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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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Protecting Your Computer Cables: It’s a Wrap

By Agent Ron G.

OK, I know. You’re probably saying “not another post from some obsessive-compulsive techie on how a clean computer is a happy computer.” And yet here we are. Why? Because while it’s been said many times before, it’s still just as true. Well tended devices and accessories last longer.

Working on client computers for many years gave me a unique point of view on what does (and doesn’t) work — and mistreating your computer cables leads to trouble down the road. Cables aren’t just a bit of wire wrapped in plastic. Most contain a series of wires braided together in specific ways to let them to efficiently transmit information from the connector at one end with the connector at the other. Twisting, crimping, knotting or jamming cables in a drawer eventually damages the wires inside.

A friend of mine in the film business once pointed out to me that audio and video cables have a natural twist in them that, if you follow it, will let you wrap a cable so it won’t get tangled. I found this video that explains how to wrap cables in a way that follows the natural twist, and now I’m a believer.  Check it out:

Coiling a Cable by Roberto Baldwin

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | Home Remedies | How To | Laptop | Technology

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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Look! In the Cloud! (It’s Your Data)

By Agent Ron G.

According to an InformationWeek Report, the adoption rate of public cloud services has expanded consistently for the past four years. In a recent survey, 30 percent of respondents said they were using a cloud provider, and an additional 40 percent said they were planning on using or evaluating cloud sevices.

 

 

The future of computing is in in the cloud — and looking at the advantages that come with it, it’s understandable why people are flocking there. Amongst other things, cloud services allow users to:

  • Save storage space on their devices. With your data securely stored and available through any Web connection, you can access those pictures of your Dad’s birthday party from anywhere — and they don’t have to take up space on your main hard drive anymore. (Always have a backup, though!)
  • Share Files with Others. With your data available anytime, anywhere, and from any web-ready device, it’s easy for you to collaborate with coworkers or partners on projects, working off the same document with each other.
  • Off-Site Storage = Safety. While it’s still important to have a local back up, accidents can happen. All it takes is a flood, a tornado, earthquake, or some other disaster to destroy your data. Backing up all you data to the cloud gives you peace of mind, knowing it is secure and available when you need it.

Knowing this, here’s a rundown of some of the major cloud computing service providers.

iCloud

iCloud is Apple’s cloud service, and it blends seamlessly with Apple products. The service also keeps your email, contacts and calendars up to date across all of your devices without syncing. Although the service only works on Apple’s mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod), it will sync with both Apple laptops and Windows-based PCs.

What You Get for Free: Free storage up to 5GB (Note that your photo stream as well as your purchased music, movies, apps, books and TV shows don’t count against this number.)

Pricing for Additional Storage: $20/year for 10GB of extra storage, $40/year for 20GB of extra storage, $100/year for 50GB of extra storage.

Operating Systems & Devices: iCloud is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac computers, and it comes with any new Apple device purchase. It is also available for use on Windows-compatible computers that run Windows 7 or Vista and have iTunes and the iCloud Control Panel.

Google Drive

Google Drive is the cloud platform that replaced Google Docs. Google Drive allows you to share files and collaborate with users you have given permission to. Starting out with 5GB of space to play with, you can upload almost any file type to Google Drive, which can then be accessed by nearly any kind of Web-connected device.

What You Get for Free: Free storage up to 5GB.

Pricing for Available Storage: $2.49/month for 25GB of extra storage and $4.99/month for 100GB of additional storage.

Operating Systems & Devices: Google Drive is available for PC, Mac, Android, iPhone and iPad.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a file sharing service that allows you to drag and drop files to a folder on your computer which is synced with the cloud, making that file available on other computers or devices you have Dropbox set up on. You can also share out the link to collaborators, making it available whenever they need. Since Dropbox syncs this folder automatically across similarly set up devices, you’ll have access to these locally-synced files even when you are not online.

What You Get for Free: Free accounts start at 2GB.

