Friday, April 29, 2005

TPS Consulting Remote Help Policy

It appears that I need to clear the air one more time. Maybe this will be more of a rant then anything else, and I apologize to most of those clients that understand which obviously this does not apply to.

If you are an existing client of mine and I have had, at one time, your computer on my bench. There is a very good chance that you have Symantec's PC Anywhere installed. This is what I would consider a "life-line" for you to "take advantage of me" in the way that I can help diagnose, and in most cases, fix the problems you might be having. I guess I should start a few years ago, and explain things more clearly, since this is what the BLOG is supposed to be for-- communication for the masses!

As this world of computers is ever-changing in both the way we use them and the way they function, over the internet. We have seen the days of slow, dial-up connections almost a thing of the past (although it is still a very handy way to communicate with your email server in a pinch), however now that broadband and DSL has arrived, we see most computers connected to one of these. What this means is your computer is now connected 24/7 to the internet. What that has done is allow people to communicate to you over the phone lines once again, since they no longer get voice mail or busy signals, and from my point of view, it now allows me to help you and your computer by remotely connecting and diagnosing and usually repairing the problem.

There is however, one factor that remains, and that would be the "speed" in which I would have to connect to your computer. I have spoken about this before, in the fact that I require a 'hi-speed' connection and not one of the "lite" packages that the cable company and DSL company offers. Sure, it is true I can connect, however if I want to keep my sanity or what is left of it, I have requested that if you want to take advantage of my "usually free" service, then you should be on the hi-speed connection.

Now, let me clear this up. As I personally was taking advantage of the remote features to my own computer at home when I was out and about with my laptop, I started to realize a few of my aged clients were not getting the maintenance chores done on a routinely manner since I was making a monthly visit to give lessons on using the computer, my one-hour lesson time was virtually all used up in the basic spyware scans, windows updates and general cleanup, which is something each and everyone should be able to do quite easily. I then started to utilize the remote connectivity to these specific clients by connecting, usually the day before I was to show up at their home for the one-hour lesson. I restate this time since any more then one hour usually makes it hard to grasp everything being taught, therefore I would do two things. One would be that I ask the client start making notes and write down on a piece of paper, each time they got stumped at something they were trying to do on their computer. Typically once a page of questions was written up, I had found that this was about one hour of my time in which I was then going through the questions and helping you out with the problems YOU were having. This way I was not coming to your home and giving you a computer lesson on issues that you may or may not ever use on your computer. Since there are literally thousands of different methods to getting the job done, it is always the "shortcut" that we tend to want to look for, so that the time spent on something is less of a challenge as well as allowing you more time to do the things you want to with your computer.

So the day before I was to visit the client for the lesson, I was finding myself connecting, running through all the updates and spyware scans, etc, so that when I was at the home, I knew that the computer was ready, as well, the client was more at ease since they didn't have to sit there and see me zipping along, doing things that they were not familiar with, but were in awe sometimes at the speed in which the mouse and keyboard were moving. Believe me, when you see a lot of computers with similar problems, it does become pretty repetitive, therefore even for the person doing the cleanup work, it becomes a chore to find ways of making this work enjoyable enough to continue to do it.

As the times changed and the price of hi-speed internet dropped and virtually everyone that now has a computer, that is within range of receiving a hi-speed connection is now on one, it became a no-brainer that I would install and have this software on standby for that emergency that would sure to come along. When you are a computer consultant, as I am, you find yourself always under what seems to be a time crunch. There are 24 hours in a day, so how many computers and people can I help in that time-frame... When I am at my bench, I would be doing the necessary repairs to whatever computers were there, but at the same time, I would be going through my email, as well as working on web page material. In the emails I would receive word from some clients that they were having various problems and I was then responding to these emails by usually giving them some things to try out or simply giving them step by step help. It wasn't until I realized that I was spending, on some emails, close to 30 minutes writing down these instructions for them to fix the problem. Personally I know that you learn from experience so I have always tried to "teach and train" as I fix, in the case that I am in the clients home. That being said, I have tried to always keep my rates nearly half of what others doing the same job as me would charge. This is because I know I can get the job done in one hour, just like the other person, but hopefully I am going to take 2 hours, since I am also giving a lesson on how the problem can be resolved in the future by teaching the client how the problem arrived on their computer in the first place. You could say, I am trying to be the same computer doctor as the next person, but with a better bed-side manner.... That being said, I can honestly say that my existing clients, I feel, the communication between us has flourished since they are no longer afraid to ask questions or "feel stupid in asking" something.

