De-cluttering and Upshifting

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Hi folks.

Marc here. Sorry it’s been a while.

Many people make new year’s resolutions to lose weight or stop eating chocolate or whatever. If I make one, it’s more toward changing the way I think about things. This year I’ve re-committed to eliminating the clutter in my to-do list. Doing so helps me think more clearly, just as putting one thing in the garbage disposal is much better than shoving all your scraps in at once.

So, this is my unofficial, official last article.

But, why?

Well, this blog started in 2008 as a much-needed way for me to vent, organize my thoughts, and expose Microsoft’s tomfoolery to the world. To those ends it was spectacular. Since I’m such a perfectionist, a solid, well-written article requires a lot of quiet time to create. This requires me plugging up the flow of clutter and nagging from my inboxes and phones, as well as the thoughts in my head. (Basically, my head is a constant game of Whac-a-Mole.)

At the moment, I’m using a lot of CPU cycles and RAM in my brain to prepare episodes of my radio talk show, and I need to hire some technicians to help me with the service business that actually sprung from this blog. So, perhaps not forever, but for the time being I’m putting the blog on Stop. Blogging SHOULD be fun, and it will be fun again when I don’t have other massive obligations looming over my head.

However…

What if we miss you?

I’m not going anywhere. Here’s what I’ll be working on:

Facebook: Any time some small event happens in the IT industry that merits ridicule, I’ll post it on my corporate Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Teknosophy-LLC/153486151400288

Talk Show: Of course, I still have my talk show. The Computer Exorcist Show is on WYSL 1040AM/92.1FM and if you don’t live within earshot of the station, you can always listen online:

Click here for the latest episode

Click here for the archives

or go to iTunes and search the Podcast Directory for The Computer Exorcist Show.

Book: This blog’s first article, Stop Calling the Computer Guy, was originally meant to be a draft for a book. The book would be the be-all and end-all of computer cleanup, helping people prevent constant hassle of constant, ineffective virus scans. So, maybe someday, and armed with many more tips and tools than I had in 2008, I’ll muster up the time to write my book. It would expose some massive misconceptions that computer guys spew onto the world, such as “your computer is slow because you have too many photos on it!”

Training: The demand for my services has been so extreme lately. Why? Well, I actually show up when I say I am, make your computer twice as fast as the day you bought it (when you were about to buy a new one), I actually have people answering my phones (some local shops make you request an appointment to fix your broken computer ONLINE… yeah…), I actually understand your problem, and I realize that viruses no longer matter and that toolbars, update attackers and unstoppable viruses are the new threat. Most importantly, I realize people JUST WANT TO USE THEIR MACHINES AND BE LEFT ALONE, and so I implement minimalist, rock-solid post-Microsoft solutions for them. The contrast between my services and the competition is honestly mind-blowing.

So, people have caught on, and I am going to hire technicians who are just as personable and knowledgeable as me, in order to keep that experience consistent. (If I don’t, you’ll get one cranky overworked Marc yellin’ at ya!) In order to hire these technicians, I need to start dumping my technical knowledge into detailed training manuals.

Teknosophy Approved: I had always intended on making a website with product reviews – giving them a thumbs up or thumbs down and quick explanation why. This process will come to fruition more quickly than I thought thanks to the Amazon Affiliates program! Soon, you’ll be able to go to my Teknosophy.com homepage and there you’ll see a link where you can buy the products I recommend on Amazon. This saves us both time because you’ll no longer have to hear me hem and haw about what exactly to buy, and I’ll even make a percentage on the sale!

But surely you had many ideas in your Drafts folder?

Yep… I did. Here’s a 10-second rundown of the concepts that were rotting on deck:

Windows 8 = Dogfooding: My talk show has taken my blog’s initial Windows 8 criticism and blown it into outer space. For those who haven’t heard the show, basically, Windows 8 has turned out to be an abomination and a scourge on humanity. Microsoft took the personal computer, terrifying as it already was, and made it 50,000 times harder. Windows 8 is actually two separate products that were glued together and flip-flop back and forth at random, making the user feel even more helpless than ever before!

I’ve developed an exclusive, magical, proprietary recipe to “tame” Windows 8, as I did with Vista, but I think it’s much too late for Microsoft. Windows is no longer the only way to get onto the Internet, and the forces of mobile computing (a market in which they’re competing in name only) are slowly eating away at it. For those who still enjoy a large screen and a keyboard, I offer the MINT operating system. I come over and install it so you can enjoy a normal PC with a Microsoft-free, hassle free experience.

Net Neutrality: In short, large Internet providers such as Time Warner, Verizon, and Comcast want to CHARGE YOU BASED ON WHAT YOU DO WITH YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION. They want to charge you more if you stream videos, claiming it costs them more to deliver it to you. (In reality, they’re just scared because they’re losing their monopoly on television content.) The WHOLE POINT OF THE INTERNET was, each node pays for what he uses, so for example, Netflix has ALREADY PAID their provider for the huge amount of bandwidth they use, so why should you? The idealist nerd in me agrees with all other idealist nerds that the Internet should be content-agnostic, in other words, it shouldn’t matter what type of data you’re sending and to whom.

Of course, in late 2014, the Obama administration smelled an opportunity to stick it to businesses, so they stepped in and complicated the whole mess. The future is Amazon, Google, and SMALL, LOCAL companies such as Greenlight Networks stepping in and delivering faster, more reliable, more neutral connections.

Nevermind, just PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO.

