Tuesday
Mar232010

Reinstalling Windows - Part 2: Nuking and Rebuilding 

Sometimes things get so bad you have no choice but to nuke everything and start over.  Getting malware on a Windows PC can be one of those situations.  Of course, you wouldn't want to get rid of EVERYTHING.  After all, I'm sure you'd want to save your treasured photos and documents before you demolish your house.  If you read part 1 of Reinstalling Windows, you've already collected your things and placed them in a safe place.  You should have also gathered the software and operating discs you'll need to start the nuke and rebuild.  If not, please read Part 1 first! If you're confident you got everything, lets start Part 2 of this installment: Nuking and Rebuilding!

 

Nuking and Rebuilding

  1. Install a fresh copy of Windows.
  2. Update Windows.
  3. Install device drivers.
  4. Install your software.
  5. Restore your files.

1.  Installing a fresh copy of Windows is actually easier than you think.  It's the other steps AFTER install Windows that can cause many sleepless nights.  You start by inserting the Windows installation disc into your CD/DVD drive, then reboot your PC.  Make sure to boot to the Windows installation disc.  How to do this depends on the computer you have.  Some require you to hit a key to get into a special boot menu (F12 or F9 to go to boot menu or boot selection - can be called something different depending on who made your computer).  Some don't even have a one-time boot menu.  Instead, you have to go into your BIOS/Firmware setup to set your CD/DVD drive as the first boot device.

If you're stuck here, you use Google to find the specific method to boot to a CD/DVD for your particular model.

Once the Windows CD/DVD is booted, it may ask you to press any key to continue booting to the CD/DVD, otherwise it will continue to boot into the current installation of Windows that's already on your hard drive.  Microsoft did this so if someone accidently left their Windows CD/DVD in their drive and it's set to boot first, it'll just boot to Windows normally after a few seconds instead of booting into the Windows setup on the CD/DVD.

From here, installing Windows is pretty straight forward.  You can just follow the prompts and plow right through.  You can also follow my videos on how to install the specific Windows version you have.  I made videos for Windows XP and 7.  If you have Vista, the installation is similar to Windows 7.

 

How to Reinstall Windows XP



How to Reinstall Windows 7

 

 2. Don't forget to update your fresh install of Windows!  This is very important, since your fresh install is already considered outdated, as it came right off a CD/DVD that never changed since it was last created and stamped from the factory.  All the bugs and security holes that were found after your particular version of Windows was released are all there on a fresh install, so you'll need to start updating right away before you do anything else.

Another nice thing about updating Windows early on is that Microsoft does a decent job of detecting and installing the most used hardware on your PC with approved drivers.  This might make the next step (installing device drivers) easier on you.

Updating Windows require that your network card be recognized and have drivers already installed.  If your fresh install of Windows did not detect your network card, you'll need to install the network card driver first before you visit the Windows Update site.  Remember  that you downloaded this from Reinstalling Windows - Part 1 (read step 3), right?  Good!

While you can install all the device drivers now, I tend to just install the network card driver first so I can get all the updates before I start installign the rest of the device drivers.  I like to have a nicely patched Windows before I start doing anything else, and installing the network card driver (if it's not already detected and installed by Windows) is a necessary step to get updates.  After all, if you can't access the internet, how do you get your updates?

Please make sure you are behind some kind of hardware firewall at all times!  If you have a router, that's good enough.  NEVER plug your computer directly into a cable or DSL modem unless it's for troubleshooting purposes!  When you are connected directly to a cable or DSL modem, you're basically connected directly to the wide-open internet without any protection.  With a router, you have at least one layer of protection.  This is especially important since your unpatched install of Windows is very vulnerable at this state.

The most universal way of getting to Microsoft Windows Update is visit their site at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.  You may need to install and run the Windows Update Active-X add-on to continue.  If you have Windows Vista or 7, it will redirect you or give you instructions on how to update Windows.  This is because the newer Windows updates within Windows itself.  If you have Windows XP (or older), this web site is exactly the place where you'll be getting your updates, since XP and older did not have a built-in way of updating (at least not until XP SP2).

Just update everything!  If it requires  reboot, do it, and run updates again.  This is because some updates build upon other updates, so you'll have to keep updating, rebooting, and updating again until you don't get any more updates.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

 

3. Now, you can install your device drivers.  The ones you've downloaded from the manufacturer's site may not be the newest ones that Microsoft automatically downloaded and installed as a part of the Windows Updates.  If that's the case, you can skip them.  If you don't know which is newer, it's better safe than sorry, so install them anyways.

The order to install them usually doesn't break the system, but just in case, I install them in this order:

  1. Network driver (you probably did this already before you updated Windows).
  2. Wireless network driver (mostly on laptops)
  3. Chipset driver
  4. Video driver
  5. Audio driver
  6. External device drivers (printers, scanners, etc.)

When installing the drivers, reboot the computer if prompted before you install the next device driver.  While I had success installing everything in one go, I had enough computers go wrong when I don't heed the instructions that I will generally tell people to just go with what the prompts say to do.

You're nearly home free! 

 

4. It's now time to install the programs you use everyday.  The way I do this is install programs as I need them.  This way, you don't install programs that you realize you didn't need after all.  Don't go by a shopping list you made earlier!