Pricing for Additional Storage: You can also purchase 50GB for $9.99/month or 100GB for $19.99/month. You will also get additional space for each referral with upgraded accounts. To earn additional free space, refer your friends. You can get up to 18GB for free (2GB standard storage with 500MB per referral).

Operating Systems & Devices: Dropbox is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile devices, including iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android.

Pogoplug PC

Pogoplug PC lets you remotely access all the content on your computer via a smartphone, tablet or other computer using the Internet, essentially turning your PC into your own personal cloud. You can also install Pogoplug PC on multiple computers and have it automatically sync your files from one machine to another. This is a good solution for those who need to connect on the go.

What You Get For Free: Free 30-day trial. Pogoplug gives you 5GB of hosted storage for free so that you can keep an extra copy of your files offsite.

Pricing for Additional Storage: A one-time fee of $29.95 for Pogoplug PC.

Operating Systems & Devices: Pogoplug PC uses Microsoft Windows XP/7/8, Apple Mac OS X 10.6.8 & above. It is compatible with iPhone, iPad and Android.

This is just a sampling of the many cloud-based computing services available. New platforms and tools are being added every day. If you’d like to discuss some of the options available, feel free to Chat with a Geek Squad Agent online.

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | Data | Home Remedies

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Friday, August 23, 2013

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Breaking Old Tech Habits is Hard to Do (But necessary)

By Agent Ron G.

Each time I return from getting my teeth cleaned, I swear it will be different this time: I’ll develop better dental health habits – brush after every meal, floss at least once a day – in order to avoid the uncomfortable gum scraping (and guilt-inducing “tsk-tsk”) from my hygienist.

 

 

And it works… for a while. But then I get in a hurry, skip the flossing a couple times, forget to brush on occasion…  and next thing I know, I’m frantically flossing my teeth and hoping my gums will stop bleeding before I go in for a cleaning that morning. (In the end, the bad habits have won again.)

As many a wise mother has said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Just wanting to change my bad habits isn’t getting the job done. I need to remember the reasons why I am trying to establish the good dental care habits (getting my teeth and gums scraped, the tsk-tsking) when I start the slide into my old bad habits. There’s a benefit to avoiding bad habits. Keeping the benefits at the forefront gives the good habits a chance against the bad ones.

The same can be said for eliminating bad tech habits. Many of us take our electronic devices for granted, get absorbed in our screens and forget that how we interact with our technology has a direct impact on how often we have to replace it. A little reminder of why good tech habits matter should help all of us keep the bad habits at bay.

To that end, our friends at PC World recently published an article calling out our worst tech habits and laying out the reasons to avoid them. Check out the article here:

The 21 Worst Tech Habits – And How to Break Them (by Christopher Null)

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | Home Remedies | How To | iPhone | Laptop | Smartphone | Tablet | Technology

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

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Laptops and Liquids: A Cautionary Tale

By Agent Kate B

At the most basic level, liquid and electricity don’t mix.  Liquid spills on any electronic device are bad news – and if the liquid has sugar, flavoring, or anything else dissolved in it, you’ve got more problems that just avoiding a short circuit. 

 

 

Computer keyboards have taken all manner of abuse for years, with spills leading the way. When most keyboards were not attached,  cleaning up after you spilled your mocha on it was fairly simple — and in a worst case scenario, you just replaced the keyboard. While external keyboards are easy to clean and/or replace, laptop keyboards are another story.

Laptop keyboards are connected to the device’s motherboard by very thin ribbon cables. Since liquid is an excellent conductor, spills on any keyboard can short circuit the keyboard, causing some of the keys to stop working.

