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.

Proceed with Caution

Posted Feb 18, 2018

Scam 2Earlier this winter we received an intense flurry of calls from customers who had been attacked by the “Windows Team from Microsoft.”  These assaults are the modern version of the (now blessedly less common) telephone call to inform you that it has been reported your security has been compromised and you will have to take action immediately or suffer the consequences.

 

 

 

Scam 1Nowadays instead of a telephone call, what is more likely to happen is a sudden, overwhelming pop-up on your screen, often with loud alarm sirens.  Flashing instructions warn you not to turn off your computer, but to call a telephone number so that “our team of experts can rescue you.”  If you do call that number a reassuring voice explains that everything can be fixed very quickly if you just follow his instructions.  Next it will be discovered that your problem is much worse than anyone expected and you must be escalated to a “higher level of expert desk.”

 

Here starts the new scenario:  This “expert” will explain that he will have to be paid for his service and that you must now go to the nearest department store or drugstore and buy a pre-loaded credit card from the kiosk near the cash.  When you return home you must call him back and give him the numbers on this credit card.  You will not be allowed to use your own credit card, because these crooks have learned that as soon as their victims realize that they have been bilked they will call their credit card company and have the charge cancelled – a strategy that you can’t use with the generic pre-loaded card.

Let’s suppose that you have allowed yourself to be suckered along to the next stage.  (Don’t be embarrassed; hundreds of thousands of people just like you have allowed these criminals to earn millions of dollars every month, worldwide.)  The expert will guide you to a place where he can take over your computer remotely and at that moment you have lost the game, set and match, because he is now free to deposit any sort of malware that he chooses on your computer and ensure that there can be another round of alarms and expensive “service.”

It is ridiculously easy to avoid all this mess:  As soon as the alarms begin, TURN OFF YOUR COMPUTER – contrary to the warning on the screen.  This is one of the very few times when you should simply press-and-hold the power switch, for a minimum of eight seconds.  Your computer will go black.  Wait for several more seconds and turn it back on with the same button.  The chances are excellent that everything will be back to normal and the whole episode is history.

You can get yourself into the same situation by inadvertently calling an incorrect number for the service department of one of the big name tech companies, like HP or Dell or your Internet provider.  As we mentioned in a column last year there are lots of spoof websites out there now that carefully emulate the legitimate ones and entice you to call the same old crooked “service desk.”  You must always be careful to call the correct number.  If you go astray, the solution is the same as above:  TURN OFF YOUR COMPUTER.

“Remote Assistance” can take two forms:  First is to allow an unfamiliar and unproven stranger to take over your computer – not a great idea.  Second is the Remote Assistance that many legitimate service organizations (including Compu-Home) use when possible to fix certain kinds of computer problems quickly and inexpensively.  Used properly, Remote Assistance is an efficient way of you and your service person working together.  You call your service provider and then log in to the Remote Assistance utility so that you and the technician can both see what is going on with your computer.  You are communicating constantly on the telephone, and nothing is done to your computer without your approval.  This strategy is only advised when you are one hundred percent certain that you know and trust the person at the other end.  It is NEVER wrong to refuse a stranger access to your computer, any more than it would not be a mistake to be careful letting them in your door.

 

A Gathering of Geeks?  Certainly Not!

Posted Dec 4, 2017

If you want to find a prime example of Ottawa’s underappreciated volunteers, you don’t have to look any farther than The Ottawa Personal Computer Users’ Group (OPCUG).  Working largely through the Ottawa Public Library’s Community Events Initiative:  https://tinyurl.com/l8s5xan enthusiastic and knowledgeable members of the OPCUG have presented nearly 500 information sessions over the past few years on subjects ranging from Windows, to Email, to Security, to Software, to Consumer Awareness, to Publishing Digital Photos . . . and the list goes on and on.  The lucky people attending these sessions have ranged from very basic users, to experienced professionals, and they have all come away knowing that they are now able to get more enjoyment and productivity from the use of their computers and portable devices.

Public Relations Director Jeff Dubois proudly related to me that one most stellar examples of the dedication of these OPCUG members is current President Chris Taylor, who was recently awarded a richly-deserved City Builder Award by Mayor Jim Watson, in recognition of the hundreds of workshops that he himself has presented!

