Sunday, January 26, 2014

How To Backup Photos On Your iPhone

One of the most important things about your iPhone is not the phone itself, but the photos you take with it.  Not so long ago, photography was nowhere near as common as it is today.  Cameras were large and unwieldy, and people rarely carried them along during their normal days.

Fast-forward to today, and things have changed; chances are you have a camera on your phone, and it is more powerful than what is used by many spacecraft out there today!  Having such a powerful camera right at your fingertips virtually at all times of the day has led to the capture of many beautiful and wonderful moments that might have otherwise been missed.  Another side to this is that many people forego a traditional photo- or video-camera and instead exclusively use their iPhone or other smartphone as their primary photography device.

With this comes the concern of the security and longevity of those photos.  Before, we would take our film down to the store, and have it developed.  We would get the negatives and printed copies of the photos back.  Physical things that we could store and share.  Today however, in our digital world, we instantly have access to hi-res copies of the photos we create.  The downside is that they can be lost or completely destroyed in the blink of an eye.

That is why, my friends, it is of upmost importance to secure the photos you are creating, not just for yourself, but for generations to come of your future relatives.

Doing this is not hard, but it does take some effort on your part.  I am writing this article specifically about the iPhone (at the request of a friend), but the techniques I'm about to talk about can mostly be applied to any smartphone or digital camera/ camcorder.

Firstly, you can utilize Apple's iCloud service to sync your photos to your account online.  They only give you a small amount of storage up front, with the option to purchase additional space.  If you are a Google+ user, you can do a similar thing with that account.  I won't delve into the specifics of this (because I don't use it msyelf) but please be aware that it is an option.

You should, from time to time, create a backup of your photos onto your computer.  If you are using your iPhone on a PC, simply go to "My Computer" and your iPhone will show up as a removable disk.  You can copy the photos off of your iPhone onto your computer or external drive.  If you are on a Mac, you can use the program "Image Capture" to backup photos from your iPhone to your computer.  Using either of these methods, you can also delete photos off your iPhone (to free up space), however, you should never do that until you have made at least one other copy of your photos (preferably by burning to disc).

Another way to back up your photos is to burn them to CD or DVD.  DVD is the preferred method now as it has much more capacity, so it will take fewer discs (and less time and money).  For the purpose of these backups you should try to use high quality discs (I prefer Verbatim or TDK).  I have recently found out about M-Disc, and while I haven't been able to try them yet, this might be something else to consider.  You should make TWO copies.  Keep one copy at your home, and another somewhere else (safe deposit box at your bank, or a relative's home perhaps).  Storing the discs is best done in either hard-plastic or paper sleeves, not in a folder or binder.  Make sure the discs are kept in a cool, dark place out of sunlight.

Finally, a great method of storing (and sharing) your photos is with an online service such as Flickr, Facebook, or Google+ -- all of these offer the ability to upload (and store) your photos online, making them available from any computer or internet-connected device you can connect with.  I have recently been recommending Flickr because you can create a free account and they will give you 1TB of online storage (which is a LOT).  No reason not to set up one of these free accounts and get a little more peace of mind.

No matter what method you choose for backing up your photos, you should use several different methods.  Personally I do the following:

--Photos are kept on an external hard drive connected to my main computer; I have a second external hard drive of the same size, and have software that automatically syncs the contents of the drives (creates an exact copy).  That way, if one drive fails, I have the 2nd one with all my data.

--Photos are burned to DVDs (two copies).  While I don't yet have a safe-deposit box, I do intend on getting one soon.

--I've recently set up my own free Flickr account and am in the process of uploading all of my photos to it.

In summary, backing up your iPhone's photos is one of those things most people don't think about until its too late.  This is a project you can take care of in one weekend (or less) -- and will preserve those memories for many years to come.  Keep in mind that you are not just doing this for yourself, you are doing it for your family, and your unborn relatives to come.  All of these photos are very precious, and if not properly taken care of, can indeed be lost forever -- don't let that happen to your photos -- use my suggestions in this article to help preserve them.

If you have any questions or care to add anything, please feel free to post in the comments section below!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Running Windows XP In 2014

Whether Microsoft likes it or not, there are still lots of people out there using Windows XP.  And why not?  Computers are much more reliable than they were 10-15 years ago, and are often seeing many years of service before failing or being replaced.  Unfortunately, the world must move on, and this includes getting away from older things such as XP.

