Take this Quiz if you Dare!

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This week I invite you to take a little quiz. Fifteen years the Bits & Bytes column has been showing up week after week with tips and must do items for folks to try, follow or of course, ignore. (Martha, I didn’t know there was going to be a test!)

Question 1: When the wireless mouse stops working do you: A: Try to scare it with nasty words? B: Call a computer tech to come out and fix it? C: Buy a new mouse? D: Put new batteries in it verifying they are seated correctly?

Question 2: Trying to open your email and it says incorrect password, do you: A: Retype the same thing over and over until the account is locked? B: Swear on a stack of bibles that the password you entered is correct? C: Proclaim loudly that you never had a password protecting the email account? D: Use the forgotten password link to reset the password?

Question 3: The printer suddenly stops printing, do you: A: Keep sending print jobs to it over and over figuring eventually it will give up and print? B: Restart the printer and the computer and see if that starts it printing? C: Google an 800 number that will fix the problem free for just $399? D: Call a local computer tech?

Question 4: The phone rings and a voice announces they are from Microsoft and your Windows License has expired, do you: A: Get out the credit card and pay to have the license renewed? B: Buy a new computer with a new Windows License Key? C: Allow the caller to have remote control of your binary buddy to FIX the problem? D: Hang up because Bits & Bytes mentioned that the Windows License Key never expires?

Question 5: A screen pops up with a voice speaking informing you that your computer is infected with the virus de jour and you must call the 800 number to save the computer, bank records, pictures etc. and you can’t close the warning message, do you? A: Immediately call the 800 number and pay $399 to have the nonexistent virus removed? B: Recognize that the window is actually a website made to appear to be a virus warning? C: Use Task Manager to close the offending window?  D: When in doubt, call a local computer tech?

Question 6: You’ve diligently performed a backup of critical data on a regular schedule, do you: A: Verify that the back up is actually being performed or just take it on faith? B: Do you back up your data to the same hard drive that runs the computer so that if the hard drive fails you lose the backups as well? C: Do you back up to an external drive and verify that it is working? D: Do you back up to a cloud based system automatically?

These are issues I run into almost every week. The answers to all the questions is D: Except there will be credit given on question 6, if you answered C.

How did you do?

LEAVE ME ALONE!

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The year is one third gone already. It arrived and like it or not it brought with it another year of triumphs and challenges. In the old days, when working for the MAN in the corporate world, life was defined, set, functions clear, directed and relatively meaningless. We would start each day with the Company Mission Statement, moved to the coffee and donuts, struggle till lunch, prepare our “Management by Objective” fictions, and then coast till quitting time. Ahhh, life was easy back then.

But today it feels like we can’t run fast enough. Someone or something is constantly pushing us to do something, buy something, contact someone, answer a survey, pay more, save less, go farther with less fuel, heat homes at lower temperatures, etc. I opened the mailbox today and thought there was only two pieces of junk mail until I picked them up and six more pieces fell to the floor. All junk, but I am sure that the folks that sent them thought they were the offers that couldn’t be refused.

I used to like junk mail. Really. I, like almost everyone here in Florida, came from a northern state. I won’t tell you which one, but our state motto was “Eight months of winter, and four months of rough snowmobiling.” In the winter months we welcomed the piles of junk mail, because when tightly bundled, they would burn for hours in the wood stove and help heat the house. When we made our midnight move to Florida, I thought that perhaps the junk mail, like our son would not find us in our new home. It took our son two years to find us and move back home, the junk mail was waiting for us when we got to Florida.

For a while I chuckled as I would remove the contents of one junk mail envelope and exchange it with another junk mail envelope and mail them in the postage paid envelopes to each other. But, after awhile, even this gets boring.

So this year I vow to clean up some of the detritus that distracts me every day. To do this I will turn to my faithful electronic companion. Join me as I fire up my computer and travel the first step: Go to http://www.optoutprescreen.com. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion, are permitted to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make pre-approved / prescreened offers of credit or insurance. Opting-Out refers to the process of removing your name from these lists for five years. Through this site, the Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are providing consumers with an easy and convenient way to exercise their right to Opt-Out. (Martha, tell your cousin in Maine that you can also Opt-in to receive all kinds of junk mail to burn instead of propane.)

