Something Happened

August 14, 2015

Something HappenedWho says techies have no sense of humor!  The Something happened error from Windows 10 is elegant in its simplicity and humorous in its delivery. One blogger referred to it as existential.

The error is frustrating for those who receive, but I have to admit it made me smile.  It reminds me of my Unix days where the “existential” error was: Fatal error at a command prompt.  It had an equally helpful description – none – as to what could be happening.  Somehow a graphic window with “Something happened” is far more friendly than “Fatal error” at a terminal prompt.  At least the Something happened gives you closure, even if only a Close button.

For the Unix crowd, sometimes there was a code or string of esoteric language following the Fatal error, but often mere mortals could not decipher it.  Somehow, we survived the error and reboot. Often the error did not reoccur and if it did, you would have to investigate and fix.

Not to make light of computer issues (this post is tongue-in-cheek), but something always happens.

If something happens and then happens again and you don’t know what to do, feel free to reach out to me.  Perhaps together we can find a solution so it will happen no more. You can email me at: mary@lansystems.com.Something Happened

The Cloud and Microsoft Office 365

February 14, 2012

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Guest blog by Geoff Rigsby, Microsoft Account Manager at Synnex

On a weekly basis I am asked, “What is Office 365 and how can it help me?”

For instance, if you’re running a small business with 5-10 employees, setting up your own IT infrastructure can be a monumental task.  First, you have to purchase the hardware and software like an HP Server and Windows Server 2008 software.  Second, if you want to have your own email domain, you’ll need to purchase Exchange Server software.  And if you want to share files between employees, you will need SharePoint Server software and you can’t run that without SQL Server software.  It adds up and before you know it, you’ve just spent $50,000!  In addition, you will need someone to configure and maintain.

This is a great deal of expense for just a few employees to communicate, collaborate, and work.  Here is where Office 365 is beneficial.  It eliminates the need for a large infrastructure investment and allows you to take advantage of enterprise IT tools for a fraction of the cost. Office 365 will give you the same productivity and collaboration tools delivered in a subscription based service.  It is licensed on a per-user per-month plan and allows you to scale up or down easily and as-needed.

Depending on the needs of your company, you can obtain every option; Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online, and Office Professional Plus in a nice, neatly bundled package or as separate units.  This allows  all of your employees to easily and securely access the same information, from anywhere, anytime – whether it be on a PC, phone, or web browser. User management is made easier by using a single administration access point that allows you to set up new user accounts, control access to features, and receive status updates on all services and tools in real time.  Support is available directly through Microsoft but I recommend working with a Microsoft Partner.  Partners can help you choose the right services, provide added capabilities, and assist with the transition.  They can efficiently manage your network and provide ongoing support for Office 365 giving you more time to run your business.

Paying for Office 365 is easy!  Just work with a Partner. They will send you a quote.  Then you accept the agreement and submit your credit card information in a secure transaction.  Payments are scheduled automatically each month to the card on file.

For more information on Office 365 and how it can help your company, visit www.microsoft.com/office365 and make sure to work with a Microsoft Partner in your area.

Geoff is a Microsoft Partner Account Manager working at Synnex.  You can contact Geoff at: v-grigsb@microsoft.com

Partnerships Support Local Schools

January 29, 2012

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]It is not easy running a school.  Managing the logistics of a medium-sized business, the politics of a small town and a budget under stress challenges all principals. Principals need perseverance and confidence to tackle the opportunities that each day brings, but they balance it with hugs, hall art, smiles and the desire to succeed. And in each classroom, teachers are the glue providing instruction, guidance and inspiration.

A school is an energetic place.  In business, we expend great deal of thought, energy and resource to make our employees enthusiastic.  For the young, enthusiasm is natural.  Just imagine if we could capture that energy and make that enthusiasm last into adulthood, the world would be a lovelier place.

Undoubtedly, children are the future or more accurately – the hope of the future.  They need every advantage we can off to make them competitive, informed and successful.  It takes a community to raise a child.  A community made up of parents, teachers, friends, family, business and civic leaders committed to our competitive advantage.

Recently, the Norcross Cluster Schools Partnership (NCSP) through the annual Gala raised over $18,000 to fund initiatives using a grant application program.  Teachers requested funding for projects they felt were important and needed which may not be otherwise financed. The grants were awarded to 9 schools and included Kindles, a Literacy Academy, Butterfly Life Cycle and a State-of-the-Art Playground.  Additionally, several local businesses have funded programs that concentrate on math and science education and participate as volunteers to help deliver the curriculum.