Some suggestions that most people will need are antivirus, Flash (don't forget to uncheck Google Toolbar unless you want it), Java, office suite, alternative browser, and media codecs.

For a free antivirus program, I suggest Microsoft's own Microsoft Security Essentials.  For paid, I'd have to agree with Leo Laporte and say Eset NOD 32.

As for office suites, there are free ones such as OpenOffice, and even Google Docs (which is online-based - no install needed!).  Otherwise if you want to pay for an office suite, or if you simply must have it, there's the giant Microsft Office in the room.

Some people still prefer Internet Explorer.  If you're one of those people, you can get the latest version of Internet Explorer (Internet Explorer 8 as of this writing) if you don't already have it.  It may have already been upgraded already since Microsoft usually pushes the latest version as a part of Windows Update. So far, only Windows 7 comes with Internet Explorer 8, so you don't need to update it (until IE9 comes out anyways).  Of course, there are the "alternative" browsers that are arguably better than IE.  Three that seem to be talked about most are Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera.  While Apple Safari is now available for Windows, I don't recommend it unless you just want to play around with it.

Media codecs allows you to watch media content on Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center that aren't natively supported out of the box.  While most experts advise against codec packs (a single download with a bunch of codecs), and instead download individual codecs as needed, I've come to the conclusion that it's too time consuming to do so, and to make sure none of them conflict with each other.  The best codec pack I've ran into is Shark007's Vista Codec Pack and Windows 7 Codec Pack.  Which one to use is obvious, isn't it?  However, if you're using Windows XP, download and install the Vista Codec Pack.  If you have a 64-bit version of Windows, don't forget to also download and install the x64 Component Add-on.  It allows for the 64-bit version of Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center to use the codecs.

 

5. Now that you have a clean prestine Windows installed on your computer, it's time to bring your stuff back in and restore your files.  It's pretty basic - just copy your stuff back where they used to reside!  If you used to just place things willy nilly, this is a good time to start spring cleaning and organizing your files.

If you use programs that require you to go through importing data to get your stuff back, don't forget to do that, too!  As mentioned, programs such as Outlook, Thunderbird, and Quicken don't make it easy, but if you do your homework beforehand (you did read Part 1 of this article, right?), you should be okay.

Also, don't forget to bring back your web page bookmarks, too!

 

Conclusion

Reinstalling Windows after a bad malware infection will give you that squeeky clean feeling you can only get from a shower normally.  It's a lot of work, and takes a good chunck of your time, but the results are well worth it.  And you wonder why techies charge so much to do this kind of stuff!

Thursday
Mar182010

Working on Personal Computer Issues at Work

Techies get called on for help with many things techinical, and for close friends and family, we'd help out, I'm sure.  However, where do we draw the line on who's friends and who's not?  We do need to be compensated for are efforts like any other trade, right?

I've never had a problem with people who border on this.  I have had clients that were friendly with me, and they make joke about compensating me with only inexpensive gifts or gestures (a gift basket, lunch, Cheetoes, or setting me up with a girl they know), but they were all in good fun.  They do pay their fair share at the end of the service, of course.  They're happy, and they still call or refer me to people that also need help.

No Respect, No Respect at All!
However, there are times when people try to low-ball you AFTER you performed the service.  I started to make it a habit of letting the person know ahead of time an estimate of the cost at the begining.  I hate doing this because it starts to sound like I'm putting money first and service and customer relations second.  Still, if I don't, the client will have a lot of room to negotiate, or worse, deny payment after the work was done.

However, this experience tops it all.  Months ago, a co-worker asked if I can fix his personal laptop.  We aren't close, and he works in a different department, so I don't even see him every day.  He only knew of me because I'm a help desk technician in our organization.  He brought the laptop in and I took a look at it. It just wouldn't power on at all.  It wasn't the battery or the power supply.  After informing him of this, I told him the best thing now is just pull the data off the hard drive and put it on a DVD or external hard drive.  This way, he can copy all of his personal files (photos, videos, music, documents, etc) onto a new laptop whenever he decides to purchase one.  Not only that, but once he copies the data over, he'd have a point-in-time backup.  He agreed, and I informed him that I'd charge him $40 for the work.  He agreed.

First, I made a snapshot image of his entire hard drive just in case.  Just in case of what?  Well, anything!  In case I accidently screw something up.  In case the drive dies before I could extract the files.  In case the client doesn't pay (I'd just restore the drive the way it was, and put it back in).  This is especially helpful when you are re-installing Windows for a client, and they don't pay.  You can just restore it back to the way it was, viruses, malware, and all.

Then, I copied all of his data from his My Documents, Favorites, and Desktop folders from all the different loccal profiles.  Thankfully, they all fit into a DVD, for which I burned for him.  It's completely user readable, meaning that he can just stick it in a working PC and just open up the files - no need for any complicated external programs or procedures.

After I was done, I gave him the DVD and his hard drive and the guy starts to walk away.  Whoa!  Wait a tick, sir!  Did you forget something?  I politely asked if he wanted to pay me tomorrow.  He laughed at me and said "you're funny!"  With a serious face, I said "excuse me?"  He actually said to me "I thought you were joking when you said it was $40!".

