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Keep your (digital) motor running…

Wow, it’s 2021 already? Geez, I know I haven’t written here in a while, but it was longer than I thought. I did start a post at the beginning of the year, but then decided not to publish it because it’s an idea that I can use for a presentation instead, so I’m going to hold off on that one. 

But it’s been a crazy year or so, hasn’t it? I realized that I really need to get back to posting on here when I can (which is rarely, but still…). So much has changed in the last year or so both personally and professionally, and I really should jot down my thoughts now and then. 

So, in looking at some drafts I started but didn’t complete, the words below were from almost exactly a year ago to the day that I started it, and yet it seems more timely now.

It has occurred to me that with many people working from home–sometimes on their own laptop instead of one received at their employer’s, that ensuring that everything is running well starts to become a priority.

I’ve discovered in my years of working from home that keeping my laptop in tip-top shape is as important as ensuring you do your oil changes and tune-ups on your car on a regular basis. When I got my first car, I didn’t know about regular oil changes. It was so long ago, that my car was the kind that didn’t have a reminder light that went on when it was getting close to the time to have it changed that I messed up the car pretty badly and killed my first car. My current car has that reminder light for me now, and it’s still in very good condition with almost 154,000 miles on it.

I found that with my laptop, I could get the same “gunking up of the system” from cluttered data files, internet file junk, old registry files messing things up, and a slew of other issues.

Based on that, I have a few suggestions to keep your laptop or desktop humming along for better efficiency. I am not sponsored or paid by any of these tools–I wish I was! I’d be a rich woman! But these are the ones that I found to be the best that I run regularly to help keep my laptop humming along:

Windows Update (free): If you have a Windows machine, it really is worth keeping up with all the updates for Office, Windows, and the security updates that Windows provides. I don’t have a Mac, but if they have something like that for your Mac, you should it too, since it’s free. If you also use Office or Adobe Creative Cloud, make sure you do your regular updates on those as well. 

MalwareBytes: This is the best product for ensuring that nasty malware isn’t creeping in. You can get it for free, but it won’t check your machine unless you run the program. It’s worth getting the paid version as it will automatically check for you at least once a day.

DriverEasy: Again, worth getting the paid version. This one doesn’t automatically check for you, but if you run it at least once a week on your own, you are guaranteed to have the latest drivers for your machine, and that can help immensely as well.

System Mechanic : Another one that is worth every last penny that you pay for it. It checks your registries and cleans them up, optimizes your memory, cleans out internet and other browser junk, has anti-virus measures…it does so much!

Another periodic thing to do–it’s tedious, but worth it if you have a Windows machine (can’t speak to Macs) is to open your Device Manager, and go through every single driver to update. While Driver Easy usually catches about 90+% of them, sometimes it misses a few, and the only way to know is if you go through each one, right-click to get a menu, and update driver, using the web to find any updates. It’s caught a couple that were missed. Also don’t forget to check and make sure your BIOS is up to date–you can check with your manufacturer support site for that driver. 

Keeping your laptop in good condition will help its longevity and keep it running smoothly and quickly. If you use tools like these to keep your laptop running, then when there is a problem, you can usually know that it’s a fluke rather than something that could’ve been avoided. I still get those flukes now and then, but first thing I do is make sure everything is up to date and all drivers are up to date. That’s usually the main culprit. 

What kind of tricks or tools do you find helpful in keeping your laptop running well? Share in the comments below. 

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Is it a tech toy or an investment?

google-glass-rachel-king-2948When the one-day opportunity to order Google Glass came up recently, I jumped on it. I had tried on Marta Rauch‘s pair a couple months ago, and had seen her presentations about it, and fell in love with them. This was wearable technology I could use, as far as I was concerned! I was able to order the Glass I wanted, and was very excited about it…until I told my husband. I didn’t tell him how much it cost, but I did tell him that I bought them. He totally flipped out, but not in a good way. He felt that whatever I did spend on them, it was too much money for a “toy”. I’m earning some good money now, and I felt it was an investment–I’d like to explore how they are used, and how technical communication and m-learning would be part of the wearable technology experience for myself. But no.  I cancelled the order, as he had a good point about the cost being too high. Even so, I’m really sad about missing out on this opportunity.

