Dec 232011
 

 

Enter key replace with a RED HELP Key

Two Things to Do Before Hiring Tech Support

It’s amazing how many computer problems can be solved by just a few simple steps. We’d love to have your business, but in all fairness, you can probably save time and money by trying these steps before you hire us or anyone else to fix your computer. We lead our clients through these steps over the phone, and when they solve their problems it seems miraculous to them. Actually, it’s very logical and scientific. NOTE: It might be wise to print this section out for future reference (PDF). If you only have one computer, or you can’t get to the Internet, you might not be able to access this in a crisis.

A. General Computer Problems

1) RESTART (also called REBOOT): It’s amazing how many problems disappear just by restarting the computer. Error messages on the screen like “Not enough memory”, frozen programs or a frozen or endlessly spinning cursor, strange characters in documents, and no Internet connection (wired or wireless) often disappear with a restart. Restarting does not mean just closing the lid on a laptop and then opening it.

To RESTART: In Windows Vista or 7, click the Windows orb button Windows 7 Start Orb in the lower left corner of the screen, then click the little right-facing triangle (arrow) next to “Shutdown”, and click on”Restart”.

In Windows XP, click the START button in the lower left corner of the screen, then click “Shutdown”. A window will come up with three buttons, one yellow, one red and one green. Click on the green “Restart” button. Then be patient, as the computer should gradually shutdown and start up again.

2) On a Mac, click the Black Apple icon Black Apple Icon in the upper left hand corner of the screen, move the cursor to Restart and release the mouse button. If the Mac orb Mac Ball has turned into a spinning ball that just keeps on spinning for a couple of minutes, you may have to “Force Quit” an application, or even force the computer to shutdown. To Force Quit, push the keys Command, Option and ESC (Escape) all at the same time. In the “Force Quit Applications” window that comes up on your screen, select the program you were just working in from the list, click on it, and click the blue Force Quit button. Usually that will free the cursor, turning it from a spinning ball back into an arrow.

If the Force Quit doesn’t work, try restarting again. If you cannot, find the Power button (the one you push to turn on the computer), push and hold it down until the computer shuts down completely. That will usuall happen in about 20 seconds or less. Wait about 30 seconds for the hard drive to spin to a halt. Then push the power button to restart the computer.

3) On a Windows PC, if the cursor is staying as a spinning circle or hourglass icon, the PC force quit is to hold down the Control (CRTL), Alt and Delete (DEL) keys simultaneously. This brings up the Task Manager window, or a list from which you can choose Task Manager. Under the Applications tab at the left of the window you will see a list of programs. Click on the program you were working in when the cursor got stuck and click the End Task button. If you get a warning saying you will lose unsaved changes, click continue anyway. At this point you have no real option to save your changes because the program has already crashed.

4) If the End Task option in the Windows PC fails to solve the problems, you might be able to restart from the Windows orb button or the START button. If not, hold the power button down until the computer shuts down. Wait about 30 seconds for the hard drive to spin to a halt. Then push the power button to restart the computer. (If you read the Mac instructions above, you can see how similar Windows and Mac computers are these days).

B. Internet Connection Problems

If your web browser tells you it cannot find a web site that you know is there, you may have lost your Internet connection. If your computer is a laptop or you have a wireless connection on your desktop, check the wireless icon and be sure you haven’t inadvertently turned off the wireless adapter.

Losing your Internet connection is often due to a temporary problem with the signal from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) that might require REBOOTING the cable, DSL or Fios MODEM, and the ROUTER (if you have a separate router – you might not). In general here is the step-by-step to restore the Internet connection:

1) Locate the power cord that goes into the back of the modem (that’s the box that was provided by your ISP. It’s usually round and black. Gently pull it out. If there is a latch holding it in place, squeeze the latch in to release it and gently pull the cord out. Set the cord under one of the “feet” of the modem so it won’t slip behind your desk, and so you won’t get the different power cords mixed up. They may have different voltages, so be sure you keep the right cord with the right device.

2) If you have a separate router that connects the computer to the modem, locate and unplug the power cord from the router. Again, it’s usually round and black.

