Stan's Chrome-Plated Tech Tips

Sunday, September 22, 2013

 

Kobe hard at work!









Sup Readers!  As you know, the Garage is a very dog friendly spot.  We've got two of our own here - Reese and Kobe - any they love to meet new doggy visitors.

When we're not busy doing computer repair, data recovery, or doing on-site IT for businesses and individuals, well, we're probably playing with the dogs.  We've even managed to teach them a couple tricks in the process.

They also love to show off.  Oh yeah - they've got tricks and will use them any time treats become a part of the equation.  So naturally I recorded Kobe doing his signature move - "The Kobe Dance." and without further adieu, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Kobe:




 


Bring him a treat and he may just do it for you too!

Next time I'll post a video of Reese do her thing.  You'll love it.

Labels: ,


Sunday, June 9, 2013

 

Computers v. Tablets aka Creation v. Consumption

Greetings Tech Fans!  Sorry to disappoint, but no, I'm not writing today about some silly new iteration of MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch, even though who wouldn't wanna see a fight to the death between the iPad and the Macbook Air?  No one?  Yeah, I 'spose that makes sense.  

BUT when it comes time to pick out a new primary computing device, we're seeing more and more folks opt for some sort of Tablet device.  Now while I've always held the position that Tablets are perfectly good devices for users who are simply content consumers, the second they try to use those same Tablets to create content, they find them lacking.  Here's the gist - if ALL you do is browse webpages, read email, engage in the occasional video chat then a tablet's just the ticket.  But on the other side of the coin, if one is actually writing a document or even a lengthy email, well then Tablet's are just perfect for that too!  SAID NO ONE EVER.

I'm not even going to get into the cost benefit argument because a halfway decent PC is easily $100+ cheaper than a iPad.  Even a Macbook Air 11" (which actually does everything most folks think an iPad is capable of) is in the same sort of price range as a comparable iPad - and it, you know, actually is good for doing stuff.

So with that said, will this always be that case?  For the foreseeable future, yes.  Until they come up with some magic way of getting the ideas out of your head and into your portable tablet, smartphone, smartwatch, smartglasses, or whatever other smart thing you're carrying around in a methodology equally as good or better as you can do it on an actual computer, you're better off with an actual computer.  Sorry to any of my English or Comp teachers for that ridiculously long run-on sentence.

Now as a secondary device, a tablet may be just the gadget you need for lightweight access to the content you crave on the go.  Ever since I scored a Galaxy Note, I've had no further need for a tablet, and the writing's on the wall that most consumers won't either.  As much as the manufacturers of these things want you to buy all of them, it's really up to you if they're worth it.  You need to decide what works best for your workflow, but today, most end users are still lost without a computer by their side.

Or in my case, a dozen or so.

;-)

Stan
I'm not a geek.  I'm your friend.  And I'm here to help.

Labels: , , , , ,


Sunday, January 6, 2013

 

2013 - New year, New Tech Resolutions!

Hey there Readers!  Sorry it's been a little while between blogs, but Los Angeles, being the epicenter of water damaged Macbook Pro's, has kept us busy at the garage.  Now that the new year is upon us, there's no better time to boost your tech life with some resolutions.  Here are 13 Tech Resolutions for 2013:
 
1. Get a Smartphone. It's not likely to cost you much and if there's one thing our customers never regret, it's making this change. Just.  Do.  It.
2. Expand Your Tech Universe. You're not a Mac. You're not a PC. You're a human being dammit, and you can have whatever computer/smartphone/media center device you darned well please. I have a dream, that one day, we will be judged by the content of our character rather than the gadgets we are seen carrying.  I mean seriously, sometimes it feels like if you don't have an iPhone in Los Angeles, you may as well resolve yourself to dying alone.  Is this what we've come to people?  Is it?  Which takes me to my next thought . . .

3. Give Windows 8 a Chance.  Look, it's not perfect.  But it actually improves upon the Windows 7 architecture, and a $3 app called StartIsBack will bring back the traditional start menu and regular Windows desktop. 

4.  Don't Expect Your Printer to Last.  You've got one and you probably hardly use it. But after months of ignoring it you need to print something, but it's giving you grief. It's going to cost more to fix than the thing's worth. There are local spots that'll print the stuff for you or you can pick up a new printer at any number of local shops for in the $50 price range.  Just accept that this is the normal cost of having a printer and that these things don't last.

5. Backup.  You've always thought about doing it.  Maybe you even bought some flash drives or an external hard drive to handle the job.  Buuuuuuuuuuuut . . .  you never actually did anything about it.  So now's the time.  If you haven't ever experienced data loss, consider yourself lucky and back up.  If you have, back up and never experience it again.  Keep a local copy and a copy online.  If for some reason you can't handle this yourself, call these guys and they'll take care of you.  Promise. ;-)

6. Buy Good Antivirus. Stop with the free alternatives. Avoid the Norton's, McAfee's, and whatever preloaded, bloated antivirus cam with your computer.  Get a good one.  Kaspersky's my brand and I'm sticking to it.  Their Mac version is awesome too.

7. Upgrade Your Internet Access.  Get a good, fast service.  Cable, U-Verse, or FiOS.  Anything less is too slow.  You'll thank me later.

8. Say Buh-Bye to Windows Vista.  If you've still got it, you've held on waaaaaaaaay too long.  Windows 7 or 8 is going to outperform Vista on the same hardware and with MS offering discounted upgrades to 8, you really have no excuse.  If you've still got XP, you clearly weren't paying attention to last year's resolutions.