Microsoft will officially be ending support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014 (which will be here sooner than you realize).  So what does this mean for you if you are someone still using a laptop or desktop with Windows XP?

For one, you should of course seriously consider upgrading to a new computer.  If you are running XP, you do have the option of purchasing a new version of Windows and upgrading, however that is money that would be better spent on a replacement computer.

However, if you are indeed perfectly happy with your computer and have no desire to replace it, here are some things you can do to remain safe.

- Make sure you are patched up to the latest version of Windows XP.  Currently on Service Pack 3, but there have been many updates since then.  Run Windows Update and install any available updates for your computer.

- Antivirus.  For a long time I have recommended the free Microsoft Security Essentials -- but XP users please be aware- Microsoft intents to discontinue support for this as well (security update releases).  As such, I would recommend you switch to another free (or paid) product.  My next free choice would be AVG Antivirus Free 2014.  If you are looking for a paid product, I would suggest Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2014 (be sure to check out NewEgg.com they sometimes sell this as a digital download at a discounted rate).

- Web Browser.  The latest version of Internet Explorer available for Windows XP is version 8, which was released back in 2009.  Using an old version of a web browser is never recommended as many, many pieces of malware take advantage of security holes in them.  If you are running Windows XP you absolutely should run Google Chrome -- they have pledged to support their browser on Windows XP until at least April of 2015 -- which will give you some breathing room until you decide to upgrade later on.

Finally, be sure you are prepared for any unforseen issues by properly backing up your computer.  I've written a guide on how to do this HERE.

In conclusion- you can indeed continue to use Windows XP in 2014 (and beyond) and still enjoy a modicum of security, but you absolutely must take the proper steps to secure your computer.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Keeping Your PC Safe (2013 Holiday Edition)

Many people are getting new computers for Christmas, and the concern about antivirus always comes up.  New computers typically come with a trial version of some antivirus or internet security software.  Unfortunately, many times people allow these to expire and never purchase or install something else.

There are lots of good free antivirus programs out there, so no reason not to have one installed.  Please be aware, if you are going to install a free program, you should first uninstall the trial version that came with your computer.

If you are using Windows 7 (or previous) I would suggest Microsoft Security Essentials -- it is a good, lightweight antivirus, and does a decent job of protecting your computer, all for the low cost of $0.

If you are using Windows 8, please be aware that Microsoft Security Essentials has been replaced with the built-in Windows Defender.  It is my opinion that Windows Defender alone is not sufficient for most people.  For Windows 8 users, I would suggest the free AVG Antivirus Free 2014 program.

For all PC users, I would also recommend the following 2 programs to help with computer security.

CCleaner -- is a utility to remove temp files and other unnecessary files.  Lots of malware place themselves in temporary directories, so this program indirectly helps to keep your computer safe by removing them.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware -- is a great anti-spyware program, and does an excellent job of finding and removing files that may compromise the security of your computer.  The free version works just fine, but note that during install it will ask if you want to start a trial of their pay-version (if you don't make sure to select appropriately).

Using MSE or AVG antivirus along with CCleaner and MBAM will help keep your computer safe and clean.  For most people, this combination will suffice.  For people who are using this and still find themselves getting compromised or infected, I then usually recommend Kaspersky (which is a paid product).

Note that you should not use file-sharing programs such as Limewire, Frostwire, or Bittorrent -- many shared files contain malware infections.  (Lots of computer repair jobs I do are caused by this).

Watching Your Movie Files With An Apple TV

If you have an Apple TV, you can use a computer on your home network to stream movie files to your television.

First, you will want to add the movie files to your iTunes library (on the computer you are going to use to share your media).  In the iTunes preferences, go to Advanced Preferences and make sure Copy Files To iTunes Media Folder is unchecked (assuming all of your movies will be on an external hard drive).  Then, click on File - Add Folder To Library and browse to the location of your movies folder.  Depending on how many movies you have, this could take a significant amount of time to process.

Once this process is complete, you will want to enable sharing of your media library.  Back in the iTunes preferences, go to Sharing and make sure Share my library is checked.  You can choose to share only certain things (such as Movies) or everything, and you can also choose to password-protect your shared media.