Financial considerations aside, it got me thinking about technological “toys”, and what’s truly a “toy” versus adopting early technology, albeit at a high price initially. I’ve heard Neil Perlin talk about how he had some of the earliest portable computers around–nothing like the laptops of today–that cost a small fortune even by today’s standards. Sure, it’s outdated and obsolete technology now, but so are a lot of other technologies that were around just a few years ago. Children today don’t know what a Walkman is, or that telephones used to actually have a cord and you actually used a dial mechanism to connect your phone to another phone. Heck, pay phones are pretty much obsolete now.  What did people think when the first iPhone or the first flip phone came out? Those are obsolete now, too.  So, sure, perhaps Google Glass is a very expensive “toy”, but how does anyone know if perhaps I was really an early adopter and I’d be ahead of the curve for knowing how to make it work and use it for practical reasons if I had actually gotten one?

I remember when I got my first iPad–it was an iPad 2. I had saved up, and asked anyone who was going to be getting me a gift for my birthday, holidays, etc. to give me gift cards to Best Buy so I could purchase it.  I was so thrilled when I got it, and my husband thought that was a waste of money. He insisted that I already had a laptop, and didn’t need an iPad, that again–it was just a toy. I insisted that yes, there were “toy” elements to it, but I considered it “computing lite”, where I could do many tasks that I normally do, but the ones that didn’t necessarily need my laptop to be powered up. Then, about a year later, I was fortunate enough to win an iPad3 so I could upgrade. My husband had insisted that I sell my old one, but for all his moaning that I should get rid of it, guess who’s been using it for almost two years now? Yep, him. It’s still a little bit of a “toy” to him, but he’s a news junkie, and he loves to read different news sources and some light research on it when he’s not using his desktop (nope, he doesn’t even own a laptop). So, it’s not going anywhere. My iPad has gone with me all over the country–on vacation, to conferences, and has entertained me when I don’t need to be in front of my laptop. I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of mine multi-fold. And yet…I feel like this is the same situation.

Of the emerging techologies that are coming out, whether they are wearables or something else, what do you think is a tech “toy” and what do you think could be the next big thing, or a step towards the next big thing? 3-D printers and Google Glass have my attention–I would love to own both of them. What has your attention? Add your thoughts to the comments below.

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Death of the Desktop and Gaming as We Know It

deathofthedesktopIn the past week, I’ve made two observations about how technology is going through an advancement surge. What I mean by that is that there are big changes happening, and it seems like it’s happening incredibly quickly–at least in my eyes.

The first occurrence was last week. My dad called  us because he knew my husband and I had something he didn’t have–more computer knowledge than him. I found it a little ironic, my dad was my first computer teacher in the early 80s when Apple II first came out. My dad, being an educator, was progressive enough to know that these were going to be the wave of the future, and in some respects, he was an e-teacher–an early computer teacher. But here was my first computer teacher asking for help. He admitted that he had let his skills lag, and he was now “a dinosaur”, and didn’t have a clue what he was doing anymore. His desktop had died, but he wanted to retain a lot of information that was still on his old hard drive. My husband declared the desktop was indeed dead,  and suggested that if my dad bought a new desktop, we could probably install the old hard drive as a secondary hard drive in the new computer, and that way he could still access the information.

I took my dad to the local Best Buy and Staples to do some comparison shopping. What struck us both is that there were next to no choices at either store for desktop models. Almost everything was either a laptop, a tablet, or one of those sleek all-in-one units. Considering that my dad wanted and needed one of those BIG desktops–not one of the compact ones, the choices were even more limited.