In praise of the non-engineer: Oftentimes the designers of computers and cars never stop to consider how their designs would actually be used. Hence, the most expensive and luxurious cars offer integrated stereos that cannot be upgraded. HP laptops, while claiming to be “Simple and Safe” are the exact opposite of those. They assume the user is either going to replace the product every year or perform advanced maintenance on it themselves. Thus, sometimes it takes the input of a non-engineer to point out where the designers have failed.

“The side of the soldering iron” and “The Chinese Finger Trap”: I have a few personal insights which I can’t really connect to technology. I hope to write a book someday about some of these little lessons I’ve learned as a businessman.

In the old days, they used to say, “you can’t watch a pot boil”, or “things happen when you least expect them to.” I’ve come up with a new one: “Sometimes you have to use the side of the soldering iron.” On occasion, I’ll use a soldering iron to melt metals on a circuit board. Sometimes, as opposed to focusing the tip of the iron, using the side of it is more effective

In other words, when I stop caring so much about some sort of event and focus on something else, or approach it in a more relaxed manner, that original goal finally comes to fruition. In other other words, sometimes you have to treat life like a Chinese Finger Trap.

The Future’s Future – The Post-Cloud Future: Basically, everything is the IT industry is a fad, and is also lauded as the be-all and end-all… and we get a new be-all and end-all every few years. In the book Dune Messiah, people were so eager to oust the old Emperor and fight for the new hero, Paul Atreides. They eventually realized that he was human and corruptible, too, and once again the empire experienced bloodshed.

In this moment, the latest be-all and end-all is Cloud Computing. The idea is, our computers are completely empty (see Chromebook) “dummy terminals” that depend entirely on some sort of overcentralized service, such as Google Apps.

Weirder yet, Microsoft and Adobe have made the decision to stop selling their software and just rent it to people. This lowers the overall cost to a user (assuming you buy the new version every year anyway) and makes software more accessible and cheaper, thus increasing their total user base, thus more profits at the end of the day. We’ll see how this plays out. (Hopefully both of these companies will be killed by free, open-source, products such as Mint and HTML5.)

While that’s great for beginners who just want to get on and do 1 or 2 tasks, an overcentralized model is simply not sustainable. (If one of these Cloud companies goes out of business, it’s the Library of Alexandria all over again!) The next few years of Teknosophy will involve helping people free themselves from such services and set up their OWN “personal clouds” in their homes using products such as NAS devices. That way, if the world blows up, they’ll still have their stuff.

Ha! So much for a quick post!

Anyway, I’d like to take a moment to say thanks. Readers of my blog, listeners of my talk show, and customers of my business, have supported me and carried me to a place beyond my wildest dreams. I don’t make more than the average worker, but I live an incredibly rich life, meeting wonderful people every day and doing meaningful work. Your support is my validation, confirmation that my suspicions were correct. Your support shows me you agree with me, that Comcast, Time Warner, Adobe and Norton really do thwart their own customers, that it’s not just sensationalism on my part. Rest assured I’ll be growing my team so we can fight corruption in the IT industry on a larger scale, and maybe even make a few bucks in the process.

So take care, and feel free to scroll down and re-enjoy the past 7 years of blog postings…

-Marc

 

 

 

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This is why we can’t have nice things

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You can almost hear your mother’s voice, can’t you?

This… is an Internet meme (recurring inside jokes shared by Internet users). This particular catphrase is slapped onto myriad funny pictures and even used as a response to dumb comments posted online. And today… we’ll talk about why the IT industry stumbles all over itself.

Whenever I say to myself, “Gee, self, maybe you’re being a bit HARD on yourself and your competitors. Maybe the IT world isn’t as bad as you think it is. Maybe there ARE guys who know a little something,” I then recall some of the disasters I’ve had to clean up, and the mind-blowing ignorance with which they were made.

I see examples on a daily basis. Today, for instance, I called Time Warner to raise the Internet speed for a customer. The agent stated that if I increased or decreased the speed, then the customer would lose the ability to write e-mails. (Did your head just explode? Mine did.)

How do people find you?

Well, unlike your average business that advertises, everything we do here at Teknosophy is word-of-mouth. It’s hard to have your name and number on a billboard; people don’t really know if they can trust you. So, people usually call us based on a recommendation… oftentimes after someone just finished destroying their computer.

Where are we going with this?

Okay, I’m going to try to be nice and clear here. Scammers make malicious software programs. Their goal is to infect as many computers as possible with these programs. In the 1990s, these programs were called viruses, and antivirus companies kept detailed lists of the new threats that emerged (called virus definitions).

When a customer suspected they had a virus, they called in a computer professional, who would then perform a virus scan using the latest definitions. On their way home, they might pass by a milkman or blacksmith.

Nowadays, viruses are old news. Nowadays, unstoppable viruses, fake cleaners, and technicians with outdated training are the new threats.

Even my arch-rivals over at Symantec acknowledge in this Fortune article that problems have moved beyond viruses now. Scammers are no longer creating viruses. Sometimes they create trojans (as you’d expect, these are programs that trick your computer into thinking they’re gifts), and email worms (viruses that Microsoft Outlook loves spreading from person to person). They’re also creating toolbars and even corporate spyware.

Sure, by skirting around the details (technically you accepted McAfee’s nag-ware when you installed the latest Adobe attack), many of these guys have become perfectly legal, but they’re awfully evil.