10. Start Streaming Media.  You've got your big screen TV and you've got your computer.  Wouldn't it be awesome to put the two together?  There's no magic bullet solution yet.  But there are a solutions that bridge the gap. Try an HTPC (a small form factor computer with an HDMI connection to your TV), a streaming box like a Roku or WD Live, or if you've got a Laptop with an HDMI port, you can go that route. 

11. Use Social Media to Your Advantage.  Yes be involved.  Everything in small doses. Don't be this guy.

12. Save Money Shopping Online.  With stores like Amazon, Newegg, Buy.com, Staples, and too may others to name, you really are throwing away free money if you're not using Ebates. Sign up for an account and just link to stuff through their website that you were going to buy anyway.  FREE.  MONEY.  Isn't that enough?

13. Invest in a Solid State Drive.  They're faster.  They're better.  And they're faster. They're finally affordable and it's the single biggest upgrade you can give your computer.

So there you have it, 13 tech resolutions for 2013.  Do all of them, some of them, or none of them.  Technology is an ever evolving thing and as soon as you cross one of these off your list, another will surely appear.  Happy 2013!

I'm not a Geek.  I'm your Friend.  And I'm here to help.

Stan

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Saturday, June 23, 2012

 

Data Recovery - The LaCie Big Drive - Big. Fail.

Ah, the vaunted data recovery.  Your hard drive is cruising along like a well-tuned machine on all cylinders, and then one day, poof, it won't show up.  You think to yourself, it's probably no big deal, I mean "it was working just fine a few minutes ago."  Well, yes everything works just fine.  Until it doesn't.  And your hard drive?  Well, it doesn't.

We see a lot of dead hard drives in the computer repair business.  Being in Los Angeles (or West Hollywood in particular), we see a highly disproportionate amount of large, external hard drives from Mac users with large stores of video data.  They typically purchase these drives from LaCie and G-Raid on display at the Apple Store.  All their important data winds up on these somewhat suspect drives.  And at a higher than average rate, the drives go belly up.  One of the biggest offenders is the LaCie "Big Drive."

So what is the "Big Drive."  Well it's big because they stick two large hard drives in it and configure it for RAID 0 to have it appear as a single large drive when you connect it to your computer.  The two drives also make it about twice as big as a typical external drive.  Yeah I know, LaCie really went out on a limb with the name.  And that's great if all you care about is having a relatively large amount of storage space while not caring as much about reliability.  'Cuz here's the rub - if one of those drives fails, the whole thing fails.  Now if you're one of the lucky ones who bought this thing and only had the enclosure fail, despite its configuration, the data is recoverable.  And I'll show you how.

First things first.  You'll need to get the drives out of the failed enclosure.  It's pretty straightforward so I'm not going into detail on that here.  Once they're out, it's a good idea to clone the drives to another drive to work the recovery.  There are a million different reasons to do this and it's generally considered best practice, but if it's not an option for you, be extra cautious when you get to the latter steps.  We use a handy (and expen$ive) device called a PSIClone from CPR Tools that helps us get that done quickly like so: 
Once you've got the drives cloned, time to hook them up to your computer.  For these we use a pair of eSATA docks hooked up to a Mac Pro, but plain old USB will do the trick, albeit much slower.  Now the software we found to successfully rebuild a RAID on a Mac is R-Studio from RTT Tools.  There's a free limited trial available before you commit to buy it (it's around $90, but well worth it)After you've got the drives connected to your Mac, Disk Utility will ask you to initialize the drives.  DON'T.  That'll likely get your data lost for good.  Launch R-Studio and you should start with a screen like this:


From here you click the "Create Virtual Raid" and select "Virtual Block RAID" as the type.  Drag your drives to the Virtual RAID, select the correct block size (in this case it was 64K), and you should see the Big Drive partition in the left pane like so:


Double-Click on that partition, in this case it's the one labeled "LaCie Disk" and your files should all be there.  Now wasn't that a snap?

Well not really, but you get the idea.  Like that tool Kevin Garnett once hysterically screamed "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  And if this doesn't sound like something you'd like to tackle, I've got a recommendation for the best data recovery in Los Angeles, if you catch my drift.

So Dear Reader, if you were one of the unfortunate souls who unwittingly bought one of these ill-conceived disks, all is not lost.  Recovery is even highly likely.  But if you're in the market for a new drive, stay away from these and always remember, the only safe data is data you've got multiple copies of.

As Always,

Stan
I'm not a Geek.  I'm your friend.  And I'm here to help.


Labels: , , , , , , ,


Friday, March 30, 2012

 

World Backup Day Has Arrived!!! - Can you feel the Excitement?

Nothing, and I mean nothing, gives my Los Angeles computer users a panic attack like the thought of backing up their data.  Seriously, it's like Tony Soprano watching a flock of ducks fly out of his pool.  It's one of those things that's so fundamental to having a computer, and so many simple ways of making it happen, it makes people's heads spin.  If I had a nickel for every repeat offender who walks into the shop with a failed hard drive and says, "Yeah, I had my hard drive fail once before and spent over a grand on a recovery," well, I'd have a bunch of nickels.  I mean after shelling out a ton of dough on a major data recovery, why on earth would you bother backing up?  That's just ludicrous.
But anyway the good folks over at World Backup Day are trying to spread the word that backing up is simple, affordable, and you have no excuse not to do it.  So there's a movement afoot here people, on March 31st you need to get moving on that long standing initiative, join in on all the excitement, and back that thing up!  Don't do it and you may just wind up an April Fool!  Have I convinced you yet?  No?  Awwwwww, Sad Face :(.