The irony was that once we brought the desktop back to my house to see if we could install the old hard drive into it, we discovered that it didn’t have a bay inside the casing to accomodate it, but it also essentially only had a motherboard, a power source, a fan, a Blu-ray disk drive, and the hard drive inside. That was it. It was a LOT of wasted space for something that was fairly powerful. The machine also came with the “blessed” Windows 8. I’ve had my hesitations about upgrading to it myself, but my dad had no choice, and the poor chap has been using only Windows XP and Windows 2000 up until now, so he was REALLY behind. Our solution to the hard drive issue was that my husband bought a contraption that you can enclose the old hard drive in a special case, and it turns it into a USB-connected external hard drive. So, that part of the problem is solved.

The Windows 8 solution is not. Dad is struggling to figure it all out, and is perplexed at how Windows 8 works in general. He’s not up to speed with the idea of using cloud-based apps for anything, or even using cloud-based storage.  Since my husband and I are still using Windows 7 (and we’re safe for now), we can’t advise him on how to use it, even though we can give him some advice on apps and cloud-based apps in general. What’s frustrating for my dad is that my mother is even less computer literate than him (she’s been condeming computers for thirty years now), so she’s REALLY thrown by how to use Windows 8. I sent Dad some online resources including an e-book on how to use Windows 8, and he bought another book, so hopefully he’ll be the expert soon enough.

The second indicator to me that things were changing technologically was the closing of our local GameStop store. Now, to be fair, I live in a very small town–one that’s small enough that I questioned why we even had a GameStop in our town to begin with. We liked that store better than the one at the local mall because we got more personalized service, and we liked the staff there. I was only surprised to see that it had disappeared almost overnight the other day when I passed by the shopping center where it was located. I’m sure the store didn’t get enough traffic to warrant it to stay open, so that wasn’t a surprise. I was just surprised that it was done without a lot of fanfare. Related to that, since the store wasn’t there, my son was itching to get a new game for his Nintendo 3DS, and we ended up looking online for choices. Granted, my son is fussy about what games he likes and doesn’t like, so choices seemed slim. But even from my own tastes, it seemed like there weren’t a lot of choices. Here was a portable gaming system that didn’t have many games, even though it’s the most current Nintendo portable gaming system on the market. That didn’t make sense to me. As I later found out, Nintendo is working more and more on putting out games that can be accessed through the 3DS’s wi-fi connection–in other words, accessed through cloud services, and saved on the device’s flash drive or on the SD card that you can install. THAT’S where all the new games were!

As I thought about my dad’s predicament in catching up to the 21st century and my son’s need for more games, it occured to me that more and more access to media of any kind is becoming dependent on mobile services and cloud services.  Really–think about it. As I was finding out from my dad, he could only install or update his Microsoft Office if he subscribed to Office 365–the cloud service. Microsoft has adopted cloud services to deliver its services, as has Adobe. Subscription services are pretty much the main way–and soon the only way–one can get access to this software and applications. It’s rare that anyone gets DVDs to install software anymore–it’s downloaded off the Web now. The same thing was happening with my son. He had better access to games for his device through Nintendo’s cloud services than if he paid for a micro-disk.

These are only two of several observations I’ve made lately that we’re going through a technology surge of sorts that are making what we’ve known and loved for years are quickly becoming obsolete.  Tablets, smartphones, and laptops are pretty much the standard now, pushing mobile to the forefront even more. Touch technology is becoming more prolific, even for the all-in-one desktop computers that are out there, putting it on the same level as its mobile counterparts.  Even the gaming world is getting the clue, with more games downloaded to smartphones and other mobile devices rather than buying the software.  Who buys DVDs or Blu-ray disks anymore when we can download movies and other videos from Netflix or iTunes?

Cloud-based and flash-memory based technology seem to be taking over! Soon enough, DVDs, CDs, and SD cards are going to obsolete like the 5 1/2 inch floppy disks, VHS tapes, tape reels or punch cards! Seriously–think about it–in a year or two (okay, maybe a little more than that), all those things might be GONE.

It’s great that technology is advancing in leaps and bounds like it is. No one is more excited about these advances than I am, in most cases. But I wish I could keep up sometimes! It makes me feel bad for my dear dad, who is getting left in the dust by these advances.  I’m sure he’s not the only one.