I’ve seen it all. PC Doctor, Registry Cleaner, Registry Scanner, DriverGuide, MySearchDial, WhiteSmoke Toolbar… basically all malware/scams, except they’re perfectly legal because they aren’t called malware. These scumbags have offices and secretaries and lawyers and accountants and even presumably water coolers… but their products prey on customers, insert themselves unbeknownst to customers, spy on them, slow down their machines, and are hard to remove… yep, pretty much the definition of malware. (One of my favorite examples is IAC Search & Media, creators of the MyWebSearch virus, er, ahem, program. Some of these guys hijack your homepage and searches, while others claim to clean and protect your system. All of them damage your computer.

Evil Indian Scams

Indian-style scams are a vile plague this decade. They are evil incarnate. Basically, the consumer goes on google and types in “Outlook Tech Support”, “AOL Tech Support”, or some such thing, and Indian scammers advertise their phone numbers, claiming to be whatever company you needed. (They’ve also been calling consumers around the country claiming they’re Microsoft!) Then, they access your computer remotely, run a FAKE virus scan, destroy your computer, and charge you around $400.

Lest ye say I have a thing against Indians, there are two Indian gentlemen on my advisory team who are brilliant. The folks who call and scam people have zero computer knowledge, zero training, and are under the impression that they’re helping people. They know not what they do.

Herein lies the problem: As I’ve said on my talk show many many times: Most of the residential IT support professionals we trust have no clue what they’re doing. No, I’m not an arrogant guy in real life, but I am one at work. If you worked in my office for one week you’d see the messes I have to clean up.

Why don’t you invent some sort of program or service?

Two reasons. First off, I don’t want to fall into the bucket of those other guys on the radio claiming to clean your PC for $50. They’re basically vaporware – you pay them money for them to perform various ineffective token buzzword services to your machine. Second, I want to form a team of personable, knowledgeable, responsible people who perform exceptional, premium, white-glove, no-nonsense, no-joker computer services. I don’t want to work alongside scammers.

The Solution

The reason why Cloud Computing is so popular lately is unfortunately because it is so centralized. You pick a platform, (Apple, Google, hopefully not Microsoft) and THEY DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU. Your account, your programs, and all your devices depend entirely on a central server. For those customers on Earth who don’t have access to a high-end technician, this is much better than being at the mercy of a mom-and-pop computer shack’s useless virus scan.

THE WHOLE GOAL HERE is to eliminate scammers selling fake cleanup programs, to eliminate security risks, and hopefully, that customers realize any maintenance tasks are utterly useless.

Enter the concept of a centralized app repository. Popular examples of such are the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Customers are able to purchase music, movies, and computer programs instantly for these devices. Ironically, the Microsoft App Store was so DESPERATE for developers and customers to join its ecosystem, they allowed ANYBODY to create ANY kind of app, without regulating it. The result: Most apps on the Microsoft App Store are scams.

Unfortunately, these centralized, draconian app stores are necessary to protect customers from scammers (well, at least non-Microsoft app stores!). Also unfortunately, this means you’re locked into one vendor’s platform for everything. Gone, for now, are the days when you could download anything from anyone. (Luckily, Android users can install non-app-store apps if they’re advanced users and accept the risks.)

As usual, the stupid and evil people have ruined it for everyone.

Thanks for reading, folks. More to come.

 

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The Future of Television

Connection vs. Content

A few years ago, there existed a bus company that would take cheap college students and other risk-takers between New York and Boston for as little as $15. Some journeys would include chickens meandering around the bus, while others would end in explosions. Rumor had it, instead of stopping at a state-run rest stop, they’d make you stop at THEIR OWN rest stops so they could make a few more bucks on you.

Sound ridiculous? Well, that’s what your local cable company does to you! In the old days, your cable company provided both connection and content. They connected you to Hollywood, and determined what channels you’d be allowed to watch, and how much you’d pay for the content. Sure, it was better than nothing!

However, nowadays more and more content is becoming available on the Internet, from anyone in the world, to anyone in the world. (It’s how we discovered EpicMealTime, HomeStarRunner, and for better or worse, Justin Bieber!) It no longer makes sense to have a middleman offering packages when a whole world of content awaits you. In the future, no matter how hard they try to resist it, cable companies will only provide the connection.

If you need another analogy, consider your local water authority. Do they dictate how much of your water can be used to make coffee or Kool-Aid? Do you depend on them for water while you’re traveling? Of course not.

Don’t believe me? It’s already happening: Many young people are ditching traditional TV for an Internet-only plan. They may pay the cable company a few extra bucks for “premium content” such as the Internet-based HBO Go.

A bit of History

Twenty years ago, in 1994, Bill Gates deftly predicted the separation of connection and content. He described a previously unimaginable world where you signed up for a generic Internet connection, then enjoyed content on your own schedule from a third party’s central server. Ironically, it seems every other company on the planet is now implementing this EXCEPT HIS!

The Current Experience

We currently have huge HDTVs that are mostly restricted to watching cable TV and dvds/blu-rays. Meanwhile, content is increasingly Internet-based, such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Pandora, and other Internet TV and Radio sources. So, we’re left squinting at our small laptops, tablets, and cell phones in order to enjoy this new media.

How do we enjoy all that wonderful Internet content with our large televisions and home stereos?

Devices that distill Internet content to your television such as Roku and AppleTV (whose purchasable content comes exclusively from Apple, of course) are still somewhat primitive, but they’re gaining momentum. Unfortunately, the only Android-powered devices available (aside from some super-unrefined Chinese novelty boxes) is the Amazon FireTV. All except the novelty boxes lack a USB port to connect thumbdrives with your own videos and photos. The tech-savvy among us have connected PCs to our HDTVs, whose keyboards and mice make for a cumbersome living-room experience.

Well, Marc, what about…

Chromecast? Impossible for a senior citizen to install, and basically allows you to play an arbitrary selection of content from your smartphone. A haphazard product nobody asked for.