Look there's nothing sexy about backup.  It's about as exciting as watching paint dry.  But you know when it gets sexy? Yes, you guessed it, when your computer craps out on you and you get to smugly tell the computer repair guy, "Oh yeah, I've got everything backed up," which roughly translates to: "hell no you're not going to squeeze me for an expensive data recovery."  That's pretty hot right?  Yeah, I thought so too.

Look regardless of operating system, Mac, Windows, Linux, or whatever - there's an easy, and typically free backup solution available to you.  If nothing else - I'm a fan of two things:  Free and Easy.  I'm not going to rehash the numerous ways you can get a backup done, but if you're interested you can check out this post I did about backup some time ago.  It's a great read if I say so myself.

The bottom line is that I don't like sad people.  Sad people quickly become angry people.  Angry people get all bent out of shape when they're told their data is gone unless they pay a whole lotta money to get it back.  And I, for one, don't like those kinds of uncomfortable moments.  So in exchange for these invaluable tidbits I share with you guys, please, just back it up.

Trust me on this one.

As Always,


Stan
I'm not a Geek.  I'm your friend.  And I'm here to help.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

 

Keep your Computer like Fonzie - Cooooool

You've seen the signs and likely chose to ignore them anyway.  Your innocent PC laptop or maybe even your Mac has been emitting more and more of that whirring sound you would seldom hear when it was new.  In fact, now you practically burn off a layer of skin every time you touch your little computer after a minimal amount of use.  And then, one day, poof, the poor little guy won't even turn on anymore.  And you're left to wonder why?  WHY?  WHY?  WHY?

Well you know why - the little guy was getting hot.  Heat probably does more damage to electronic component than Mercury in retrograde.  Bottom line: Heat + Computers = Bad.  Rather than doing something about it while you still had a chance, you chose to ignore the problem and hope it would magically go away.  After all, it worked perfectly fine before (my personal favorite computer repair line).  Well yes, I used to be able to dunk a basketball, but time, beer, and chicken wings have taken their toll, and that's no longer the case.  Sooooooooooooo, while my vertical leap isn't coming back, there's still hope for that computer of your.

Now here's the silver lining to this cloud - your data is likely safe.  Unless your laptop or desktop literally caught fire before permanently crashing (and sometimes even if it did), your hard drive is probably still in tact.  Now for all but the most severe overheating issue, you can still do a lot.

First of all, think about what's making your computer work so hard.  If your computer is chugging along, it's probably heavily taxing your system resources.  The harder a computer has to work the hotter it gets.  And no, that shnazzy TV ad promising to make your computer fast again isn't going to cut it.  There are a number of steps that can be taken to optimize an existing computer, and in dire cases, a complete wipe and re-installation of your operating system can bring things back to normal.  And here's a quick tip for you Windows users - never, ever, ever, ever upgrade your Internet Explorer.  Whatever Internet Explorer shipped with your computer is the one that was meant for your computer.  New versions are made for new hardware, not for that "vintage" computer you keep refusing to retire.  

So what happens if we do that and your computer still runs hot?  Well then it's likely that the computer's cooling system has been compromised.  For starters, you can try one of many laptop cooling pads out there.  The provide additional ventilation and airflow that may just do the trick.  If it's still running hot, then more extreme measures may be warranted.  

Servicing a computer's cooling system, while not the easiest thing in the world, is your last option before sending your little baby to that silicon factory in the sky.  To get a better idea of why this is necessary, I'll give you a quick rundown of how a computer's cooling system works.  Your processor, and in laptops the graphics card, aren't cooled directly by a fan - it transfers heat to a piece of metal called a heat sink.  To transfer the heat effectively, a layer of thermal paste is applied to the chips.  The fan then cools the heat sink.  Over time, typically 2-4 years, that thermal paste can dry, greatly decreasing the ability of the laptop to stay cool. Doing computer repair in the hot Los Angeles summers, we see this quite a bit.

So what to do?  Take the laptop completely apart, remove the heatsink, re-apply the thermal paste, clean out any dust or debris from the entire assembly, and there you go, laptop like new.  Well not really, but it'll at least work again.  Maybe.  I mean, it's still kinda old for a computer by the time this happens.

Look the heat issue with computers is real.  How real?  2006-2008 was a particularly bad period.  Apple extended the warranty on some Mac Book Pros for 4 years just because of an overheating issue with one of its nVidia graphics cards.  Many PCs had problems with the same chipset, but the manufacturers pretty much ignored the issue hoping it wouldn't present itself until the warranty expired - I'm not naming names (cough HP, cough cough Dell), but that really wasn't the way to win over customers during the dark Vista days.

The bottom line - you're pretty cool.  How do I know?  Well, your reading the cooling blog about computer repair on the Internet, that's how!  So seeing as you're cool, with Summer approaching, just see to it that your computer stays the same.


As always,


Stan
I'm not a Geek.  I'm your friend.  And I'm here to help.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Monday, February 27, 2012

 

Server? You don't need no stinkin' server!

Ahh, the good old Server room.  Makes me a little bit nostalgic for my corporate IT days.  Repairing computers and networks for a nameless, faceless entity was so rewarding after all.  Sure, and if you believe that, there's a Lake in Michigan I'd like to sell you.

Anyway, before I get too far off topic, the one thing we see come up often in our Los Angeles-based computer repair business is the need to share data.  For many years the way to most efficiently make this happen was, you guessed it, a server.

