Secure your home (the smart way)

Recently, I discovered that someone made an attempt to break into my house. My wife and I live in a neighborhood where our neighbors are mostly retired and we’re fortunate enough to have neighbors across the street who are home all hours of the day with the exception of times they happen to run an errand or two. We live in south Shreveport and the peace in the neighborhood can easily lull residents into believing they are safe enough to leave cars and doors unlocked.

Its nice, living in a quiet neighborhood. Almost sleepy in nature, any sirens heard are usually EMS to check or pick-up an elderly neighbor for a hospital trip so it’s easy to get a false sense of safety but we have to remember the time and town we live in and that crime is always up while police are understaffed. I was reminded of this a few months ago when I purchased a new refrigerator for my wife and the delivery crew was squeezing it through the front door. It was the first time I’d really paid attention to the entry since we painted it after we moved in and I noticed the door jamb was cracked from the dead bolt to the floor. A closer look found what appeared to be a faint footprint on out freshly painted steel front door. Someone apparently got the bright idea to try and kick-in our front door! Their attempt was fruitless thank God but it made me realize, our neighborhood is just a vulnerable to crime as any other in Shreveport.

My first concern was replacing the door jamb and reinforcing it with solid steel plating. Once that was done, it was time for extra security measures. My wife and I work a lot so we’re gone a lot and I needed my home to be aware of what goes on while we’re away. Costly security companies with their monthly monitoring fees just aren’t for me. I’ve installed several security systems for clients and I could do the same for my own property, it was just a matter of the equipment I’d use to meet our needs. So I purchased a surveillance system (Arlo Pro) that detects motion, alerts both my wife’s & my phones, and starts recording video. We catch stray cats and dogs at all hours by the doors and in the yard mostly.   We’re able to see whatever packages are delivered and monitor them until we retrieve them from the front door to ensure their safety.

Delivery

but the other day it was the Shreveport Police at my door because someone took out our mailbox while we were at work.

Police at the door

I didn’t have a camera covering the driveway so I couldn’t tell the driver’s make/model of car. I’ve since aimed a camera at our driveway so I can see whenever anyone pulls into to our driveway for any reason.

In addition to “Arlo” (which is a wireless system), I purchased a QCam 8 camera Hi-Def DVR camera system that doesn’t “alert” for motion but simply records video of our property with various wired Ethernet cameras we’ve installed around our house. Now there isn’t a second of the day or night that we don’t know what’s happening in and around our home.

We opted to make our house a “smart home” with remote locks, lights, motion sensors and alarms which we all control from our phones. We also added an Amazon Alexa/Echo for voice-control of the house if our hands are full or we don’t have our phone’s with us. In all it was an investment at first buying and installing the equipment but it has paid dividends for our peace of mind every moment it’s been in service.

Our new “Reviews” Page

As an independent support and service provider, I make a lot of purchases. Various products, services, software, and hardware components. These purchases are made from various online stores where buyers can review the products they purchase from sellers, rating the purchases on points such as:

  • Ordering experience
  • Shipping (transit times, packaging of products, and ease of removing such packaging)
  • Competitiveness of pricing
  • Quality of product
  • Accuracy of description of product/service advertised
  • Product quality/defect
  • Support (both product and order support)
  • Warranty service & exchanges
  • Refunds for products returned due to defect or improper advertising

I’ve been posting reviews to various online stores such as NewEgg, BestBuy, eBay, and Amazon for years until recently one of these online retailers decided to delete my entire review history and block my ability to post product reviews for any product/service I might purchase in the foreseeable future. Many calls and email requests sent to that retailer’s “Customer Service Team” have been fruitless so finally after months of frustration, I’ve decided to post reviews of all the products I purchase here on my website where I cannot be silenced, manipulated, and/or blocked for sharing my honest experiences with sellers and product purchases I make online. I’ll link to the products I review (both good and bad experiences) so my readers can directly access any products and/or services I review and recommend or do not recommend therefore my readers can make the decision for themselves to either purchase a product/service or not. I am not compensated for the reviews I post and if I find a product at a discount, I’ll share the way I received the discount and link to any promo codes/coupons I happen to discover that will allow my readers to receive the same discount I have. Please feel free to add you own experiences/reviews here and you will not be blocked or censored because having been blocked myself, I know for a fact that BEING BLOCKED AND UNABLE TO POST AN EXPERIENCE WITH A RETAILER AND/OR THAT RETAILER’S PRODUCT SUCKS!

