Updates to Services Offered
Recent Malware Threats (Malicious Software – Viruses, Worms, Trojans, Rootkits, etc.)
I've been occasionally getting calls from clients about calls they have received, or instructions they have seen on their computer
screen (malicious web browser pop-ups) to call a number, allegedly Microsoft or some other well known tech. company, supposedly
because their computer is infected or has some other problem. This is a scam. What these criminals are trying to do is gain access
to a victim's computer, with the victim letting them right in, so they can snoop around files, install malware, sell bogus services,
steal identities, or worse. A tech. company would never ask to remote control your computer to fix malware problems. Giving these
scammers access is like letting a stranger wearing a ski mask into your home to check your furnace because they happen to be holding a
clipboard. Don't trust Internet pop-ups! Some pop-ups admittedly look genuine, but are actually just deceptive graphics and
animation. An ounce of skepticism can save you a ton of headache. Never trust anyone cold calling you, claiming to be a
representative of a well-known tech. company.
In general regard to malware, it can be very helpful to know what an actual infection notice looks like from your
anti-virus/anti-malware software so that you know all other notices aren't to be trusted. Fake notices often originate from shady or
hacked websites you may innocently browse to. They can also originate from malicious advertisers on legitimate websites that poorly
screen their advertisers. If you want to find out what an actual malware detection notice looks like, then one thing you can do is go
to the following link...
...scroll down to the download area, and attempt to download one of the four EICAR virus test files. The files are harmless and are
meant to test your anti-virus software. Your anti-virus software should pop-up a notice that it detected and removed a threat. That
detection notice is what you should remember as being a legitimate notice. All other notices should be considered fake and malicious,
especially pop-ups from the Internet or any messages making claims of problems requiring download of software. Never click on such
notices and never download or install software to supposedly fix problems with your computer. In many cases it's actually best to
just restart your computer when you encounter such a notice, so as to not click on anything you shouldn't. Upon restarting your
computer, if you still get pop-ups before opening your web browser, or if your web browser is re-directing to strange websites, then
your computer is most likely infected. If anti-malware scans don't remedy the problem then it will need further professional
attention. If your computer was setup with an admin account (likely the case if I've worked on it before) then do not enter the admin
password to install anything! Some of these threats can also masquerade as Adobe software or Java updates. If you need to update
Adobe software, such as Flash or Reader, or Java then it's best to update them directly from adobe.com or java.com.
For protection from malware in Windows I recommend a primary, real-time protection, anti-malware program, plus a supplemental
anti-malware program. If you have Windows Vista or 7 then I recommend Microsoft Security Essentials. If you have Windows 8, 8.1, or
10 then I recommend Windows Defender, which comes with those versions of Windows. Microsoft anti-virus software is widely used and
free for legal copies of Windows. I also recommend Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware (MBAM) for supplemental anti-malware protection,
detection, and removal. There's a free edition that allows you to scan your computer on-demand. The premium version offers real-time
protection. MBAM can be obtained from...
MBAM is especially good at detecting and removing many rogue anti-malware threats that traditional anti-virus programs fail to
identify. New threats are released all the time, so it's a constant challenge staying up on all of the threats, though MBAM seems to
do a great job. Rogue anti-malware programs state your computer has problems when in fact such programs are the problem. These
threats seem to be the most common way people get infected these days on Windows computers. The purpose of these programs is often to
try and get you to pay for a remedy that the program itself is causing or saying you need to address.
If malware threats are a major concern and you aren't in need of Microsoft specific programs, iTunes, or tax preparation software –
just needing a computer for browsing the web, word processing, and email – then you may benefit by having Windows replaced with a free
Linux-based operating system. Some of my clients have already made the switch to Linux after Windows XP lost support from Microsoft
in April of 2014. See the Linux section below for more information about Linux-based operating system alternatives.
You may have heard some buzz about Windows 10, Microsoft's latest version of Windows. If you have a computer running Windows 7, 8, or
8.1 then you are probably receiving notices about being eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10. Perhaps you already upgraded.
