute; broadcast in 54 languages; 3,250,000,000 hours of videos watched per month. . . small wonder that YouTube is now the second most popular Internet search engine after Google, and the third most popular website after Google and Facebook. In fact, YouTube has long outgrown being a repository of videos of cute kittens and has become a modern out-of-the-box encyclopedia that makes Wikipedia look nervously over its shoulder. (All statistics from www.statisticbrain.com/youtube.statstics.)Youtube 2

Google is being as rigorous as possible in its due diligence on the subject of copyright. YouTube has software in place to scan content continually and it is apparently pretty clever at ferreting out a breach – usually before the offended party. In addition, however, there are clear procedures for someone to report what they believe are copyright infringements, and postings are taken down as quickly as possible if staff research the report and it is upheld. The identity of the person who posted the offending content is recorded, and if the offence is repeated twice more, that person is barred from posting altogether. All of this is of course without prejudice against the offended party taking their own legal action. There are those who feel that YouTube, like Facebook, relies too heavily on automated processes to control offensive and illegal content, but both have recently reported the hiring of large numbers of additional (human) staff to help address the problem. It is not ironclad that a person could never wind up downloading something that is illegal but it really does seem that the procedures are the best that one could expect under the circumstances.

Perhaps not surprisingly, music is the most popular subject on YouTube. Your tastes have to be pretty esoteric indeed for you not to be able to find at least one and often many versions of tunes, from symphonies to silly 1940s novelties (Mairzy Doats, anyone?) One feature that we find interesting is the recent trend of uploading entire albums and the 2017 equivalent of mix-tapes of compatible music, so that with a little searching and one click, your computer could be entertaining you for an entire evening, sometimes with original accompanying videos. For those who might find it convenient, it is possible to download and record videos, and it is also quite easy to record the audio only, if you don’t need the video.

Some of the additional nuggets you can find include:

• Live concerts are often available, both music and comedy;

• Lectures and speeches, both contemporary and historical;

• Do-it-yourself guidance for construction, renovation, auto and appliance installation and repair;

• Brief nuggets of the best of last night’s television programs; and

• Entire series of old favourite television series. Settle down for an evening of “L.A. Law” or “You Can’t Do That on Television”; . . . sometimes it seems like quite a challenge to identify something that you CAN’T find on YouTube.

All of the above involves simply going to YouTube.com anonymously and entering your search terms in the box. People who want to take advantage of even more features can sign up for a free YouTube account. Just part of that list would include:

• Uploading your own videos;

• Downloading and saving favourite videos; and

• Creating playlists.

This column comes with a homework assignment, should you choose to accept it. We challenge you to make yourself familiar with YouTube (if you aren’t already) and jot a list of the purposes and ways that you use it. Send that list to us at info@compu-home.com, and we will include the most interesting, innovative and helpful examples in a future column. We won’t use your name unless you specifically mention that it would be okay.

Now start watching!

Ransomware – It Makes You Wanna Cry!

Posted Jun 29, 2017 | 1 Comment

This column was originally written in early June 2016.  Since that time there has been a reincarnation of the WannaCry virus that is apparently more sophisticated than the earlier version.
Thank goodness the ransomware scare of mid-May is receding into memory.  In this particular case we are of mixed feelings about the media frenzy on this subject.  On the one hand, we don’t think that the news reports clarified adequately that the vast majority of ordinary users were not in jeopardy from this particular attack.   On the other hand, it’s never a bad thing to remind people of their vulnerability and make them learn how to protect themselves.
Here is a link to the best article we have seen on this subject, and we have pulled out some of the best ideas (black) and added in some of our own thoughts (red) as well.
There are also steps that can be taken to protect against ransomware more generally. These include:
  • Make sure your anti-virus is up-to-date and updating all software  It is extremely important for us all to take the time to become familiar with our anti-virus software – when it is turned on, or off; when it is updating regularly, and how to respond if it ever gives warnings.
  • Back up copies of data  If you are backing up data to an external device like a USB flash drive or an external hard disk, you should disconnect the device when it is not actually in the process of backing up, so that it cannot be infected if your computer is attacked.
  • Scrutinize links and files contained in emails  This is the single most important thing that you must do.  NEVER click on a link in an email if you are not absolutely certain that it is legitimate.  In the case of the link that we included above, for example… the link is detailed and is directly related to our detailed description of what the link is about.  That should assure you that it is not dangerous.  Without that kind of legitimization, you should NOT have clicked on it if you received it in a message.
  • Only download software from trusted sources See our recent column and blog post titled “Have I Reached the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?” which goes into detail on the subject of bogus web sites and software sources.