He did pay up, but wasn't happy about it.  I reminded him that it was personal side work.  I even reminded him that I told him all of this before I started the work!

The Bombshell
That was about a month ago, and I bumped into him in the lunch room this morning.  He seems to be avoiding me, but I still striked him up with friendly banter.  I even asked if he was able to get to all of his data, and if anything was missing.  He said no, and then told me how he could have had it done for free because his tech-savvy friend was in town.  Wow... how tactless!  Being professinal about it, I calmly said "it's always best to ask a tech-savvy friend first".  He retorts by saying he'd thought a co-worker would be better, but he didn't know he would be charged $40!  Yes, he actually mentioned the dollar amount, so you know he was still playing back this moment in time for the past month!

Still trying to remain calm,  told him that it's always best to ask someone close to you first.  If they can't do it, they will tell you.  I help my family and friends all the time.  If you have a techie friend, why didn't you ask him or her first?

He had the galls to say that one of his friends told him that their tech department helps with personal computer issues and don't charge.  Well, then, perhaps he should have his friend take his laptop with him to work then.

How sleazy are you that you're willing to save $40 by taking up other people's time?  You're just taking advantage of their generosity!  Techies are people, and they have feelings.  They also have bills to pay, just like you!

Some Allies
Thankfully, I had another co-work who was in the same room who over heard all of this.  After the guy stormed out, she told me that $40 was a steal to have a computer fixed, and didn't understand why he was expecting free work for personal computer issues.  After all, when we work "for free" for work-related issues, it's not really free.  We get paid via our bi-weekly pay checks!  Should that pay check cover his personal computer issues?  As for the "but we're co-workers" argument: Were we good buddies?  Has he ever accompanied me to lunch?  Smoked with me outside?  Grabbed a beer after work?  No, no, no, and no.

I have a techie friend (who may contribute content to this site) who can sympathize.  He works as a help desk technician as well, and is well known for working on personal computer issues outside of work.  Everyone just expects to compensate him with cash.

At my work place, my previous department manager expected everyone who asks for personal work to compensate in they way they choose - either by buying lunch for the entire team, or by good old fashsion cash.  This is because they would come directly to him, and he would just delegate the work to us.  However, the techies were discouraged for asking for anything in return, and thus the gratuity system.  People who don't compensate us goes into a "black book".  Okay, it's just a text file, but it has names of employees who we will not service their personal computers any more.

My manager since left the company, and we've been suffering in the system since.  We are now starting to ask for monetary compensation.  My mantra is "advice is free, work is not".   It's not like we are charging Geek Squad prices.  I mean, does $40 sound expensive for pulling a hard drive out of a dead laptop, making an image of the drive (I usually keep the image around until I need the space, so the client has recourse if something is missing), extracting the data, and burning it to a user-readable DVD format?  Before I knew he was holding a grudge, I even offered to migrate his data (including his Favorites) to his new laptop!

My techie friend says I should have charged him twice that.  Maybe he's right.  I should ask for another $40 before the guy goes to lunch.

Saturday
Mar132010

Reinstalling Windows - Part 1: Prepare for the Nuke

When you get a nasty malware infection, most techies would advise you to nuke everything and reinstall Windows. It's good advice, since a simple cleaning is anything but simple.  Even if you think you got every virus, ad-ware, or spyware cleaned out, you may have missed something which will come back to bite you later.

But how do you do do that? Leo Laporte of The Tech Guy fame makes it sound simple, as he give his callers on the radio a simple list of to-dos.  However, it's not a trivial thing!  It's usually something I'd recommend people to let a neighborhood techie work on.  Feed him or her, or offer her some cash.  After all, times are tough for us geeks, too!

Well, here are some basic steps to help you do it yourself and hopefully avoid bothering your local techie (and maybe save some scratch if he or she charges by the hour).  After all, even if you can't go through the whole thing, at least you'll have your stuff backed up!

Keep in mind that a lot of off-the-shelf computers (HP, Sony, Toshiba, Dell, etc) come with restoration discs.  They can restore your PC back to the way it was when you first bought it.  Some may cheap out and make you create those discs when you first turn the PC on.  The worst offenders don't offer any and just have you mash a key before it boots to go into a "restore mode".  Eitehr way, it may not be the best option, since most computers come with "bloatware", which is software that's unneccessary and wil bog you down.  However, if you're desperate to just get your computer working in the shortest amount of time, this is a good way to go. 

There's still a few off-the-shelf computers that come with a full-fledge Windows install disc that allows the customer to reinstall Windows from scratch.  This guide will show you how to do this.

Also, if you bought Windows Vista or 7 and looking to upgrade by doing a clean install, this is for you, too.

 

Prepare For The Nuke

  1. Back up your data.
  2. Take note of the make and model of your PC and/or gather a list of hardware.
  3. Download drivers for your PC or the individual hardware on your list.
  4. Find your Windows and other software discs.