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A true test of mobile versus…not.

MP900435893A recent event has made me discover that I will be tested in understanding how my true use of mobile technology will really be in the near future.

How did I come to that discovery?

I recently sent in a proposal to do a presentation, and I was notified over the weekend that the proposal has been accepted! I’m really thrilled for a number of reasons. First, it’s the first time I’ve actually sent in a proposal to do a presentation, so to have it accepted on the first try is pretty good. Second, this presentation will be the first real professional presentation I’ve ever done to a large group. I’ve done presentations, but not on this scale before. Third, it’s going to be for the STC’s Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, hosted by one of my home chapters, the STCPhiladelphia Metropolitan Chapter, in early March of this year. Less than a month and a half away from this writing! So, it’s going to be nice representing my own chapter, and being able to sleep in my own bed instead of traveling too far to do this! 😉 So, for a number of reasons, you can see that I’m actually very excited and honored to be included, especially considering that I’m still a “young” professional in the technical communications field.

But in receiving this acceptance, I realized that now I have to actually put everything together for this presentation. I have the foundation for it, which is what I forwarded to the conference’s review committee, so that’s not the issue. Now the issue is pulling it all together to be a stellar presentation. I know I can do a presentation, but I need to create some sort of slideshow or PowerPoint content that can be displayed while I actually present.

Now, I know what you are thinking. You are probably thinking, “But TechCommGeekMom, you are a technical communicator. Surely you know how to do, at least, a simple PowerPoint presentation?” Indeed, I do know how to do that, and do it well. I also know some other tools to use as well. That’s not the issue or the problem either. I have a bigger problem to figure out. The problem is whether to create the slideshow in PowerPoint on my laptop, and bring my laptop with me, OR…create the presentation in Keynote on my iPad, and bring my iPad with me. There’s always the third option of creating the presentation for both, and bringing both, but I’d like to avoid doing that, if possible.

On the one hand, using my laptop is a guarantee. We know that a laptop can generally hook up to video/VGA/ HDMI cables that most conference centers use, so that’s not a problem. But I have a BIG laptop–a big 17-inch screen one. It’s a little on the heavy side. I bought it during grad school for the big stuff I had to do, and sometimes still do, with web design, writing large papers, and for the big power-lifting tasks that one needs a laptop.

On the other hand, I am the huge proponent of using mobile devices, and having a means of creating a slideshow on my iPad presents a new option that I haven’t had in the past. I could buy a cable (or two) that could hook up into a conference center‘s video system– I don’t mind the expense of getting the necessary cables to do that–but I don’t want to be left standing with an iPad and a bunch of cables that may not be compatible with the video screen system, thus no presentation other than me and my big mouth. (I could pull that off–just a speech alone, since I remember giving presentations even in my school days before computers were even present in schools, but that’s giving away my age now…) But let’s face it–pictures and words on a screen are much more entertaining than verbal words alone in this day and age. Since I don’t know what this conference center has, I have to second guess what’s there. This is my preference, but this is not guaranteed to work.

So, here’s a crowdsourcing question for anyone who’s reading this, especially if you have done professional presentations on the road. What should I do? Should I plan on bringing the laptop and create a standard PowerPoint formatted presentation? Or, should I plan on practicing what I preach about using mobile devices, namely using my iPad, and create the presentation on that? If I should use the iPad, what extra cables should I purchase? Or, should I just plan on creating it on both, and bringing both?

I especially need the help of those who do presentations on the road often. Who has used an iPad? Who has used only a laptop? What are the advantages and disadvantages in either instance? What has worked best for you?

Let me know what your suggestions are in the comments below. I really would love to get some input on this! Thanks!

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A Cautionary Tale from TechCommGeekMom

This has been a horribly rough week for me, but I’m hoping that I can help someone else avoid the nightmare from hell that I went through this week in telling my cautionary tale. It has to do with internet security.

