Apple Recycling Program and PowerON

A few months ago I decided that it was about time to upgrade my second-hand, iMac desktop (G5 2.0 GHz single-core PowerPC, 1GB Ram, 200GB hard drive, 17” display.) The computer had spent about a year suffering through problems booting and subsequent bouts of kernel panic. I probably could have reinstalled OS X but there would be little to gain from it. As configured this aging desktop was stuck with OS X Tiger...
Read More

Desktops & Wi-Fi

A couple of weeks a friend was telling me about a problem with her home computer. She said that she had internet access through her cable company and she has been connecting to the internet with a laptop for the last couple of years without incident. Recently she got a new desktop computer and started running into problems. She has not been able to get the desktop to connect to the internet. After reaching out to cable company, she was told a tech would have to come out at a rate of $150+ per hour to get to the root of the problem. She decided to hold off on that to see if there was...
Read More

The Joy of Patching

For the last couple of months I have read various reports saying Windows XP SP3 will be released in the near future and I have to say that it is none to soon. This week I helped a co-worker setup a new Dell D630 laptop that thankfully arrived with XP, not Vista. I found that Dell is still building these machines with aging image, which includes IE 6 and Windows Media Player 9.
Read More

"Pass the Buck" Tech Support

A friend of mine (we'll call him Ted) recently dropped his laptop off with me for help backing it up. I asked Ted why he suddenly needed to back it up and he told me that he is changing over to broadband and there were some problems with the install. This led to the full story...

About a week before speaking to me, Ted called a broadband company and they sent a tech over to his house. The tech wired things up as they needed to be, setup a router, installed a wireless card in Ted's laptop, and connected to the internet. Everything appeared to work correctly and Ted's laptop could see the Google homepage.

One might think that Ted was all set at this point, but it did not work out that way.

The broadband tech went on to install his company's software onto Ted's laptop. The software loaded pile of desktop icons (sigh) and attempted to change Ted's homepage to the broadband company's home page. Here is where the tech ran into a problem.

The tech launched a browser window and got a 404 error when the machine tried to connect to his company's website. The laptop couldn't display the website. The tech played with the laptop for a few minutes and then told Ted that this was a problem with the laptop itself and that Ted would have to contact the laptop maker's tech support department. The maker of the laptop was Dell.

The next day Ted called Dell. Between hold time and actual support time, Ted was on the phone for a few hours. Eventually, after about an hour of actual troubleshooting, the Dell rep told Ted that they would have to schedule a "conference call" to look into the problem further. Ted was told that he would need to backup all of his data and then call back in a few days for the conference call.

This is when Ted called me to help him back up his data.

Before proceeding with the backup, I took a look at Ted's machine to see if I could solve the problem. It turns out that Delll had pre-loaded a trial copy of Norton onto the laptop when Ted bought it. When the trial expired, the Norton didn't stop running. It just stopped updating itself.

So, the Norton was there to block the broadband company's web page from loading. My best guess is that it didn't like the broadband company's software attempt to re-direct Ted's homepage and may have seen it as a phishing attempt. Bottom line here is that it blocked the page and hello 404 error.

I used this Norton Removal Tool to uninstall the Norton. After a quick reboot, the machine worked fine and the broadband company's web page came right up.

The end result is that I find myself wondering how it is possible that the broadband company tech hasn't run into this problem before. Is this the first time that Norton has blocked their app's attempt to reach the broadband company's homepage? I doubt it.

I do think that it is possible that the broadband company tech had a case of tunnel-vision. It is likely that he got stuck on the 404 error that appeared when launching the browser and just did not realize that the laptop would still see other web pages.

Why did the tech send Ted to talk to Dell? Because the machine is still somewhat new and the tech likely assumed that Ted has a Support Agreement with Dell. This means that broadband company doesn't have to pay someone to fix the issue. Dell does. The real issue here is that the broadband company sent Ted to Dell support without any thought as to what is best for Ted and his machine.

If Ted had called Dell back for the "conference call", Dell probably would have had him use the Restore CD to reformat the drive. This process would have reinstalled Norton and Ted's machine would have been no better off. Ted's data would have been backed up so he wouldn't lose files, but he would lose the countless hours of reinstalling all of his programs and the time that spent on the phone with Dell.