Smart TVs? Utter garbage. Having one means there’s a tiny computer embedded in your television… one that causes your television to crash, nag, lag, and become obsolete, just like a real computer! The only ones that will survive in the future will ditch their in-house software for mainstream platforms, such as Apple or Google.

Net Neutrality? Basically, the local cable companies want to “ruffle through your luggage” so to speak, and charge extra for video content, for no good reason. They’re going to strongarm you straight into the arms of new, neutral fiber providers.

Putting my money where my mouth is

In 2006, I toyed with the idea of making my own movie, and realized if I did, I could only release it on YouTube or Miro, and people would only be able to enjoy it on their 14” computer screens!!

At the time, there was a rudimentary AppleTV product and a Roku Internet music player. Other than that, nerds craving media connected a PC to an HDTV and called it a day.

There were also a handful of ultra-proprietary devices with ultra-proprietary service models and ultra-proprietary content, such as Akimbo. When the Akimbo service went belly-up, all Akimbo devices became immediately useless, suitable only for the recycling guy. Unfortunately, AppleTV and the others are still to at least some degree, dependent on the mothership.

So, I spent from 06 to 08 conceptualizing a product and service that would bring Internet content to the television in a user-friendly way… at that time in history, it was going to require hundreds of thousands of dollars, between patent lawyers, contract manufacturers, and programmers to produce in-house apps. After many iterations and many partners, I put the project on the back burner.

However, I look with great respect upon the turn of the last century, the age of the individual inventor. I still wanted my chance to become one of them. This would be my chance to make a difference in the way media was enjoyed.

As of 2014, I have a product on the horizon. I took a preexisting (well-made) Android box from a small manufacturer, installed a bunch of must-have apps (why remake them?), and then commissioned my own App, called Streamplicity, which runs on it (and most other Android devices)! Soon I will begin selling it for a few hundred dollars around the Rochester area. Keep an eye on streamplicity.com for release announcements.

So, what’s the future’s future?

We all know the wonders of Youtube: An amateur filmmaker uploads content which can be streamed to your device whenever you’re in the mood. Beyond that, we have MIRO, which allows users to actually download this amateur content free of restriction. Streaming Internet broadcasts in a variety of sub and sub-sub genres are available on sites like Pandora, Twitch and Machinima. Most of these services are already available on PCs and mobile devices.

The neutral Internet means there’s NO MORE NEED FOR AN EXCLUSIVE MIDDLEMAN, be it your cable company or Apple, or even Streamplicity. The future is inevitably independent artists releasing their content to multiple online distributors. There are also many more mind-bending concepts, such as creative commons media, which in short, means content released by the creator without copyright.

This future will only happen when the Internet+TV platforms are more flexible, and offer MORE content than what’s available on traditional cable. The more proprietary a platform is, the more likely it is to fall under its own weight.

After all, who wants to buy a device that only allows them to purchase content from one provider? The public deserves a neutral devices that brings them where they want. After all, your car doesn’t tell you where to eat when you’re on a road trip!

In Summary

1: Anyone can create content from anywhere now. There’s a wealth of new media available on the Internet.
2: The local Internet providers are trying to charge extra money for video content, going against the inevitably neutral nature of the Internet.
3: Soon i’ll offer a product that will eventually allow you to replace your cable company!

As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time on Teknosophy.

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Digital Barnacles, or, The Future of Filth

Doom for Windows (Bonus points if you get the reference)

In previous articles, I’ve mentioned the inevitable doom of Microsoft. Once in a million years, I’ve been known to exaggerate, and say that Microsoft’s shoddy products are the root of all evil. Pain, famine, hunger, and warfare are Microsoft’s fault, in my opinion.

But does all the evil in the computer world disappear when they’re gone?

The answer is, unfortunately, no.

Even when Microsoft “kodaks itself” out of business in a few years, there are still other ways in which scammers can take advantage of consumers.

Every day, people call me up thinking their computer is slow due to a virus. A flood of emotion surfaces within me, because I know I have to clear up a lot of misconception. Most people pay a computer guy $300 to run a virus scan, then shrug his shoulders and leave when any other problems are presented to him. That’s a scam unto itself.

The fact is, viruses aren’t the problem for consumers anymore.

THE NEW THREATS ARE:

1: Garbage protection software that can’t protect you from the new threats and are the real reason computers are slow. I service countless customers every year, and immediately upon removing the garbage protection software, the computer is faster than they’ve ever seen it, and usually the problems that prompted them to call me vanish.

Norton, McAfee, ESET, F-Secure, Kaspersky, Avast, and even newer versions of AVG slow down the computer IMMENSELY by implementing paranoia on your machine, and cannot protect you from the other New Threats.

Norton is like a gypsy: “Pay me money or I’ll prick you with this pin!” Recent versions of WIRED magazine are featuring ads from them. Why? I thought most new PCs were pre-infected with Norton when you bought them? Well, because the “new” devices (those new non-Microsoft portable things like iPads and Droids) are (for all practical purposes) immune to viruses and run only pre-approved software anyway. Thus, the ONLY malware on Android phones are things Norton and Lookout that break into your mind rather than your device. Ironic.

Note that there are a few programs out there claiming to clean or protect your Mac. These are all destructive.

2: Toolbars, which are legal spyware made by gray-market companies. They are spyware, but since they’re legal, no protection software can detect them. They monitor you and they cripple your web browsers. They usually hijack your homepage and search engine settings, monitoring and monetizing anything you search for. (They’re rampant on Windows machines, but a few are possible on Mac and Mint machines for the most reckless among us.)

