How to Keep Your Home Safe This Winter

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Dec 11, 2018 1:54:14 PM

Winter months can bring some serious challenges for homeowners. Icy driveways and walkways, and frozen pipes and power lines can cause a lot of damage. 

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10 Incredibly Useful Ways to Use a USB Drive You Didn't Know

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Dec 5, 2018 10:53:00 AM

Catalin205 | Dreamstime.com   DREAMSTIME.COM

Are you sitting at your desk? Go ahead, reach down, and open your desk drawer. You know the one. It’s the drawer that holds a couple outdated cellphones, a tangle of paper clips, and mystery cables from long-gone devices.

You probably have a small herd of USB flash drives in there, forgotten, unused and unloved.

Check out these 10 handy, fun and downright helpful ways to use USB thumb drives.

1. Run your own Google Chrome on other computers

There are a lot of personal things you wouldn’t imagine sharing with other people, like your passwords or your toothbrush. You don’t have to share someone else’s web browser, either. Portable Apps, a site that collects apps that can run on USB drives, offers up Google Chrome Portable, a version of Chrome that lives on a flash drive.

It’s both familiar and efficient. You can take it with you to use on a shared or borrowed computer and it won’t impact any version of Chrome that’s already on the machine.

2. Scan for viruses

If you know or suspect a computer has been compromised by a virus, you can use a portable app installed on a USB drive to scan and remove the offending software.

PortableApps offers several options, including ClamWin Portable, McAfee Stinger Portable, and Spybot-Search & Destroy Portable. Install these on the drive, plug it into the computer, and run them to check and clean the machine.

3. Create a Windows recovery drive

Don’t wait until your Windows PC freaks out. Be prepared by turning a spare USB stick into a recovery drive. A recovery drive lets you run troubleshooting tools if your Windows machine is having problems, even if it won’t start up properly.

Follow Microsoft’s directions to create the drive. You may need at least a 16 GB USB drive if you choose the option to back up your system files, but this will let you reinstall Windows if necessary.

Once you have the drive finished, label it and store it where you’ll be able to access it easily if your computer starts acting up.

4. Play games

A USB drive can hold a ton of games. Carry it around, plug it into a convenient computer, and have fun. You can find a huge list of flash-drive games through Portable Apps. Whether you’re into chess, solitaire, retro games, sudoku, or racing, you’ll find something to play. This can also be a great way to keep kids occupied.

Have a suite of games ready on a USB drive and you can hand them a laptop and the drive and let them entertain themselves when you’re traveling.

5. Go incognito

The Tails operating system has an intriguing tagline: “Privacy for anyone anywhere.” You can run Tails from a USB drive on a computer and it will keep your activity private and anonymous by acting as an independent OS.

You will actually need two USB drives for the initial Tails setup and it can seem a little involved, but the Tails site will walk you through the process.

Tails is one way to protect your privacy when using public computers or a computer you don’t trust.

It can also be a way to hide your tracks if you’re shopping for birthday or holiday gifts on a computer you share with your family.

6. Hand out USB business cards

This tip isn’t so much about re-purposing an old USB drive; it’s about standing out from the networking crowd with custom-made USB business cards. A quick online search will point out several manufacturers.

A USB business card holds more than just your contact information. It can also include a resume, portfolio, press kit, or other files.

7. Boost your Windows experience

Microsoft has long offered a little-known Windows feature called ReadyBoost. It’s meant to speed up certain processes on computers that use standard hard drives. While it may offer a benefit to some computers running Windows 10, people with older machines and those using earlier Windows operating systems are the most likely to see a speed improvement.

It does not work for computers with solid-state drives like those often found in higher-end laptops.

ReadyBoost turns an external flash drive into a hard disk cache.

Microsoft gives instructions for setting up a ReadyBoost drive for Windows 7, but this also works on more recent versions of the operating system. It's worth a try if your computer feels poky.

8. Make a Dead Drop

A “dead drop” is spy-speak for a method of passing secret information. Berlin artist Aram Bartholl started a trend of USB flash drive “Dead Drops” that has since spread around the world.

People who participate leave USB drives in public, perhaps cemented into a wall or tied to a tree. Dead Drop users are encouraged to share their favorite files, whether it’s photography, a poem, or some other creation.

You can find out how to participate on Bartholl’s Dead Drops site. Just keep in mind that attaching your computer to an unknown USB drive comes with a lot of potential security risks, so you might want to use a secondary computer just for your Dead Drops activities.

9. Use it as the key to your computer

You can turn a USB drive into a key that unlocks your Windows computer by using Predator software. Download and install Predator on your PC and a flash drive. Once it’s set up, the computer will only work when the USB drive is plugged in.

Pull it out and the display goes dark and the keyboard and mouse are disabled. Plug it back in to get back to work.

