The following articles were written for the Church Magazine in Buckland Monachorum. I put them here for your interest.

May/June 2018

Well, Buckland Monachorum has had its Superfast Broadband connection for about three months and what difference it has made. Downloads happen in a blink and the days of watching the spinning circle in the middle of a TV programme seem to be long gone. Remember, if you want to take advantage of the faster speeds for broadband now available, you have to contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get them to switch you over to the new service. If you are ‘out of contract’ you can probably haggle for keeping the same price you are paying now to get the faster speed, (I did just that for someone quite recently) by threatening to go elsewhere for a phone deal. If you are ‘under contract’ you will probably just have to smile and find the extra cash, but remember, there is usually a deal to be done if you are pushy enough!

I had a ‘blast from the past’ recently when someone rang when their mouse stopped working and they needed to shut their machine down. There are all sorts of keyboard shortcuts you can use if the mouse stops, and some are just as useful anyway.

For instance: Do you use Explorer to look at files? With Windows 10, Microsoft, (rather unhelpfully) has decided you no longer require that useful ‘My Computer’ icon on your desktop. The quickest way to get to Explorer is to hold down the ‘Windows key’ and press ‘E’ at the same time. Walking away from your PC and don’t want anyone looking at your screen? Windows key + L will lock the screen and ask for the password (if you use one) to re-open where you were. Want to print the current screen you are looking at? Press Ctrl + P to bring up the print box. Press the Windows key on its own to bring up the start menu. Now experiment with using the ‘TAB’ key and the four arrow keys to move around the various menu options. Got several programmes running and want to swap screens? Windows key and TAB does….well go ahead, try it! You’ll see!

Another neat trick if you quickly want to go right back to the desktop; move the mouse to the very bottom right-hand corner of the screen. To the right of the clock is a tiny oblong. Click on that and hey-presto, all your open programmes will shrink to nothing! They can be re-activated by clicking on their icon on the taskbar, so don’t worry, they haven’t been turned off. Windows Key + D does the same thing BTW. There are lots of these things to use, some useful some not so. Experiment!!

Now, back to the missing ‘My Computer’ icon in Windows 10. If you really want it back, right mouse click on the empty desktop, select ‘Personalise’, then ‘Themes’. Now look for ‘Desktop Icons’ on the right, or scroll down to see it and click on it. From the window that appears, you can tick the box to reinstate the ‘My PC’ icon. Note, there are other options there too if you want them.

January/February/March 2018

The New Year started well in Buckland Monachorum, with the news that the super-fast broadband cabinet outside the Village Hall had become operational. To benefit from the new high-speed broadband, you have to ask your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to be switched to the new service. You will be sent a new router, because the ‘old’ broadband is ADSL, whereas the ‘new’ broadband is VDSL. That’s ‘Asymetric Digital Subscriber Line’, and ‘Very-High-Bit-Rate Digital Subscriber Line’ if you’re interested, (just as well they didn’t go for VHBRDSL!).

But is it worth it? Well, it took two weeks for the switch to happen, but here in Modyford Walk, we went from 3.8mbs to 38.3mbs in the space of five minutes, and all for an extra fiver. You can also get a 75Mbs service too but you will pay more again for that speed. Type ‘can I get superfast broadband’ into Google (other search engines are available!) and follow the links to the Openreach website. Put in your postcode and address and their website will tell you what speed you can expect to get.

So why did Openreach suddenly rush to put in the cabinet and connect it up, having dragged their proverbial feet for so long? Well, if I was a really cynical person, I would say that the arrival of the Skylight Broadband Company and their WIFI broadband service above the Village near Longash, (which Openreach HAD to connect to the fibre network) caused a bit of a panic, in that BT could suddenly see a mass migration of customers leaving to use the alternative WIFI broadband and phone service. Was it a coincidence that the Village Hall Cabinet was turned on a week BEFORE Skylight’s service was connected? Hmmmmm!

Just before Christmas, Kaspersky Anti-Virus was in the news, when the US and UK Governments decided to drop using the programme, in case it was feeding sensitive information back to the Russians. As a Kaspersky re-seller, I was asked if it really was safe to use. My answer to that was that if the US and UK Government’s both used it to protect their IT, then it must be good! As Eugene Kaspersky stated, it would be commercial suicide for them to allow data-stealing as suggested. I agree and suspect this was a simple ‘back-covering’ exercise.

Finally…..If you have a Windows 7 or Windows 8 laptop or PC, I should be able to get you a free upgrade to Windows 10, if you now want to switch. Please get in touch if you are interested.

December 2017

One old favourite I didn’t mention in the last post was Google Earth. It’s still going strong and as well as viewing just about anywhere on our planet, you can now also skim over the surface of the Moon and Mars. There is also a ‘Sky’ option which lets you browse around the known universe, viewing the latest satellite and Hubble telescope images. Although much of the satellite imagery [of Earth] is now available via Google Maps, it is well worth downloading the Google Earth application and installing it on your laptop/PC as it offers far more options.