3: Nigerian-style scams (as discussed last time). These fake virus scans will be much less ubiquitous in the non-Microsoft future, but phishing will still be possible.

4: Update attackers. Adobe and Java are not only backdoors for viruses, but THEY THEMSELVES attack for updates constantly. If you appease one of these updaters, you’re taken to the official website and given the update- with malware such as “McAfee Security Scan” stuck to the package. Luckily both Adobe and Java are poised to join the ranks of Eniac and Commodore very soon. However, Verizon Android phones are a good example of updates that routinely go sour. NEVER appease an update attack.

5: Stowaways. Windows users should NEVER GO ONLINE AND SEARCH FOR A PROGRAM (e.g. OpenOffice, or Firefox). Scammers such as Softonic and EZ-Download will pounce on you with ads at the very top of the Google/Bing/whatever page. Click on any of them and you’ll be sent to their website, where you’ll receive a poisoned version of whatever it is you wanted. Instead, go to openoffice.org, or firefox.com, which are the official sites.

Likewise, DO NOT SEARCH for things like file openers or drivers. 100% of them are scams.

6: Bloatware. Luckily Mac and Mint machines don’t come with any, but most Windows PCs COME STRAIGHT FROM THE FACTORY PRE-POLLUTED with malware that slows the machine down FROM DAY ONE. As we enter the post-Microsoft world, we’re seeing Bloatware on things like Samsung Android phones now. Never buy them – they’re so obsessed with fancy window animations and the “Lookout” fake security nagware, that the phones are horribly slow out of the box.

7: and finally… INDIAN STYLE SCAMS. Indian-style scams are a vile plague this decade. We’ll talk about them next episode.

What you can do

It’s not a new world – it’s just people abusing people in new ways, and it’s no longer a black-and-white good-guys-and-bad-guys world.

Whenever possible, avoid Microsoft computers the plague they are. They even destroy themselves for fun. If you have one, use ONLY Security Essentials to protect it.

As far as the other scams, there’s nothing besides a little bit of common sense. If you receive a phonecall from an Indian telling you they’re Microsoft and you have a problem, hang up on them. If you see an email from your bank asking you to confirm your details, delete it. If you’re trying to download something, make absolutely certain you’re at the official download site and not some bad-grammar scam site.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more!

 

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Italian-Style Meatballs

Meatballs?

Have you ever walked around one of those great North American wholesale stores? You know, the store where you’ll find the heads of small businesses and large families or both?

Well, I always have fun going there, and when I do, I pick up a 25-lb bag of “Italian-Style Meatballs.” They added the word style in there just in case a “hungry” lawyer buys them and wants to pick nits. Anyway, today we’re going to talk about Nigerian-Style Hoax Viruses. They’re not always from Nigeria, and they’re structurally different from the traditional old-fashioned viruses Mama used to make.

Disclaimer: I’ve got a lot of friends from Nigeria and Eastern Europe, and from everywhere else from that matter. These scams come from where they come from and that’s all there is to it.

La Historia

Traditional viruses are tiny pieces of malicious software code that replicate themselves from drive to drive or PC to PC and infect machines, sometimes slowing them down or reporting their information to the author.

Customers who call me with a slow PC (mistakenly) think they have a virus, when most of the time (ironically) it’s Norton or McAfee destroying their computer. Indeed, even your average computer guys still think a virus is the only thing that can harm your machine, when in reality there’s so much more…

Ever since email became popular, the world has been plagued by various scams. They don’t always originate in Nigeria, but it’s certainly a hotbed for Internet hijinks. The first style of scam was the 419 scam, where you receive an email allegedly from a Nigerian prince, asking if you could take some loot off his hands. (If you agree, they send you a forged money order for $X and tell you to send back half of that sum, and their money order bounces later on.) Wasting the scammers’ time has also become an art form, and web sites like 419 Eater document the fun.

Other scams include “Help I’m trapped on vacation please wire me some money”, as well as Phishing, where an email leads you to an impostor banking website that records your username and password.

Hoax Viruses

The latest scam to come out of Nigeria and Eastern Europe is the Hoax Virus, also known as scareware, rogue security software, or hostageware. These are structurally different from regular viruses. EVERY Microsoft Windows user is vulnerable to them, and there is NO KNOWN SOFTWARE to prevent these attacks. (I’ve seen one Mint PC display a 3rd-gen hoax virus but restarting Firefox solved it, since nothing can actually penetrate Mint.)

You start out by either:

  • using a Google Image Search to find a picture you need for a class project, or
  • clicking on a link from a shipping company claiming your tracking number is available, or
  • clicking on a window that claims you need a Flash plugin while enjoying some pirated television show online.

Then, something goes very, very wrong: A window pops up on your computer claiming you have 12,000 viruses and must type in your credit card number to be rid of them…

You have received a Hoax Virus. You got it from a website “trained” to inject PCs with them, and unlike old-style viruses, these DON’T spread from computer to computer. They target the user account you’re using, and usually evade capture by not affecting the rest of the system. 99% of the time, they only affect ONE user account on your PC. (If you have Sally and Bobby and Jimmy accounts, and Jimmy gets the virus, the other two are untouched.)

Again, you can have 90 copies of Norton or Webroot or any other antirivus software, but if these babies want in, they’ll get in. (That’s why I believe ALL antivirus and antispyware programs are unnecessary, with exception of Microsoft Security Essentials.)

Examples

You’ll know when you get one of these buggers, because a fake virus scan window shows up, then scares you into paying them money. Note how they look eerily similar to popular antivirus programs (or components of Windows itself).

