Rethink Associates

Spring Cleaning is upon us

It’s that time of the year again!  Are you prepared to clean out the gunk your computer collected over the winter? If you are looking down at the external components of your PC you’re probably thinking, "What kind of threats have my keyboard or monitor come into contact with?" Truth is, your physical equipment is likely in more of a need of a spring cleaning than you realize. Your computer is the second most contaminated device at your disposal. The keyboard alone contains over 3,000 microbes per square inch, and that’s not all! Your PC can collect billions of little dust specks which can trap the heat within the computer and shorten its life span.

Before you start…

Follow these steps to get prepared for your exterior PC spring cleaning:

1. Turn the computer completely off and unplug it.
2. Chose an area that is large, flat, and clear of clutter.
3. Equip yourself with an anti-static wrist band or something similar.
4. Have a safe place for thumb screws.
5. Get tools together: compressed air (sometimes known as canned air), cotton swabs, microfiber cloths, cleaning cloths, a soft brush, and a small screwdriver. Springfield computer repair experts at Rethink Associates love this Vacuum Attachment Kit!


What to clean and how?

1. Power Supply Unit: We recommend you to start with the part that converts AC power to DC power, the power supply unite. Use a soft brush to remove any dust and debris from this object.
2. Computer Fan: Simply remove the fan itself from the case and use a soft brush to clean large amounts of dust. To remove smaller particles of dust use the compressed air.
3. Motherboard: The central computer circuit board that connects to other core components needs to be cleaned with a compressed air unit. Blow from the inside-out and not directly against the motherboard system itself.
4. Keyboard: wipe down and clean with cotton swabs and compressed air to remove dirt from in between the keys.
5. The monitor: or the display screen of the computer is made out of glass. Take a microfiber or other soft cloth to gently wipe down the screen. Remember to never use alcohol or chemical based products.
6. Mouse: Use a cloth to wipe away any build-up.

…what about the rest of your computer?

It is equally important to take the time to do software maintenance. You may also need to back-up your data, setup a registry cleaning, run disk defragmentation, make any software updates, and/or activate an anti –virus.

When you go through your computer spring cleaning, you might begin to notice that you have lots of unnecessary files that taking memory space. There might be even doubles of some files;  use DoubleKiller which goes forward for you and checks the file names, sizes, dates, and even what’s inside of it.

Furthermore, you may notice you have installed too many programs that you don’t want anymore. Revo Uninstaller and CCleaner are a computer’s best friends. These programs can go into the Windows OS and pull out all sorts of useless stuff on your computer. Take for instance, the thousands of “temporary files” that your web browsers have generated.

By following these steps, and completing your spring cleaning you can keep your computer healthy and running like brand new. For expert advice and help, contact Rethink Associates 24/7 to receive immediate assistance.



What to clean and how?

1. Power Supply Unit: We recommend you to start with the part that converts AC power to DC power, the power supply unite. Use a soft brush to remove any dust and debris from this object.
2. Computer Fan: Simply remove the fan itself from the case and use a soft brush to clean large amounts of dust. To remove smaller particles of dust use the compressed air.
3. Motherboard: The central computer circuit board that connects to other core components needs to be cleaned with a compressed air unit. Blow from the inside-out and not directly against the motherboard system itself.
4. Keyboard: wipe down and clean with cotton swabs and compressed air to remove dirt from in between the keys.
5. The monitor: or the display screen of the computer is made out of glass. Take a microfiber or other soft cloth to gently wipe down the screen. Remember to never use alcohol or chemical based products.
6. Mouse: Use a cloth to wipe away any build-up.

…what about the rest of your computer?

It is equally important to take the time to do software maintenance. You may also need to back-up your data, setup a registry cleaning, run disk defragmentation, make any software updates, and/or activate an anti –virus.

When you go through your computer spring cleaning, you might begin to notice that you have lots of unnecessary files that taking memory space. There might be even doubles of some files;  use DoubleKiller which goes forward for you and checks the file names, sizes, dates, and even what’s inside of it.

Furthermore, you may notice you have installed too many programs that you don’t want anymore. Revo Uninstaller and CCleaner are a computer’s best friends. These programs can go into the Windows OS and pull out all sorts of useless stuff on your computer. Take for instance, the thousands of “temporary files” that your web browsers have generated.

By following these steps, and completing your spring cleaning you can keep your computer healthy and running like brand new. For expert advice and help, contact Rethink Associates 24/7 to receive immediate assistance.

What to clean and how?