To get a better idea of why you may need one, let me clue you in on just what exactly a server is.  It's just a computer.  It's a computer set up to share data.  Yup, I said it.  It's little more than that.  In fact the servers of a few years ago are probably working with less horsepower than the budget-friendly laptop you're probably reading this blog on.  Servers have some additional configurations and possible server-specific software running on them, but they're not some mythical supercomputer that can calculate pi (the mathematical version, not pie, the delicious dessert) faster than you can think it.  More likely than not, a server is simply a computer just like the Mac or PC you use on a daily basis.  As a matter of fact, if all you want is some simple file sharing, the Mac or PC you're using will do just fine.  

Today, there are a number of options for sharing files, and the traditional dedicated server is expensive and may be overkill.  You can use peer-to-peer file sharing between computers, use an online file sharing service product, get yourself a traditional server, or go with my personal favorite - the server appliance or NAS.

Peer-to-peer file sharing solutions can work well for a small office or household.  Every operating system in use today - Mac or PC - will allow you to share files between over your local network.  It's not the simplest process for your typical end-user and if the computer sharing the files is shut down, other users will not have access to those files.  Also, it'll impact performance of the computer sharing the files.

Online sharing solutions like Dropbox or Mesh give you the flexibility of sharing files online and remote access to your critical data.  Yes, this is that "Cloud" thingie all the kids are talking about.  What they don't give you is fast access to your data and if you've got bigger files, especially video, they're not the ideal solution.  At least not until typical Internet bandwidth increases tenfold.

A traditional Server will get the job done, but it requires a large capital outlay and can require some very complex configuration and user management.  The ongoing costs and administrative overhead make traditional server far more burdensome than a small business need deal with.

So that leaves the NAS, or Network Attached Storage.  Basically, these things are like an external hard drive that plugs directly into your network.  You configure users and shared folders via a web browser, and voila, you've got yourself a server.  One that's less than a third of the price and a quarter the size of a traditional server.  Another great feature of these devices is they can often support multiple drives to provide redundancy in the event of failure in a RAID configuration.

The typical one of these devices we configure for many of our customers is the N4100PRO from Thecus, Inc.  Thecus is a leader in the SOHO NAS space and they've knocked it out of the park with the N4100PRO in terms of price and features.  Supporting up to 4 hot-swappable drives currently giving you up to 8TB of available storage (with more likely supported in future firmware updates).  It connect to your network via 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports and has native support for Apple, Windows and even UNIX.  The device also offers a number of applications like web server, Time Machine server, iTunes Server, and has USB ports that can expand storage, function as a print server, or even back itself up to external media.  

Now I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the one killer app on this device: it has direct integration with Dropbox.  Now while that's not the easiest thing in the world to configure, you can store data on this NAS that has redundancy in it's hard drive configuration, backs itself up to an external drive, AND synchronizes your most critical data and makes itself accessible via Dropbox.  If you haven't thought about a backup strategy before, this device has it all.  Done right, with this device, you'll not only be able to collaborate throughout your home or office with your family or coworkers, but you'll have the lowest possible risk of catastrophic data loss.

So there you have it dear reader, the ten minute breakdown on why you may or may not need a server.  It's not so scary (or expensive) as it once was and if you really need to share files, you can totally get away with not buying a thing or it costing you a dime.  If you've got some more serious file sharing needs, well there are plenty of available solutions for you today with more and more on the horizon.  Whatever you choose, it sure as hell beats carrying floppy disks around from room to room!

As Always,


Stan
I'm not a Geek.  I'm your friend.  And I'm here to help.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Monday, January 30, 2012

 

The Nastiest of Viruses - the SST Rootkit

Viruses are getting particularly nasty these days. They've become a big business, and that's a big reason why they're getting more and more prevalent. Just recently a hacking group collected $14 million dollars in advertising revenues by infecting over four million unsuspecting users.  Just read THIS and you'll see what I'm talking about. This type of virus-for-profit scam isn't going anywhere, and you holier-than-thou Mac users aren't immune either.

We see them here all the time in the garage, and while they are an annoying part of computer ownership, they're generally removable.  They normally start with some sort of legit looking alert telling you your computer is infected, hard drive is failing, and the world as you know it is crumbling.  Something that probably looks like this: But fear not, this magic popup will lead you to believe it has the cure for what ails your computer.  It's lying.  It has no cure.  It is the disease.  The only thing it will cure is your credit card of it's available credit limit.  So just for the record, there is nothing on your computer that will ever ask you for your credit card outside a secure web browser.  Nothing.  If something does, it's fake, and it's going screw you over.  Trust me on that.

Now getting this first thing off your computer is generally fairly straightforward.  Reboot your computer in Safe Mode, run Malwarebytes or something similar of your preference, and it'll most likely nab this most obvious part of the infection.  But what it'll miss is the most insidious type of virus: the boot sector virus.

The boot sector of your hard drive is what actually tells your computer how to start up and load Windows.  If a virus resides there, it generally will get overlooked by most types of basic scanners and simply block many removal tools from getting at it.  So what can you do?  Well the most common one we've seen here repairing computers in Los Angeles come from the SST rootkit family. The latest variant, the SST.BOOT.ROOTKIT.B virus is a persistent sucker and getting rid of this one can be tricky.

There are two methods we've found capable of removing these SST viruses from our good friends at Kaspersky Labs.  The first, and simpler, method is to use their root kit remover TDSSKILLER.   Download the utility on another computer and copy it to a flash drive.  Change the name of the tdsskiller.exe to something random (the virus can oftentimes neutralize known removal tools based on the filenames), reboot the infected machine in safe mode, and attempt to run TDSSKILLER.  If successful, it'll say it found the rootkit and successfully removed it, and a reboot is required.  If this doesn't do the trick, the next step would be to try the Kaspersky rescue disk.  Burn the image to CD/DVD or to a flash drive, boot the infected machine off it, run the quick scan, and it should and clean the rootkit.