Now, knowing this, I still try to explain that in my emails, however what I have found is instead of spending 30 minutes on an email explaining how to do certain things to attempt repair (since this may not be the problem in the first place), I am simply connecting to their computer, and diagnosing and repairing the problem for them, in many cases, in under 15 minutes. This means that I have saved myself 15 minutes, and the client is happy because their computer is working again, without that specific error. The one thing that is not being done here, well, actually two things. One being that the client didn't learn anything about how the problem first got on the computer in the first place, and the second being that no money exchanged hands... hmmm now that doesn't seem right does it? :-) Well actually okay, so I didn't send an invoice for my time, however I know I saved myself 15 minutes.. And that becomes huge for me, over a 24 hour period, so the way I see it, is it is a win-win situation. The client has their computer fixed by simply emailing me their question/problem, and I have managed to help them, saving myself a house-call (which would have had a charge of course), as well as about 15 minutes (on average) per email. I should inject at this time, that I am finding myself working more like a lawyer might do, by accounting for all the time spent on the job. This being said, I am testing a number of small programs out there, that will allow me to keep track of just how much time I do spend on each computer that I am fixing on my bench, for example, and whatever tasks I am performing. The one draw back to this is the simple fact that the act of doing this is also administering time itself and just who pays for that? I do! So there has to be a fine line drawn between "billable hours" and "free time". I try to attempt this by the amount of time I spend "looking at the screen" of one clients computer. Therefore if I connect to a client with a problem they are unsure of, and I see that they have a trojan horse virus that I should be able to remove, I will start the cleaning process, however the time spent on this remotely is actually low-priority over the computers on my bench, therefore, this problem may take a few evenings before it is fixed. I have in the past, taken a week of connecting in the wee hours of the morning for a few hours each day, to repair a stubborn virus. The end result would probably be in the neighborhood of 10 hours that I was actually connected to the clients computer, however they were only invoiced 1 hour! Think about it.. you email me a problem you are having, I connect while you are not using the computer (while you are sleeping perhaps), and the problem is fixed. The next day you wake up to read your emails and see that I have connected and repaired the problem or am in the process of doing so with information as to what you should do while I am working on this. In many cases, it might be that you should not use a specific program until I have fixed the problem, however you are still free to use your email, and or web browser, etc. But what is that worth? Your computer is fixed, while you are not using it, and it did not have to leave your home! Wouldn't that be great if everything in life was like that.. you have a problem with your car and tell someone about it in an email on your way to bed, only to wake up having your car fixed. Maybe some day it will be like that for your car, but for now, it can be like that for your computer!

So, now that the machine is running smoothly..... Or is it? Well that depends on the routine maintenance. As with any machine that has been on my bench at one time, it will have the latest in anti-spyware (which you can read my TIPS on this and download for yourself). There have been times in the past however, whereas I will spend the time in explaining how to do something, only be receive a response "oh, that is way over my head and I do not want to attempt this.. Could you do this for me? Can it be done remotely?).. So the answer would always be "yes" and usually "yes, it can be done remotely".. Now is when I have to make that executive decision as to whether or not this client should be charged for my time. I know, if you are consultant reading this, you are saying I am crazy to have not charged in the first place, but then you are not me.. And this is my business and my clients and I know how it feels, just as you should, when you go out and buy a computer for what would be now, under $1000 only to get it home and have it up and running on this hi-speed connection for maybe less then a month, before you are hit with all sorts of problems.. And end up calling a computer consultant or taking it to a local computer store for repairs, only to find out that you will pay anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 of what you paid for the box in the first place.. You probably will only be doing that once! After this you are either going to find a new hobby, or you NOT going to be using the computer as much, since you are now afraid of it. A sollution that some have asked me about is an annual contract whereas you would pay a fee for this service... yes it has been tossed around however I am still a firm believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". It is the routine maintenance and upkeep that needs to be done.

This is where I have seen many people turn around and sell the thing or simply decide that they will not spend any more time then they absolutely have to, on their computer (ie: only using it for email and the odd search for something).. Not realizing that their long distance phone bills could be a thing of the past, if they were to spend a little money on a web cam, they could be having live two-way chats with their loved ones. Yeah, I know it is getting close to not requiring a long distance provider anymore, but most will still have a phone in their home, so why not try and use the technology you have in front of you.. That is where I hopefully come in to action, just as every computer consultant out there does.