1. Power Supply Unit: We recommend you to start with the part that converts AC power to DC power, the power supply unite. Use a soft brush to remove any dust and debris from this object.
2. Computer Fan: Simply remove the fan itself from the case and use a soft brush to clean large amounts of dust. To remove smaller particles of dust use the compressed air.
3. Motherboard: The central computer circuit board that connects to other core components needs to be cleaned with a compressed air unit. Blow from the inside-out and not directly against the motherboard system itself.
4. Keyboard: wipe down and clean with cotton swabs and compressed air to remove dirt from in between the keys.
5. The monitor: or the display screen of the computer is made out of glass. Take a microfiber or other soft cloth to gently wipe down the screen. Remember to never use alcohol or chemical based products.
6. Mouse: Use a cloth to wipe away any build-up.

…what about the rest of your computer?

It is equally important to take the time to do software maintenance. You may also need to back-up your data, setup a registry cleaning, run disk defragmentation, make any software updates, and/or activate an anti –virus.

When you go through your computer spring cleaning, you might begin to notice that you have lots of unnecessary files that taking memory space. There might be even doubles of some files;  use DoubleKiller which goes forward for you and checks the file names, sizes, dates, and even what’s inside of it.

Furthermore, you may notice you have installed too many programs that you don’t want anymore. Revo Uninstaller and CCleaner are a computer’s best friends. These programs can go into the Windows OS and pull out all sorts of useless stuff on your computer. Take for instance, the thousands of “temporary files” that your web browsers have generated.

By following these steps, and completing your spring cleaning you can keep your computer healthy and running like brand new. For expert advice and help, contact Rethink Associates 24/7 to receive immediate assistance.


Microsoft Offers Tips to Help Users Transition Away from XP

With only two months reaming until the Windows XP support termination deadline, Microsoft is looking for help in getting users to upgrade.

With only two months reaming until the Windows XP support termination deadline, Microsoft is looking for help in getting users to upgrade.

Brandon LeBlanc of Microsoft wrote a Blog post that I missed a week ago, marking Microsoft's 60 day countdown to the end of Microsoft Windows XP. In his post, Brandon both marks the countdown and asks user for their help in getting their friends and family to convert before the switch. 

LeBlanc's post, while asking users for their help, outlines the detailed roadmap for what users' options are to stay protected after April 8th: Upgrade or Buy a New PC. that's it. Upgrade, or Buy a New PC.  

Microsoft's approach to the transition is forced, and I personally don't believe they are being entirely fair with users. I feel that it is obvious if a user is still using a pc old enough it still has XP on it that they are not ready for nor do they like change. One would think that Microsoft would be forward thinking enough to help make the process less painful for users by making upgrading much cheaper. Currently, the cost for users to upgrade from XP to Windows 8 is $199 when bought straight from Microsoft, though Amazon still sells the upgrade to 8 Pro for only $95 (Grab it while it's hot). But I think that offering a limited run sale of $50 for XP users would be a more customer focused plan. Knowing how drastic the difference of experience is for users switching from XP to 8 will be, these kinds of concessions on Microsoft's part are just common sense in my book. But, I digress..

And it is only fair, after examining Microsoft's need to be more flexible and fair, it is extremely important for users to understand that WinXP is 12 years old. 12 years old. We have seen entire industry markets introduced and others revolutionized since WinXP launched. We have seen 2 Presidencies since it's launch. Facebook hadn't even been thought of, MySpace hadn't even launched, we mapped the Human Gemone, the world's first phone with a colored display was launched, 9/11 was just a day, not an anniversary of a tragedy, Switzerland joined the UN, Katrina hit New Orleans, the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression hit, the Space Shuttle program ended.. I could go on. You are using a relic. A piece of equipment from a by gone era. It is time to change. 

Ransomeware Alert, Protect Yourself.

xl_cryptolocker.jpg

We have talked a lot about Ransomware in the past weeks, and the threat it poses. It has never been greater. Yesterday, security firm Sophos released a security report warning that cyber-criminals and their associated groups are working together to make mass production "Deployment Kits" for Ransomware, enabling them to more easily make their own versions of the popular malware, and to allow OPEN PURCHASE of these tools on the internet. Ransomware is a type of malware that systematically encrypts all user data on a computer’s hard drive. Once it has encrypted all of the user’s data, it deletes the unencrypted originals. Users are then prompted to transfer money – often around $350 – for the encryption key to unlock the data. Sophos states that in the last year, the problem has become incredibly widespread, and that the release of a kit could lead to an explosion of Ransomware worldwide. 