Now here's the rub - the rootkit resides in your computer's master boot record.  Either of these methods can render your computer un-bootable.  Your data should be safe, but that's not going to do you much good if it won't start up.  I suggest performing a full image-based backup with a utility llike Acronis before attempting either of these methods.

The bottom line is Viruses aren't going anywhere anytime soon.  In a connected world, it's just par for the course that scammers are going to try and make a buck off you.  Get yourself a good antivirus product, keep your system up-to-date, and practice common sense when online.

And, oh yeah, STAY AWAY FROM THE PORN!

As always,

Stan
I'm not a Geek.  I'm your friend, and I'm here to help.




Labels: , , , , , , ,


Sunday, November 27, 2011

 

Google Apps - What it can do for you

I love free stuff. I do. It's just how I was raised. So when I started Stan's Tech Garage, I reserved the stansgarage.com domain, bought an inexpensive web hosting service, and used the mostly reliable, unlimited free email that came with it.

Now obviously free Internet email has it's limitations. It's tough to keep in sync across multiple computers, and you can pretty much forget about keeping all your contacts and calendars up-to-date.


Enter Google Apps (http://www.google.com/apps)



This is basically Google's answer to Microsoft's Exchange server for enterprise E-Mail and collaboration. Now the good news for you smaller organizations is that it's free for up to 10 users, but lacks a couple of the most advanced features. Fortunately those features are probably ones you won't be using. The bad news is that if you need more than 10 users, it clocks in at $50 per user, per year. 10 users free, 11 $550 year. Just keep that in mind. The other drawback, it's Google, so they'll be targeting you with their keyword based advertising. Is it a violation of privacy? Probably. Are they fairly secure with your private data? I hope so. Should you feel confident hosting your company's confidential email on another entity's servers? That's really for you to decide, but over 4 million companies, big and small, seem to think it's alright, and if their legal and regulatory groups think it's OK, then who am I to argue?

Now my motivation for moving the Stan's Tech Garage email to Google Apps was not really motivated by the cost (we're still small enough to use the free account), or the Calendar and Contacts sync, or even the seamless integration with my Android phone and tablet (I gotta say that it is awesome though). No, honestly, it was the reliability that sold me. My cheap host's email was going down far more often than I could accept for my business. I registered for an Apps account long before I actually migrated over to it. The last time my hosting company went down, I couldn't take it any more and migrated my account over to them. Google Apps boasts 99.9% uptime. Couldn't really ask for anything more. The only thing I really regretted was not doing it sooner.

Google Apps is an invaluable free (for the time being) tool to the small business. Especially if you're an Android phone user (but it works great with iPhone too), and it runs great on Macs or PCs with whatever standard email program you prefer or right through the familiar Gmail interface. If you don't like ads, I suggest loading up your Firefox or Chrome with the latest version of AdBlock Plus and you'll never even see them. If you use IE, well, you've got bigger problems. Honestly, you can have an enterprise-class email system with Google Apps for just the cost of registering a domain name. Can't really beat that.

As always,

Stan
I am not a Geek. I'm your friend. And I'm here to help.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Sunday, September 11, 2011

 

Sly as a Fox - Dump IE for Firefox


I'm not gonna mince words - I prefer Firefox. I avoid Internet Explorer. Opera doesn't do it for me. Chrome is decent and I can't fault folks who like it, but me, I'm a Firefox man.

Why you may ask? Well part of it is just a familiarity. Firefox has been around for a while now and when it became apparent that it is vastly better than the slow, bloated, and lacking in custom plug-ins Internet Explorer, I jumped ship and never looked back. IE also had some bad memory leaks early on that would slow your system to a crawl if you left it running for too long, and once Firefox came in and rectified those, I was sold. Did I mention the viruses? Oh yeah, Internet Explorer is far more susceptible to those too. But my favorite thing about Firefox is the add-ons, and I'm going to tell you about some of my faves.

By far and away the most useful of all the Firefox add-ons is Adblock plus, http://adblockplus.org/. This little beauty block all ad content in your browser, including flash videos like youtube and the like. Hate all those annoying banners and videos? Of course you do. Get yourself Adblock plus, and they become a thing of the past.

I also really like download statusbar for a slicker download notification down in your status bar. Fireftp is a great FTP client, for free, built right into Firefox. ChatZilla is also a great irc chat client for the Fox. PDF Download is a great way to manage the way to view PDF files in the browser. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are literally 100's of these, and the best part, totally free. Some of the developers do accept donations, so if you find any of these particularly helpful, I'm sure they'd appreciate your support.

So faster, more customizable, and less virus prone than IE. Sounds like a pretty fair reason to kick IE to the curb, don't you think? We like it so much we load it on every computer we service here in Los Angeles and we recommend it to you Mac users as well.

Now I'm sure I'm missing some great add-ons, so if you've got some suggestions, let me know and I'll update this article. But for now, everybody rock the fox!

Labels: , , , ,


Sunday, September 4, 2011

 

Wireless Network Not Found? - Tips for Solving WiFi Problems

You're living the Los Angeles dream. You've worked hard. Done all the right things. Made a nice life for yourself. Is it so much to ask that you're able to enjoy all the benefits of wireless Internet throughout your ENTIRE home? Well in many cases, it may well be with that single, $30 router you're trying to make it happen with just can't cut it. And you know what else? The $130 top-of-the-line router you begrudgingly buy doesn't seem to get it done either. Upgrading to a faster computer doesn't make a difference either. So what's left to do? Simmer down, I'm about to tell you.

