Thursday, December 29, 2011

Donating PCs and Other Equipment

Now that 2011 is winding down, you may discover you have some old PCs, smart phones, peripherals, tablets, and flash drives laying around. Why not donate them? There are several reasons to donate or recycle your used equipment. According to
  • 75% of the fossil fuels and energy used by a computer are actually consumed during manufacturing. Extending the computer’s lifespan through reuse means more return on that initial environmental cost.
  • Every computer dumped into a landfill represents a missed opportunity to provide technology and tools to individuals and organizations across the digital divide.
  • Even if a computer cannot be reused, recycling ensures that valuable raw materials are recovered from used computers and that any waste is disposed of in an environmentally sound fashion.
In 2009, 25% of 2.37 million tons of used and end-of-life electronics were collected for recycling. 38% of these were PCs, 17% were televisions, and 8% were mobile devices, according to the EPA.

When deciding whether to donate your used, but still useful equipment, consider these tips:
  1. Determine if your old computer can be reused. The lifespan of a PC can vary depending on lots of factors, including how often it is used and what it is used for. But I’d say the typical lifespan of current PCs is approximately three to five years. So if your computer is five years old or less, chances are someone else could put it to good use.
  2. Donate Newer Equipment to a Reburbisher. Instead of donating directly to a school or charity, it is usually a better idea to donate newer equipment to a refurbisher. They can make sure the PC or printer or mobile device runs well and is using legal software. Refurbishers tend to pass on equipment that is ready to use to those who need it - many times at little or no cost.
  3. Recycle Older or Broken Equipment or Hardware. Most equipment that is older than five years old or that no longer works should be disposed of responsibly. Consider sending your electronic devices to a computer recycler. They salvage useful parts of your equipment before breaking down the rest and can safely remove any hazardous material. Check out Earth911 for a drop-off location in your area, or better yet let Kardon Technology help you recycle your old equipment.  Twice a year, in the spring and the fall, Kardon Technology carries used equipment to the Decatur Recycle Center.  
  4. Remember to Include any Accessories. When donating a computer try to include such things as the keyboard, mouse, printer, software, and any documentation that came with your equipment. These can almost always be used by the next owner, plus it’s always nice to have a complete system.
  5. Clear your Computer of Personal Information and Data. These days it doesn’t take much for someone to recover deleted data from your PC. Putting files in the Trash and emptying the trash can does NOT permanently delete the files. It can still be recovered. The best way to wipe your data from your PC is to use special software such as Disk Book And Nuke or WipeDrive. You can find dozens of similar programs on the web and they all are work pretty much they same way. These programs typically overwrite your whole disk with random data several times and therefore preventing the bad guys from reconstructing your files.
  6. Maintain a List of What You Donate. With tax season approaching, you are likely eligible for a deduction if you donate equipment to a nonprofit refurbisher or a recycler. You can request a tax receipt from refurbishers and recyclers. You can also determine the fair market value of you equipment by using an online evaluator tool like GadgetValue. This site provides fair market values for desktop computers, laptops, televisions, and even iPods.
So clean out that closet of old and unused equipment. Be environmentally and socially conscious. Donate your devices to someone who can put it to good use or dispose of it responsibly. If this seems like too much of a hassle for you, let Kardon Technology help. You’ll feel better that you are helping the environment and you can rest easy that Kardon Technology will take care of your equipment responsibly.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Are you updated or outdated?

Most Android and iPhone users know that the real value of their smartphones lies in the Apps.  The App Stores make a smartphone a handheld computer that also makes phone calls.  Otherwise, the device is a phone that can do some cool things.

Many people, though, don't understand what they are really doing when they download an App.  Many of you can recall when you purchased software that came on a CD (for some of us a floppy disk or even reel tapes, yep, we installed software from tape).  You would load that software on your computer and you used it.  In many cases, you never updated the programs until you bought a new version of it and loaded a new CD.  To get an update often involved a process handled by a technician or another CD. That process is happening now using a download from thin air when you install Apps on your smartphone.

There is a major difference between those old installations and the new ones, besides the obvious "thin air" magic involved.  These applications are connected to the Internet any time your device is connected.  The Internet connection means you are connected to the entire world.  Most people don't envision the device in front of them could, technically, be connected to some kid's bedroom in Siberia or a crime ring network in China.

Applications today must stay up-to-date to handle the constantly changing technology and security requirements.  You may be loading an update that just fixes a bug when you tap a special spot on the screen or you could be loading an update that fixes a security flaw.  Yes, there are some bad updates that get loaded.  But, overall, you are much better off loading updates regularly than not at all.

