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Updated with a new patent by Google about this very subject. Updated again with a link about how much information Alexa keeps. Updated again with a link showing that Amazon pays employees to listen on Alexa recordings.

Imagine if the FBI asked you to put a device in your house that is always listening. The FBI promises us that it will only listen for certain things, such as gunshots or the voices of people on the FBI’s most wanted list. In exchange for this device that is always listening, you are getting greater safety. After all, if someone fired a handgun in your house, the FBI device can automatically dispatch the police much faster than you could dial 911. Would you volunteer for that?

Just change a few words and you have people not only volunteering but paying money to do so. Imagine if Google asked you to buy a device for your house that is always listening. Google promises us that it will only listen for certain things, such OK Google. In exchange for this device always listening, you are getting some convenience. After all, if you wanted to make coffee, OK Google can automatically start your coffee maker faster than you could.

And what convenience! I can unlock my door with my smartphone. I can turn on my lights without using my legs. I can find out about something without the hassle of typing.

Here is the bottom line: Can you really trust a for-profit business to permanently respect your privacy? (Especially one whose business it is not to respect your privacy.) Can you really trust that these devices will always be secure?

Smart homes are a dumb idea. And I can also say smart cars are a dumb idea as well. These are all solutions looking for a problem.

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By default, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 has enabled settings that track you for advertising. Windows 8.1 also try desperately to have you log in to your computer with a Microsoft account. Those settings should be disabled and you should never log in with a Microsoft account because several of my customers have had trouble logging in when they used a Microsoft account to do so. Thankfully, in Windows 10 it is a lot easier not to log in with a Microsoft account. These are the steps to avoid potential problems and to reclaim your privacy. Logging with a non-Microsoft account makes it harder for Microsoft to deliver you targeted advertising. Just because it is very difficult does not mean we should willingly surrender our privacy.

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Here is a problem that still affects every version of Windows 10, including the most recent March 2019 (1903) update. It only affects Windows 10 and solid state drives. And I think it only affects Intel computers, although it is not an Intel flaw. Microsoft has an advisory this flaw about dated July 29, 2015. So the flaw is now over 4 years old. The flaw is in the storahci.sys file. Here is the fix.

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Recommendations

People ask me all the time what products I recommend. Here is my list of different computer and software recommendations. This list was last updated July 8, 2019.

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Here is a problem that has plagued some copies of Windows 10 after the problematic 1809 (Fall 2018) update. After every reboot, your display resets to 1024×768. This problem may affect other versions of Windows too, but this happened to multiple customers after the 1809 update. All were using Intel CPU’s and HP laptops, but it is not a HP or Intel issue. Here are steps you should take to fix it.

  1. Try the obvious first. Make sure the video card itself is not bad or someone accidentally lowered the resolution or the monitor is not bad. Increase the resolution to the maximum and reboot to test. If you have trouble with the monitor’s known resolution, try another monitor if possible.
  2. Run msconfig command. Under the Boot tab you will a section that says Boot Options. You want to make sure Base video is not checked. If it is, uncheck it. Click OK and test by rebooting.
  3. Update the video card driver. If there is no update, roll back your driver. Very very important: When you are asked for the reason you are rolling back, check the box “For another reason” and put “NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” in the text box. I am not joking when I say this is very important. Test by rebooting.
  4. Open regedit and navigate to the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\GraphicsDrivers\Configuration. There will be several subkeys that may begin with GSM, NOEDID, or SIMULATED. These will be followed by a long hexadecimal number. Each one of these will contain one of more subkeys; always a 00 and sometimes a 01, 02, or higher. For every possible subkey, look for PrimSurfSize.cx, PrimSurfSize.cy, ActiveSize.cx, and ActiveSize.cy. All the .cx entries are for horizontal resolution and all the .cy entries are for vertical. You want to modify every single one of these to your monitor’s maximum resolution. The entries are in hexadecimal, not decimal, so you have to convert. Once you modify every one, test by rebooting. Below are common hexadecimal resolutions:
    • f00 (3840) by 870 (2160) – standard 4K HDTV
    • 780 (1920) by 438 (1080) – standard HDTV
    • 780 (1920) by 4b0 (1200) – high quality HD computer monitors
    • 556 (1366) by 300 (768) – standard laptop

Here are the symptoms: You clone a hard drive in any number of ways, but the cloned drive will not boot. This problem may manifest itself if you are cloning a larger drive to a smaller one. This, of course, requires you to shrink the partition with your files from the original boot drive. If the original boot drive is connected to the computer with a USB adapter, it will boot just fine. Otherwise you will get a blue screen with the stop error code 0xc0000225. If this is Windows 10, you will get the message “Your PC/Device needs to be repaired”.

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I had a customer whose Quickbooks 2017 would freeze in the check register. Through some elimination, I discovered that it only froze when SEND was in the check number. If you put anything else, letter or numbers, it worked fine. You put SEND in the check number to send the transaction to your bank who, in turn, use that to pay a bill corresponding to that entry.

The quick fix is to go to your chart of accounts (Lists -> chart of accounts) and de-register the appropriate account from the bank. Then you have to set up online services again to re-register the account with your bank. Do not forget to re-enable online bill pay. This will require you to edit the account under the chart of accounts section again.