If you didn’t know, you can use Google Maps to find ways of getting from A to B. Click on the little arrow symbol by the search box and type in a start point and destination to get suggestions on various ways to travel, with their relative times etc. It’s also a quick way of finding distances when someone says ‘how far is it from Plymouth to Yelverton’ (9.5 miles if you’re interested).

I will look out some more interesting websites for you in the future but for now we’ll return to more mundane things.

Buckland Monachorum is still waiting for BT Openreach to upgrade its broadband connection. Some very nice workmen recently spent a morning putting a shiny new green box at the top of the hill outside the Village. Unfortunately, they replaced the wrong box! The one they should have been doing is outside the Village Hall as it was moved many years ago when there was almost an accident with an engineer working on the one on the hill. Hey Ho! More delays!

An alternative broadband service is now available in the area for those fed up with waiting for BT to get their act together. Skylight Broadband have recently erected a mast near Alston Farm which offers a form of WIFI broadband. They offer various packages of broadband services and it is possible to have a ‘normal’ telephone on this using Voice Over Internet Protocol (or VOIP for short). You can even keep your current phone number I understand. They are based in Kingsteignton and their website is www.skylightbroadband.com. I have suggested they visit the next Village Hall Market and Coffee Shop on the 9th December, so watch out for posters etc in due course.

Now, just to finish off, here’s a couple of ‘quickies’. If your ‘task bar’, (the bit that has your program icons, clock etc on) is not along the bottom of the screen where it usually is, but up one side, or at the top of the screen, you can move it back by putting the mouse pointer into the empty part of the bar, holding down the left mouse button and dragging the bar back to the bottom. Desktop icons too big/too small? Left click onto an empty part of the desktop, hold the ‘Ctrl’ key and use the scroll wheel on your mouse to resize the icons. Right-click and select, ‘Sort by’ then ‘Name’ to tidy them up.

November 2017

I have had some lovely feedback following my article last month about interesting sites to visit. However, I realise I need to be careful what I type as, near the end, in discussing hurricanes, I made the jokey comment “we don’t get hurricanes do we?”. Well, as I was preparing this month’s article, Hurricane Ophelia came visiting, causing much damage (and loss of life) in Ireland. Thankfully, we missed the full force of the winds, although there were some spectacular rough sea videos to be seen from Cornwall.

One old favourite I didn’t mention last month is Google Earth. It’s still going strong and as well as viewing just about anywhere on our planet you care to chose, you can now also skim over the surface of the Moon and Mars. There is also a ‘Sky’ option which lets you browse around the known universe, viewing the latest satellite and Hubble telescope images. Although much of the satellite imagery is now available via Google Maps, it is well worth downloading the Google Earth application and installing it on your laptop/PC as it offers far more options.

If you didn’t know, you can use Google Maps to find ways of getting from A to B. Click on the little arrow symbol by the search box and type in a start point and destination to get suggestions on various ways to travel, with their relative times etc. It’s also a quick way of finding distances when someone says ‘how far is it from Plymouth to Yelverton’ (9.5 miles if you’re interested).

I will look out some more interesting websites for you in the future but for now we’ll return to more mundane things.

Buckland Monachorum is still waiting for BT Openreach to upgrade its broadband connection. Some very nice workmen recently spent a morning putting a shiny new green box at the top of the hill outside the Village. Unfortunately, they replaced the wrong box! The one they should have been doing is outside the Village Hall as it was moved many years ago when there was almost an accident with an engineer working on the one on the hill. Hey Ho! More delays!

An alternative broadband service is now available in the area for those fed up with waiting for BT to get their act together. Skylight Broadband have recently erected a mast near Alston Farm which offers a form of WIFI broadband. They offer various packages of broadband services and it is possible to have a ‘normal’ telephone on this using Voice Over Internet Protocol (or VOIP for short). You can even keep your current phone number I understand. They are based in Kingsteignton and their website is www.skylightbroadband.com. I have suggested they visit the next Village Hall Market and Coffee Shop on the 11th November, so watch out for posters etc in due course.

October 2017

I thought after some of the doom and gloom of past articles, it was time to find some interesting things to look at on the Internet.

For instance, ever looked up at a plane leaving a vapour trail and wondered ‘Where’s that going?’. Well wonder no more! Head straight for the website www.flightradar24.com where you will be instantly amazed (or terrified!) to see just what is flying around up there. Zoom in or out of the map, travel round the world, click on any of the yellow aircraft symbols to find out where the flight took off, where it’s going, how high, how fast and who owns it.

Google ‘ship radar 24’ and there are several sites which offer the same service, but for ships (obviously). Shipfinder.co is one such website and you can track ferries, tankers cargo ships and even fishing boats. Click on the boat’s symbol to get all the details about the craft in question.