All I ask is that we respect each other and post our reviews/opinions in a manner that will offer value to anyone who reads them.

Thanks,

Brandon Barton – Sole Proprietor – My Tech Works for Me

 

 

We LOVE referrals!

We LOVE Referrals!

We LOVE Referrals!

The last week I received a referral to work on a Dell XPS (previously discussed in my “tech blog”) and once the repair and upgrades were completed to the machine, I returned the machine to its owner. My new client who had been referred to me was so happy that he brought me his laptop that hasn’t worked in a about a year and he wanted to see if I can fix it or it would be more economically reasonable just to purchase a new laptop.

I’ve backed up his data, documents, pictures, and videos to an external drive then I proceeded to remove the viruses and malware that infected the laptop and rendered it unusable. Once I wiped the machine, , I upgraded its operating system from Windows Vista (which we all know hogs memory) to Windows 7 ultimate and got the machine running without issue. I did find that the machine was in need of a memory upgrade because it only had 2 GB of memory and is capable of running 8 GB which would effectively quadruple the speed of the machine.

I sent the client a message with the cost to upgrade the memory and assured him that doing so would get him another 2 to 3 years use out of the laptop and the machines been on my work desk for the last week while the client has been saving the money to purchase the memory upgrade. I just got a text message from the client saying that he would have the money for the upgrade tomorrow and pay the invoice I had previously sent him for the cost of the hardware in the morning so I could order the upgraded memory.

I’ve had the machine running constantly all week after I wiped it and reinstalled Windows and I haven’t had a single problem out of the machine the entire week so next week when the memory upgrade arrives, I will return a second machine to this client that he would’ve ended up replacing at a cost of seven to $900 for a fraction of that price. Another happy client whose technology now works for them.

The Dell XPS that “isn’t used for gaming”

So I get a call the other day for a Dell XPS desktop that’s freezing, he was referred to me be a close friend. So I meet him to pick-up the machine for diagnostics. A few hours later I find its running Windows “Home Premium” with 8 Gigabytes of memory and an “aftermarket” graphics card (usually purchased by “gamers”). I sent him a text asking how long ago he upgraded the machine’s graphics card and he was totally unaware the machine came with an “aftermarket” graphics card.

I started looking around because the machine maxes out at 32 Gigabytes of memory with a 460 watt power supply and this particular machine was using an AMD Radeon HD 7570 1GB GDDR5 graphics card which along with the minimal amount of memory (8 Gigabytes at the time of diagnostics), I felt the standard 460 watt “factory” installed power supply just wasn’t enough to feed the processor and on-board graphics demand when the client played his online games. The client of course mentioned he is a “casual gamer” and uses the machine mostly for “business” purposes but I know the friend who referred him, I know his love for “beast” systems and I’ve recently discovered his love for online gaming so I wasn’t entirely convinced of my client’s claim to be a “casual gamer”. The “factory” power supply had been under-powering the processor, graphics card, and entire system for so long that the graphics card had finally “given up the ghost” and needed to be replaced. The machine was also running a pair of 4 Gigabyte memory sticks for a total of 8 Gigabytes of memory on a system built to run 2 pairs of 8 Gigabyte memory sticks for a total of 32 Gigabytes of memory.

I added a couple of 1 Gigabyte sticks of memory to speed the process of backing up the data on the machine so I could upgrade the operating system from Windows 7 “Home Premium” to a slightly more robust version of Windows 7 (being either “Professional” or “Ultimate” of the 64-bit variety) so the machine would be better equipped to keep up with the need for processing and graphics power required for the client’s “casual online gaming” use. I couldn’t get the display to function from the existing graphics card so I booted up the BIOS and reverted the machine to display through its built-in “VGA” display port while I work on the system for optimization and upgrades. After a few hours trying to get the data transferred from the machine’s hard drive to an external hard drive so I could wipe the machine for the operating system upgrade but I kept getting an error stating the memory available was insufficient for the data transfer.

I sent the client an invoice for $380.54 to cover the cost of parts:

  • 1 – CORSAIR CXM series CX750M 750W which sells for $88.68
  • 1 – Sapphire Radeon R7 240 4G D3 graphics card which sells for $103.03
  • 4 – 8 Gigabyte sticks of memory (Ballistix Sport 32GB Kit (8GBx4) for matched sticks) to max-out the machine’s memory providing 4 times the speed for the client’s “casual gaming” needs online.