Most of the time they’ll:

  • include misspelled words
  • “detect” an outlandish number of viruses, and
  • won’t let you launch ANY PROGRAM

so those are dead giveaways, huh?

Here are some examples of what you can expect. Check out some more examples here.

antivirus-2010 internet security Security_Central_rogue

They usually have pretty shady names, like:

  • XP Antivirus 2010
  • Vista Security Pro 2010
  • Vista Antispyware 2010
  • Spyware Protect 2009
  • Antivirus 360
  • Antivirus XP 2008
  • Windows Ultra Antivirus
  • Defense Center
  • Windows Stability Center
  • XP Antivirus 2012
  • Internet Security 2010
  • Win 7 AntiVirus 2011
  • Antivirus Security 2013
  • Win 7 Defender 2013
  • Security essentials [sic] 2010
  • Antivirus Clean 2011
  • Internet Protection
  • Personal Antivirus
  • Cloud AV 2012
  • Win 8 Security System
  • Security Central
  • Live Security Platinum
  • System Care Antivirus
  • Antivirus Antispyware 2011
  • SmartDefender PRO
  • OR SOMETHING SIMILAR.

Now that we’ve got everyone’s attention, let’s move on!

These things hold your computer hostage and promise to clean the nonexistent viruses if you type in your credit card number. NEVER EVER EVER DO THIS. They will steal your credit card number, and subsequently your identity, immediately. If you’ve mistakenly done this, call your credit card company and tell them you’ve been scammed. You CAN report it to the police, but there isn’t much they can do.

After removal, the first generation of these would leave your user account ROASTED – rendering it impossible to click on anything forevermore. It would also HIDE all of your files, convincing even an average computer guy that you’ve lost all your stuff. (Creating a fresh user account, moving your files over, and running BleepingComputer’s beautiful Unhide.exe tool fixes that.)

The second generation can be removed without much further ado. For some reason they’re less damaging.

The Third Man

The THIRD generation is a whole different ball game. These don’t pose as antivirus programs, but rather as THE FBI ITSELF:

  • They take over your WHOLE SCREEN and you can’t get out
  • they claim they’ve caught you looking at naughty things,
  • and that the FBI wants you to pay them some sort of indulgence:

fbi ransomware

These can come through porn sites, or from any other infected website, really. Regardless of what you were doing when they catch you, these guys are out to scare you, and they want your money.

They’re a bit smarter than the credit-card-seeking ones, because these ask for a Moneygram or similar money order service as opposed to a credit card number.

Many of these will also TURN ON YOUR WEBCAM (they probably don’t record you) just to freak you out even more.

Again, DO NOT PAY THESE PEOPLE.

It’s all poker, really. There’s nothing to be afraid of. These babies can’t spread and everything they claim (you have 12,000 viruses, or the FBI wants you) is false. They can’t even damage your personal files!

Removal

Let’s say you get one of these and realize it’s not legitimate. You call your aunt’s uncle’s cousin’s neighbor’s pastor’s ex-wife’s goldfish’s golf partner, who’s “good with computers”. They come over and boot into Safe Mode, then they spend the next 3 days trying to install Malwarebytes or some other Windows-based scanner, with very little hope of solving the issue. Maybe you then brought it to a computer store, and those guys erase your entire machine because they don’t know any better. (Worse yet, one hoax virus claimed the hard drive was physically damaged and one of my customers brought it to an Office Supply store… the guys actually replaced the hard drive!!!)

There are also scumbag websites out there that claim to offer free downloads or phone support, all of which are garbage. Again, TRADITIONAL ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE (Norton, McAfee, etc.) CANNOT HELP YOU, and only a small handful of antimalware programs can.

Folks, this isn’t a simple issue to fix. Mine is the only shop I know of that employs Non-microsoft technology to rip them out, and the only shop in town that can do so while preserving your data. (For those of you who are ready to graduate from average to master, we use Mint LiveCDs and search for folders in the ProgramData, Appdata\Local, and Appdata\Roaming with random letters and numbers.)

If you are infected with one of these, call Teknosophy, at 585.789.1856 or visit www.teknosophy.com and we’ll rip it out while leaving your personal files intact.

Why they do it

Why not? It’s extremely cheap to cast a net out onto the Internet and see if a few people bite. If even 4 or 5 people bite, that’s 4 or 5 identities they now control!

It’s also absurdly easy. Microsoft Windows has absolutely no protection from Hoax Viruses, security companies have no idea these things exist (and how to prevent or even detect them), COMPUTER GUYS don’t know much about them, and consumers are fooled by them.

Unfortunately, even shady first-world companies create products that sneak in underneath other software and then claim to clean or speed up your computer, (some of which flaunt legitimate Microsoft Partner logos) – Examples include PC Cleaner Pro 2013, Uniblue, and Driver Detective. These can usually be uninstalled via Programs and Features.

Any time I see ANYTHING that promises to clean or protect, be it rogue, legit, Nigerian, American, Russian, or Martian, I know it’s useless.

Prevention

There’s nothing you can do to avoid these, save for avoiding Microsoft products altogether. Consider switching to a Macintosh computer or iPad if at all possible. Ask us about our Mint computers – they’re standard PCs with all the Microsoft ripped out, and replaced with the easier, bulletproof Mint operating system.

That’s it, thanks for reading! We’ll see you next time on Teknosophy.

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BlackBerry: RIH

smashberry

I’m sick of all of these financial newspapers asking questions. Oh, WHY did the entire computer industry take a 16% downturn the minute Windows 8 landed in the hands of consumers? Why, why why? MAYBE BECAUSE IT SUCKS.