We find so many smartphones loaded with Apps that never get an update loaded until there is a complete reset or someone like us comes along and takes care of it.  Kardon Tech clients are able to let us take care of keeping their Windows servers and Windows computers applications up to date automatically.  We will eventually be able to do that with your smartphones, but not yet.  Until then, everyone should take the need for updates seriously and update weekly.  If not weekly, how about at least once a month, please.

The update process is different for each OS.  They don't automatically update the apps for you.  There are many discussions on the pros and cons of doing that, but, for now, you have to manually request all your updates.  Here is a good article on running the updates for both iPhone and Android devices.  Windows Phone also has a Marketplace.  You can update the apps you install from there following the instructions here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2011 Web Products of the Year Blog

As we enter December, it is time for year-end wrap-ups of all kinds. Images, songs, movies of the year provide time to reflect on what was a part of our life for the past 12 months. With ReadWriteWeb’s Top Consumer Web Products of 2011, we can see just how attached to web technology our lives have become.

The top 5 list gives us a glimpse in to what is most important for our technology. The straightforward idea of viewing the web or viewing information and the abstract idea of the cloud.

Starting with Evernote, we know that sharing and syncing data is a hot commodity, but Evernote does the work with a little twist. Instead of just simple file sharing, there are countless ways to take advantage of this program and sync information across platforms and devices:
    • Share rich-text files, images, and to-dos
    • Character recognition allowing for documenting notes, receipts, or business cards (and capturing the text
    • Web clippings and Instapaper-like service for saving articles
    • Usage through standalone apps and browser extensions.
Use it on your phone, tablet, or computer and always find a way to save and share the data for later.

This has been a big addition to our company and it can be put to use in your company, as well. Whether you are sharing a copy of the business card you just picked up at a networking lunch or sending a task list with appropriate picture to your colleague, there are times when just sending a text isn’t enough or a phone call doesn’t give the whole picture.

Next up, the Kindle. With a tad bit of leeway, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about e-readers and tablets. The iPad, Galaxy, and Xoom join the Kindle as providing mobile access to the Internet and data that used to be limited to a laptop or the newspaper. This year, the Kindle made a move to become more than just an ultra-fancy book with services for video, music, magazines, games, and the omnipresent app.

The ability to carry around an entire library can always be appealing to those bookworms among us, but improvements to services like Amazon Prime stretch the Kindle (and other tablets) beyond the Barnes and Noble in a can.

These tablets should definitely be viewed as more than just a novelty, too. Carrying a laptop to half a dozen meetings can be cumbersome. Not to mention time lost getting it out of a carrying case, starting it up, and loading a PowerPoint or Word for note taking. However, the versatile tablet provides mobile connectivity in a quick and easy to use format. It also provides an avenue for data sharing and research capabilities that can improve any meeting. Instead of telling someone about their website or document, pull it up in a easily viewable format and pass it around the conference table.

Over the past year, there have been several clients looking for a new laptop that have spent time investigating the idea of replacing that old laptop with a new tablet. It has a place in medical offices and financial offices for doctors and investment planners all the same. And, with the increased focus on mobile apps, many of the proprietary programs are beginning to be be seen with a tablet conversion. No longer are people tied to their desktop to run their company’s web app. An iPad and a bluetooth keyboard and you are running your company from the local coffee shop.

The next two products of 2011 are Dropbox and iCloud. Both of these products use the nebulous idea of the “cloud” to provide backup and cross-device syncing. That buzzword can get people in trouble if they don’t make sure they understand what is going on and, in many cases, they can miss out on impressive functionality.

Dropbox provides a computer folder that can be anywhere for nearly anyone. Share documents, pictures, presentations, and other files by simply putting them in the right folder. As an extension of the folder system on your own computer, it lends itself to being user-friendly and easily implemented. With Dropbox, multiple people can work on a file without the dreaded “what version did you update” conversation. Make sure those in your office are always using and working on the most current version. 

At the same time, the off-site cloud storage provides a straightforward and simple backup solution for the most important of documents. A dependence on computers means depending on the consistent performance of the technology for important personal and work data. There’s nothing worse than needing information and it just not being there.

In the same vein, cell phone backups have become a vital part of the working life. Cell phones have contacts, voice memos, bookmarks, apps, and they are in-use 25 hours a day. Dropping it in a water puddle or leaving it on the subway is just not a pleasant thought.

iCloud provides simple online backup for everything iPhone/iPad related. The idea of cloud backup for cell phones is being passed around the various companies and will, soon, become just as prevalent as the App store or Android marketplace. Lose your phone or destroy it beyond repair and iCloud provides a way to locate it or restore the data on a new phone. With the astronomical prices of a phone combined with the importance of the data they contain, this is a product that anybody with a smartphone cannot live without.