3) Wait about a minute or two.

4) Plug the modem’s power cord back into the modem. The LED lights will go through a reboot sequence. You may see one light blinking, then two, then three, then four, and finally, for a moment, five. Very quickly after they are all flashing in unison, some will go out and others will start blinking. If it’s a DSL modem, you will see one or two lights blinking slowly at first, then rapidly, but in very regular beats. Then at least one of them will start blinking irregularly. That’s when you can proceed to the next step.

5) Plug the router’s power cord back into the router, if you have a router. Wait about a minute until the lights stabilize.

6) Restart your computer. This isn’t always necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt, and might be necessary in some cases.

Note: If you are having to do the steps above frequently, either your modem or router, or both, are probably failing. In that case you should contact your Internet Service Provider for help. If you find it too difficult to deal with your ISP, we can do that on your behalf.

Well, hopefully the steps above have brought you fast relief. If not, give us a call. The number is at the top left of this page.


Nov 162011
 

icloudOn Monday I decided it was time to migrate my online backup of my iPhone’s calendar and contacts from the soon-to-be-history MobileMe to Apple’s new iCloud. (Of course I backed everything up before i made the move, as I always tell my clients before they make any major change on their computers). At first everything seemed to go smoothly enough. I was able to get Outlook on my Windows 7 PC syncing with the data on iCloud. My Mac’s Calendar and Address Book programs were also syncing instantly. But the iPhone just wouldn’t sync. At all. I followed the instructions carefully. I wiped the phone and did a full restore, in case the software was damaged. Nada.

It was time to call Apple Care. After several phone calls and several techs, and nearly two hours on the phone with them, I was finally advised to make an appointment with my local Apple Store’s Genius Bar for in-person help. The tech on the phone decided it must be a hardware problem. Like most people, I have dropped my phone a few times, but it never seemed to have suffered any real damage. Now I wasn’t so sure.

Beau at the Upper West Side Apple Store is a very sharp guy. He ran all kinds of tests, and even tried setting my account up on a spare iPhone they use for troubleshooting. Same problem. That meant it was an issue in Apple’s servers, not my phone. Apparently during the migration from the MobileMe servers to the iCloud servers, something went haywire. The logs showed my account had been moved, but on my laptop I kept being asked to move again. After an hour and a half, Beau suggested I create a new iCloud account. Great idea! I actually already had another one that I use for purchasing music and apps in the App Store, so I made that my iCloud account. It’s a good thing too. When I got home and checked my old iCloud account, every contact was listed six times. Each time I had been asked to migrate from MobileMe, it kept copying the same data and adding it to what had already been copied.

Beau said he had never seen my problem before, so he wrote up a report for the Apple software engineers in California. Changing to a fresh iCloud account worked beautifully. I am happy to report that now my calendar and contacts sync instantly with iCloud and Outlook from my iPhone. The only thing that now requires a manual, wired sync to update is my Notes file. If you have a similar situation, here’s what I would recommend:

  1. Manually sync the iPhone with Outlook one last time.
  2. Right-click (or Control-click) the iPhone icon on the left index panel in iTunes to back up all your iPhone data. Also backup up your Outlook files, in case there is a problem later. In Windows XP they would be in C:\Documents and Settings\[User name]\Local\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. In Vista and Windows 7 they would be in in C:\Users\[User name]\App Data\Local\Microsoft\Outlook.
  3. If you have a Google mail account, make sure it is set only to sync mail, not contacts.
  4. If you already have an iCloud account with data in its calendar and contacts, log into iCloud on the web and delete all of those contacts and calendar events. That’s to avoid duplicate entries after you merge Outlook data with iCloud.
  5. Download and install the free iCloud control panel from Apple.
  6. Follow the instructions to log into iCloud and start syncing. This will upload all of your contacts and calendar events from Outlook to iCloud.
  7. On the iPhone in Settings/iCloud, log in and enable iCloud syncing. If this causes duplicates, there it’s easy to undo, in which case I would take a somewhat different path. (If that happens, email me and I’ll post a fix).
Best of luck!
Nov 062011
 

