If You Are Not Looking For Help, You Do Not Need Any.

 Over the next several weeks, I will be writing about Security. This topic is so broad that I think it will require at least four essays.

The first area I wish to cover has become a major concern for me and to the people I help. Therefore I decided that not only would I post this on my blog, It needed to be sent directly to you. Please forward this to you friends, and anyone else that you think it would help.

Over last few months, many of my customers have received some very strange phone calls. They start out saying they are from a “Major Computer Company” and there is problem with your computer. They ask the customer to go to their computer so they can show them the problem. The “Computer Tech” then asks the customer to type something into the computer, and to read what comes up. They then proceed to read the customer the same information.

Unfortunately, this is a SCAM! It is a threat on several levels.

 1. They want you to purchase a service you do not need.

 2. They take control of the computer, which then gives them access to everything in it.

 3. They may load software allowing them to steal passwords and account information even into the future.

 4. They can use your computer for other purposes, including spam, criminal activities and web attacks.

This really is not a new problem. But we need to remember that the rules for computer safety are much the same as we have always used. When I was a teenager, my mother told me a simple rule to follow: “If you didn’t originate the call, DO NOT give out any personal information to the caller.” I even believe there may have been Public Service Announcements telling us the same thing.

There are several other items that also share these risks.

One is a message coming up on your computer, telling you that you have major (or many) problems with your computer, and you should “Click Here” to fix them. Please don’t! It may seem counter-intuitive to reject an error message from your computer, but please do not just react. You can find yourself on the wrong end of malicious software, or just losing a few dollars, but you don’t need the risk. Call someone that you trust and ask them what they think. If they are computer users, they may have seen the same gimmick. If you don’t have anyone you would ask, call a local computer professional and ask him.

Second, many people experience problems with their computers, printers, software, or their providers. The first instinct is to go to the internet, and to search for a phone number. Once again, this is dangerous territory. There are many unscrupulous companies and individuals out there. These crooks (and I am being gentle in my terminology) put logos and phases on their websites that imply, suggest, and otherwise manipulate most people into believing They are the Support Provider for the company you are seeking. Nothing could be further from the truth. No major computer entity is farming out support without acting as a gatekeeper. If you need a support phone number, it should appear on the company’s website. If it doesn’t, then they probably won’t support you by phone.

The problem is that these people rely on the trusting nature of good people. And good people trust others to be good people too. But you need to Trust and Verify, as President Reagan put it so well.

 Three simple rules to follow:

 1. If you are not looking for help, you do not need any.

 2. If you are looking for help, call only a number that you know, or can verify. If you have to search at random for help, find someone locally who can work with you, and for you.

 3. Never work with anyone you do not trust. And absolutely do not let anyone whom you do not trust into your computer, by loading their software, allowing remote access, or by sitting at your keyboard.

We suggest that everyone have a go-to person for Computer Support. We recommend people in the following order: your friends, your family, a friend of a friend, or professional help. You can call a store or a technician with questions, but always remember that they are general answers, not necessarily the ones you need. Obviously, I, as Computer House Calls would like to be your first call, but even if we are not, please feel free to call with your questions.

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Are You Still In Business? Absolutely – Positively!!!

Every once in a while, I get a call from a customer asking if I am still doing Computer House Calls. Or someone else will check to see if I am accepting new customers. The answer is always a resounding YES!

 I do not always hear from my customers on a truly regular basis. Some of you even are able to do without me for really long stretches at a time. But I am in this for the long haul. December will mark the nineteenth year of coming to you, and helping make your computers behave. I do not want to even think of retiring for another twenty.

 Many people dislike their jobs. I am not one of them. One of my patented comments for years has been that “Computers are Boring, but People Aren’t.” And they are not! I talk to customers about who they are, what they do, and what they’ve seen. I have worked with everyone, and anybody, and they all have lived unique lives.

 My oldest customer who will be 99 this month, and I have known him for 16 years, since he was just a kid of 83. The youngest was an 8 year old, and she’s a sophomore in college today. I brush shoulders with the Everyman, and I have customers who have worked with Presidents. The stories I hear, and the people I meet, are part and parcel of what I do, and most importantly why.

 My customers are MY PEOPLE. It is my job to take care of their computer needs. But I also believe that it is my job to care about them. Whether they need help with something specific, or just need something looked at that they don’t understand, I’ll be there. If it seems out of my area, I still will try to provide an answer. I hope I can be of service, and if not, at least of some use.