Next I surf the net over to http://www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html. This site is designed to help folks reduce the amount of commercial and non-profit mail going to their mail box. They claim that I will see a significant drop in junk mail within three months of registering. This group will also help to reduce e-mail soliciting, phone soliciting and even has a section pertaining to sweepstakes. It is run by the DMA (Direct Marketing Association) All members are required to run their mailing, e-mail and phone lists against the DMA op-out list every three months or more and will carry your name for five years.

I feel like the density of my life is lessening already. Hit that keyboard and surf over to http://www.donotcall.gov. In just a few moments, I have registered not only my home phone but my cell phone as well with the national Do Not Call Registry. There is a complaint section that allows us to file information about a caller which I bookmarked just in case I get that six o’clock call just as I put a bite of dinner in my mouth. After reading the details I almost wish a scofflaw company would call me so I could slap them with that $11,000 fine.

Finally, I want to visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com. This site allows you to request and receive online a copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting companies. Stagger the request so that every four months you receive a credit report from a different company. I found eight accounts still listed as open that my wife and I had closed in the mid 1970’s and one cell phone account that wasn’t ours. And if credit reports are as baffling to you as they were to me, spend a few minutes at http://money.howstuffworks.com/credit-report1.htm and get the lowdown on how they started, what they are and why you should care.

I’m feeling better already.

Who you gonna call?

cropped-computer-repair.pngOne thing we can be sure of is that our binary buddies will never spend two days in a row, exactly the same. Sometimes we change it ourselves, add new software to perform some desired task. Install new hardware such as an external back up drive or a new microphone. Sometimes it is a mystery how we turn off the computer at night and the next morning when it fires up there are changes made without our knowledge, some good and perhaps some not so good. It’s the not so good ones that perplex and frustrate us, especially if we don’t know how to fix or undo the change. The other issue that goes along with this is we don’t know which service or company to contact for help.
Example: A recent Windows update was thought to be the cause behind the speakers suddenly going silent. A call to Microsoft resulted in the user being told to plug in the speakers. They were already plugged in just not working. Here is where the problem arises. Speakers are hardware, the hardware works because of software called drivers, specifically designed for the audio card in that computer. That driver is provided by either the computer manufacturer if it is a major brand or by the maker of the audio card. It is not provided by Microsoft or their Windows service. So calling Microsoft to fix another manufacturer’s hardware would be akin to calling Comcast to fix our dishwasher.
Another example was a user whose AVG antivirus stopped working. A call to Comcast resulted in an attempt by Comcast to install Norton on the computer without removing the non functioning AVG. Now neither system worked, both antivirus programs were trying to start, then they would crash, try to start, crash on and on. Error messages were popping up on the screen and the poor defenseless PC was being over worked trying to start two systems that refused to start. In this example it should have been AVG that fixed their problem. Comcast doesn’t own AVG, nor service it. Again, calling Comcast to fix an AVG problem is like calling the car mechanic to change the refrigerator light bulb.
Still another example of who you should call for help. A client decided to take my suggestion and buy their own Internet modem so as to save the rental fee on the modem provided by their ISP. (Internet Service Provider) This example happened to be Centurylink but it holds for all providers. The client ran into some difficulty installing the new modem and couldn’t get online. A call to Centurylink resulted in being told they don’t support any modems except their own. A call to the modem manufacturer resulted in some technical jargon regarding settings to be obtained from the ISP. Which brought the client back to Centurylink and round and round.
So the question is, does there exist a single source of help that can address all the issues, knows what company belongs to which piece of software or hardware and understands how they all fit together? Of course there is. Call a LOCAL computer technician. It’s what they do.
Court Nederveld owns his own computer consulting and fixit service –Bits, Bytes & Chips Computer Services. He makes house calls in Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte! He can also fix most computer problems remotely! You can reach him at adakeep@hotmail.com or 941-626-3285

Want a useful Christmas present?