Window 10 has generally received positive reception, aside from user privacy concerns. Having used it, it's pretty much a melding of
Windows 7 and 8.1. The Start Menu of Windows 7 is back, with some of the glitz of Windows 8 and 8.1 retained, plus some other handy
features. Note that if your computer has Windows 8 it should be updated to Windows 8.1.
My general opinion is that if you're happy with how your computer is functioning with Windows 7 or 8.1, upgrading to Windows 10 may
not be worth the hassle. Even if you are using Windows 8 or 8.1, you can easily get the Start Menu back with a free program called
Classic Shell, available from classicshell.net. Though I would say an advantage to upgrading to Windows 10 is that Windows 10 will be
supported by Microsoft until 2025, whereas Windows 7 loses support in 2020 and Windows 8.1 loses support in 2023. Thus, you can get
more life out of Windows on your computer by upgrading. Though some would argue that by that time you'd want a new or newer computer
anyway, plus switching to Linux is always an option. Another advantage to Windows 10 is the fact that a clean installation can be
performed, if desired, plus you can create a Windows 10 installation disc, which in my opinion trumps having factory recovery media
for your computer. The nice aspect of that is, so long as your data are backed-up and restored afterward, you can get a clean
installation of Windows without preloaded junk your computer originally came with. That undoubtedly will yield a faster Windows
computing experience. The Windows 10 upgrade will supposedly only be free for one year after its release, which should mark late July
of 2016 as the expiration of the free upgrade offer. After that I expect Windows 10 Home to be around $100 and Windows 10 Pro to be
In summary, I would reiterate that if you have a computer with Windows 7 or 8.1 and you are happy with how it's functioning then it's
probably not worth the hassle to upgrade to Windows 10. Even though the upgrade is free, you may need assistance upgrading. I
certainly recommend backing-up data before attempting the upgrade. Though if your computer isn't running well and you are eligible
for the free upgrade, it could be worth upgrading. A clean installation also affords a good opportunity to upgrade hardware, such as
replace a tired, slow hard drive with a fast SSD (more on SSDs below). It can also be nice to be on the cutting edge. Windows 10
users have stated that it is generally an improvement over Windows 8.1, running slightly faster than Windows 7 on the same computer,
while yielding the desktop-centric workflow that makes Windows 7 and prior versions of Windows more work-friendly. I personally still
prefer Windows 7 at this time, as well as Linux-based operating systems.
Some of my clients with computers running Windows XP have encountered messages about Windows XP being end of life. Microsoft dropped
support for Windows XP in April of 2014. Note that Windows XP was originally released in 2001, so it had a long life. Microsoft also
stopped supporting their widely used and free anti-virus software, Security Essentials, on Windows XP. For those interested in
upgrading from Windows XP, there are some interesting alternatives to buying a new computer or buying Windows 8.1 or 10 from a retail
store for an existing computer. That said, if you choose to go the route of a new computer I can certainly assist with more optimally
setting it up, creating recovery media for it, and setting-up backup software.
I am now a Microsoft Registered Refurbisher. I occasionally purchase used desktop and laptop computers that are still decent, or can
become decent with upgraded components. These machines are surplus from the University of Wisconsin's “Surplus with a Purpose” (SWAP)
program. I test their components, upgrade hardware where necessary, clean them up, and install specially-licensed copies of newer
versions of Windows, or Linux if desired (more on Linux to follow). This can be a great way of getting a faster computer running a
newer version of Windows, currently Windows 7, for less than the cost of a new computer. In addition, as a refurbished computer, it
doesn't come with all of the preloaded promotional junk software that most name-brand computers are preloaded with. These computers
are also typically business-class systems, so replacement parts are in better supply than regular consumer-grade computers you would
buy from a retail store. I also offer warranties on such computers. Right now I have refurbished laptops, primarily Lenovo
ThinkPads, and can get desktops with some lead time.