I’m very fortunate to have both a business degree and over 15 years of experience as an IT technician. I’ve had my feet in both worlds and I know both sides. This is immensely advantageous when starting a company in the IT field, and it’s immensely advantageous because I can easily point out reasons for failure.

Enter the BlackBerry. You know, that thing that started the craze back in the 90s, of people staring down and typing on a microscopic keyboard… yeah that thing. It was one of the first smartphones – a cellular phone that gave you access to email and Internet. Great.

Enter 2013, and we’re still using ’em. Sure, there are iPhones and Google Phones galore, but people still have BlackBerry devices. Then all the journalists started predicting the end of BlackBerry, for various reasons. Some cited the inability to come out with newer products quickly enough (that’s bull – my Samsung is chock-full of billions of useless copycat features and I hate it). Other reporters may have been re-reporting just to get on the bandwagon. (Basically, reporters have been cluelessly re-tweeting things long before “re-tweeting” was a word.)

At first I felt sorry for them. I empathized with them. They were the underdogs, the Davids, the little guys.

Then, I had to use one.

RAGING PIECE OF GARBAGE. Everyone who has one of these should throw it away immediately. These would be much better off as scrap plastic and metal.

Here’s Why

Why? It has nothing to do with their inability to come out with newer, more feature-rich products. It has everything to do with the fact that the BlackBerry (specifically the Bold I tried to set up for a customer) is a super-restrictive, poorly-thought-out piece of garbage.

Huh?

Okay, first I’ll explain my experience. Easy to use? Sure! Logical menu system? Check. Real keyboards instead of the touchscreen garbage? Present. The problem arose when I tried to set up my customer’s new email address on his BlackBerry:

  1. First, I typed in the customer’s email address.
  2. It then queried the email server and realized we were using GoDaddy as an email vendor. Great! It then suggested using GoDaddy’s “rimimap” server, in other words a server they set up specifically to serve its BlackBerry customers. Cool!
  3. Outgoing… where’s… outgoing… OH… they don’t LET you specify the outgoing server… okaaay…
  4. So a few weeks later we had to change email vendors. I deleted the old entry and typed in the new one.  His email address remained the same, but it was hosted by a new vendor.
  5. Oh what’s this? It’s still INSISTING on using GoDaddy’s servers, even though we’re not with them anymore. There’s no way to change it, save for possibly erasing the phone and everything in it. There’s also no way to change the outgoing mail server.
  6. So, basically he couldn’t use email on his phone ever again.

The final straw

Okay, fine, some phones may be poorly designed, and this one obviously had a MAJOR FATAL FLAW with how it uses email. However, BlackBerry recently issued an update attack to its phones that contained the HOLY GRAIL OF FAILURE, which is, dependence on the manufacturer.

So, get this. Now, anytime anyone goes in to modify email settings, THEY CAN’T unless they sign up for a completely unnecessary BlackBerry account! Let me say that again: If you own a BlackBerry device, and you want to check your email, YOU HAVE TO SIGN UP FOR A BLACKBERRY ACCOUNT. There is absolutely no real reason for this requirement, and it renders the device incapable of checking email if/when the company finally kicks the bucket. As with many computer guys/features nowadays, it can only be attributed to stupidity or malice, or some weird combination of both.

In other words

Just to make sure you fully grasp the stupidity of BlackBerry, think of it this way. Let’s say I am a carpenter who set up your mailbox at the end of your driveway. You pay me to install it, and I leave. All done? Nope!

NOW, I require you to create an account at my carpentry website. FOR NO REASON. I just want you to. If you don’t, you’re not allowed to walk to your mailbox and get your mail anymore. Too bad for you!

Two more things

Similar “ultimate failure” products have flopped on the market. My two favorites are the:

Palm Foleo – A thin, light 10″ laptop invented a year or so before the Netbook craze. Why did it fail? It required a smartphone, and specifically ONE MODEL of smartphone, in order to function. For no reason. So close, but so infinitely far away.

RCA Akimbo – A cable box that you could take anywhere and plug into the Internet. Sounds awesome, right? Sort of. Once the [mostly-porn] service flopped, this ultra-proprietary hunk of metal became just that, an ultra-proprietary hunk of metal. The only thing you can do with is is power it on, laugh as it lights up, then send it to the recyclers.

Conclusion

Blackberry sucks. Products like it are destined to fail because of unnecessary dependencies. Such products SHOULD FAIL, and companies that create products like the Bold SHOULD GO OUT OF BUSINESS. Nobody’s too big to fail.

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The BEST+WORST EVER AWARD goes to…

How can something be both the best and the worst at what it does? Well, leave it to Sony to amaze us.

The computer industry is becoming more and more pervasive. Of course, this means more exciting cars, such as the ground-pounding Tesla Roadster, powered entirely by laptop batteries. It means medical procedures that are far less invasive, and it means a more efficient office (in cases where non-Microsoft products are used).

Unfortunately this also means “smart” devices. You can send an image of your piping hot Indian dinner to your brother on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, using your smartphone. This means “smart” HD televisions that can display, with lifelike clarity, a television show whenever you want to watch it.

What nobody in my industry seems to realize is, newer is not always better. In my industry, newer means a mixed bag. In tandem with a few new perks, “smart” devices signify unreliability, feature overload and menu clutter, constant popups and useless notifications, and an unresponsive user interface.