At the number one spot is Google Chrome.  Surprisingly, the “Internet” is not simply Internet Explorer. Web browsers are the vehicle for email, YouTube, Facebook and every other site out there. And, just like a vehicle, nobody wants to use the economy sub-compact to drive on the Internet superhighway. Knowledge about web browsers is imperative for today’s computer user. Faster and more secure browsing can be achieved simply by using a better browser and keeping it updated.

Google Chrome has made an effort to integrate many of the plugins (like adobe flash and Ad-block) to improve the web viewing experience. There are also apps and email integration that provides shortcuts to the most important things in for a user’s experience.

Internet slow, decreased computer performance, annoying redirects, and more can lead to a very short conversation with the IT tech. “Let’s clean the computer of any viruses and start using Chrome or Firefox”. It is a simple and easy transition and it can provide instant relief when viewing the Internet. In the coming year, Chrome will provide more than just simple web page viewing, too. New APIs and its very own Web store are leading to an all-in-one computer program that allows connectivity to web-based platforms and cloud services. More and more work can be done within a web browser.

Looking in to these and other recent web products can help you find a niche that needs to be filled. You never know what products will help improve your work efficiency or overall business experience.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

8 Tips to Get Your Emails Read

8 Tips to Get Your Emails Read
Have you sent out a gazillion emails only to get no response... at all? One of the hardest things for people to admit is that it’s difficult to get people to open emails. You don’t want to spend a lot of time writing a great email to send out only to have people delete it without reading it. You want people to not only open your email but also be interested in what you have to say.
That's why I've compiled a few useful tips that will help ensure your emails get read - first!
1. Create an intriguing subject line: One of the most important things to have is an email Subject: line that captures your recipient’s attention. Your email will most likely be opened sooner if your subject line is well thought out and provoking. Actually, the email subject line is the most important thing you’ll write to your recipient – if it doesn’t grab the attention of your reader and make him open the email, it doesn’t really matter what you have to say in the body of your email. Use these tips:
a. Don’t use a [blank] subject line. It could be portrayed as being arrogant by assuming all your reader needs to know is that it’s from you.
b. Keep the subject line short and informative. The subject line is your first opportunity to inform or influence your reader. It should provide an overall summary of your email contents. Only about 70 characters are displayed when an email arrives in your inbox, so keep the subject line short.
c. Create some curiosity in your email subject line and thereby nearly forcing the reader to open your email. Try asking a question in the subject line. By doing so you are gaining an emotional reaction from your reader. As they answer it for themselves, they will tend to open your email to read what you have to say on the subject.
2. The "from" line: If your "from" line contains a name your reader will have no trouble recognizing, chances are your email will be opened and read.
3. Get to your point quickly: People tend to say too much in an email. Readers don’t want to read long introductions and backgrounds. They want to know what you need from them. So, jump to the point. State your purpose clearly using minimal words and details.
4. Readers hate spam with a passion: The last thing people want in their inbox is spam. And you certainly don’t want to have your email caught up in your recipient’s spam filter or junk mail folder. So, keep your subject lines free of words that sound “spammy”. Avoid words such as subscribe, cheap, free, promise, order now, opportunity, guarantee, winner, and amazing as much as possible.
5. Avoid attaching unnecessary files: By sending large or multiple attachments you can annoy readers and even bring down their email systems. Only send attachments when it is appropriate and productive to do so. Try to compress attachments whenever possible and have a good virus scanner in place to avoid sending documents full of viruses.
6. Time it right: The first day of the workweek is not usually a good day to send out emails and neither is the last day. You don't want your emails to be left unread, or worse, deleted. Just because your reader is overwhelmed by the number of emails in his inbox on Monday morning or is eager to leave for the weekend early on Friday evening doesn't mean your email should be ignored. So try sending your email on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. People tend to be more receptive and in “business mode” on these days.
7. Create an effective email signature: It can be challenging for the recipient of an email message to find your contact information if your signature is very long and overly formatted. Likewise, a poorly formatted signature can hurt your professional reputation, add unnecessary bulk, and be a distraction from the content of your message. So, keep it as short as you can while still including all the information you consider important – four lines is the accepted standard.
a. Condense information into fewer lines by using pipes (|) or colons (::) to separate the text. Ex: Christa Hartman | Kardon Technology
b. Optimize your logo or graphics and when appropriate, use a link to your website that will take your recipient to the exact web page you want them to see versus your home page. For example, if I wanted you to read about who Kardon Tech is, I would use the URL: not just provide a link to our homepage and hope you’d got to the About Us page.
c. Skip including your mailing address as not everyone wants or should have access to that information.
d. Include your email address. Not every email client displays the header information for your recipient, therefore providing your email address in your signature is helpful.
e. Simple plain text is always best – skip colors, special fonts, and graphics.
8. Proofread your email: Many people don’t bother reading an email before they send it out. Spell checker will catch at least a few typos, but it won’t catch every mistake. Use standard capitalization and spelling, especially when your message asks someone to do work for you. Avoid fancy typefaces and using text lingo such as “thx 4 ur help 2day”. Take the time to make sure your message makes sense and looks professional. Reading your email though the eyes of your recipient will help you send a more effective message and avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate comments.
Remember, emails that get read have subject lines that are intriguing and "from" people they know and trust. Above all else, keep in mind that everyone is busy and gets too much email.  The KardonTechnology social media marketing team can help keep your campaigns intriguing.    Communicating via email isn’t hard. Doing it well is what’s difficult.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Small Businesses and Web Surfing