 

What make Ransomware so incredibly problematic is that there is NO FIX FOR IT. Anti-Virus WILL NOT protect you. Nor can a local computer shop, our company, nor the collective powers of the U.S. Federal goverment, and all other nations combined. Ransomware uses completely unhackable encryption to lock up your computer, and lock all your files, and can also lock up EVERY COMPUTER ON YOUR NETWORK INCLUDING ANY CONNECTED EXTERNAL DRIVES. This is NOT sensationalism, it is real. Hundreds of companies, TV stations, and even a few POLICE STATIONS have had to pay big bucks to ransom their data.

DO NOT BE A VICTIM. We can help you prepare to prepare for these attacks. 

PROTECT YOURSELF!!! 

Here are some tips to help: 

 

  • NEVER leave Your External Backup Drive hooked up to your computer when done. Backup, and when finished, Disconnect it.  
  • DO NOT open attachments in emails unless they are from close trusted family members or friends, and even then, do not open attachments EVER with the file extensions: .exe, .zip, .rar, .bat
  • Regularly back up your files. Do both local OFFLINE backups and Online Backups through services like Carbonite. If you are unfamiliar with how to perform local backups of your data, see these great tools from Acronis, Genie 9, and Rebit 5. And if you prefer, Rethink Associates provides quality backup solutions as well. Let Us do it for you!

If you become infected with any of these viruses or any others:

  • Immediately Disconnect all external drives from your system to prevent infection.
  • Disconnect you computer from the Internet, as some of these spread to other computers on the network.  
  • Contact Rethink Associates so that we can help! 

Rethink Associates is working to set up a class (or few) on how to insulate your home and business networks against Ransomware attacks, so you can safeguard your livelihood!

Nintendo's future is cloudy... at Best.

Nintendo

There was a day when Nintendo reigned supreme as the king of all electronic entertainment. In 1985, having a Nintendo Entertainment System in your house was a badge of honor, a symbol of status almost. Then the Super Nintendo did the same. Nintendo ruled the american gaming industry for decades. Even in the face of competing systems, Nintendo made a fortune and won the hearts of gamers worldwide. When the Nintendo partnership with Sony to develop a CD based add-on for the Super Nintendo fell apart, a jaded Nintendo started on a radically different path than the rest of the gaming industry. And while that path would still capitalize on the loyalty of several generations of die hard fans, it would ultimately leave them playing catch-up in a market they once ruled with an iron fist.

Nintendo Entertainment System

Reeling from the bitter experience of working on a disc based add-on, and way behind their competitors working with a superior medium (CD), Nintendo had no choice but to push forward with a medium they were experts in (cartridges) in a graphical environment that was almost alien to them (3D). Enter the Nintendo 64. Technologically superior and released later than its competitors, the N64 was a hit with hard core Nintendo fans. Packing nearly 3x's the processing power of the PlayStation, the N64 was a technical marvel. Even with the limited texture cache that resulted in limited dimensions and color depth couldn't stop the N64. However, the cartridge format with it's limited capacity and higher cost, coupled with Nintendo's feisty and onerous licensing requirements sent developers running to the much easier to develop for CD based competitors. And it was here that the slide began. Nintendo's GameCube was another impressive juggernaut. With power and graphics processing that literally stomped the PS2. What started holding Nintendo back wasn't power or capability, it was perception. Since developers were highly reluctant to work with them now, the large majority of memorable titles were in-house 1st party favorites from Nintendo themselves. And even though they were finally working with a disc based format, the ever stubborn Nintendo opted for a niche product, a proprietary mini-DVD format that had far less storage capacity than it's competitors. Many started to wonder if Nintendo was losing it's touch.   

Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

As if the challenges of proprietary formats and lack of developers weren't bad enough, Nintendo had also typecast themselves. With family friendly and focused titles like Mario, Pikmin and Animal Crossing being core fair on the GameCube, an ever increasing number of even die-hard loyal Nintendo fans started to perceive Nintendo as a children focused company. Add in the fact that the GameCube itself even looked like a child's toy, with it's purple housing and carry handle. And when Nintendo finally released Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the outcry regarding the cartoon cell shaded visuals and protagonist that looked like a 7 year old was so prevalent the truly gorgeous look and even better gameplay were lost in the mix. The overwhelming perception that Nintendo was a developer focused on kids pushed a large number of Nintendo's core fan group into the arms of their competitors, who had libraries of more mature content. And with the fans, went the rest of the A list content from developers. 