I have to admit that I’m embarassed by the whole situation, because you would think that someone like me who has at least some sense of computer/internet savvy would not fall victim to this, but I did. It could’ve been worse in some ways, but I still fell for it, so I share my tale.

It started a few days ago, as you may have read from my last post. My laptop, which I cherish almost as much as if it were my child, had gone down for the count. It wasn’t a mere system crash, like a corrupted hard disk drive or something like that. That would have been devastating as well, but I know these things happen. Instead, it was that I was scammed.

First, I have to set the scenario for you. I’ve been experiencing some slow down on my computer recently. I understand that happens now and then because of various programs and files we add. The more we add to our hard drives, the more time it takes for the system to find and execute the files–I understand that. But there would be some sort of strange hesitation as I would try to get things done. I saw that I had some viruses that my anti-virus software was catching, and I know even my husband has said that our internet connectivity from our provider has been spotty now and then, so I didn’t think much of it. Additionally, I have started working for a training consulting company part-time at night, and I had to install their client’s conferencing software on my system. Now, just to clarify– I know the culprit wasn’t the client software, because it comes from one of the biggest OS providers in the world, so I know that it would not be infected. (I’m not allowed to disclose the client, but let’s just say that EVERYONE has heard of them–and it’s not Adobe or Apple.) Some other instructors seem to be having issues using the product, even though I didn’t seem to have problems, but I know connectivity was an issue.

So, one day when I was trying to figure out what could be causing that slowdown, I got a phone call on my home phone (I am not working full-time in the daytime again, so I was home.) The guy on the other side had a strong foreign accent and claimed to be calling from Microsoft. He claimed that my system had sent a message to Microsoft that there was a truly evasive virus that was striking my computer and not allowing updates to happen, or something to that effect. I questioned how they got my number, and he claimed that it was included when I registered my OS with them. In retrospect, I should’ve remembered that I didn’t do that, as my OS came with my machine. I questioned him again, because I didn’t contact them first…that should have been my tip-off right there. He stressed again that when I share information on the system about Microsoft, that’s how they know. Since I actually was having some minor issues with my machine and the teaching consultancy knew about it, I didn’t know if perhaps they had called Microsoft, and asked them to contact me, and this chap was just following through. This is where the caller got lucky.

He proceeded to have me go to my laptop, and have me type a few things there, and open up some files to “prove” his point. Like most who aren’t tech support people, what he showed seemed legit, and then he asked me to download some software from a website. I looked at the website before downloading, and just at a quick glance, it was shareware that allowed a remote person to share the computer. I’ve talked with tech support people in the past, and that’s not an uncommon thing to do, and stupidly I downloaded it, and shared my computer. This was the second stupid mistake I made.

As I was distracted by the fellow opening up Notepad and telling me about what they could do, in the background, unbeknownst to me, he was removing files and planting a vicious malware virus. As he got to the point in the conversation that he said, “And this can all be fixed for a fee of US $177.50…” I stopped him right there. I said if Microsoft is truly trying to provide me with excellent customer service and calling ME, then THEY should be doing it for free, not charging me an arm and a leg for it. I started to argue with the guy that I was not going to pay this fee, and hung up. By then, the damage was done. I noticed that the number of shortcuts on my desktop seems smaller, and the wallpaper in the background was gone. “DAMN,” I thought (although I think I used a different word of profanity, for sure), “He’s still in there!”

I quickly turned off my machine, the fastest way I could think of to disconnect this guy from it. Of course, I started to panic. I just fell for a scammer, and I had the warning signs right in front of me, and didn’t heed my own instincts. How stupid I was! At least I hadn’t let him have my credit card information at payment time, so that was safe. I rebooted my machine, and saw the same problem– my wallpaper was gone, and so were the shortcuts. I proceeded to look at what other damage was going on. In the meantime, my anti-virus programs were going crazy picking up the viruses from before as well as some additional ones. I was able to check my bank accounts, which were still safe, but I quickly changed the passwords as a precaution. I also checked to see if the software that I had used to let this guy in was still present, and it was not. I must have just run it from a temp file, and I could clean those out, so I was good. But as time went on, I could not do much. All the executable files would not work. I tried a system restore from an earlier time of the day before the attack, but that didn’t do much. In addition, this scum took some files that were important to me. Some were expendable, but they included more than a decade’s worth of photos of my son. Since the digital age kicked in, this child hasn’t had a film photo taken of him since he was about a year old, so the record of my son’s whole childhood was lost. I was the most distraught I think I’ve ever been in my life.