Schools have many ways that the community can participate. Whether you volunteer your time and talent, donate money or attend a fund-raiser, you become part of the hope for our future. So look for ways to become involved, be an active component and make a difference.

For more information on the NCSP, visit: www.norcrosscsp.org.

The best offense is a good defense: Disaster preparedness essentials

January 12, 2012

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Guest blog by Cindy Bates, Vice President of Microsoft’s US SMB Organization

Planning for “the worst” isn’t quite as fun as refining a business plan or coming up with new ways to market your products or services, but doing so just might make the difference between the success or failure of your company. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 40 percent of businesses never reopen following a disaster; and, of the remaining companies, at least 25 percent will close in two years.

Yet, small businesses that take time to develop a disaster preparedness plan that includes preventive measures as well as actions to be taken in the event of disaster greatly increase their odds of withstanding catastrophe. To get started with creating a disaster preparedness plan, I recommend small- business decision makers consider the following:

  • Insurance plans and policies – Understanding the intricacies of an insurance plan or policy requires a good bit of time, but it’s a step well worth taking now since it’s unlikely there will be much time to do so when disaster strikes. Also, you might notice gaps in your plan that can be addressed before it’s too late.
  • Money management – It’s always wise to keep your finances in order, but all the more so when it comes to disaster preparedness. Have all financial obligations, including bill payments, payroll details and account information, in a safe place, since these responsibilities will still require attention even in the midst of dealing with a disaster.
  • Cloud-based software for storage and more – Cloud-based software services designed for small businesses store data in secure, offsite locations and provide access to data from anywhere employees have an Internet connection. If your physical office is hit by a natural disaster, you’d still be able to access your information for business continuity. Furthermore, many small businesses have found cloud-based software to provide a host of other benefits, including access to enterprise-class capabilities at an affordable price.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection for your home or small- business PC that guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. Microsoft Security Essentials is a free download from Microsoft that is simple to install and easy to use and that is automatically updated to protect your PC with the latest technology. The greater the security of your PCs, the less the chance that a virtual disaster like cybercrime could impact your business.
  • Technology      updates – By maintaining updated technology, small businesses can      prevent many virtual disasters from happening in the first place. Install updates      whenever prompted to do so, or set company PCs to install updates      automatically.
  • Virtualization –      Virtualization consolidates physical server hardware onto virtual machines      that live in the cloud. This not only helps small businesses recover more      swiftly from disaster but also can lead to cost savings and more efficient      operations.

Small businesses that need to implement new technology systems to better prepare for disaster should engage the help of a qualified IT services provider and can find a list of Atlanta-based providers here.

Also, for more advice on preventing and preparing for disaster, check out this free eGuide on disaster preparedness. Finally, I encourage you to keep tabs on my blog, where I regularly address a range of business and technology issues relevant to small businesses.

Cynthia (“Cindy”) Bates is the Vice President of Microsoft’s US SMB Organization where she is responsible for the company’s end-to-end SMB sales and marketing efforts, including SMB strategy, business development, regional field sales and national distribution sales, channel marketing, and customer marketing. 

Cindy and her team align Microsoft’s resources across customer and partner engagement to drive success in serving the millions of Small and Medium Sized Businesses in the US, helping them start, grow and thrive by leveraging today’s powerful and affordable technologies. At the pillar of these technologies lies cloud computing, in which Microsoft has more than 15 years of experience and understands how to meet the demands of SMBs for simplicity and impact, with enterprise-grade capabilities, flexibility and affordability in a familiar environment. 

Top IT Trends for 2012

January 6, 2012

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]In keeping with our new year’s tradition, we have compiled our list of the top technology trends for 2012. We scanned the available data, reviewed our previous predictions and made some leaps of faith. We are optimistic about the economy and expect many delayed IT expenditures to be completed this year. Advances in business technology continue their steady progression with many smaller businesses adopting leading edge technologies.  This year will be interesting for consumer electronics.  Maybe Steve Jobs left his next great invention in the Apple pensieve.

Local Data Centers – As Cloud Computing gains acceptance and market share, more business will move their equipment and applications to the cloud.  Companies will look for neighborhood data centers that are accessible and provide boutique services. This provides an opportunity for IT service providers and managed service providers (MSPs) because smaller businesses will be looking for help in managing their collocated equipment and cloud applications.  Many small businesses are accustomed to contracting IT services rather than maintaining in-house IT expertise and will look for service providers that can meet their changing IT model.

mCommerce – Mobile commerce is not only for impulsive buyers, but for smart, savvy shoppers looking for the best deal.  The 2011 holiday season broke all records for mCommerce and this will continue as increasing numbers of merchants and consumers embrace mobile applications.  Powerful processors will give handhelds a big boost in acceptance for those that have been reluctant to adopt the technology.  Near field communication (NFC) will take off as applications are developed that use NFC for everything from sharing contact information to reading garment labels to purchasing anything with the swipe of your phone.  In 2012, if you are in the consumer market – become an expert in NFC and mCommerce.

