Advice On Commonly Asked Questions

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Q. I get these annoying pop-ups all the time and/or the computer is running really slow.
What gives?

The most common complaint these days. Adware & Spyware are usually the enemy. Spyware is software designed to help someone actually gather information on your surfing habits, peer inside your computer and sometimes record your keystrokes for transmission over the web to a third party. Adware is software designed to divert your attention to pop-up advertisements or web-pages. It is malicious software that is often very difficult to remove. Not always considered a virus, which usually destroys your software and files, adware and spyware are much more common. They also use your computer memory to run, which gives you less. Although the cure might be a worth a pound, here are some things you can do for that precious ounce of prevention:

1. Update your software (windowsupdate.com is on your programs menu) as soon as you are on the internet. As newly discovered security and other software problems in Windows operating systems are found, Microsoft provides software 'patches' or 'updates' to address them for download on it's web-site. Keep up to date, cause hackers know about these security flaws and take full advantage of them.

2. Don't download software that you are not absolutely sure about, like free stuff. Often a free application or program contains third-party software which installs automatically and is designed to avoid detection and be very difficult to remove.

3. Make sure nobody else is doing number 2 on your machine (in both senses).

4. Stay away from file-sharing programs that offer free music and files. Many times downloads contain viruses, and bad software.

5. Do not click here to do a free computer scan, and do not buy a program that will claim to clean the viruses that the 'free scan' found. Generally beware of free offers and scare tactics that entice you to sign up or download.

6. Surfing 'adult' or illegal software 'warez' websites carries a far greater risk of getting viruses, owing to the fact that people do not want to admit they were surfing those sites, and so those sites spreading viruses go unreported.

7. Don't open emails or email attachments from senders you do not know or trust.

Q. Someone told me I should have surge protection to protect my computer. What gives?

Electricity; sometimes friend, sometimes foe. A power surge through the ac power line, the telephone line or even the network circuit can ruin a computer completely. A good surge protector can save you an expensive repair or replacement. Electricity has a magnetic personality, and magnetism is what is carefully used to keep your data on the hard drive. An electrical pulse big enough will magnetize the bits of data on your hard drive, corrupting it's careful placement. Often a complete software refurbish is necessary (if your hardware hasn't also been damaged by the excessive electrical energy). Surge protectors often come with network cable connectors and telephone line connectors (check with your internet provider if you are on dsl, they may not recommend (usually not) a telephone line surge protector as it could interfere with the internet signals). Buy a surge protector from a reputable retailer, not the dollar store. Spend generously here, as surges have damaged many p.c.'s. ;)

Q. When people talk of computer memory, sometimes they are referring to the hard drive and sometimes they are referring to RAM (random access memory). What gives?

They are both forms of memory. The hard drive is a rotating metal set of disks or disk which magnetically stores computer operating instructions and computer files like pictures or text documents. Operating systems need hard disk space. RAM is a temporary memory storage device. If you can understand how a piece of paper can help you perform a long calculation by keeping numbers on paper while you add them up, increasing your calculation speed, you can deduce that a small amount of RAM will do the same for your computer. Too little and you are very slow or unable to make a calculation, too much will be a waste of paper, and cost more. RAM stores numbers temporarily to aid the computer in performing programs. shut down the computer, you loose the numbers stored in RAM, how long does it take you to add 234657 to 6769758 without a piece of paper for memory?

Q. I hear people talking about file extensions, and jpeg's, What gives?

A file extension is an identifying group of usually 2, 3 or 4 letters that appear after the file name. For example, a picture file called 'mountain' might have an extension 'jpeg' after it:


The thing is, Windows hides these extensions from the novice viewer, but fortunately there's a setting you can make that will make them visible. Learning to identify .jpg, .bmp, .doc, .txt, and .gif files is very helpful. Look this up on your favourite search engine for an explanation on how to make this setting on your windows operating system.

Q. Is my computer safe from hackers? What gives?

Lets answer that with another question: Is your car safe from thieves? The answer is NO. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't get a good night's sleep. Security is relative, and it really starts at home. Just like the biggest cause of car theft is a stolen key, the biggest security threat to your home computer is someone else with physical access to your machine. A simple password is a first step, and hiding any personal data from anyone who may use or steal your computer. A good anti-virus program can help, but taking precautions to avoid 'leaving the door open' by inviting malicious software onto your machine will help you more. Study up online on how to avoid viruses and malware, and remember the biggest causes of viruses: file sharing, emails and clandestine websites (ei. adult).