What about trains? Yes, there’s one for that too. Raildar.co.uk. You do have to zoom in quite a lot to actually ‘pick up’ the train but you can see where it is. There is a delay on the updates on this site though, as it isn’t as instant as the aircraft and ship ones.

How about the weather? Two of my favourites here are the rain radar and the lightning radar. Google ‘rain radar’ and look for the ‘netweather.tv’ website for one that gives a rain scan which is updated every five minutes. You can also run an animation of the last couple of hours so you can see which direction any rain is coming from. It can be interesting to track this site as on one afternoon, it was quite pleasant in Buckland Monachorum, but we could see clouds to the North and the radar clearly showed a line of rain right up the middle of Cornwall and Devon!

The lightning radar is really fascinating at www.lightningmaps.org (just google ‘lightning maps’). Even if we don’t have a thunderstorm near us, there will be one going on somewhere in the world that’s for sure. As I was typing this, there was a thunderstorm over the coast of Northern France near Le Harve.

Finally; seeing that Hurricanes are in the news, I thought I’d add a site that shows where they are just for fun as we don’t get Hurricanes do we(?). Again, there are several sites but one I liked was at www.intellicast.com. From the main page, select ‘Interactive Weather Map’ to get a track of any hurricanes and tropical storms, plus where they think they’re headed. (nothing coming our way phew!)

Have fun!

September 2017

Last time I was telling you how to keep your Outlook email running smoothly by compacting your PST file, and just to go on from there, I sometimes get a call telling me the email listing ‘has gone all haywire, and isn’t showing the latest email’. This usually comes about by an accidental click, but of course, because you don’t know what you clicked, you can’t ‘unclick’ it. What’s going on is that Outlook can display your email in various ways. 99% of us have them listed in date order, with the latest one showing. Email can be listed in ascending or descending order by the way, and it is easy to change this and other views. So easy, that some do it by accident!

At the top of your email window there are headings, on my laptop these are: From, Subject, Received, Size, Categories (don’t worry if you don’t have some of the latter ones). You can sort your email under any of these headings. For example; suppose you’ve had an email from Fred, and you know you had a previous one, but can’t remember when it was? Click on Fred’s email (so it is highlighted blue) and then click on the heading ‘From’ and Outlook will sort your email by name, grouping all the email together by name. So in our example, all the email you’ve ever had from Fred will be grouped together. When you are ready to ‘unsort’ them, simply click on the ‘Received’ heading and they will go back into date order. They will now be listed in descending order, if you want them ascending, click ‘Received’ again.

You can always tell, which way the emails are listed, because the ‘active’ heading, has a feint triangle alongside the heading, with the tip of the triangle pointing which way they are sorted (up or down). This trick works in some other programs too, in fact anywhere there are headings, Explorer is one such where searching for files can become difficult. You can sort files by Name, Date Modified, Type (handy when you are looking for a Word document in a folder of JPEGs for instance) and size.

Here are another couple of shortcut tricks not commonly known: If you are deleting email, or files and you want to delete a block of them, then click on the first one you want to delete, then hold down the Shift key, scroll down to the last email you want to delete and click it. You will find that all the emails between the two you’ve clicked will be highlighted. Press ‘Delete’ and they will all disappear. If you want to pick a series of emails, click on the first one, hold down the ‘Ctrl’ key (short for Control by the way) and click on any others you want to delete. Each one will turn blue as you click it. In either of these examples, if you pick one by accident, then click it again to un-highlight it.

July/August 2017

I thought I’d start with an update on the recent Ransomware attck, which wreaked havoc through the NHS and lots of other businesses worldwide. It seems that Windows XP wasn’t the only operating system to be vulnerable, as Windows 7 users were also affected. It basically came down to two things; was the operating system up-to-date with Microsoft released patches, and did you have a good, up-to-date Anti-Virus package. Many businesses that were affected do not allow their computers to automatically update themselves as this causes problems if a PC suddenly demands to restart half-way through the day. Having seen this happen to others, (once in the middle of a lecture and another time during showing a DVD film!) one can understand the reasoning for this.

An issue I’ve covered before has recently caused a few problems again and that is with those of us who use Outlook as part of Microsoft Office. This is the version of Outlook that is on your PC and not the Office 365 version which operates differently. What happens is you open Outlook and get an error message saying there is a problem with ‘outlook.pst’ and Outlook closes down when you click OK.

This happens when there is corruption within the outlook.pst file which is where Outlook stores all the email, calendar and contacts you have. If you can’t open Outlook you have to use Microsoft’s ‘Scanpst’ utility to correct any errors and then you should be able to get back to your emails. Again, not easy to describe all the steps so email: sales@bucklandcomputers.co.uk if you need help.