The OPCUG meets on the second Wednesday of the month from September to June, at the Aviation Museum.  The doors open for a social time at 7:00, the main presentation starts at 7:30, and there is a Q&A following.  Believe it or not, even though the membership dues are only $25.00 per year, the group does not insist that you must be a member to attend.  Although you will not encounter many teenagers, (who seem to get their techie fix through other means) there is otherwise a rich cross sample of young and mature, experienced and not. Jeff Dubois told me that a healthy sign of the times is that the number of women who are members is increasing in recent years.  Membership is currently at approximately 120 members and there are some meetings with standing room only!  I can tell you from firsthand experience that a new face is immediately made to feel very welcome.

The activities are not solely devoted to technology.  There are pizza nights, harness racing events at Rideau Carleton, and over the years the OPCUG silent auctions have raised many hundreds of dollars for the Ottawa Food Bank.

No matter what your background or level of interest, it is well worth your time to have an in-depth look at www.opcug.ca  so that you can find more details about just how much this club can offer.

Although the OPCUG is noteworthy, it is not the only group in the region.  There are many more clubs – often with a very specific focus – that are maintaining and sharing interest and expertise.    www.webruler.com/mark/computer/user.htm   is a website that contains links to the websites of many of these groups.  In addition, just a few more groups worth special mention are:

: The 50+ Computer Club at the Ottawa Public Library   http://tinyurl.com/lxs3mc9

:  Future Kids Ottawa   www.futurekidsottawa.com/

:  Nepean Computer Club & Discussion Group    https://tinyurl.com/mge4n97

If you have experience with another technology-oriented group in the area, we would be delighted to hear about it, and will share your suggestions in future columns.

Printers Revisited Part 2 – Problems and Solutions

Posted Nov 16, 2017

Maybe we came down a bit heavily on the bad news in the last post, when we referred to the many printer issues that can send it to the scrap heap.  The fact is that there are lots of problems that you can sort out by yourself, without having to call in an expert, or trudge to the store for a replacement.

DRIVERS AND SOFTWARE:  If you have a multifunction unit, there will be separate driver software for each function, which of course can result in up to four times the potential for something to be corrupted.  If you have to re-install your software, it is smarter to go to the manufacturer’s website and download the most up-to-date version rather than to use the disk that came with the printer.

THE QUEUE:  When multiple printing jobs are sent to the printer they join a queue and if one of the early jobs is problematic, all of the following ones get Printer 4stuck.  This is compounded by the fact that we all become impatient at times, and when the job doesn’t start promptly after we have clicked on the PRINT button, we will almost certainly click on it again – and again and again.  The result is a stalled queue that is never going to resolve itself.  Follow these steps for the solution:  First, turn off the power switch on your printer, and click Restart on the computer.  When the computer has rebooted, turn the printer back on.  In the meantime, double-check the printer for a paper jam, loose wires, or any other obvious physical problem.  Click ONCE on the button for a simple print job, and you will probably find that thigs have corrected themselves.

PAPER:  When you are reloading paper, don’t just add more to the sheets that are remaining in the tray.  Take that bit out, add it to the new supply, and then load that entire new stack.  Photos will look better when printer on real photo stock.  Humidity can cause paper to mis-feed.   Don’t re-use paper.  Ever.

Printer 3THE NETWORK:  Most printers nowadays can function on your home wifi.  This is very handy if you have more than one device, and especially so if tablets or smartphones have no way to connect physically.  The most common difficulty here is if printers are replaced, or if the wifi password was changed for any reason, including a new router.  Getting your printer back into the loop might be as simple as re-entering the password.  A temporary fallback strategy is to use a USB cable to connect the printer directly to the computer, until the wifi issues can be sorted out.

 

EXPENSE:  Printer ink is more expensive per drop than Mouton-Rothschild Claret.  There are several ways to ensure that you are getting the most out of this significant investment:  FIRST: set your printer to print black-only by default.  It is a simple matter to adjust that setting if you ever do truly need colour.  SECOND: look carefully at the pages that you are about to print, and designate only those pages that you really need.  Often documents end with a bunch of boilerplate gobbledygook which, in turn, often spills over onto a few lines on the last page.  Save your ink and paper.  THIRD: Run your cartridge-cleaning utility occasionally, so that the ink doesn’t clog the jets.  FOURTH:  Don’t install a replacement the moment your printer warns you the ink is getting low.  You can probably print several more pages before a new cartridge is necessary.  FIFTH:  Always ask yourself if you really need to print at all.  Frequently, you could simply save that content, and refer back to it on the screen – for free.  SIXTH:  Experiment to see if generic cartridges that you can buy online (often at one-third the cost) will work for you.