Simply drying off the device and keyboard is a start, but it’s only the beginning. Even if you thoroughly wipe the keyboard off, stick it in big box of rice, or use a hairdryer on it (be careful not to melt the keys!), the keys may have sticky residue from the spill inside the tiny cracks and crevasses, gumming up the works. (In my job as a Repair Agent for Geek Squad, I have had clients bring in keyboards with mold, mildew, or rust caused by spilled liquids such as pop, milk, tea, or other fluids. I’ve even seen insects nesting inside laptops, attracted there by sweet residues from pop, juice or beer.)

The worst part? A laptop keyboard spill can cause much deeper damage than just the keyboard — much deeper. Sometimes, liquid spills can seep down through the keyboard and below, damaging the parts underneath it – including the touchpad, memory, processor, and even the motherboard. It’s a silent killer of electronics as well because it sometimes takes it time: liquid spilled today may take days, weeks, or months for the damage to work its “magic”. finally shorting the device out.

Want a quick, easy fix for this? Sorry, there isn’t one. Your best bet is a proactive one: don’t set your cappuccino anywhere near your laptop. (I have a personal rule that all drinks must be kept a full arms-length away from my computing devices.) If you do have a liquid spill, try to dry it as best as you can — but if it is anything more than distilled or tap water, your best bet is to take it to an authorized service / repair provider and ask them to look at it.  If the keyboard needs to be replaced, it is best to have a professional handle the work. Any reputable service provider will provide you with an estimate before replacing it.

If you ever find yourself in this difficult situation, remember – we’re here to help.

Agent Kate B is a 3-year veteran of Geek Squad, currently on assignment at Geek Squad City. Follow Agent Kate on Twitter @AgentKateB.

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Categories: Computing | How To | Laptop

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

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The Evolution of the Touchscreen

By Agent Ron G.

Touchscreens are the input device of today. They’re everywhere – ATMs, gas pumps, desktops and (of course) our pockets.  The touchscreen is an intuitive, elegant and effective interface whose usefulness in the modern information society is shown by its prevalence in the world around us.

 

Because they seemed to explode into our everyday lives, it seems like touchscreen technology must have undergone some radical technical revolution in the last few years – a breakthrough of some kind that moved touch inputs from science fiction to science fact. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Although the multi-touch devices that currently fill our lives were made possible by recent innovations in materials and circuit miniaturization, the thinking behind touchscreen technologies has been evolving through the science and tech communities for more than 45 years. Since the first finger-driven touch screen was invented in 1965 by E.A. Johnson of the Royal Radar Establishment in the United Kingdom, a loose-knit community of researchers, scientists, university faculty, engineers and inventors have worked on taking the clumsy and crude (at the time) input method and refining it into the precise method of interacting with tech devices we have today.

The folks at ARS Technica recently published a history of touch technology as part of their Touch of the Future series. It’s a great summary of how touch moved from heavy glass touchscreen panels to the light, flexible and durable screens we use today. If you are interested in the science that drives your tablet screen, you will enjoy these articles.

From Touch Displays to the Surface: A Brief History of Touchscreen Technology by Florence Ion

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | Tablet | Technology

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

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Phone Scams and Computer Repair: Know Your Facts to Protect Your Computer

By Agent Derek M

Imagine this – you are sitting at home minding your own business when you receive a phone call from an official sounding person telling you that your computer is seriously infected with viruses. They say they will help you out and eliminate the viruses if you will provide a credit card number.

An increasing number of computer users are receiving similar phone calls and some — afraid of potential data loss and device damage — are surrendering their bank account information in the hope this will protect their tech.

If you get such a call, we’re here to tell you — hang up. It’s a scam!

Geek Squad Agents are seeing a rise in phone scams targeting PC and Mac owners. Cybercriminals pretending to work for Microsoft, Geek Squad, or any other nationally-recognized tech company call their intended victims, claim they’ve scanned their computers remotely and found viruses on them. Relying on computer users’ fear of viruses, data loss and identity theft, they trick people into giving them actual access to the computer.

Once the scammer has access to the victim’s system, they will often show the user scary looking error messages on the machine, require immediate payment to cleanup the “dangerously infected” computer and install more “protection” software onto the system. Chances are they’ll take the opportunity to install other bits of malware to capture the victim’s online shopping or banking information.