Speech Recognition – This could be a breakout year for speech and voice technologies.  Speech recognition has been used by medical and legal for years and widespread acceptance is just around the corner for all types of businesses.  As mobile device users embrace speech recognition for on-the-go computing, they will bring this technology into the office for a variety of efficiency improvements.

Handhelds Replace Laptops – With more powerful CPUs, handhelds can replace many of the features of laptops.  The keyboard and screen size continue to be obstacle but projection and foldable technology will bridge the gap.  One day we will think and our computer (probably won’t be called a computer) will translate our thoughts into input and output, but in the meantime virtual docking stations will be used to interface with our analog (hands and eyes) systems.

Another Social Media Surge – With Google+ claiming that it will have 400 million members by the end of 2012, we are expecting another surge as social media expands its audience. Online aficionados will continue to be plagued with spam and scams, but new strategies will emerge to catch and isolate the offenders.   The number of users and the average time spent online will increase, but there are too many platforms for the market.  Users will consolidate around the most beneficial and productive sites.  Facebook may take over the world in 2012, but then again it may not.

Disclaimer: Like horoscopes, our predictions for the Top IT Trends of 2012 are general in nature and for entertainment purposes only.

If you have your own 2012 trends, please send to me at mary@lansystems.com.

Safe computing for the holidays

December 21, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Taking time off to spend with family and friends is such a treat, but alas for many it is hard to stay away from the computer.  If you are going to do some online shopping, play a new game or check your work email, be sure to practice safe computing.  Your home computer may not have the same protection as work, so before you download that file or visit a new site make sure you are protected.

Protecting your computer

1)  Make sure your operating system is updated and all security patches are installed.  If you are using Windows, go to Control Panel Home, then Windows Update. This page will show you if you are up to date or if you need an update.  If you are out of date, follow the instructions and consider turning on automatic updates.  If you have a Mac, the update is similar to Windows so just follow the instructions.  If you have Unix or Linux, you are probably an expert and know how to patch your system.

2)  Browse safely.  Be sure your browser is current and that you are protecting against malware.  Malware are those nasty intruders that we often call viruses, trojans, worms or spyware.  For Windows, you can use Microsoft Security Essentials.  It is a free Microsoft tool that runs in the background and will alert you when a threat is identified.  Remember no protection is 100%, so you have to think before you click and be prepared to remove infections.

3)  Use a firewall. Firewalls can be hardware or software and screen Internet traffic as a first line of defense.

4)  Use spam filters. Most email programs include a spam and junk filter.  Not only can you trash unwanted junk mail, but you can disable email links (recommended) and be warned of malicious content.  There are many malicious emails that look legitimate so be careful when opening emails and never click on attachments or links unless you are certain of the source.

5)  Download safely. Only download from sites that you know are legitimate and reputable. When you download, save the file and be sure that your antivirus software is set up to scan when you open files.  A good rule to follow when opening anything is when in doubt – don’t!

6)  Have a computer expert you can count on.  If you are unfamiliar with computer protection, be sure to have someone who you can consult for advice and help.  It seems complicated, but there are many tools that are easy to configure that run automatically to keep you safe.  Be sure you are protected so that you can enjoy the holiday season with your family and friends rather than fixing your computer.

7)  Be sure you have a current backup.  Just in case the worst happens, you can restore to your latest backup.

Online information and help is abundant, but be cautious that you don’t get fooled by malware that pretends to offer help.  If you get a pop-up that claims it will remove an infection from your computer for a price, stop and call your expert!

If you need help or have comments/suggestions, please feel free to contact me at: mary@lansystems.com.

All of us at LAN Systems wish you a safe and joyous holiday season.

Hard Drive Prices Skyrocket

December 8, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]By now you have heard that hard disk drive (HDD) prices are increasing rapidly because of widespread flooding in Thailand. The monsoons of 2011 brought factory production to a standstill. The human toll has been devastating as hundreds have perished and millions have been displaced. The World Bank estimates the financial loss at 45 billion dollars making this the fourth most costly disaster in history. Thailand is the second largest exporter of HDD producing about 40% of the world’s HDD.  It is surpassed only by Singapore.