READ THE MANUAL:  If you have lost your printer manual, you can always look it up at the manufacturer’s website.  Printers, and especially the multifunction units, are highly complex and the manual can show you little shortcuts and conveniences that you might never find on your own.  Furthermore, there is a right way and a wrong way for most functions, and lots of people have wound up buying a new machine simply because they botched a simple thing like installing an ink cartridge correctly.

 

Think of your printer as that clumsy, bumbling friend who is always trying to be helpful, but who may often need just a bit of TLC.

 

Printers Revisited – Part 1

Posted Nov 16, 2017

Printer woes are certainly in the top five of reasons for calls for help to us at Compu-Home.  By its perverse nature, it seems like a printer issue never warns you in advance; instead, the problem arises at the very moment that you need that piece of paper and it’s uncanny how the printer seems to know how important this particular job is, to choose that moment to malfunction.

Let’s recap here some printer basics; next post we will look at things that can go wrong and how to cope with them.Printer1

:  Laser or inkjet.  Laser printers are more expensive than their inkjet counterparts.  Unless you get into something very high-end, they print only black.  Their cost per page is significantly cheaper than inkjets, their toner cartridges don’t dry up over a time of disuse like inkjet cartridges often do, and (unscientifically) they don’t seem to have quite as many delicate moving parts to break if you give them a sideways glance.  On the other hand, inkjet printers usually do a better job than colour lasers at printing colour images.

:  Manufacturers.  This is one area where we think you are pretty safe.  All of the machines produced today come from long-established and reputable companies.  There are lemons to be sure, but the old days of us suggesting that you don’t buy this or that brand are in the past.

:  Repairs – not likely.  The Printer Doctor in the west end of Ottawa is one very reliable source of parts and service, and they do come up with miracles sometimes, but often it’s just not viable to pay an hourly service charge to fix an inexpensive printer.  The Printer Doctor will give you honest advice on the phone.

:  Warranty – always!  If the store where you are buying your printer offers an extended warranty, it is almost a no-brainer to go for it.  Printers are very often a source of huge frustration for the reasons mentioned above.  They are the one piece of computer equipment with the greatest number of moving parts and the most likely to have to be replaced after what usually seems to be a premature lifespan.  If you are “lucky” enough to have your printer fail during the warranty period, the most likely scenario will be for the store simply to replace it on the spot.

:  Price.  Printers have risen in price over the past few years.  Apart from the manufacturers’ claims about improvements (some of which are actually significant) the fact is that there are fewer machines that only print; most printers nowadays are multifunction units, with scanning, photocopying and sometimes fax capabilities.  Because these functions all make use of the same technology, it makes sense to combine everything into one device, thus saving money and a lot of space on your desk.  Another sophistication that is almost universal now is for printers to be able to operate wirelessly, which is very often a great convenience.

Printer 2

:  Model.  Unless you require unusual speed or high quality in your printing, a fairly basic model will likely suit you.  This is particularly true of laser printers, where the specifications of the least expensive units compare pretty favourably with their pricier cousins.  In the case of inkjet machines, the capacity and the price of the cartridge will be prime considerations, along with the frequency of use and number of pages in a usual month.  Some people are quite satisfied with a model that can be as little as $50.00 or less, while others who print more often might be more comfortable with something in the $100.00 range.

:  Cartridges.  Naturally, all manufacturers insist that only their own branded cartridges work reliably in their equipment.  Most of our customers have found that generic alternatives, often available online at sources like Amazon.ca, do a very satisfactory job at a big saving.  Infuriatingly, ALL printers come new with a “starter” cartridge that is only about one-third full and so you can’t judge the capacity of the full cartridge from that.  Many people have found that with the very wide range of prices of cartridges for various brands and models, it becomes a significant factor in their choice of a printer.

Next post we will address problems and solutions.

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.