 I started out in this business believing that I was collecting customers. What those customers have taught me is that I am also collecting friends.

 Am I still doing Computer House Calls? You bet! I am waiting for your call right now.  I look forward to talking to you soon.

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On Buying A New Computer

Many of my customers are asking about new computers. With many of their computers ranging from 5 to 8 years old, this is to be expected. The push is also coming from the massive tech world press for NEW!, Windows 8 advertising, and the ever present “My new gadget won’t work with my new computer!” I even had a customer whose iPhone told her she needed a new computer.

If you have recently purchased a new computer, please stop here. I am not trying to cause buyer’s remorse. If your computer is working for you, stand up and cheer. It is the right one for you.

The first thing you should know is that you don’t want Windows 8. It is Microsoft’s latest entry in operating systems. While many of you know that I don’t like new things, this is a little more intense. I don’t just hate it, I despise it. The system is designed for the tablet world, and in that arena it may be just fine, but for a current windows user, the interface is confusing and non-intuitive. I have been working in the Windows environment for more than 20 years, and I struggle every time I have to work in this environment. I figure if it gives me fits, it isn’t ready for my customers, family or friends.

Next, you should decide if you want a Mac or a PC. (For the technically oriented out there, I do know there are other choices, but not for the general public.) The primary differences between the two platforms are in the way you will interact with them. They will work with most of the same software, and can easily transfer files between them. I use them both. I would suggest going to a store to look, but currently that option is only available for the Mac and Windows 8 machines.

However, you can still buy a new computer (for a limited time) with Windows 7. You just have to do it online. You could also buy a Macintosh (Apple) computer, but more on that later. Both HP (www.HP.com) and Dell (www.DELL.com) have easy links on their websites for Windows 7 PCs for Home users. Both sites are still primarily offering Windows 7 for Business use. As of today, I find the best prices on Desktops at HP, while Dell is your best bet for a laptop.

I recommend that you go for a machine with at least 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM, and a 500 GB hard drive. The RAM is essential for any new computer, but you may find yourself choosing a machine with a smaller hard drive because of its other features. As far as pricing, my recommendation has always been to budget as if you will replace your computer in two years. This rule keeps you from investing too much in a new device, while leaving your options open to new products, and desires in the future.

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Happy Birthday to Us

I have been looking for a subject for my first post, and finally I got an idea.

Yesterday, December 21st marked our 19th (correction: 18th) year in business. Way back forever ago, when home computers were still rare, and help was limited, my wife and I started Compuer House Calls in Charlotte, NC. I took out an ad in our local newspaper, The Charlotte Observer, and ran it for seven days. By 3 AM on Christmas morning I had paid for that ad. And as they say it was all downhill from there.

When we started DOS was still the dominant operating system for home computers, with Windows 3.1 as an overlay on top. Lotus 1-2-3 was the spreadsheet of choice, and Wordperfect 5.1 was the number 1 word processor. Home internet service was barely available, with most people using 1200 baud modems to reach specific services (research, travel, and bulletin boards).

Since those days of glory, we have endured regular and frequent changes to the computer environment. With the arrival of Windows 95, the PC entered the Graphic User Interface (GUI). The MacIntosh from Apple had been using GUIs since 1985, but they were holding about 8-10% of the market, and so were not as popular with people looking to mimic their work computers.

Time flies, as do changes to computers. Windows 95 was paralleled by Windows NT in the workpleace, and since then we have had Windows 98, 2000, Millenium, XP, Vista, Windows 7, and 8. Apple was using Mac OS 7 when we started and has moved through to OS X (or 10), and has now added version 10.1 through 10.8 (Lion) to the mix.

The hardware has shifted as well. The average cost of a new PC setup was running about $2500, down from the nearly $5000 in 1986. Today’s new computers can be purchased for a low as $600 including a computer, monitor, and printer. Many of the specially added components of 1994 are now standard, or have dropped into oblivion. One of the most visible changes is the move from 14 inch cathode ray tube (CRT) monochrome monitors to today’s liquid crystal (LCD) color displays which start at 20 inches and climb from there.

The last nineteen years have been fun and challenging. Many new customers have asked how I keep up with all this change. It’s easy. You, the customers, ask the questions, and it is my job to find their answers.

Thanks for the opportunities, the challenges, and the chance to meet so many interesting people.

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