I also offer some of these computers with solid state drives (SSDs) instead of traditional hard drives. Hard drives have moving parts
– motorized spinning disk platters, read arms, and heads – whereas SSDs are completely electronic without fragile moving parts. SSDs
run virtually silent, are basically shock-proof (less concern if you accidentally drop your laptop), use less power (so slightly more
battery life if installed in a laptop), and run very fast. Computers with SSDs instead of hard drives are very responsive, booting
and loading programs very quickly. I can also upgrade existing computers, installing a SSD. If you have a computer with Windows 7,
8, 8.1, or 10 that has a traditional spinning disk hard drive and wish to upgrade to a SSD, that is certainly possible and can yield a
nice speed upgrade. There are a few factors of overall computer speed: CPU/processor, amount of installed memory, and storage device
speed. In the case of a SSD upgrade, one is addressing storage device speed, a critical component that's often overlooked in favor of
CPU/processor speed and amount of installed memory of a computer.
Linux, a Free Alternative to Microsoft Windows
An interesting alternative to replacing an older computer or to rejuvenate an existing computer is to replace Windows with a free
operating system generally known as Linux. Linux-based operating systems are free operating systems. Linux has been around since the
early 90s, though arguably only within the past several years has it really gotten quite user friendly, refined, and highly compatible
with various devices, like printers and scanners. Many servers on the Internet actually run on Linux software. All that being said,
Linux isn't for everyone. Some programs and devices don't have Linux support. For example, iTunes isn't natively available for
Linux. Tax preparation, some business software, and other legacy specialized software may not be natively available for Linux. For
those that rely on Microsoft Office for work and need their Office documents to be 100% Microsoft Office compatible, staying with
Windows and Microsoft Office is best. Though for “mostly compatible” with Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, a free, fully-featured
alternative to Microsoft Office that's available on Linux, Mac, and Windows, can often suffice. I personally use LibreOffice. This
document was composed using LibreOffice. For more information on LibreOffice visit the following website...
In addition to offering refurbished computers with Windows, I also offer them with Linux-based operating systems. Because Linux-based
operating systems are free and easier to install than Windows, that saves money on the total cost of the system. In addition, if your
computer isn't terribly old, no more than about 7 to 8 years old or so, then instead of upgrading to a new Windows computer you can
typically gain great results having Linux installed on your existing computer, replacing Windows. Most, if not all of your data in
Windows are perfectly compatible with Linux. Some Linux operating systems can even install alongside Windows so you can boot into
either one on the same machine.
The distributions of Linux (there are many) that I typically install for clients are Ubuntu (oo-boon-too) and Xubuntu (zoo-boon-too).
Ubuntu is arguably the most popular distribution of Linux. It's very graphically polished and works best on faster computers. It has
somewhat of a Mac feel to it and is quite user friendly. There's also extensive support for it on the Internet in various forums,
such as askubuntu.com. Xubuntu is great for older computers as it has a less glitzy interface and more of a classic Windows feel to
it. For more information on Ubuntu or Xubuntu I recommend searching those names on the Internet.
While many have probably already upgraded from Windows XP to something else, Windows Vista will be next to lose support by Microsoft,
in April of 2017. I can certainly assist you with upgrading to a new or refurbished computer with a newer version of Windows or
Linux, or evaluate whether your existing computer with Windows XP or Vista is a good candidate for having Linux installed, saving you
the need to purchase a replacement computer.
As stated, one of the greatest advantages of Linux-based operating systems is that malware is virtually no concern. Most malware
targets Windows, and isn't applicable to Linux. You may have heard people with Macs stating that Macs don't get viruses. While not
totally accurate, they certainly aren't nearly as vulnerable as Windows due to more securely designed software and being a smaller
target from having less market share. Linux-based operating systems are similar – securely designed and not the primary target of
criminals trying to victimize vulnerable Windows users.