1.  Back up you data (photos, music, documents, etc.) to an external hard drive, DVD, CD, or USB flash drive.  Most likely than not, your data is in your My Documents folder.  If you have other users on the computer, you'll have to log in as that user to get to their My Documents folder.  Make sure you export your web browser's Favorites or Bookmarks.  If you save anything on the Desktop, it's also a good idea to back them up, or move them to your My Documents folder so it gets backed up along with the rest of your files in that folder.  In Windows Vista and 7, it's simply called Documents.  Also, your photos, music, and videos are stored in their own folders, too, so look out for that!

Also, if you use any programs that does not have an easy way to just copy files for backing up (Outlook, Thunderbird, Quicken, etc), you'll want to use the program's built-in backup or export tools to get the data out.  You'll have to refer to the help files or tech support if you do not know how.

If you use software that requires activation, this is the time to deactivate them.  iTunes and Adobe is notorious for this!  If you do not deactivate them before you blow away your hard drive, you may not be able to activate the software until you call their tech support to authorize you again.  Don't you just hate all this copy protection hoopla?

 

2.  Take note of your computer's make and model or gather a list of hardware your PC uses, both internal and external. Notable items include video, audio, network, and wifi hardware. You might be able to skip this if your PC was manufactured in mass and have a model number, such as HP, Sony, or Toshiba. Build-to-order PCs such as Dell may still need his step, however.  If that's the case, all you need to do is to take note of the make and model and go on to the next step.

If you have a custom made PC that was pieced together part by part, you'll have to find out what hardware is in your PC.  You can use Device Manager to tell you this if your computer is still up and running.  If not, you'll need to do some detective work inside of you computer.  However, if that's the case, you're better off finding a willing techie.

Right-click on My Computer, then go to Properties.  From there, click on the Hardware tab, then the Device Manager button.  Look through the devices and take note of the make and model of each part.  The most notable is the Display Adapters, Network Adapters, and Sound.

 

3.  Download drivers for each hardware from the manufacter's site. If you own a big-box computer that have a model number, you can visit your manufacturer's site to download all your drivers in one place.  Even Dell owners may not be out of luck, since they may still be able to download drivers specific for their machine by using their unique Service Tag number.  This isn't always foolproof though, as I've been presented with drivers that don't pertain to my Dell before, even after giving them my Service Tag.

Make sure you download drivers that's relevent to your version of Windows.  Most manufacturers will provide drivers for versions of Windows that didn't come with the computer originally because they are trying to support people who upgraded to a different version of Windows.  So if you have Windows XP, make sure you download drivers for Windows XP.  Some drivers are unified, meaning they will work with several version of Windows (2000, XP, Vista, and 7 are the most popular).  Also make note if they are for 32-bit or 64-bit versions.

For those who own a custom computer that was pieced together part by part, that list of hardware you made earlier would help you in this step.  You'll need to go to each hardware manufacturer's site to download the driver.

Keep these drivers on a USB flash drive or external hard drive.  Don't keep it on the hard drive you're going to nuke!

 

4.  Find your Windows and other software discs and put them in a pile close by.  Windows XP usually comes on a CD, while Windows Vista and 7 comes on a DVD.  Also find all of the software that you wish to reinstall, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe, etc.  Don't worry about the free software that you can get online.  You can get those again after your PC is back up and running.

You may have discs for external hardware such as your printer, scanner, or web cam.  However, it's usually best to get the latest drivers from the manufacturer's web site.  In a pinch, you can use the drivers that's on the discs.  However, keep in mind that if you're upgrading to Windows Vista or 7, and your hardware was made before those version of Windows were out, it makes sense that the disc will not have the driver you'll need.

 

On to the nuke!

Continued on Reinstalling Windows - Part 2: Nuking and Rebuilding.

Thursday
Feb252010

How SLP and SLIC Works

Introduction

I was searching around the internet and did not find a nice comprehensive explaination of how SLP and SLIC worked.  I'm talking about how Microsoft allows large OEM PC manufacturers (such as HP, Dell, Toshiba, etc) to activate every copy of Windows Vista and 7 machines without needing to do it online.  After all, if you are building thousands of machines a day, would you really want to connect every one of them online to activate them?

Unlike Windows XP, Vista and 7 requires activation.  While retail and OEM copies of Windows XP required activation, corporate editions and SLP OEM copies did not.

So Microsoft provided a way for major players in the PC industry to permanently activate Vista and 7 without going online at all.  How?

Well, since I couldn't find anything online regarding SLP and SLIC except for how to exploit them (read: using it illegally to pirate Vista and 7), I decided to write a simplified "how it works" text file.  It was originally written to explain to my co-workers and boss how we can use this to save our limited and precious MAK volume license keys for the truly needy (read: PCs that never came with Windows 7 and older PCs).

This is perfectly legal as long as the PC you purchased came already pre-installed (and therefore already using a SLP license) copy of Windows Vista and 7.

How SLP and SLIC Works


Glossary:
SLP = System Locked Preinstallation
SLIC = System License Internal Code
OEM = Original Equipment Manufacturer
1. The OEM pays for SLP OEM license to Microsoft.

2. Microsoft provides the OEM a SLIC key in place of a CD key.

3. Microsoft provides the OEM a SLP certificate file.

4. The SLP certificate must be matched up to the SLP code embedded in the BIOS ROM (also provided by Microsoft).
As an OEM PC manufacturer, they can pre-activate Windows in mass without needing to activate manually over the internet.  They just need those three things to ensure that it is a valid license.

