Upcoming Server Maintenance

We have several upcoming Server Maintenance that needs to be performed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011 starting at 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time till no later than 4:00 a.m. Mountain Time July 15th.  During this time, most websites and email accounts will be offline while we perform a software upgrade one of our primary web servers.   After 4:00 a.m. on Friday, if you experience any issues please contact our support line.

Friday, July 15th, 2011 starting at 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time we will be performing hardware upgrades to most servers.  Outages should be fairly short, but this will affect almost all users at some point.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

Content Filtering

We are often asked how to protect computer, prevent kids at home, or business employees from accessing inappropriate or dangerous content on the Internet.  There are numerous commercial solution available on the market, but most require you to have some IT experience and install an “agent” (software) on each computer you want to protect.  In today’s modern home, there are many ways to access the Internet, more than just the desktop.  We have smart TVs, smart phones, Internet enabled gaming devices just to name a few.  No one software provider has a product for every device out there.  The only real solution, is to filter content at the “router”.

A simple solution to add a lot of protection, is OpenDNS.

We recommend using OpenDNS because it’s great for business and household use.  OpenDNS doesn’t require any additional software or hardware to be installed on your home or business network.  Its free for home use, and the scalable for business use. Features allow businesses and households to set protection levels, view reports, and parents to control what kids see and you can even create a splashpage that they see when a page is blocked “See mom for access to this page” or my personal favorite “You can have access to your web game when your room is clean!” 😉  Reports help make managing a network less confusing.

Since OpenDNS is enabled at the “network”, and not on each individual computer, it also provides some protection to the many “web-enabled” devices in your household or business today, such as iPhones, Androids, tablets, Wii, PSP, xBOX, Nintendo DS, Netbooks, or any other Internet enabled device.

You should always run a quality virus scanner, but If you are looking for an inexpensive way to perform additional web filtering to protect from phishing, malware and much more, go to OpenDNS to learn more and sign-up.

Windows Updates June 14, 2011

For the most part I always advise users to allow Windows Update to download and install updates automatically.  However, this week some of the updates may adversely affect a few users.  If you update to IE9 you must also make sure your Adobe Flash is updated to the latest version, HOWEVER, this may cause some Flash applications to NOT work as expected if they have not upgraded to the latest version of Flash.  Please check you applications prior to upgrading to IE9.  Also, if you use VMWare player, you may want to wait until the next set updates comes out.  There are many reported issues with many of these security updates causing VMWare Player to crash and even uninstall/reinstall does not correct the issue.  If VMWare Player is important to your work, wait to install these Windows Updates (ESPECIALLY if you are still using Windows XP).

After you install Windows Updates you should check to make sure your email settings are correct AND double-check your hardware settings.  There have been reports of hardware settings such as power and cooling settings changing.

As always… it’s a good idea to make a restore point and/or a BACKUP of your computer prior installing updates.

I dropped my phone in the…

I’ve had FOUR phone calls today from people in a panic because they dropped their phone “in the pool… lake… sink… toilet…” (OH… and now I’ve officially had “I dropped my iPod in my beer!” (please follow the same procedure for lakewater 😉 )

The best advice I can give you is: teach your phone to swim 😉 and if that doesn’t work, try this:

Items you will or might need:

1) a zip-close bag full of dry, uncooked rice (NO, to the best of my knowledge, it does NOT matter what kind of rice… just UNCOOKED)

2) distilled water

TURN OFF THE PHONE (iPod, mp3, electronic device, etc.), and/or DO NOT TRY TO TURN IT ON! If possible, take out the battery IMMEDIATELY!

FIRST, if you dropped your device into something “dirt-y” you are going to want to rinse it with DISTILLED water, even if you do not think the water was “dirty” you might want to use distilled water. By DIRT, I mean like lakewater… and I’ll let you decide what to do if it takes a swim in the toilet 😉 PLEASE keep in mind that distilled water is not a disinfectant (and do NOT attempt to use a disinfectant); I want you to use distilled water to get any DIRT out of the phone. If you took a swim in the ocean (or a fishtank) you MUST rinse with distilled water ASAP to get the salt or minerals off of the copper components!

I have been asked about alcohol and there are PROS & CONS to alcohol: 1) rubbing alcohol usually isn’t “strong” enough to clean and dry out without leaving a residue and rubbing alcohol is usually what everyone has in their cabinets. You see, it works wonders on components but if it touches your screen, it will leave a mess. SOOOO, feel free to gently clean the battery, cover, keyboard, etc. with alcohol, but if it has an LCD screen, do NOT submerse your device in rubbing alcohol!