WiFi dead zones are as common as Guinness in Belfast, and just like beer selections there, you've got options with WiFi too. Mmmmmmmm, Beer. What was I talking about? Oh right, fixing your wireless network. Well, the first and most effective option is going wired. Running network cable to the remote areas lacking WiFi coverage, connecting up a wireless access point, and configuring it to extend your existing wireless network. That's the practically guaranteed fix for your wireless woes, but since it's not always feasible run cable, we'll move on to option two.

Option two is using a powerline or coaxial bridge. These devices use your homes existing cabling to simulate a wired network connection when running cable is not feasible or desirable. You connect one of these bridges close to your router and one where you'd like to extend your wireless, plug network cables into both ends, and if it's all working, you should be good to go. Generally, you'll plug a wireless access point into the bridged end and extend your WiFi just as if you had wired it up directly. Now these devices aren't full proof. Homes with older wiring tend to have issues with powerline brindges and various cable providers split their signals at higher frequencies than coaxial bridges can handle. These are definitely worth a try, but if you're going to give these a go, I suggest getting them somewhere with a decent returns policy, if you catch my drift.

The last option I'm going to discuss is the wireless bridge extender. No doubt you've seen some sort of device online or at some store shaped like a big box claiming to extend your wireless network. Generally they're all garbage, but there is one thing you can do that's effective a majority of the time. There's a great open-source project for wireless router/access points called DD-WRT (www.dd-wrt.com) that'll let you turn just about any router (even the super cheap ones) into a Wireless Bridge/Repeater. Get these within range of the original wireless access point and watch your coverage improve, and it'll let you connect wired devices to boot. It's the same type of configuration Apple provides with its Airport Extreme and Airport Express base stations as wireless bridge/repeaters but at a fraction of the price. But the Apple Airport setup is good too (in case any Apple fanboys/girls are reading and are easily offended).

Another little side note about DD-WRT - it'll let you increase your wireless signal way above the manufacturer-imposed limitations. Whether this is a good thing or not I'll leave up to you and I definitely don't advise bumping it up more than a few db's for fear of frying your router. They're set low for a reason beyond the wimpy FCC and their efforts to ruin your life. I generally don't mess with those settings, so if you decide to, do it at your own risk. If your router starts making weird noises, getting super hot, or plain out smoking, I'd set them back to factory defaults.

So there you have it. Chances are any of these configurations can work for getting you the WiFi coverage you desire. Before too long you'll be enjoying a cold beer and the Internet in even the most remote corners of your home. Don't forget one for the guy who taught you how to do it.

This is your man Stan - always rockin' the Wifi for the free world - Out!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Sunday, August 14, 2011

 

Tech Tip - Running Windows Installer in Safe Mode


Ahhhhhhhhh, Microsoft. How you sometimes frustrate me for no apparent reason. Why you don't want the people uninstalling applications from the safe mode of your precious Windows operating systems is beyond me. After all, your good friends in Cupertino don't seem to think the same restrictions are necessary for Macs. But I digress.

I'm not here to harp on the issue, but to give you, dear reader, a very viable workaround. Chances are if your Windows Laptop or Desktop PC is in need of some repair, uninstalling some of the software is necessary. And if you can't effectively work in Windows standard mode, Safe mode becomes your only route. Now there's a very circuitous method of enabling Windows Installer service you can take by editing the registry, but I'm not going to bore you with those details. Our good friends at Windows IT Pro have made a very useful, tiny app called SafeMSI. Download it HERE. I've been successful with this on everything up to Windows 7, so if you need to run anything requiring the Windows Installer service in Safe Mode, this should be your ticket.

So if you're having this issue in Los Angeles, West Hollywood, or wherever you may be, this is your fix. No need for thanks, just send small, unmarked bills. ;-)

-Stan

Labels: , ,


Sunday, August 7, 2011

 

Meet Kobe - the Newest Member of our Team!


Stan’s Tech Garage started out as a single dog Computer Repair Business serving the people of Los Angeles. So what's better than a single dog - you guessed it - 2 dogs! And while Reese will always remain my first love, Mrs. Stan's Tech Garage wanted a snuggly, little, well-behaved buddy for Reese. Well he's snuggly and little, so I suppose 2 out of 3 ain't bad!


We found Kobe through the Jack Russell Rescue who'd picked him up on the mean streets of Pasadena, and he's become a big part of the family ever since. His computer skills are limited to sniffing out crumbs buried inside them, but we decided to keep him just the same. And while he and Reese have had their little dog issues here and there, I think she's really grown fond of him too.

So just like Reese, here's the 411 on Kobe:

Sex: Male

Breed: 100% Parson Russell Terrier - The King of the Jacks!

Age: 2

Hair: White with Black and Brown

Eyes: Brown

Sign: Leo

Weight: A Hearty 25 Pounds

Favorite Treat: Any that fall from the table

Favorite Toy: He's a terrier, he makes for his own excitement

Favorite Place: In bed with Mommy and Daddy

Favorite Movie: Any so long as he doesn't get kicked out of bed

Favorite Actor: Moose (played Eddie on Frazier)

Best Friend: Reese (begrudgingly)

Likes: Food, Playtime, People, Walks, Hikes, Belly Rubs, People

Dislikes: Baths, Being Scolded, Leashes, Bigger Dogs

So that's Kobe. He insists on alerting us whenever someone enters the shop. He may bark or growl, but that's just the terrier in him, he means it as a sign of affection. For real!