The Winner: Sony KDL-40EX720

CIMG4252

This television my favorite example of this dichotomy. I upgraded from a bargain-basement HDTV and it was worth every penny. The picture quality is STUNNING, actually better than your average HDTV. It processes and displays an image that’s as smooth as silk. Even up close, it’s not grainly like the cheaper models.

It’s also superior when watching old standard definition content. There’s something called an upconverter that takes older, standard-definition shows (such as Power Rangers or Sanford & Son) and makes them look a bit nicer all blown up on your big screen. Cheapie TVs have little or no upconversion, so watching an older show on one of those looks like you wrote your name on a rubber band and stretched it out.

Usability

IF “YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR” WERE STILL TRUE, IT WOULDN’T BE A BIG DEAL. Unfortunately, though, this television represents one of the highest-end TV sets Sony offers. And it’s a complete embarrassment to the company.

It seems as though Sony has ZERO usability experts on staff. Apparently someone invented a fantastic LCD screen, poured features all over it, and NEVER BOTHERED TO TEST IT. Sometimes, after powering up, or even after watching TV for a bit, you’ll go to change to another input, and it’ll say “Please wait- Powering up.” Sometimes the TV will get overwhelmed with the commands you give it, so pressing the VOL or CH buttons a few times results in a delay, so you press again, and eventually, the volume or channel goes higher than you intended. This morning as I fired it up to take a picture of it, it rebooted itself out of the blue during a broadcast television show!

Not so smart

In an attempt to differentiate itself (and to charge much more), Sony squished Internet connectivity into it and called it a Sony Smart TV. This is a new class of television that not only displays standard cable channels and DVD players, but also connects to the Internet directly and displays content from Internet content providers such as Netflix, Hulu, and Crackle. That’s all well and good, but you can’t control which content providers are available, as you could with, say, an AppleTV or a computer.

On top of that, while many televisions and devices allow you to connect directly to Netflix, this particular television REQUIRES A SONY ACCOUNT before you’re ALLOWED to talk to Netflix. This means, if you purchased the television used, as I did, you have to call Sony and beg them to de-register the television and re-register it in your name. Luckily the guy I spoke with was actually competent, and informed me that Sony ditched that account requirement on future televisions. He brought back Sony’s reputation in my eyes.

Finally, think about the implications of Smart TVs: Yes, updates. So, imagine coming home from a long day of dealing with infuriating Norton popups at work, only to see update banners on your TELEVISION while you’re trying to relax. This model lets you disable the naggers, but I’ve worked with Toshiba models that won’t let you.

(Speaking of Toshiba, note that many of their new TVs include an enviro-nazi feature that makes your screen too dim to see unless you break into one of the menus to liberate it. Hint: It’s nowhere near the screen brightness menu! Dear Toshiba: LCD televisions use BARELY ANY ELECTRICITY. All the energy saving anti-features do is upset your customers.)

The Runner-Up: HTC G2

Unfortunately my television is just one example of feature-obsessed technology.

CIMG4251

This little turd is the HTC G2 from T-Mobile. Sure, it has great build quality and just the right amount of features. It offers tight integration with Google services, such as Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and the obligatory Google Play Store, and caught my eye mainly because of its decent REAL keyboard. No touch-keyboard flubbing for me!

It also offers tight integration with Google Voice. GV is a free service that provides you with a secondary phone number that’s highly customizable. For example, you can give your business contacts your GV phone number instead of your real one, and send their calls straight to voicemail after 5 PM! Brilliant.

Basically Still a Prototype

If this phone were a car, it would be a concept car. It’s gorgeous, and on paper gets it all right. However, it basically doesn’t function:

  • It crashes MORE OFTEN THAN NOT whenever I try to listen to a voicemail. (UNINSTALLING a recent Google Voice update actually remedied that. Go figure.)
  • Half the time, when I launch my daily agenda, it displays a monthly calendar instead. I set it back to daily, and a little while later it goes back to showing my month instead. Nobody knows why, and there are no remedies.
  • They’ve basically made a phone here just to meet a release date. No testing went into it, and apparently anyone who’s purchased the phone just went out and bought another one a week later instead of complaining.

Notes on Phones

Chances are, I’m going to buy myself a Samsung Galaxy Relay phone in the near future. It appears to be much more stable and refined, and features that essential REAL keyboard. (I cannot and will not use a touchscreen keyboard.)

My hesitation is this: I’ve helped customers with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 before. (Images galore here.) Sure it felt more reliable and responsive than my HTC phone, but one of its anti-features is a hyperactive dock on the left side of the screen that pops up, INTERCEPTING YOUR TOUCH AND SENDING YOU TO APPS YOU DIDN’T WANT. Dear Samsung: There’s ALREADY A DOCK on the bottom. Stop acting like a PC.

Ah well. At least I wasn’t one of the 60 people in the world who bought a Windows Phone. Those poor souls!

Final Comments

The answer to this entire discussion is this: Nerds love pouring as many cool features as possible into a device. They have never heard of the concept of marginal utility.

My advice moving forward is this: Continue to purchase NON-Smart-TVs, and then buy your own set-top boxes, such as AppleTV, Roku, or Phoenix. This should send the industry a message to do what they do well and leave the digital entertainment to the specialists.

Finally, no matter what smartphone you’re going to buy, make sure it’s with T-Mobile. They’re very lasseiz-faire about what phone you use, and they offer the best feature of all: WiFi Calling. This means if you’re out in the boonies with no cell signal, OR if you’re OVERSEAS, your smartphone treats any nearby WiFi signals AS CELL TOWERS. So you can make calls from St. Kitts or Copenhagen for NO EXTRA CHARGE. ISN’T THAT AMAZING???

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