Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

Back up your important files now!

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

My recent posts on password management are just one thing I discuss as often as I can. The second is backing up your files. We all have important files (pictures, documents, music) which would be tragic if they were lost. Make another copy of them now.

The simplest thing you can do is go out and buy a hard drive. Warehouse clubs and online retailers will generally provide you the best deals. Plug it into your system and install whatever software comes with the drive to assist you with backing up your files. I generally don’t recommend using this software, but it’s better than nothing.

With more experience, you can get other software which will do the job better. If you have a Mac with a recent operating system, just turn on Time Machine and stop fretting. For a PC, it’s not that simple. I’ve used Cobian Backup, SyncBack, and SyncToy as my solutions depending upon the situation. Cobian is best for a computer which has the backup drive connected to it all the time. Cobian is very configurable, powerful, and free. The downside is the author is getting tired and has put it up for sale. I don’t know how long it will remain this excellent and free product. SyncToy is from Microsoft and free. It’s quick and simple and gets the job done. I usually set it up for “backup on demand” situations whereas Cobian works in the background. There are three versions of SyncBack; one free and two pay versions. The pay versions have much more configurability in what not to back up compared to the free one. They also work well if you don’t leave the hard drive connected all the time and it gets a new drive letter the next time you plug it in.

If you buy software (like SyncBack Pro) and a hard drive, you shouldn’t be out much more than about $150 (depending upon the size if hard drive you get). If a hard drive fails, you’re out all your important files. You could send your drive to a data recovery service, but that will cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars to recover everything and there are no promises there.

Once you get a backup solution in place, be sure to use it regularly (daily is a good option). A client of mine had a hard drive fail recently. She said she had her backup drive but hadn’t used it in a long time. Weeks or months of data are gone. Don’t let this happen to you.

If you live in the correct half of the country, you could be entitled to some money

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Last month, a settlement was reached with LCD makers under the idea they were conspiring to fix prices. Approximately $500 million will be put into the fund to be distributed to those who purchased a monitor or notebook computer containing one of the LCD units.

I found details at this article which goes into more detail. It also lists the states which are included in the class-action. Sadly, my state is not one of

them (nor did I live in one of them when I did purchase a potentially qualifying product), so I cannot see what’s coming to me.

I long since stopped being surprised at what large corporations would do. If price fixing did occur, it would be another in a long line of bad things corporations are hated for doing.

If you believe you are part of this class, you can go to to register.

Get a new iPod for free (almost)!

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Late last year, Apple issued a recall on their first generation iPod Nano. It seemed crazy to me that a five year-old iPod was being recalled, but who am I to argue at such a thing? I happened to have had one of these and I can relate my experience in getting it replaced.

The first step is to follow the instructions on the iPod recall site to see if your iPod qualifies. Assuming yours does, fill out the necessary information so Apple can send you a return box. Then wait. In my case, I had to wait about three weeks before the box showed up. Unfortunately, there was no status update for me during this time to let me know the box was on its way. I just showed up one day.

After you’ve sent it back to Apple, the status will eventually change to let you know they’re determining a course of action. more info

Again, in my case, it took about three weeks before they sent my replacement.

I’d read a couple of articles around the time I sent mine in to suggest that I’d get an identical unit as a replacement. This would have been fine. I’d basically get a battery refresh if that was the case. However, I got a current (sixth generation) model instead. This increased the capacity from its original 4GB (then, the top of the line) to 8GB (the current entry level). I was disappointed to find the address book and calendar functions were not present on the new model. I relied on these quite heavily and I would need to find some other way (or buy a different iPod).

On the plus side, there are a number of companies which make watch-bands so you can use your iPod Nano as a high-tech watch. I’ll probably be getting one of those in the not too distant future.

Your router’s security may not be as secure as you think it is

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

I read a report from Sophos that there is a fairly critical security flaw in many consumer wireless routers. I’ve gone on before about how you should use the strongest encryption method available for your equipment to use (WPA2 if all your stuff can handle it). However, while these routers support that, they also have a feature called WPS (for Wi-Fi Protected Setup) which makes it easy for you to set this up by either pressing a button or entering a PIN on either the device connecting to the network or the router.

Using the PIN method is potentially risky if all you have to do is enter the PIN on your computer or other device. It seems the authentication method for the pin results in a mere 11,000 options remaining which can be brute-forced in less than two days.

When I setup a new router, I’ve always gone for the manual approach and determine a wireless network name (SSID) and key which the clients can remember or have easily available. I don’t even install the software which came with the router but instead go to its web-based administration. I’ll turn off WPS so that it’s not accidentally used (the first and only time I tried using WPS, it scrambled what I’d previously set to something random for both SSID and key).

This falls in line with how security decreases as convenience increases. I advise to disable WPS and do it by hand.

What to do with that old computer

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

You’ve made the decision to replace your computer with a newer, better, faster, cooler computer. What do you do with the old one?

Back in the day when upgrading was option, it was a simple matter to upgrade one component this month and a different component the next. Eventually, you had a new computer, but it was as if nothing changed. This couldn’t be kept up as the industry found better ways of doing things which required new hardware which was not compatible with the old. Basically, it got to the point where to upgrade one thing required a whole new computer around it.

What are your choices for dealing with the old computer? If it’s old enough or abused enough, you may just want to discard it. Check your local dump for details (thankfully my local dump allows e-waste to be dropped off at no charge; they have a specific location at the dump site just for e-waste).

What if it’s not too old? Options include erasing everything on it and reinstalling just as it was when you got it so you could sell it or give it away. The potential problems are two-fold. First, you need to make sure you have another copy of your data and you need to make sure you’ve completely erased everything so the next person doesn’t have access to your personal files. Secondly, do you have the original install discs? On many computers (HP and Compaq in particular, but other brands as well) you hit a particular key on the keyboard when you first power up the computer and it takes you to a special setup routine which can do the erase and reinstall procedure for you (note that the erase done here isn’t a secure one, but should be good enough for most people).

Another common option (and one I’ve done myself a few times) is to repurpose the computer for some other task. How about a central calendar? If your old computer is a Mac, you have one built in. For a PC, you could use Mozilla Thunderbird with the Lightning plugin. Alternatively you could set up a web browser to point to a Google Calendar that you’ve created.

If the computer is small enough, you could put it in your kitchen to run a recipe database. You can run a software title on your computer or, my favorite, just look up recipes on the internet.

Many more options are available to get the most out of your old computer. Experiment with Linux, make a personal file and print server, build your own Digital Video Recorder (DVR). The possibilities are nearly endless.