Backing-up Important Computer Data
If you have important data on your computer that you are not backing-up, and you wish to easily and regularly back-up, I can certainly
assist with various options. The old adage “don't keep all your eggs in one basket” very much applies to computing. The “eggs” are
your data, be they important documents and/or pictures. The “basket” is your computer's storage device, typically a hard drive, which
is a mechanical device that can fail, often without warning. It's really not a matter of “if”, but rather “when” your hard drive will
fail. The nice thing about computers though is you can duplicate eggs for free (copying files), and baskets aren't expensive
(external USB hard drives, USB flash drives, and/or subscriptions to online, “cloud-based”, backup services). I will summarize
various options below.
Local Data Backup
Many of my clients have opted for local data backup. In these scenarios I acquire an external data storage device, like a USB flash
drive (inexpensive, ~$15, lower capacity) or a USB external hard drive (more expensive, ~$60+, higher capacity), and configure a
program to copy new and changed files to the external storage device. Special software, included with the operating system (Robocopy
for Windows and Rsync for Linux) is configured to back-up important user data, then shutdown the computer. Thus, by running the
backup program when you are done using your computer for the day, you have an easy way to regularly back-up your data. A shortcut on
your desktop launches the backup process, followed by automatic shutdown of your computer when the backup completes. Thus, simply run
it and walk away for hassle-free backup.
Local data backup is great in that it's low cost, fast, high capacity, and saves your data in your vicinity, so you can theoretically
have more data security. It also doesn't rely whatsoever on your computer being connected to the Internet. Though local data backup
isn't fail-proof. Regularly checking whether files are readable on the backup device is recommended. External storage devices can
still fail. In cases where there's a catastrophe (flood, fire, or theft) it's certainly possible to lose both the computer's internal
storage device and the backup storage device. That said, local data backup is still a handy safeguard against data loss.
Online, “Internet/Cloud-Based” Backup
Some of my clients have opted for online, “Internet/cloud-based”, data backup. Such a setup is typically a subscription-based
service. A popular online backup/file sync. service is Dropbox (www.dropbox.com). I personally use Dropbox and have set it up for
many clients. Dropbox gives you 2GB (Gigabytes) of free online storage, and more if you wish to pay for it. They have monthly and
annual plans for more storage capacity. 2GB isn't lots of space and is more suited for important documents, as opposed to backing-up
pictures and music, which typically take-up more disk space. You likely have heard of other data backup services advertised on TV and
the radio, such as Carbonite and Mozy. I personally prefer Dropbox as it works great among many devices and is also great for sharing
the same files among several computers. If you have a desktop and a laptop with Dropbox installed, then files you create or modify in
your “Dropbox”, a special folder on your computer containing everything Dropbox backs-up to the Internet, will be synchronized
automatically between both computers. Dropbox is also handy for retrieving past versions of files as it does versioning –
automatically saving copies of old versions of files. Thus, if you accidentally overwrite a file, you can retrieve an older version.
Dropbox is supported on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even on various mobile device operating systems, like Apple iOS and Google Android.
In the event of local data loss, files in your Dropbox can easily be accessed for recovery from Dropbox's website on any computer
connected to the Internet.
The choice between local and online-based storage doesn't have to be an either-or decision. Having both types of backup allows you
the best that both have to offer. I personally use both Dropbox and backup my data locally to external USB hard drives.
Video Transfer Services
If you have only used my computer consulting services, note that I also specialize in home video transfers. If you have old home
videos shot on VHS, VHS-C, Video8, Hi8, MiniDV, or even digital file formats shot on newer cameras, be they point-and-shoot cameras or
newer digital camcorders, I can transfer those to DVD and even Blu-ray. A nice aspect of transferring to Blu-ray is that Blu-ray
discs can hold about 5 times more footage than a DVD. Thus, whereas a single layer DVD might be able to hold around an hour of DVD
quality footage (depending on encoding), a Blu-ray can hold around 5 hours of DVD quality footage.
