Diagnose USB Charge Problems

Posted by admin on Jun 26, 2013

If you are trying to use a USB port to charge a device, and it is not working, there are tools in Windows that can help. Go to Control Panel -> Device Manager -> and select Devices by Connection from the View menu. Click the name of your PC and press the asterisk (*) key. This will open a list of devices connected to your system. Scroll down till you find “Generic USB Hub”. Right-click that item and select Properties. Then click the Power tab.

After all that clicking, you will see a list of USB devices, and the amount of power that each one is drawing. This information can help you determine whether the device will charge quickly or slowly given the amount of power it is drawing.   Fixing the problem could take a bit of trial and error, but start by unplugging any non-essential USB devices and see if the numbers change.

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Don’t Defrag Your SSDs

Posted by admin on Jun 25, 2013

If you are running a Solid State Drive in your computer, you should turn off the automatic defragment option in Windows.  SSDs are not affected by file fragmentation in the same way as traditional hard drives are and don’t need to be defragged.  Actually, it shortens their lifespan.  After purging a bunch of data from your SSD, you should restart your system and just let it sit idle for a while.  It will optimize itself.

Email Bad Habits

Posted by admin on Jun 19, 2013

Continuing from my previous post about bad habits, here are some email specific habits that need breaking.

1) Keeping a full inbox is cumbersome, and slows down productivity.  Many people strive for “inbox zero” (keeping your inbox empty), but the idea is to keep your inbox as small as possible.  Email programs (even web based ones) will allow you to create folders to organize your emails.  Use the “three d’s” method of dealing with emails.  Do It (take care of the email immediately, then file it), Ditch It (if it is not worth your time, delete it or unsubscribe from it), and Delegate It (if it is actually someone else’s job to take care of that, forward it to them, and delete it).

2) Don’t respond to SPAM.  If you do, you have essentially confirmed that your email address is valid, and you will get much more. Unsubscribe if you can, setup a SPAM filter, or in severe cases, change your email address.

3) Think before you reply.  Write your reply, and then read it over again.  Make sure that you have not said something you will regret, or will get you into trouble.  Have you fully answered the question or explained yourself clearly? Also, double check the recipients… did you click “Reply” or “Reply All”?

Personally, I get probably a hundred or more emails every day… and I currently have three in my inbox. Everything else has either been dealt with, filed, deleted, or scheduled in my calendar to take care of.

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The Worst Tech Habits

Posted by admin on Jun 18, 2013

We all have bad habits, but our bad habits can hurt our technology.  Here’s how to break those bad tech habits.

1) Don’t leave your equipment in plain site.  You are just asking for it to be stolen or damaged.  Imagine if your laptop was stolen with all your wedding photos and banking information.

2) There is a time and a place to use your gadgets.  Distracted driving (and walking) is a great concern to public safety.  Make sure when you are engrossed in the content on your cell phone or tablet, that you will not get into an accident or drop your device and damage it.

3) Using your device with dirty hands will shorten the life of it.  Standard keyboards can get clogged with grime, and even touch screens can get so covered that they will not work well.  It is also a great way to spread germs.

4) Keep your equipment clean – in this case, I am talking about your laptops, desktops, printers, etc.  At least once a year, you should clean your computer equipment.  If you are not comfortable taking your computer apart to clean inside, then take it to a repair shop and have them do it.  Your stuff will last a lot longer.

5) Bad posture is another bad habit.  Take a few minutes to adjust your chair, your desk, your screen, and even your lighting.  You will be more productive and less stressed if you have a comfortable work environment.

6) Take breaks – lots of them.  Your employer may not agree with the idea of taking 10 fifteen minute breaks during the day, but at least once an hour, you should get up from your desk and stretch.  Go get a drink, use the bathroom, go outside for some fresh air, anything that is not sitting.

7) Don’t work with your laptop on your lap.  I know, that is what they are called, but they can cut off circulation in your legs.  Not to mention, that they need air flow underneath to stay cool, and your legs can block that air flow. Try using a lap desk, or find a different position to use your laptop.

8) BACK UP YOUR DATA! Do it, and do it often.

9) Another thing you have probably heard a million times is to not use the same password for everything.  If you don’t value your money or information, go ahead and use the same password.

10) Do updates – all your software needs updating.  That also includes your phones, tablets, and computers. Updated software crashes less, and gives you more features.

11) Save paper, ink and money – don’t print everything.  Save it, and back it up (see number 8).

12) Don’t fax, use email instead.  Faxing is slow, poor quality, and wastes more paper and ink.  Scan and email your documents instead.

13) Recycle your electronics.  There is no excuse anymore.  There are numerous places you can take your electronics to be recycled.

14) If you are having a problem with a piece of technology (hardware or software) check the manual and the manufacturer’s website before you call for help.  In most cases, someone else has had the same problem, so you can probably find the solution online.

15) Social Media is great, but don’t over share. Only share posts or make comments that your “friends” will actually appreciate. If you are one of those people who share every post they see, most people will end up blocking your feed altogether.