So next time you’re shopping for some computer services in Los Angeles (or you’re just at the Whole Foods in West Hollywood), Kobe wants you to come on in an say hi (hopefully with a treat). He may just barely get over the counter, but worry not, he'll make sure you realize he's there.

Labels: , , ,


Monday, November 1, 2010

 

Can you hear me now? The Smartphone Wars Heat Up!


There's a war going on, and whether you know it or not, you're caught in the middle of it. It's the battle for YOUR ever-important, recurring cell phone bill. And while you may not have any interest in being a pawn in this battle, unless you're still rocking your extra-sweet old school flip phone (ah, simpler times), you're in it. Fear not for this healthy competition between Apple, Google, Microsoft, RIM, and Nokia (yes Nokia, that's what the report says, but I guess they're big overseas) will only amount to better products and more advanced features for you to be totally befuddled by.

Why all this hype all of a sudden? Well, Technology Research firm Canalys (I know, I thought they were a movie studio too), came out with this recent report on just which Smart Phones are leading the marketplace in sales for the third quarter. What did theycome up with? Not anything really definitive, but I'll outline some of the high points. There were 9.1 million Android phones sold, 5.5 million iPhones, 5.1 Blackberries, 600,000 Windows Mobile Phones (they did just launch), and 600,000 "others." Now I don't know what other consists of, probably Palm or Nokia, but they really amount to garbage that some cell company will give you for free for signing up. Truth is you don't care about other. If you're the typical U.S. Smart Phone consumer you'll be rocking an iPhone, Android Phone, or Blackberry.

So how do you know which is right for you? Most of it is preference and budget. As a Los Angeles area, technically savvy-type (I have a computer repair business after all), AT&T is just not an option. Sorry AT&T, but around West Hollywood, I can't complete a phone call, much less look up something quickly online. In the canyons, I'm lucky to get a text to go through. I appreciated the iPhone for it's simplicity, apps, and styling, but not being able to make a phone call sealed the deal for me. Bye bye AT&T. AT&T=Biggest. Fail. Ever. I gave it a run using the iPhone on T-Mobile's network, but being locked to the slow EDGE (still faster than AT&T's 3G around Los Angeles) network made having a Smart Phone, well it didn't feel so smart.

Then along came Android. Faster phones. Not being tied to AT&T. 4G Data speeds. Bigger Screens. Cameras with flash and video. Speaking of flash, Android supports it. I was sold. And I have to say, I'm staying. Don't get me wrong, the iPhone 4 is like a work of art, and has the great features, but I had all those features a year before it came out. Then there's still the AT&T problem. Apple has recognized that Android isn't going away anytime soon which is a big reason iPhone will be showing (as yet unconfirmed) up on Verizon in early 2011. Congrats Verizon! Enjoy your once proud network now become slowly eroded. Still, it should be a big improvement over AT&T, at least in the big cities, but as far as traveling Internationally with it, that's a big question mark too.

Still not sure? I'll make it simple for you. For corporate email users, or if you just want a basic smartphone to text and email with and still be able to do a little browsing, blackberry makes a nice (cheap) option. If you're more tech savvy than not, like to be able to tinker and customize your gadgets, enjoy freedom of choice when it comes to cell carriers, Android's your ticket. If you live in an area AT&T gives you decent coverage, want access to the biggest app store currently available, have a big iTunes library, or just want a phone that works regardless of vendor limitations, the iPhone's for you. Also, if you're simply a poseur who needs a status symbol of a phone to make up the your shallow existence, then you're probably not reading this because you had your assistant get in line to make sure you were the first to have the new iPhone. Ass.

Windows Phone, Palm, or Nokia - really? You're still considering them? It's probably not going to happen for you. Just a case of too little (Palm), too late (Microsoft).

In reality you, the average consumer, could care less about how this all shakes out. Unless you're the fanboy/girl type who's so blindly dedicated to one brand that you're entire sense of being rests upon the brand that you've pledged your undying allegiance to being the ultimate victor. If that's the case, you've already lost. ROTFLMAO.

Labels: , , , ,


Monday, October 18, 2010

 

Tech Tip of the Day: Get your Mouse to Snap to It

Sometimes just the thought of moving your mouse from one end of the screen to the other can cause an early onset of carpal tunnel. Especially with a touch pad, constantly gliding that thing over and over can get a rise out of the Dali Lama.

So for you Windows users out there, there's a quick solution that'll make your mouse action a little smoother. It's a handy little feature Windows has had for a while in the mouse control panel called Snap To. It's available for all the most current versions of Windows including XP, Vista, and Windows 7. We like it so much we make sure to add it to all the computers we repair and service here in our West Hollywood shop.

What Snap To actually does is automatically move your mouse pointer over the default selection. For example, when you close a Word Document, wouldn't it be nice to have the mouse automatically snap-to the dialog box popping up asking you to save?




Yeah, I thought so too. So to activate the snap to feature, you go to the Windows Control Panel and go to the Mouse applet. From there you select the Pointer Options tab and simply check the Snap To option. Then you're all set. From here on out, that mouse pointer will automatically move itself to the default button on a dialog box.

Just like the screen says. What did you think I was lying?

So do yourself a favor before you end up wearing a fancified glove for your wrist problems. You heard me! Snap to it!

As always, coming strong from the 90046.

Stan

Labels: , , ,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

 

You need a backup plan

One of the most common things we see in the computer repair business is about the scariest thing in the world to the typical person who seeks our services - they can't see the data on their hard drive and they fear the worst - the dreaded data recovery. You know, the Data Recovery your momma warned you about. The one that costs upwards of $2,000, requires your send your drive off to a clean room, and offers no real guarantees. Yeah, THAT data recovery.