For many people, the Internet can be a very confusing place. At our finger tips through any number of different devices, there seems to be new threats around every corner. One of the most dangerous threats that is very often overlooked are the users themselves.

There are firewalls and active protection and countless policies for dealing with hackers or attacking viruses, but many small business web security policies simply do not properly protect against a business’ own employees causing problems.

A recent survey commissioned by GFI provided some astounding statistics regarding the IT security solutions for small businesses.

Even with countless protections in place, 40% of small business reported an IT security breach due to an employee’s unsafe web surfing. And, more than half of small businesses indicated that protecting themselves from harmful or infected websites is not their main priority.

In an eye-opening list provided by OpenDNS’s web filtering tool, the top 10 blacklisted company sites for 2010:

  1. Facebook
  2. MySpace
  3. YouTube
  4. DoubleClick
  5. Twitter
  6. MSN
  7. Orkut
  8. Yahoo (why?)
  9. Meebo
  10. eBay
The list may be surprising to some people. While specific blacklisted sites may include pornography or file sharing sites, overall we see that social media and advertising sites receive much attention. This reflects a change in web surfing, as well as a business’ attempt to control a worker’s productivity.

It is also important to realize that, with a dramatic shift in web surfing towards social media, there is also a focus on infiltrating computers through these same social media sites. From Facebook posts that trick users in to downloading viruses to infected websites that have malware disguising itself as ads, we see the internet dangers are not limited to the “usual” suspects of file sharing and pornography. 

When looking at protection strategies and the best course of action to avoid issues, the answers may seem common, but are frequently ignored. Make sure of the following:

- Passwords are secure and changed on a regular basis
- Anti-virus software is up-to-date on all workstations and servers
- Firewalls have strong traffic policies to control communication
- Email is protected by anti-virus and spam filters
- There is a strong anti-spyware solution

There are countless available programs to help with the web filtering, including GFI Web Monitor. These programs can dramatically improve web security while also providing avenues for increased productivity through multiple options including: protecting the network by blocking unwanted downloads from malicious websites, predicting security threats by monitoring a website’s security through its reputation score, and monitoring and filtering web traffic based on known threats and threats disguising themselves as legitimate sites.  
While there are countless available solutions, the most important step is realizing there is a problem. When discussing web traffic, people default to being wary of file sharing and porn, but Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace are just seen as generic time-wasters. The biggest and best security protection plan can be done in by just one user clicking on a friend’s Facebook link without realizing the inherent dangers it may hold.

Kardon Technology offers multiple levels of monitoring and Anti-Virus solutions, with both the standard protection of our Kardon Care Membership, and as a stand-alone option. Contact us for available levels and pricing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Rise of the Tablets

Mobile computing has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. Today there are a number of choices for staying connected while on the go - smart phones, netbooks, laptops, and tablets among others. All of these devices are capable of accessing the Internet using wifi hotspots and the increasing speeds of cellular networks. Tablets are on the rise as the device of choice for mobile computing. - whether at home or on the road.

Tablets are not a new entrant to the mobile computing market. They've been used in many industries for years. Recently, however, tablets have become lighter, thinner, and more powerful. It seems that since the introduction of the Apple iPad, the tablet market has boomed. Google, Motorola, HP, Microsoft, Amazon, and Samsung are among the latest companies who have jumped into the tablet market. This is great because healthy competition in the marketplace often tends to be a win-win for the consumer by way improved quality, development of new products and services, and often lower prices.