This method is an older method known as "Music sharing" -- nowadays, using "Home Sharing" is a much simpler method.  Here is a guide on how to configure (it basically just involves turning it on, no complex setup needed).

Once this is done, your computer is now set up to share out your media library to your Apple TV.  Keep in mind that your computer and Apple TV will need to be on the same network, and the computer will need to be powered on whenever you want to stream your media.

All About iTunes and iCloud Accounts

Lots of my friends and family received new iPads and iPhones for Christmas this year, and the question has come up a few times, how to go about sharing iTunes accounts, or what is the best way to handle in a family of multiple people.

First, to differentiate:  there are two types of accounts we will be talking about here- iTunes Store Accounts, and iCloud Accounts.  Both of these are "Apple ID" accounts, but for the sake of clarity, I'll refer to them by these names.

iTunes Store Account -- this is the account you use when making purchases in the iTunes store.  A single iTunes Store account can be used on up to five computers (Mac or PC) at a time.  This is done by authorizing the computers via the iTunes program.  You can actually use the account on up to ten devices (five of which can be computers).

iCloud Account -- this will be the account used for iCloud, iMessage, and FaceTime.  Note that it can also be used as an iTunes Store Account -- and if you are a single person using the accounts on your own, the best method would be to have one account for everything.

If you are trying to share accounts between multiple people (husband and wife, mom and son, or a family of several people) then you would want to do the following.

Set up a single iTunes Store Account -- with a password that everyone will need to know.  This will be the account used for making purchases in the iTunes store (apps, games, music, etc).  That way, if I purchase content, my Wife can also (re)download it (at no additional charge).

Set up a separate iCloud account for each person.  This account will be used for iCloud features, such as photo stream and backing up your contacts and notes to the cloud.  Additionally, it will be used for iMessage and FaceTime.  Each person will need their own individual iCloud Account.

For the most part, iCloud should take care of your backup needs (you can purchase additional online storage if needed, but it gets expensive).  You can also sync and backup to a computer you own (and it is a good idea to do so).

Sharing an iTunes Store Account amongst family members makes sense, and ensures you are not purchasing items multiple times.  Having separate iCloud accounts, however, makes everything much simpler and avoids complications that could arise when sharing services associated with it (such as iMessage).

If you have any questions, please post in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.


Reference

The First 9 Things You Should Do When You Get A New iPhone

How To Manage Multiple iOS Devices While Sharing One Apple ID

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Stardock's Start8 -- A Start Menu for Windows 8

For those of you using Windows 8 and not liking the new interface, there is a great app to bring back a start-menu type interface. I started using this and really like it: www.stardock.com/products/start8/

I am usually a big advocate of adapting new technologies, and the new tiles on Win8 are pretty nice if you are using a touch interface (such as a tablet or trackpad). Not so much on a traditional desktop computer, or like I use, in remote sessions.

I started using this on my work computer and am very happy with it. There is a 30-day free trial, and if you decide you like it the app is only $3.99

I have read you can use it on Server 2012 too and am really looking forward to trying that out (do you have any idea how hard it is to make the "charms" bar work in a vSphere console on a machine you are accessing via RDP?!?!)  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What To Do If Your Phone Is Lost Or Stolen

Lets be honest, the contents of the average person's phone nowadays is at least as important as the contents of his or her wallet/ purse.  We live in a digital age, and many of the things on our phones and tablets are very important to our normal lives -- things like photos, email, contacts, just to name a few.

So what happens if all this is gone in a flash?  Its not something I hope you ever have to deal with, but if your phone is lost or stolen, you should already have a plan in place, instead of being in a panic and adding a ton of stress to your life.

One thing I always suggest is to set up an account over at Wallet Garden -- here, you store the info about what is in your wallet (or phone) and what to do if it goes missing.  You don't store things like credit card info here -- only the name of the card, and the phone number for customer service to call.  You should save the info about your phone (service provider, serial number, and customer service number to call) so everything is available in one place.  That way, if your device (or wallet) goes missing, you can borrow a friend's phone to get online, look up your info quickly, and call to get things locked down.