Welcome to "Pass the Buck" Tech Support.

AntiVirus Software

Over the course of the last week, I found myself removing Norton antivirus software from a couple of machines that belong to friends of mine. Both machines had similar problems with being incredibly slow. By slow I mean that they took far too long to boot up and then ran sluggishly for a while as the various startup scans took place.

When you are waiting to use your computer, this kind of lag is just brutal.

For many years when someone asked me what antivirus software they should get, my answer was also to get Norton or McAfee. This is not the case anymore. I happily used McAfee from the early 90's until about 2002 and then switched to Norton for a couple of years. In fact, the last copy of Norton that I bought for my own machine was Norton AntiVirus 2005 and I uninstalled it long before the subscription ran out.

In my opinion, both McAfee and Norton have gone astray in recent years. They both switched over to an annual subscription model and appear to have become a bit too focused on selling themselves. They crammed our computers full with little billboards advertising their application, trying to make it more important. Does the user really need to know that the antivirus program has downloaded a new update? Probably not, but the little ad pops up after the update finishes and reminds the user that the XYZ antivirus program has done some work.

And what is with the perpetual scanning all of the files? If an antivirus program scans all the files that you add to your machine via email, downloads, CD's, disks, and everything else, then why the hell does the software also need to do full system scans so often?

I get that the virus signatures change perpetually, but does the antivirus program really need to keep scanning the all 200,000+ files on my machine? Shouldn't there be some capacity for an incremental scan of just the changed files? My Maxtor backup drive does an incremental scan and just backs up the changed files. That takes less than minute to run.

Also, antivirus programs now install a toolbar for Internet Explorer. Does anyone really need another toolbar for IE? Is this toolbar something that the user is actually going to interact with? No. It is just another billboard.

These days I just install the free copy of AVG antivirus software, the free copy of ZoneAlarm for a firewall (mostly to see what is trying to go out), and use FireFox for a web browser.

Most of the antivirus and antiphishing really comes down to being careful about what you open and interact with; the software can only do so much. To avoid many problems, simply do not click hyperlinks in emails and do not open emailed files that you were not expecting.

FiOS

The other day my mother mentioned that she doesn't really use her computer at home because it takes too long to connect to the internet. You see, she is still using AOL dial-up.

I suggested that she (well, I) take a look at upgrading her connection to DSL, as it is about half the price of a cable connection and probably fast enough for her needs. In fact, when compared to the dial-up, it will seem speedy.

I took a look at the Verizon site to see what they have available for her and found that she actually lives in a place where FiOS is available. It struck me as ironic that FiOS should be available to my mother, who just doesn't need it, and not to me.

Ever since I first heard about FiOS, I have been chafing at the bit for access to it. And unless I move, this will not be happening soon. When I double-checked the FiOS availability for my address, the Verizon site didn't even recognize the name of my town so that I could join their "waiting list."

Along with the FiOS, Verizon does offer DSL service in my mother's area, so at least we can migrate her over to a wireless always-on connection that I will have the joy of supporting for years to come.

The Joys of Upgrading

I have been teetering at the brink of upgrading my home computer for a while now. This has mostly been due to the amount of noise that my current system generates (loud fans), but that wasn't quite enough to make me do it.

It is the streaming video problems that have finally sent me to upgrade-land. Both Netflix and Joost hang on my current machine. As both of these apps seem pretty popular, I have come to the conclusion that my issues with them are more likely caused by the hardware that I am using.

The machine that I have been using for a couple of years is an AMD Athlon 2200+ (1.8 GHz), with 1 GB Ram, a GeForce FX 5200 w/128 MB Ram, and a 100 GB IDE Hard Drive.

I thought that this would be fast enough to run streaming video. Turns out that I was wrong.

With this in mind, I am doing an immediate "eBay upgrade" of used parts from various sellers. This "new to me" machine will be a AMD Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2 GHz), 1 GB Ram, a ATI Radeon 9600 w/128 MB Ram, and a 200 GB SATA Hard Drive. Total cost here is about $200. This machine should provide a noticeable difference in video quality, but it will still be loud and out-of-date.

Once the "eBay upgrade" is done, I need to begin exploring a proper upgrade to a quiet machine with passive cooling, at least dual core CPU, and a PCI Express video card.