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FYI Computer Repair Tips ~ Bytes and Bites

Computer Repair Blog
And no, that's not my computer. Not me either, but hey. Sometimes I learn things that some folks might be interested in, sometimes I just run across a particularly interesting case, or make new connections or observations that eventually wind up in the bottom of my ever growing pile of other soon-to-be moot bits of data stored on my biological hard drive. Might call it a mental compost heap. Tech is sorta like a garden, if you think about it. The veggies you live on, the flowers for fun, the weeds that come from nowhere and the bugs you hate. The compost of the ancient stuff. (From, like, last year.)

Sad But True

Keeping an eye on news feeds is part of what I do on a daily basis.  I see stuff I may need to know so I subscribe to the feed.  Firefox is set to scroll the feeds across the bottom, and as I go about my day, when my interest is piqued, I peek.

This particular habit is why I stayed with Firefox through the recent glitchy releases.  Chrome won't provide this essential function.  I don't have time to actively go looking for things to read, no way!  I mean, how else would I know that Amazon will rent you goats to mow your lawn??  Gotta be a feed ticker.

The headline that caught my attention was "AT&T bills 83-year-old $24,298 for using AOL dial-up".  And yes, some people still use dial-up.  This one was a must read.  We have all had issues with our internet providers, every last one of us.  But $24k???

You can probably guess that they gave him the runaround.  First call, bill over 8 grand, they say "It's a problem, we'll send somebody out there". Cue game show buzzer. NNNK!  No visit, meter keeps ticking.  Second call, over $15k they say, panic ridden senior citizen (of course they are charging late fees), and YOU STILL HAVE TO PAY US :) NNNK!!  This time, though, they did actually show up, and they fixed the problem.  It was his modem.  This should have been shut off as soon as it messed up, but no, we'll let it run like this for a while.  Good for the bottom line . . .

So, how much ya think he pays monthly for that modem and how many years ago ya think that modem was paid off?  If he wasn't renting it, they wouldn't have fixed it!  So you still owe us, only now we want not fifteen but t w e n t y four thousand dollars!!!!  ICFBI!! Or can I?  Thank goodness this particular senior had been paying attention to his news. He knows people are getting ripped off all the time, so he calls a reporter!  Good thing this particular reporter was with the LA Times, because as we know the small newspapers have all dried up. Whaddaya know, with the harsh light of public scrutiny, the problem disappears. Read it here.   Sad but every word is true.

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Internet Providers

I am often asked who to use for internet.  The answer is I wish I could do without.  Truth be told they're all a bunch of idiots.  NO, you cry, Say it isn't so!! Not only do I say it but I will proceed to prove it.

The whole thing started while we were working on a new website.  The information couldn't be uploaded to our offsite server because Comcast had decided to replace a router somewhere along the line and lo and behold, the routing tables were jacked.  It's not a new thing, it does happen from time to time.

Years ago, same story different day, AT&T/Nortel did the same thing, changed a router with a bad table.  We were not their customers, the traffic was just being served by them, but we were having issues reaching a different set of locations. The thing is, when this happens, there are ways to track WHERE the failure is occurring.  In this case, using public tools, we tracked the location and owner of the router in question which was Nortel in Canada.  We called customer service. Customer service then put us in touch with the technicians in the router's physical location, and the problem was immediately solved.  They were a bit incredulous, I must say, to find that the problem had been brought to them, but fix it they did.

On to present day.  Comcast, whom we do business with, in the same circumstances is incapable of putting ANYONE in touch with their technicians.  Imagine that.  Can't do it.  I'm not buying it but that's what happened.  The problem was there, though the reps on the phone were perfectly incapable of grasping it, and even less able to help.  They tried to sell us a new modem instead.  So here we are, on a deadline, and can't get to the server.

Dig in the workaround bag and set up a VPN, but sheesh, this is not what customer service is all about is it?  Three or four extra steps and very slow isn't what I signed up for.  Let's look for another provider.

Enter CenturyLink, well CenturyLink bundled with DirecTV.  As I firmly expected, we were promised the sun.  Oh, sure, we can install it, we've got a giant pole we can mount the receiver on, no matter what we have to do it's going to be done and we'll provide service.  Except the sales rep has never installed the stuff in his life and he doesn't apparently know what a giant cottonwood looks like.  Multiply that by 6 and begin to understand the scope of the issue.  There's little hope, but we'll try.  Needless to say the installation didn't take place, no way those trees will allow reception.  Oh well, we'll just switch the internet, no worries.  Riiiiight.

Installation day comes and goes and no word.  No connection, nothing.  Until one day there's a bill. Not just a bill, but an overdue bill for $140.00 for service I've NEVER HAD!!  Oh CenturyLink, I thought Comcast was bad, what's this new devilry?  Have you ever tried to look up an account that doesn't exist?  Not easily done, let me tell you.  When CenturyLink finally did find the account, I was told it had been scheduled for "self install".  Self install, that's rich, I haven't used a landline in 10 years.  What exactly was I supposed to connect to?  I should have insisted on that answer, there might just be some folks that would like free phone and internet.

So in terms of internet, I don't know what to say.  I know of Hughes cutting off good accounts because the person compared their pricing to another company, "Oh, we thought you wanted to cancel."  CenturyLink is a joke, Comcast does the job most of the time, BAJA and Skybeam seem to be pretty stable unless there's bad weather.  Whaddya gonna do?  I guess the answer is what you have to, just don't ask me about it.

