Archive for December, 2011

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  If you are out of date, follow the instructions and consider turning on automatic updates.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.

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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.