So today I offer you, Dear Reader, the perfect economically viable solution. One that will cost you a fraction of what that data recovery is going to cost you a fraction of that pricey data recovery. It's something so beautiful in its simplicity, you'll be slapping yourself that you hadn't thought of it first. Backup. That's right, a sound backup strategy will ensure you'll never have to plunk down thousands to get back those wedding photos of you trying to breakdance to the Rob Base classic, "It Takes Two."

So here's what you need - both local and off-site backup. The local backup will get you back up and running quickly in the event of hard drive or other system failure. This strategy typically involves an external hard drive connected to your computer and you can use whatever software or manual method to copy your files to the external drive. Apple users (those with OS X 10.5 or later) have it easy with the built-in Time Machine software. PC users have a number of options, but the one that's easiest to use and I find most effective is Acronis True Image Home.

Acronis is a full system imaging solution that not only backs up your files, but takes a full snapshot of your computer on any schedule you set. It includes a utility to make a bootable CD or flash drive to start your computer up and restore from any backup you like. It even has options to restore your computer to different hardware. That comes in very handy when migrating from one computer to another. We use Acronis in our day-to-day computer service and repair and honestly recommend it without reservation.

So now that you've got the local backup covered, let's talk about off-site storage. You're probably wondering why you need both a local backup and off-site, but in the event of any kind of disaster, you'll be glad you were wise enough to invest in both. While there are any number of off-site backup strategies that can work for you, the easiest and most effective is taking advantage of an online backup service. While there are any number of services out there, none of them are offering 2GB of free online Storage like Mozy.

Now for the average person, 2GB isn't going to amount to all that much, but it'll get a large chunk of documents and photos. Those of you with extensive music libraries should consider their unlimited product. For just $4.95/month or $54.95/yr, Mozy gives you unlimited storage. You'll also be able to access your files while on the go via their online portal, and you'll have a real-time backup going on whenever you're online. This is particularly useful to you laptop users on the go.

So now you'll probably ask, "Does this mean I'm absolutely safe in the event of my hard-drive crashing, Stan?" Well, when it comes to computers, there are no absolutes, but you'll definitely be ahead of the game when it comes to recovering lost data. Maybe it's just like the Doctor's office, but customers tell me how they backup everything but just this one time they didn't and everything crashed. You don't want to be another statistic, so get your backup plan in place, test it, test it again, and 6 months from now, test it again.

There are plenty of other things you can be doing to ensure your data's availability, and I'll be sure to mention them in future blog posts. Now if you've been unfortunate enough to have your hard drive fail, fear not, all is not lost. Come visit our West Hollywood, CA computer repair and service business where we have hardware and software solutions that can recover all but the most severely damaged hard drives (or those pesky Seagate 7200.11 drives with the bad firmware). If you have one of those dead drives, we highly recommend contacting Drive Savers for a free evaluation.

But in the meantime - Back it up.

-Coming at you strong from the 90046, Stan

Labels: , , ,


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

 

How much is that doggie in the window?

When I opened Stan’s Tech Garage, my first goal was to be able to offer outstanding computer service and repair to the local communities of West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Greater Los Angeles, and beyond. But I had an ulterior motive: I really wanted to be able to bring my dog Reese, to work.

Why was this so important? Reese doesn’t know much about servicing Macs or PCs, virus removal, or data recovery, but she’s working on it! What she does bring with her is an instant morale boost in these early dog-days of the business. She also happens to be the best welcoming committee we could ask for. And all it costs us are treats and attention. Even in these trying times, that's a bargain at twice the price. Oh, and she loves other dogs, so if you’re coming by our shop, feel free to bring yours.

So here are the vitals on Reese, since people are always asking:

Sex: Female

Breed: ½ Weimaraner (for sure) / ½ German Shorthaired Pointer (we think)

Age: 4 ½

Hair: Brown

Eyes: Amber

Sign: Aquarius

Weight: A very fit 60 lbs

Favorite Treat: Whole Foods Tacos

Favorite Toy: Orbee-Tuff Ball on a Rope, Laser Pointer

Favorite Place: Hiking at Runyon Canyon or in bed with Mommy and Daddy

Favorite Movie: Marmaduke

Favorite Actor: George (he played Marmaduke)

Best Friend: Peanut (Mini Schnauzer)

Likes: Water, Food, Playtime, Other Dogs, Walks, Hikes, Belly Rubs, People (in that order)

Dislikes: Baths, Being Scolded, Extreme Heat, Anyone holding a bag that could potentially swing close to her, Not getting to say Hi to other dogs

That’s our Reesie in a nutshell. She insists on greeting everyone who comes in, so don’t be shy. She may let out a bark now and then, but that’s just her way of saying “Welcome!” Bring a treat and you may just find yourself with a new best friend.

So next time you’re shopping for some computer services (or you’re just at the Whole Foods in West Hollywood), Reesie wants you to come on over. Can you really say no to that face?

Labels: ,


7867 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd. West Hollywood, CA (map)

888-789-STAN

(7826)

info@stansgarage.com

Stan Recommends

Archives

April 2010   September 2010   October 2010   November 2010   January 2011   February 2011   July 2011   August 2011   September 2011   October 2011   November 2011   December 2011   January 2012   February 2012   March 2012   April 2012   June 2012   September 2012   October 2012   January 2013   May 2013   June 2013   July 2013   August 2013   September 2013   November 2013   February 2014   April 2014   May 2014