In the meantime, assuming your Outlook is behaving, there are some steps you can take to ensure all stays well. Firstly, empty the ‘deleted items’ folder by right-clicking it and selecting ‘Empty deleted items folder’. Now do the same for the junk mail folder. Now left click on ‘Personal Folders’ to highlight it, (it turns blue) and then right-click and select ‘Properties’ from the menu. Now click ‘Advanced’ followed by ‘Compact Now’. It will show a window saying ‘Compacting’. Now go and have a coffee as your computer will take a while to do the ‘compacting’! When this last window disappears, you can click ‘OK’ on the other windows to close them.

What Outlook is doing is removing all the deleted emails from the PST file and effectively, defragmenting it. But, I hear you say, don’t emails get deleted when I hit ‘delete’ or empty the ‘Deleted Items’ folder? No they don’t, (apparently) what gets deleted is the ‘header’ that is part of the email. It’s a bit like rubbing out the index to a page in a book, the words are still in the book, you just can’t see where they are anymore. Regularly doing the ‘Compact Now’ routine should keep your Outlook folder nice and healthy.

June 2017

As I was preparing to type up my article for this issue of Outreach, the story of the ransomware attack on the NHS (and other businesses) broke around the world. This was a subject I covered some months back when I was impressing on everyone, how important it is to have a back-up of all your files. It’s not clear whether removing the ‘Wannacry’ virus releases the locked files, but I doubt it. The question here is: As a home user, should you be worried about this virus given it was aimed at businesses? Well yes you should, as someone, somewhere will no doubt be tinkering with the code to use it for their own nefarious, money-making scam.

However the old saying ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is a good one to keep in mind here. As long as your computer has a good Anti-Virus program (and they do vary) and has been downloading all the latest patches, then you should be OK. Never open an attachment that you are not 100% certain you know where it’s come from, or where expecting to receive. Never respond to phonecalls claiming your computer ‘has a problem’, no matter who they say they are, or how much information they seem to have about you.

Recently, my own back-up process suffered a catastrophe. Having spent ages, carefully backing up all my digital photographs, (going back to 2002) putting them into date order, removing duplicates and marking up when/where they were taken, the back-up drive itself just went ‘phutt’ and refused to play. Grrrrr! No problem I thought, simply open the case, hook the drive up to a PC and copy the files, something I have done on many an occasion. Not this time. For some reason I’ve not been able to fathom, (yet) the drive appears to be completely blank! Double Grrrrr!!

Having a back-up of a back-up seems a little extreme, but no-one really wants to lose photos and work so it has to be considered. I mention this because I have had people say they will copy photos, etc, onto their back-up drive and then delete the originals on their computer “…to save space”. I am always quick to say that this isn’t a good plan as you should always have two copies of everything digital. Burning data onto DVDs, although popular only recently, takes an absolute age to do, and no-one really knows how long these DVDs will actually last.

If you only have a modest collection of photos and documents, it’s far better to leave them on your computer, but to have them backed up for safe keeping. But remember, back-up drives fail too. Modern PCs have huge hard drives with plenty of space, but I say that with a caveat. There is a new type of hard drive, known as a Solid State Drive (SSD) becoming more common. These have no moving parts and use the same technology as a USB Penstick (or thumbdrive or whatever you want to call those gizmos you stick into a USB port). Because they are still expensive to make, their storage size can be quite low (120Gb is about average at the moment). This means that if you have a large collection of photos, storing them on multiple back-up drives is the only option. But that’s for another article!

April 2017 (No article in May)

I recently decided to splash out on a new router for home and I was pleasantly surprised to see the broadband speed go up from 2.5mbs to 3.19mbs. Not much, but living in the not-spot that is Buckland Monachorum that’s a lot! The WIFI signal is better too as modern routers are built to handle more connections. This is important because you tend to forget how many things you have connected these days. Do a quick tote-up. Laptop? Home PC? Mobile Phone? Satellite box? Smart TV? Playstation/Xbox? Surprising isn’t it! If you haven’t had a router upgrade for a while, it’s certainly worth considering.

Whilst on the subject of upgrading, I changed my mobile phone and was confronted with the problem of how to back up all the photos I had been taking. OK, it was an old phone with a fairly low-spec camera so there weren’t a lot, but the new one has a much better one and I didn’t want to fill up the memory card with pictures, so what to do? Well the answer turned out to be easy.

Many, many moons ago, I had set myself up with a google email account, so it was possible to simply configure Google Photos to automatically take the photos off the phone and store them online. Then by logging into Google, I was able to view them. Simples! It is so good that now, when I go out taking photos with my phone, I don’t even have to think about backing up, for as soon as I get home, the phone starts backing them up all by itself.

This trick works for tablets too and I was able to rescue a whole load of family photos from a dying tablet the other day from someone who had a gmail account already but didn’t know about this facility.

When I started repairing/building computers, it was 99% tower PCs, with the occasional laptop (or ‘slabtops’ as we used to call them as they were so big and heavy!) thrown in. The pendulum has now swung the other way, with laptops more prevalent than tower PCs. Tablets and mobile phones are a different case as they are pretty much un-repairable when they go wrong. Broken charging ports are nigh-on impossible to get at or replace and with everything stuck to the back of the screen, even replacing a cracked screen is virtually impossible.