So, getting back to my "remote help policy" issues.... It seems that even though I place certain icons on the desktop and then explain that these should be used "daily", as I suggest, on your way to bed, since the spyware scans can be going on while you are sleeping, then in the morning, you are left with the report of what was found and removed in some cases you then simply select everything and remove it. Read more of this from my TIPS. So when I get the email from the frustrated client that is telling me their computer is running slow and this and that... I connect and actually the first thing I usually do is go to the "ad-aware" spyware program which is currently on the desktop, one of the few that I suggest running each day. Frustrated client or not, you can imagine how I feel when I make this connection and click on this program only to find that the last time it was run was last month!!! Ok, fine, so you don't want to take the time to keep your computer clean, and want to TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ME.. Which is what I have always said to do.. No problem.. But then you shouldn't also have a problem in paying my one hour fee for this... Right? So why do some people have a problem with this?

Putting it another way.. Your house is a mess and you just don't want to clean it, or maybe because you have better things to do.. So you hire Molly Maid house cleaning service...For example... Hey, they did such a great job, that I think I will hire them to come once a week for the hour or two that they spend, keeping my house clean has never been easier... The key to this is the simple fact that if you have routine house cleaning service, hopefully, the house is not usually as messy the next time and the time after that.. Soon, you will find that things are in order and when they aren't you are picking them up and putting them where they belong, simply because "it looked out of place"..

I have some clients, whether it was their military upbringing, or simply that they like a clean house, that have all their icons in order, and as for maintenance.. They have their daily routines which they defrag, run virus scans, etc and know exactly when the last scan was done and what it found. Whereas others would laugh at that and could care less, so long as they can come home from their normal jobs or duties, and hop on the computer to get through their email and read a bit of news.. And don't want to have to deal with running scans, etc. Those are the people that are either hiring MollyMaid or simply reaching in to their pocket each and every time they have a problem.. Nothing wrong with that either.. Considering the price of a new computer now a days, it has become an ongoing battle for me as a consultant to "justify my time" that I do spend on a computer problem. This is why my rant, and I know this is a rant, but hopefully also a little lesson for all that have ever attempted to repair what should be a "simple computer problem". When the dentist tells you to brush your teeth because if you don't you will get cavities and/or you will need your teeth pulled and will require dentures.... So you know there are toothbrushes and toothpaste available, so you use it.

When the computer consultant places icons on your desktop and shows you how to use them, as well, if you forget how, creates web pages full of TIPS for you to read and understand what it is you have to do... Then why does that same consultant end up connecting and running a program that you could quite easily have done yourself? Maybe because you just don't feel it is something you need to do.. And you don't.. Just don't get upset when you get an invoice for the hour the person spent cleaning your computer! Bottom line, that is what it boils down to. Sure, I will have spent more then one hour on many a client computer, and not invoiced a penny but that is simply because I am doing the work over a period of time, while I am waiting for other problems I am fixing on my workbench.. This is what I call part of doing business.. And offering this as a service to my existing clients.. And hopefully they appreciate it.. In fact I know they do, because these are the ones that will time and time again, pass my name on to their friends, and their two friends, etc. If there is one thing I have learned in my ummmm almost 40 years of living and 28 years of doing business (yes, I actually started working in the television production field at the age of 11!).. "Your next job is only as good as your last" meaning, if I do a good job, then they will hopefully pass my name on in good faith.. I have and will continue to believe in "what goes around, comes around" and the simple fact is, if I have found a really good plumber or family doctor, or TV repair man, I will go back to that person and if someone were to ask me if I knew any good plumber for example, I would be passing my plumbers name along to them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Some easy cleanup tips to reclaim some hard drive space

If you are wanting to do an easy clean up and reclaim some hard drive space at the same time, you might want to take a look at the ADD/REMOVE programs list from the control panel and look for any and all JAVA files and remove them all, as well, Adobe is known for it's "acrobat reader" being installed over and over. Same thing for this.. Simply remove them all. Once you have done this restart your computer and then go to and simply download the latest version. When you click on DOWNLOAD NOW button, choose to RUN this and it will do the rest. Same for Adobe Acrobat, go to and download the latest "free" adobe reader. If you see that you have other programs with previous versions you should be able to uninstall the earlier ones as well, but be aware that in some cases, the later versions may be "updates" and not the entire program. By this I mean for example, you have a program version 5.0 and then you get all these updates of 5.01 and 5.06, etc.. However there is now a version 6.2 that you see available. When the actual version number changes, this usually means substantial differences in the programming and in many case, require you to purchase the update. In this case, the update will look for the previous version, therefore you do not want to remove version 5.0. In some cases by removing earlier versions, the latest version no longer functions properly, this is why I suggest removing them all and then simply getting the latest version of the program from the website directly.