Supply and demand economics govern computer electronics and the inelasticity is apparent in much higher prices at least for the short term.  Not surprisingly, prices have doubled and tripled for HDD in the recent weeks. There are several price watch sites to compare prices online. For now, the estimates of when full production will return in Thailand are pessimistic.  The supply will return as Thailand plants resume production and competing manufacturers ramp up, but prices may be inflated for an extended period depending upon how the global market responds.

So what should you do without jeopardizing your system or data integrity?

Don’t want to pay more – If you are price inelastic, meaning you don’t want to pay even a small increase for a server, PC or HDD, wait to make a purchase and monitor prices.  Only choose this option if you can safely delay making an IT purchase without losing productivity or data integrity. Remember that a few hours of being “down” can cost considerably more than the price of new hardware.

Have to purchase now – If you have to make a purchase, spend time comparing prices to get the best deal.  You can explore the refurbished market for cost savings, but even those markets have sharply increased.

Buying refurbished electronics – If you buy a refurbished HDD, be sure that it has a warranty and that you have a spare.  Think about your backup and redundancy needs and be sure that you are covered in case of unexpected failure.

Compromise and choose less capacity – You may be able to choose a smaller hard drive for a price you are comfortable with and look to upgrade later.   Only choose this option if less capacity works for you without lots of extra work.  You can easily spend the cost of the HDD in administration costs to move and verify data.

As always, make sure that you have a good backup, just in case.

Your Amazing Brain

December 2, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Recently, I received a variation on an old email chain letter:

TH15 M3554G3 53RV35 TO PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG TH1NG5! 1MPR3551V3 TH1NG5! 1N TH3 B3G1NN1NG 1T WA5 H4RD BUT NOW, ON TH15 LIN3 YOUR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 1T 4UT0M4T1C4LLY W1TH OUT 3V3N TH1NK1NG 4B0UT 1T, B3 PROUD! 0NLY C34RT41N P30PL3.C4N R3AD TH15.

Here’s one of the originals:

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.” 

While it’s true that there was never a study at Cambridge or any other university that can be verified, the sentences are rather simple and it is another email hoax, it is amazing that our brain easily organizes the jumbled up letters.  Experts argue that this is not a real test of the mind as the patterns are predictable and reorganizing the letters of a word greatly slows down our reading speed.  Even so, it is still an amazing triumph of the human brain that it yearns to make sense of a topsy-turvy world and fill in any void.

Memory – We like to believe that our memory is accurate and cognitive.  We think of our memories as a sequential recording rather than a collage of experiences, but the collage is more correct.  Our brain despises an enigma and will go to great lengths to fill in the gaps when pieces are missing. In filling in the missing information, we are very susceptible to outside suggestions.  Partially or completely false memories can be formed that are as real as actual experiences.  For instance, eyewitness testimony is highly regarded by juries, but many studies have shown the vulnerability of memory especially in the presence of outside influences and long periods of time.  Memory is affected by telling the story again and again.  We tailor the story to our listeners and embellish for effect often so subtlety that we don’t even realize it.

Learning – If you have spent time with a three-year old, you have certainly been amazed at how human beings learn.  In three short years, they become masters of their universe and expert in analyzing the actions of adults.   There are many different learning styles. We all learned by the rote technique with alphabet flashcards and times tables, but we experience learning in many different ways.  We explore, evaluate, conclude and revise throughout our lives.  Sometimes unconstrained imagination gives us the greatest results, but other times conforming to convention works best. There are numerous models that attempt to combine our senses and intellect into a coherent basis for learning and each has merit.  Most important is to be a lifelong learner.  See wonder, explore and share just like a three-year old.

Perception – Perception is the brain function of understanding environment through sensory information.  It is reality as what we perceive in our mind’s eye can be as real as reality. In fact, our brain makes the world stable even while being bombarded with sensory input that would otherwise confuse us.  The modular structure of our brain allows our senses to feed each other without being overwhelmed which can cause a full or partial shutdown.

Self-Awareness – “I think, therefore I am” Descartes’ famous quote has become the definition of personal identity.  From the beginning, philosophers have mused over the concepts of existence, self and infinity.  You don’t have to be a philosopher, scholar or psychiatrist to understand self-awareness, we all experience it and observe it in our children.  It is a fascinating journey that continues to delight and baffle.