Today, tablets have become highly sought after for not only entertainment, news, and email but also mobile communications, collaborations, and other businesses uses. People have become more mobile and the experience of working on the go has been improved.

Consumers are using tablets mainly for personal reasons such as access to the internet and checking email. However, tablets are good for all types of media consumption as well as picture and video capture, social networking, communication, gaming, and mapping/route planning. Tablets are also becoming more popular with businesses. You can find them in a number of industries such as healthcare, retail, field sales and service, legal, marketing, etc. Doctor offices and hospitals are using tablets for medical reference, to view and update patient care information, read diagnostic images, and to e-prescribe medications. You can also find them being utilized by patients in waiting rooms and by staff when scheduling appointments. In the legal profession, tablets can provide access to documents and depositions. Sales and service forces are making use of tablets in the field for presentations and video conferencing, as decision tools and reference, and for configuring price quotes. Retail sales teams are employing tablets on the floor as a sales tool and marketing teams are use them for digital signage, interactive brochures, creative reviews, and at tradeshows.

iPads are leading the way among consumers and small businesses as the tablet of choice, for right now at least. The great app selection has helped hoist Apple to the top of the marketplace. App availability is key for many tablet users - both personal and business users alike. There are apps for ordering meals at NY airports (partnership between Delta and OTG Management) and in-flight entertainment, for mobile videoconferencing and access to business intelligence data, and even for enhanced local destination advice for concierges. There are apps for just about anything you would want to do and an increasing number of tablets to choose from.

Tablets can do most of the work that's already being done on laptops and PCs, but not yet as quickly or efficiently. Many of the most common business applications are also available for tablet users by means of the myriad of downloadable apps. Many companies have already upgraded their applications and processes to allow for easier web integration and more flexibility for tablet users - and many more companies have plans to do so.

In deciding whether a tablet is right for you or your business, visit Jason's Aug 2011 blog entitled "Do you need a tablet?" User experience, price, ease of use, and access to music, books, photos, apps etc are just some of the decisive factors in selecting a tablet to meet your needs.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thailand flooding could cause serious downtime in your office

Western Digital has announced their primary manufacturing facilities in Thailand are flooded with some equipment submerged.  Their secondary plant there is also threatened by approaching flood waters.  They expect that the damages to these plants will have significant impact on the company's ability to meet demand in fourth quarter.

Other hard drive companies, such as Seagate, are also reporting production problems due to the floods effect on other production components also made in Thailand.

Flooding of Bang Pa Industrial Park home of Western Digital

How can this cause downtime for you?

  • Hard drive failures can happen at any time.  Even if your data is completely backed up, you can't do anything with that backup if you don't have a hard drive, that works, where you can restore the data.  It could take several days or even WEEKS to replace a failed drive as inventories drop.
  • All of you with computers that are 3 years old (or older) have hard drives that are reaching the end of their life.  You are more likely to experience a failure than those with computers under 2 years old.
  • If you have to buy a new computer to replace an old one that dies, it is possible that by December you could end up waiting on back ordered computers simply because hard drives can't be found to build a new machine.

What can you do about it now to prevent being affected by this problem?

  • Check your backup and make sure that you have everything you need backed up.  Lack of a backup will only make things harder in any drive failure situation.
  • Run hard drive diagnostics to determine if bad results and errors are already showing up on your current drives so you can be proactive and replace the drive NOW.
  • Make sure you have a spare computer in your office.  It may not be the best solution for a drive or computer failure but at least you will have something to use while this problem works itself out.  The spare should be set up so that it can be a replacement for any other machine.  
  • If you have several old computers then you should probably have more than one spare machine.
  • If your computer is over 3 years old and you can't live for weeks without one, go ahead and replace the whole machine now.
  • If you had planned to purchase computers and install them in this fiscal year, don't wait until December to place your order.  
Kardon Technology can help you with all these tasks.  Contact us today!

The heat extremes during the summer caused a lot of damage to hard drives.  We have seen an increase in failures within our client base over the last few months.  Losing a drive is stressful and causes downtime in most small businesses even if they have everything backed up.  Image if you have no way to load that data to get access to it for weeks!  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My computer is slow. Help!