I work on projects big and small, from one tape to dozens or more per project. I can do basic transfers for those on a tight budget,
or I can produce transfers with more bells and whistles, like custom cover art on color laser printed disc case inserts (typically a
collage of captured video frames or supplied photographs), video disc menus, and monochrome thermal printing on the discs. Unlike
many other companies that do video transfers, I can help ensure your precious home videos last by archiving captured footage, project
files, and/or final discs to an external hard drive for you to store somewhere safe. Many people think that CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays
will last forever, though they are vulnerable to scratches, direct sunlight, humidity, and even what's known as “disc rot”. However,
by copying the captured footage, project files, and/or final disc images to an external hard drive, you can have extra assurance that
your precious video memories will be preserved much longer than they normally would, with replacement copies being easily generated
when needed, all at a very reasonable cost. I also perform all transfers in-house, assuring final product quality, unlike some other
companies which may sub-contract, acting as middle man with less control over the final production.
Another related service I offer is turning slides and photographs, be they printed and/or digital, into video slideshows. I scan them
using a professional-grade, flatbed scanner featuring Digital ICE (Digital Image Correction and Enhancement) and create video
slideshows in DVD and/or high-definition Blu-ray quality. What I can then do is show the slideshow to you and others, record audio
commentary of everyone watching the video slideshow, and combine that audio with the slideshow, producing a final video slideshow with
audio commentary that makes for a great keepsake. I can also add music instead of adding audio commentary, though I'm obligated to
use royalty-free, public domain music, as opposed to popular music, for copyright reasons. That said, I think audio commentary makes
for a much more unique and personalized production than just adding music. For more information on various video production
services you can visit my website at...
Coming Soon: 8mm/Super-8 Film to High Definition Video Transfers
View Sample Film Transfers
Perhaps a bit more than a decade ago, after finding my grandfather's 8mm home movies shot in the 60s through the early 80s, the last
films of which I'm actually in as an infant, it has been my hope, and at times my obsession, to be able to eventually get them
transferred to high quality video. Sending such precious films away for transferring was never an option as loss of even a single
film reel through the mail would be unacceptable. A little more than a year ago I tried building my own telecine machine. A
telecine machine is used to transfer motion picture film into video, as opposed to just video recording a projector projecting on a
screen or wall, which yields low quality results. My telecine machine was created using an old film projector I modified, a high
definition camera, condenser lens, and software I wrote from scratch to identify and remove video frames as the film was moving to the
next frame, yielding a true frame-by-frame transfer. After lots of research and development I came-up with a process for converting
film footage to high definition video. However, my process proved to be extremely time consuming, lacking the image quality results I
knew could be achieved, and because the film was to be fed though a projector that was 50+ years old, there was more potential for
damaging old, fragile film. In the end, I decided to invest in a professionally-built telecine machine for doing regular 8mm and
Super-8 film transfers to high definition video for final authoring to DVD and Blu-ray.
You might wonder – “Why convert old films to high definition? They are old films and not high definition in the first place!” The
truth is that 8mm and Super-8 films can be high definition or near high-definition quality – certainly better than standard definition
in many cases. They are photographic mediums and despite being small in gauge compared to Hollywood films shot in 35mm film, they
still can surpass DVD quality and warrant high definition transfer. In addition, a true frame-by-frame transfer of film footage can
yield truly beautiful results.
It's actually kind of a shame that video cameras replaced home film-making in the 80s and 90s. While video was more convenient and
recorded sound (some film did as well), compared to 8mm film, video footage from the 80s and 90s lacks image quality and can degrade
faster than film. Granted, once standard definition digital video formats started appearing, while still generally inferior to 8mm
film in image quality, they offered other benefits.
Now that high definition video cameras are affordable, that definitely is the way to go for recording home videos. Though if you're
fortunate enough to have old 8mm films of your family, I aim to be your source for getting them locally transferred to high definition
video for enjoyment on modern displays for current and future generations to enjoy, all at competitive prices, without the risk of
sending them somewhere in the mail. Once I get comfortable with the transfer process I will begin to offer these 8mm and Super-8 film
transfer services. If you wish to be informed when such services will be officially offered please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or give me a call at 608-209-2688 and I'll be sure to contact you once I'm ready to offer these exciting film transfer services.