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Keeping Tabs

Remember the days of PDAs and beepers and clamshell cell phones?  Juggling all those devices seemed like an excercise in futility, I preferred to wait for a more streamlined approach, a multitasking device.

Our smartphones are a game changer, and with them comes the opportunity to load apps for everything under the sun to "help" us with, well, whatever.  One device can handle it all as we belly-up to the information smorgasbord.  Then comes the digital indigestion. Information overload, unless of course we can keep track of it all.  Then there are the daily tasks, the repetitive chores.  It ends up eating far too much time if not well managed.  Enter this neat little concept, AUTOMATION!!

For anyone who hasn't heard of the place that provides this amazingly sweet and free service for the internet masses, do yourself the favor and check it out.  Just as soon as you finish reading. It's called IFTT. Using their service and a smartphone yields a hands-off way to make apps work together and tackle the clutter of all the multitasking.  Put the data where it belongs in a useful format without thinking about it so it's ready when needed.

For example, I had an old smartphone laying around that functionally is quite sound.  I needed a spare one upstairs so I charged it up and pressed it back into service.  Then my mind gets cranking and I'm thinking how much less hassle this is than having to remember to carry my regular phone around all the time.  With the second one, I can still access everything I need on a regular basis.  Except texts.  Hmmmm, I seldom ever just talk on it, but with Talkatone I can even do that, albeit with a different phone number.  Not a deal breaker since I talk on the phone as little as possible.  I just need texts, and texts from my number.  This could be ginormously cool.

I skidded to a halt quite soon though as I realized the app I had in mind for texting from a peripheral device only works if the peripheral device is a tablet, not a disconnected smartphone.  I could use their website to communicate, but I needed to know to do so. Arrrgh.  I needed a notification.  IFTT, of course!  By installing their app on both phones and setting up what they call a "recipe" I was in business. This particular recipe is set to trigger when a text comes in on the activated phone.  It then sends a notification to both phones so I know to reply at the website.  My reply is sent with my real phone number, and all my qualifications for functional texts are satified.  Hoo Rah!  Now I have a second fully functional phone at my disposal!  As long as I have wifi.

The range of tasks that can be accomplished by IFTT is vast, it can do far more than just manage data and notifications.  IFTT has channels, like stations, set up for everything from email to geolocation.  In their lingo, a channel is the item being communicated with, from smartphones to web apps.  Recipes can automatically clip and save photos, create an Evernote log from calendar entries, or adjust the thermostat when everyone is gone for the day. IFTT is really sorta like Jeeves, come to think of it, but better!


Microsoft Calling

More and more clients are reporting phone calls that follow the same general script.  The caller, usually nearly unintelligible due to a thick accent, states the call is from Microsoft or some other computer giant, because the user's computer has been compromised.  Would the user kindly allow a remote connection so we may fix your computer?  Get real.

Never ever fall for this.  Microsoft doesn't do this, HP doesn't, Lenovo doesn't, not Samsung, no one does this. Think back to your last support call and remember how long it took to get someone on the phone, and then what happened when the call was dropped?  How many transfers did it take?  How many times did you have to prove who you were before they would talk to you?  How many explanations of the problem were required?  Customer service starts with the customer reaching out for assistance.  Vendors don't have the time or the infrastructure or the desire to monitor their products for failure, they would much rather just sell a new one.

Then who called?  Someone who really hopes you're a rube and will grant remote access.  Stories abound of this type of call, and it seems most people are wise enough to smell the rat.  Others might not have been so wise, but they haven't been nearly as prolific in posting their experiences. If their computer still works to allow them to do so, I suppose.   So what's the scam?  Think about it, what kind of personal data is in your computer?  Financial info?  Credit card statements?  Bank logins?   Definitely private, whatever it is, and not intended for sharing.  Full remote access to your computer should always be something instigated by the user with trusted providers, never an event that takes place as the result of an incoming call from Timbuktu.


Owning It

Probably everyone by now has heard of Target's unfortunate lapse in security which led to the compromise of upwards of 70 million accounts.  Today, Target is taking steps toward damage control, not just for themselves but for the customers who face possible targeting down the road.  Pun intended.  Their email states that they are "offering one year of free credit monitoring to all Target guests who shopped in U.S. stores".  This is refreshing.  Not only has the retailer solved the problem from their end, they are offering mitigation for end users. 

Where did the problem arise?  It wasn't a hack from outside that just downloaded the information, it was malware that was actually running on their registers.  Granted, this resulted from a hacker intrusion, but it goes to the point of the malware itself.  Follow the money.  In some form or fashion, this variety of software exists to bilk people.  It is propagated to earn. 

Malware isn't my point, though.  Ownership is.  Responsibility.  Taking charge and making reparations, making it right.  I do that even for mistakes that aren't mine, which breeds sensitivity on the subject.  For example, a client needed full backup of the computers in their business in case of failure.  There was failure, not only of the system but of the verified backup as well!  I had recommended and installed the software to provide the failsafe, but it did not work.  Now what?

I worked all weekend to get the system back up and running, upgrading their operating system in the process without charging them overtime or for the upgrade.  Why?  Because it was the right thing to do.  It wasn't my fault the backup failed, but it was on my recommendation the customer used it.  It certainly wasn't their fault.  In my book, owning it is the only right thing to do, making it right, and that is what I did.  There have been a lot of orphaned, high profile failures in that area lately.  Seeing Target own their issue made my day.

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