To recap, they would need:

1. SLP code embedded in the BIOS ROM.
2. SLIC key (in place of a CD key).
3. SLP certificate file (must match SLP code in BIOS ROM).

When all three conditions are satisfied, the Windows OS will be in a permanent activated state and be considered geniune.

Closing Thoughts

In the end, the consumer pays for a Microsoft Windows license with every OEM PC purchase.  When it's time to reinstall Windows because of a malware infection, you should not be required to pay Microsoft again for another copy of Windows (say, going to a store and buying a retail copy, or going to NewEgg to buy an OEM copy).  You should be able to reuse the same license you already paid for when you bought the machine, especially on the same machine you are re-installing the OS to.

The OEM license states that a copy of Windows can only be used on one PC, and it cannot be transferred to another.  This is why OEM licenses are cheaper than the retail versions (which allows the customer to transfer the license to another PC).  This SLP and SLIC method of activation, should force everyone to comply in theory.  However, as stated above, there are many sites I found when searching for this topic that chose to use this method in nefarious ways.

How does this even work when one of the ingredients to make this all work requires code in the BIOS ROM?  The other two (SLIC key and certificate) are easy to get - anyone can get to them by searching through the files of a properly activated OEM PC.  This is how the "community" found them.  The BIOS ROM is a bit trickier.  One way is to modify your firmware to include the SLP code.  This is dangerous, and not all firmware can be modified.  If the Frankenstien didn't work, you would brick (render useless) your PC or laptop.  A safer way is putting the SLP code on the hard drive, and make it load before the OS even loads.  However, since it is on the hard drive, there is a risk that it can get corrupt or Microsoft detecting it in the future.

I wouldn't recommend either way as a professional, but it's definately an interesting concept to kick around.  However, the reason behind this article was for people who buys big-box PCs that already came with Windows Vista or 7 who find themselves needing to re-install Windows due to malware or file corruption.

As you noticed, I didn't go indepth on how to do this step-by-step.  They can be found on the internet elsewhere.  If the guides dissapear one day, I will go ahead and write one up, but for now, I don't see a reason to duplicate the work others have done.
Saturday
Feb202010

10 Things Your IT Guy Wants You To Know

I'm not quite sure who wrote this, but I found it on this site.  Working as a tech guy, I feel exactly the same way this guy feels.  It's so well written that it borders on the offensive - just ONLY.  In fact, you may be able to post it on your Sharepoint site and not get fired over it.

Now, I didn't say it won't get you in trouble though.  That's another story, since it depends on your relationship to the company you work for.

Without further ado, I bring you:

10 Things Your IT Guy Wants You To Know

1. If you ask me technical questions please dont argue with me because you dont like my answer. If you think you know more about the topic, why ask? And if Im arguing with you its because I am positive that I am correct, otherwise Id just say I dont know or give you some tips on where to look it up, I dont have the time to just argue for the sake of it.

2. Starting a conversation by insulting yourself (i.e. Im such an idiot) will not make me laugh, or feel sorry for you; all it will do is remind me that yes, you are an idiot and that I am going to hate having to talk to you. Trust me; you dont want to start a call that way.

3. I am ok with you making mistakes, fixing them is my job. I am not ok with you lying to me about a mistake you made. It makes it much harder to resolve and thus makes my job more difficult. Be honest and we can get the problem resolved and continue on with our business.

4. There is no magic Fix it button. Everything takes some amount of work to fix, and not everything is worth fixing or even possible to fix. If I say that you just need to re-do a document that you accidentally deleted 2 months ago, please dont get mad at me. Im not ignoring your problem, and its not that I dont like you, I just cant always fix everything.

5. Not everything you ask me to do is urgent. In fact, by marking things as urgent every time, you almost ensure that I treat none of it as a priority.

6. You are not the only one who needs help, and you usually dont have the most urgent issue. Give me some time to get to your problem, it will get fixed.

7. Emailing me several times about the same issue in the same day is not only unnecessary, its highly annoying. Emails will stay until I delete them, I wont delete them until Im done with them. I will typically respond as soon as I have a useful update. If it is an urgent issue, let me know (see number 5).

8. Yes, I prefer email over telephone calls. It has nothing to do with being friendly, its about efficiency. It is much faster and easier for me to list out a set of questions that I need you to answer than it is for me to call and ask you them one by one. You can find the answers at your leisure and while Im waiting I can work on other problems.

9. Yes, I seem blunt and rude. Its not that I mean to, I just dont have the time to sugar coat things for you. I assume we are both adults and can handle the reality of a problem. If you did something wrong, I will tell you. I dont care that it was a mistake, because it really makes no difference to me. Dont take it personal, I just dont want it to happen again.

10. And finally, yes, I can read your email, I can see what web pages you look at while you are at work, yes, I can access every file on your work computer, and I can tell if you are chatting with people on an instant messenger or chat room (and can also read what you are typing). But no, I dont do it. Its unethical, Im busy, and in all reality you arent all that interesting. So unless I am instructed to specifically monitor or investigate your actions, I dont. There really are much more interesting things on the internet than you.
Sunday
Feb072010

Paranoid User

There are some who are paranoid of the people who want to help them.