The parts I recommended for this machine would significantly improve the “user’s experience” whether gaming or doing business on the machine and though the first “invoice” I sent to the client was for $380, the charges were only for my cost to order the parts for the upgrade. Considering the friend who referred this client to me, I didn’t put even the smallest mark-up on the cost of the hardware so we could get the absolute best components for the least cost possible. Then I agreed to install everything and upgrade the operating system (if it still required doing so after the hardware upgrade) for about a $100 which barely covers the time I’ve spent in diagnostics, transferring the machine’s data off the internal hard drive, upgrading the operating system, transferring the data back to the machine, and of course installing the recommended hardware upgrades to provide the client with the speed and processing power being demanded by the client’s “casual online gaming”. As with any diagnostic and recommendation I make for a client’s machine, the client has the option to choose exactly which upgrades/repairs/optimizations I’ve recommended they wish to move forward with and which they do not want to move forward with. This client chose the upgraded power supply, the upgraded graphics card, and instead of maxing-out the memory at 32 Gigabytes, the client chose to simply add 2 additional sticks of memory to increase the machines memory from the existing 8 Gigabytes to 16 Gigabytes of memory. I warned this would show improved performance but only slightly improved (especially considering the other new hardware I would be installing) but the client opted for the hardware upgrade cost of $250 for less memory over the $380 cost that would provide the maximum amount of memory and increase the user experience most noticeably.

I reworked the invoice and sent it via PayPal last Thursday evening, he paid the invoice on Friday evening after which I immediately placed the order for the parts, and this afternoon and the USPS was leaving the shipment containers on my front door step, I received a text message from the client wanting a status on the upgrade. (That’s one of the things that amazes me when I do work on someone’s smart phone, laptop, desktop, or other electronic equipment.) It’s almost as if I should keep an inventory of any possible hardware that might be needed so it is immediately accessible when a client decides to release funds for a hardware order even though my computer repair work is a “side job” to supplement my “regular 8-5 income”. When I wait to order parts to accommodate a specific client’s repair/upgrade if shipment time isn’t “next day” or “same day”, people tend to get impatient. Never mind that they’re getting extremely high-quality workmanship, the best possible pricing around, and 9 times out of 8 at least 3 sessions of “remote support” – which I pay a monthly fee of $60.00 to be able to offer to my clients – for once their machines have been returned to them so mail client’s and printers can be reconfigured to work with the machine that’s been returned to them in “like new condition”. I’d like to see Geek Squad or other “big-box” tech services try to compete with my price points but nevertheless, I still often pick-up clients that still try to “low-ball” and “bargain” against pricing I provide after a free diagnostic of their device/machine.

So… back to this client… I received his text message while at a family member’s new apartment my wife and I had just moved them into from the 5 bedroom home they’d lived in since my wife’s childhood. As our family member has aged, the family home has become too much to handle so we’ve opted for an “independent living” apartment instead of the family member occupying such a large home alone in her mid 70’s. So this last couple of weeks has been a bit crazy for us as we’ve moved (and continue to move) the belongings of nearly 50 years of occupancy of the home between a new 500 square foot apartment and the home my wife and I purchased last year. I assured the client the new hardware had been delivered to my home this afternoon and I would begin installing it as soon as I’d gotten home from work yesterday (Halloween) evening.

We arrived home around 8:30pm, dinner and a shower saw me begin working on the machine around 10pm. Around midnight, I’d gotten the power supply replaced, new graphics card and extra memory installed, and began the process of backing the machine up again since the now 16 Gigabytes of memory should allow the procedure to complete without errors stating the system is too low on memory to continue. I went to bed about 1:15am once the machine had gotten started backing up and at 2:45am, I found myself back downstairs at the client’s machine to correct another error that occurred during the back-up. Now I’m getting the occasional blue screen on boot, no “click of death” from the hard drive, but this machine just doesn’t seem to want to act right. My next step will be to change the hard drive for a spare “test hard drive” I keep on-hand I pulled from a different repair where the client simply wanted more storage space and moved from a 500GB hard drive to a 3 Terabyte drive so I keep a clean copy of Windows on the drive ready to test on machines I suspect of having failing hard drives. I’d hoped to have this client’s machine completed and returned to him this afternoon so he could get back to “not gaming online with the machine” but it looks like there still might be an underlying problem here.

Blue screen again

Blue screen again

 

***UPDATE***

Further investigation has found the machine’s 1 Terabyte hard drive is failing so I’ve swapped the Seagate BarraCuda drive that was originally installed in the machine with a (much more reliable in my opinion and experience) WesternDigital 1 Terabyte hard drive and the machine is humming along nicely once again with adequate power to feed the processor, new graphics card, new hard drive, and any “non-gaming” needs this client may present to the machine in the future. Another example – making your technology work for you by My Tech Works for Me!