I mean, in the end, my logical head knows it’s just a computer, and no lives were hurt, no one died, and all was generally safe, but I had truly felt violated, almost as if I had been raped, but knowing that I had not. I had been emotionally and mentally compromised, and I was upset at myself for falling for it, my husband was upset that I had falled for it, and I felt helpless and stupid. I really should’ve known better. I just never thought it would’ve happened to me.

So, it’s now 5 days later after the attack, and we are still working on recovery. By a miracle, I had done a partial backup of files the day before the attack, so we were able to restore my son’s photos and other files. Sweet relief! The malware the scum released into my system was a particularly nasty one–it took about 2-3 days for my husband to figure it out and finally get it out of the system successfully, as it would attack all the executables so that you couldn’t open anything–not a browser to get the special tool kit needed to eliminate it, not the anti-virus programs to get the rest of the scourge out, or even anything to help one repair the whole system. But LMSGeekDad did it, and he did a great job.

So naturally, my next move, now that my system became operational again, has been to work on getting a better backup system in place. I have an external hard drive, but it was cluttered, and I had to truly go through to free up some space so that my system could do a proper backup. I moved those precious photos to a cloud depository so I knew they’d be safe, and moved several other files to the Cloud as well. While my iPad and iPhone were working during this time, and I could have done some of my work from there, I was too distraught and distracted to really participate in anything online like I usually do. The other issue was that I had to teach my first class online, and I had to make sure, even if my own laptop was still out of commission, that I had a means of teaching the class. So I was installing software on my son’s computer as a “Plan B” if my laptop could not be restored in time. I was on the phone with one of the client offices in Korea at 1:00 AM my time to make sure that the conferencing software worked (it did), so at least I had that in place. Nevermind that I was incredibly nervous and anxious about teaching this class as it was, but the residual emotions of the attack were still fresh, as we were still in the process of restoring my machine, and that didn’t help.

Fortunately, LMSGeekDad had my laptop running again just a couple hours before I had the class, and since I had saved the presentation for the class on the Cloud, I could go back and finish customizing it as planned, and I was able to reinstall the conferencing software and make the connection to Korea successfully again. I was able to complete the course, and start to catch up with things, but still not enough. After the class night, I’ve been working to try to clean out my system some more, and figure out the best way to back up my files. Two days after that, we are still working on getting a good backup of the system onto my external hard drive, as we are running into problems. We’re figuring it out bit by bit, but my machine is functioning enough again that I can try to get back on track. While I am writing this on my iPad (I started it on the laptop) right now, we are trying to figure out backup issues with my machine still. It’ll get done, and then all will be right in the world again, but for now, the worst of the crisis is over.

What is the lesson of this tale? Well, there are several.

First, make sure you do your backups regularly and make sure that you run your anti-virus software regularly as well.

Second, use the cloud whenever possible! There are a lot of great resources. I have iCloud for my iDevices, but there’s also Dropbox, Google Apps and SkyDrive among others.

Third, and most importantly, if someone contacts you and claims that they are calling from Microsoft, Apple, or anyone else, and YOU didn’t contact them first about a problem, HANG UP. It’s a scam.

Please learn from my mistakes!

In keeping up with this theme of using mobile and cloud computing when possible, and understanding personal computer security, I’m actually going to have a guest blogger shortly to provide some great information for my readers. He’s actually the person who encouraged me to write this blog in the first place, and greatly supported me through this crisis with some great advice and guidance. He has some fantastic tips that I’m going to have him share with you, and hopefully you’ll benefit from his experience as well.

Happy and safe computing!