I had a customer who wanted to install a game for her kid, but it won't install.  It turned out her computer was full of malware, and I offered to reinstall Windows for her - the only sure fire way of making sure nothing malicious remains.  However, she said she want the original software to remain.  I figured she had illegally installed software on there, so I felt no pity.  Besides, how can you clean such a badly infected machine?  She also says the laptop is new, so how can there be viruses?

That is a very absurd question, and at this point, I knew what I was dealing with.  I explained to her that it doesn't matter if it's new or old, malware can get in when you let them in.  Also, when something that gets this bad, there is no sure fire way to cleaning it up without starting from scratch.

She wanted to stay to watch the whole process - none of my customers ever do that, since reinstalling Windows, drivers, and software is a tedious process that can be done while I do something else.  However, because of her paranoia, I was forced to work in front of her, making small talk while we wait for Windows to install.

In the middle of installing Vista, she said she was going to get lunch and left her son (the one who wanted the game) to watch me.  About 30 minutes later (and after Vista was just finished installing), she came back and said she changed her mind, gave me $20, and left with her laptop.

Her laptop is now left in an unlicensed state (will expire in 30 days), no drivers (using generic VGA driver, and networking is not going to work), and no software (all the software that came with PC).

I got $20 out of it, but not sure what was wrong with this woman.

She is Chinese, and I don't speak it very well.  My mom was talking to her while was working on the PC, and after the whole ordeal, my mom told me the story she told her about the last tech who worked on her PC before didn't put in the "original" software.

Now I think I understand - someone probably installed a non-genuine version of XP on her machine before, so now she is paranoid about all techs.

That's too bad, because she is just going to screw herself royally in the long run.  She was going to buy a whole new laptop instead last I heard, and if that's the case, what a waste and a pity.

Yes, there are bad techs out there, and they are ruining it for the rest of us.  I was going to install Vista and use the manufacturer's SLIC license, which is perfectly legal since the manufacture already paid for the license.  It would be just as legal as the original install, and I was able to create the Application and Driver DVD through her own laptop to install the factory software and drivers.  She would end up with a laptop exactly like how she would have bought it when new.

So because of her paranoia, her laptop is now worst off than it was.

Would I still work on her laptop if she comes back?  Sure, why not.  But I will still charge her the full price on top of the $20 she gave me, because I will start over again - I can't trust what she and her kid did with it between now and then.
Wednesday
Sep022009

Smart Devices, too Smart for Our Own Good?

Are devices getting too smart for our own good?

At work, we have printers of various make and models that refuse to print if the application is set to print a document other than the standard Letter size.  Instead, you get a message that says to change the paper.  Sounds simple enough, and it makes sense not to waste any paper if you print, say, a Legal sized page on a Letter size.  However, not everyone pays attention to the display panel or blinking LEDs.

Blinking LEDs are the worst.  They usually have symbols to tell users what the problem may be.  Also, the meaning behind a steady light and a blinking ones usually have different meanings.

I say, why don't we go back to how the old dot matrix printers behave when told to print: just print!  If the user printed something that requested a larger sheet of paper, then print anyways on the smaller sheet.  They will realize they needed larger paper or resize the job to fit just by seeing the results!

It's not just printers telling us what's good for us.  As more and more features get packed into a device, the harder it is to use them.  A lot of things get tucked away in layers of menus.  This is true of Microsoft Office (or any software for that matter), operating systems (Mac OSX isn't THAT easy to use when you are looking for something in particular), and these new fangle smartphones!

While most of the settings are logically placed, you still need several steps or clicks to get to them.  Of course, there are that just fails at something that should be simple (turning off sound captured from microphone from going to the speakers in Windows Vista).

I don't see a way to end this.  While Apple did a good job on the interface for the iPhone and iPod Touch, you still have to go through many steps just to get into simple things like turning on and off the WiFi radio, hiding inside of General, which is hidden inside of the main Settings button.

A good interface does help, but something has to give when there are billions of settings and configuration to be done, as well as billions of functions (email, phone, printer, scanner, fax, camera, toilet paper).

Then again, do consumers really want dumb devicee?  To carry around seperate single-purpose devices?  Like back in the 90s?  Remeber the cell phone on your belt, your PDA in your left pocket, watch on your wrist, and toilet paper nowhere to be found?
Friday
Jul242009

Palm + Amazon = Win!

It wasn't a surprise to me when Apple "broke" (or "fixed") the ability for the Palm Pre to sync to their iTunes software on their newest update.  After all, Palm did not ask Apple for permission to add that feature, nor did they license it.  But what's interesting is, why haven't Palm created their own syncing software themselves?  Or reposition the Pre as a smartphone that doesn't need a computer?

Considering that Palm choose Amazon for DRM-free MP3 music as their music store on the phone, I'm surprised they would want to sycn to iTunes, where people would buy DRM-free songs there.   Which bed is Palm sleeping  in?  Apparently, there is no exclusivity deal between Palm and Amazon, or Amazon would have raised bloody hell with Palm for even syncing with iTunes.