Q. What's wrong with a password? What gives?

Well, a password shouldn't be a word at all. It has been found that, when given the chance, most users will choose a simplistic password. A recent study of passwords revealed that many of them are very common, and easily guessed. Words like password, password123, abc123, 123456, fluffy, qwerty, etc., are placed on hackers lists (as well as all words in the dictionary) to be tried while breaking into accounts. A combination of upper/lowercase letters, numbers and special characters ('$' for example) should be used in your pass 'word' as much as possible, certainly on anything important like internet banking.

To put this in perspective, a hacking program running at 200,000 times per second can run through every combination of letters (capital and lowercase) of a 6 character password in about 27 hours. A 32 character password consisting of letters, numbers and special characters (*,^,$,!,etc.) would take that same program more time than has elapsed since the big bang to run through every possible combination. 5X10^17 seconds elapsed since the big bang, there are 7x10^62 combinations! Put math on your side.

Q. I keep getting junk faxes coming through and wasting my paper and ink. What gives?

Well, there is an answer for that problem. You need to review your faxes before you print them. Set up a home computer for faxing and you can store incoming messages for later review. As well, some fax machines have a feature that allows incoming faxes to be displayed on a p.c. This feature lets you collect your faxes on your computer from memory on the fax machine. You can then view and delete the unwanted messages.

Q. What is a Firewall and do I need one? What gives?

A firewall is a device or a method that:
a) prevents unauthorized users from gaining access to a computer network or
b) monitors inbound and outbound traffic of a network

Actually, there are a couple of firewalls used to control signals flowing in and out of your computer to the biggest network, the internet. There are software firewalls (programs) and hardware firewalls (devices), and combinations of both. Together, they do an effective job of controlling unwanted traffic from the internet. An example of a hardware firewall is a common network router, or in some cases your ISP's modem. Modern Windows operating systems have a software firewall included that prevents and allows internet access to and from your computer. For most people, keeping their operating system healthy and updated with a good ant-virus program assures a relatively secure firewall.

Q. What are the advantages to having software professionally installed, the computer comes with software doesn't it? What gives?

Professionally installed software has many advantages over a pre-installed or factory installed software package. Firstly, when loading an operating system, many settings can be made to improve the performance and feel of the computer. As well, updating the operating system with critical software patches will close vulnerabilities that allow viruses in, something that almost never gets done with a store bought computer. This is one of the major advantages. Furthermore, annoying trial versions of software and advertising software (adware), links to shop, etc., are not installed for obvious reasons. This is what is known as 'bloatware', and computer suppliers reduce their costs by loading a new machine with it. Installing carefully chosen programs instead adds to the enjoyment of the computer while eliminating the risk to the user of installation problems, which can sometimes cause complete start up failure. Even as much as a brief explanation as to the computers programs can increase the useability and enjoyment of the home computer. The right help will make all the difference in the world.

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Q. Should I shut down the computer or leave it on? Someone told me it's better to leave it on because the power surge at start-up increases the stress on electronic components causing premature break-down. What gives?

First of all, there are power surges during the normal operation of the computer anyways. If there wasn't ever a change in electronic signals throughout the computer, it probably would last longer, but wouldn't work. In the old days, power supplies were very primitive, and by closing a switch, a high current circuit would be made and a big electrical load and power spike would be generated. Not so with today's modern switching power supplies. They are soft-on, and are much more efficient. To really know the answer however, requires research into a large computer manufacturer to get accurate large breakdown statistics and recommendations.
Let's take another look...

The home computer is an electrical appliance and carries the same fire risk as other electrical appliances do. Leaving a fully powered appliance on while unattended can be dangerous. Just remember, many (countless) computers and especially crt monitors have caught fire and have caused fires. Don't be afraid to turn it off and don't be afraid to unplug it. If it doesn't turn on the next time, at least you'll be around to complain about it.

Q. I want my computer serviced conveniently at home, some top level help to point me in the right direction, or even a custom system...so what gives?

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