                It can be frustrating waiting for the important program to load or that last email to send. This frustration can be magnified if your formerly speedy computer has turned to molasses. It is best to think of computers much like cars. Regular maintenance and attentive care will keep both running for quite some time. Negligence in those areas can cause performance issues and even breakdowns.
                Now, a computer isn’t going to last as long as a classic 1960s muscle car, but you may be able to depend on it for longer than a Pinto.
                The most important step to resolving performance issues is to be attentive to when the problems begin occurring. If you can determine when the issues appeared, what you were doing at the time, and whether the issues went away under certain conditions, then you are well on your way to figuring out a solution to your performance problems. It is very tough to fix your computer if you don’t know when the performance issues occur and when it started.
                With computers, there can be dozens of reasons for degraded performance. Some of the most common include:
-          Infections by viruses
-          Spyware/Adware installations
-          Hardware issues (lack of RAM, damaged processor, overheating issues)
-          Excess background programs
-          Corrupted operating system
-          Bloated programs
-          Network issues
As you can see from this list, there are multiple problem areas, so a catch-all solution is not readily available. However, the important thing to remember is that decreased performance does not mean the only solution is a new computer!
Looking at Google, we can see 12 million+ responses for “slow computer”. Be aware, though, randomly trying all of the possible solutions is not the best course of action! Many of these sites are simply trying to sell a cheap partial solution to unsuspecting computer users that are frustrated with their computer.
There are several steps that you can take in an attempt to resolve your computer issues before spending $19.99 on a registry cleaner or PC scan.
-          Make sure that your computer is up-to-date with the most recent patches for Windows, Office, Internet browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome), other prominent programs (Adobe, Quickbooks, Java).

These programs are commonly patched for security and performance reasons. It is vitally important to keep your operating system and the programs you run up-to-date. And, problems can lie in specific programs or the operating system, itself. A corrupted Windows installation can slow down your computer as much or more so than a virus.

-          Make sure your anti-virus program is up-to-date and regular scans are scheduled.

There are real-time protections provided by most anti-virus programs, but you still need to have regular scans scheduled to allow the anti-virus program to search, find, and remove any threats that it may find. At the same time, you need to make sure that your anti-virus program is performing its desired tasks. Some anti-virus programs can start providing file scanning, email scanning, browser protections and other resource intensive tasks that can cause performance problems on already strained systems.

-          Run a spyware/adware scan using MalwareBytes AntiMalware or Spybot Search and Destroy.

Many people make the mistake of assuming their simple anti-virus solution is complete protection. Yes, there are programs like VIPRE or Kaspersky that provide all-around protection. However, programs like AVG Free and Avast are not designed to find spyware that the two above programs search for specifically. And, there are times that multiple programs are needed to catch what another program might miss.

-          Remove/uninstall old programs and verify clean installations

Old and unused programs produce nothing but bloated wasted space on slow computers. If you don’t need a program anymore, delete it. Some programs also surreptitiously install features that run at computer start-up or within internet browser. These features can cause a bottleneck when first starting your computer or when starting an internet browser. Paying attention and avoiding these problems can help your computer run a bit faster.

-          Make sure your computer is cooled properly, free from dust and pet hair.

Desktop computers can spend months or years in the same spot of an office. Dust and pet hair can accumulate over time and, eventually, it completely negates the use of the cooling fans a computer requires. It is important to make sure the cooling fans can run at their optimum efficiency and that hot air has somewhere to go. An overheating computer can cause slow performance and even unexpected freezes and shutdowns.

-          Verify the proper operation and sufficient availability of hardware components.

Many computers struggle with the standard level of RAM installed on a computer. It is important to be aware of the required RAM for programs and operating systems, as well as the amount of RAM needed for acceptable performance (to your standards). Windows may say it needs 2GB of RAM, but 3 or 4 may help it run smoother with several programs running at the same time. This is also the same for video cards and processors. Yes, the economy computer is only $250, but you may find out 6 months later why it was the economy computer. Also, be aware that hardware needs to be updated in the same way software programs need to be updated. Drivers used to run hardware can become corrupted or out-of-date causing decreases in performance.

-          Finally, be aware that outside factors like network problems can be just as detrimental to performance as a computer problem. Make sure your router and modem are properly updated, setup properly, and securely configured.