Palm should have made their own sync app if they really wanted that route, or just leave out iTunes syncing all together and tout the pre as a device that truely doesn't need a computer.  After all, it already syncs your contacts and calendar in Palm Profile (even though I'd rather sync to Google - they're pretty comprehensive now).  And if you want to buy music, you can do so on Sprint's hi-speed EVDO or WiFi. The Pre multitasks, so you can download and do other things.

It'd be nice if Palm created a sync app for those who WANT one (to download for free) that buys and sync music and podcasts from Amazon, and maybe even keep a local backup of their contacts, calendar, notes, downloaded/purchased apps, etc.  They could partner up with Amazon to also provide the App Catalog and (gasp) Kindle ebooks!  Not only that, but provide a bit of cloud storage via Amazon's S3 service.  In short, Palm + Amazon = Win!

That would REALLY make the Pre desirable and competitive. Damn, I just realized if Palm really did all those things, I probably would have had an easier time with the idea of ditching the iPhone and AT&T totally!  Sprint's network is more robust than AT&T (at least in the Chicagoland area), and is much faster when it comes to data.  They also have a cheaper plan to boot!

Are you reading this, Palm?

 

Update (4/8/2011):  Well, since Palm hasn't done it, Android might get a chance, whether they like it or not.  Amazon has an App Store on Android!

Monday
Jun082009

Sprint, Palm Pre, and their Plans



Have you heard?  Sprint requires you to have an "Everything" plan if you wish to purchase the new Palm Pre!  They tried this on the Instinct (not that it matters, since no one cared about that phone), but now things are getting heated.

While I understand that Sprint cannot afford to continue with the SERO plan (I have a 500 minute plan for $30 - after taxes and insurance, I pay just under $50 a month), charging the same as AT&T does for their iPhone plans is insane. There are people just like me who are comparing the iPhone with the Palm Pre. The iPhone is a familar experience and a very enjoyable one. I own a iPod Touch, and my brother has an iPhone. I have purchased apps, so another reason to stay in the Apple camp.

What is compelling me to stay with Sprint if I cannot stay in the SERO plan? If I am going to pay a minimum of $70 a month (about $90/mo after taxes and insurance), why not pay AT&T that and get a real deal instead of a "wannabe"?

Now, before the iPhone haters flame me, keep in mind I am a huge PalmOS fan. I am really rooting for the WebOS. I still want to have a Palm Pre "to be different" (all my friends have iPhones...so I'm already all iPhoned out, but I do love my iPod Touch). However, I was going to purchase the Palm Pre at cost as long as I can keep the SERO plan. Why shouldn't I be able to? I'm paying full price for the phone without Sprint subsidizing it.

For those who are saying it is to adjust for inflation, that's is incorrect. Inflation is only about 4% a year. This is just an arbitrary restriction to make more money. I have no qualms about Sprint making more money, but at least make the pricing fair.

I'd pay $50-60/mo for a 450 minute plan with "everything". It's lower than AT&T's asking price. But if it's the same price, then why go with an Pre when you can get the real deal (iPhone)?  Or let us customize our plan like we used to.  What if we don't want unlimited text?  Maybe 200 is enough for me.  What about NASCAR and Sprint TV?  I don't need them!  I'm currently paying about $50/mo with taxes and insurance.  I don't mind paying $10-20 more for what I have now (which have 50 more minutes than their lowest "Everything" plan) - just no Sprint TV or NASCAR, and also includes insurance.  It's still lower than AT&T, but significantly more than my current SERO plan - then perhaps I may go for the Palm Pre.

I've been sticking around with my HTC Touch Pro for the Pre. It's unreliable and slow. The Centro was a great phone, but the browser is it's biggest flaw.

I only see a few options:

1) Stay with SERO, re-purchase the Centro.

2) Stay with SERO, stay with HTC Touch Pro.

3) Go with AT&T, pay same price, get iPhone 3.0 cheaper than Palm Pre (new customer = discounted phone - I still have 3 months before the next $75 discount for the Pre, so no go on that).

Cost-wise, it's more realistic for 1 or 2. 3 is more of a reblious choice. That's right, Sprint can go "boo hoo" all they want. I'm but a single customer. Or am I?

I have a feeling that SERO customers are thinking the exact same thing. So Sprint isn't really forcing SERO customers to a more expensive plan. They are forcing them to another carrier. Another carrier that costs the same with an arguably a better phone (a phone that isn't version 1.0).

I may go back to a Palm WebOS device when the bugs are fixed, but by then, it will be available to all other carriers, including AT&T.

My question is, is there hope for the future? Will people who will keep trucking on SERO be rewarded with a WebOS device when it isn't the hottest thing anymore?
Tuesday
Apr072009

Fresh Coat of Paint

I know Windows 7 beta build 7068 is basically the same as the public beta build 7000, but small cosmetic changes seem to make everything feel different and new again.  I'm sure many of you already tried out the public beta, since it was easy to get.  For those of you who knows how to torrent, you may also have the newest leaked build of Windows 7.

I think we're all susceptible to this, which is probably why I am so interested in playing with different OSes, no matter how unpopular they are.  Remember GeoWorks and BeOS?  I was also very interested in the early builds of Chicago, which was the codename for Windows 95.  Yeah, I know... I'm a geek.  I have no idea why I'm drawn by weird stuff like this where others just don't care!