By now we are all familiar with the messages from our “friends” that didn’t really come from them, because hacking of address books is as common as this year’s flu.  The bogus messages always contain a link to bad stuff.  There is one simple little thing that we believe could be very helpful in the fight against this kind of spam: You should take the time to create a distinctive signature that appears at the end of all of your email messages. If your regular correspondents get used to seeing that signature (and perhaps you might mention this to them) then they will be rightly suspicious of a message supposedly sent by you that does not contain it. Make your signature eye-catching and distinctive, and your friends will eventually  learn that if they ever got a message from you that didn’t contain it, they should suspect that it is spam and immediately delete it.

My signature at the end of this posting might seem like overkill, but my friends have mentioned it to me, which means that they have noticed it and might also take note if I got hacked and it were missing.

Talos, the digital threat division of Cisco Systems reported in January that more than 86% of all email is spam, and we can be extremely grateful that the email providers are now successfully blocking over 99% of it.  All the same, fraudulent email carries the most significant threats to  our computer use.  Even if we could just avoid clicking on those spurious links in the spam messages, we would be making a huge step in avoiding malware.

My example of a “distinctive signature”:

ALWAYS LOOK FOR MY SIGNATURE BELOW IN MY EMAIL.  IF A MESSAGE DOESN’T HAVE THAT SIGNATURE, IT DIDN’T COME FROM ME AND YOU SHOULD DELETE IT WITHOUT CLICKING ON ANY LINKS IT MIGHT CONTAIN.
John Harding / Compu-Home
Compu-Home Business Phone  613-731-5954
info@compu-home.com
www.compu-home.com

Compu-Home Has Moved (Just a Bit)

Posted May 23, 2017

Just a brief heads-up to our loyal Compu-Home customers in the neighbourhood, that our computer workshop has moved, to 3841 Albion Road South.  This move was long overdue and now we have a more suitable space and facilities to work on equipment when it cannot be fixed at your premises.  Our telephone number, website and email address have not changed, and the new workshop is actually only a few minutes away from our old address.

 

Hope to see you soon,

Malcolm, Cory, Dan, Frances and John

3841 Albion Road South (Corner of Kingsdale)

Gloucester (Ottawa)

613-731-5954

info@compu-home.com

Have I reached the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?

Posted May 23, 2017

With the old “Phone Book” gone the way of the Polar Ice Cap, you often turn instead to the computer when you need the telephone number of a business to call for help.  On the surface, this would seem to be a quick, convenient and up-to-date way to access a number and sometimes you can even save some time by distinguishing the various departments or locations that you might need to reach.  Another time you look up a site is when you want to download some little utility that you need, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, or maybe the free version of an anti-virus utility.

Google or other search sites are quick and efficient for these purposes, but you must be wary of a couple of complications. First is the possibility of clicking on a link that is not the genuine site that it appears to be.  If you want to talk to Rogers, or Bell, or Hewlett Packard, or Microsoft, etc., it is very easy to be waylaid into an imposter site that looks just like the real thing, but is in fact a call centre run by crooks who will offer worthless advice and charge an arm and a leg for it.  Always be sure that the web address (the http://www.etc.) is the real company, and while you are at it, give yourself a head start by seeing if there is a Canadian (.ca instead of .com) version.

Next is when you are looking for a website that offers a download of something that you need (Adobe Acrobat Reader, for example again) and you find what appears to be your source, but it turns out not to be owned and operated by the actual publisher of that software.  Adobe is a long-established and reputable company and you are quite safe in downloading software from the real Adobe website.  The problem is that if you search for “Adobe Acrobat Reader Download” you will find pages upon pages of alternate locations from which you can download Reader and many of them may not be legitimate, because they will lead you to the same old scams, or fly-by-night “alternatives” to the software you really want.

Another time to be careful is when you are downloading and installing the program.  Lots of very handy little utilities are out there, available at no charge.  (One example that we recommend constantly is “Irfanview” which is a free program for very simple editing of photos.)  These publishers have to pay the rent and so instead of charging for their program, they sometimes enter into agreements with one another, and there will be an unobtrusive little checkbox during installation that bundles in another program that might have been useful to you in some circumstances, but perhaps not right now.  A common example might be an anti-virus program and you certainly don’t want that if you already have one working on your computer – and so you have to watch out for those little boxes!