What I did first, each of what did not work, was to run the Quickbooks file doctor. Then I tried the QBInstall repair tool. Then I tried creating a portable account and then import the portable account. None of that worked because the problem was the online banking information was corrupt, not the file itself.

Here is a simple problem that confused me for a little bit. I had a customer with a webcam who could not get it to work. I reinstalled the drivers several times without success. Eventually I narrowed it down to a Windows 10 setting. If you using O&O ShutUp 10 (and you very much should!) then you will have to change two settings. Under the Privacy settings page, go the Camera and Microphone settings and turn them both on. Be sure to turn off app access to the camera and microphone except for any one specifically need. This will allow programs to access the camera just fine. (And remember: the purpose of Windows 10 is to make money off you after the first day; making your life easier is not part of that purpose.)

I had an older but still good computer with two internal hard drives: an old Western Digital Green hard drive and a newer WD Black hard drive. The Green drive had the page file and important backup files. This being Windows 7, it had a full system backup on the WD Green and a Quickbooks backup. The computer kept giving the blue screen error 0x0000007a KERNEL_DATA_INPAGE_ERROR, which according to Microsoft is caused by bad hardware or bad RAM. So my first thought was the WD Green drive was bad because, again from Microsoft, the blue screen “indicates that the requested page of kernel data from the paging file could not be read into memory.” Since the page file was on the old WD Green drive and since Windows had trouble reading the page file, it must be that drive or bad RAM.

Turns out, there were 3 causes of this blue screen. The WD Green drive was, in fact, bad. I put it in my computer and tested it to be sure, and it was bad. So I bought a SSD, shrank and cloned the WD Black drive to it, and repurposed the WD Black drive into what the WD Green drive was being used for. Except I put the page file on the SSD. After doing this, the same blue screen still appeared. So the second guess was bad memory. Which also, in fact, was defective as a memory test discovered. So I fixed that problem as well.

But the same blue screen kept appearing. I finally figured out the hard drive cable was bad. I replaced that cable and the machine hasn’t had a blue screen since. At the end of the day I concluded that while all the bad memory and bad hard drive did not help, it was not the root cause of the blue screen.

So I decided to migrate a server I built to a NAS. I did this for several reasons. (1) The case I used was not a server case, thus it had no hot-swappable drives. This was a big problem because one of my drives developed bad sectors and needed a warranty replacement. (2) I wanted/needed a device that could also be used for security cameras. Just replacing my case with one that had hot-swap bays would not satisfy that. (3) I wanted something that would make sharing my TV recordings through the network easier, something better than Plex even though I will still be using Plex. (4) And I wanted to learn more about NAS because I want to discourage my customers from using servers when all they are doing is sharing files.

So now that I determined that I needed/wanted a NAS, now I needed to determine which one to get. I still needed to run Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, which meant I needed a powerful NAS that supports virtual machines. This limited me to NAS that use either Intel or AMD processors. I decided on one with the Ryzen processor because it is just as good as the Intel ones — especially with the Meltdown bug — and because I don’t need to pay extra to get something with Thunberbolt in it, seeing as that standard is about as popular as gangrene. A 6 core Ryzen will outperform a 4 core Intel with the Meltdown fix. This is why I decided on the QNap TS-x77 line of NAS.

This blog post will be a constant work-in-progress with few updates.

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This is a question I am asked from time to time: what can I do to save money on my cable television bill? Likely you have noticed your cable or satellite TV bill go up and up. What you may not realize is that the most of the price hikes are not because of the satellite or cable TV provider. Greedy cable TV providers, such as Disney and Viacom, charge a fee to rebroadcast their channel. Even though they keep finding ways to pack more and more commercials per hour, they still charge a fee per channel. This would not be so bad except that these same greedy pigs also require you to purchase their shows in packages. For example, you cannot just get the History channel and nothing else, you also have to get Discovery channel and TLC and so on. If that wasn’t bad enough, local stations that you can get free with an antenna also make the cable provider pay a fee to rebroadcast. And when the greedy pigs want more money, they play the victim and ask you to demand your cable provider to keep the channels even though the channels are going away only because your provider doesn’t want to pay them more money.

Still, despite the deck being stacked against you by channel creators, you can save money. But it does require a little bit of technical know-how. Some much more than others.

Before we begin, I strongly do recommend you get a good universal remote regardless, such as Logitech Harmony remotes. You can program these where you push a button that is labeled, for example, “Watch TV” and it turns everything on and does all the changes needed to your TV or stereo. However you decide, save up some money and get a good universal remote to make life easy.

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I had a customer who had trouble installing Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Update (Feature Update 1709) and who had Trend Micro antivirus. For some reason, Windows said it wouldn’t install because Trend Micro 2009 was installed. Some people have noted that Windows balks about other older versions. This link was a good start. But the problem remained.

What fixed it for me was to go to the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\AppCompatFlags\UpgradeMigration, delete the file or folder listed, and then delete the registry key data. Most likely the update still won’t install normally. So I took a chance and choose the option to restart and update. That worked. So if you have an old program possibly causing issues, go to that registry key and then reboot and update instead of using the normal update way.