Predator can be used on multiple computers, so the same flash drive can unlock more than one machine.

You can also have several flash drives as keys for the same computer, so everyone in your family (or only certain members) can unlock a particular PC. Predator starts at $10 for the home edition.

10. Carry important files while traveling

You’re finally going on that overseas vacation of your dreams. Travel advisers always caution you to take backups of important documents, including your passport, ID, emergency contacts, itinerary, and ticket confirmations.

You can print out physical copies of all of these, but you can also store them on a small USB drive and attach it to a key ring, carry it in your purse or wallet, or store it in a secure spot in your carry-on luggage.

 

"10 Incredibly Useful Ways To Use A USB Drive You Didn't Know." The Kim Komando Show, 2018, https://www.komando.com/tips/438907/10-incredibly-useful-ways-to-use-a-usb-drive-you-didnt-know.

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How to Solve 5 Common Computer Problems

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Dec 3, 2018 10:46:56 AM

© KASPARS GRINVALDS | DREAMSTIME.COM

It happens to everyone at some point. You're doing something on your computer, whether it's an important project, some aimless browsing, or trying to beat your high score on Solitaire, and without warning, something goes wrong. Your computer shuts down, or the screen flickers or freezes.

Sometimes it's just a glitch that goes away quickly. But sometimes you wiggle the mouse, click the buttons a few times, tap some keys on your keyboard and get nothing. Your 21st-century piece of technology is useless. So, what do you do next?

Most of us are comfortable using computers as long as everything is going smoothly. But, when something goes wrong, we don't know where to begin.

That's why we've put together five common computer issues that you can usually solve yourself. You just need to know how to troubleshoot the problem. Take a look at these tips so that you're ready the next time your computer acts out.

1. Unexpected reboots

If your computer has ever unexpectedly rebooted and turned blue or shut down without warning, you know how nerve-wracking that can be. Or, has your computer ever shut down as it's opening up, or suggested you work in "safe mode?"

Those "safe mode" messages often pop up after you accidentally turn off your computer without shutting it down. But when that happens for seemingly no reason, you may have an expensive problem on your hands.

However, you can troubleshoot this issue with a program called WhoCrashed. It scans through your computer to identify the problem, and it may suggest a solution.

If you're staring at a blue screen, you may be thinking, "There's a problem with my computer." But, according to WhoCrashed, the problem probably doesn't have anything to do with your hardware.

It may be related to your device drivers. Or it may be a problem with pieces of coding called kernel modules.

WhoCrashed will analyze your computer to find what's causing it to crash. It's easy to use and it does a thorough analysis of your computer. Note: WhoCrashed states that "the software is not guaranteed to identify the culprit in every scenario."

If it helps you, great. If not, you should make sure your device drivers are up to date. If that doesn't help, you may need to contact a professional computer repair person.

2. Basic software troubleshooting

An occasional or consistent computer freeze could be the result of a program acting up. Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + ESC to open Windows' Task Manager and then select the "Performance" tab. In Windows 8.1 and 10, you might need to click the "More details" link 

Start using your computer as normal, but keep an eye on the CPU, memory and disk categories. If the computer freezes, and one of these is really high, then that could be your answer. Make a note of which area was really high then restart the computer and open Task Manager again.

This time, however, choose the "Processes" tab. Sort the list by CPU, memory or disk, whichever was really high last time the computer froze, and see what process pops up to the top of the list as the computer freezes. This should tell you what software is acting up so you can uninstall or update it. 

You might also have hidden software, such as a virus, causing problems. Be sure to run a scan with your security software to uncover something that shouldn't be there.

In cases where your computer freezes during startup in normal mode, but boots OK in Safe Mode, the problem could be a program that's loading during the boot sequence. Use a program like Autoruns to selectively disable the programs that begin at startup and see which one is causing the problem.

If your computer is freezing during startup no matter what, and it's at the same point, then the problem could be corruption in Windows or a hardware problem. A quick way to tell is to grab a Live CD for another operating system, such as Linux Mint or Tails, and boot with that.

If the other operating system boots OK, then you're probably looking at a problem with Windows and might need to reinstall. For those using Windows 10 (and 8), it has a Refresh/Reset feature that's supposed to return Windows to a factory state. It's under Settings >> Update and recovery >> Recovery. If Windows is having trouble starting, it should pop up a Recovery option during boot that includes this, or you might have to use a disc.

If the non-Windows operating system has trouble too, then it's time to look at your hardware.

3. Basic hardware troubleshooting

A computer that freezes both in normal mode and Safe Mode or with another operating system, can often indicate a problem with your computer's hardware. It could be your hard drive, an overheating CPU, bad memory or a failing power supply. In some cases, it might also be your motherboard, although that's a rare occurrence.

Usually, with a hardware problem, the freezing will start out sporadically, but increase in frequency as time goes on. Or it will trigger when the computer is working hard, but not when you're doing more basic things. Fortunately, you can run some checks and see if that's the case.