With Nintendo clearly at the bottom of the pack, they needed to get back in the game. And with their future viability on the line, they needed to do something radical. If you're months behind the release of your two main competitors and your previous-generation console is in last place, what are you going to do to stand out?

Nintendo chose to change directions completely. Instead of focusing on a powerful system with high end graphics, they chose to devise the most revolutionary way to control games ever. This was more than a huge gamble. Given the current state of the gaming industry, it would ultimately decide whether Nintendo could compete anymore in the console market. 

Nintendo Wii

In many ways, the Wii was a commercial success. Having sold 100+ Million units, you certainly cannot call it a failure. But sales numbers are simply that, numbers. They don't touch on what makes a system successful. But the issue it presents for Nintendo is a very big one. The Wii sold in spite of continued lackluster support from third party developers, but it sold on 2 premises: A gimmicky controller, and a significantly lower price point than it's competitors. The Wii sold like hot cakes for a year, because everyone wanted to see what the fuss was about. A few sessions of fun with Wii Tennis or Wii Bowling, and the system sat on a shelf, only being used occasionally. In addition, the Wii never never became a "centerpiece console", or the primary household console. The Wii became the addition to the primary game system in the home. Many owners of PS3's, Xbox 360's and Gaming PC's have a Wii in the house. But another current gen console is still the primary system in the home. In addition, due to the high cost of the PS3 and Xbox 360 at launch, the Wii became the platform of choice for those on a budget, making the Wii a compromise purchase, simply because the desired systems were out of the budget range for these households.

 Saddled with their intentional decision not to focus on system power or graphical prowess, the lesser capabilities of the system became problematic. Several factors kept the Wii from being competitive. In a market of HD capable systems, yet having made their "NO HD" policy very clear, Nintendo had already drawn a line in the sand defining that they were headed in a different direction than even the gaming community as a whole. Even the famed game designer and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto stated "One of the key reasons that such things as the core (gamers) and the casual (gamers) exist today is that we decided not to adopt HD on the Wii console. Of course, besides that there are things like issues with the controller and the challenges that it brings, network functionalities and many other things, but I think HD was the biggest factor that everyone was able to clearly understand the difference." Then significant price drops on competitor systems further tipped the scales. The only factor making the Wii unique at this point was it's revolutionary controller. And even that changed when both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 introduced their own motion sensor controllers. Nintendo acknowledged these faults, and in an effort to compensate, they developed the Wii U, a kind of overpriced Wii Reboot, a spiritual Wii 2.0. But the dismal sales of the new system are failing to meet Nintendo's expectations.

While all this competition in the gaming market was going on, the mobile electronics market exploded. More and more casual gamers have shifted to more affordable, simpler games on smartphones and tablets, a market heavily driven by Apple's iPhone. Sony and Microsoft, both famed "Devices and Services" companies, adapted and learned to compete in this new arena. However, the ever steadfast and defiant Nintendo refused bend and diversify. Nintendo has been clearly against allowing it's first party franchises like Mario, Link and others to be played outside Nintendo-made handhelds and console systems. As Reggie Fils-Aime states "That's why we're so focused on having content exclusive to our platform, When the consumer wants to play Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon, they have to purchase our hardware to do so. And that preserves our overall financial model." That said, as much as Nintendo preaches that they are "About the Games", they are, and always have been, a hardware company. A hardware company that completely shunned the market shift to smartphone and tablet gaming. Nintendo simply refused to entertain the idea of leveraging the mobile market to increase it's sales. And as a result, their sales have suffered. Significantly. In a recent meeting on Tuesday with CNET, Fils-Aime stated: "We're constantly thinking about how to leverage mobile as a marketing vehicle," Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime said on Tuesday during a meeting with CNET editors. "How do I give little tastes of content, little experiences that then drive the consumer back to my hardware environment?"

Nintendo has made an art-form of surviving on the backs of quality software. They are far from the forefront in the gaming arena, but they continue to make magical software that is unforgettable. The questions is, if Nintendo continues to push failing console hardware, will the losses sustained prevent them from having the cash flow to continue to make great software in the years to come?

 

**ALERT** Ransomware is on the Rise...

 "I seriously just want to throw my computer out the window and forget about it completely. I am just done with it"

"We bought a Mac because everyone told us it wasn't possible to get Viruses on a Mac. Now my whole business is gone. What can I Do?" 