Apple Software UpdateOften when I work on a new client’s computer I notice that they have not run even critical updates for their operating system (Windows or Mac) or their applications (programs). They get alerts from time to time that a new update is available, but they just reflexively hit the Cancel button. I always advise them to start running the updates when prompted and install any critical updates as soon as possible. Most of those updates were designed to close security holes in the system that could be used by a hacker or malicious software (“malware”) to compromise the privacy of their data, including financial and confidential files and contacts list. Malware is also used to plant invisible software on a user’s computer so that it becomes a digital “zombie” that can be used with hundreds or thousands of other machines in concert to launch an attack on any web site the hacker chooses. These “Distributed Denial of Service” (DDoS) attacks have been used to shut down many financial, governmental and commercial web sites. At the very least, having unwanted and malicious software on your computer can slow its performance down considerably. Antivirus software helps a lot to prevent or remove malware, but the updates to Windows, Mac, and various applications give you another layer of protection.

Some of the applications most frequently asking permission to install updates are Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Flash, and Oracle’s Java. These programs work closely with your web browser to display content and even run applets, or small sub-routines (mini programs) that allow you to interact with and experience the full range of functions of many web sites. Because they are so intimately involved with your web surfing, they are often targeted by hackers for potential security weaknesses that could be used to compromise a user’s system.

People are often afraid to run Windows, Mac, and other updates because they once ran one and it caused a problem. While that does happen rarely, the risk of not running them is much greater.  With Windows, you can always use System Restore to roll back to before the update was installed. For Macs purchased within the last five years, Time Machine can roll back to a previous state (unless you have it disabled, of course).

You don’t have to run all the optional updates, but I do. I’d rather have the latest improvements to my operating system and my applications. That’s not because I want to be the first on my block to have the latest gizmo, but because I know that software companies distribute updates to improve customers’ experience of using their products. Protecting you from malicious software attacks is good business. Furthermore, just because you haven’t had a problem yet doesn’t mean prevention is unnecessary. This is one case where “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway” applies.

P.S. – One caveat: if a program update has a check box asking them to install some other program, like the Ask.com toolbar, or some other unnecessary add-on, uncheck the box before you click Next or Continue. Those things just slow down web browsing as they send marketing data about your searches and chosen sites back to their database server.

IMPORTANT NOTE TO MAC USERS: If you currently have any version of Mac OS 10.7 (Lion) up to version 10.7.2, and you want to update to 10.7.3, it is strongly recommended NOT to use the automatic Apple Software Update feature (under the black Apple menu). Some users have experienced serious problems with their Macs after doing that. The safer way is to download the “OS X Lion Update 10.7.3 (Client Combo)” file here and install it directly from your computer’s hard drive.

 

Oct 052011
 

 

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs died today. Like hundreds of millions of people around the world, I owe him a great debt. Apple, the company that Jobs created, was forced to leave, and later rescued from near bankruptcy, has produced an amazing array of products that have changed our daily lives. Under his leadership Apple has become the most successful company on earth. Hopefully they will go on creating brilliant and innovative products for a long time to come. Undoubtedly, that’s what Jobs wanted.

In the summer of 1999 I had the great pleasure of meeting Steve Jobs. I was supervising a photo shoot for a story Newsweek was doing about his latest baby, the first iBook laptop. I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard about how demanding and temperamental Jobs could be. In the two weeks leading up to that day, I had encountered Apple’s fiercely protective PR department. I was told we could photograph Jobs in New York, but we had to choose from a short list of portrait photographers he liked. We chose the very capable and creative Moshe Brakha, a savvy Israeli-born photographer who had a knack not only for portraiture, but also for handling temperamental celebrities.

Jobs arrived right on time. He was accompanied by his very smart and lovely Communications Director, Katie Cotton, and her assistant. We had set out a nice spread of healthy snacks, since we knew Jobs was a health-conscious vegetarian, but they had just come from a late lunch, so he took only a bottle of spring water. I must say, he was charming and in very good humor. (Except when one of the photographer’s assistants started lighting up a cigarette. Jobs angrily insisted the smoker go outside. He said both his parents had died from lung cancer, so he had no tolerance for smoking, understandably).