Generally, the cost of the screen (assuming you can get one) and the labour charge are more than buying a new one. Bad for the customer, but good for the manufacturer who has a production line producing new ones every second which need to be sold!

March 2017

Ransomware is very much in the news at the moment. I have mentioned it before in one of these articles but that was in relation to the version that encrypted all your data. A more sneaky type of ransomware has been appearing recently. It locks your computer so that no matter what you try, you cannot get it running again without the message instantly re-appearing. The message always includes a phone number for you to ring, plus dire warnings of what will happen if you don’t.

Well as always, stay calm, and just unplug the computer and call for help from your preferred computer person. On no account try to ring the number because you will be asked to give them access to your PC and after hours of fiddling around (4 hours seems to be the norm for some reason) they demand a payment (£149.00 seems to be popular) for their ‘special’ anti-virus program.

I always say; if you get a call suggesting you have a problem with your phone/computer/bank account, etc, NEVER engage in conversation with the caller. Simply find out who they allege to be from and then hang up. Wait five minutes before attempting to dial the company who apparently phoned you, to check if they did. The reason for waiting by the way, is to make sure the line is clear as the caller can hold the line open if they don’t hang up. BT are supposed to making this impossible but I don’t know whether this has been implemented yet, so wait to make sure.

Back in April last year, I described the fake phonecall from TalkTalk alleging an overpayment on your account that required a refund. When the ‘refund’ is made, it is for more than you were told and you are encouraged to repay the over-refund. Of course there is no over-payment and you end up handing over a large sum of money which disappears. This nasty little trick has made a re-appearance recently via a phonecall from ‘BT’. In this instance, the call followed a genuine fault on the line that BT had fixed. The customer was sucked in because he thought it was a follow up call. Luckily he became suspicious when mention of a refund was made, because he had spent the previous six months trying to get a refund from BT for a service he had been billed for, but hadn’t had!

February 2017

Following my piece last time on VR Headsets, I was able to try the Playstation 4 (PS4) version over Christmas. It certainly is an ‘immersive’ experience and quite enthralling. I ‘experienced’ diving into a deep sea trench where a very large shark swam round a few times before ‘attacking’! I then tried to use a ‘cheap’ version with a cardboard viewer using a mobile phone. This was partially successful in that I needed someone else’s phone as mine doesn’t have a gyroscope in it so it really doesn’t know where it is in the world, nor which way is up or down. No, I didn’t know some have this feature either. Anyway, I got it working in the end and whilst not as impressive as the PS4 version, it it’s a simple and inexpensive way of experiencing VR.

We are encouraged to never write down passwords, but with so many needed these days, it is almost impossible not to. Creating a secure password, one which you can amend or vary slightly should you wish to do so isn’t difficult…..no really it isn’t. Here are a couple of ideas; If you have children, use their initial and a number followed by the year of your marriage. So if you had three children and were married in 1965, it might be “A1b2c31965”, (where A, b, & c, are the relevant initials). If you needed to vary that, you can change the year to the eldest’s birth year, and so on. Or take a famous phrase that you can easily recall, ie “We shall fight them on the beaches” and then use the initial letter from each word, and finish off with a suitable year, in this case 1940. This gives ’Wsftotb1940’, now who’s going to guess those!

Note that in the examples, I have capitalise the first letter as most websites demand at least one capital letter these days. If it also demands punctuation marks, add an exclamation mark on the end.

It is worth changing email passwords regularly if you use any sort of webmail service (Google, Hotmail, Outlook) or log in to your Internet Provider (BT, TalkTalk) and experience has shown that these aren’t immune to being hacked.

Finally, the crooks have been cleverly ‘spoofing’ email accounts so that friends get an email which genuinely looks as though you have sent it, but of course you haven’t. There is nothing (as far as I know) to stop this, apart from warning friends if you find out this is happening. Luckily, they are usually written in very bad English which should sound alarm bells with the recipient.

December/January joint issue

No sooner had I highlighted the return of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, and their potential for things other than playing games, when I spotted a piece on Spotlight about them. They were being used in a School to let the children ‘experience’ life on a WWI battlefield. They were able to ‘sit’ in a trench and look all around and it was clear from their comments afterwards that it had had quite an effect on them.

This technology is rapidly becoming more affordable and I really am looking forward to the day when we can offer VR tours of RAF Harrowbeer, including visiting all the buildings and hangars! Now, anybody got the plans for the Star Trek Holo deck yet?