Windows 10… Get over “The Fear” and make the jump.

Talk to any office employee and they’ll tell you the most important machine they use on a daily basis must remain on an outdated version of Windows (Windows 7) under “threat of death” against the upgrade from the Office IT Guy (or IT Girl to be politically correct).

Arguments are made that office programs will not work in Windows 10 that harken back to the days of making the jump from Windows XP to Windows 7(which by the way is still the main operating system in a lot of offices even though Microsoft has stopped releasing updates and security patches for XP). Microsoft did such a terrible job with the release of Windows Vista that the trust Microsoft once took for granted from IT Pros was lost to such a degree, it’s taking a very long time for IT Pros to give back.

Windows 8 wasn’t much to help gain trust back and confused so many users with its new “Metro” interface (you know, the live “tiles” Windows 8 users were greeted with when they turned their shiny new Windows 8 machine). These “tiles” we’re so foreign to users that many didn’t know how to use them. Coupled with new features like “charms”, and a design built on touch-screen optimization, users were even more confused. “What happened to our beloved Start button?!?!?!?” There were complaints “How do we get to our program list” and “Where the Hell did our ‘desktop’ go?!?!?”

Microsoft pulled through and found a way to combine all the new features like touch, charms, the Microsoft Store, live tiles, and the “traditional desktop” with our beloved “Start Button” in Windows 10. They sweetened the deal by offering free upgrades to the new operating system for an entire year (which ended just the other day on July 29th 2016). I took advantage of the deal on every Windows box I’ve worked on the past year and haven’t gotten a single complaint from users both young and old. It’s too bad that most “IT People” look so lowly on the users they’re paid to support that they think a user can’t figure out how to “Right-Click” an application and choose to run the application in “Compatibility Mode”.

Compatibility Mode is Microsoft’s way to (forgive my crassness) “idiot proof” a new version of Windows so both household and business users can still use the programs they downloaded free or possibly even purchased as far back as Windows XP. (I run all Apple machines except for when I’m working on another client’s machine and Apple doesn’t even do that!!) It’s a shame that so many have missed out on the great new features Windows 10 has to offer this last year for free under threat of death from their “IT People” for clicking the icon to upgrade their Windows 7, 8, 8.1, Vista, and yes… Let’s not leave out our old beloved Windows XP (which if your office is still running XP, I recommend you fire the “IT Guy” and find someone else who knows what they’re doing) because the IT Guy is just plain LAZY. Now anyone who wants to upgrade will have to pay for the same Operating System the rest of us have gotten for free this entire year because the people who support their networks couldn’t be bothered to take 5 minutes to educate their users on Windows 10 or… Let’s just face facts… Their IT People are simply afraid of change.

 

Don't worry, I'm fixing it!!

Don’t worry, I’m fixing it!!

 

(This is just my opinion, an IT professional with over 15 years “real world experience” who’s finally decided to spend a couple thousand dollars to get the “Certificates” to prove I know what I ALREADY know)

A change in hosting

eHost 404 Error

I recently had to shop around for web hosting packages because the original web hosting subscription had expired and until I could find a suitable replacement fitting our need for hosting multiple domains/websites without taking a second mortgage on the house to keep our sites online, we’ve been “borrowing”. While we’ve been shopping, a dear friend has been kind enough to add our sites to his multi-domain hosting subscription to keep our sites accessible and online.

I thought I’d finally found the solution with “eHost’s unlimited domain/site hosting package” which is on sale right now at a very affordable subscription price. I purchased 3 years of “unlimited domain hosting with unlimited websites and unlimited bandwidth”. During the purchase process, I up-sold to “optimized SEO, Super-charging load times, SSL certificates (for secure online transactions), and an extra year of hosting” on a “one-time special discount” during the initial purchase of the hosting subscription.

Once the purchase was completed, I was provided a “free domain name” with the subscription so I figured I’d use the new domain to offer new web design services from My Tech Works for Me. I setup the “free” domain in a matter of minutes using eHost’s “Site Builder” instead of using the usual WordPress application suite I’ve used for the other websites we’ve already designed. Then I began searching for the cPanel to migrate our existing domains over to eHost and the link to access the cPanel for the new DNS records appeared to be broken. Then I tried to “host an additional domain” I already own with my new “unlimited hosting package” I was prompted to pay another full hosting subscription for each domain I planned to move.