I also think this is where a customizable GUIs on OSes gain traction.  Linux's GUI always look different depending on who took the screenshot, which draws a lot of attention from me.  Then there are programs such as WindowBlinds.

On the surface, there are simple changes that people do to make Windows feel different - such as changing the font, wallpaper, and colors of the Windows dialog boxes.  Somehow, I feel some of those changes on top of the classic Windows make it look dated.  This is especailly true when I saw a user who had the dark green Windows with a typewriter-like font for menus.  I thought it was Windows 95!  Turns out it was Windows XP.  He probably had Windows 95 or 98 at home that's customized the same way.

Going from Windows 95 to 98, then to Me and 2000 felt different, even  though the GUI is basically the same.  The different icons, shadows, and other minor changes gives a subtle tug on our emotions.  This is probably why Windows XP and Vista was a huge deal to the mainstream users.  A small refresh with Windows 7 is just going to add to the ohhhs and ahhhs.

Windows is Windows no matter how you cuztomize it, but it always feel different.  I guess asthetics really do play into how we feel about OSes.  Coming back to the Windows 7 beta, there really isn't much difference between 7000 and 7068 as far as the GUI goes , but when I first installed 7068, it looked and felt different somehow, until I realize it was the background picture that Microsoft used.

Isn't that funny?
Saturday
Jan172009

Tech Ignorance

As you may know, I'm a techie - a person who works on computers and anything related.  We have our own jargon, and that confuses people who aren't in the loop.  Still, there are terms that aren't exactly "jargon".

After working at a large retail store as a salesperson, as a help desk technician in several organizations, as well as a freelance techie, I frequently find people giving us wrong information, but since they sound confident enough (and fairly insistence that they are correct), it makes the job harder.

The people who misuse terms don't do it intentionally of course, but it can cause some humorous and frustrating situations.

Computers and Hard Drives

You wouldn't think the word "computer" would be misused, but it certainly does!  People confuse "computer" and "hard drive" a lot!

Working as a salesperson, I frequently have people come up to me and ask for a new hard drive.  So I ask "how big, and what kind?"  They'd tell me the size in GB ("oh about 200 GB").  Of course, when I show them the isle where the hard drives are, they look at me funny.

After explaining it to several users, some are reluctant to believe me.  They think the term "computer" describes the monitor.  Other think "computer" means the entire package (monitor, computer, keyboard, mouse, printer, and speakers).  It's an all encompassing word like "entertainment center".

Of course, they meant they need a new computer!  They don't need the monitor (and sometimes they also say they don't need a printer since they think printers come with the package).  Of course, they still insist that is NOT the computer, but a hard drive.

Some of the humorous experiences include a person who called me and said they don't see anything but a black screen.  I asked them "is your computer turned on?"  She said ensured me that it is.  Thankfully, she was in the same building, so I walked over to her desk and pushed the button on the PC.  I was expecting it not to come on, confirming her story.  But to my surprise, it booted right up!  She asked me "what did you do!?" in shock and awe!  I couldn't say anything as I was just laughing hysterically.  I felt bad for the person because everyone in her department heard what happened.  It was a story my boss found amusing, since it sounds like I just ripped it off from a story posted on TechTales!

Even after explaining this to mistaken users, a lot of them still insist I am wrong, and continue to call things the way they believe it to be.  Good luck to those who stick with that mentality when they ask for help!

Viruses

I've had many people who come to me and say "I need help... I got a virus".  Now, how do you know you have a virus?  It'd be nice if they told us what kind of symptoms they are experiencing, instead of jumping into a conclusion that won't help us in the slightest.

Some just need more memory, since the machine is slow, or they have lots of programs that run on start up.  Others have spyware that create a lot of pop ups, to which the user believes that it's a handy work of a virus.

Still, jumping into the conclusion that you have virus is like going to a doctor and say "Can you help me?  I have SARS".

So what are some of the stories you have as a techie?  Or better yet, if you are one of these users, feel free to chime in!
Monday
Jan122009

Hello world!

Ah yes... Hello world!  Guy Techie is my new (and first) blog!  Yes, I left the default title for my first post.  It's not laziness (it's easy to change, really), but it does quickly sums up my first entry to my first blogging experience.

Now, don't worry - I've written on the "net" before.  I've been writing product reviews at ePinions since 2001.  I kicked the tires a bit (check out some of my first reviews), and eventually I took it a bit more seriously.

What is ePinions? Well, it's a site where users of products are encouraged to write about their experiences with the products they've used.  Most consumer products are available to write about.  Of course, I decided to focus my reviews on products of my own interests - gadgets, computers, and cars.

Since ePinions is a place to write user reviews, there wasn't any place for me to write about tech news and trends.  Thus, I decided to start a blog!

I heard about them, but never really thought about starting on before.  It was when I found myself more vocal (in the Internet sense) on forums that I decided to start a blog instead.

Of course, these are my views and thoughts, but I do welcome everyone to join in and discuss.  Perhaps I made a mistake or overlooked some facts.  Please join in and let me know!

Oh, and no... this is not part of my New Years resolution.  Actually, I never thought about it until now.  I guess starting a blog WOULD make a good New Year resolution...

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