Use a program like CrystalDiskInfo to check your hard drive's S.M.A.R.T. data for signs of impending failure. A program like SpeedFan can tell you if your computer processor is overheating, or if the voltages are fluctuating, which might be a problematic power supply.

If you want to go more in-depth, you can grab a diagnostic CD like FalconFour's Ultimate Boot CD. It has plenty of other tools for checking out your computer, including MemTest for putting a strain on your computer's RAM to see if it's working OK.

If your computer is newer, it might still be under warranty, in which case you'll want to contact the manufacturer or seller.

For an older computer, you need to decide if it's less expensive to repair or replace it. 

4. Pop-up ads and odd messages

Running into a pop-up ad while you're surfing used to be a serious annoyance, but modern browsers include pop-up protection to keep these annoyances away on most sites. If you're still seeing regular pop-ups on more than one site, it could just be a badly-configured browser.

However, if pop-ups are coming at you when your browser isn't even open, it's likely you have a virus. This is especially true if the pop-ups advertise some magic cure-all to your "virus woes."

If you are bombarded with pop-up ads, first run a scan with anti-spyware software to double-check. I like SpyBot Search & Destroy because it digs deep into your settings to find any problems spyware has left behind.

Most viruses have one goal in mind once they infect your computer: to spread the virus as far as possible. An easy way to do that is to send messages to as many of your friends as possible in hopes they'll get infected, too.

These messages can show up anywhere. The virus might try to send out spam through your email account. It could take control of your Facebook or Twitter and send out spam, too. In almost all cases, it will include a link or attachment to the virus somewhere in the post.

Keep an eye on your email's "sent" folder and on your social network posts. If you notice emails and posts that you don't remember sending or posting, it's likely that you have a virus. Here is what you need to know to take your account back.

5. Getting things going again

OK, this might sound obvious, but one of the easiest things you can do to get your computer working better is to restart it.

How many times have you spent hours trying to figure out what was causing a computer problem, only to have the IT guy fix it by rebooting? No, your IT guy does not have the "magic touch." What's really happening is that sometimes computer problems are temporary. When you restart your computer, it clears its memory and reruns program startups.

Something important to note here is that sometimes the problem you're having won't allow you to restart your computer properly. For example, if your computer freezes, you won't be able to restart without pressing the Power button down and holding it until your computer shuts off.

This is sometimes referred to as a "Hard Reboot," and although it's not ideal, it is essentially the same thing as restarting.

Another thing you can do that's really easy is clearing out your browser's cache. This won't fix every problem, but it does help by giving you a blank canvas to work with.

The process is very easy. Every browser has a different method, but here's how you can do it in Chrome. Go into your browsing history, then click the button at the top that says,"Clear browsing data."

Of course, if these simple fixes don't help, then you might have a bigger problem to worry about. It could also be caused because your computer needs a cleanup. 

 

"How To Solve 5 Common Computer Problems." The Kim Komando Show, 2018, https://www.komando.com/tips/357730/5-common-computer-problems-solved-2.

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How To Skillfully Manage A Small Business Crisis

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Nov 26, 2018 12:47:34 PM

Crises are an inevitable part of life, so of course they're an inevitable part of business. Sometimes an order will ship late, threatening a relationship with a client. 

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Set Up Your Financial Accounts Like You're Going To Be Hacked

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Nov 21, 2018 10:30:00 AM

We've been warning you for years about hackers. Unfortunately, it's easy to tune that message out.

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One Trick To Stop People From Stealing Your Online Photos

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Nov 20, 2018 9:16:45 AM

You put your heart, soul, time, talent, and skill into your photographs. You share your beloved images online, only to find someone else has copied them and is using them elsewhere without permission or attribution.

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iOS 12 Security Settings You Need To Change Right Now

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Nov 14, 2018 11:07:52 AM

With iOS 12, Apple has made major moves to tighten its security and tie up some of the loose ends you may have.

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Why SMEs Need To Consider Ethics In The Digital Growth Race

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Nov 13, 2018 11:19:08 AM

Remaining ethically compliant in the digital age

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Why Businesses Are Turning To Chatbots?

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Nov 7, 2018 11:18:00 AM

As artificial intelligence (AI) has matured, chatbots – programs designed to emulate human interaction in messaging applications – have become more sophisticated, and customers are no longer put off by doing business with a computer.

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Is Your Printer The Weak Link In Your Brand's Cybersecurity?

Posted by Gulf South Technology Solutions on Nov 5, 2018 11:00:22 AM

You've covered all bases to protect your business against cyberattacks - incorporating the latest firewalls and virus scanners, a vigilant IT team and a well-trained workforce. But hackers are hoping you've overlooked a potential security vulnerability: the office printer.

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