A call to the support line advised me that I made an error when I selected my subscription that would only allow hosting for a single domain. The offered resolution was to start over with a second entirely new subscription selecting specific options to ensure the “unlimited sites/domains” featured at every point in the purchase process. I would be charged the entire amount I’d been charged the first time, and eHost would then refund the charges for the original subscription. It sounded a bit overcomplicated and unfair that I’d be charged a second time for the same subscription I’d already paid for then have to wait for a refund to be credited back to me as eHost sees fit.

Begrudgingly, I followed the process outlined by customer service, paid for another 4 years of “unlimited” hosting and once the transaction was complete, I was finally granted access to the cPanel I needed to move our domains over to eHost. This was Monday and I’ve spent multiple hours trying to install WordPress for this website (mytechworksforme.com) and after multiple failed attempts I sought the opinion of a good friend who’s a seasoned veteran and expert at web design. He looked over my coding and found no errors except that WordPress was not installing correctly in the cPanel. We deleted the entire file directory I’d been working on and started from scratch to find the same problem.

Another call to eHost’s Support Line tonight to request a full refund of all charges from my first purchase and the 2nd purchase I made under direction from Customer Service on Monday backed by the “45 Day, No Questions Asked Customer Satisfaction Money Back Guarantee” found there is currently an “open ticket” to resolve the matter. When I requested the refund I was advised to allow time for the ticket to be worked because it would take that long for charges to process and post before a refund could be issued. When asked for an estimated time of resolution, I was told they could provide none but I should call back in 24-48 hours. Meanwhile all our websites were displaying 404 Errors – The Page Cannot Be Found.

After I got home for the day today, I asked the friend that has been hosting our domains until we could find a suitable hosting plan for the DNS servers used in his hosting package so I could re-point our domains back to his hosting service and at least be back online during this unbelievable headache of a circus dealing with eHost. I got the server names, I logged back into the domain control panel that I use to purchase my domains through (Webspace Geeks – whom I highly recommend), pointed our primary domains back to the servers used by my friends hosting service, and within minutes our main websites were back online. Absolutely no thanks whatsoever to eHost, their “unlimited hosting subscription”, their Customer Service, or their iron-clad “45 Day Money-Back Customer Satisfaction Guarantee”.  My friend uses Host Gator for the multiple domains he manages (as well as our primary domains at the moment since the TWO 4 year “unlimited” hosting packages I’ve had to pay for with eHost can’t seem to install WordPress or allow the “unlimited domains/websites” like they advertise). After all the headache, frustration, unnecessary charges, promised refunds without follow-through, and 404 Errors I’ve had to endure since last Sunday when I made that fateful “subscribe now” click with eHost…. I think I just want my money back now… I want ALL of my money back and to sever all connection with this ridiculous mess the “unlimited websites/domains” subscription has turned out to be. I’ll take my sites, my domains, my web traffic, and my business elsewhere. I’ll use a service that really provides the services they advertise. Perhaps I’ll look into Host Gator, my friend has been with them for a few years, speaks extremely highly of them, and our sites are already being hosted from Host Gator while we try to straighten this debacle out anyway.

Boost your sales with a little help

I got a call the other day from an old friend who’s in the business of selling cars. I sold cars… Years ago, before the iPhone, before Facebook, and before it was so easy to market yourself as “your own brand”. To boost his sales and get his name “out there” to potential clients giving him an edge over the typical “see you and run up to you, hand extended offering his business card” I’m going to help him create a Facebook page where he can promote himself as the person to see when you’re in the market to buy a car.

Once again, we’ll be making his technology work for him. Once we get the page setup the way he wants it, I’ll link to it here so everyone can see how easy and inexpensive to market their particular brand with a little help from technology working for them.

Fist full of cash

Arriving at his office, I found he’d already started a Facebook page for his business so we did a little “fine tuning”. Set him up with a Google Voice phone number to ring his mobile, desk, and home phones depending on his preference at the time (318) 734-9ORR. We added a button on his page that allows people to call his new number directly from his page. We discussed the importance of “hash-tagging” his posts so they’ll trend on Facebook.

I also suggested a Twitter page for his business, developing his LinkedIn profile page (because LinkedIn is the “Facebook” for businesses), and we discussed creating a website to tie all of his social networks together. He seemed to get a lot out of our discussion so we’ll see if his sales improve in the future with the tools he’s been made aware of. As promised before, here’s a link to his Facebook page. It should be interesting to see how his social sales presence grows in the coming days.