Grumbles from the Keyboard is a collection of newspaper columns written over a period of six years. Published as Bits and Bytes, under Court Nederveld’s byline. The column appeared each week in the Charlotte Sun, Charlotte County, FL. The articles target average home computer users. Many computer users harbor a fear of computers because they seem so mysterious. The columns attempted to inject a bit of humor into human/computer relationships simply to allow people to take a deep breath and realize that it really isn’t as frightening as it seems. At the end of the book is a handy log for recording website, user name, password and any notes appropriate to that account. Another huge issue with users is what I refer to as Computer Vocabulary. So often a user will describe an issue with words that make no sense to a tech. So, within each chapter there is a computer or Internet related word or phrase printed in bold type. At the bottom of the page will be a box labeled “Grandpa and Grandma, how come you’re so smart?” This box contains the bold word, its definition and a couple of sentences that demonstrate how to use it. Another column favorite over the years were the comments by Martha. Those familiar with the column know that Martha, in her own way, simply said what most of us were silently thinking. Grumbles From The Keyboard As a desk side reference putting similar or related columns together will make it easier to find information as needed Enjoy! If you take advantage of this offer, the author will autograph it for whomever you wish. The link to checkout is https://sites.google.com/view/bitsandbytesnews/home

 

 

Jingle Bells and other commotion!

man in santa claus costume
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It’s hard to believe, Christmas is just over a week away. If being good wasn’t your style this year, there’s still time to come up with some mitigating circumstances that might reduce the load of coal crashing down the chimney. For the rest of us, the shopping is nearly over, just those presents for the wives and girlfriends that send grown men into the stores Christmas Eve. But in retrospect, this year seemed a turning point for the holiday season and our twittering tin can played a large part of that change. Here’s some of the ways PC’s changed my Holiday paradigm.  

 Emily Post is turning, no spinning in her grave now that I decided to move from Christmas Cards to Christmas emails. But adding up the cost of cards, envelopes, paper and stamps, I felt the need to cut back. Two ways to save. One, cut a bunch of friends and family from the card list, or move into the 21st century and utilize the Internet. So here we are. This year’s infamous Family Letter was composed on the computer, mail merged on the computer, converted to a PDF file on the computer and attached to an email that found it’s way to the email boxes of friends and family. Tacky? Several years ago, I would have said yes, now it’s more of a necessity.  

 Shopping: I am probably the only person in the world born without a shopping gene. I hate shopping. There, I said it. (Martha, there are pills to treat that.) This year, I decided what gifts I would give, used my computer and the Internet to compare price/warranty/service, and then ordered it online. Even items I could have run down to the local big box stores and picked up, I ordered online and had shipped to my door.  A big decision maker was all the retailers offering free or very low cost shipping this year.  http://www.freeshipping.org lists over 500 merchants that offer free shipping. As a bonus to the procrastinators out there, Amazon Prime still offers free shipping and one day shipping on many items. The idea is that items ordered on the 17th can still be delivered by Christmas Eve.  

 If the joyous sounds of small children are filling your home this year, perhaps this site can quiet the little rug rats down. A site located at http://christmas-coloring.com/ has a collection of coloring pages that can be printed and handed out to the kids. Give them a box of crayons and this should keep then occupied for a few minutes Or at least until the linoleum lizards find our computer and change all the settings to make it “better.”   

 Once they have commandeered our digital domestique for their nefarious plans, send them over  to http://www.primarygames.com/holidays/christmas/games.php for a collection of online holiday games they can play. There they will find games like Deep Freeze, Where’s Santa and Run Santa Run. It will keep them occupied while we prepare the holiday eggnog. 

Always bought eggnog from the store? Don’t actually know what eggnog is? Fire up the pernicious PC and surf over to https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/homemade-eggnog/ for eggnog recipes. Try one or try them all. Eggnog has been a holiday staple for hundreds of years. It has even spawned this gem of poetry. If you see a fat man, who’s jolly and cute, wearing a beard and a red flannel suit; And if he is chuckling and laughing away, while flying around in a miniature sleigh; With eight tiny reindeer to pull him along; Then – let’s face it – Your eggnog’s too strong!! (Author unknown) 

On a more serious note, tis the season for giving. Not only are many of us feeling philanthropic, but many organizations and folks offer themselves as worthy recipients of our hard earned dollars. It behooves us to make our charity stretch as far as it possibly can. Take a few minutes to surf over to http://www.charitynavigator.org. Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. Thinking of donating to a charity? Check their ratings and efficiency. If they don’t rank at the top of the heap, maybe a charity with similar goals but with lower overhead would make better use of the money we worked for. Consider outcome based giving. Can you see feel and touch the results of your gift? 

Is there still time to amend my letter to Santa?  

Court Nederveld owns his own computer consulting and fixit service –Bits, Bytes & Chips Computer Services. He can do remote repair. You can reach him at adakeep@hotmail.com