If possible, take out the battery and gently set the phone on the rice, be careful not to get rice or rice dust into the phone. Seal the bag and let it set overnight (the longer the better). DO NOT SHAKE THE BAG. Everyone always calls me back and says the phone screen is clear after just a couple of hours… GOOD… but that does NOT mean the components inside are dry, it just means the rice is working! KEEP IT IN THE BAG OVERNIGHT!

[UPDATE: if you are at a pool and have no rice, as apparently many of you have experienced: you should remove the battery (if possible) and set the device on your dash IN THE SUN. This will at least get the process started until you can go buy rice! if you are at the beach… WAIT… you MUST rinse the salt out of your phone BEFORE it dries!]

This does not always work but I have known people to use this solution multiple times, on the same device, with great results.

[NOTE: many have asked about using a blow dryer. I do NOT recommend this for two reasons: 1) because the forced air may actually push water or debris into areas not previously penetrated, and, 2) because if you use too high of heat, you can damage your phone… and NO… do NOT put your phone in the OVEN!]

Blog Easier

Many businesses are interested in “this new blogging thing” that is out there 😉 Blogging is basically defined as a Web Log, hence Blog. It’s not new, just a whole lot easier to do. Many of you, who know me personally, know that I have kept a personal “blog” for over 14 years now (since Jan 1997). As the years have passed, posting to blogs has gone from a tedious task to something as simple as a click of a button. My response to people when they ask if they should blog is “why not?” Many questions come from people who just want to keep in touch with family with a short anecdote and pictures of the grandkids. However, there are legitimate business reasons to keep a blog. It’s an excellent way to keep in touch with your customers by keeping them apprised of new or innovative ways to use your products. Blogging encourages feedback and that is always good. Regardless of whether comments are positive or negative, they encourage your customers to talk to you and allow you to address any concerns or reward and recognize superior performances.

That said, many times the communications of a company are left to the office staff. An excellent example would be a church where the bulletin is often prepared and printed by the church secretary. Imagine how tedious it would be to require this person to also login to the church website and retype or even cut/paste excerpts from the bulletin. True, the ability to cut/paste has made life much easier but websites are still an environment that many church secretaries do not feel comfortable entering.

Now enter Word 2007. Using the same example as above, the church secretary has probably created the bulletin in Word 2007 (or another comparable publishing product). Using Word 2007 you literally click on “create new”, select “New Blog Post” and after a quick set up, it’s a simple as the click of a button to publish to your blog. Now instead of remembering any website information, an authorized user can create and publish posts to a blog.

One detail you must remember before using Word 2007 to blog is to have the website administrator turn on xmlrpc.php, once this task is complete, you are ready to blog using Word 2007.

Microsoft has some helpful screenshots of how to create a new blog post using Word 2007. Keep in mind that using Word 2007 to make a blog post is a simple solution that many users need in order to take that first pensive step into the online community. If you are looking for bells and whistles, you probably want to stick with your theme plugins, otherwise… Blog Easier!

[NOTE:  this post was made using Word 2007]

Securing Your Network

Recently, someone asked about securing their home network because they had overheard a coffee shop conversation where someone needed to look up a map or directions and the reply was, “I’ll just open my laptop and you drive around this neighborhood until we find an open network.”  It’s actually more common than you think and many law enforcement agencies have trained volunteers that do just that… drive around your neighborhood looking for open networks, to teach you how to protect yourself.  It used to be just reminding you to close your garage door, but an open network can lead to breached data and identity theft.  Securing your wireless network is easy, but varies between product vendors.  When setting up your wireless network, make sure you enable “wireless security”, such as WEP, WPA or WPA2.

Sharing Files Online

We are often asked what is the best software to purchase so that employees can share files in the office, and then the next question is “can I get to that from the internet?”  That’s a loaded question that most IT departments do not want you to ask.  Allowing access to internal networks is often a lot trickier than most users think.  And stepping out of the office, what if you just want to share files with your family, have kids create a project together, organize photos for a sports club?  The answer to all of the above can be simple… use DropBox.