 If your first instinct is not to trust cold calls about fixing your computer, you’re absolutely right. Scammers often use publicly available information (like your name and telephone number) to make initial contact, and can often make an educated guess about your PC’s operating system. They can sound very convincing (they are good at this), but don’t be taken in.

It’s important to understand that reputable tech companies (like Microsoft, Geek Squad and other tech leaders) will not scan computers remotely without permission from the owner. They will not call computer users unless they are already working with them on a support issue.

Should you receive one of these telephone calls, here are a few tips to help protect yourself:

  • When in doubt, hang up the phone and call the company back at their publicly listed telephone number. You can usually find contact information on their web site.
  • Never provide a credit card or banking account information to someone on a cold call — even if they claim to be from a computer support company.
  • Never give remote access to your computer to any technician unless they can confirm they are a legitimate member of a computer support company with which you have an existing support agreement.

 If you’ve been a victimized by a phone scammer:

  • Contact your credit card or bank and speak with the fraud prevention team to have the charges reversed and the account protected from future charges.
  • Change your computer password, along with the password of any online accounts that may have been provided to the cybercriminal.
  • Update your security software and run a full scan on your computer, or use one of our tools.  You may also want to contact one of our Geek Squad Online Support Agents to have the PC checked for malware.

Phone scams are successful because cybercriminals rely on computer users trusting an unknown person with access to their computers. Together, we can defeat these scams by simply hanging up when you receive an unrequested support call, regardless of who they say they are.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

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Categories: Computing | Data | News and Events | Security Threat Alert | Spyware | Technology

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Monday, July 22, 2013

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SIM card phone hacking — How It May Affect You

By Agent Derek M

The news media is currently abuzz over an announcement by Karsten Nohl of Security Research Labs, indicating that there’s a new phone hack affecting some SIM cards. What does this mean to you, and what do we know about this latest threat? 

 

 

Before we break out the tinfoil hats, let’s start with the basics.  A SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) is the small card slides into the back of many smartphones on the market.  It acts as on official identifier, telling your cell phone provider that your mobile phone belongs to you, and allows it to use your phone and data service.

According to the Security Research announcement, Nohl discovered a flaw in older versions of the DES encryption found on some SIM cards.  Nohl was able to send a fake text message pretending to be a mobile carrier with a fake encryption code.  In 75% of the tests, the phone correctly determined the message was not real and ignored it.  In the remaining 25% of the cases, the phone responded to the fake text message with its encrypted digital signature. — a signature that gives a hacker the ability to send malware to infect the phone, or perform other unwanted actions.

So, what does this mean to you, and your smartphone? Let’s take a look at it closer.

One important thing to understand is that the announcement does not include full details of the flaw, and that the research won’t become available until the BlackHat security conference on July 31st. Until then, there’s going to be a lot of wild speculation on the full impact. Another important thing to note is that the hack is designed to exploit older DES encryption schemes, versus the more modern (and secure) triple-DES protection available on more than half of currently available SIM cards.  And even amongst older DES encrypted SIMs, less than a quarter of them were vulnerable.

Nohl said he believes 750 million out of the billions of mobile phones used today may be vulnerable to this exploit.  The GSM Association has been given information around the flaw, which has been passed on to mobile carriers.  According to Nohl, it will take criminals at least six months to make use of the flaw, time that will be spent implementing fixes on the affected cards.

The important thing? Don’t panic. This will be addressed, and fixed. Check with your local service provider on whether this impacts you or not. As this story develops, we’ll keep you posted.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

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Categories: Data | News and Events | Security Threat Alert | Spyware | Technology

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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Ransomware Now Targeting Mac Users

By Agent Ron G.