My three-year old granddaughter likes it when I say the wrong word to describe something.  She knows it’s a game.  Each time she patiently and enthusiastically corrects me with a laugh and a smile.  She doesn’t realize that she is using all of her amazing brain talents – she just thinks she’s having fun!

Share your comments or amazing brain stories and we’ll compare notes.

Requiem for the Blackberry

October 17, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Last week’s Blackberry outage has caused lots of withdrawal pains.  The blogs and message boards are filled with comments defending and vilifying Research in Motion (RIM) Blackberry’s creator.  Network interruptions are inevitable as we have seen with Sony, Google, Microsoft and Netflix. Someday we may have uninterruptible networks, but the departure or threatened departure from Blackberry seems to be more about the availability of multimedia, cooler mobile devices than a network disruption.

For years Blackberry has been the choice in mobile devices for corporations. You can argue that this is because they are more secure because of how RIM handles encryption or the limitation of online features. Certainly iPhone and Android users can be more social online because their devices support many more apps.  They can access Facebook, Tweet, Farmville and Angry Birds from anywhere that they have a signal.  The available apps make it easy to stay connected.  But with the convenience of being online all the time, some sacrifices are made in being secure.  If you want a real scare, google “mobile device hacking” and read some of the recent hacking successes and access your vulnerability.

It really comes down to which device you are most comfortable with and how easily you can change.  Corporations like Blackberry for many reasons including solid systems and the ability to regulate users. Often corporations don’t change their infrastructure because of the expense of installing new equipment and training employees to use and support the new system.  Rationale always states the benefits of one technology over the other to support the choice, but equal arguments can be made for practically any technology choice.

As interesting and amusing as it is to read the comments from the technology aficionados, it is as important to balance the arguments with facts.  Facts may not change the product choices we make – that’s a subject for another blog – some products will win and others will lose based completely on preference and little on the superior technology.  Blackberry once led the pack but is now struggling for market share in a sea of products that offer more. The loyal followers of Apple and Google are happy to share their opinions on why their choice is the best and the features that make mobility fun and efficient.

Weathering Storms in the Cloud

September 12, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Twice over the past few weeks Microsoft’s Office 365 suffered interruptions.  The first occurred on August 17th and was reported as a network interruption.  Several blogs reported the cause as faulty Cisco equipment, but that fact was not verified by Microsoft.  The interruption lasted for three hours and Microsoft has offered a 25% discount to Office 365 customers for the trouble. The second interruption was on September 9th and seems to be tied to the widespread Western US power outage.  Any discount has yet to be announced for the second occurrence.

Microsoft is not the only Cloud service to see outages. Clouds, networks, communications and power that make up the Internet have all been down either briefly or for extended periods.  Although it is frustrating, it is part of the risk we all accept in using and being dependent on technology.

Power and phone outages have always been disruptive to business.  If the power and phones are out, often you have not choice except to close the store or the office.  Only in rare cases are backup generators used and then only to keep essential systems like emergency lights and security systems on until the building can be cleared.  Hospitals, data centers and essential services are the exception, but even hospitals have limited backup power.  Our modern power system is extremely reliable, but it is not faultless. That’s why we keep candles and flashlights in the kitchen.

Cloud Computing relies on centralized servers and the Internet to receive and deliver data to the users. If the servers or the Internet are down, the users experience an interruption.  Just like you have a power out kit in your kitchen, you need a Cloud out kit for your office.  Your Cloud power out kit should consist of a computer or mobile device so you can continue to work offline locally and save your work until the system is back on.

When email is down, you just have to wait whether you are using a Cloud service or your own email server.  If the server didn’t confirm receipt of the email message, the sending server will usually try again for a couple of days before giving up.  That means that for short outages, it will be delayed but you’ll get your email.  It is always surprising that people perceive email as more reliable than FedEx and as verifiable as Certified Mail – it is not.  Email is a great tool and 99.44% of our mail gets through but you have to allow for the .56 % that gets lost.  Certainly, the email that you can’t miss will be in the later.  Use delivery and read receipts to make email verifiable.  (The Ivory soap reference to 99.44% is a bit of humor.)

During an interruption, if you still have access to your computer or mobile device, you can compose messages but will have to wait for the system before you can transmit them. With Microsoft Office 365, you can use your Office products offline and transmit to the Cloud when available.  For other Cloud products, you have similar options to work offline and locally.

Using Cloud Computing gives you economy of scale and the benefit of redundant systems that you probably don’t have in your home or business. Most problems with power or communications will still be on the user side so be sure you have the ability to work offline locally to prevent disappointment and loss of productivity.