Here’s the definition of DropBox according to wikipedia

DropBox has been around for a while now and many articles have been written about it’s features and uses, including MaximumPC, and Forbes and many others.  To learn more about DropBox and download a copy visit their website:  http://www.dropbox.com

You might have questions about security regarding your files, this is what their website says:

We always suggest that you use common sense regarding your data.  If you feel like something should be “classified” then you will want to do more research before storing your files (because you will want to know how their data is backed up and restored… their data being YOUR data).  However, if you are trying to share pictures of Auntie Em and her prize apple pie… this is for you!

More About An “About Us” Page

I often have customers spend a lot of time working on their “about us” pages to give details, not “fluff”.  I also like to keep my eye out for news articles that I can direct my customers for more information.

Today, I was browsing around my newslists because I like to subscribe to ALL of them. It’s information overload but I like to see what is good, what is bad, what is weird, what is left and what is right.   Sometimes an article is an excellent example of “WHAT NOT TO DO!”  I found an article from a few days ago that gives excellent advise on how to create an “About Us” page for your website.

BNET is part of the CBS Business Network: http://www.bnet.com/blog/small-biz-advice/7-ways-to-write-a-better-8216about-us-8217-page/753?tag=content;drawer-container

Scheduled Server Maintenance

Scheduled Server maintenance Thursday, March 30 starting at 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time till no later than 4:00 a.m. Mountain Time March 31st. This is a little earlier than usual due to the volume of work need to be completed. During this time, each system may be power cycled. There will be periodic disruptions in service to all customers. After 4:00 a.m. on Friday, if you experience any issues please contact our support line.

Are Your Backups Really Backups?

I have heard many stories over the years from people who “thought” they had backups of their data, only to experience a data loss and discover that their backups were useless.  Do you know if your data backup is a true backup?

There are many reasons why a backup might not work:  the original data was corrupted, the media is no longer readable, or the data is obsolete.  There are some simple steps to verifying that your backups will work for you in your time of need.

Verify your data is not corrupt

Often, people set their computers to have automated backups and do not realize that they have inadvertently deleted or moved a file or have a system that is infected with malware.   Once your system has become infected the integrity of your data is at risk.  You should have a good scanner installed on your system and periodically run thorough checks to confirm that your files are intact.  If you think your system is infected here is a brochure: Tier3 Malware Brochure, to assist you with removing the malware.

Once you have completed a backup you should review your logs to verify that no errors occurred during the process.  If you have automated backups, you should create a reminder to check the logs periodically.  There are many types of backups settings and the ability to recover a deleted file may be a short-term setting.

Not all backup types are the same

While backing up your data is paramount, the way you backup your data is also vital to data recovery.  The best solution is to have multiple backups on varying media in multiple locations.  To accomplish this you will want to consider media types.  Many companies use tape backups, which require a person to actually physically go to the data server to manually rotate tapes.   Consumers have copied data to CD’s/DVD’s because they are extremely portable, but the longevity of this media is still in question.  Many portable devices are considered disposable and while you might have a copy of your data on a thumb drive, this may not be a true backup of the files you need.  Secure online backups have become popular in recent years because it is a true backup located off-site, requiring only the internet for access.

When choosing backup solutions you should consider the ability to access your backup.  Are you in an area that might be evacuated?  If so, remembering to take your backup device and power cords might be difficult.  It is a good idea to “share backup” services with another field office, or even another family member who lives in another region.  Make a backup of your data, verify that it is valid and then mail a copy.  You may not have immediate access but if your data does not change often, for example, archives of family photos, you will have the data secured.  An excellent addition to “shared backup” services is secure online backups accessed anywhere from the internet.  You will have access, or another field office or family member, to easily bring your data online from anywhere.

Check to make sure your file types are supported

Imagine that you have your entire family collection of videos on BETA or VHS tapes.  While having the data is important, half the battle is having access to that data.  You may save your box of BETA tapes from a house fire only to discover that your ancient BETA recorder has been lost.  The same goes for electronic data.  Many popular file formats are already beginning to see changes.  For example, Microsoft recently made changes to the file extensions used in its popular Office Suite software.  You may have noticed your .doc is now a .docx and so on.  Music types have also seen changes in recent years.

It’s a good idea to periodically review your backup data sources to make sure those files are still accessible.  If you notice that your file types are becoming obsolete there are many options available to assist with conversions.  Never destroy the original version, who knows, BETA might become popular again one day.

[originally reviewed October 2009]

For more information:

Tier3 offers secure online backup solutions, for more information visit our Tier3 Backup website.

A great new article, dated December 2010, discussing many of the same topics can be found at CNET:  Future-proof your data archive