Apple computer users have mostly flown under the “malware radar” for years. For a variety of reasons, the Mac operating system (OS) wasn’t targeted by hackers as much as Windows was, and Mac users were able to browse the Web largely unaffected by infections. But as Apple’s share of the computing market has grown, cyber-criminals have set their sights on the Mac OS.

The latest development is a variation on a “ransomware” program that has in the past only targeted Windows users. Ransomware – a version of malware that seemingly locks up a victim’s computer and demands a one-time payment to “unlock” the computer — usually masquerades as an official communication from the FBI. The highly visual warning usually accuses the user of downloading or illegally distributing “prohibited ” content, and requires the payment of a “fine” to unlock the machine. (Note to readers: the FBI doesn’t do this.) Agent Derek wrote a blog post about the Windows version of this security issue last year.

Hackers are now distributing a version of this malware online that targets Mac users. Fortunately, there is a fairly simple solution. To find out how to remove the malware or learn more about this, see this post in the Malware Bytes Unpacked blog.

For a longer discussion of ransomware on Mac OS computers, take a look at this thread in the Apple Support Communities.

If your computer has picked us a virus or is experiencing unexplained performance problems, we have Agents standing by ready to help online, instore and onsite.

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | Security Threat Alert

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Monday, July 15, 2013

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Pet-Proofing Your Tech

By Agent Ron G.

Sharing your living space with our four-legged friends can be tough on your tech. Maybe it’s their lack of opposable thumbs or limited understanding of the alphabet, but it seems to me that my cat just doesn’t understand why I spend so much time at my desk staring at screens. (I should be petting them, after all.) Flop around on my keyboard, chewing on the antennae of my wireless router, or attacking my printer every time I print something out.

 

When you factor in the cat hair, a person begins to wonder if pets and tech can effectively coexist — so when I ran across an article on Lifehacker that could be the answer to all my pet/tech issues, I took it to heart. If you live with pets, this may be just the thing to keep your devices working effectively.

How Can I Protect My Gadgets from Pets?Lifehacker

If liviing with your pet has already impacted your device or network, Geek Squad Agents are here to help 24/7/365 – at home, online, or in a Geek Squad precinct in a Best Buy near you.

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | Technology

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Monday, July 8, 2013

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Social Privacy :
Google+ v. Facebook

By Agent Ron G.

 

With the explosion of social media outlets over the last decade, we seem to be spending more and more of our lives online. Social platforms make it easy and fun to stay connected with friends and family, share the latest cute picture of your cats playing with a ball of twine or check in from your new favorite restaurant. Mobile technology means that you don’t ever have to disconnect from your online network. If you’ve spent any time with teenagers lately, you realize some of them never do.

Even as we become more free with information about our lives, many of us are very aware that we have to be careful who is looking at it. According to a recent survey by the Pew Center Internet and American Life Project, young people are becoming more concerned with protecting access to their online identities as they become more open in their online communities. According to Pew, this apparent contradiction in behavior has been developing in social media user groups for a number of years and has become the new normal in the social sphere. While users are surprisingly free with the type of information they share, they are becoming more hands-on and sophisticated in how they control who can see that information.

“Social media” and “privacy” seem to be mutually exclusive terms. After all, tweeting a pic of you and your colleagues throwing yourselves into Karaoke after work or posting a rant about those idiots that run your neighborhood council on your Facebook wall are not exactly “private” activities. You are posting this stuff on the Web, after all.

Companies that maintain social media platforms are aware of the increasing sophistication of their users and are constantly tweaking their privacy approaches to balance their advertisers’ appetite for information with users’ desire for privacy. Our friends at Webroot did a handy comparison between the privacy practices of Google+ and Facebook, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each platform’s approach to allowing their users control what happens with their personal information.

Social Network Privacy: Google+ or Facebook for a Safer Experience? from Webroot blog

If nothing else, we hope this article will prompt you to dig into the privacy settings of your favorite social media sites. You have more control over this stuff than you think. Good luck.

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | Culture | Facebook | Technology

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