In addition, you should have your phone properly backed up and secured.  With Apple's iPhone you can use the iCloud service to back up your device, or back up locally to a computer you own.  You can also set up "Find my iPhone" which will allow you to locate your device on a map by logging in to the iCloud website.  None of this is good however, unless you set up a passcode lock on your phone.  If your phone is not locked, a thief can simply turn these features off.

The first thing that you should immediately do is to call your mobile service provider, and have your account put on hold.  Even if you have enabled locking/ tracking on your mobile device, a thief can take your SIM card out of your phone, put it into another handset, and rack up lots of charges.  One thing they do is to set up a -900 line that they own, and call it, making a huge bill that is charged back to you.  Do not postpone this step -- if you cannot find your device, or think it was stolen, do this right away -- even if you are fortunate to find your phone, it is a small inconvenience to deal with vs. the possibility of those huge charges that you may end up having to pay.

The next thing you should do is to change your passwords on things like email, bank accounts, and service providers such as Apple iTunes.  Even if you do have your phone locked properly, it is best to take this step to ensure you are protected, and your device can no longer access your accounts.

After you have taken these preliminary steps, you should file a police report if you believe your phone was stolen.  This will assist you in getting the phone recovered (if possible) or filing an insurance claim if applicable.  Note that even if you can track your phone, you should never attempt to recover it yourself -- let the authorities handle it.

With the holidays now in full swing, many people are traveling and spending time visiting with friends and family -- not a good time to deal with a lost or stolen phone!  So make sure to follow these tips, for in case the unfortunate happens, you are protected.

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Computer- Recovery Discs

In the past when you purchased a new computer, you were provided with a set of recovery discs- CDs or DVDs that could be used to restore your machine to its factory condition.  These discs are essential for repairing a computer.  Most of the work I do is either to remove malware, or to replace a failed hard disk.  Without the recovery discs it is often very hard (or impossible) to legally get your computer back to its working condition.

Nowadays, I've seen a trend with newer computers- manufacturers no longer include these recovery discs for you; instead, they want you to burn your own disc sets.

The problem with this is that spending 1-2 hours burning a set of recovery discs is often the last thing on a person's mind when they open up that shiny new computer.  Some of the computers will post alerts, reminding you to burn the discs, but the alerts can be disabled (and often are) - and then it is forgotten about.  That is, forgotten about till the computer is brought in to me for repair.

If you have not burned your recovery discs, not all is lost- if the computer is a recent one, chances are the discs can be ordered directly from the manufacturer.  In fact, if the computer is still under the factory warranty, they will often provide them for free or for a small shipping/ handling fee.

The best thing to do is to go ahead and burn your recovery disc set, and keep it in a safe place.  The process is time consuming, but pretty simple.  Often you have the choice of creating your recovery media on CDs, DVDs, dual-layer DVDs, or on newer systems even on a USB Flash Drive (thumb drive).  Generally, I use regular old DVDs because they are cheap and reliable.

Regardless of the method you choose, you will want to keep your recovery set in a safe location.  Especially since, now some of the manufacturers will only "allow" you to burn a single set of recovery media.  Why would they put this restriction in place?  I honestly don't know, but it really does upset me.  What happens if the owner loses the original recovery disc set?  Or the discs get scratched or cracked?

Because of this, what I've started to do for newer computers is to create an image set of the recovery discs and save it on the C: drive of the computer.  (I create a folder called "Recovery Discs" and save the image files to there).  The really awesome (and free) program ImgBurn is a great tool to do this.  Once I've burned the recovery disc set to DVDs, I then use ImgBurn to create image files (ISOs) of each disc.  That way, if I need to burn an additional set in the future, they are there and waiting for me.

This is, of course, a lot of extra work, but may save someone $30-$40 later on in life (vs. having to purchase a set of recovery discs), and may save the life of a computer that may not have been able to be repaired otherwise.

In conclusion, it is very important to make sure you have a working set of recovery discs for your computer.  It only takes 1-2 hours to do (most of which is waiting) and a few dollars worth of blank discs (or a cheap thumb drive), but could save you lots of money (and peace of mind!) in the future.  Creating recovery discs is part of what I do for new computer setups, which I generally charge $30 for.  So if you are not comfortable doing this, feel free to send some business my way :-)  (in addition to the recovery discs, I do a lot of optimization, install security software, etc).