16) No gadgets at the dinner table – or any time when you are in the company of others.  It is rude and distracting.

17) Keep your phone, tablet, laptop, or any other fragile device in a case. You don’t have to invest in a state-of-the-art waterproof case from Otterbox, but you should use something to protect it.

18) Silence your phone when you are in a theatre, doctor’s office, or library. Better yet, turn off all audible notifications for anything other than a phone call.  That is why they invented vibrate.

19) Reboot your devices from time to time.  All electronics can benefit from a refresh from time to time.  If you notice that your phone, tablet, or computer is acting a bit strange.  Before you get mad at it, take a few minutes and restart it.  You will be surprised at how much better it works.


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Set Up A Safe Virtual Private Network

Posted by admin on Jun 11, 2013

I have several clients that require a VPN -Virtual Private Network, and it can be a great solution to businesses both large and small.  So what is a VPN? Basically, think of it as using the internet to extend your office network to anywhere in the world.  If you have remote offices, employees that work from home, or sales people on the road, a VPN can be a valuable tool.  Those off site workers can access your local network, server, and even shared printers!  They can essentially work as if they were in the office.

Our favourite tool for setting up a virtual network is Hamachi. It is free for up to 5 users, and they have a very reasonable yearly price for larger networks. It is a small program that runs in the background on Windows and Mac, and assigns each Hamachi user a unique private IP address.  This is what creates the security.  Not only do you need a username and password to connect to the network, but you also need to have an approved IP address and save a security file to your device.  If you run a server, they would also still need to log in as they normally would, adding another layer of security.

The speed of the network, is of course, dependent on the internet connection… but any connection will do.  You can even use a public WiFi connection and not have to worry about someone hacking you. I have used mine with my cell phone tethered to my laptop, and it worked just fine.

Why am I not getting the internet speed I paid for?

Posted by admin on May 8, 2013

Almost no one gets the internet performance that their ISP advertises. Variables make speeds impossible to predict, and the providers advertise the best possible speed.  The difference between the advertised speed and the real speed should be reasonably close.  If you are regularly getting 70% of what you are promised, you have a serious bottleneck.  Visit www.speedtest.net, and click on “Begin Test” to find out what your internet speeds are.  You will get three numbers… ping… download… and upload.  The important number here is the download.  Compare that number to the promised speeds from your provider.

You should also run that test from several devices on your network (if you have them) and compare the numbers.  Speedtest.net has apps for Blackberry, iPhone and Android as well.  It is possible that it is just the one system that is running slow.  If that is the case, then have that device looked at.  If all your devices are downloading at the same (slow) speed, then it could either be your router/modem or your ISP.  Call your internet provider and have them test the connection to your modem.  You can also bypass your router, and connect your computer directly to the modem and test it again.


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How Companies Get You To Keep Buying New Stuff

Posted by admin on May 8, 2013

When was the last time a broken DVD player led to a trip to the repair shop?  The reality is this: We don’t fix electronics anymore, we just replace them. Experts call this a growing throwaway-electronics culture. While tech companies benefit from shorter product life cycles, the by-product can harm household budgets and the planet.  The end result: Electronics containing toxic substances are appearing in landfills around the world.

With inexpensive gadgets showing up at prices people can’t resist, and manufacturers building items that are too costly to repair (along with shorter warranties), they end up in the trash.  One suggestion is to put the responsibility of recycling the item onto the manufacturer. That might force the manufacturers to design better, longer-lasting, less-toxic, and more-recyclable products in the first place.

So, how can you help?  First, make sure that you take all your dead equipment to a recycling drop-off location.  If your item is still useful… just not to you, then try and donate it to an person or organization that can use it.  Most importantly, however, is to purchase well-built products in the first place.  Don’t always look at the price tag.

We here at ICS will take back any electronic item that we have sold, and will either recycle it, or find someone that can use it.

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Global WordPress Brute Force Attack

Posted by admin on Apr 12, 2013

There is an on-going and highly-distributed, global attack on WordPress installations across virtually every web host in existence.  This attack is well organized and again very, very distributed; we have seen over 90,000 IP addresses involved in this attack.

At this moment, we highly recommend you log into any WordPress installation you have and change the password to something that meets the security requirements.  These requirements are fairly typical of a secure password: upper and lowercase letters, at least eight characters long, and including “special” characters (^%$#&@*).

You have now changed your WordPress password, correct?  Good.

The main force of this attack began last week, then slightly died off, before picking back up again yesterday morning.  No one knows when it will end.  The symptoms of this attack are a very slow backend on your WordPress site, or an inability to log in.  In some instances your site could even intermittently go down for short periods.

We are taking several steps to mitigate this attack throughout our server farm, but in the same breath it is true that in cases like this there is only so much that can actually be done.  If you are hosted with us and you would like for us to take a more severe, heavy-handed approach to mitigate this attack, we can do this via means such as password-protecting (via .htaccess) all wp-login.php files on the server.  If you would like our assistance with this, please contact us.

Again, this is a global issue affecting all web hosts.  Any further information we could provide at this moment would be purely speculation.  Our hope is that this attack ends soon, but it is a reminder that we must all take account security very seriously.