You may think your computer is the problem when reading email, but you may have an intruder on your network or unknown network traffic in the background. Make sure your passwords are secure to prevent intruders and be aware of what programs use network traffic. Updates or patches may be downloading in the background causing a slow computer without you even realizing it.
It is a big checklist and, many times, it can be a combination of issues causing your problems. It may be difficult to try and solve all the different problems, but being aware and staying on top of updates and error messages will always help.
Don’t just click “REMIND ME LATER”! Many updates or error messages simply get ignored when people are in the middle of that important report that is due at the end of the day. It is ok to put it off for a couple hours, but don’t let it become a habit!
All of these issues can overwhelm you, but remember…it can be just like a car. Set aside some time for regular maintenance. Thirty minutes of attention can save hours and hours of frustration from a slow computer. And, if the issues are too severe, remember that your friendly neighborhood computer mechanics, Kardon Technology, are at your service.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You Should Buy a Flashdrive

Over the past decade, there have been advancements in every aspect of data storage, mobile computing, and data transfer. Every computer has a DVD/CD combo drive that can burn hard copies of data. Every computer has two or three hard drives or multiple USB drives allowing for external hard drives. There is an abundance of cloud computing allowing for data transfer and storage with ease. To truly take advantage of technology, each of these aspects should be explored and implemented. They are cheap and easy solutions that make using a computer that much easier.
There is, however, one part of mobile computing that many people do not make use of when they have the opportunity.
The USB flash drive is an amazing bit of technology that has evolved in to one of the most important pieces of technology to show up in recent years. Flash drives have grown smaller, changed colors, grown in storage capacity, morphed in to funky shapes and unique figurines, and even replaced the idea of a hard drive in some instances.
Even with these impressive changes, I can attest to seeing multiple flash drives “permanently” attached to desktop computers, sitting under a stack of papers on a crowded desk, or stashed in the front of a drawer with 3 other devices.
Personally, I have one attached to my key chain. It goes everywhere with me. It is with me in my office. It is with me at a client’s office. It is with me even when my laptop is not with me. And, the ability to have needed files with me at all times has been a life saver on multiple occasions. There are company forms, printer installer files, antivirus/antispyware programs, internet browser files, and even important personal documents.
The drives provide any number of important functions:
- Document storage and portability
- Mobile computing and functionality
- Disaster recovery (personal and computing)
- Computer security
First off, the drives are great for important document storage. Whether the documents are used on a daily basis or the documents need to be permanently stored for safekeeping. I have seen the tedious task of emailing files back and forth to yourself just to use something at home and the office. Throw the document on a flash drive and you save time and trouble with access available anywhere. If permanence is more your style, a 4GB flash drive may provide enough storage to save every important document you can dream of and, put in a safe or safety deposit box, you’re provided the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that your life is backed up should the worst happen.
When you step back to look at more than just document storage, the versatility provided by the USB flash drive is truly limitless. Check out the following link for countless free programs available to use with these drives, flash drive programs.
Available functions or programs:
- Backup and Restore USB, among other programs, can be used to backup, restore, and synchronize files between your computer and the flash drive.
- Unstoppable Copier can be used to copy files from damaged media sources, including other portable flash drives.
- Portable Apps and Portable allow you to run programs from a flash drive as soon as the device is connected to the computer. And, when you disconnect the flash drive, the programs go with you.
The list goes on and on. There are password security tools like KeePass Portable, which allows you to carry your passwords with you if you use a common computer station. You even have the ability to put an entire operating system on your flash drive. Should Windows go haywire, an Ubuntu OS on a flash drive could give you the opportunity to access your computer even when all hope seems lost.
When looking at recovering from a disaster, whether it be a computer disaster or a personal disaster, USB flash drives can provide assistance.
To combat computer viruses, you can keep the installer files for Spybot S&D or MalwareBytes at the ready. They won’t be infected while stored safely on your flash drive and they are only a few clicks away from being run on a computer infected by a nasty virus. Dr. Web CureIt and Portable AntiVirus are also portable antivirus programs that can be run straight from a flash drive for quick and easy clean-up. As stated above, you can also carry around a Linux operating system if your Windows operating system becomes broken beyond repair. This drastic step could provide you access to your files to facilitate data recovery.
For a more pervasive disaster, USB flash drives can be used to store and save personal documents of immeasurable value. With a properly encrypted drive, you can store scans of your driver’s license, passport, bank account documents, birth certificate, social security card, insurance information, marriage license, and corresponding information for a spouse and children. Obviously, the utmost care needs to be taken with such important documents, but storing this information can protect yourself in case of a flood, a fire, a robbery, or even other massive natural disasters.
Even after all of the above options, there is still one more very interesting use for a USB device, personal security key. A program like Predator allows you to lock down your computer with the USB drive. When the USB drive is attached, the computer will work like normal. Once it is disconnected, the keyboard and mouse are inactive and the screen will dim. A tool like this can provide amazing and easy-to-use security, as long as you don’t lose that USB device!
Whether any of these options will fit in to your computer usage or the programs provide efficient use of multiple computers, there are several options that should be investigated. Options abound on what is possible with a little plastic bit of technology smaller than a pack of gum.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be.