Thanks for reading!  any questions feel free to post in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

--Stephen

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shopping For A New Tablet Or eReader

In the past people used to come to me around the holidays for advice on purchasing a new laptop computer -- this year, I've been asked more about what I think concerning tablets, such as the Apple iPad.

I have personally had a chance to check out most of the popular tablets on the market right now, so I'll share some tips with you here, and some info that will hopefully make your decision easier.  Surely, no one wants to make this kind of investment without being aware of the choices they have to decide from.

First, let's talk about what things you should look at, regardless of what tablet you go with.  There are several factors to consider, but the big three are:  1) size, 2) storage capacity, and 3) cellular data or wifi only.

Basically screen size comes down to two types, the 7 inch tablets, or the 9-10 inch tablets.  While the 7 inch tablets, such as the Kindle Fire, do fit very nicely in your hand, and are easy to carry around, they are significantly smaller, which means less screen real-estate.  This also affects the weight of the tablet, so you should also consider that as well.

For storage size, you'll need to know whether or not your tablet has a fixed amount (such as the iPad) or if it can be upgraded via micro/ SD cards (such as the Nook).  If the tablet is a fixed amount of storage, it is important to consider how you will be using it, and how much storage you will need.

Next up is to determine if you want to get your tablet with the ability to join a cellular data network (such as AT&T or Verison), or if you will only need to use it on wifi (which they can all do).

Once you have decided on the "big three" features, then you can start to look at the name brands available.


Apple's iPad

Without a doubt, the Apple iPad is the leader of the tablet market today.  The Apple App store is very robust, has been around for a long time, and has lots of free and inexpensive apps to make your iPad do all kinds of wonderful things.  Recently the iPad 4 (retina) was released, so this is a good time to purchase an iPad (even if you don't want the new one, the older versions are now coming down in cost).  Also, Apple released the iPad Mini, which gives the smaller tablet version, with all the loveable features of its big brother.  The iPad is available with or without cellular data, and comes in 16, 32, and 64GB of storage.


Amazon's Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire and the Kindle Fire HD are really nice tablets, at a very affordable price.  They have a beautiful screen, and some awesome features.  Integration with Amazon's online cloud services is really cool too.  The Fire HD is available with wifi only, in 16 and 32GB of storage.  (The larger version of the tablet is available with cellular data).


Google's Nexus 7

Recently, Google released the Nexus 7 -- this is a beautiful, well thought-out tablet packed with features, at a great price.  Backed by Google Play and all of the wonderful Google apps, this thing is rock solid.  It starts off with wifi only, 16GB, but is available all the way up to 32GB with cellular data for only $100 more.


Barnes & Noble's Nook

The Nook HD is another newer tablet, and has been getting lots of great feedback.  The screen on this one is very crisp.  There are lots of awesome apps, and the ability to upgrade the storage is very nice.  This one won't break your wallet, either.

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There are also a plethora of other tablets on the market, many different manufacturers, makes, models, and operating systems.  One for sure that I won't really talk about is the new Windows Surface.  If you are a heavy PC user, this one might be worth considering, but most people, in my opinion, will be happy with any of the above 4.

So, with all these name brand, models, and options, which one is right for you?  Honestly, there is no one size fits all when it comes to picking a tablet.  The best thing to do is to consider how you want to use it, and then base your decision off which tablet has the most features that will complement your requirements.  For example, if you are a movie buff, you will probably want to get a tablet with at least 32GB of storage, or the ability to swap out memory cards.  If you are a mobile worker, or always on the go, you should really consider getting a tablet with cellular data -- that way, you won't be relying on finding that next McDonald's or Starbucks to get a wifi signal.

A big part of your decision will of course be cost.  A base model iPad ($499) would also buy you two Kindle Fire HD tablets -- this is often a big decision swayer when it comes time to pony up those greenbacks for your new tech.

Make sure to give some serious thought before making a purchase decision -- don't just jump on the first thing you see!!  Most of these tablets will last for several years, so this is an investment that will be with you for quite awhile -- you want to make sure you are getting what you want, so you are not disappointed later.

Also, be sure to check out accessories such as screen protectors and cases -- it would be ashame if your new tablet got a scratch!


What are your thoughts on these tablets?  If you own one, we would love to hear your feedback in the comments below.  If you do have any questions, please comment and I'll do my best to answer :-)