While we were waiting for the photographer and his assistants to finish setting up the lighting, Jobs proudly showed me the new laptop. It was shaped like a clam shell and had a plastic white cover with a “blueberry” aqua or “tangerine” orange trim.  I mentioned that I had a small side business fixing people’s computers and that I was a big fan of Macs. I asked him where the reset button was on the new laptop, as I couldn’t find it. In working on the early iMacs, with the old Mac OS 8 and 9 operating systems, I had to press that button many times.  He looked and looked and had to admit that he couldn’t find it either. He said hopefully the new iBook was so well designed it wouldn’t need a reset button. (I did find the button much later).

With his signature great enthusiasm and excitement, Jobs showed me how the keyboard could be lifted off by the user, so they could easily install the optional Apple Airport card for wireless Internet access. It’s easy to forget, but in 1999, Wi-Fi capability was just beginning to be a standard option on laptops.

Jobs pointed out how very clean the internal design was – no awkward cables, no clutter. I said, trying to sound as smart as possible, “Oh, it’s kind of like a restaurant where you can see right into the kitchen, so they have to keep it impeccably clean”. To my delight, Jobs said that was a great analogy – that it was exactly like that.

Like many charismatic figures, Jobs could quickly make you feel that you were very special.  A friend of mine I told about meeting Jobs said I should get ready for a phone call asking me to come to Cupertino and join the Apple team. I have to admit, for a week or so afterwards I was hoping that phone call would come. Evidently Steve didn’t think Apple was in great need of a photo editor who could repair Macs. Fortunately, I didn’t quit my day job.

Farewell, Steve Jobs. Rest in peace and Godspeed. The world is a better, more elegant, and much more fun place thanks to you.

Oct 042011
 

desktop-laptopsI am often asked for help from clients who are trying to decide whether their next computer should be a laptop or a desktop. It’s usually someone who has always had a desktop computer and is thinking of switching to a laptop. Laptops are great. They vary in capabilities from very basic to pretty much as advanced as any desktop. Of course, there are some compromises for the smaller, lighter form factor. Battery life has improved a lot over the past few years, but that’s only relevant when you are using it away from your desk. If you are thinking of switching to a laptop from a desktop, here are some of the pros and cons:

Laptop Pros

Lightweight, compact footprint, lower power usage, portability, easy to take to a store for service. Easy to fit in any room, or take from room to room.

Laptop Cons

  • Smaller screen (unless you go for a heavier, big 17″ screened laptop, or use an external monitor)
  • Smaller keyboard – depending on the model. Some have full-size keyboards.
  • Not as upgradeable. For example, when the much faster USB 3.0 technology is more readily available in many devices, if you bought a laptop with only USB 2.0, you cannot upgrade to 3.0. On a desktop you can just add a USB 3.0 card with a slot in the back. But in all honesty, you’re probably fine with USB 2.0.
  • Not as much storage space. These days, this is not as much of an issue. There are laptops with huge hard drives.
  • Ergonomics: it’s harder to find a platform to type on at just the right height for a laptop. Working with it on your lap is usually NOT ergonomic. But there are some adjustable tables, like a tray on a stand, that can put it at the right height. Then there is also the angle of view relative to your eyes, head and neck. Again, easier to get it right with a desktop.
  • And finally, you pay somewhat more for the miniaturization, compared to the more spacious case that houses a desktop PC or Mac.

While you are at it, look at the new Macs. They are gorgeous, and you can run both Mac and Windows 7 on them easily, using the program Parallels 7. I am writing this from within Outlook 2007 for Windows, inside the Windows 7 environment, on a Mac Pro desktop computer.

Your biggest choices are between a big screen that’s easy on the eyes but heavier, or a smaller screen that’s in a lighter laptop. The best thing is to go to a store that sells Dell (like Best Buy) and hold different models in your hands, see what the screen looks like to your eyes, and type on the keyboard. Also check out the Macs at any Apple Store.