 

Ransomware on a Macbook

These are only some of the disheartening comments I have received lately as I was handed computers to repair that were infected with the latest and nastiest ransomware out there. Ransomware, a particularly troublesome type of malware, is a malicious software that denies you access to your computer or files until you pay a ransom to have access restored. I have encountered three different types of ransomware, "Screen Lock" based, "MBR" Based and "Encryption" based. I have removed this software from more than 20 computers since February alone. A MASSIVE increase from previous years.  Both of the first two are extremely difficult to remove, but can be dealt with and in most every case, your data saved. The latter however, "Encryption" based is becoming more and more common and may be one of the worst forms of malware ever. The software takes over your machine, and "encrypts" or converts all your data into a specific code that requires a key to unlock. Unless you pay person who infected the system, you will be unable to get the code to unlock your files. And a new, especially nasty virus has hit the scene, known as CryptLocker.

 

CryptLocker at work...

This software uses incredibly strong cryptography to lock all your files that you have permission to modify, INCLUDING THOSE ON EXTERNAL DRIVES connected to the machine, and NAS or Network Attached Storage devices. Once infected, it displays a random message demanding payment withing a certain timeframe, which is normally 3-5 days from the date you were infected. Payment is always demanded in the form of an anonymous prepaid cash service like MoneyPak, Ukash, cashU, or Bitcoin. As of this writing, there are no known consumer level software tools for removing this nasty virus. The only solution has been to pay the criminals. Decryption is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, unless you have access to the private key the cybercriminals set up. If you get infected, without paying, there is a high probability you will never see your data again. 

PROTECT YOURSELF!!! 

Here are some tips to help: 

  • NEVER leave Your External Backup Drive hooked up to your computer when done. Backup, and when finished, Disconnect it.  
  • DO NOT open attachments in emails unless they are from close trusted family members or friends, and even then, do not open attachments EVER with the file extensions: .exe, .zip, .rar, .bat
  • Regularly back up your files. Do both local OFFLINE backups and Online Backups through services like Carbonite. If you are unfamiliar with how to perform local backups of your data, see these great tools from Acronis, Genie 9, and Rebit 5. And if you prefer, Rethink Associates provides quality backup solutions as well. Let Us do it for you!

If you become infected with any of these viruses or any others:

  • Immediately Disconnect all external drives from your system to prevent infection.
  • Disconnect you computer from the Internet, as some of these spread to other computers on the network.  
  • Contact Rethink Associates so that we can help! 

 

 

 

Jingle Bells & Retail Sales...

Holiday Sales are already here...

Holiday Sales are already here...

As we approach the holiday buying season, there is a lot of information to process. And this year we have even less time to make all those holiday purchases. The buying season begins with Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving. Last year in 2012, Thanksgiving Day fell on November 22, giving shoppers and sellers a full 31 days of shopping before Santa began his rounds Christmas Eve. However, this year, Thanksgiving falls on November 28 which drops the shopping period to only 25 days. That’s a tough break for small stores that need every hour of holiday sales time in order to make their year.

For those who hate the late holiday rushes, note this*: Hanukkah begins the day before Thanksgiving (Nov. 28), 11 days earlier than in 2012. While we may not think of Hanukkah as a major influence on the shopping season, in this instance it may vary well be. It shifts the time that retailers are expecting more traffic. Meaning that retailers are expected to start big promotions as early as the day after HALLOWEEN. 

NPD predicts an increase in Online purchases this year

NPD predicts an increase in Online purchases this year

And to make matters even worse, the way the calendar falls this year there will only be 4 shopping weekends instead of 5 this year. This is a big blow given that the weekends are the the golden ticket for retailers. Bill Martin over at ShopperTrak says that consumers are just not ready to splurge.  While ShopperTrak anticipates a 2.4% increase in retail sales this year, they expect a definite decline in traffic. Meaning that instead of hitting many stores for specials, shoppers will more than likely be doing their homework in advance, and picking a couple large stores that have the most deals. 

The takeaway here is that NOW is the time to start planning for your holiday deals. Target, Walmart, Best Buy, K-Mart, Bed-Bath & Beyond, and many other retailers already put out Holiday Shopping guides and Holiday Deals catalogs in last Sunday's paper. And knowing how busy the holidays can be, how tight wallets are, and that many people HATE holiday shopping in crowds, Rethink is going to be highlighting some of the very best tech deals, and hot items for Christmas starting with this morning and going all the way to Thanksgiving Day, culminating with a Holiday Checklist on Thanksgiving day for you to print off, With all these hot items grouped by store, listing the price and details. Are you ready for the holidays? Because they are fast approaching..