We will update this blog post when we have further information.

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Security Resolutions to Make in 2013

Posted by admin on Mar 19, 2013

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution this year?  Have you been able to keep it?  Here is a suggestion from your friendly computer guys… consider pledging to upgrade the security of your digital life.  Here are a few suggestions to get you on the right track.

Do you have a smart phone, tablet or mini computer? Enable the screen lock.  It may be a pain to have to enter the code every time you want to use the device, but if they get lost or stolen, others could access your email, your files, or even your social network sites.  While you are at it, turn on the anti theft feature.  Most carriers offer the service free of charge, and if they don’t look for a free app that can do the same thing.  The feature can help you find the phone when it is lost, or even disable the phone so that it cannot be accessed.

I am sure you have an antivirus program installed, but when was the last time you checked to make sure it was updated and run a full scan?  All good programs will do that stuff automatically, but it never hurts to make sure that it is doing its job. If you are unsure if you have enough protection, check with your IT guy.

You can also encrypt your usb thumb drives.  I don’t know about you, but I have some pretty important information on my usb stick. If you have encrypted the drive, and used a difficult to crack password, your data will be safe.  Just don’t forget the password you used, because it will cost you a lot of money to get the password removed.  Windows 8 will encrypt usb drives, but there are also a number of free programs for Windows 7 and XP users.

If you use social network sites such as Facebook, you can make sure they are secure as well. Take a minute to review your social network security and privacy settings.  Maybe change your password to something more difficult to crack.

Do you have a backup plan?  Do you actually follow through with the plan?  If you are like me, you usually forget to backup your important data.  Sign up for online backup, and you don’t have to worry!  We here at ICS offer a great online backup solution, but there are numerous others to choose from.

Update your router and wireless password.  If your existing router is more than 3 years old, it probably does not have the best security and firewall settings available.  Since a new router will cost you around $50, and will give you much better performance and security, it is worth the upgrade.  That is also the perfect time to choose a more complex password for your wireless connection.

For power users, you can use OpenDNS to filter the internet.  It is designed to block not only inappropriate sites, but also sites that spread viruses and other malicious threats.  Best of all, the basic service is free, and you can use it on a single computer or an entire network.

Of course, these are just a few suggestions, and they may not apply to your situation.  The point is, to take a quick look at all aspects of your digital life and make sure you are secure.  So for the next month, every time you use a digital device, or use a password protected site or service, double check the security settings and consider changing your password.  Some day you may thank me for it.  If you decide not to follow my suggestions… we are open Monday to Friday, and would be happy to fix whatever problems may arise.

The Windows Family Tree

Posted by admin on Mar 15, 2013

Well, Windows 8 has been out for a few months, and people seem to be torn between loving it or hating it.  Many of our customers ask us “why did Microsoft have to change Windows?”  In actuality, Windows has gone through some really drastic changes in the almost 30 years since its first launch.  Here is a brief history…

1985 – Windows 1.0 ships (no one predicted big things for this somewhat clunky visual file-management utility)

1987 – Windows 2.0 (not only graphical, but you could now overlap open windows)

1990 – Windows 3.0 ships (this version transformed the way that users interacted with their PCs)

1992 – Windows 3.1 (revamped to include networking and better memory management)

1994 – Windows 95 launches (the first complete operating system, essentially killed off DOS)

1998 – Windows 98 (this was the staple operating system for many computers, for many years)

2000 – Windows 2000 (a business-class operating system, equipped with networking and file sharing)

2000 – Windows ME (basically a “repackaged” Windows 98, that did not get high praises)

2001 – Windows XP arrives (merged 2000 and ME into Microsoft’s most successful operating system to date)

2007 – Windows Vista (as with ME, this version did not go over well with technicians and users alike)

2009 – Windows 7 released (proved to be the comeback OS that Microsoft needed)

2012 – Windows 8 debuts (completely changing the way we interact with our computers)

Looking at this extensive list, you may notice a few things.  Firstly, Microsoft released a new operating system about every 2-3 years… except for Windows XP which did not get replaced for almost 6 years.  That is one reason why many expected greater things from Vista.  They had an extra 3 years to get it right.  Many believe that they were actually working on Windows 7, but since it wasn’t ready yet, they decided to launch Vista to keep the revenue flowing in.

Another thing you may notice is that only every third operating system was a hit.  Is it just that Microsoft’s software developers are really crappy at developing new software? Or is it that they push the boundaries so much that it takes us users a bit to get used to it.  For example, when Windows 1.0 launched, we were all using DOS.  Comfortable DOS.  Why change?  By the time we got used to the graphical interface, Windows 3.0 was out.  Windows was finally a big hit! Then we got comfortable again… until Windows 98 launched, and we were again pushed out of our comfort zone.  This time, however, the users embraced the changes.  Same thing happened with Windows XP, and Windows 7.  Windows 8 is really that “in-between” operating system that is pushing us to rethink how we use the computer.  Are we ready for it yet?  Probably not, but give us time – we will learn to love it.