I have recently had questions about when and what to update on your computer. Microsoft updates arrive and get installed automatically on Windows 10, and on Windows 7/8 if your PC is set to do that. However, there are ‘optional’ updates on the latter which don’t install unless you tell them to. Quickest way to check, is to click on ‘Start’, then right-mouse click on ‘Computer’ and select ‘Properties’. Now click on ‘Windows Update’ and it should show whether your PC has updates waiting to install. Ticking any unticked boxes will then allow them to install.

Java is the program that nags the most for updates. A new update seems to arrive almost weekly! But what is Java I hear you ask? Basically, it is a computer programming language which allows software writers to write code which can then run on any computer that has Java installed on it. Remember that the word ‘computer’ here means PC, Phone, Tablet, Smart TV etc. The update installs quite easily when you follow the prompts, but just watch out for the ‘foistware’ near the end where it tries to change your Internet Home Page and search settings.

Flash (and flashplayer) is a similar language created by Macromedia but now owned by Adobe. It is used by your web browser for multi-media files and games. I generally find this updates automatically now but if you suddenly find video clips don’t work, then going to the Flashplayer website (google ‘Flash’ and it should be the top option)) and re-installing it usually fixes this. You will also occasionally get reminders for Adobe Reader and these too are OK to install. As with all these updates, just watch out for the foistware again near the end.

November 2016

With Christmas looming on the horizon, it won’t be long before the plethora of IT gadgets and toys start appearing on our screens. After the return of 3DTV flopped, another technology currently making a return visit is Virtual Reality. I remember seeing it first back on the 1980s and thought the potential was enormous for VR, but sadly it fell by the wayside, plagued by slow computers and flickering, bulky headsets.

But now it’s back. Much more powerful computers and high-resolution screens mean that this form of technology can really come into its own now. Of course, not everyone is going to rush off and buy one, and whilst it will be aimed mainly at those playing games, it will have other uses too. I tried the ‘Occulus Rift’ VR headset on a trip to Duxford Airfield last year and found the experience quite mind-blowing! We’re not quite in the realm of the Star Trek Holo-Deck yet but the ability to ‘sit’ in the cockpit of an aircraft in flight and to be able to look all around as if you were, really, sat in the cockpit, whilst all the time sitting on a chair on the ground, was quite something.

I can see that in the not too distant future, visitors to Harrowbeer Airfield will be able to slip on the headset and be taken on a ‘virtual tour’ of the airfield and all its buildings, and then be treated to a ‘flight’ over Dartmoor, all without leaving the ground!

Returning to real world…..I have had two instances of those tiresome, “your computer is telling us is has a virus” type phone-calls recently, so the scammers are still actively targeting 01822 numbers, so just be aware that they haven’t gone away. There has been some clever ‘malware’ too, some of which has been branded with the ‘Microsoft Partner’ name and logo. Just remember that any pop-up claiming your PC is running slow, or that you urgently need to ‘update your drivers’ is almost certainly a hoax. Talking of hoaxes, if you get an email claiming that if you get a message from XXXX (insert name/topic of your choice) and open it, it will destroy your hard drive/blow up your computer, then these too are total rubbish. There are several websites that list all the various hoaxes that are circulating on the internet, so a quick search on google will usually answer your question.

October 2016

It is disappointing to note the increase in spam email recently. I have several email accounts and it’s always mildly interesting to see how the same email arrives in different accounts. They range from porn invitations to attempting to trick me into ‘reviewing’ some account or order that has been placed. Harrowbeer gets some quite amusing ones as they evidently think it is still operational. Airmen evidently needs lots of Viagra!

Sadly, there is little you can do to stem the tide, other than hit ‘delete’, (and of course never attempt to open the attachment which comes with these emails). If you use Outlook and Kaspersky Internet Security, then keep using the ‘Spam’ button to highlight the email you don’t want. Kaspersky isn’t perfect but it gets pretty good at filtering out the worst of them. Those using webmail will have to rely on the capabilities of their provider.

A more worrying trend is that I’ve had customers reporting that they have had a ‘pop-up’ message appear on screen saying their PC has a virus and offering a free-phone number to help ‘solve’ the problem. The number seems to go to the USA and the first customer got drawn quite a long way into the ‘scam’ as it is extremely plausible and very clever. Having parted with quite a sum of money, they let the scammers into the PC via a remote access program. What the scammers were up to after that isn’t clear but getting suspicious, they eventually pulled the plug on the PC and router and called me in.

Happily, their Bank stopped the payments and changed all their account details and no money was lost, but it was a near thing. I mention this because no matter what ‘pop-ups’ appear on your screen out of the blue, they are almost certainly, fake. Ignore all those ‘speed up your PC’ and ‘you have malware’ warnings too because they are simply ‘click-bait’ trying to part you from your hard-earned cash.

Finally, on a happier note, I hear on the grapevine that Buckland Monachorum MAY be getting ‘fibre to the cabinet’ in March next year. I understand that Milton Combe has also recently been connected. My shop in Horrabridge however, is still in ‘limbo land’, where the cabinet does have fibre connected to it, but BT Openreach deny that it’s happened! Ridiculous!!