I remember my first desktop computer that I purchased brand new. Not some second hand machine but one I configured and ordered myself. At a price tag around $2500, I purchased a desktop and a nice big 15 inch monitor. I expected that thing to last for several years and it did. I actually paid it off before it died!
That was when developments in processing power and software weren't moving at the blazing speed it is today. Now, I can purchase an iPhone with over 1000 times more capabilities and functionality than that desktop for $199.
Moore's law postulates that now computing performance will double every 2 years through 2015 or later. That explains why your electronics and computers aren't lasting as long as they used to when they cost thousands of dollars.
So, look at the Windows computer you use to run your businesses. Statistically, you are probably looking at them and saying "The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be."
  • If you can't remember when you bought it, processing power has more than doubled since it was built.
  • If it is running Windows XP SP3 (please don't use it even to finish this article if it is less than SP3), XP was released in 2001 and SP3 in April 2008. So your OS patched version you are running is between 3 and 10 years old depending on how you look at it.
  • If it is running Windows Vista, Vista was release to consumers January 2007, so a very long 4 years of OS troubles are under your belt.
Your systems can't continue to run the devices and software being written for newer technologies forever. They may run but they aren't running efficiently. If you are clicking and waiting forever and you aren't using a machine that runs Windows 7 that is less than 3 years old, it is time. Time to think about putting that old gray mare out to pasture. She just can't run with the fillies and be expected to win.
A word about Apple Computers:
Apple computers are more expensive than Windows PCs and they definitely last longer. As they say "you get what you pay for". There are still reasons to make sure you don't expect it to last two or three times longer without upgrades and updates. They are not immune to Moore's law either.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Social Networking and Your Marketing Strategy - Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 of this Social Media Marketing blog we have touched on the reasons to consider using social networking as part of your marketing strategy and described the familiar faces of social media marketing sites for businesses. Lastly, I will try to explain why using social media sites in your marketing strategy could be a win-win for your small business.

There are several inherent advantages to consider when deciding whether to incorporate social networking in your marketing strategy. Social media is an inexpensive platform for businesses to use - You can't beat free! It can help keep your "brand" and company name at the top of your followers' minds and it's a fun way to interact with people. Typically social networks are stand alone networks but several integrate with each other. For example, Foursquare integrates with Twitter and Facebook. By checking in at your favorite local restaurant, your location update can be sent to both Twitter and Facebook. The major search engines today are not only searching traditional websites, but also sites that contain all forms of media, including social networking sites. Therefore, having a presence on these kinds of sites can help your search marketing optimization efforts.

Information about your company needs to be able to be found and shared. Traditionally, all the information about your company was stored on your website. If you have a social network presence online, you should have links from your website to all your social media sites and vice versa. After all, social networks are where people are gathering, spending more and more time, and very well could be the where someone is first introduced to your company.

Remember when I said that using social networking in your marketing strategy is “free”. That’s not entirely true - after all, time is money. To use social marketing right, you need to build and keep a “following”. To do so you will need a good strategy, a devotion of staff time, giveaways, and advertising. So you should approach social media with the same thoroughness as you would other marketing options. It doesn’t do much for your company’s image if you have an unmaintained social media presence. Businesses need to consider the costs and potential returns of social media before jumping right into it.

Oh look! Now I’ve scared you. Maybe you like the social media marketing concept but are unsure whether you should take the leap on your companies small budget. No worries, there is help on the web - Roost is one online company that seeks to help you get those word of mouth referrals and loyal customers that will help increase your business. Roost can help you decide what to post of your social media sites - from how many pictures to post, articles to share and even questions to ask. You can also set up a schedule as to when Roost will post the articles, photos and messages automatically for you throughout the week. Roost boasts that it only takes 20 minutes to set up your campaigns for the week. And it's free -- Free is still good, right?

These days people are less likely to trust the many types of advertising messages, instead preferring to trust what each other has to say. As I've mentioned a few times already, word of mouth has great influence and therefore is the most effective advertising medium. The key is to find out who is doing the talking, what they are saying and where are they saying it. Knowing this information you can create a campaign to deliver your message to those influential people where they are doing the talking. So, grab the attention of your audience and encourage them to share your message. By getting followers to share your message, your message is considered as coming from a "trusted source" and therefore becomes a very valuable part of your overall business strategy.