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By default, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 has enabled settings that track you for advertising. Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 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. These are the steps to avoid those potential problems. Also, 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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Windows 10 Overview and Impressions

I am currently testing Windows 10 out. Right now, there is only a beta (technical preview) available. Proper software design goes through several stages of development. Alpha is the first stage and that is internal testing and design. Beta is the second stage and that is when the program is given to other people to test it out and, sometimes, suggest ways to improve. Release candidate is the final testing stage and this is when the program is almost finished but the developer wants to root out bugs; no major design changes will no occur. Finally there is release-to-manufacturing (RTM) when the developer is satisfied there are no more major bugs. Windows 10 is still in beta. When it is finalized, I will update this post. The last edit was 3/1/2015.

But first, my early impressions.

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Tips For a Good Password

The most common password used on the internet is “password”.  And sad to say, people use the same password on several sites. You have access to one, you have access to all. This allows cybercriminals to build up a database on you and can lead to fraud.

So what is a good password? First, take a look at this list. Don’t use any of those passwords. Next, read Kaspersky Antivirus’s 6 bad ideas for a password. However, ignore Kaspersky’s rule for developing a good password. View full article »

Cleaning the Poweliks Virus

I have seen a rather nasty virus lately: poweliks. Of the 4 times I have seen it in the past week, 2 were related to the Cryptowall malware. Poweliks is very hard to detect and once it is on your computer, it can actively hide from many antivirus and antimalware programs. Poweliks has the following tale-tell signs:

  • Several legitimate Windows files will have high CPU usage. Some variants load several dllhost.exe files (most likely the 32-bit version). Some will constantly load other legitimate files.
  • The registry will be modified so that certain keys are not accessible with the regedit.exe program or antivirus or antimalware software.
  • There is no actual virus file. The file itself is stored in the registry and using a few tricks (and what I call design flaws of Windows), it loads the file straight from the registry. Sometimes the tricked used will make it impossible for anything except Windows to read the bad registry key.

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I received a message when attempting to uninstall a variation of the Conduit search protect. The message was You do not have sufficient permission to uninstall your program. Please contact your system administrator. Since this computer was not in a domain, that message should never appear.

To fix the issue we have to a manual uninstall. First open the registry error and find the hives:

  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall

In those keys, look for the name of the program you are attempting to uninstall in the many subhives. Once you find it, look for an entry that says UninstallString. Copy the contents of that key. Now open a command prompt as an Administrator and enter the uninstall command you copied.

If you get an Access Denied message, then you will have to edit the permissions and possible the ownership of the master folder for that program. This master folder is usually in \Program Files\ or \Program Files (x86)\ folder, although some dodgy program may be somewhere else. Set the master program folder’s permission so that Everyone has full access. If this fails, set the ownership of the folder to the current user (and not Administrators) and then edit the folder’s permissions again. Now enter try that uninstall command again.

I have been experimenting with Windows Server 2012 R2. This is, of course, the server version of Windows 8.1. From my limited experience, Server 2012 is far superior to previous releases with one exception: the touch screen UI doesn’t belong within 1 trillion miles of a server OS. It does not belong on a desktop/laptop OS either, but most especially on a server OS. Below is an on-going collection of notes and ideas I have learned or discovered while using Server 2012 R2, which I will just call “Server” from now on.

This is a collection of my notes and any part of the content may change over time. Last update was 1/6/2015.

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I encountered a Windows 7 computer that would only boot to a black screen. The only thing I saw was a mouse arrow. At first I suspected the hard drive was corrupt, so I cloned the hard drive. But the problem still existed. With this computer I still had reason to believe the hard drive was bad. Next I scanned for a virus in Windows directory and the only that was discovered was one of those junk free programs that deliver pop-up ads.

It was at this point that I decided to try an easy solution. Since this was Windows 7 there would a good copy of the registry files at %windir%\system32\config\RegBack\. So after making a backup of the current registry files, I copied the good registry over the current ones. With this computer, some of the current registry files were twice as big as the good copies, which is why I think something was wrong with the old hard drive. After I did this, the computer booted fine.

Some other suggestions included running System Restore. I was lazy in this instance and didn’t try that. But I did increase the System Restore capacity once I got back into Windows. If you are still using Windows XP, you can always find the registry files under the \System Volume Information\ folder. Some other suggestions are that certain key folders have been corrupted or have corrupt permissions. Check the Windows folder, the Program Files folders, and the Recycle Bin folder.

I have experienced a rash of failing hard drives lately. It is important to always have a good backup because hard drive failures can happen suddenly. There are several types of hard drives failures and depending on what type it is will determine success or failure in recovering data. Hard drive failures can be divided into 4 main categories: head crash, bad sectors, defective controller, and write wearing. The last one only applies to solid-state hard drives (SSD’s). When a hard drive’s motor gets old it does slow down but as long as the motor spins fast enough the hard drive is still useable; that is not a failure.

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A lot of my customers are confused about the networking standards, especially the wireless ones. This post will explain in simplified detail about what the networking standards mean.

First, you must know the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is one of the many organizations that sets and defines standards. A lot of people call it “the I triple-E”. Even though the standards are set by the non-profit IEEE it does not mean the standards are patent free. Corporations are members of the IEEE and they give input into the standards. Businesses know it is in their financial interests to have standards and so they work together.

There are various committees of the IEEE. The 802 committee, which was coincidentally formed on February 1980, is responsible for all networking standards. Each committee is sub-divided into different working groups numbered in the order of creation. Some working groups were disbanded, some inactive (which means no new development but future development may occur), some are reserved for possible development, and some are still active. Each working group can define various standards which are denoted by either a letter or number. Examples: 802.15.1 is the Bluetooth standard and 802.11b is one of the many wireless networking standards.

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Printers

Many people ask me about my recommendations for printers. So, this blog post will help save time from now on. This is a guide to printers and with only one exception you will have to decide what printer to buy.

When it comes to printers you must always factor in the consumables: ink, toner, drums, and so on. As a general rule, cheap printer have more expensive consumables so that the manufacturer can recoup the cost of the printer. Not too long ago HP, Epson, and Lexmark were called an ink cartel because their high priced ink. Competition has forced them to lower costs.

Below are some guides to help you choose a printer. It is based on my opinion.

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Updated 8/18/2014: Adobe had a cloud outage which left users unable to use their program for 27 hours. I also updated some other information. Microsoft Azure also had a major outage.

I know I do not update this blog very often. The purpose of this blog is to catalog my repair notes to help me and my customers. I tell my customers all the time that I do not like the cloud. But it seems like the cloud is a new buzzword that companies are jumping to make money on. Especially annoying is Microsoft’s tight integration of their cloud service called OneDrive (because they lost a legal battle over the name SkyDrive in the UK).

It may surprise people that the cloud is just a fancy way of saying something that has existed since the internet began. All the cloud is data on another server.

Below are my reasons for wanting to stay away from the cloud.

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