September 2016

Thank you for the kind feedback I have been getting for these short articles. It’s nice to know they are actually being read!

I was asked by someone a while back about when it is appropriate to click on ‘unsubscribe’ in a spam email. The short answer to that is never, unless it is from a company you have bought something from. Unfortunately, in my experience, it doesn’t matter how carefully you make sure you tick the ‘don’t spam me’ and ‘don’t hand my email address to others’ boxes on those account forms you fill in, you will still get emails from all and sundry.

I proved this recently with a well known TV & HiFi company. I have taken to creating unique email addresses for companies that I sign up for new accounts with and on this occasion, this particular company (let’s call them blogs & Co) passed my email address to another of their ‘associate’ companies. I knew what they’d done as I received a spam email, sent via their specific email address, (blogs@ bucklandmonachorum.org.uk) something that the data protection act specifically forbids. When I challenged them about it, I got a grovelling phone call from a ‘senior manager’ apologising for the mistake that an ‘employee’ had made. Yea right! To be fair, it hasn’t happened again with them so it wasn’t all bad and I made my point.

So if you get spam from a company you have an account with, it is perfectly feasible to go down the unsubscribe route, but bear in mind it will take quite a while sometimes for the emails to dry up. No I don’t know why, it just does.

If you’ve never heard of the company, NEVER click on unsubscribe because all this does, is flag up that they have found a valid email address and it is ripe for even more spam. Companies have servers that pump out emails using a scatter-gun approach, often with pictures or web-links in them. They then have other servers that monitor which addresses ‘ask’ for those elements and they harvest these addresses for selling on to marketing companies.

If you use Microsoft Outlook, you will be familiar with Outlook blocking pictures in emails. It does this for this very reason. The Junk Mail filter is quite good too and if you have Kaspersky Internet Security, its spam filter is quite efficient as well. So now you know.

Aug 2016: No magazine

July 2016

Microsoft have been driving people mad with their ‘forced’ upgrade of Windows 10. Although they say you have to agree to the upgrade, many will dispute that! To suddenly have your computer turn off mid-work and start installing a new operating system isn’t funny. You can decline at a certain point, but like bad weather, it will be back, again and again and again!

Happily, it is possible to turn off the ‘nag’ screens and therefore stop the upgrade happening until you are ready and willing to do it. Microsoft are still sticking to their rule that after 29th July, the upgrade will no longer be free, and you will have to pay for it. Personally, I think that will depend on how many people have taken up the offer. If they think they can get more people to upgrade, they will extend the deadline.

I have discovered that once a PC/Laptop is upgraded to Windows 10, the Microsoft Activation Servers remember this. So it is feasible to upgrade to Windows 10, then roll your PC/Laptop back to Windows 7, (disabling the upgrade) and keep it on this until you really want to switch to Windows 10. When you are ready, you can install Windows 10 afresh as the Servers remember your computer is already ‘on’ Windows 10.

If you want help with disabling the upgrade please get in touch.

Now, there isn’t anything inherently bad about Windows 10. I actually quite like it but will not switch all my PCs to it just yet. But it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea which Microsoft doesn’t seem to have taken on board. It’s a bit like going to your car and suddenly finding it’s upgraded from a steering wheel to a joystick for driving!

One other thing; if you have an XP or Vista PC/Laptop, these can be upgraded to Windows 7 (and Windows 10) and many will run better and faster afterwards. Hard to believe I know, but as an official Microsoft Refurbisher, I can testify to this happening. I am happy to assess your computer for free, as to its suitability for an upgrade. The upgrade licence is around £30-£35 plus labour. Please get in touch if you want more information.

Finally…..you have backed up your photos, music and documents haven’t you?!

June 2016

So, how many of you have been and bought that Back-Up Hard Drive I reminded you about a while ago? And have you backed up lately? Thought not! Well another customer came in with a dead hard drive the other day and with no back done, lost three years of family photos. Well they aren’t technically lost, they are just trapped inside the drive and will require very expensive work to get them off. So do that back up now before it’s too late! If you have two computers in the house, just make sure each has a copy of the files from the other.

Something I get asked about quite a lot is updates to programs. Are they OK to do or not? Of course it will depend on which program is asking to update (apart from the Windows ones). The commonest ones are Adobe Reader, Flashplayer and Java and they should all be updated from time to time. Adobe Reader is for opening (reading) PDF files. PDF stands for Portable Document Format and is basically a universal document format that can be read by any computer that has the correct software to do it. Flashplayer is used by your browser to display movies and to play games and Java does a similar job.

The reason for bringing up the subject is because of ‘Foistware’. This is software that you ‘accidentally’ get whilst installing something else. And Java is a big culprit in this respect. They have recently switched from offering McAfee Security Scan, to Amazon Help, which also changes your homepage and search engine too, (Flashplayer isn’t immune from these tricks either by the way).