Friday, April 22, 2005

I Couldn't Have Said It Better Either

I recently read another Consultant, Mike Nelson's story that is all too common for me as well unfortunately.

Fortunately for my existing clients, they should have pcanywhere running and ready for me to help them out of all this mess, hopefully before it becomes a real problem.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Sober worm makes a comeback

Sober worm makes a comeback.. be aware.

The following article found at ZD Net tells all. For my existing clients, this should be a wake up call to checking the antivirus "live update" as well as running a full virus scan. Yes, even though the automatic scheduling of your antivirus may still be working, you should have at least seen the results of the scan, if not, I suggest running a full virus scan, only AFTER you have made sure you are up to date. If you are prompted to restart your computer, then do so and be sure to run another LIVE UPDATE until you see that you are completely up to date. If you have troubles with this or need more help, simply contact me.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Never a good time to fix the computer

It seems of late that each and every time I connect to a client computer to fix it, the computer is in use.. No matter what time of day or night! Now I realize just how important the computer has become and I realize that because of the internet being "online" all the time, we have the ability to leave certain programs running all the time, such as your email program and/or a messenger, so that your friends and family can contact you while you are around the house doing things, not necessarily sitting in front of the computer. But there is one thing that I have said over and over again, about leaving programs running when you are NOT at home or are sleeping... This would be the messenger for one, as well, any other program that you are unlikely to need to access immediately, such as email if you are sleeping. Please realize that, if I have worked on your computer in the past, it is most likely set up to run maintenance in the middle of the night and/or updates from Microsoft, quite possibly on a nightly basis. This being said, you should be getting in the habit of closing any and all programs INCLUDING MESSENGER programs when you are done using the computer for the day. When I say messenger, I am referring to MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, Trillian, AOL Messenger, etc. The key to closing these is to choose "log off", NOT make yourself "invisible" from others to see. This mode is mainly for you to keep your program running while you are busy at your computer, which would allow such things as email notification, but will not allow others to see that you are currently at your desk. Leaving these programs running (while you are sleeping) is an open invitation to hackers.. Yes, even though you might have it "invisible" there are many hack programs that will allow the user to see your connection and then attempt to connect, or send spam your direction.

Finally, when I go to connect to your computer and I see email running, or maybe your last solitaire game, I spend all of about 5 seconds before disconnecting since I take this as "computer is busy" and the last thing I want to do is intrude.. Especially when there is another client waiting for some sort of computer tweak or diagnostic of a problem they may be having. Please people, please try to follow these simple guidelines and remember that I am only trying to help. As most know, this service I provide is generally free! Yes, free! When I connect to diagnose something or do a simple fix, I pretty much look the other way when it comes to invoicing, however this does not apply when I connect to fix a problem only to find that ad-aware (for example) has not been run for the past 5 or more days! As I have talked about many times.. These programs should be run DAILY! In fact, I suggest running these programs on your way to bed. That way, when I do connect (usually some time in the middle of the night since this is the least likely time the computer will be used), I note that ad-aware or spybot has finished its scan. Interestingly enough, when I am connecting to a computer to diagnose a problem, when I notice that ad-aware has not been run for some length of time, it usually means I will find a lot of spyware (probably the main reason I had to connect in the first place, because the complaint was that the computer was acting very sluggish).. It is then that I start my clock and charge for the time it takes me to clean your computer.. Something that you could have done yourself.. I use the analogy of the dentist who tells you to brush your teeth or you will get cavities, only to find that you don't listen to them and end up getting your teeth pulled.... If I have placed these spyware and antivirus update icons on your desktop, they are there to be used and not ignored.. That is unless you don't mind paying someone on a regular basis to run them for you (just let me know and I'll set it up on my calendar to connect and run the maintenance for you--for a fee).

As I do pride myself on rather quick service, and one that is available virtually anywhere in the world (so long as I have internet access to connect to your computer), I try to make a point of getting a look at the problem right away--even when I am on some sort of "holiday". What I can't stand however, is when I do manage to get to a computer terminal and attempt to connect, without success, and report back to you, that I am then given this "attitude" as to why I haven't attempted to try again! Of course I have tried, but without the ability to spend the normal amount of time I would have if I wasn't on some sort of sabbatical, it becomes rather a touchy subject. Just when is it a good time to take a day off? It appears there is never a good time, so I attempt to help--always.. Just when is it a good time to connect to your computer? You must let me know.. And then when you do let me know, when I do manage to connect, please realize that I will be spending all of about 5 seconds connected if I see that the computer is in use. Yes, I will try again but patience, as I am learning, is a virtue.. One that I am constantly trying to improve.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Incredimail is spyware. The longer you use it the worse off you will be.

Ok so you have done a search and read all the controvery over Incredimail. You will read some places that it is not spyware. Infact if you read this article, from who other than incredimail themself in their defense. From first hand experience in removing this and many other programs that function the same way... starting on windows start up, of course you can turn this option off, but you can not turn off the dedicated "ad channel" that become apparent when you use the program. Yes, you can upgrade to the "pro" version which allows you to turn off this ad-pushing feature (note you must turn it off from the options menu, even after you have paid for the pro version). But is that it? No, it is not it.. in fact no matter what you do, your email that you send is still going out with active script which kindly places a cookie on the receivers computer. Haven't you ever wondered why it is you get email to "try incredimail for free" emails? This is because you have, at one time, opened an email from someone that is using incredimail.

The kicker is, the longer you use this program, the more email addresses you are sure to accrue in your address book since this is typically done by every "reply" you make. This is fine but what happens when you tire of this email program or for "backup purposes" want to backup your address book and use it in outlook express. You can't! Yes, that is because incredimail only allows you to export it to their own file association. Note there are other utility programs that claim to work (yet I have not found one that worked and welcome it). What I have ended up doing is printing the address book out and either copy/paste or simply reinput. (I don't personally but pass this information on to my client, the unfortunate person that was not aware of this).

Do yourself, and your computer technician that will end up fixing your computer when you have one too many viruses or spyware to allow your computer to function normally.. just don't use this program. There are many tweaks that can be done to your existing "outlook express" or "firefox" email which will allow you to send your message with stationary.

Note I will not link to Incredimail since I do not want your computer to even receive a cookie since it too may find its way to your spyware bin.

Common Optimizing and Maintenance Monitoring Instructions and Information:

Common Optimizing and Maintenance Monitoring Instructions and Information:

Note the spyware programs on the desktop:
Spybot Search and destroy, Ad-Aware, Live Update, Spyware Guard Live update, Spyware Blaster . These should be run DAILY if you are using your computer on the internet at all (this includes email and/or web browsing and/or messaging).

Utilize the link on the Internet Explorer to my TIPS. Part of my website where you can read the most common problems and tweaks including instructions on how to use Ad-aware and Spybot. As for the others, you simply have to keep them up to date by clicking on the icon and following the steps prompted to you, if any. Note my web blog at where I post anything of news that is relevant to the preventative maintenance of your computer.

Spyware Blaster: when you click on it, simply click on “check for updates”. If it has updates, you should have a link that you can click on to make these new updates take place and that is all you have to do.

PC ANYWHERE: this is the small blue monitor icon with the checkmark on the systemtray (next to your clock), however it will probably be “hidden” behind the arrow where other icons will be. Since these are also programs running but do not have any “monitoring” function that you need to see all the time or get to, like the Antivirus icon (you basically always want to see the Norton Antivirus icon since this is what is protecting you from the viruses. If you see a red X through this, that is NOT GOOD and you should double click on this to see what the problem is. Back to pc anywhere and the blue monitor icon. By double clicking on this, you will be presented with a new window that reveals the current IP address your computer is on. This is the number that I would require to connect to your computer. Email this to me anytime you email a question to me since most of the time the questions are regarding something not quite right or something you can not find, in which case I would be able to connect and help you more easily. That way, when I am emailing you back, it is to say “it is fixed” or at least I will be able to give you some instructions on how to get around whatever the problem might be. Don’t be afraid to email me on any questions since there really isn’t a “dumb question” when it comes to computers and software and the internet, etc. If you might think it dumb, but then later find that there are even more problems, it would have been a better idea to let me know when you thought it was dumb, that way I probably could have prevented whatever it is you are currently faced with. (this is a common problem that I see, as too many people are afraid their pride will be hurt if they ask a dumb question).

Mike Dacre
250-488-1935 Penticton
250-718-1936 Kelowna