I’m sure you’ve all experienced this; you accept the update and merrily click ‘next’ and ‘OK’ and then next time you do something you think “Where did that program come from? Why has my home page changed in Internet Explorer or Google Chrome!” This is Foistware! Software foisted on you while you were installing another program. Apart from Java et al, they are very common in some of those useful looking free downloads you see, which usually turn out not to be free…or very useful. So the tip is to look carefully at every window that appears and to uncheck any boxes you see offering you free stuff whilst you are installing the software.

Another one to watch out for is ‘click-bait’. You are on a webpage and see a news item, or interesting story alongside the page which tempts you to click on it. This is ‘click-bait’. Mostly harmless but can lead to all sorts of interesting things arriving without you realising! Newspaper webpages are the worst for these sorts of things. They earn cash when you click on the link which is why they are there.

Finally, they have been instances recently of the email scam where you get a panicky email from a friend who has been robbed on holiday and needs cash. Ask yourself this? Would your friend really send an email in those circumstances? No they wouldn’t of course so delete the email without replying.

May 2016

When was the last time you backed up your computer? No doubt it’s something you are going to get round too….eventually! But supposing you turned on your computer, only to find the hard drive had failed and it won’t boot up? All those documents, photographs and music lost? Whilst most of the time files can be recovered, it isn’t unknown for hard drives to fail completely, requiring very expensive work to get the information back.

It’s a favourite subject of mine, backing up, because we are all guilty of putting it off. The reason for mentioning it again now is because a new threat has become more prominent recently; Ransomware. If you’ve not experienced this, (or heard of it) then be warned. The first you will know about it is when your screen goes black and is filled with a warning that your files have been encrypted and unless you pay a ransom, (hence the name) you won’t get them back, EVER! However, and here’s the rub, paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee you will get them back either.

This won’t be a problem if you have a backup of your files, because once you’ve removed the virus you can restore your data and be back to normal. There are various ways you can back up, too numerous to list here, but files should be copied to an external hard drive, which should be unplugged (as the virus will find and encrypt these files too if left plugged in) and kept safe.

A good Anti-Virus program (such as my personal favourite, Kaspersky Internet Security) SHOULD be able to protect against this threat under normal circumstances. However, I am conscious that there have been numerous instances of Scammers ringing claiming all sorts of reasons why they should have access to your PC, and it won’t be long before one of these characters installs ransomeware on your PC during one of these calls. It hasn’t happened yet…..but it will I’m sure.

You should NEVER, let anyone have access to your PC on line, no matter who they say they are when they ring up. You should also install an Anti-Virus programme on your PC and when Kaspersky Internet Security can cost as little as £10 a year per PC from Buckland Computers, there is no excuse not to have one. Mobile phones and tablets have escaped this threat so far, but Kaspersky cover can be extended to these devices too.

Apr 2016

I’d like to start this month’s IT piece by repeating the warning about telephone scams. These have been on the increase recently and the latest version revolves around TalkTalk at the moment but no doubt other ISPs will be targeted in due course.

It starts with a phone call, allegedly from TalkTalk saying there is a problem with your account, (or router, or broadband) during the course of which you are told that you have been paying too much for the service and that you are “owed a refund”. Whilst this ‘refund’ is being put through, the operator claims to have made a mistake and repaid you too much. They then go into a panic saying they will lose their job if their Boss finds out so could please pay the money back immediately? The amount varies but, should you actually go through with the transaction, you will have waved goodbye to your money as there is no overpayment, (despite what they are able to show you on screen) and, because you have authorised the payment, your Bank is unlikely to be sympathetic in repaying you.

I personally refuse to talk to anyone about any of my accounts if they ring me. If it’s a Bank, I say I will visit my Branch, otherwise I ask for a reference number so I can then call them back (on a number which I know is real) when I am ready.

Windows 10.
Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10, has been with us for over six months now and seems to be settling down nicely. There were several major updates in the early stages which led to problems but these seem to have been resolved now. I still recommend Windows 8 (or 8.1) users to update as soon as possible as Windows 10 is far better than Windows 8.

For Windows 7 users, the choice is harder! If you like the way your computer or laptop is working, stick with what you have, but an upgrade to Windows 10 is not that bad a step to take. Just remember that whilst your pictures and documents are safe during the upgrade, any ‘useful’ programs that you have installed are likely to be lost and will need to be re-installed. This includes Kaspersky Internet Security as I have discovered!

Which reminds me; Kaspersky Internet Security licences are now just £10 each, (for up to twelve months cover) from Buckland Computers. If you haven’t got it installed, simply download and install the program from the Kaspersky website, and then email me asking for an activation code. There is now a version available for tablets and phones. I have yet to see or hear of one of these devices with a virus on so it is a moot point as to whether this is necessary or not. My phone isn’t ‘protected’ but I rarely use the Internet or download music on it so feel it’s not needed…..yet!

END